Sunday, 28 May 2017

Cathy Mark in Matlosane - May 2017

First Impressions...

Saturday (27/5/17)

Well, it’s been twenty-four hours since I arrived in Johannesburg. After a long, albeit uneventful ten-hour flight from Heathrow, I was met at the airport by Bishop Steve and his eldest daughter. After a bite to eat, we made the three-hour journey to his residence in Klerksdorp (a neighvourhood with gated communities, guard dogs and leafy trees). Following a restful Friday, today was spent visiting the Bishop’s diocesan office in Klerksdorp, St Monica’s Church in Kanana (in full swing, preparing for Sundays’ services), and a local HIV/AIDS project. I also met up with Kgowe, the St Chad’s Volunteer who spent six months in the UK. It was good to see him in his homeland, in his own context. In the evening, I tasted pap (ground maize) and had my first experience of a South African braai (barbeque). Although I’m not much of a meat eater, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal. In the short time I’ve been here, the main things that have struck me are: how cold South Africa is… the season here is winter (I would describe it as a cool British spring during the day, and a British winter at night); the fact that a lot of social conversation revolves around the criminality and violence felt and experienced by locals, politics and the legacy of apartheid. On this latter note, there is indeed a marked difference between the townships and towns of Johannesburg which reflect its painful history. And, yet in all its brokenness, there is a beauty and charm to the people and the place. As I write this, I’m reminded of Graham Kendrick’s song:

Beauty for brokenness
Hope for despair
Lord, in the suffering
This is our prayer
Bread for the children
Justice, joy, peace
Sunrise to sunset
Your kingdom increase!
Sunday (28/5/17)

Today I attended St Monica’s Church in Kanana, in the diocese of Matlosane. Kanana is a township about a twenty minute drive from Klerksdorp where I’m being hosted by Bishop Steve and his family. I had been warned that it would be a longish service because the Bishop visits the churches in his parish about once a year and in today’s proceedings, he would be instituting the new rector and officiating the confirmations of ten candidates. At 8 am, after a briefing from the Bishop, introductions made, and a prayer – we processed from outside of the church building, down the aisle of the church and headed to our places around the high altar. The colour of red splashed on the altar, clergy and serving laity. I, in my polka-dot dress (in collar), took my seat beside a now retired Canon. I participated in the proceedings – giving a short reading and being a witness in the institution of the rector part of the service; then proclaiming the gospel in the main service. What a privilege! The service was conducted in Setswana and translated in Xhosa, with interjections in English (for my benefit, I believe). Thankfully, the two women sitting next to me guided me through the service and at some point I even attempted to follow the hymns in the Setswana language. The service was full of humour, laughter, perfunctory tuts, song, and dance. The highlights of the service for me were: witnessing the newly instituted rector and confirmation candidates making their vows; watching the streams of children returning after their Sunday School session singing and dancing as they came up to the front to be blessed by the Bishop (I joined in the English chorus: ‘We lift you higher… higher, higher…’). At the end of all the joyous celebration, the Bishop sprinkled us with water mixed with salt (symbolising the protection of God). Then, as is the case in any African celebration, we were invited to a wonderful spread of lunch. It wasn’t until 3 pm that we got home. But, my, what a blessed way to spend a Sunday… and all I can do is sing this African chant:

What shall I say, unto the Lord 
All I have to say is thank you Lord 
Thank you Lord 
All I have to say, is thank you Lord

Cathy Mark 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

All too soon ....

It’s Sunday evening and I’m back at the Bishop’s House, watching Stoke play West Ham in the Staffordshire sunshine. It must be time to come home – especially as Brenda has just been showing me photos of snow – yes snow - on the roads around Mafeking! It has been very cold here too, and we had 22 hours non-stop rain, and some more since. It is too late for the crops but it will help the domestic water situation.

This final weekend has been restful, and I have been staying with an army family, Wayne and Rosemary Stevens and their children, Channing and Megan. They well remembered the visit of the Westwood family in 2012. There is also a photo of them in the ‘People of Matlosane’ sequence at the side of the blog. We got up late on Saturday and eventually went to the Mall in Potch for a couple of hours. We then had fish and chips for supper – but South African style!

This morning we went to Promosa where I had the privilege of preaching and con-celebrating with Fr Sydney. Promosa was originally a coloured community and so much of the service was in English, although Setswana made an appearance. At times, it was hard to tell that it was Pentecost Sunday – the music certainly didn’t reflect it. But I was made very welcome and Pentecost as the antidote to the Tower of Babel was very real.

Rather than come straight home I called in at the Cathedral in Ikageng, only a mile or two from Promosa. The service had just finished and I was greeted by many as an old friend. It is good to be able to do these informal visits. The last time I was here Nonto, the priest, was preparing for her wedding. Today I was able to see her photos and share her joy. Her husband is also a priest but hadn’t returned from his church before I had to leave.

On the table in her home was her holding cross. In October Lichfield gave every priest here one in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Diocese. I have heard so many stories about how important those crosses are for individuals themselves and in their ministries. I have seen them in places where they pray, taken out of pockets and held in the hand. There are at least two stories of healing. Someone is now looking to see if they can be sourced more locally. They have been a real blessing to the clergy – thank you Lichfield.

Tomorrow it’s the drive to the airport– and I’m not looking forward to it. The traffic can be very heavy around Jo’burg in the late afternoon, so I’m just hoping the airport is very well signed – not something South Africa is renowned for! But living in the present, there is the smell of the braai coming in through the door. The Bishop was determined to end my stay according to custom, despite the cold and what has been a hard weekend for him and Brenda, with a family funeral, followed by a family wedding. I just might have to resort to my fleece tonight – there were times when I wished I’d taken it with me on my travels!

People here want to know when I’m coming back – all I can say is watch this space! This Diocese is now part of me, and while I’m able, I’ll be coming back.

So once again it is time to thank all those who have followed me on this journey, prayed for me and supported with comments on the blog and emails – but as always, to God for his faithfulness and protection.


Friday, 13 May 2016

BLOG POST 100!!! Wednesday 11th - Friday 13th

2 very different houses side by side in
the township. Money makes the difference!
My second day here in the north was fascinating. But first, I must correct what I said previously. I am currently staying at the Rectory of St Augustine, Marico, but it is not actually in Marico! It is in the township of Ikageleng. When the church was built it served a large area, at the centre of which was the town of Marico, hence the name.

In many of the places I have visited the congregations are trying to raise money to build a new church or to extend their church. Corrugated iron roofs have holes; wooden posts are being eaten away by ants; concrete is crumbling. In Dinokana the son of an MU member is the builder, and he waits till they have money to do a little more work and then does it. It is slow progress but they are getting there, not helped by thieves who broke into the existing church recently and stole the door and scaffolding!

From there we moved on to Ke-Barona, an elderly and disabled care home.  The name means ‘Ours’, and highlights the fact that for the families the residents are not ‘ours’, until they die that is and then they want to claim the insurance money! There are 22 elderly and 9 disabled residents, looked after by 14 staff. Every day they have ‘Church’, which they must all attend. When we arrived they were sitting outside getting some ‘exercise’. There are 4 dormitories, so about 9 beds in a room with almost no space between the beds. Funding is difficult, but the care is loving and good.

Next it was a crèche, called ‘Banapele’, which means children first. They had just been making mud hand prints and were standing outside holding them up to the sun to dry them. The children chanted and sang for us. I've tried to attach a video, but failed. I'll try again sometime because it needs to be seen!! A child must be able to know and write their own and their family names, and hold a pencil and use it before they can go to school. From the crèche we went across the ‘road’ to the house of the Chief of the Moilwa family, part of the Bahurutshe tribe. The chiefs still have power and there are Houses of Chiefs in each Province and in Pretoria. They safeguard the traditional affairs and rights of their people. After that, it is quite difficult to understand!

Friday 3pm   I have now arrived in Promosa, one of the townships of Potchefstroom, where Canon Sydney Magobotla is priest. There is total cloud cover, it's windy and I am sure I just heard thunder. Please God it herald's rain! I shall not be staying here, but with a church warden and his family, somewhere on the outskirts of Potch. Yet more new experiences! I think this might be a more restful couple of days, though I have to preach on Sunday. Come, Holy Spirit , come.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Catch up - poor internet connections

An evening of contrasts

I am now in Zeerust, or more correctly Marico, in the north of the Diocese, near mountains, and the internet signal is weak. Before I left Lichtenburg this morning we had 5 minutes of rain – not nearly enough, but at least a promise of what might come. The journey was straight forward and after lunch I sat in the warm sunshine and chatted with the Revd Clifford Letlonkane, whom I first met on his ordination retreat in 2014. Marico is like a township, but is actually for farmers who have come to live in the town. The houses are similar to those in the townships, as is the way of life.

About 5 we set off to pay a visit to a family whose 40 year old son died on Friday. As we arrived I realised that I had visited this hoe in 2014 with Archdeacon Sam and been treated to a lovely lunch. Some of them remembered me, but I only remembered the house. We walked through the family home to the parent’s bedroom, where the base of the bed had been removed and the mattress was on the floor. Tucked up in bed were two women, the mother and her sister. Had the mother’s mother still been alive it would have been her duty to stay with her daughter in the bed. The mother is allowed up – and out - for dealing with the bank and funeral directors, but otherwise she stays put till the day of the funeral. The same applies if it’s a husband that has died. She is supported by the women of the family, from church and friends. If it’s a wife, the husband is expected to stay around the house with other men. Each evening a different group turns up about 6pm - tonight it was the Lay Ministers - to ‘say’ Evening Prayer. I write ‘say’ because the psalm was sung and there were many powerful choruses interspersed in the service. There was a sermon, and an add-on – both of which were ‘forcefully proclaimed’ to those of us in the bedroom. Of course it was all in Setswana, but I understood Ps 23 and Romans 8, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Grace, so I just mentally tagged along. When it was over there were refreshments for everyone. Fr Clifford told me that he found the restraint shown by the white community at such times hard to understand. “You would hardly think there was funeral taking place,” was his comment.

Back at the Rectory, we got out of the car and I was hit by the serenity of the place. It was cool; there was a smell of wood smoke in the air; the cicadas were chirping; a newish crescent moon shone and we could see myriads of stars in the sky. I could have stood for a very long time just drinking it all in. Magical – and in the truest sense of the word, awesome.

Tomorrow we begin our tour of the area. I can’t wait to get started!


Internet access failed last night so tomorrow is now today, and we have had a good day. We visited a possible venue for the clergy retreat later this year, and I realised that I had been there before for a Family Day – only this time we saw wildebeest, zebra and bok as we drove around. I was surprised to see that much of the rock seemed to be slate – but mostly red and brown in colour. There were moments of stillness when you could hear the wind in the trees, birds singing, insects humming and very little else.

Then it was off to the township of Lehurutshe, to see the chapelry church (an outstation / daughter church of a parish) which is under-going renovation, visit some sick parishioners – a 16 year old with asthma, who is on constant oxygen and needs a lung transplant, a 13 year old with brain damage, and a middle aged man badly injured in a car accident some months ago. Eventually we were entertained to lunch in the home of an MU member. If I thought the water shortage was bad in Lichtenburg, it was even worse here. They have water for one day, and then there is no water for 3 days – and the four day cycle just repeats! They assured me that you do get used to it. Here in Zeerust there is no problem and we have a constant water supply - so far!

Now I’ll try to post this before the evening sets in and too many people try to get access!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Friday 6th - Monday 9th May

It’s been a busy few days. Friday was quite quiet as Jacques and I were both suffering from an ‘Autumn cold’. Thankfully by Saturday morning I had recovered enough to do the training with a rather rough voice, and without a constant stream of tissues! About 16 priests came, one or two I had not expected. They have been ordained for more than 10 years, but are ‘slow learners’. We began with Morning Prayer and then had breakfast – an evil smelling ‘sour porridge’ and cheese and ham sandwiches. Some had had to travel long distances. One left home at 6am in order to be sure to arrive for 10. We then worked hard till 1.30pm, looking firstly at our call to ‘BE’ priests and how that is supported by a Rule of Life, and then at problems priests face today. We ended our time with lunch. The day seemed to go well and, they had all engaged with the process, even if they found some things hard to understand at first.

Sunday morning I was up really early because I had to drive to Tigane for the 8am service. It did not begin well when I set off on the wrong road and had to turn back and start again. But I got there in plenty of time, aided by a server who was walking to church and whom I stopped to ask directions. It was Mothers’ Day – a separate occasion from Mothering Sunday – and the church was decorated accordingly. Some decorations fell during the service, narrowly missing the candles carried by the servers!  
Central decoration on the altar frontal
  Afterwards I was able to distribute some of the jumpers I had brought, but sadly about half of the children were too big for them. The smaller ones will be taken to other outlets with connections to St Luke’s. The congregation is served by Canon Tom Mafora, a retired priest, who has worked hard to grow the congregation. Now they have to working hard to extend their building, and so are busy fund raising. Boxes of cakes were on sale, with a Happy Mothers’ Day sticker on the lid.

After the service I drove on to Lichtenberg, where I am staying with the Revd Elizabeth Amir in her small house on the location (township) of Blydeville. She calls it an old lady’s house. It is tiny but has large furniture. The only supply of hot water is from the kettle. There is a modern but small bathroom, but no water to the sink tap, and only a cold water tap for the bath. I dare not think about how many extensions are run off one power point. But the welcome is warm and genuine. Today we have been out and about in the area, visiting the half built church for Blydeville, a lady whose birthday it was yesterday, and Isaac Rapakeng, whose wedding I went to last week. We had an evening meal with Elizabeth’s daughter who lives nearby, but in a much larger, modern house.

Lichtenberg is served by two reservoirs, both of which are nearly dry. Every day between 12 noon and about 5pm the water is switched off in both the town and surrounding townships, and so people have large containers of water standing around in their kitchens to enable life to continue. I have also seen field after field of dried up crops, wasting away, both maize and sunflower. The drought is biting hard.

Tomorrow I travel north to Zeerust – and new adventures and experiences. Pray for rain for all the drought affected areas of southern Africa; for those who attended the training that they may be faithful priests; those who don’t enjoy what we think of as the basic necessities of living; and the young people seeking solace in alcohol and hard drugs.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Thursday 5th May

This was the day the busy-ness started! Most days the Bishop and I say Morning Prayer together in his chapel after he has taken the children to school and work begins. Thursday, Ascension Day, was no exception.

After breakfast I headed off to Jouberton to Boitumelo School, with Fr Paul Letlala, rector of Jouberton. Founded in 1939, it was originally an Intermediate School but is now a Primary and intermediate School. It was visited by last year’s Sunday School Teachers’ Training team, and Codsall First School have set up a link with it. I was asked to bring out some photos, information papers and a donation of money, which I duly handed over to the Head Teacher – the first woman head of the school – Lydia Moiloa, who is also church warden at Holy Family Church, Jouberton.
Lydia took us on a tour of the Grade R and Grade 1 classes, and I was able to take photos to pass on to Codsall School. As we toured there was a smell of food being cooked, which is financed by the authorities. But any refurbishment of the buildings has to be financed by fundraising at the school. The education authority provides one exercise book per child, and if they run out, or the book is filled then further books have to be paid for by the families. It seemed to be a happy place, and I was put to the test when I had to read out the months of the year as displayed on one classroom wall!

Later in the day I travelled to Potchefstroom (Potch) to stay the night with my friends Peter and Ritha Menyatso, members of the Cathedral congregation. Ritha has been teaching in Ikageng, but is awaiting the papers for her new post, teaching Setswana through the medium of Afrikaans to Primary children in a school near their home. Different!

I’ve managed to get a nasty head cold, and went to the pharmacist. The best she could offer was Sudafed, which is a Class 2 drug here. Before I could buy it I had to be registered – they needed my name and date of birth – and a proper chemist’s label was attached to the box. This was then put in a little wire basket and sealed for me to take to the checkout to pay for. How much easier to pick up a packet in Tesco! My surprise was met with “Welcome to South Africa!” I hoping my throat will be OK for Saturday.

Later today – Friday – I’m going to stay with Fr Jacques Pieterse and his family to catch up, and then tomorrow we are off to Khuma for the POT training. Next week the Bishop has arranged for me to travel around the northern part of the Diocese, getting back to Klerksdorp the day before I fly home. I’ll write when I can, and internet access allows.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

One week in .....

… and I’m beginning to get used to the temperatures. The mornings and evenings are cold – for the first time I am sleeping under the quilt. There has just been one night when I had to throw it off. Washing takes so much longer to dry too. Today I’ve even worn a cardigan. I’m thinking of taking my fleece when I start to travel. That said, by lunch time it is quite hot and today I had a swim and then a sit in the sun.

Tomorrow morning I am delivering some papers and a cash donation to Jouberton Primary School, with whom St Nicholas’ First School in Codsall are trying to make link, following last year’s visit by those who came to do Sunday School teachers’ training. Then I’m off on my travels around the Diocese, only touching base here at 46 Monica Ave for one night. What internet access will be in the more remote areas I don’t know. At least the Bishop was only teasing when he said there wouldn’t be electricity! He’s told me that if I get homesick I can always come back here anytime. Me? Homesick? Those two words don’t go together! But it is nice to know that he sees this as my home here.

Saturday I am leading a post-ordination training for those in the first 10 years of Orders. I have had no end of trouble with making the PowerPoint, but at the third go it worked. Sunday I shall be at Tigane, and delivering the 75 knitted jumpers that filled my bags on the journey here. Hopefully I’ll get some photos. They are just in time for the cold weather. Then it’s off up north.

Prayers please for Saturday, a sermon on Sunday and safe travelling, especially as my wonderful map book is still in a box somewhere after the move to the new Diocesan Centre, and we can’t find it!