By: Maria Kerkhof
My hat was already on when I plucked the keys for teachers’ toilets to quickly use the facilities before walking over to the church. On Thursday mornings, there is a prayer meeting at church for the congregation from 8-9 am, and all staff and students have this scheduled into their timetables. One of my colleagues followed me to the toilets, but she didn’t realize I was still there when she locked the door on her way out. I knocked and called out, but everybody had moved on to the church and nobody was within hearing distance. Soon I could hear the first Psalm singing in the distance, wafting through the corridor, and I knew that I would be very stuck for the next hour. I inspected a small window, considering my escape… but determined that waiting would be better than getting stuck halfway through. Fortunately, I had my Bible, a notebook, and pencil with me. Once I heard the final notes of the last Psalm singing, I peered through a small opening waiting for a glance of anybody who may be passing by before starting my noise making again. My colleague was very apologetic; she is still cautious to this day about locking the bathroom door and removing the key!
While most Free Presbyterian churches may hold a weekly prayer meeting in the evenings after people are done work, at Ingwenya the early morning service has different advantages. It allows those in the local community to walk over while it is light and before they start their workday and, especially, it gives the schoolteachers and primary students the opportunity to attend a service, since most of them do not attend Sabbath services. As I write this, the high school students and teachers do not attend the prayer meeting because of Covid regulations. Currently, the senior master and head of the Bible Knowledge department started leading Bible study sessions with the teachers during this weekly time slot, using the Westminster shorter catechism as a guide. While most teachers will believe in the existence of God, they come from a variety of backgrounds and churches. Many have never been exposed to a reformed understanding of what the Bible teaches about proper worship and the necessity of salvation. This has been a special opportunity to spend more time with the teachers who come in weekly from town, as opposed to the school and mission being centered around teaching the high school students and the locals.
On the Lord’s Day, all the students attend the services at the Ingwenya Free Presbyterian Church, along with a number of congregants who come from the neighboring village.
The first service is at 11:30 am and the second service is at approximately 2:00 pm. The timing of the second service is a bit unpredictable. It is best to just keep watch to see when the students return to church after lunch, because arriving before 2:00 pm could either mean you are 30 minutes early or 30 minutes late. It depends when the first service ended, when the minister or elder is finished their lunch, and when the students are finished their lunch! Of course, they do always ring the bell right when the service is starting, so if I hear the bell ring when I am still at my house, then if I leave immediately, I can be seated within 2 minutes of the service starting! It is always wise to be watching your step, even if you are in a hurry, because the beef cows often leave evidence that they recently passed by while grazing and waiting to be eaten by the boarding students.
Figure 23 Cows graze around the mission grounds, fattening up for when they get slaughtered to feed the boarding students. The little grass roof of the church bell often needs to be replaced, because hungry cows do enjoy eating that when grass gets scarce.
The services are structured much like services in the Dutch Reformed churches in Holland, except there is no use of instruments. The girls sit together on the left side and the boys on the right. Student prefects supervise their peers school and at the dorms are also expected to keep their peers quiet, behaving, and awake. A presenter always starts off the psalm singing, and the congregation joins in, harmonizing beautifully. When we gather with the congregation and the boarding students, there are about 700 people. On Thursday prayer meetings, with the teachers from town and the primary students, the church is nearly bursting with nearly 1000 people. When we have a minister, or an elder from town, taking the service, then they will preach in English while someone else translates into Ndebele.
After family worship in the morning and before the first church service, the school students split into their streams and attend a Catechism lesson. They are required to memorize a question and answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and a few verses of a psalm each week. I generally teach the Form 3s (about 160 students), but when Norma Maclean was away to Scotland on furlough, I also took her Form 5s and 6s for the Catechism lesson. I especially enjoyed this senior class. The students were very engaged in the lessons and we had very rich discussions. Questions ranged from, “Is Melchizadek in the book of Genesis actually Christ pre-incarnated?” to “Why do we wear hats to church?” to “Why isn’t the ‘Book of Thomas’ in the Bible?” to “Why is Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday?” Many of the questions are very common amongst the students and answering them becomes much easier over time. There are often questions that I need to write down, so I tell the students that I will get back to them the next lesson, because I need to look up appropriate scripture references.