The whole thing started with Trevor picking me and other traveling companions up and then off we went to Middleburg for what would my first experience of the Mighty Men Conference. This year’s one was called the Karoo Mighty Men Conference because of a decision taken in 2009 that these conferences should be decentralised and spread to various parts of the country. I had never been to ones held at Shalom in KwaZulu-Natal because frankly I never understood what the fuss was about. I had seen pictures of these, mainly, white males gathered on Angus Buchan’s farm, but this never seemed to be my kind of a scene. I never understood why I should travel so far to a testosterone filled atmosphere and then spend many days outdoors being exposed to the elements. Yet I did go this year’s Karoo MMC, and all thanks to Trevor’s powers of persuasion.
Anyway, we arrived in Middleburg late on Friday afternoon after a brief stop-over at Graaff Reinet. We checked in at Christine’s Guesthouse and were welcomed by the warm and friendly owner. One thing that struck me as we arrived for our first service on Friday evening was how well-organised this event was. The administration, the logistics, the sound equipment, etc. — everything was comparable with the best standards. The Praise and Worship and the speakers who spoke were good but sadly I could not follow most of what was going on because the medium of communication used was mainly Afrikaans. Although I have little command of “die taal” the singers’ and the speakers’ enthusiasm helped me not to be disconnected. As a result, my favourite song ended up being Joe Niemand’s “Ek sal nie bang wees nie.”
I felt bad that it was my first time being introduced to him and I felt that our disconnection from each other as different races is depriving us of the opportunity of benefiting from the talent that exists in our different cultures. To me he is so talented and authentic he would make it as a cross over gospel musician and he should not be limited only as an Afrikaans singer. It is this excellence and that of the band that guaranteed that I never sat down during praise and worship whether they were singing an English or Afrikaans song. I noticed that the speakers deliberately stayed away from “preaching” but opted to speak to the audience. They spoke from their hearts and shared testimonies of what God has done in their personal lives. This approach seemed to have resonated with a lot of people.
The one theme that I picked up from many of them is the issue of racial reconciliation. We were challenged to narrow that gap that continues to divide us as different races. After every session my traveling companions (Trevor, Gordon, Theo) and I would have animated discussion about the speaker’s presentation and message. At some point we got a bit concerned as we thought that Angus Buchan would not be speaking at this conference. On Sunday morning, which was the last session, he made it onto that stage and I could not help but notice the profound respect everyone has for him. He has his own repertoire. This session was open to everyone, so all the wives and children joined us.
Facing up to pain
“Oom” Angus spoke about pain. That’s right, pain in all its permutations. Pain from a wounded soul, heart, body, relationship, etc. With tears in his eyes he passionately appealed to us to handle this, unavoidable, part of life with God’s help. He used an illustration about a boxer. He said a good boxer is not one who can give a punch but one who can take a punch. He also spoke about the pain that is brought on by foolish choices and behaviour. It was my first time listening to him in person and he made a good impression on me. Would I go to a Mighty Men again? Most probably and I might bring more other black folks with me, provided they can withstand the cold. I understand these conferences exist to help and encourage men to improve in their roles as fathers, husbands, leaders, etc. If everyone takes the experience back to their homes, work, business, community, etc. this country will change.
Speaking of change, a white fellow “mighty man” who stayed opposite my house in a suburb I used to stay in in Port Elizabeth came to greet me there. He was a panel beater who did not care much about the things of God. He told me that this was his second year coming to the Mighty Men and he has now stopped drinking and smoking and is committed to the Lord. To me this is what it is all about. Lives changed by God’s power and not just a mass camping out of men. And they know how to camp these men and know how to have a “lekker jol” too, which is something as darkie I would like to learn.