We have 3 church services to do this morning. Bill is helping Tony Payne, a long-time missionary in Cape Town, with whom I worked on my first visit to Cape Town in 2000, plant a church in Delft, a suburb of Cape Town. Eric Graham is pastoring a church in Northpine. And Kevin Simpson, a South African, is pastoring the first church that Tony planted, in Eersteriviere (“First River”). We’ll be involved with all 3 churches: Will and I will both preach; Catherine will do a violin solo; and Angel and Katie will sing a duet.
These are all churches I know and love. In 2000, my first time teaching overseas, I came with my family to Cape Town to teach in Oostenberg Bible Institute, a lay program run cooperatively by several churches here. I had the pleasure of preaching at Immanuel Baptist Church in Eersteriviere, pastored at the time by Tony Payne, and at Calvary Baptist Bible Church of Northpine, pastored by Gary Yoder. We had a fabulous time and became friends all around. I also enjoyed working with Kevin Simpson, a young man in Tony’s church whom he was grooming for ministry. Kevin is well over 6’5”—I don’t remember exactly how well—and when we went out on door-to-door visitation, we got some real looks, let me tell you. Since then, Gary has returned to the States for health reasons, and Eric has replaced him as pastor. Tony has turned IBC over to Kevin and started the new work in Delft, a depressed Coloured town, meeting at Eindhoven Primary School.
I should say something about the racial terminology. Despite the fall of apartheid and the coming of Black majority rule, South Africa is still a country governed by its racial traditions. Though conditions have improved for Blacks, most still live in townships and are at the bottom of the economic ladder. At the top are Whites, most of whom are either of British tradition or Afrikaaners, of Dutch extraction. In the middle are the Coloureds, who are anyone who is not either White or Black. They may be Indian, for example, or more likely of mixed race. We are working primarily with Coloureds, and to a lesser extent with Blacks. (More on that in a moment.)
This emphasis on race is unique to South Africa in our experience. We have worked with Africans in 3 other countries now, and of course they have black skin, but it’s not something either they or us have spent a lot of time emphasizing. We’re aware of it, of course, and we occasionally joke with one another about it (we’ve heard “nasala!” a lot in Ghana, and “blanc!” a lot in Cameroon, and “mzungu!” a lot in Tanzania), but it’s not really anything we give much serious thought to. Our familial relationship in Christ supersedes all that. But here in South Africa, race still makes a difference in the everyday lives of pretty much everybody. There’s great progress, but people are still identified first by race.
Now. Back to ministry. The three churches we’re in this morning are all Coloured, though some whites attend besides the missionaries themselves. I’m back at Northpine, for the first time since 2000, and when I begin to talk about that during the sermon, to my complete surprise, I get all weepy. My family was with me then, and my daughter Jennifer, who is now 25 and on with her life, was just 12 and played a piano solo that morning, and right now I haven’t seen my family for 6 weeks, and that just gets me.
Well, we get it all done, and Katie Graham, Eric’s wife, accompanies Katie and Angel as they sing, and that’s just great. I later learn that Will preaches for 50 minutes at Kevin’s church, the longest he’s gone yet. Good for him.
After church we all head to the airport to meet Cameroon and Joslyn, who have arrived during church. I’m driving my rental van, and Bill’s driving his vehicle. We’ll add a second rental, which Joy will drive. We park and walk into the terminal, and when our girls see the group sitting in the food court, they scream loud enough to attract the attention of pretty much everyone there. There’s a joyous reunion. Hugs all around, excited stories, then a car rental, then rolling luggage into all 3 vehicles.
I should mention that South Africans drive on the left, like the Brits. So the steering wheel’s on the right. Joy’s never driven that way, and I haven’t in 6 years. Plus it’s a standard transmission. So we have to pay really close attention to pretty much everything we do. Driving is exhausting. The most obvious evidence that we’re not from around here is that everytime we turn, the windshield wipers come on. 🙂 And the hardest part of it is turning right, remembering to go to the far side of the road. Very counterintuitive.
Back at the Knipes’ house we grab a lunch of PB&J and head over to the afternoon service at Guguletu, a Black township where Eric’s church has been holding an outreach service for several months. I’m much surprised at what I see; Guguletu is not a Black township in the old slum tradition of Soweto near Johannesburg, or Khayelitsha here in Cape Town, where I spent some time in 2000. It actually looks pretty good—concrete block houses, painted, with metal roofs. The streets are paved. Eric tells me that Black majority rule has brought a number of improvements to the townships. But the fact that they still exist is evidence that there’s still a long way to go.
I’m excited to be involved in ministering here. It wasn’t long ago that tensions were very high in Guguletu, and a few whites were killed gruesomely just for being there at all. That whites and blacks are worshipping together here is a very encouraging sign.
We meet in a community center—actually a Boy Scout hall, complete with a portrait of Lord Baden-Powell on the wall. (Most people don’t know that Scouting started in South Africa.) We have an hour of Sunday school first for the children, and then a worship service. Since our primary contact in the township is male, and he’s just inviting his friends, virtually everyone who comes is male. It’s not very often that you see a church congregation that’s 95% male.
I preach, and the team sings “Complete in Thee.” It’s just the Tanzania crew; the Cameroonies are sleeping off the overnight flight. There’s good fellowship afterwards.
Back to the Knipes’, where we have supper. Susan and some of the girls put it together, and Susan acts as though there’s no pressure at all. I ask her about that, and she says she just figures that freaking out in these situations won’t accomplish anything. She’s the embodiment of that British WW2 poster, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
After supper Eric and Dan Elmer come by to talk about the schedule for the week. This is the first time the whole team and all the missionaries have gotten together; it’s a fruitful discussion. (Actually, Tony Payne’s a missionary here too, but he’s in the States right now. Bill and Dan are taking care of pastoral duties at Eindhoven in his absence.)
One of these days, we’ll get to the end of the day and not be really, really tired.