Six years ago, when our son was nine, we travelled to Uganda and South Africa, partly to connect with Mothers’ Union members and see their work first-hand. Some while ago I was asked to share some details of a particular part of that trip which I refer to here. With apologies for the (six year) delay, here’s a few memories:
From our weekend base at the SOS Children’s Village at Mthatha in Eastern Cape (which we’ve sponsored since a friend was it’s founding director) we travelled in a rented VW Polo to the hills and the most southerly parish in the Diocese of Mthatha. We travelled with the Diocesan Mothers’ Union Worker to Mfula, which lies above the Swart-Kei and Tsomo rivers, approximately 50km from the nearest tarmac (at Nqamakwe north of Butterworth.)
The service at St. Peter’s Mfula was scheduled for 9am. After a 4 hour drive in our totally inappropriate hire car (because the MU 4×4 was off the road), we arrived at 11am, to be greated by two columns of banner waving, ululating Mothers’ Union members at the Rectory gate. After a fresh sandwich in the church hall, we were shown to the honoured seats at the front of the church and started the 2.5 hour service around noon.
As well as the white bloused, black skirted, Mothers’ Union members, other groups represented including the Girls Friendly Society (blue bonnet and skirt) and the Society of St Mary of Magdelene (purple cape).
The worship was sung in Xhosa. We did our best to sing along, but I can’t ‘click’ so I suspect my pronunciation was dodgy! There were no musical instruments, but incredibly good four part singing – the beat emphasised by people thumping their prayer/hymn books. However we were provided with an English Prayer Book, which helped when my husband was invited to lead prayers in English. Like Revd Bekwa’s sermon, and my later contribution to proceedings, these part of the service and celebrations were translated into Xhosa.
You could see our sons eyes come out on organ-stops, and his face crease, as we were doused in incense (this was his first experience of high church worship). We were given communion first, and then after the rest of the packed congregation received we were returned to the altar and given the honour of finishing off the bread and wine – all with much joyful swinging of the censer.
As the service drew to a close we entered a second phase of the celebration, in which Mothers’ Union matters took precidence. As I had anticipated I was expected to speak and managed to link the Gospel and Epistle to a talk I had prepared explaining a bit about the work of Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester, and it’s Family Life Programme in Uganda where we’d spent the previous week. I had also anticipated the exchange of gifts and was able to provide much prized Mothers’ Union badges, some sewing kits provided by MU members of St Barnabas, Weeke, and some silk scarves I had painted with MU logos before leaving the UK. All were later blessed by Revd Bekwa for distribution to those who could best use them.
The beadwork (some done with reeds or grass) we received was exquisite. The Mothers’ Union ladies make it as an income generating project, but sadly being so remote the community has little market for it. We were the first Western visitors EVER to the parish! The roads are the biggest obstruction to the regions development as people would travel to the area for the scenery and wildlife if it were more accessible.
As we shared the wonderful meal that followed (complete with Christmas decorations – in August) we learnt how poor the economy was, with a lot of unemployment. Many of the young girls had dropped out of school or couldn’t find work, or if they could hadn’t the transport to reach it! The soil seemed very thin and we did not see many crops. We were told that they could grow more, and some MU work encourages this, but that often people would complain that they didn’t have the energy to till the soil, which is partly a problem of malnutrition. There were many goats and sheep, and some cattle, but I suspect we provided with more food than many of them saw regularly.
When we finally left, via a better route than the one by which we’d come, we were sung to yet again. Our visit had obviously brought a huge amount of joy to people who had walked miles to see us, simply because we had wanted to meet and worship with a rural community. A deeply humbling experience.