Index Page   The Lord Took Me

 

Earthen Vessels

After twelve years service in Zululand I had to sell horse and saddle and leave the mountainous country on medical orders. We were transferred to a German parish. I became a pastor. That seemed to me greater and more important than being a missionary. Though I now had to preach in my mother tongue, I retained responsibility for an African congregation which had their church nearby and to which two out stations were affiliated. This gave me the opportunity, in addition, to preach in Zulu. Not only has the Zulu language a wealth of beautiful melodious and musical cadences but it also has one of the finest and clearest grammars in the world.

In this German community were churchgoers of varying faithfulness. Some never missed a service. Others attended intermittently, while others, again, came to church only for Holy Communion and festival days. They were made up of descendants of missionaries and children of colonists. One could also distinguish quite easily between two different Low-German clans. Apart from these two Low-German dialects High-German was spoken as well and also English, Afrikaans and Zulu. Most of then men had farms and some also kept a store. They were men who ruled on their farms with a firm hand. But horses and the beautiful African ox-teams existed only in the memories of the old people.

Here, then, I was installed by the leader of the church in a solemn induction service. He preached about ‘The treasure in earthen vessels’ and emphasised that much dirt could be thrown at an earthen vessel and that some would remain clinging to it, for strange and shocking rumours had preceded us. Of a ‘treasure’ in this earthen vessel I, of course, knew little. But I thought that I had a calling in holding ‘Singwochen’ so that the people might be helped musically and culturally. To this I hoped to add ‘Freizeiten’ (religious camps). Alas, how soon this supposed treasure within me disintegrated to dust and ashes.

Seeing I knew my countrymen, I resolved, as far as possible, to please all of them. Secretly I feared them and dared not speak nor act against their deep seated convictions of church life. Often I was shocked by the violent behaviour of these Germans in church council meetings in contrast with the marvellous disciplined procedure in Zululand. Soon these council meetings became a heavy burden to me. Even as a child I had often heard my father talk about them, and it had affected me deeply each time.

Sports, dances and other pleasures held moderate sway without becoming a passion. True, some people played tennis every Sunday afternoon, and I can recall one occasion when a carload of members, on the day after Good Friday, drove to town to watch a brutal wrestling match. When they told their pastor all about it quite unashamedly, they received no rebuke.

The singing here was not as beautiful as it had been in Zululand. How the Zulus could sing! The rolling bass of the men and, after much hard work and persistent exhortation, the sweet melodious voices of the women and girls blended into music so enchanting that strangers could not, at first, believe that no instrumental accompaniment was being used. ‘I want to love you Oh my Fortress’ set in rhythmical arrangement had been hard work training them in such an unfamiliar type of music and speech. Another unforgettable rendering was Tersteegen’s wonderful hymn: ‘I worship the Power of the Love of God.’ The Germans too, preferred those hymns to the heavy anthems of the Reformation, although an attempt had been made to introduce these in their original form. Many bitter and destructive battles raged round tunes and songs.