The summer thunder showers have made it unbearable for my five year old daughter, Dakota and me to live in this tent near a dam on the outskirts of Mafikeng. There is no one else here. My relationship has ended and I am a single mum who can’t afford rent. I need to get work and find a proper home for us to stay in. I am getting ready to meet a potential client who will hopefully agree to do business with me.
I want to be organised but it is hard when it is muddy outside and the tent floor is wet from our feet. We would have been dressed on time if it were dry outside. Dakota knows how important this meeting is and I have her co-operation during our mad rush. I step carefully through the mud wearing slops and carrying Dakota plus my shoes to the car. Slowing down at the robot in town, the driver alongside me indicates that my muddy slop is stuck in the car door, which annoys me as I don’t want to look like my life is falling apart.
We arrive at the Wimpy to meet with Lincoln for the first time to discuss me designing his website. He is a black man with a beaming face, softly spoken and slightly shy. I immediately like him and relax. Dakota understands that she can only have a small milkshake. I must buy Lincoln and myself a coffee too. I am broke and desperate for Lincoln to choose my quote. I know he has at least two other companies that want the job. After our meeting, Lincoln tells me about his church. I had seen the lead pastor of Christ Embassy in Nigeria, Chris Oyakhilome on television before but was not aware they had a satellite church in Mafikeng. Lincoln invites me, I don’t want to go but I need his business.
‘I’d love to come,’ I say.
It is Sunday and I am parked outside the church. I want to stay in my car but I have to go inside. I stand at the door of the small prefab building and stare at the packed room. Lively black people dancing and singing – I immediately feel spare for coming and that I won’t be welcome. Where is Lincoln? He sees me. Dakota is enticed to the room next door where children go. She is as apprehensive as me. I miss her.
The pastor walks into the church; his presence stirs the room as if a king had entered and we are all in awe. He is wearing a smart suit, his one hand holds onto the front of his jacket and the other arm swings by his side. His walk is slow and slightly awkward – it might be his shoes that are too long and pointy. I think they are made of crocodile skin. He doesn’t look at any of us – only straight down the aisle towards the pulpit. Two serious tall men, perhaps bodyguards walk behind him. The music stops and he starts to preach in his Nigerian accent. His message starts off slow, and then builds up to enthusiastic. He marches up and down the aisle. I am on an aisle seat. I quickly learn to say ‘Amen’ when he says ‘Hallelujah’. He notices me. In town, black and white people go to the same churches but white people don’t go to churches in the black communities. I am aware of this. I remain humble to show I appreciate this fact. Besides, this is temporary.
At my second meeting with Lincoln I mention to him where I am staying and he immediately arranges for me to meet with the pastor.
I’m sitting alone with the pastor in his lounge and he has barely spoken to me. He is quiet and seems perplexed. He keeps leaving the room. I think he doesn’t know what to do about my situation. This is awkward. I’m confident he is going to save us though – his message on Sunday made me believe he has supernatural powers since the Holy Spirit dwells within in him or anyone who believes in Jesus and equips a person to face all circumstances. Wealthy people go to this church – doctors and business owners. He has arranged for us to temporarily stay at a guest lodge owned by a member of his congregation. Dakota and I are in heaven.
I volunteer as an usher. My wardrobe is jeans and t-shirts – always has been. I have to wear smart black trousers with a blouse and high heels. I have made a friend, Portia. She likes smart clothes; she is large and cheeky with dreadlocks, I like her. She arranges clothes for me from some of the ladies in the congregation. Ushers stand throughout the service which can go on for hours – in high heels. I am being trained as a soldier. Disciplined. Committed. I can never miss a meeting or service – being sick is no excuse. Each Friday at the end of the month is all night prayer, from 6pm until 6am. I have to stand – in high heels – for 12 hours. Dakota has a bed made under the table at the back of the church where I stand. One Saturday morning we had to go to a funeral in an African village, straight after the prayer night. I wasn’t told that it was unacceptable for a woman to wear trousers in a village and was mocked by the residents. I learnt to sing songs in Tswana and Zulu even though I had no idea what they meant. I had to catch men and woman on my own – in high heels – that were slain in the spirit (falling down under the anointing of the Holy Spirit) as the pastor prayed for them.
One Sunday, Pastor Ken was coming to visit and flowers were ordered for the church. The florist whom I knew, arrived during the lively African worship – you can’t help but dance! She looked stunned to see me there.
This was my secret.