Monday, October 29, 2007

Piet Retief, South Africa

On Sunday I drove to a small town named Piet Retief in South Africa to attend church. The Minister, Rev. Douglas Lees had called and invited me to come worship with them and attend luncheon they were going to have afterwards. This was my first trip driving to an unknown location so far from Manzini or Mbabane by myself. It was also the first time I crossed the border by myself. Piet Retief is about 95 to 100 km from Manzini. It is about a 80 minute, not counting the time to cross the border. I was told it was easy to get there, just follow the signs on the road first to Malkerns (easy enough) and then to Mankayane or another town. Not so easy when I couldn’t remember the name of the towns and they weren’t always marked. But I just stayed on the road I was on and did not deviate. I made it to the boarder about 20 minutes before it opened. But guess what?! The border was very small and not set up like the border I have crossed 3 or 4 times since being here. I spent the 20 minutes sitting in my car trying to watch what the people were doing and where they seemed to be lining up so I would know where to go. It turned out to be easy.

A few hundred yards from the South Africa border post I came to a 4-way stop sign. Which way to go? The sign pointing to Piet Retief was half down on the ground and the arrows weren’t pointing in the direction of the choices of the road to drive on. I said a prayer and drove straight ahead. Less than 1km down the road, the road turned from tarred (paved) to dirt. Okay. I can do this. It actually was a good, mostly smooth absolutely straight road through Eucalyptus and pine trees. I was sailing and not encountering another human being or automobile.

I made it to Piet Retief, but either Rev. Lees gave me the wrong directions, or I wrote down to turn right instead of to turn left at the Pick n’ Pay grocery store. At any rate, I turned right and got that feeling about 5 km down the road that was headed in the wrong direction. I tried to call Rev. Lees and realized that I left my South Africa phone card in Manzini. You see, when travelling from one country to another, you have to either have an expensive phone or switch phone cards (and numbers) to have phone service in the various countries. I told myself “Okay, Chris, don’t panic. Ask the Lord for more guidance and go.” I turned around. Finally after a few more guesses and turning the wrong direction, I found a couple walking up to the Anglican Church. I asked them for directions and thankfully they were able to direct me.

The Piet Retief Methodist church was a pretty little church surrounded by a beautiful green lawn and yard. It has 30 members half of which are related to each other by birth or marriage. I would guess that if you put 60 people in the sanctuary it would be at a maximum capacity. We sang a couple of songs that were displayed on a screen using an overhead projector to get us started and then during the service we sang a couple of songs from the Methodist hymnal. Four scripture passages were read by someone who was requested to read on the spot and the sermon was preached directly from the scriptures. It was a very nice little service.

Lunch was a fundraiser. They served “bunny chow” which was really a beef curry stew served in a half a loaf of bread that had been hollowed out. You were supposed to eat it with your hands, although I noticed we all resorted to using a fork after the first couple of bites. No one knew why it was called bunny chow, but they said it was a “poor mans” lunch because it was so filling. Whatever it was called, it was very delicious.

After lunch I visited with Rev. Lees and his wife Esther. He told me about the HIV/AIDs projects that they had going in their little town and about the politics in South Africa and his concern that if the churches don’t integrate more with the blacks and work together with the other denominations, the old mainstream churches will slowly die. It was a wonderful day and I felt like I had an instant family in Piet Retief. Rev. Lees led me to the tarred road that I should have taken from the border. It went around the groves of Eucalyptus trees on a beautiful, windy, hilly road that went by several small homesteads.

There were parts of the drive that as I rounded the curve at a top of a hill the most breath-taking view was right before me. I guessed correctly where to turn to cross the border and made it back to Manzini before dark. (Whew!)

After I got home I realized that the day had been another confirmation of what it means to trust in the Lord, stay on the straight and narrow path when following him, and listening to his quiet voice that will guide us through life. I realized how much I have come to love the beautiful countryside that I am fortunate enough to drive through even with the chickens, goats and cows on the road. I also realized how far I had come since arriving in Swaziland. I had taken the trip with a level of confidence that a month ago I never would have guessed possible.

What a difference the tar road made!
Sorry, I couldn't drive and take a picture of the great views and there wasn't any place to pull over.

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