Exponential power expands from a small beginning - spiraling larger and broader. The vision of a small group in the town of Dondi, Angola. The future of their children lives in a school destroyed by war. What would it take to rebuild the school?
They figure out a plan, put together a budget, use their God-given imaginations to dream and hope for something that is so far beyond their own reach that only a miracle could bring it to life. They need one million dollars. It might as well be one hundred million. It’s an impossible hope.
Still, they put it out there. They offer the hope to their church. It makes it’s way up and around through the channels. Their children’s futures get mixed up with all the other great needs of a country torn apart by 27 years of civil war. But some of the leaders of this Angolan church were themselves once trained in the school at Dondi. They remember how the lessons they learned at that school carried them through the hell of war. They remember how the songs and stories they were taught in Dondi have kept their broken hearts whole - somehow able to look beyond the dismay of today and hold onto a hope for tomorrow.
When Luis Samacumbi, Director of Social Assistance, Studies, and Projects for the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola, visits Toronto and meets with the staff of the Working Group for Right Relations of the United Church of Canada (what a mouthful!) – the hope of the school in Dondi gets passed on.
The request is above and beyond what the United Church can provide. The Mission and Service funds – sustained by fewer and fewer givers - are having to stretch further and thinner these days. The National staff has been cut back. Still, somehow, Dondi captures the imagination of one staffer.
Revered Lloyd Paul has recently taken up the Men’s Ministry portfolio at the Toronto offices. His time is split between a congregation in West Toronto and the work of sustaining the national men’s network – a net worn thin with big holes in it. What if the men of the United Church united around just one project - one big, impossible, hope? I wonder…
First reactions to Dondi’s hope are not encouraging. It’s too big, too much, way beyond the capacity of the Men’s groups across the country. The men are already overworked fundraising, repairing, scratching their heads, trying to keep the doors of their own churches open. Organizing Provincial and National get-togethers is more and more of a stretch for fewer and fewer people. How could they possibly commit to raising a million dollars?
Then Reverend John Patterson and the Abbey North Drummers catch the dream. They are an experienced team of dreamers and believers in the power behind the hope of impossible missions. They know how to take a story and turn it into a rhythm. They know how to turn a bunch of reluctant participants into rhythm makers. They know how to find the beat pumping inside the chests of every one of God’s children and entice it out into the world.
Before you know it, hearts are being expressed. Smiles are spreading. Music is being made and the impossible is somehow looking like a maybe. Maybe the world is getting smaller. Maybe we all have more in common than we think. Maybe there’s a power at work between and beyond us that might carry this rhythm towards a resurrection…
They took out the drums at the first meeting I attended. We drummed up a commitment to raise the first ten thousand among us. I was surprised that this small circle could dig deep and come up with that much. We wondered. Could each of us pass along this rhythm to ten men, who would pass it along to ten men who would pass it along to ten men? Men to the power of ten. Each of us came up with our list of ten. We just needed to find a way to get the story, and the drums, into the hands and hearts of men across this country.
It just so happened that the very next weekend United Church men were gathering at Jackson’s Point at the bottom of Lake Simcoe. They were mostly traveling from AOTS (“As One That Serves”) groups across Ontario but there were guys from Victoria and St. John’s and points in between too. I made my way over just for the Friday night opening session. I was curious. I wanted to see what might happen when drums and men and mission get combined.
I got there late. The Abbey North Drummers were out in the hall waiting for the invitation in. I peeked into the conference room. About a hundred men were raising the roof singing hymns. It was great to hear those male voices raised in good old songs they obviously knew and enjoyed. I wondered if you could find a hundred United Church men in any one church at one time across the country anymore? These guys looked like the guys in my church. Mostly grey, mostly white. I wondered how they would catch the beat?
Most United Church music isn’t toe-tapping stuff. Our choir director taught me years back about syncopation. I was trying to introduce songs that I’d heard played with guitars and drums. “Congregations are used to singing along with steady four-four melody driven hymns. The songs of the rock and roll generation generally have a syncopated beat.” she explained. “To get from here to there requires a big leap.” So, like I said, I was curious about how Abbey North and AOTS would mix?
It required a shift to be sure. First thing, they had to move out of their rows. Bazza, the Abbey North facilitator, with a big wide grin and a big strong voice cajoled them into a double circle – a spiral? In the centre were placed large African and Carribean drums; rattles, shakers, bells, cowbells, sticks and things to hit with sticks. Everyone was invited to come find their thing. We did a round of introductions – our names and our sounds - and the magic began.
Bazza was part Pied Piper, part Orchestra Conductor. He joked and encouraged and teased and taught us how to make a rhythm together. First rule and last rule – have fun! In between we played all together in a great cacophony. We played in sections. We played according to instrument type. We followed Bazza’s lead and we made up our own way. At times it seemed like we were going to lose the thread but Bazza and his Abbey North friends Joe and Chris kept it there, steady, growing, changing, spiraling ever on into something new and fun and never wrong because we making something new, something unrepeatable, something miraculous…
They did a number of sessions over the weekend. Slowly introducing the guys to the Dondi Resurrection Miracle Hope. Telling them the story of the Dondi school, and the men-to-the-power-of-ten plan, and the hope for one million Canadian dollars from one hundred thousand Canadian men. I’ll let an email from George Bishop, a member of the National AOTS, and a member of the Dondi Project group, tell you about the results.
You men do great work. I am humbled by your abilities, your spontaneity and your love of working for God's kingdom.
Lloyd's presentation to the men's "think tank" was politely listened to,
the next one to the AOTS National Council was received,
the next one to the AOTS National Council was well-received,
and the final presentation (with the power point presentation) was enthusiastically received by the AOTS executive and most of the AOTS men in attendance at the Ontario roundup and national convention at Jackson's Point.
The Abbey North Drummers stirred up excitement in most of the men (and honorary men) with very positive participation and feedback. Many men are looking forward to the next time they will have the opportunity to "get the beat " - before this I wasn't sure if the "rhythm method" was the best way to ensure the birth of a new "creature" - perhaps it's the action of the hips which makes the difference..
One man from the Bay of Quinte area volunteered this past weekend to donate $1000. and to find 10 men who would donate $100 each who each would be asked to find 10 men who would donate $10. each
One man in Calgary volunteered to spearhead a gathering of approximately 400 men for the Abbey North Drummers presentation.
One man in Toronto, in conjunction with two other members of his congregation, volunteered to spearhead a gathering of approximately 400 men
The convention approved a donation in 2010 of 10% of the total funds raised for the project, up to a maximum of $10000., from National AOTS funds.
The National AOTS through their website and through their publication, the Handshake, and through the words and actions of individuals and clubs will promote the project to the broader organization of AOTS individual members and clubs.
Several other AOTS clubs and individuals are eager to begin fundraising as soon as we can make presentation materials and literature available
Within the AOTS executive, the incoming president, the past president and the three vice-presidents are very supportive of getting men working together within the men's Ministry Network of the United Church of Canada and see this project as a most worthwhile vehicle.
Looking forward to our next discussions and next steps
And so the hope of those dreamers in Dondi Angola continues to spiral exponentially out from a place of despair into a growing, building, expanding, evolving rhythm carried by the Rhyhm Maker from whom all music, and all hope, begins and never ends.
Also, as Bazza explains “Drumming is spiritual Viagra.”
For background and updates check www.thedondiproject.blogspot.com