An aging woman seated up front, who up
until that point had managed to exclude herself from the mainstream of
excitement developing around her, suddenly arose. Instantly the eyes of
all the congregation focused on her.
Resolutely grasping hold of her skirt,
she climbed up on the narrow seat of her pew and motioned to the
"Stop-hear? Stop! He is
praying!" she cried, completely lost in her words, tears running
down her withered red cheeks. "He is thanking God for all His
blessings." And raising her arms in the air, she continued, "I
know his tongue! It’s ancient Indian!" Her task completed, she
quickly slipped down and quietly shriveled up in her pew, mingling once
again with the ecstatic believers.
To me it seemed a strange meeting—in
fact one of the most unusual I had ever witnessed. In my career as a
journalist I had covered a variety of assignments and had been exposed
to many diverse languages ranging from Albanian to Zulu, but this was
different—very different indeed.
With a critical eye I began to scan the
congregation. There weren’t many people, perhaps 35 or 40 of them.
By this time the supernatural power had
turned the religious meeting into a climax of praise, as all hands
reached high in a pleading gesture.
With his hands pronouncing blessings
left and right, a middle-aged man, evidently the minister, separated
himself from a small group of praying individuals, and walked to the
"Listen, my people," he
exclaimed, his face beaming with joy. "This is the Lord you’re
listening to. He’s here. This is the Holy Spirit. This is Pentecost
all over again! Praise God! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!" Then he
hurried down from the rostrum again to rejoin his praying people.
A sudden jarring motion at my shoulder
made me turn my head.
My neighbor showed me the reason.
Standing up in his full height of
perhaps five feet, two inches, he too had felt the spirit and was
joining the experience with his own ecstatic tongue.
"Oh si si kalini— idi ma talu
uno— ta kala—" His voice faltered, then picked up speed and
clarity. "Ini tola tola muni— taka ka takaka—"
I had occupied a seat at the end of one
of the back pews. At last I stood up and walked out, head bowed. None
"I wonder—" I muttered more
to myself than to anyone else. "Is this what happened at
Sudden bursts of
"hallelujah," with clapping of hands and exclamations of pure
joy, pierced the flimsy access doors to the church’s sanctuary. It was
in answer to one of the exuberant shouts that I turned in the hallway
and cast one last peek through the small spy window in the door.
By now the entire congregation was
separating into several small prayer groups, and high-spirited prayers
were filling the air. In every corner tongues-speakers and their
interpreters poured forth their unique messages. The usher in the back
row had joined in. "I too want the spirit—I want the spirit—"
… I had often
pondered the question of the gift of tongues.