Saturday, 3 June 2017

Cathy Mark's final stint in Matlosane Diocese

 Thursday (1/6/17)

 After a sad farewell to Reverend Isaac and friends at Lichtenburg (the time with them passed too quickly), I was whisked away by Reverend Mbele to Itsoseng. This, approximately a forty minute drive, via the Education Board offices where we met a number of church council members who I would be seeing later that evening at a social. After our time at the Education Board offices, we went to meet with the Mothers Union (MU) and Anglican Women’s Fellowship (AWF) who had put on a programme to welcome me in their parish. Both organisations spoke of their histories and focus within their communities. In illustration, some of the projects that the Mother’s Union (and indeed the AWF) engage with are: school shoes drive, visiting the sick, hospice help (e.g. washing laundry), handiwork (e.g. knitting blankets), growing a vegetable garden (although this has had to be suspended due to a lack of water in this area – more on this later), praying together, attending conferences and various training events, social outreaches, and being involved in the spiritual development of others. The agenda for the morning included lots of song, dance and hashtags. For example – #wow or #standupanddoyourthing – followed many of the presentations. So quirky and fabulous! I was asked to give a talk to the group. Another on-the-spot and impromptu opportunity. I spoke on mothers/mother figures being the pillars of such communities and encouraged them not to give up on their children and youth (this emerging from all I’d been hearing about the concerns of townships and rural communities). I reflected on my relationship with my mother – difficult in my teens – but my mother never gave up on me… she sowed many tears, love and prayers over the years… and, I truly believe I am who I am today because of her faith in God. Again, Kgowe translated for me and did a grand job. Following this, I had a couple of hours to settle into my home for the next two nights, living with the priest-in-charge and family in their rectory. In the evening, we travelled back to Lichtenburg where the Lay Minister of St Peter’s Church and his wife had organised a social event to celebrate my arrival in their parish. Again, it was another wonderful occasion of food, fun and fellowship. The motto here being, “we don’t want you to feel at home… we want you to be at home.” What a wonderful perspective on generous and sacrificial hospitality.

 Friday (2/6/17)

The sprawling and extensive parish of Itsoseng has sixteen chapelries in its rural outstations. Supporting these communities are a priest-in-charge (Reverend Mbele), curate (Reverend Leboe) and two self-supporting ministers (Reverends Maboe and Moiloa). All incredibly committed to the communities they serve.  From 10 am to 4 pm, we travelled around this rural community to visit many of these chapelries. St Marks (Bodibe), St Pauls (Bodibe), All Souls (Matshepe), St Augustine (Meetmekaar), All Saints (Driehoek), Christ the King (Brooksby), St Matthews (Kalpaan), St Simon and Jude (Moodgedacht), to name a few.  Features of this landscape include: expansive corn fields; farmyards with goats, chickens, and other animals; donkeys carrying people and goods from various parts of the community; track roads full of potholes. The key issues in this parish, as identified by the priest-in-charge are: drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, unemployment, civil unrests arising due to the lack of service provision, namely water. In fact, this morning, Mrs Mbele had to fill my bath with water boiled in an urn and kettle because there was no running water from the taps. A real point of contention in these parts, which has led to strikes and protests – and I saw the evidence of this in burnt down shops and grassland. Food and fellowship flowed throughout the day. And, after a full and exhilarating day, we came home ready for another evening social. The Men’s Fellowship were to prepare Braai for us. I managed a good long walk around Itsoseng with two young servers. It was illuminating to see the place from a different perspective – on foot. And, the walk helped with digesting all the food eaten earlier in the day, prior to this next meal. Back in the UK, a friend of mine who grew up in SA warned me that South Africans do enjoy eating a lot of meat – and my goodness is he right! Not only meat eaters, but real food lovers around that ethos of sharing in community and fellowship.

Saturday (3/6/17)

An early start for me today. I woke up at 6 am and readied myself for a 7 am service. Today was a special service, where we would be unveiling two tomb stones. The service was in two parts – at the church and at the cemetery. It was interesting to observe a service being conducted interchangeably in four languages: Setswana, Xosa, Zulu and English. It was a privilege to take part in the service: at the church, pray for the children and serve the chalice during holy communion; at the graveside, say prayers alongside the other clergy and sprinkle water on the tombstones as a blessing (a first for me). Not surprisingly, an elaborate meal followed! Then, by early afternoon, it was time to head back to the rectory and pack my bags in preparation for my trip back to Klerksdorp with Lebogang and Letlhogonolo (which means ‘Lucky’). We were picked up at 4 pm. Although sad to leave so many good friends behind (at Lichtenburg and Itsoseng), it was good to see the Bishop and his family again and update them with all my adventures in the diocese. My prayer is that I will have a future opportunity to visit this wonderful diocese again. So many ordinary people doing extraordinary things to God’s glory!


Tomorrow, the UK team arrive… and we’ll be off to Hands at Work in White River. Do pray for our journeys, for God’s protection and provision. IJN. Amen. 

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

More from Cathy Mark in Matlosane

Monday (29/5/17)

Today I had the opportunity to visit the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. Over the years, I have read much on the history of South Africa, including parts of Mandela’s book, Long Walk To Freedom (regrettably, I haven’t managed it cover-to-cover) – however, the time I spent in the museum gave me greater depth and insight into South Africa’s sad history. I spent a significant amount of time in the temporary Mandela exhibition – a very moving and humbling experience – walking in the metaphorical shoes of a man who gave sacrificially for a nation he loved. As a black African, it felt important to acknowledge all that happened during the apartheid era to fellow black Africans who were subjected to much human indignity and humiliation (and, sadly, this is not just a South African problem, but very much a human problem, where we fail to see the ‘other’ in ourselves). Talking about this visit with other black South Africans was deeply illuminating too – where black men and women my age (40s) spoke of experiencing first-hand the realities of an institutionalised system of segregation. One lady spoke of going to a ‘black only’ pool while their white counterparts threw frogs into the water as they swam. And, when the whites started pouring acid in the pool, they stopped swimming in the pool. May we continue to pray for all nations broken by a legacy of hatred and division!

Tuesday (30/5/17)

In the late morning, after a rather hurried pack, I travelled to Coligny with Kgowe, the curate of St Andrews (Lichtenberg) - Revd Isaac Rapakeng, and warden of St Michael’s and All Angels (Coligny). The latter was our driver from Klerksdorp to Coligny and then Lichtenberg.

Kgowe, Revd Isaac, Lebogang (third from left), and Letlhogonolo (second from right)

 At our first stop in Thabelogang (Coligny), after greeting the priest-in-charge, we went to have a conversation with some of the youth at a community centre that Kgowe engages with. The youth coordinator described the work of the centre; encouraging young people to develop and hone skills that will enable them to progress with further studies and/or other vocational work. After that, we popped across the road to talk with a group of elderly women and two men at the Fountain of Hope outreach. This is a project that supports victims of rape, abuse, and other violence. They offer general counselling and referrals to social workers. Established in 2009, this outreach works alongside in excess of eighty girls and women over a period of six months. Later that morning, I met the two youth – Lebogang and Letlhogonolo (no longer Thato) – who will be travelling to White River with me on Sunday, 4th June. They put a lovely lunch spread for us. And, after a quick stop at Kgowe’s residence, where I met his sister, we travelled to Lichtenberg. There we visited St Barnabas and the Chapel of the Transfiguration (in Blydeville) where Revd Elizabeth Amir is the priest in charge. The Chapel of the Transfiguration is situated in a ‘coloured’ community township. A fledgling church community struggling with funding to maintain the property, especially in light of the spate of thefts. On the other hand, St Barnabas Church is a beautiful small church situated in a leafy churchyard. Previously an Afrikaans church, it now has mainly a congregation of blacks; its last two white members in their eighties and nineties. While in the past, Revd Elizabeth would have conducted services in Afrikaans, now due to the change in congregation and the fact that they have a Zimbabwean family in their midst, all her services here are now conducted in English. Meeting Revd Elizabeth was inspiring – her passion and commitment to the communities she serves was simply humbling. I still find it such a strange reality where the currency in this place is that of skin colour… where we are constantly speaking about people and communities on the basis of colour categories.

Well, I’ve been asked to preach at tomorrow’s evening service at St Andrews… Yikes! Talk about thrown in the deep end in an unfamiliar context… I need to get praying and prepping. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Wednesday (31/5/17)

Day started with breakfast at 8:30 am. Then, myself, Revd Isaac and Kgowe headed to two outreaches in Revd Isaac’s parish in Boikhutso. First we visited SANTA (South African National TB Association), where I had the opportunity to have a good long chat with the Provincial Coordinator. The focus of this community outreach is raising awareness of TB through education and training programmes, interfacing with the public through various events. The project is holistic in approach engaging in: house visits, community mobilisation, provision of nutritional supplements, food gardens (although issues with theft has stalled this element), soup kitchens, clothing banks, schools work, TB screening and referrals. Although struggling financially (as they are not funded by the government), this remains a most important outreach in these communities – especially in the fight against what is coined the ‘terrible twins’; namely, HIV/AIDS and TB. We then went next door, to the Hospice, Boikhutso Health Care Centre. Here, for 800 Rands a month, patients who are ill with TB, diabetes, hypertension, HIV/AIDS and stroke are in long-term care. Many are here for years and for the most part, they have very little interactive activity during the day. Though on occasion, a lady comes to teach the patients basic language skills. They are bathed and clothed and fed, then they sit and sit and sit, until night falls. Because the Provincial Coordinator had come across with us, she too expressed concern that the residents at the hospice were being offered very little activity during the day – and, in response, she said she would look into delivering wellbeing and exercise classes for the residents (since, this is something that is well within SANTA’s remit). Please pray for the projects of SANTA and Boikhutso Health Care Centre. There is much need, but very little funding and resources are scarce or non-existent.

We then made some pastoral visits in the parish. And, it was an incredible privilege to go with Revd Isaac and a Lay Minister to give extended home communion to an elderly, blind lady. To hear the very familiar liturgy in Setswana was so humbling. The one thing that struck me as we moved from home to home, was the diversity in peoples and languages within a single parish; from speaking to a household in Setswana, to visiting an elderly man who only spoke Afrikaans. It’s incredible how time flies with full days. After a couple of other stops, a brief visit to the Canon and making time to enjoy the expansive landscape – taking photos with cows and a horseman – it was soon time for me to ready myself for the evening service.