By Emma Lou Thayne
Jan Cook and her husband lived for three years in Africa, in deepest Africa, where The Gods Must Be Crazy was filmed. His work had taken them and their three small children there, and any church meetings they attended took place in their own living room with only themselves as participants.
By their third Christmas, Jan was very homesick. She confessed this to a good friend, a Mennonite. Jan told her how she missed her own people, their traditions, even snow. Her friend sympathized and invited her to go with her the next month to the Christmas services being held in the only Protestant church in the area, saying that there would be a reunion there of all the Mennonite missionaries on the continent.
It took some talking for Jan to persuade her husband, but there they were, being swept genially to the front of the small chapel. It felt good, being in a church again on Christmas. The minister gave a valuable sermon on Christ. The congregation sang familiar carols with great vitality. Then, at the very end of the meeting, a choir of Mennonite missionaries from all over Africa rose from their benches and made their way to stand just in front of Jan and her family. Without a word, they began singing. Without a leader, without music, without text, they sang “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” Every verse.
Disbelieving, totally taken by surprise, Jan and her husband drenched the fronts of their Sunday best with tears as they were carried home on Christmas. When the choir finished, Jan’s friend said simply, “For you. Our gift.”
Jan’s Mennonite friend had sent to Salt Lake City for the music to the hymn that she knew Jan loved. She had it duplicated and distributed to every Mennonite missionary in Africa; they in turn had learned it very carefully in order to bring the spirit of Christ to their own reunion, where foreigners to their faith would be waiting to hear.
Emma Lou Thayne, a noted lecturer, author, and poet, has taught creative writing at the University of Utah. She has served as a member of the General Board. This article appeared originally in Exponent II, Fall 1982.
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