Minnesota Farmer

The Grand Tour of Ondini Churches

When a delegation only makes a physical connection every three years concerns mount.  The folks in the Ondini had been wondering if we were still active and supportive of their efforts.  To help “show the flag” we headed off on what I called the “Grand Tour.”

Travel conditions, once you get off the main roads, are not that great.  Distance, and the fact that few in this area have cars of their own, mean that actual physical visits from members of the Minnesota partnership, may not happen.  So on August 10 we made the 96 km (60 miles) East to Muden, and the area churches of Mhlangana and Stendal.

Churches in the Ondini are usually made of home-made brick with a steel roof.  Newer ones, like this one could also be made of concrete block.  Muden had lost it’s building several years ago, so this was obviously newer construction.Interior walls are plastered over and painted. The floor is usually concrete, perhaps with tile on it.  It is rare to see a church with a ceiling, usually just open rafters.  Simple benches make do for seating.

This was the newest electrical connection I had seen in any building.  These two outlets and a few lights on the rafters are all the electricity they have here.  The ceiling lights were bare CFL bulbs of the push and twist type, not the screw base we are used to.

The men’s toilet was rudimentary, the women’s at least had  door on it.

Our next church was further into the hills.  Water was short here and barrels sat along the road for people to use in their homes.  The school across the road did have water, and a pump in the lot behind the church was available for use.

This church at Mhlangana was in the start of an expansion.  The home-made blocks were starting to pile up as they began the process of adding a kitchen.

The 14th of August found us heading off to the farthest out churches, those of the Harrismith and Bethlehem Parishes.  Harrismith is 136 km (84 miles) to the northwest, Bethlehem is 68 km (42 miles) further west, and Reitz another 48 km (30 miles) north.  Now this is not our plains area travel, this is travel through the northern reaches of the Drakensberg mountains.  The buttes and mesas reminded me of Arizona and New Mexico.  Thus is high dry country, but the area has several dams and reservoirs that provide water for the area.

Few of the mountains in this area top 2000 meters (6560 feet), but we did go through Van Reenen’s pass which is at 1646 meters (5400 feet).  Fantastic views were everywhere as we wound our way up and over the pass.  Today’s travel was mostly on the N3 and N5 so the roads were good.

The Harrismith church again sits next to a newer school complex.

The interior is nicely done and the benches have backs.  Being in a larger city has helped to keep this church building in good shape.

Signage like this is rare, again a larger city.

I liked the shape of the church at Bethlehem.  Visible in back is the pastors residence.  On the left side of the picture is the church garden.  The last pastor had been a diligent gardener and provided much of his food from this garden.  This church also has a young pastor in it now.

The interior of the Bethlehem church was also interesting.  Several members of this congregation provided us with lunch here.  One older lady was exited to see us again and had pictures of us from the induction ceremony at Emmaus.

Now we turned north to Reitz.  Here the country flattens out and farms are everywhere.

The church at Reitz is the oldest in the Bethlehem parish.  It had originally been the home of the missionary pastor for the parish.  That position later moved to Bethlehem.

The young lay minister in this congregation is the grandson of a former pastor here.  He is working hard to keep his congregation going and hopes to be ordained someday and follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

These posters on the wall helped us get an understanding of the Diocese and Circuits of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa.  Everywhere we went we saw large calendars and posters that showed pictures of bishops and deans of the church.  The churches of the Ondini are very proud to be part of a larger church and do everything they can to help their parishioners understand how the church works.

It was distressing to me to see holes in many church windows.  Vandalism is common and when you have little money and no insurance, getting church windows fixed is not on your list of things to do.  All church compounds are fenced, but unless the building is in a larger city, it is fencing meant only to keep cattle and goats out.

As you can see differences in church buildings is great.  A building in a smaller, poorer area is small and spare, but no less loved by its congregants.  Church buildings in larger towns show more of the European influence with high ceilings and rafters covered.  None of the church buildings have heat.  This area is a relatively benign area, with lows and highs never far from the comfortable stage.  Even in summer the congregants will wear their church uniforms and pastors will be in full regalia.

Well the grand tour is done.  We visited the churches and met the people of congregations of most of the Ondini Circuit this trip.  Our travels are not yet over, there is more to come.


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