The Man in a Church



(Follows on the five previous posts)

Churches, Gerttruida is fond of saying, are often misunderstood. People go there to hear their sins are forgiven, and so often that is the only message they want to hear. And the pastors and reverends and priests have to keep an eye on the donations, so they have to get their flocks to keep on returning to hear the good news. That, Gertruida maintains, is the biggest blessing and the biggest curse of the modern-day church. If you don’t preach what your congregation wants to hear, you will have to return your brand-new BMW to the dealership. It’s become a game of numbers: a full church is a successful business.

Gertruida says that’s okay, and not a problem in itself. The issue is the message. Salvation is freely available, provided it is preceded by honest repentance and sorrow. It is in these few words many churches fail. Salvation isn’t a freeby the pastor hands out – it follows on a change of heart. People don’t want to hear that. They want to continue just the way they are, and get forgiveness every Sunday…

Admittedly, these thoughts doesn’t occupy Diksarel’s mind as he sits down in a front pew.  In fact, he’s a very worried man. Added to his previous woes, he now finds himself in a completely foreign environment.

Mama Sarah unsettled Diksarel with her questions. She wanted to know everything about him, his family, his work…and his problem. Then she left and he sat there, contemplating his impossible situation, until a dapper young man opened the door and asked (ordered) him to accompany him. Diksarel didn’t know whether to laugh or to pray when he asked, and the man told him they’re going to church.

It was a short walk through the township. The tin shacks, dilapidated wooden structures and cardboard homes flanked the dirty street where several mongrel dogs sniffed at him suspiciously. The people didn’t seem to pay attention, but Diksarel imagined a thousand eyes peering at him from hidden doorways and windows. Listless chickens squawked at him as he followed his guide, while a black cat scampered across the road, right in front of him. He tried to ignore the cat..

The ‘church’ was another surprise. Somehow Diksarel imagined a building with arched doorways and tinted windows. Instead, he was taken to a shed-like structure, no bigger than a lean-to, something you could park two small cars in. The front pew is a regulation church seat, but the rest of the space is occupied by a variety of chairs, boxes and crates which do duty as pews. In front – on a little platform – is a grandish, red chair and a small table. Diksarel can see some stars through the holes in the corrugated iron roof while his feet rest on the bare ground that serve as a floor.

Why did they bring him here? For some macabre ceremony, where they sacrificed sinners? If Diksarel wasn’t so scared, he would have cried… He ended up praying softly.

“Tell me again what you told Sister Sarah.” The booming voice stops Diksarel’s reverie. Surprised, Diksarel turns around to see who it belongs to.

The man is about his height, but twice his size. Like Mama Sarah, his face is round, making his nose and eyes appear too small and insignificant in the flat landscape between hairline and chin. The black coat barely makes it around the ample stomach, something the white shirt has given up on.

“W-w-who are you?”

“I’m the Right Reverend Joseph Mogatshe. Call me Joe. I’m the local preacher.” Apparently Reverend Joseph finds this funny as he punctuates his introduction with a guffaw. The coat holds up, despite the strain on its seams. “And you can talk to me, I’m harmless. Not like that young  man who brought you here. Not at all. I’d be very careful around him.” More laughter. “So tell me?” His eyes are suddenly steely-cold as he sits down heavily on the chair on the platform.

In for a penny…. Diksarel recounts the whole episode involving his fraud and Kneehigh’s involvement.

“No, not that part. The part about your father.” The folded fingers across the prominent middle drum out an impatient beat.

Ashamed, Diksarel has to tell it all again.

“So, your father was Philippus Johannes Labuschagne?”

The question catches Diksarel completely off-guard. At no point did anybody ask him his surname, and how the dickens did this man know his father’s names?

“I’m sorry.” For a second the steely eyes almost seem apologetic. “We went through your luggage. Found your ID in there, but not your passport – which I see you have in your top pocket. Of course, when I heard the story, I couldn’t believe it. But now…”

“I-I don’t understand?”

“Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. That is almost of no consequence.” The tiny eyes peer at Diksarel through the slits between the round cheeks and smooth forehead. “But, you know, the Bible tells us a lot about the sins of the fathers. And your father, my friend, was a very active man on that front. He went to a lot of trouble to make life difficult for a lot of people.”

“B-but that’s not my fault?” By now Diksarel is convinced something horrible is about to happen. His father was an agent for the Bureau of State Security…and heaven knows: those men and women have a lot to answer for. Perhaps – in the era gone by – their actions could be justified as ways to secure a stable society; but in hindsight much of what they did was indefensible. “I mean, I was a small boy back then. Society punished us – the whole family – for what my father did. And to this day, I’m still suffering the results of his infidelity. I’m so ashamed…” He’s almost pleading now.

“HAH! You white folk with your strange ideas! You talk about your suffering as if it happened to you alone! Have you any inkling, just the vaguest impression, of what we had to go through? And your father, the uptight, upright upholder of Apartheid, he was part of it! And now you plead your shame? What about us?”

Diksarel can only shake his head How do you answer to this?

“I’m sorry…” It sounds lame.

“So am I. So are a lot of people. Well, so be it. It’s time for you to meet somebody. Somebody who has a very specific reason to come to terms with the past.” The smile on Joseph’s face is humourless. “Let the past meet the present…”

Gertruida is right (again). Salvation isn’t automatic. It requires a lot of soul-searching and even more honesty. Diksarel is about to discover both…



2 thoughts on “The Man in a Church

  1. Herman of

    Thank you Amos for this look on the “sins of our fathers”. I think it was one of Hitler’s generals who said something like “only the conquered have ever sinned”! I remember how I pleaded with two very intelligent friends of mine on the farm to go to school and study, for “where are you people get your own lawyers, doctors, engineers and economists?” “Why would I like to become like you white people?” And he went to school to set it alight! And recently I saw one of these very men complaining on TV how he was derived by the Apartheid Regime from the chances to study and develop his brain. Every sin has two sides.


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