I'll be a Missionary
I sat on my bed feeling bleak and forlorn. The twilight was ebbing swiftly as shadows were darkening in the corners of my room. My heart was consumed with pain as I thought about the farm. All this had now to be left.
Soon I would cross the great ocean to faraway Germany, where two of my older brothers had for so long been confined behind barbed wire during the First World War. For the hundredth time I asked myself ‘Is it necessary for me to leave our beloved mountains and trees – and the farm, the horses, the cattle, and the dogs?’ The thoughts chased each other through my tormented brain: ‘Now really, why? Why has this strange ‘Must’ come into my life constraining me to become a missionary?’ Seven long years of study at the Mission House overseas awaited me. But did I really want to go? I pondered the strange conflicts raging in my depths. Who could compel me to exchange the liberty of farm life for the trammelled existence of a missionary?
The new suitcase stood ready in the corner and seemed to leer at me scornfully. I had never before possessed a suitcase. None of us young people had ever needed one. What would we do with a suitcase? Who ever would want to leave his native valley? Had not my elder brothers been gaped at as though they had been prehistoric creatures when they returned from Germany?
I rose and shut the suitcase violently. At that moment one of my brothers entered the room. If the other was ‘Jacob’ this one was ‘Esau’, with his red hair and his sporting gun and dogs.
‘Tonight I want to shoot that buck that ruins so many sweet potatoes. Tomorrow I shall come with you to the train’ he said, and, to the dogs, ‘Stay here!’ Reluctantly they obeyed, following him with sad eyes and wagging tails. Should I also stay behind? – No! I would go with him to the potato field. I reached quickly for my khaki shorts. For a moment the cloud over my life had been forgotten, but now it descended again, once more taking captive my full attention. Tomorrow I would be leaving…
Next morning, immediately after family prayers, I climbed the hill behind the house. I wanted to stand for the last time on the jutting stone slab and rink in the view across the farm with its fields, pastures and woods. My eyes wandered to the fruit tress on the left of the brook. Those were the oranges, and the mandarins, further along were the peaches and the figs – and, nearer the house, the bananas. I turned and looked across to Table Mountain with its steep cliffs and high ‘kranse.’ Compared to its famous namesake at Cape Town, our Table Mountain was small, but this one near the banks of the Pongolo River was, to us children, vastly more important and beautiful than any other mountain in the world. To us it seemed a gargantuan lion watching over our house which nestled at its feet among the flowers and wild vine.
Shading my eyes with my hand I could make out the caves and deep clefts in which old rifles and spears could still be found – witness of troublous times in the past. Lifting my gaze still higher I could see the waterfall that plunged down between high cliffs to disappear suddenly in the ground. This had always intrigued us as children, and we had wonderingly speculated where it came to light again.
I had been told that there were no mountains and glens in Germany (that is, in the part where I was going). Would I be able to endure that? Could such a place be called a country at all?
My sorrowful reverie was cut short. Father was calling. The mules were harnessed and we would have to leave shortly. Yes, it is better to arrive three hours before the train leaves than two minutes afterwards. It was not yet ten in the morning and the train was due at 3 O’clock – maybe even later, but we had to leave – for we were in Africa – and it was a three hour journey to the station. The road winds through hilly country and passes through several rivers and something might snap in the mules harness, and that would mean perhaps an hour’s delay.
I went into the kitchen to my mother and wanted to give her my hand. But she reached up her arms and hungrily embraced her tall son, pulling his face down to her – and kissing him. She had not done that since I was a child. ‘Will we meet again, my boy?’ she asked with tears in her eyes. I had to wrench myself away, look at her once more. For the last time on this earth, and then turn and walk quickly from the room.
My father did not say much; he only stretched out his rough farmer’s hand to me with the words ‘I shall come to the boat in Durban.’ Then I mounted the old mule cart, and ‘Esau’ and I drive off. One had to hold on tightly, for the road was rough and narrow.
Esau and I hardly spoke to each other on that long journey. Once he quickly pointed sideways into the veld with his whip – ‘Amatandele,’ using the Zulu word. Yes, sure enough, there above the bushes partridges were flying.
Slowly Table Mountain disappeared. It was only the previous Sunday that we were standing, high up, on its topmost rock terrace and, on our trumpets, blowing anthems into the valley below. They had rung in the country air clearly and solemnly.
‘Cast thou thy care upon the Lord
The care that loads thy heart;
Take Him this moment at His word,
And let Him do His part.’
I had blown the notes of that hymn, but I did not know how to cast my care upon the One Who reigns in heaven. Did any one of my friends know? I did not think so.