Whenever you talk about a dominee in Rolbos, the group in the bar will imagine somebody like Oudoom: kind, honest and blessed with a dry sense of humor. Now – us folks that have travelled beyond the greater towns like Prieska and Pofadder – we know there is no template for the perfect clergyman. The Americans like popular preachers telling them that all sins are forgiven and that prayer will make you amazingly rich. In Africa, it is not unusual for congregations to expect a sermon which marries superstition and gospel. Conservative Afrikaners go for fire and brimstone, while more liberal folk lean over to an everything-goes philosophy. As one would expect, preachers (usually rather intelligent men) pick up on the needs of their local flock and tell them what the want to hear. In this way they not only fill the pews on Sundays, but (more importantly) they also keep the financial side of the business ticking over.
But not so in Rolbos. Oudoom sticks to the truth, which is sometimes most unwelcome and will lead to lengthy debates in the bar. Last Sunday Oudoom reminded his small congregation that Christianity is a way of life, and that simply talking about religion isn’t enough. “Look,” he said, “at the way you carried on when Fourie du Preez scored that try? When last did you feel that way about your Salvation?” After church, the Rolbossers retired to Boggel’s Place in a gloomy silence – something which they shattered when Craig Joubert awarded that penalty to the Wallabies.
And so, when a brand new Mercedes purred down Voortrekker Weg on Tuesday and a tall, willowy man stepped from the air-conditioned interior, they tried to follow Oudoom’s teachings by inviting the stranger in to the bar.
“How kind of you all,” the man boomed, patting his white tie into it’s correct place between the lapels of his jacket, “I can see you folks are real Christians.”
This pleased the group tremendously as Boggel pushed a complimentary beer over the counter.
“I am Pastor Victor, but you can call me Vic. I’m here with an important message. Would you care to hear it?”
A message for Rolbos? Of course they were curious.
“See, the Rapture is near. Over the last few weeks you would have heard the repeated warnings that the world is on it’s last legs.” The group in the bar had never heard of such a thing, but they listened respectfully in any case. “The rapture is near!” This was said in a whispered shout.
Of course, the rapture is something Oudoom never neglects, so the group nodded as one.
“Money won’t help you any longer. You’ll be called before the throne as you are – stripped of all worldly possessions. Do not for one moment think your bank account will help you Up There, my friends. Fancy cars and fancy clothing makes no impression in Paradise!” Pastor Vic warmed to his subject as he expounded on the vast difference between Heaven and Earth. “But,” he continued, “I have a solution.”
Several questioning eyebrows went up.
“You see, I represent Heavenly Investments Incorporated. We’ll relieve you of your earthly burdens – which will be useless soon – so you can help the poor and the downtrodden. This, my friends,” said in a conspiratorial tone, “will help you enter Paradise.” He went on to explain – in many words and with considerable passion – how the Bible taught them to look after those less fortunate than them. He spoke for a full hour, finishing with: “Get rid of your worldly riches! Now is the time and here is the opportunity! Heavenly Investments is here, ready to accept your earthly burden of soon-to-be useless money. Act now! Salvation is at hand!”
People often think about the inhabitants of places like Rolbos tend to be naive – and sometimes they’re right. But Pastor Vic had never been to Rolbos, so one may excuse him for not understanding their way of having fun.
“Is it true,” Vetfaan asked innocently, “that Paradise is a wonderful place? Pearly gates and streets of gold? Choirs singing all day long? With many mansions for believers?”
“Of course,” Pastor Vic said, “and you can all be there by giving away the anchors that bind you to this world. The more ye shall give, the more ye shall receive. That’s what’s written and that’s what you believe.”
“But…” Gertruida held up a hand. “with all those pearls and golden highways…the property tax must be astronomical?”
“And,” Vetfaan added timidly, “the municipal accounts can’t be free. Who does the garbage collecting and sweeps the sidewalks? I mean: it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it?”
“What about dog licences? We can’t go without Vrede, after all. We don’t want him expelled simply because he transgresses some laws.” Servaas leant over to pat Vrede’s head, knowing how upsetting the conversation must be for his doggy mind. “Without money to pay for his licence, our poor dog is doomed.”
“Well, there is an upside. With all the criminals downstairs, the police force would only have to direct the traffic. And can you believe the savings when you don’t need burglar bars, alarm systems and security guards everywhere?” Kleinpiet’s nephew lived in Johannesburg and had phoned him about the student unrests. “At least everybody will know everything, so no students either. Stiil, without our savings we’d never be able to afford the occasional beer – not with our own brewery being sold to the Belgians. The prices are sure to increase…”
The Rolbossers had been worried about this ever since they heard the news. Kleinpiet’s last sentence made them all pat their wallets: no matter what the price might be, beer was an essential part of living – even in heaven.
Pastor Victor stared at the group in total unbelief. Were they poking fun at him?
“Let me put it this way,” Oudoom finally said, “Heavenly Investments Inc. may be on the right track – albeit for all the wrong reasons. I propose we do the right thing and run the gentleman out of town. I think it’s our heavenly duty to do it with grace and kindness – and if that doesn’t work, we’ll trade an eye for an eye and steal his car.”
It is, indeed, said that it is more blessed to give than to receive.This is especially true when imparting good advice. And Pastor Vic, it must be said, was a good receiver.
Gertruida summed it up as they watched the trail of dust disappearing toward Grootdrink. “And that, Oudoom, is the Christian way of living: to discern the truth from stupidity. You’ve preached so often from Proverbs, telling us about wisdom and foolishness. I think you can begin to relax now – we’re almost there.”
The Rolbossers trudged back to the counter, feeling they had done well that morning. But Oudoom knew it was only a passing phase. Come Saturday, and they’d be shouting at the ref once more – just like all good believers do when they remember to be normal once in a while.