SERENDIPITY WINS THE DAY IN SLEEPY KAROO TOWN
Now here's a good story that the national newspapers missed. Audrey Antrobus of Rustenburg was in Knysna for Christmas and visited the Wilderness area where, at the information centre there was a pile of free copies of the Koukamma Courant.
The newspaper contained an item by Mark Hinds who works and entertains at the Karoo Hotel in the village of Steytlerville, north of Bavianskloof.
He reported that on November 26 the staff decided to put up their Christmas decorations.
Only two couples were booked in for the weekend, the Smiths from Canada, and the Campbells from Australia.
Audrey, in a letter to me, paraphrased Mark's story:
"Both couples arrived around teatime, and came in to dinner sitting at opposite ends of the dining room. Between the main course and the dessert, Mark and colleague Jacques entertained them with a cabaret item."
They were very appreciative and after dinner, the Smiths chatted to Mark while the Campbells moved onto the stoep where Jacques joined them.
"Mr. Smith told Mark that he had been born in South Africa but his father had been killed in an accident when he and his sister were very young.
"His mother was destitute and ill with tuberculosis so she gave him to her husband's brother to foster. The little girl went to her mother's sister.
"The young mother died in Steytlerville where she had gone in the vain hope that the dry Karoo air would heal her."
The last time Mr. Smith saw his sister was at their mother's funeral. His uncle had adopted him and they moved to Canada. Later attempts to contact his sister had proved futile, but he had decided to come to South Africa with his wife to visit his mother's grave.
"The next morning after breakfast the guests went out and Mark and Jacques sat down together for a cup of coffee.
"Jacques said that Mrs. Campbell had told him that her mother was buried in Steytlerville north of Bavianskloof and she and her husband had come from Australia where her adoptive family now lived, so that they could visit the grave.
"She knew she had a brother whose name was Smith but all efforts to contact him had failed.
"Jacques was flabbergasted.
"The staff of the hotel were delighted that they had decorated the place so nicely making it a suitable setting for this miracle."
James Clarke - South Africa © Star 2005. All rights reserved. Used by kind permission of the author.
Published on the web by The South African Star on January 28, 2005.
THE ROAD TO SAVING A SMALL CAROLINE CHURCH
Sixteen years ago, a middle-aged man, newly ordained, was hoping for a miracle. He had stumbled and fallen on his way to the ministry, rejected from a denominational faith; he had chosen a non-denominational ordination. His path was uncertain but all signs pointed to the ministry. There was tremendous serendipity along the way.
He had begun the process of buying an old church that had been abandoned. He incorporated a fellowship of interested people, and before he could buy the church, the property it was on became part of a long and arduous estate settlement. Dejected, he stopped in the small hamlet of Caroline Center. Over a cup of tea, his cousin told him that the church in the community that had been closed for 14 years, except for a yearly service, would be turned over to the historical society the next week. The Board of Trustees was getting together the very next evening for their final meeting. She encouraged the young pastor to attend and offer his services. His mission was to serve the Lord and his gift was the ability to do so. He attended the meeting and it was decided they would have a three-month trial run with the man as Pastor.
The church was in dire need of repair. In the winter months two wood stoves heated the sanctuary, tended by the old man who had never given up the thought of the old country church coming back to life. The floor in the memorial rooms was broken to the dirt below. The windows rattled year round. The flywheel to the bell had broken in the Bicentennial ringing, rendering the bell inoperable. The old pump organ stood proudly in position waiting to sound her glory once again. Other than dust she was healthy and eager. The Pastor had a glimpse of what could be and with God's help what would be.
The first service was attended by 12 people. The next Sunday 20 people attended, and growth seemed inevitable. The first wedding took place a month later; as the bride walked down the aisle, the wallpaper peeled from top to bottom, rolling to the middle and dropping. Baptisms took place in the old bowl and pitcher set, placed at the altar for such a sacred event. There was new life and a strong heartbeat, the breath of God was truly beginning to be noticed.
The old furnace had to be replaced; the church had no money, only for existing bills. What to do? Pray! And pray they did. The next morning's mail brought a check for the amount of the furnace from an anonymous donor. The check had been mailed a day prior to the need for the furnace.
A young woman longed to hear the church bell once again. Her childhood memories had been punctuated with the bell ringing each Sunday and on special occasions. She took on the mission of getting it fixed. She took the flywheel to a welder who said it was pig iron and could not be welded. As she stood in front of the welder's garage crying in the rain, a friend stopped. She explained her plight. His father was a welder and they scooped up the pieces and went to see the old timer. He said he would try. Try he did and was half done, when he suddenly died of a heart attack. The son couldn't leave his father's work on Earth for the Lord half done. He decided to try his hand at the trade his father had taught him. He only had 20 minutes of acetylene left, but somehow welded to completion after four hours. He assured us it would last for at the most a year. That was 14 years ago. And it rings for every service in the church.
The church created a First Friday fish fry. It has become a community event for nearly 300 people each month, a great event that has added to the assets of the church and built the addition. But, of course, the fish was the early symbol to acknowledge where Christians gather; no wonder it is such a success. A simple country church is a cathedral in the hearts of all who worship within its walls.
The road to Bethlehem was a difficult journey, serendipitous to the Blessed Nativity. The gifts have been shared by many through the centuries, but the greatest gift has been God's love to us all. The miracle of birth reminded us Christians of God's love for us.
Still today, in the rolling hills of Caroline Center, New York, God reminds us, through miracles, that he is with us each step of the way. There is no coincidence, only that mysterious star that we continue to seek in a simple kind of country Christian love, wearing our faith in our hearts and not on our sleeves.
Phil Jordan - New York
© 2005 Philip H. Jordan. All rights reserved. Used by kind permission of the author.
Phil Jordan is pastor of the Caroline Center Church.
Originally published Saturday, January 1, 2005 in The Ithaca Journal