Father Gérard's Circulars

Mahlabatini, on xx.09.1991

My dear relatives, friends and acquaintances,

This circular letter should have reached you by Easter time; now, I hope, it will serve as a pentecostal greeting as well. May the Holy Spirit fill you with the fullness of his gifts, not only now on Pentecost, but every day. We here in the missions ask you heartily for your prayers to the Holy Spirit, because we need him urgently, too.

Recently the boarding mistress of our mission school, who is a Zulu-nun, came to the priests' house. She was quite worried, asking us to come urgently to the girls' boarding hostel, because evil spirits would cause big trouble for them. We asked her how she recognised these spirits. She was sure that one of the girls brought along a witch-medicine from home at the beginning of the school term. At nighttime that powder would change into a disgusting animal, causing fear and horror among the girls. She was totally convinced of that. It wouldn't have helped anyone if we had just laughed at her. Of course we cannot and we do not want to act as heathen witchdoctors in a catholic cassock. So we solemnly blessed the boarding hostel and all living therein, asking God for his help that he may keep us safe from every evil spirit. You see what a difficult situation we, as missionaries, have to deal with; the expectations of the people coming from deeply heathen formed surroundings differ from ours enormously. This also revealed to me, that the belief in evil spirits, moreover the anxiety of them, isn't automatically driven out by baptism or even by taking religious vows as a nun. It will still take a long time for those who already believe in Christ to be entirely aware of the freedom of the redeemed who feel totally secure in the hands of God.

But it is not only spiritual distress which we are to overcome here; there are quite severe needs on the grassroots level which we have to deal with: On Christmas we brought a very large, extremely poor family from Ceza to the mission station in Mahlabatini. We wanted to invite them to celebrate with us and to have their stomachs filled, which is very rarely the case with these people. It was quite a touching atmosphere to witness how the family, especially the children, enjoyed that. But then the situation changed unexpectedly: We pay for the school- and boarding fees of Ntshapheka, a girl of that family. We do this for many other poor children as well, so that later on they can master their own lives and support their families. Her stepfather (her father is unknown and her mother is mentally sick) wanted to have her married as soon as possible to the first man who came along, no matter whether she loved him or not. The father wanted to get the bride price from the bridegrooms family, which is according to the current rate, eleven head of cattle. The need is so great, not only in that family, and it makes people inconsiderate as well. But according to the tribal Zulu law the "sold bride" cannot fight against her fate. Thanks to God, at the moment we could prevent Ntshapheka from being married against her own will, but this desperate need cannot be wiped out so easily.

In my last circular letters I indicated our attempts to fight against poverty in a more effective way than it would be possible with alms only (which are sometimes just indispensable). Thus we built a community-development-centre, which has since been finished. The courses offered there are part of a two- to three-year programme, with which we can enable the people taking part to help themselves, and others as well, in order to free them from their dependence on others. Until now some twenty women in their first year of training were taught only sewing and gardening. However, they have now come to me and told me that elsewhere in comparable centres the people would be trained in religion and health care as well. They heard that I have some experience in these fields, and so they asked me not to leave them in the lurch. I couldn't say no; those who know me will also know how happily I said yes. In short: After some weeks of further preparations we shall also start a religious and a health-care-programme in our centre. And I will have to put my knowledge of the Zulu language to the test.

There is still a lot I could tell you about, which would lengthen this letter unduly. For example I could tell the story about that snake which lay at rest in the passage leading to my office, so that I nearly stumbled over it (I have always understood such stories to be missionaries-yarn); or about the church's blessing in Bhokweni; or that I had to take over the management of our Impumelelo-High-School and of the parish finances. Or I could tell you that we started a so called night-school for people who want to obtain or improve their matric in evening classes and much much more. But "working hard is a matter of course", as a good friend recently wrote to me. The spirit in which and because of which we do our service is much more important. This is why I ask you again for your prayers to the Holy Spirit, that he may help us to focus on the very essential tasks and that he may grant to our work strength and spiritual success.

We pray also for you and we are happy to do so. May the fullness of Gods pentecostal blessings be with you.

Yours gratefully

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Father Gérard

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