A man about a horse mission

Dear All, the problem with certain experiences is that unless one has experienced it, it is not really possible to communicate it to others.

My horse riding missions are such experiences! Shawn and I have now done three together and many relationships along the route are now becoming consolidated, especially with certain farmers who now have bought into our vision of the ministry – although in the ministry I am no more than a handlanger!

Nevertheless, I thought I would try and give you a picture of it by describing one of the days of last week.

The day started on a farm near Darlington/Mentz Dam – which is in the Noorsveld/Karoo area. It is very dry at the moment and was about 30 degrees centigrade. By the time I got up Shawn was already with the farm workers. When I came across them Shawn and about 7 workers were praying together in the skuur – in a circle and all on their knees. The picture of this really tough ex-parabat blue collar white Afrikaner on his knees with the workers was deeply moving.
At breakfast he reported back to the woman working in the house about his huisbesoek to her husband earlier that morning – she had confided in him the night before that he was abusing her and her children and that alcohol was a problem.

We then set off towards Wolvefontein via Perdepoort – not knowing where we were going to stop along the way and particularly sleep that night. It was a trip of about 80 kms and we hoped to get about half way by that evening.

After about 2 hours of riding, we came to a small cluster of shacks. There was no apparent reason for their existence (eg no farm house, shop or station in the vicinity), other than giving some protection against the elements to the people who stayed there. Shawn had stopped off there on a previous trip and ministered to an old woman in a wheelchair. We stopped and Shawn went off to the nearest one roomed shack – I was left looking after the horses. There were four women, one man and 5 children who ought to have been in school (on the trip we came across a number of illiterate people – some in their thirties/forties – these children no doubt are heading the same way).

The man studiously avoided Shawn as Shawn met with the women under a afdak. He spent about an hour with them. At the end of the time once again Shawn and the women ended up on their knees praying together. Obviously the one woman was greatly moved as she began to sob uncontrollably. The woman then called the children to come and receive prayer from Shawn – I had been entertaining them with the horses. In some of their features were signs of alcohol foetal syndrome – one of Shawn’s themes with all the women we met along the way. He would educate them about it, starting with the picture of John The Baptist kicking when in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, entered the house. He would go on to a simple explanation of how what the mother eats, drinks or smokes goes straight into the unborn child’s system and conclude with a challenge to them personally to desist whilst pregnant and to “skel” pregnant women who do drink.

As we rode off Shawn was on a real high as he shared with me that the woman who was sobbing clearly had been ministered to by the Holy Spirit – she was a squatter in a squatter’s shack and was being abused by all and sundry. From her perspective, and by outward appearances, she was on the very bottom rung of the ladder and of absolutely no consequence whatsoever to anyone. And here a white Afrikaner had told her that the Lord had told him that he must get on his horse and ride all the way from Grahamstown to tell her that she was of infinite worth to Jesus. And as Shawn physically laid hands on her she obviously felt this love and affirmation of the Lord. As I write this I once again feel hugely moved and humbled. (Shawn found out that the old lady in the wheelchair had passed away since our last visit.)

A few hours later we stopped at one of the many broken down and deserted farm houses to rest our horses and make some of my infamous really strong coffee over a fire! (The picture of these abandoned houses so prominent in the area featured very prominently in Shawn’s communication of the Gospel along the way – he would always use images from the peoples daily lives, almost invariably agricultural.)

As the end of the day approached we had to start looking for a place to camp overnight. We decided to push through Perdepoort in the hope of finding a place beyond it. It was a stunning hour’s ride through the poort – sunset was very near and the silence, other than the birds, was quite overwhelming. Ros would have been in raptures about the lighting and shadows as we passed between high cliffs and prehistoric looking trees. The sheer delight started making way for growing trepidation as the light began to fade and we still had no idea where we were going to camp that night. Much to our relief as we came out of the poort on the left there was a small kraal with water for the horses. Although there was no grass for us to sleep on the main thing was that the horses would be secure and watered

We unsaddled, gave the horses the feed we had been carrying on our saddles and set about making a fire to cook our supper. On the top of the hill we saw a worker’s cottage – Shawn went to ask permission to stay the night and promptly invited them to join us for supper! Fortunately they did not come as all there was to sit on was the ground and we only each had one spoon and a dixie to eat from – the menu also was not five star!

As we got ready for bed we decided to climb over a locked gate across the road to see whether we could find some grass to sleep on – we had found out from the worker that the owner of the farm lived in PE and had a small weekend cottage across the way. Not only was there grass – there was also a verandah with a roof over it and an outside tap – we had moved to a 5 star establishment! One small complication was that Shawn had forgotten to bring his sleeping bag – his matter of fact attitude about this changed when from about 11h00 – 03h00 he kept me awake by employing various schemes to keep warm. He eventually quietened down after much noise from the verandah. When I got up at about 6 I discovered his cunning scheme to keep warm – he had made a fire in half of the braai place, dragged a table to in front of the fire and then lay with his torso on the table with the lower part of his body, his boots still on, right inside the fire place next to where the fire was burning. It was with great delight that he told me he had landed up being warmer than me in my sleeping bag!

As I reflect on that day I am greatly humbled and challenged – Shawn had with great love, urgency and compassion touched on eternal matters with the poorest of the poor – and then after a very simple meal in a cattle kraal had slept partially in a fire place to keep warm and yet at all times his heart was transparently full of thanksgiving for the privilege Jesus had given him on that day of ministering to people our society have forgotten, whom he had met along the way.

Another lesson I have taken away from my latest outing arose after an exchange the following day between us and a local farmer. We had just had our morning break and were on a tight schedule to get to Wolvefontein that afternoon – Shawn planned to hold an outside service at 6 pm that evening for the local community, and as we were taking a new route we were not sure how long the ride would take us. The farmer seemed tired and heavy hearted. Behind him his house and stables looked very run down. The only real spirited thing around was a magnificent lone arab stallion who was very excited by the presence of Shawn’s mare. The farmer told us he had not yet been able to ride the arab – which sort of summed up his life I guess. He invited us in for coffee but we declined because of time constraints.

As we rode away we both felt the heaviness in the farmer. On my way back to CT I stayed over with a good friend in de Rus – I was reflecting on the trip and on the profound influence the book by Ronald Sider, “Rich Christians in an age of hunger” had had on me in the seventies and that a sentence from it has been a constant challenge to Ros and me to the present day – “We must live more simply in order that others may simply live.” Central to this was to live within our budget so that we always have something spare to help someone out if the need unexpectedly arose.

Anthony then made the very challenging observation that the same principle must apply to our time. We must not plan in such a way that all 24 hours of each day is fully booked. We must leave time “free” every day so that we are able to minister to all those we encounter, whether planned or unplanned. This way we are able to entertain Jesus coming in the guise of a stranger. We should have budgeted more ‘free” time on that day to accept the invite for coffee from that farmer.

One writer has put it this way – “business is not of the devil, it is the devil!” In todays world where business, and a “productive” use of all time, is seen as a virtue I have no doubt satan uses this to make sure we are too busy to entertain the stranger, our neighbour, the one who is facing a crisis. At Wolvefontein our host told us that this particular farmer had once owned the entire valley but had fallen on very hard times and now only really was left with a small piece of land – clearly it was a mistake for us not to accept his invitation for coffee.

It was on the same day that I received an sms from a colleague telling me that my application for the vacant position for a judge had been unsuccessful and that four women had been shortlisted for the post – Veronique had nominated me to fill the vacant post . For the next three or so hours in the middle of nowhere I grappled with my pride, my anger, my indignation at this transparently political decision. And then slowly it dawned on me that all I can boast in is the cross and that my response to the news showed that I still had much growing to do as quite obviously I also wanted to boast in other things!

As you can see my latest few days in the saddle with my friend Shawn has reminded me of many things. Amongst other things it has reminded me to check my priorities. To put God’s Kingdom first. To only boast in the cross and not in the false gods of pride, wealth, self sufficiency, tradition, being seen to be “productive” (for example this trip was seen by most people as a holiday and this worried me!), business and status. That I must budget my time in such a way that I am able to minister to Jesus when he comes in the guise of a stranger or a neighbour. That there are many forgotten people in our land and that they are of infinite worth to Jesus.

At our final destination (where we left our horses), we were welcomed by the farmer who has become key to Shawn’s horse ministry (his farm is close to Steytlerville). He was having a business meeting with various people when we arrived. One of them turned out to be the retired Dean of a Law Faculty and a previous National Party cabinet minister – although I had never met him before I had some pretty fundamental problems with his previous political profile. To cut a long story short out of the blue he approached me in the kitchen where Shawn and I were having tea with the farmer’s wife and started talking law and other things – one thing led to the other and I ended up giving him a copy of my book on the Resurrection. He has undertaken to revert to me – as Shawn and I are strange “pardners” so this man and I would be – one simply cannot place God and His methods in a box can one?

As mentioned above, another need we became aware of on the trip was illiteracy. As it turns out a previous colleague of mine in Grahamstown has access to the bible being read on a sort of wind up radio contraption – so on his return to Grahamstown Shawn intends to try persuade Fanus to join our team.

Hopefully this gives you a bit of an idea of what this Noorsveld/Karoo mission is all about – it is of great satisfaction to know that if it was not for Shawn most of the people we meet along the way will never hear the Good News – the established churches and mission organisations simply are unaware of them, let alone reaching them.

Keith Matthee

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