Minnesota Farmer


Gifts and goodbyes
August 30, 2017, 7:22 pm
Filed under: church, Kwazamohkuhle, Ondini circuit, rain, Shetek Conference, South Africa

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, ten members of churches in the Shetek Conference of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) left for the Ondini Circuit in the Kwa-Zulu Natal of South Africa.  The time for our return home came all too quickly.  14 busy days were spent with the fellow Lutherans of the Ondini Circuit.  When you are in the midst of it all, it seems as if the day will never come, and then we are saying goodbye.

We held our partnership meeting where we discussed what has been done, and what needs to be done, but got into very little of how to do the things that need to be done.

We took our picture with our partners.  That picture is a remembrance and a reminder that these friends of ours are still there working for the betterment of their area every day.

We exchanged gifts.  Ours included an original oil painting by a talented former member of my home congregation.  There were also a pile of the grey “Walking Together With Christ” partnership tees, over 700 partnership pens and a multitude of other items that are needed day-to-day in a depressed area.

Our partners gave us a large platter like those used in so many ways in Africa.

Dale got a Ondini Circuit  jacket like so many we had seen on our travels.

We all got polo shirts.  The shirts have the Luther Rose on the left and the Diocese emblem on the right side.

The backs of the shirts tell of the themes for each of the past church years in what they have been celebrating as the Luther Decade, all leading up to the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth. We all had been looking at the many ways their churches celebrate membership in the wider church and were proud to be able to wear these shirts.

But now the day of departure was upon us.  We woke to a light rain, that changed to just moisture in the air.  The comment was made that even the sky was weeping in goodbye.

We all went to chapel that morning.  We sang for the workers at the Centre and they sang for us.  As usual they sang us out the door.  We emerged to a rainbow in the western sky, and that brought lots of tears.  We were saying good-bye to Africa.

Will I return again?  Who knows, that is for the future to decide.  I do know that I left a bit of my heart with the wonderful people I was lucky enough to meet in the Ondini Circuit, and that will never leave.



Of Camping, Host Homes and Hotel Rooms
August 26, 2017, 10:08 am
Filed under: church, house, Kwazamohkuhle, Ondini circuit, Shetek Conference, South Africa, travel

Travel in a foreign land can give you an opportunity to see how other cultures live and play.  Our stays at the Kwazamokuhle Diaconal Centre were a bit rough by our standards, but sufficient.

The guest house we stayed in is more like an older bible camp building than a house.  There is a small “suite” on one end that has its own kitchen, bath, living area and bedroom.  The middle of the building has a kitchen, bath and living area with three bedrooms down the hall.  In front is an open porch with an entry to a toilet and shower area on one side and the “bunk house” (bunk beds for 7) and a bath tub room.  There is another bunk house room around back.

All of the rooms were small.  Each sleeping area included a wardrobe and beds but not much else.  The water heater was slow and water pressure could run out if you were there at the wrong time.

Electricity on the grounds was of the older “Type M” plug, not part of the standard power converters. We had two power converters in our group, and it looked like we would not be able to use them, but Andy had found a 3-for sale on type M plugs and saved the day.  Newer outlets could have a different configuration.

Others on the grounds lived in small houses, or even storage rooms.  Rambo invited me into his bachelor’s quarters in one of those store rooms.  By the time he put in a bed, wardrobe and table the room was full.  He was just happy to have a place to call his own.

When we went exploring in the Champagne valley (upper left on this tourist brochure) we got a look at how tourists live and play in the area. The road goes into the Drakensberg mountains.  The paved road is narrow, and becomes more so as you reach its end.  Along the way you pass restaurants, shopping areas, B&B’s, the Champagne Valley resort, The Drakensberg Boys School, and high up at the end of the winding road is the Monk’s Cowl Wildlife area.  There is a lot of luxury along the way only a few kilometers from concrete huts.

The end of the road has hiking and some tourist shops.

There are campsites available in some really fantastic scenery.  The campsites were more suitable for tents, but a smaller caravan (camper) could make it up to road and stay here.  We also saw campsites at Weenen game park, again primitive, but great scenery.

If you clicked the link for the Champagne Valley Resort, you know they have some really nice hotel rooms.  There are also self-service type lodges in the area of many different types.

I have been honored to visit several homes in my visits to South Africa.  They have been homes of ministers, teachers and government agency employees.  All have been compact and well-kept.  Since most housing in the area is of block, brick or cement, they can have issues we are not used to.  Any wet can cause paint to peel off of cement, so bathrooms quite often had peeling paint.  I saw some really wonderful kitchens in these small homes, especially if they’re in the city.

Every home has a fence.  In rural areas it is just a wire fence to keep out roaming livestock.  Fences in the city got more ornate as you climbed the income ladder.  To have a garage or carport was really upscale.  A larger home would have a remote-controlled gate, or even a gate guard if the grounds were larger.

Kitchens in the country were a bit rougher.  This is the stove area in the Centre’s dining hall.  They had a central prep area and a cleanup area on the opposite wall.  Cooktops were bottled gas.  They did have a small oven, but most cooking was done on a gas stove top.

Living areas in homes tended to overstuffed couches and large screen TV’s.  There were also some massive sound systems in these small homes.  Dining areas would fit the table, chairs and not much else.  Decoration tended toward large posters and calendars of school, church or family events.  Running water was available in all of the homes I visited, but not always a water heater.

I never got into any of the smaller homes in the area.  It is easy to imagine by their size that they do not have much.  When you live in a concrete or steel house that is only about 12 feet square there is not room for much.  If you have no running water or electricity, cook your food over a wood fire and use an outside toilet, I suspect the living is rough.

There is a large difference in how people live in the Ondini Circuit.  Those with some get-up-and-go have either left or live as public servants and make a living the best they can.  Those without money live on government payments and often live very rough.

In town, the unemployed may have staked out an area of street or a parking lot where they give parking directions for tips.  Since parking areas are small, or nonexistent this help is welcome.  Pan handlers are scarce, but around.  Many a job we would use a machine to do, they have laborers to keep busy.

South Africa is trying very hard to make its way into the first world, but with so many to employ and such a difference between haves and have-nots, they have a long road ahead of them.  That the government is run by one party, the African National Congress controls 80% of the votes, does not help them get much better.  When things get tough, the people will rise up and get free water, electricity or more government money.  It is a government run by protesters, and our South African hosts are trying to change it.  I wish them luck, it will not be easy.



Free time!
August 24, 2017, 6:06 pm
Filed under: church, Kwazamohkuhle, Ondini circuit, Shetek Conference, South Africa, time

Oh yes, we did have some free time when we were in the Ondini Circuit.  Most of us had a journal to keep up with so we could remember the details of this trip.  Some of the boys spent time with the local  people their age, either talking, playing soccer, or just hanging out.  There was also the evening devotion and talk session that we needed for mental health.

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Memories in the journals were not always words, they could be visual.  A bit of music at the same time helped to make us feel at home.

An evening card game was possible, usually in our room since we had the most floor space or outside if the weather was warm enough.  Some times these would evolve into sessions of advice for our college bound young men, or just a series of jokes and laughter.

Oscar, a half-grown cat, would show up looking for some attention, food or just a lap to nap on.

Beer or wine could be a part of the evening.  But as the evening progressed the call of the internet would draw everyone off to make contact with home.

For some reason the internet was only available starting about 9:30 in the evening and it only lasted for a few hours.  Since the entry to our room had both a charging station and the internet hub, that entry would become quite crowded.

Soon it was lights out.  Everyone was off to their room.  There was always something to see and do the next day and we needed some sleep.



Building in the Ondini
August 24, 2017, 10:08 am
Filed under: church, Kwazamohkuhle, Ondini circuit, projects, Shetek Conference, South Africa

Building projects are moving in the Ondini Circuit, but they are not buildings such as I would see in Minnesota.  First of all the climate is different.  The more or less benign climate means less emphasis on heating or cooling.  Most buildings are built of home-made block or brick, with a steel roof.  Some in the area of Bethlehem circuit were using steel for walls, but they were an exception.  Those built in the rondavel (round) style usually had thatched roofs.  The walls are thick and windows only single paned.  Doors are often left open.  There are bars across windows and doors to keep out larger animals and burglars, but no interest at all in keeping out insects.

The visitors housing complex near the Centre is a good example of the methods we should see in the area.  Being a government subsidized project, this one used purchased brick.

Steel framed windows and doors are added as brick or block go up and are later glazed.  Floors are usually concrete.  Floors might be painted, or tile.

Electrical conduit and plumbing are cut into the walls which are later smoothed, skim-coated and painted.IMG_1111

The finished layer before painting is smooth and durable.

This will be a toilet area.  Making straight walls fit in a round structure can make for some interesting rooms.

A smaller rondavel will have poles set up for thatching to cover the roof, a larger rondavel will have a central post.  Rondavels could also have a steel roof much like our grain bins.

There was a block church under construction in the Hoffenital Parish which gave us a view of how these structures were built.  

This picture gives you a bit of detail on how windows are installed.

Narrower churches will have the wooden rafters left open.

Wider churches would have steel beams to hold the roof.

I only saw one church building that had evidence of insulation on the ceiling, the larger building (above) at Phangweni had been insulated, but the insulation had since fallen.

Building standards are much different when you get into town and visit businesses.  The interiors are very similar to what we see in comparable businesses in the states.  The climate does make for changes.  Because temperatures rarely get to freezing in the winter, and do not get much over 80 in the summer, people do not think about heating or cooling.  The months of December and January could see 6 inches of rainfall, but May to August usually see less than an inch if any.  One big difference is the presence of bars on windows and doors.  Every window and door has bars on it.  All houses and most businesses have fences.  Our Kwazamokuhle Centre kept a guard at the gate, as do many businesses.  The living quarters had lockable gates.  Living conditions and buildings are just plain different there.



Kwazamokuhle

The Kwazamokuhle Diaconal Centre is home base for us when we visit the Ondini Circuit.  It is a cluster of buildings and land near Loskop.  As is the case with so many lutheran centers, this area also includes the Phangweni congregation (The largest we know of in the circuit) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, a cemetery and a school.  Also in this complex is a home and school for handicapped children.

The Centre was at one time a mission outpost of the Lutheran Church.  It is obvious that it was once quite an operation, today it is but a shadow of its old self.  Cattle and goats roam freely on church land outside the fence, and dogs have drug used diapers out of the garbage pit.

When Apartheid ended the missionaries who ran the center were asked to leave.  They left a huge leadership vacuum that has still not been filled.  On top of it all, no one really knows how much land the church owns here.  Despite it all, they are trying hard to make a go of it.

When we were there this August the gardens sat mostly bare.  There had not been enough rain to keep the garden going, and the hookup to the reservoir that was meant to irrigate the gardens had been drawing too much water off so they had been asked to stop.  Three and a half years of drought have put a strain on all water supplies.  That being said the place was busy.

Ladies are still working making communion wafers and shipping them all over the world.  Seamstresses still are making robes and stoles for the pastors, and bead work and basketry are being done in the workshops and in homes.  These items are for sale on the premises.

The rooms all over the compound are being rented out.  Some small storage areas have been converted to rooms for single African men.  Small houses are available for families to live in.  A library and study rooms for school children occupies most of one building.  Pastor Nkosi is staying in the guest house while his house is being built, two German girls who volunteer at the School for Handicapped children are in the guest house apartment, and then there are the ten of us.

Lazarus, the old Massey tractor was started and a few jobs were done with it, but a leaky fuel pump kept us from working it too hard.

An old tractor powered hammer mill was checked out and deemed ready to make corn meal flour.

The pork project, which was only a dream 3 years ago, is now up and running in the old hog barns.  There are also pigs at the school, and Mxolisi has been hired to manage that project.  He still has a lot to learn, but we must think back to how our grandfathers raised pigs to understand the level they are at.

Pastor Nkosi is hoping to resurrect a chicken rearing operation that was started and then abandoned after a wind storm damaged the buildings.  Because the operation was not guarded, some of the equipment has disappeared, but the bones of the operation are still there.

A new enterprise is in the building stage.  Just west of the centre’s compound a Community Centre and Rental Rondavels are being built.  For now there are just four rondavels, but more are possible if these work out.

There are plans a brewing, and deeds being done to help keep the activities of the circuit going.  The people of the Ondini Circuit are not standing still, they are trying, and we wish them the best.



On to Ondini
August 20, 2017, 6:35 am
Filed under: church, Kwazamohkuhle, Ondini circuit, Shetek Conference, South Africa, travel

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, ten members of churches in the Shetek Conference of the ELCA left for the Ondini Circuit in the Kwa-Zulu Natal of South Africa.  This group from Southwestern Minnesota included 5 farmers, a nurse, a food service worker, a pastor and two young men just headed off to college.  For 4 of us this was a return trip, for the rest it was a new adventure.

This trip was different from the ones from 2011 and 2014 in several ways.  First, this trip was not led by Pastor Mark, he had left the conference and is now teaching at a college in Iowa.  This meant leadership of the trip shifted from pastoral to lay led.  Our leaders were Dale Holmes and Bonnie Frederickson, Pastor Sarah Tade also took on some leadership responsibility, but this being her first trip she was very thankful for the returning leadership.

Our second difference was that we were flying into Durban rather than Johannesburg (Jo-burg).  This airport is much closer to the Ondini Circuit.  Flying into Durban did mean that we had fewer opportunities to see some of the historical sights available in Jo-burg.

Friday morning, August 4, found us at the Garden Court Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean.  We gathered to have a South African buffet breakfast in the hotel dinning area before going off to tour the city.  Our hosts from the Ondini, Pastor Lee M. and dean of the circuit David Xaba first lead us off for a bit of time on the beach before we drove off to see the soccer and rugby stadiums and Shaka World.

We really did not have a lot of time to enjoy all of the opportunities for fun at Shaka World, but did spend some time shopping and looking at some of the sights.  By noon we were headed north.

We did make one stop on the way, at Howick, to visit the Mandela Capture site.  I encourage you to read the information link to get a history of why this is incident is important to South Africans.  The center piece of the site is an impressive sculpture consisting of 50 steel poles that when viewed from the correct angle shows the face of Nelson Mandela. 

Mandela in his younger years was a bit of a chameleon.  He took on persona that allowed him to travel about the world as a leader of the freedom movement in South Africa during the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  I had heard about the sculpture and was very pleased we were able to stop.  Equally impressive was the walkway to the sculpture.

The pathway is lined with flowers and bushes that help to make the long walk more enjoyable.

As you near the site the path turns and dips down.  The poles of the sculpture now appear, but still just seem to be a series of poles.

It is only as you reach the bottom of the trail that you realize something special is ahead.  A pair of benches at the bottom mark the best viewing site.  Only in this small area is Nelson Mandela the chameleon visible.

That evening found us settling in to our places at the Kwazamokuhle Diaconal Centre.  It is a bit of a homecoming for those of us who were there before.  We were looking forward to the changes, meeting new and old friends and the work ahead.  It was to be an interesting stay.



Back to South Africa

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, ten members of churches in the Shetek Conference of the ELCA left for the Ondini Circuit in the Kwa-Zulu Natal of South Africa.  This group from Southwestern Minnesota included 5 farmers, a nurse, a food service worker, a pastor and two young men just headed off to college.  For 4 of us this was a return trip, for the rest it was a new adventure.

Roughly, the Ondini Circuit includes the area from Estcourt, Muden and Weenen in the southeast to Bethlehem and Reitz in the northwest.  It goes from the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains and up into the mountains.  The area is rough.  Valleys and level areas are separated by sharp hills in the southeast and buttes and mesas in the northwest.  The best farmland is controlled by descendents of white settlers, but many areas with good potential still exist in the native, black settled areas.

Most homes in this area have access to clean water, but in some cases it may be a barrel that is filled by a water truck.  Homes vary from those with every convenience we here in the U.S. expect to a steel or concrete walled structure with a steel roof.  If you have a job, you have a decent home, if you do not, the living is rough.

Temperatures in the area rarely fall below freezing so homes are easy to heat with a small fire or heater in the winter.  Summer temperatures are hot, but not unbearably so, the nighttime cooling easily counters the daytime heat.

This is dry country.  What rain they get makes it easy to grow crops in the spring and summer, but this land can support year around agriculture, irrigation is needed to get a really dependable crop, and the area has had a three-year run of drought.  Runoff from the Drakensberg mountains fills reservoirs, but not all water is impounded like it could be.  Some of the water is destined for drier cities to the north and is not accessible for local use.

Our trip was mainly to visit the black churches of the Ondini circuit, to talk about health and wellness issues, pastoral support and ways to provide other support to the many who live here on government support.  It is an important task that local churches have taken on, but they need help. Most expertise to run mission outposts was removed when the post Apartheid government and churches took power.  It is to one of these old mission outposts that we were bound.

More posts are coming on our trip to the Ondini.  Stay tuned.



Women of Ondini gather
August 20, 2014, 8:36 am
Filed under: church, Kwazamohkuhle, South Africa, travel | Tags: , , , , ,

While we were in the Ondini circuit of the ELCSA there were two women’s gatherings.  The first was a meeting of the Ondini circuit women to which the ladies of our group were invited.  It was held at the nearby KwaZamokuhle school for handicapped children.100_2961

The second meeting was held the next week in Ezakheni near Ladysmith and was a “Mini” conference of the whole South Eastern Diocese.  We all were invited to that meeting.

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The roomful of black and white clad women was impressive, but even more impressive is the way these women celebrate.  There was rarely a quiet minute.  Someone would start off with a hymn and soon the whole place was singing, and sometimes dancing.  There was indeed a roomful of joy.

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They were not always in uniform.  At the evening meeting there was a choir and a group of dancers in bright garb to get the crowd moving.  There was also gift giving galore.  Every woman there had at least one gift to take home.

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The evening meeting was also a time to get out your party best and sing and dance.  There was lots of color in motion at that session.  We of course were invited into the dance.  Since we were wearing our yellow partnership tee shirts that evening we were easy to pick out.  Although we did not know the words to the songs, we did our best to follow the dance steps.  We were also grabbed up for picture taking.  We, after all, were celerities, folks who had come from another continent to share Jesus love with them.

The party went on for hours, with the evening meal finally served at 9:30 p.m..  It proved to be a short night, as we all were ushered off to host homes.  We had to be back for the church service at 8:00 a.m. and some of us had miles to travel.

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Church the next morning was very “high” church with alter boys, incense and chanting in both Zulu and English.

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The deans and the bishop played their part and were also dressed in their best.  They went through all of the ritualized  service.  During the 45 minute sermon they had translators scattered in our midst to help us understand the message, which was about Jesus coming to the disciples walking on the water.  The message went very well with our partnership theme of “Walking together with Christ.  It was so fascinating that we really did not know the service went for three and a half hours until it was all over.

This was an interesting experience and one that few from across the pond get to take part in.  The experience was just lucky timing on our part.  So glad we could be there to take part.



KwaZamokuhle chapel
August 19, 2014, 5:39 pm
Filed under: church, Kwazamohkuhle, South Africa | Tags: , , , ,

While we were in the Ondini Circuit we spent most weekdays at the KwaZamokuhle Diaconal Centre.  Every week day chapel was held in a rondavel style building.  Time varied, but it was usually at 8 a.m.  You just had to be alert to see when the others were headed down the lane.

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The building was small.  When you added our 11 to the normal group it got quite cozy.  Chapel was held in Zulu.  We never really got the message of the readings unless we looked up the bible verses ourselves.  The music was always good.  You just grabbed a Zulu version of their hymn book and read along.  Finding your note was by ear, and harmony was common so there were usually several notes to choose from.

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After chapel there was always a line up of people to shake hands with (Zulu style) before heading off to work.  It was a great way to start the day.



Ondini churches

If you go on a trip with a church group you are going to spend some time in local churches, and our trip to South Africa was no exception, we were in several.  These were not grand churches of the city, these were the humble churches of  poor country folks.  Simple, rustic and sacred to their congregants.

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The church closest to the KwaZamokuhle center were we stayed was part of the Empangweni congregation.  This is the site of the double funeral I wrote about earlier.  This is the largest of the Ondini church buildings I was in.  There is a school across the street and the home/school for handicapped kids just down the road.100_2772
The interior seems to have had some work done with fewer broken windows and fewer banners than I remember.
Church buildings are located for walkers, this large of a building means that there are quite a few people who live within walking distance.  This is one of the few churches I saw that actually had a planned parking area.  In most churches if someone drives to church it is unusual.  In areas where one pastor has several churches to cover, his is usually  the only car in the lot.
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The Hoffenthal church is also located next to a school but in a more remote area.  The nearby orphanage and the Gogos (grandmothers) who run it are what sets this church apart from others.
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Again it is a simple building inside an out.  The Gogos are proud of the fact that their gardening project has earned them enough money to paint the church.  The Hoffenthal congregation has seven buildings that the pastor hopes to be at at least once a month so he can preside at communion.  Usually a lay preacher presides when he cannot be there.  There are just under 400 congregants between these seven church sites.
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The church at Emangweni has an impressive pulpit in front.  This is the only church I celebrated Sunday services in on this trip to South Africa.  Although a bit remote, it is home to several important people in the partnership.  When I was there my host for the day Christopher (CK) Mazibuko was acting as the guest speaker.  There were about 35 women, 45 children and young adults and 5 men in attendance that day, each group sits separate from the other, unless a very young child needs to sit with its mother.  Again the church is located near a school, in this case both and an elementary and a high school.  The high school where CK and Bonisewe were teachers.
I had attended smaller churches on my last trip to South Africa.  You can check on my posts from February of 21011 to see pictures of them.