The motto of a Betereinder: stop complaining, do good and work together!
That’s how I really want to be but many it is not what I am like. I like to complain. I struggle to really get my hands dirty and I often feel comfortable struggling along on my own.
I’m therefor so happy for good friendships with real Betereinders like Oupa Nkoana and Johan Erasmus and Malebo Phago and Ayanda and Mamma Phillipine.
You see I like my study, my safe place with my many books and thoughts. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. We must love God with all our mind. Over time, however, I have learned that this part of loving God comes easiest for me and therefore readily becomes a hiding place for the invitation to love Jesus with my hands and feet as well. For this purpose Jesus gave me good friends and he use them to do to me what he did to his disciples! They take me to places where I would not have gone on my own.
So, I was dragged along to Hammanskraal on Thursday to spend time and learn from this group Betereinders. They were training people from that poor community to understand basic entrepreneurship and plant vegetable gardens. I say that the community is poor, but that’s not quite right. They are materially poorer than I am, but they very rich in terms of caring for each other and for strangers like myself. They are rich in hospitality.
There are more or less sixty people at Ramotse Reformed Church who come to learn. There are little children and one of the church elders who’s a 101-year-old old but still swinging Pickaxe. There’re uncles, aunts, young people, children – everyone has come to learn …
I myself learnt very little about entrepreneurship and vegetable gardens because the facilitators used Setswana and my understanding is limited! I’m reminded anew about how my privileged upbringing has harmed me and yet I learn a lot. I learn about my country and its story and I get to hear the same message I so desperately need to hear, and which I hear every time when I’m invited into these situations: Thomas, you belong here in this country among these people, your people. Here’s a place for you. There will always be room for people who do not complain and do good and who want to work together!
I hear this message at the Savemore where Lizzie and I have to go buy food for everyone. She is a single mother of two and very impressed with her “Mhlungu-assistant” for the day. I have to push a trolley and it really takes me a while before I realize I’m the only “Afrikaner” in a shop that is crowded with people. It takes a while because no one treats me like I do not belong there. She laughs a lot at all my stupid questions and it does not bother her at all to correct me. The broken “power dynamics” of our country’s history have been turned upside down. I’m the clumsy white man. She’s the knowledgeable black woman. She leads, I follow. We accidentally steal soup together – we forgot it under the cabbages. We laugh together! Say sorry together. Everyone is friendly and helpful and I feel like just another South African coming to buy food. I belong here.
I hear the same thing from the old uncle in the park where Johan and I are going for a walk before lunch. He stops with his wheelbarrow full of soil and welcomes us in the most beautiful Afrikaans. He talks excitedly about his job at Woolworths and his few days off to get his own vegetable garden ready for winter and about church and he gives advice on life as if we are just another two young guys from the community with whom he has to share some of his wisdom. I realize: here’s another Beteriender who does not complain and does well and who wants to work together. We both belong here!
I drive back that evening with a full heart and keep learning from my passengers, David and Donald and Ayanda about a “kota” – the township version of a Bunny Chow. All three are very upset that I have never eaten one. I almost feel like I do not belong here, but they make sure we do not greet each other before we make an appointment to eat a “kota”!
They want me here and they want to make me part of their story! I belong here. . .
My phone rings half an hour’s drive from home. It’s getting dark. It’s our security company letting me know they’ve received a panic signal from our house. I say they should go there because my wife and kids are home alone. I’m trying to call. I can’t get hold of Erna (my wife). I feel restless. She calls me while I’m still 10 minutes away. She tells me in a trembling yet calm voice: Two armed men forced open our gate and tried to enter through our stoep doors. They saw my daughter on her bed and hit against the window and ordered her to open the door. She ran and screamed and my wife was able to press the panic button in time and lock the back door! My family hid in the corner of the kitchen until the security guards came and searched our yard. The burglars fled.
Do we belong here?
My family’s testimony helps to say YES again! Jawé (my daughter) says to me: “Dad, I calmed down so much when I looked at the two men and realized, they are ordinary people doing a wrong thing.” My wife says we should pray for them. I tell them about my day. We pray together, over everything, for everyone.
We belong here! We have work to do here. Before I fall asleep, I remember these words of Peter to a struggling congregation:
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4).
The Hammanskraal people I’ve met and my Betereinders vriende are living like this. This is how I want to live. I want to keep doing good. I pray: What a training day Lord. Thank you for dragging me out of my study. Thank You for not getting tired to do só. Teach me to keep on doing good as I follow you with these people!
Then I slept like someone who belongs here!