Spoiler alert: CHURCH story- move along to another blog if you do not like church stories…
Today 20 years ago was a very historic day in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was inaugurated on this day as the president of the new South Africa.
That would be what everybody was thinking about, reading the heading.
But: on the same day me, my wife and a 10 month old baby daughter moved to a town we had to locate on a map, to begin our fulltime ministry in the church.
This is the church that called me to their ministry:
My photo of the Dutch Reformed Church of Waterberg in Nylstroom.
Our calling to this church was at a desperate time in our lives. In our church, we have to do 6 years of university training, including ancient Hebrew and Greek. Six years at university is a long, long, long time… and very expensive. After I finished university, being a pale male, I had to do compulsory military service, in the second last group of men that had no choice (except 4 years jail and a criminal record). I was a chaplain in the South African Army, Engineering Corps. After I have finished the army, I was unemployed. It was bad. Nobody wanted to give me a job, because I am “overqualified…”
Our church had 200 too many pastors, ministry posts was very scarce. I had a part time pastors post with a very small salary after 3 months, a very temporary arrangement until I got a “Calling” to a church as full time pastor. In these times in 1993 the political situation in South Africa was really bad. The interest rates were sky high, and I had a huge student loan. The bank was really breathing down my neck, and I was sinking to nearly the point of no return debtwise…
During 1993 and 1994 I applied for 67 available posts in the church nationwide. I went to 7 interviews, on one occasion on the other side of the country, and that time they did not even give me a cent for travelling costs. We also had our first child in these desperate times. It was really, really bad. After 6 years at university I was only trained for 1 “company”.
Then, shortly after the first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, I sat on my bed one evening. My wife and I hit rock bottom. We were losing the temporary post at the church we were at. We had to move out of our dilapidated railway house we were staying in. We had a child to raise, a lot of debt, and it felt as if the church did not care…
That Sunday evening my phone rang, and the good people of Nylstroom were on the line. The voice on the other side asked if I knew who was talking, and I said I did not. He said he is my fellow- pastor (medeleraar in Afrikaans). I replied I do not have one. He then said that they had a meeting earlier that evening, and I came up as the next pastor in their church. I had to look Nylstroom up on a map, I did not even know where it was.
It was so good to become a full time pastor at last. I was 27 years old when I earned my first full salary check!
The sad was: I was only in this church for 11 months. In that year the good bigger church of the region decided that this congregation was too big, and the neighbouring congregation was too small. So, with a lot of church politics involved, I with 1/3rd of the church was passed over to the neighbouring church in the same town.
And here I still am, 20 years later in the same town.
We came to town with the Beetle, some borrowed furniture, a very young pastor and his lovely wife and fiery redhead baby daughter.
20 Years later- in this 2o years we got 3 sons added to our family, and a lot of jokes of not knowing where babies come from. We had some extremely sad times, sometimes I even felt suicidal… But we also had amazing times, with great joy, great friendships. great experiences.
I have about 18 years left before I have to retire at age 65 from full time ministry. Looking back, I am really thankful. But I also would really want to know what difference, if any, I made in peoples lives in the past 20 years. I know I have helped many people over the years. But I also know I have not been able to help everybody. Like everybody else I have also made enemies along the way. There are people who will sing that song “What a friend we have in Jesus!” when I one day get called to another town.
Meanwhile- I am here to stay. I have nowhere else to go. I am happy most days (not every day…) I really love this church, this town, this region of our country. I am willing to go another 18 if that is the script for my life. But some evenings I lay awake and worry about the lots and lots of empty pews on a Sunday morning…
Today is a rather huge mile post in my journey of life. Thanks if you have longsufferingly read up till here… 🙂