"Osoko, Jesu, Osoko!" "Thank you, Jesus, thank you!" sings the choir of young people as they march into the sanctuary, swaying to the beat of their thanksgiving song. In Baboua, Central African Republic, it is the time of the Don de Récolte the Harvest Offering. Like our Thanksgiving celebrations, it is a harvest festival, when congregations bring in the best of their harvest, along with a special offering, to thank God for the blessings of the past year, especially for good crops and food on their tables. Women wearing colorful floor-length African dresses come bearing dishes full of manioc or a large bunch of bananas to place before the altar. Men dressed in long robes, or in their best T-shirts and jeans, bring their envelopes containing a special monetary gift for the Thanksgiving Offering. Little children, led by their Sunday School teachers, file down the aisle, clutching their few francs to deposit in the plastic offering basket. One little girl, about three years old, has to be persuaded to let go of her money and drop it in!
At the Tongo Lutheran Church in Baboua, the entire congregation waits as the money is being counted. As a choir sings to the accompaniment of drums and rhythm instruments, deaconesses serve us coffee and bananas. This is the first church I have ever attended in which we stopped and took a coffee break during the service! (Since the service lasted three hours, it wasn't a bad idea.) At last the good news is announced: the total offering comes to over $300. "What an offering!" exclaims the president of the congregation. Everyone cheers. This will ensure that the work of the church can continue for another year. Perhaps they will even be able to afford to buy communion wine. The lay pastor will receive his small salary. Of course, offerings are taken every Sunday, but the Thanksgiving offering helps to carry the church through the dry season (November through May), when times are leaner, and food is not as plentiful.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, remember your brothers and sisters in the Central African Republic, and rejoice with them that the God of the harvest is good.
Pastor Deborah Troester
Baboua, Central African Republic