After four years of trying to understand the Xhosa-speaking segment of South African culture, the last few months in particular have broadened our perspective on this beautiful and diverse nation. For one weekend last April, and again last weekend, we basked in the glow of the spirituality and hospitality of churches in the Northern Cape Province. The purpose of these visits was to provide teaching on the Anabaptist-Mennonite way of understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ to two interested communities—Grace Community Church (with congregations in Philipstown, Cradock, and Colesburg) and New Beginnings Church in De Aar. In April we met in Philipstown; last weekend we were hosted by the good people of De Aar. Adding to our diversity, a delegation from Harvest Time Ministries, our church home here in Mthatha—and an aspiring Mennonite congregation—also attended.
The weekend was, for us, exceedingly rich—even a homecoming of sorts. By living in Mthatha, I have incorporated many songs and choruses in isiXhosa into my spiritual repertoire. In De Aar, I was surprised, and pleasantly so, to find elements of what in America we might call “the old-time religion.” Our beautiful hosts, David and Lolo Vena, like to listen to, among other things, American southern gospel (Gaither Vocal Band) in their home. Although I find my orientation more in the old gospel hymns of my grandfather and bluegrass music, cousins of southern gospel, to hear it in their home was to feel as though a special place had been prepared just for me. Far beyond that, we enjoyed good conversation, whether over tea, watching soccer, or preparing meals together. Another precious highlight of the entire weekend was the instant companionship our boys found with their two sons, Monde and Sihle.
The worship services in New Beginnings were a true reflection of the rainbow nation. We moved seamlessly between songs in Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, and English. Dances unique to each tradition punctuated the songs. In my parting words on Sunday morning, I likened the whole experience to being in the midst of “those who have come through the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” (Rev. 7:13). The message of the vision, of course, is that only the robes of the redeemed are white, the moral purity of the people through the life and Spirit of Jesus; their distinctive colors, languages, and expressions remain. In her parting words, one of the leaders of New Beginnings reminisced about being part of a government-led initiative for diversity in the public school system in 2001. She saw for the first time that goal, that unity-in-diversity, fulfilled—on this weekend, in the church.
At this point, I will not go on to describe more about the specific sessions led, lessons learned, wisdom gleaned. I do want to share some pictures of the weekend. Enjoy.
The Venas and the Sawatzkys
The Mthatha contingent (L to R)—Erica Yoder (our guest from Indiana for July-Sept.), Andisiwe (youth from Harvest Time), Pastor Ntapo, Mama Ntapo, Mama Cule and Shalom (on back), Joe, Anna (with Jesse on her back but out of the photo), Sis Nandi (foreground).
Jesse with the daughter of Pastor Coetzee from GCC-Cradock.
Andisiwe and Erica have become good friends. Erica has been attending youth gatherings with Harvest Time.
For the evening meal we would gather at the home of the pastors of New Beginnings, Gerald and Carmen Mulenga. At left are the Coetzees from GCC-Cradock. Seated in front of the fireplace are Andrew and Karen Suderman, MC Canada Witness workers from Pietermaritzburg.
All in all, this was one of the greatest weekends we have had in South Africa.