Saturday, 14 April 2018

The woman at the well

Once upon a time, in a land far far away there lived a woman and this is her story.

She had been brought up in the mountains with her older brothers and younger sister. Life was hard, always work to be done, not enough time to do it. Water needed to be brought from the stream, animals fed and cleaned out, food to prepare, brushing out the dust, washing to do and other chores given to her by her mother. It was so cold in the winter and the warmth from the fire never seemed to reach her bed.

She knew from a young age that something in the household arrangements was unfair. Her brothers didn’t help out at all, they just played and went out with their father leaving her , her mother and sister to do the all the chores. She longed to go with them, to see where they went, not to stay at home and work. They seemed so happy and full of adventure. When she raised the obvious imbalance in workload or suggested one of the boys in the household might want to clean up a little it just led to arguments that only left her feeling more isolated. As she grew older she looked forward to the summers when the snow would melt and she could sneak away sometimes and wander into the mountain to find a quiet spot where she could see far into the distance. She would sit and imagine life away from the mountain and away from her family. The time away was worth the argument with her mother and sister on her return.

As time passed her brothers left, they were told to go and find wives or a living. She was glad to see the back of them as their behaviour and mess had grown with their size. Once they had all gone her father seemed a bit lost without them and murmured about living in a house with just women. He seemed more and more ungrateful with each meal prepared for him. Her sister on the other hand appeared to be flourishing, she had always seemed happy with the work and now she had more time to spend chatting away to mother which made the household even more frustrating to live in. One grumpy old man and two chattering women, she was in desperate need of a rescue.

A few weeks before her fifteenth birthday a man came to the house and sat with her father talking and drinking for hours into the night and in the morning was introduced as her fiancĂ©! She was horrified. Her mother took her aside and explained that the time had come for her to be married and the man was a relative from the valley and would be a good husband for her. Her mother had no kind words for her only facts. They were to be married a month later and the only warm thoughts she had related to leaving her family behind and the chance for some adventure in the Valley. The people who came to the wedding seemed very happy to see her married and her brothers returned for the celebrations, some with wives and children, others looking pretty much the same as when they left. Her father was the happiest she’d seen him in a while and her mother was rushing around like a whirlwind. After the celebration was over the man loaded up the wagon and they left.

After travelling down the mountain they came to a village and a small house which was to be her new home. She was afraid and excited. She had left the mountain life behind but was not happy to be married to a man she did not know.

He was a hard working man and left each day to work in the Olive groves. He would return each evening, have his dinner and go to the bar leaving her behind to tidy up and wait for his return. She was bored. The other women in the village were friendly, showed her where the market was and helped her understand how to be a good wife. But after a couple of years when there was no child the women of the village stopped calling by and would avoid her at the market. Her husband stopped coming home for his dinner and went straight from work to the bar. Some nights he did not come home at all. When she had not had a child after three years the gossip started, after all no one knew her, she hadn’t grown up in the village. Some of the children had started to throw pebbles at her without any rebuke from their parents.

One night she sat alone and remembered those times on the mountainside when she had dreamed about her future and her hopes seemed to be drifting away. She decided to leave before they were gone completely. She packed a bag and left, she doubted she would even be missed.

She walked and walked, sleeping by the side of the road and stealing food from wagons passing her on the road. She arrived at the outskirts of a town feeling distraught and looking dishevelled. An old woman saw her and took her in, cleaned her up and suggested she stay with her for a while. She accepted, not only did she have no-where else to go but at least she could help the old woman with cleaning, it appeared to be her only talent. The old woman’s sons and husband had left to go to war and had all been killed leaving her a widow and childless without anyone to care for her. It appeared a new home had been found. When people asked who she was they were told that she was a daughter-in-law.

In her early twenties she fell in love. He was a handsome young man who brought the wood. One night he came and asked the old woman if they could be married. She agreed with the understanding that they were to live with her once married. It was a small wedding but she felt happier now than she had ever felt. Not long after they had a son and she was overwhelmed with the joy of her family. Two years pass and when a fever hit the town, the old woman and her son succumb. Her husband was so devastated at the loss of his son he left. She was alone again. She stayed for some time in the town but couldn’t shake off the memories and decided to move on.

At thirty she married the local bar tender for security. She did not want to be alone. One night a fight broke out and her husband was killed. Her brother in law married her out of tradition. This marriage doesn’t last as he was in love with another woman and one night she found he had left.

She moved on. She was empty, hopeless and lost. She came to a village and had just enough money to rent a room behind the butchers. She got a job with the butcher, her childhood experience of dealing with animals put her in good stead with the butcher and when he offered marriage she accepted. It would save money on the rent so seemed the most convenient thing to do and whilst she didn’t love him he wasn’t a bad man. Sometimes at night she would sit in the yard and look out at the stars. Her husband would tell her stories about the history of the region and its different religions when they were working, which whilst she thought were interesting thought he had made most of them up.

Time passed and the butcher died in his sleep one night. One of his customers took a liking to her and suggested she move in.

So here she is at 40, back at the beginning, cleaning, washing and fetching water. This morning she gets up and sits on the bed and thinks about her life. She remembers her son and a tear trickles down her cheek. She wonders whether her first two husbands were remarried and had children. She wondered whether she should have stayed with the first one. She is desperately lonely and fears her future will hold no joy for her and if it will just contain more grief. She remembers the mountainside and her dreams and another tear falls. She takes a few deep breaths and remembers it is time to get the water.

She picks up the water jar and realises there must be more water in it than she thought and decides to go tomorrow instead. As she puts the jar down a stone flies through the door, hits the jar and smashes it. The stone throwing had got worse recently and other than shout at the children there wasn’t much she could do about it. She gathers up the pieces and brushed away the spilled water. She picks up another water jar and heads for the well on the edge of town, it will be quieter there and the other women will have gone.

As she approaches she sees a man leaning against the well, a stranger to the village and as she approaches she thinks he has lost his way. He looks weatherworn and she notes that he must have been travelling for some days from the amount of dust on his clothes. His sandals are beside him and his feet are just showing from under his cloak. He appears to be sleeping. She balances the jar on the edge of the well quietly so as not to disturb him. As she reaches for the rope he moves and looks up at her. Their eyes meet and for a moment time stops, she can hear nothing but her heart beating and then he speaks....

“Can you get me a drink of water?”

Eve still getting the blame after all these years!

Through-out history and on a global scale women have been more oppressed, more deprived, more used and abused than men. Women have been considered the lesser of the sexes, disregarded as weaker, portrayed as manipulating and dangerous. Her femininity brought into disrepute by calling them ‘wiles’ and in more recent times any woman who pushed her head above the parapet to point out inequality was labelled a feminist and to be disregarded as militant.

Women who are successful in their spheres are blamed for not being at home and those that choose to stay home to look after children and the home are mocked as a ‘stay at home mom’ and economically punished. In the church they fight for equality, in the workplace they fight for equality and at home they fight for equality in chores, childcare and financial decision-making. Women have strived for equality and are still fighting for the truth that they are as valuable and worthy of honour and respect as men but are still subject to inherited blame when bad things happen to them.

There have been women blazing a trail for equality who have made improvements in some parts of the world but it is still not an agreed principle by everyone everywhere that women are equal to men.

So let’s start with the first story in our human history and there in the whisper at the back of our minds is the woman who ruined it for everyone and therefore she and her daughters deserve what they get. She is the second human being, she is created after Adam out of his ribs and therefore subject to his whims and his power. If we read the story rather than believe the shared myth, we find Adam lonely, longing for something that is like him. God creates Eve out of Adam’s rib and not out of dust.  She is also made in the likeness of God and created to be his helper in equality to look after the earth.

She is created in equality and until we can get rid of the myth that she is ‘less than’ we will continue to fight for equality and shout in rallies that women are not to blame!

To blame women comes so naturally when they experience abuse, so ingrained in our minds that women can believe it too! ’What did I do to bring this on myself’? The blame starts; ‘Where was she and how was she dressed?  Why was she there, why did she allow this to happen? Why did she trust him? Why didn’t she just leave or call for help?’ We blame the woman first and the blame brings the fear, the shame and the silence. We teach each other to stay safe; to not walk alone at night, to not get too drunk at a party and to cover our drinks when in the pub in case they get drugged, if you’re on the late bus do not sit upstairs, not to flirt, not to be too friendly, not to, not to, not to and so the lists goes on.

We are living in a time where we have the #metoo campaign and rallies and Women’s marches and a hope that the myth that women are there as a commodity to use and abuse is diminishing. The #metoo is helping women feel they are not alone and not to blame and once the blame goes the fear, the shame and the silence are also on the way out. Women are becoming more vocal, going on marches and calling for more and swifter change and we hope beyond hope that the men are watching, listening and believing in equality. Hoping that we will hear from more men standing with women to say it’s time to change attitudes and behaviour.

We’ve had an advert campaign about consent and we need more, more teaching our young and old men that women are not ‘less than’ them, not a commodity to use and abuse. Instilling in our minds, enough to override the old myth, that women are equal and society will be at his best and most civilised when we have mutual respect for the opposite sex. Once we see another human as worthy of honour, respect and love regardless of their status, race, sexuality or gender we might find we are living in a civilised society. If we could help each other to be the best we can be rather than oppressing one half of the human population what a difference it would make to our planet.

Monday, 27 November 2017

South Africa 2017 - Day 9 – 26th November

A busy day today!  The churches in South Africa do like to start early on a Sunday morning!  Haven’t they heard of having a lie-in on the day of rest?  Godfrey and I were down for breakfast at 7am as we were being picked up by Andre at 7:45.  The breakfast wasn’t quite as good as the day before, the bacon was a bit dry and the sausages weren’t as good.  Perhaps it God’s way of telling me to stop eating so much fatty food on the road as I doubt it’s doing my expanding waistline any good!  There was granola cereal though, which they didn’t have yesterday, so that made up for it.  I love cereal.  A lot.

On Saturday John, the pastor, accidentally introduced me as Nigel to someone and only the next time he did it did I correct him to Phil.  We all had a laugh about it and it’s become the running joke of the weekend with him referring to it a couple of times.  I guess Godfrey’s just relieved to not get called Geoffrey all the time!

Andre picked us up in his really rather lovely 4.2l Audi A8 and whisked us off to ACF.  His wife wasn’t with him this morning as she is a very keen runner and was doing a short 15k run that morning!  I’d die if I had to run 15k.

The band at the church did three songs at the start of the meeting at 9am then Godfrey shared his talk and as usual absolutely nailed it.  The crowd responded enthusiastically to the good news we’ve got, in words and songs!  It’s heartening that in all kinds of church settings you can pretty much guarantee that the gospel will go down well no matter the style of church, the theology they have, the traditions they have or whatever.  People love to hear the good news that they’re in, that God is not disappointed with them and they are precious beyond measure.  So many folks were obviously having a free revelation of this foundational truth and came and told us so at the end.

Andre and his brother Marius and his family took us for lunch at a nice restaurant with John & Bev.  I had steak for the first time on this trip and it was a good one with an excellent pepper and cream sauce.  Godfrey was pretty tired as it’s been quite a long morning and he needed to sleep before tonight’s gospel party so Andre took us back to the hotel.  My right shoulder had started to ache and it’s definitely down to the electric drum kit, you just don’t get the bounce-back you do on acoustic drums and cymbals so there’s a lot more work for your muscles to do, especially when playing faster songs like ‘Gospel Train’ and ‘The Wine Is Alive’.  Hopefully a couple of hours rest will sort me out and if not I’ve got paracetamol and ibuprofen with me!  A very smartly dressed young black lady got in the lift with what initially looked like a large oddly shaped suitcase when we go to the hotel, but when she got off on the sixth floor I realised it was a massage table.  The hotel does have a fitness centre, not that I’ve been anywhere near it, so they must also offer massages in your room.  I thought my shoulder could do with some of that but I would be far too weirded out getting a massage in my room from anyone, man or woman, unless Mags was there too.  Maybe I’m more prudish than I thought.

Andre picked us up again at about 5pm to get to the meeting which starts about 6pm and Godfrey wanted to just double check the words on their system and put ‘Wild Goose’ in there, as several people had requested it.  It’s not a song he or I have played for many years but it is a lot of fun so he’s keeping it in reserve.  When we got there we were delighted to see that Chereen and her husband Vian and her dad Gordon were there with a lady friend of Gordon’s who I think was called Daphne.  I was so glad to meet Vian having heard some of their story from Chereen and he’s a lovely man, very easy to like and we chatted about motorbikes for a while.

The church band were going to start with three songs so I went to sit at the back and watch and they did an improvised jam to start which was really good and I filmed a little section of it with my phone and whacked it on FaceBook, then they did their songs.  It’s good to be in a church where although the songs were unfamiliar to me they were at least New Covenant songs and not all about pleading, and striving!  Who needs to sing about that nonsense? The church needs to sing songs of how great our God is and who we are in Christ to remind ourselves as we forget so easily.  As most people in a church get their theology from what they sing it’s important to sing the truth not a load of either theological twaddle or Old Covenant do-do.  Most folks can’t remember a damn thing the preacher said five minutes after they’ve left the meeting, no matter how good she/he was but they’ll remember the lyrics to the songs and sing them at home or in the car, so we need to reinforce the gospel not the lament! (Rant over!)

At the end of R U Ready I did a little drum break on the snare and Godfrey said ‘Nigel’s such a good drummer’ and then the crowd started chanting ‘Nigel…Nigel’ over and over.  It’s good being in a church that doesn’t take itself too seriously and can have a laugh.  We did do ‘Wild Goose’ right at the end but it was not fun to play on the electric kit, that song requires some complex floor tom work with quiet ghost notes and then suddenly some crashing power and the electric kit simply cannot respond well enough. 

After the meeting we had some food from the ladies in the church kitchen and said our goodbyes to everyone.  There is currently a plan for Godfrey, and hopefully me, to come back in May next year to do the worship at their conference and if that can work out work and dates-wise that’d be brilliant.

When we got back to the hotel we popped into the bar for a quick beer and both of us got propositioned by ladies of negotiable affection, one very subtly and one right out in the open as bold as brass.  You’ll be unsurprised to read we politely but firmly declined and decided to beat a hasty retreat to our rooms!  I was quite surprised that a quality hotel like this wasn’t a bit more on the ball about allowing that on their premises.  It’s sad though to encounter people in that situation, I don’t imagine it’s anyone’s first choice of a way to earn money.  Desperation can take people to some dark places.

Tomorrow we fly back home at about 8pm in the evening, arriving at Heathrow about 5:30am I think.  Then it’s a drive up North to where Mags will meet us to pick me up.

It’s been an amazing trip and I’ve met some wonderful people.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

South Africa 2017 - Day 8 – 25th November

So judgement day has arrived, the four horsemen are heralding the apocalypse, my doom is upon me, all my nightmares are come true; I am sitting behind an electric drum kit!  But before we get to that lets rewind to a happier time, a time of innocence, a time of blessing; breakfast.  Breakfast was good.  Sausage, mushrooms, beans (clearly not Heinz though), bacon, cups of tea, cereal.  Ahhh hotel breakfast I do love you so.  I will never cheat on you with a greasy spoon cafĂ©, I shall remain faithful and love you always.

Ok now I’m in my happy place reminiscing about hotel breakfasts I can face the trauma.  We were picked up by JD about 9:35 and it was only a short drive to the Airport Christian Fellowship’s building which is undergoing considerable expansion work.  The guys in the band and doing the words/PA were there to great us and were lovely friendly people.  The pianist, keyboard player and guitarist had clearly worked hard to learn the songs and really didn’t need much rehearsing at all just a few prods in the right direction for when to dial it down and when to build it up which always makes this process a lot easier.  One of the guys helped me move the electric drum pads into slightly more comfy positions for me and helped with programming the ‘brain’ to make a sound somewhat similar to real drums.  Helga the keyboard player is apparently their regular drummer and she hates the electric kit too and calls it ‘the plastic drums’.  Barend was playing lead guitar and showed us a nice solo in R U Ready?  It’s a bit odd not to have a bass player when there’re two sets of keyboards but we didn’t seem to really notice the lack.  The electric drums are, as expected, execrable.  No subtlety is possible, the triggers in the cymbals are awful and only trigger every other strike unless you pound them, which kind of misses the point.  The snare and kick sound pretty good but the toms sound completely fake, nothing like real toms at all.  I must have had a face on like someone chewing a wasp during the rehearsal because JD came over and asked if I was OK!  I assured him it’d be OK and that I’m just not used to electric drums as I’ve no idea how to get a good sound out of them.  I presume if you’ve loads of experience with them you can fiddle with the ‘brain’ and get a good sound but that’s not me. As I always say I’m not really a musician ‘I just hit things with sticks’.  The thing I miss the most is real cymbals, electric drums can sound adequate (they’re never good or even a close second to real acoustic drums) but electric cymbals are complete and utter pants.  You’d be better off hitting dustbin lids.  You get one sound, ‘ting’, and you can vary how loud the ‘ting’ is a bit by hitting it harder but I use brushes, beaters, tips, ends, edge of sticks, my hands everything on cymbals and you can get a dozen different sounds out of one reasonable cymbal.  You can add some atmosphere and background to the quite moments, you can build a crescendo or choke a crash to a dead stop for dramatic effect with even cheap real cymbals.  With electric ones you can go ‘ting’.  Yay.

OK, now I’ve vented my spleen about how utterly, utterly, utterly, utterly pitiful and inadequate to the task electric kits are (and for the price of a reasonable electric kit you could buy two acoustic ones) I shall move on.  Honest.

The pastor, John Wasserman, arrived and chatted with us before taking us for lunch at a nice place nearby.  We had a good time and were joined by a guy called Andre and his friend who were going to be doing some stuff at the meeting that evening.  I had a chicken, mushroom and pasta dish and Godfrey had prawns.  I felt like I usually do when eating in a restaurant with Mags, I should’ve had what he had!  Mine was good but his looked spectacular.

We got back to the hotel quite late so only had an hour and a bit to rest before being picked up for the evening meeting.  Our key cards had both mysteriously stopped working on our doors when we got back, but fortunately we didn’t have to go all the way back to reception from the eighth floor as a lady with a master key happened by just as we set off and she let us in. 

When we were leaving the hotel it had gone quite cold and there’d clearly been a lot of rain and there was more on the way.  Perhaps this is God’s way of acclimatising us for getting back to England in November! We both needed our coats to go outside.

When we got to the meeting the Pastor did some welcomes and introductions and handed out some of his teaching DVDs and anointing oil to the visiting pastors in the room and included Godfrey and me in that. Then he introduced Godfrey and me and we took to the stage with the band and got the fun started.  The crowd was lively and enthusiastic and seemed to love the songs, both older more familiar ones and the newer ones.  The words, as often happens, seemed to get a bit scrambled at one point and wouldn’t come on for one song, technology eh?  I felt sorry for the person operating the words and bet it worked fine when they tested it earlier!  It didn’t matter much though really.  According to those present the electric kit sounded OK out in the auditorium but it seemed a bit quiet to me, and also the cymbals and some of the toms seemed to cut out occasionally and not make any sound when hitting them.

After Godfrey had finished, the pastor and the visiting guy Andre prayed for and ministered to quite a few people then we did a couple more songs to finish off including ‘Outrageous Grace’.  There’s NOTHING for the drummer to do in that until the last word of the last line of the last verse and then it blasts in for that and the final chorus.  It’s amazingly effective to remain silent up to that point and then suddenly arrive.  I’ve not played it for over ten years I guess.

There was food after the meeting and it was great.  They have on-site cooks and I had a burger sized meatball thing with a name I can’t remember and probably couldn’t pronounce with a fantastic salad with feta, avocado, lettuce, cucumber, tomato plus some potatoes cooked in creamy sauce.  Man it was really good. 

We got a ride back to the hotel and had a quick drink in the bar to chat and unwind before heading to bed.  We’ve got an early start tomorrow.  The meeting starts at 9am so we’ll need to have breakfast at 7am as we’re being picked up at 7:45!  Wow I love the fact that Pioneer (our local church at home) meets about 10:30 and doesn’t start until 11am.  How very civilized.  By hey, this is Africa and they love an early start here!

More fun to come on our last day of meetings tomorrow I think.

South Africa 2017 - Day 7 – 24th November

I was up about 7:30am packing my suitcase and rucksack ready to head to Johannesburg a bit later this morning.  Somehow despite only buying one t-shirt while here my case seems to weigh twice as much as at the start of this trip!  We had a good breakfast with Chereen and her father Gordon then loaded our stuff into Gordon’s huge Toyota as our stuff wouldn’t fit into Chereen’s little VW.  Godfrey gave Gordon one of his CDs as a little parting gift; I hope he listens to it.  He’s a lovely man and Chereen would love him to grasp the message of his inclusion in the finished work of the cross.

Chereen drove us the hour and a half or so the Premier Hotel (not a UK style Premier Inn – a nice hotel) which is right next to the O R Tambo International Airport. She and her father have looked after us so wonderfully.  I'm so grateful for people like that who can put you at your ease in their home and make you welcome.  

It was quite uncomfortable for me to have people take my bags off me and put them in one of those baggage trolleys you see in the movies and show us to our rooms, I’d rather take my own bag but I guess these guys have a job to do and a tip to earn.  My room faced directly into the airport and you could see the planes taking off and landing, Godfrey’s was directly opposite and only had a view of the end of the runway so we swapped as he loves plane watching.

We had a light lunch in the hotel bar and spent the afternoon relaxing.  I did some more reading and watched a couple of shows on Netflix, oh how I’ve missed a fast unlimited WiFi connection to the internet. We met up mid-way through the afternoon for a swim in the rather cold outdoor pool, sadly the sun wasn’t out as it was cloudy so it was too cold for a long swim.

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant which has a buffet/carvery arrangement.  It was OK but not brilliant.  I think we’ve been spoiled with the quality of the food we’ve had with our South African hosts in Hartbeespoort and Stilfontain!

I managed to have a good long chat with my lovely wife via FaceTime in the evening before going to sleep.  Tomorrow will be a lot busier.  We have rehearsals with the band in the morning then the evening meeting starts at 6pm.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

South Africa 2017 - Day 6 – 23rd November

Chereen, our lovely host cooked us a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, avocado and a fine selection of fruit.  We have no meetings today but it’s a good day to visit a few folk.  Our first call was into a psychiatric hospital in east Pretoria to visit the daughter of a lady who’d been in the meeting at Church in the City in Brits the other night.  I’m not going to name any names or give many details to preserve her privacy but suffice to say she’s had a hard time in the last few years and has struggled with mental health issues to the point she needed admitting recently.  I presume the unfair stigma faced by those struggling with their mental health, as opposed to physical health, is as bad in South Africa as it is in the UK, if not worse.  Godfrey has a gift for sharing the unending, unchanging, unrelenting love of Father God for people who find themselves in such a situation and although he couldn’t get an acoustic guitar to go in with we went into the hospital anyway.  It was like “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”, bare lino floors, painted concrete walls and high ceilings, steel bars on the windows and old fashioned jail-style steel bar doors.  The noise was appalling, not wails or screams just the amplified and undamped echo of every word spoken, every footstep and every rattle of every door or window.  You could hardly make yourself heard at the ward reception desk or in the dining area where we were to meet the young lady and her mum.  After a few minutes struggling with the sound we were moved to a more private TV room that was still noisy but at least we were the only ones in it.  There was no TV either, thankfully.  Godfrey sang two of his songs to the young lady, “Do you believe what I believe about you?” and “I am not disappointed in you” after explaining that they were Father God’s words to her for her and about her, specifically.  She seemed to understand and she chatted with him for a while and he encouraged her that her future was going to be different to her past.  Her mum was very touched that we’d taken the time to go in to see her and frankly it was a privilege to do so.  I can’t imagine how hard it must be as a parent to see one of your children suffering and struggling like that.  But she has hope for the future.  Godfrey gave the mum one of his CDs that has the songs on that he sang to her daughter which she'll keep safe until she gets out, which hopefully won’t be too long.

We then moved on to the other side of Pretoria to another hospital this time to see a lady called Tilana who was the person who invited Godfrey to Brits when she found out he was coming to South Africa.  She is Pastor Wally’s sister and has been fighting cancer for eleven years.  She managed to come to the meeting on Tuesday night despite not feeling well and needing treatment; she was determined she wasn’t going to miss it as she loves Godfrey’s music so much.

I have rarely seen anyone so fully alive and glowing with enthusiasm let alone someone who is so very ill.  She is a remarkable lady and we spent a wonderful hour with her chatting about Godfrey’s music, her journey of faith and her determination to be well.  She and her husband are planning on going on the Religious Detox cruise in the Mediterranean next September plus she’s hoping to be released from this round of hospital treatment on Sunday morning which means if she’s strong enough and well enough she may be able to come on Sunday night to our final meeting of this trip here in South Africa.

After we took our leave of her we headed to the mall opposite to meet a friend of Godfrey’s called Gerben who was the Worship Director at a huge church of 8,000 people in Pretoria when Godfrey came over about ten years ago.  He’s still in a leadership capacity there and shared with us some of the monumental changes going on at their church, all of which sounded exciting and very much in line with how I would love all churches to be; focused outwards, serving their community, deconstructing and closing things that are no longer relevant, trying to remove the consumerist culture from the meetings of the church.  It’s almost unheard of for a church of that size, with a large number of full-time staff to attempt such a shift.  Even small churches find that stuff difficult.  I hope they succeed.  He is also a drummer and an extremely accomplished musician in several fields.  He was someone you could immediately warm to and I liked him immensely.

By then it was about 3:30pm so it was time to head back to Chereen’s house before we got too caught in the rush hour traffic.

Tonight Chereen and Gordon treated us to a fantastic meal of Snoek, an amazingly tasty meaty fish, grilled on a barbeque with roasted vegetables, and a salad.  It was wonderful meal.  Godfrey and Gordon sat out on the terrace sharing a tot of each of their favourite whiskies while Chereen and I talked inside.  She told me some of her amazing life story, which as it’s her’s not mine I won’t be sharing here, but it was FULL to the brim with the grace and goodness of God in what at times must have been incredibly hard situations.  She is a remarkable woman and my only regret is not getting to meet her husband as he was been working away all week and gets home tomorrow after we’ve left.

Tomorrow we’re heading for Johannesburg itself and this time we’re staying in a hotel near the airport instead of with members of the church.  We have a meeting on Saturday night and two meetings on Sunday.  Apparently I’ll be playing an electric drum kit which I’m not looking forward to.  I don’t like them even if they’re expensive and fancy ones.  Partly that’s because they lack the sensitivity an acoustic kit has and partly it’s just it pushes me out of my comfort zone!  I shall get over myself and do my best on it and I’m sure it’ll be dandy!  What’s the worst that could happen?  Tune in to Saturday nights blog to find out!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

South Africa 2017 - Day 5 – 22nd November

This morning we were up at seven to get to the meeting for about half past eight.  I’d brought a bag of low-sugar cereal with me and opening it this morning to have for breakfast as Wally had said he’s sort a brunch out after the meeting.  We took a different route into Brits which seemed faster than the route via the dam but was still about half an hour.

There was only a very small crowd this morning fifteen or so at the most however we had a good time doing some different songs from the night before and then Godfrey spoke a bit, expanding on some of the things we’d spoken about the night before and then he threw it open for some Q&A.  Wally, the pastor, asked some good questions and I got an opportunity to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way in this exploration of the finished work, inclusion and our identity in Christ.  It really seemed to help some people having a time to conversation and questions.  Churches are often scared to death of questions but I love them.  How can we learn without examining what we believe and questioning it?  We finished off with ‘Do you believe’ and ‘I am not disappointed’  as those had particularly touched Wally.

I was asked by a lovely lady called Gladys about forgiveness and how she could forgive someone who had stolen money from her.  I explained as best as I could that forgiving them was not the same as saying what they did was OK but it was about your own peace of mind and ensuring you don’t end up reliving the hurt and pain of the theft again and again until you end up embittered and damaged.  That forgiving someone was often more about you than about the person who had wronged you.  I explained it was also a choice, not a feeling and even if she didn’t feel like it she could chose to say ‘I forgive’ and that it would get easier.  Leave the person who had done the theft to the authorities and to God to sort out.

I had a delicious brunch of scrambled eggs, bacon, chips and a south African sausage called Droe wors I think.  Godfrey had a fish and vegetables dish.  Wally questioned us quite intently about our beliefs but not in a critical way but in the way of a man wrestling with a fresh revelation and trying to square it with things he’s believed or been taught that seem not to line up.  He was especially concerned with hell and judgement but he knew that the focus was to be Jesus and let such things sort themselves out in the their own good time.  Sometimes the good news does look too good!

We then headed for the cable car to go up to the top of the nearby mountain.  Our host Chereen manages the gift shop there so she took us along with Wally and his wife Rosie.  The ride up was super smooth and quick and the weather was glorious.  We had an ice cream at the top then took the cable car back down to visit a beautiful supermarket full of the most amazing produce.  There were fruits and vegetables the like of which I’ve never seen plus a surprising number of things exactly the same as at home!

We bid our goodbyes to Wally and Elisabeth and Chereen took us back to her house where a thunderstorm started about half past two with very impressive flashes of fork lightning and heavy rain in the distance heading towards us.

Tomorrow there’s the possibility that we’ll go to Pretoria to visit the sister of a lady in the church who is in a secure psychiatric unit so Godfrey can sing some of his songs there and we’ll also visit the lady who invited us in to the church in Brits.  She’s Wally’s sister and she’s very sick with cancer.  She was at the meeting last night but had taken a turn for the worse.

In the evening we had a lovely meal of chicken and smoked trout that Chereen's dad Gordon had caught on one of his fishing trips.