When I was a child, it seemed I spent all of my time at home with my mallie or at the Lost Coin Evangelical Missionary Church, the one I called the muddy road church. School was school; I went there every day and learned my subjects, but school didn’t influence me like home and church did. I guess school was just too regimented and predictable to remember over time. But home and church sure were memorable.
I once asked my mallie why the black churches in Kimberley were built on dirt roads. I’d seen the white churches in town—there were quite a few of all types and sizes. They seemed so clean and, well, white. And not one was built on a dirt road like ours was. She just told me to read the Bible some more and repeated her own favorite verse of the entire Gospel: “I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
She always added more of her own, more current, fire and brimstone version, embellishing on an old song she’d heard years before. “Rock walls and metal gates will not protect you from the Lord’s rapture. Gold-plated doors will not keep out the Lord’s burning rain. Remember what those leading the struggle say. ‘God is a God who sides with the hungry, the poor, and the marginalized, and so we are able to tell the powerful everywhere, we tell the oppressor everywhere: “Watch it! Watch it! Watch it! Because God comes to deliver!’”
With all this information, I somehow felt it was safer to be hopelessly poor. It’s the way God wants us to be when we arrive in heaven, so it’s the way we were. I’d heard Pastor Smiley deliver such messages many times, when life seemed bleak and hopeless. But then my mallie would add more of her own outlook on life. She always did, and this time it was the way she viewed the haves and have-nots from the inside looking out. ‘Black churches are special and God blessed them with patience and humility so we can walk down those muddy dirt roads to praise Him every day. God knew white folks can’t do that, so He gave the muddy roads to black folks.’
It confused me when my mallie talked about white people as if she weren’t one of them. Now, looking back, I don’t think she considered herself of any color. She was just a woman with a child to care for. It didn’t bother my mallie; she just went on like it was nobody’s business but hers, and I tried to do the same.
We were proud to call the Lost Coin Evangelical Missionary Church our church even if it appeared, from the outside, ready to collapse. But the interior was meticulously maintained. Looking back now, my church had many differences from others. We line-sang, a cappella style, every Sunday—just like in the old days, I’m told. Pastor Smiley spoke some in broken English and some in Bantu, but not a word of Afrikaner was spoken inside. And the women of the church, mainly the same ones who cleaned, brought fresh-cut flowers each Sunday morning. We didn’t buy our flowers to praise God. We grew them.
The Lost Coin Evangelical Missionary Church was full every time the doors opened, and it felt like we had power—there was power in our numbers and we were safe. It was okay and everything was all right during those precious hours. After church, we walked down our own muddy dirt roads, and back to our own real worlds. In all truth, the church was our center of gravity back then. It was our place of solace. And sometimes, it was the place to air our grievances.
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