“I’ll be there 5 minutes late,” read Funo’s [FOO no] text. It was 8:25am and Sunday School starts at 8:30am and we were still at home trying our best to herd the family out the door for another busy Sunday. “Us too. C U soon,” we texted back to Funo as we juggled smoldering hot boiled eggs for our breakfast-to-go.
Our first stop was the Westville Church hall. The kids tumbled out of the car brushing egg peels off their casual Sunday clothes. Over the speedy 5-minute drive through the suburban town we discussed the day’s plans because every Sunday is different. Today we would drop the kids off at Sunday School at the Westville Church and then we would carry on to Clermont without them and be back for the Westville memorial service.
We started the curvy 10-minute drive to the Clermont township. Nearly there and a traffic officer who is standing in the middle of the road signals to us to pull over for a car inspection. He pauses for a moment to read the sticker on our car. “Izindaba ezinhle Zombuso Kankulunkulu?” He reads the Zulu words for the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
“Yebo” [Yay bo] Rick says with a nod. Yes in Zulu.
“Go,” says the officer as he motions us along, “Go and preach the good news, go and preach the gospel.”
We slow down when we turn into the dusty potholed roads of Clermont Township. We pass the usual landmarks: The Afrika Tavern, the roadside water taps where women are washing their laundry in large plastic tubs, rusty oil drums with whole cobs of corn boil over burning wood, the unused Sugar Ray Xulu soccer stadium from the 2010 World Cup and the taxi rank where a taxi erratically drives in front of us and then honks loudly. Our car dodges goats, chickens, mangy dogs and excited children.
As we pull up to the Clermont Good News Center, Funo is waiting outside with the Sunday School students. It is now 8:40 and we apologize for being late.
The Clermont Good News Center is used for a variety of activities throughout the week. Bible classes run 3 times a week and also community education classes like exercise, sewing and cooking run during the day.
Rick turns the key in the door swings open. We enter the main room and our shoes make dust prints on the shiny concrete floors. We pull back the handsewn curtains and fling open the large windows. As if the noise of the door opening awoke the neighborhood, children from every direction swarm into the hall and pull up black plastic chairs in rows.
Sonya starts singing “Jesus’ Love Is A-Bubbling Over’ . The children stand and sing the familiar song with actions. Soon the hall is filled with 30 children singing louder and louder and with more energy at every verse. The Sunday School students range from 3 to 13 years old. Some of our Sunday School children are healthy and clean yet others grin through rotten teeth and rags cover signs of undernourishment. We sing a song in Zulu too, “Akekho Ofana No Jesu”. These’s No One Like Jesus. The room vibrates with small voices harmonizing loudly.
Funo translates as Sonya quizzes the children on last week’s lesson. The older kids are engaged and their hands reach up high and bounce when they know the answer. There has been a long history of Christadelphians in Clermont and some of these kids have been learning Sunday school for years and the older kids especially are knowlegdable and enthusiasic.
After Sunday School the children get a cookie and some juice. Funo buys these using the money from the collection. We helped the ecclesia get a bank account so they could start a collection. Clermont is independent and pay for their own snacks, memorials and cleaning supplies and other small expenses.
The kids are still eating when our fellow American fieldworker and friend, Matt Bilello, walks in. It is his turn on the schedule to exhort. “I thought I was late,” he says as he looks around at the kids and the cookies.
“This is Africa Matt, you’re on time for African Time,” we tease. We admitted that it was our late start that pushed everything back today. He looked around. “No matter, no one’s here anyway.” He was right. Besides Funo and the 30 kids who were quickly dispersing there was no other adults there.
“Oh well,” he shrugged, “we’ll just do a short devotional and then breaking of bread”
We reordered the chairs into a tight circle for the 4 of us. A few of the older Sunday school kids came in so we expanded the circle. He tucked the exhortation he had prepared away in the back of his Bible. Funo welcomed everyone to the memorial service.
Just then Faniswe’s [FAN I SEE WAY] frame filled the door. We greeted her and made room for her in the circle. As she entered her deep voice broke into a familiar Zulu hymn. Happy to have music added to the morning’s service we all joined in.
After we sang a few more unaccompanied hymns lead by Faniswe Matt began the devotion by reading 1 Corinthians 13. He pulled out a few points of meditation but before he could conclude the devotion another two people’s frames filled the door. It was Tembeka [TEM BECK AH] carrying her 1-year-old son and behind her were Anna and four small children and Zindile [ZIN DEE LAY]. The ladies are interested friends that have been attending all the Clermont activities for months. They pulled up chairs behind circle. Matt turned his bible to Exodus 34 and connected it to the previous thoughts.
We silently counted heads in the room. What began with 4 people now is 12. Suddenly people start filing into the room. The train of people, starting with Mdu [eM DOO] , never seemed to never stop. Mdu and the interested friends that make up his choir had walked 5kms to get to church. The 10 choristers joined another layer of our circle. Matt, without missing a beat, asked us to turn our Bibles to Matthew 22.
As the devotion-turned- exhortation continued a sister Nomhle [NOM SH LAY] snuck in. So did a handful of children. Each time a member came in Funo filled another small glass of wine for the memorials. Matt concluded his now 25-minute spur-of-the-moment-exhortation and Mdu started singing and his choir followed. The multi-tonal African tunes filled the concrete room and poured out onto the streets through the open windows. We stood up and swayed back and forth. Yes, as the song says, We Worship Your Holy Name Father, indeed.
After service we introduced ourselves to the visitors and said goodbye to the now over 20 members of our Clermont family and navigated back through the township to Westville. It was 11:20 and we were late. The Westville Sunday service had already begun. We rushed to the bathroom to wash dust off our hands and then snuck into the kitchen to grab some of the leftover snack. We tiptoed into the hall and sat next to our kids. The hall was filled with the familiar faces of dear brothers and sisters and close friends.
We stood to sing, “Be Still and Know That I Am God” the words projected onto the wall and accompanied by piano. We put our arms around our children standing next to us. Another typical African Time Sunday.