What God Joined Together: Chapter 4 — The girl from Mühlacker

  1. What God Joined Together: Chapter 1 — Getting acquainted with God’s higher ways
  2. What God Joined Together: Chapter 2 — Don’t marry a foreigner
  3. What God Joined Together: Chapter 3 — Don’t get involved in politics
  4. What God Joined Together: Chapter 4 — The girl from Mühlacker
  5. What God Joined Together: Chapter 5 — Love grows where my Rosemary goes
  6. What God Joined Together: Chapter 6 — Miles apart
  7. What God Joined Together: Chapter 7 — A confession with serious consequences
With Rosemary at Stuttgart airport before my return to South Africa in 1970

A serialisation of a new book by Cape Town missionary and author Ashley Cloete about love across the colour divide in the apartheid era. Each week we will publish a new chapter

I had just turned twenty-three when I left South Africa. Romances started to play a bigger role in my life as all around me my peers were now getting married. Yet I was quite determined not to fall in love in Germany. I firmly intended to return to South Africa to make a meaningful contribution to racial reconciliation in one way or another. Because of the prevalent laws, marrying a German would have meant not being able to return to my home country.

I also felt committed to a task and commission which I deemed to be waiting for me in South Africa, feeling that I could make a greater contribution there than anywhere else. As a result, I did not want to remain in Europe too long. I regarded my stay in Europe primarily as an opportunity to study, but it was also combined with missionary zeal. At almost every occasion when I was asked to speak, I would talk about the role of the SCA in my life, citing their motto ‘Make Jesus King’. Some Germans were quite shocked by this notion. How could their ‘Christian’ country appear to be in need of missionaries from Africa? I immersed myself whole-heartedly in ministry, embracing all opportunities I was given to speak at various events.

My resolve not to fall in love with any German girl was strengthened after a few weeks in Europe when I visited the village of Selbitz for an event at a Protestant institution which had all the hallmarks of a monastery. The lifestyle of these Christians challenged me to consider a celibate life, something with which I had not been confronted before. However, I knew myself too well. I didn’t want to stay single for the rest of my life, so I settled for a compromise: I dedicated my ‘youth’ to the Lord, intending to stay a bachelor until the age of thirty. But alas! God’s ways are not our ways.

In May 1970 a dark-haired beauty by the name of Rosemarie walked into my life. I fell in love as never before. I first set my eyes on Rosemarie when she came to the Christian Encounter youth group with her student colleague and close friend Elke Maier. I had been frequenting the Wednesday evening youth group for some time. Being a first-time visitor, she stood up and introduced herself to the group as “Rosemarie Göbel from Mühlacker”. Her beauty immediately made an impression on me. There was something special about her, and something comfortingly familiar in that long black hair which was a rarity amongst German girls. I was intrigued. As soon as the formalities of the evening were over, I darted over to the mysterious girl from Mühlacker and started to make small talk.

My interest in her only grew when I discovered that her personality perfectly matched her outer beauty. When I came home that evening, I bubbled over in excitement, immediately wanting to tell my two roommates in Stuttgart about this Rosemarie Göbel from Mühlacker.

On my side, this was as close to ‘love at first sight’ as it could get.

Rosemarie had stayed over with Elke in Stuttgart that night as she was planning to attend the big ‘Ludwig Hofacker Konferenz’ the next day. Incidentally I, too, was planning to attend the conference with a group of student colleagues. It seemed more than mere co-incidence that we entered at the same entrance of the huge Killesberg auditorium at just the same moment amidst hundreds of people.

In child-like fashion, I abandoned the group of student colleagues I had entered with to take my chance of getting to know Rosemarie a little bit better. Without too much thought, I accompanied her and Elke to their seats and remained there for the first half of the conference. This gave us the chance to converse amiably.

I was dismayed when Rosemarie did not return to her seat next to me after the lunch break. As we had not had an opportunity to exchange addresses or telephone numbers, Rosemarie stepped out of my life again as quickly as she had entered it.

I later learned that Elke was not so pleased with the fact that Rosemarie was talking to me so much during the conference, almost ignoring her entirely in the process. Out of allegiance to her friend, Rosemarie chose not to return to her seat next to me, and sat somewhere else with Elke instead. Because of this, Rosemarie and I lost contact with each other after the conference. During the European summer holidays, Rosemarie again attended the Christian Encounter youth group in Stuttgart where we had met the first time, but this happened to fall on a day on which I was not present.

At this time, Rosemarie had a choice of two centres where she could do the practical part of her training. The difference between the two institutions was stark. At the Ludwigsburger Höhe, she could have had a brand new ultra-modern flat at her disposal, but in Stuttgart at the School for the Blind, she would be confronted with difficult work and a tiny room. After praying about it, she knew she had to take the latter option although the conditions would be clearly inferior. How happy I am that she opted to stay in Stuttgart.

Months later, almost simultaneously with my Greek exam which took place two weeks before my scheduled return to South Africa, Rosemarie entered into my life once more. To my delight she joined the Christian Encounter youth group again that evening, when we were attending an evangelistic campaign in a marquee in another suburb. I immediately spotted her coming in with others who had not been aware of the change of venue that evening. The meeting had already started at this point.

Our youth leader asked us to meet briefly after the end of the meeting to discuss an outreach event the following Saturday. As I sat there listening to the announcements and discussion, Rosemarie was sitting in the row in front of me. I resolved not to lose contact with her again. Fearing I might never see her again, I resorted to a rather unconventional method; I scribbled my number onto a piece of paper and quietly passed it to her. Rosemarie was, however, not impressed by this gesture! She was to call him? This was not exactly her idea of gentlemanly behaviour!

As it turned out, my second-rate action had actually been rather unnecessary. Rosemarie had gotten a lift to the event with the leader of the Christian Encounter group and I noticed her standing outside waiting for him after the meeting. I shouted out her name and offered her a ride. There were already three other people in the Volkswagen Beetle I was in, but of course there was still plenty of space for that particular young lady!

My assertive roommate was also in the car with us on the way home and he chatted with Rosemarie in a manner that made me suspect that he, too, might be interested in her. As we were walking to our college the next day, this particular roommate of mine boasted that the beautiful Rosemarie Göbel had waved at him when they had dropped her off at the school for the blind. I may have burst his bubble a little when I simply asked him whether he knew for sure that it was him she was waving at.

The answer to that question came the next day, when Rosemarie called me as per my request. It turned out that this had not been an easy decision for her. She felt a little put off by my forward manner, asking her to call me, but she had thoroughly enjoyed my conversation at the conference in May, and eventually decided to give me the benefit of the doubt. We chatted quite a bit over the phone that day and we seemed to have a real connection. I invited her to attend an event hosted by the Wycliffe Bible Translators due to take place that very evening. Her reaction was astounding; “I’ve wanted to become a missionary since my childhood!” To me this was the clear confirmation that I wanted nobody else as my future wife.
Rosemarie, though keen to attend, was unsure about whether she would be able to make it. She had a late shift at the School for the Blind that day, and wasn’t sure if she’d be able to get someone to stand in for her. I assumed that this had to have been the case when I could not spot her at the event that evening. When things started to drag on a bit towards the end, I signaled to my roommate, who had taken a seat on the stage as a volunteer (he enjoyed the limelight), that I was going to head back to our room, implying that he should make his own way back.

Hours later, when I was already in bed, he eagerly told me about the exciting evening he had just had. From the stage, he had spotted Rosemarie coming in late and after the meeting they had talked. Not only did they apparently talk “for ages”, but they then walked to the tram station together. The tram didn’t arrive as promptly as usual, so they spent quite some time waiting.

I struggled to get back to sleep after that! The picture of the two of them spending hours together late into the night kept playing over and over in my mind. I was so confused. Just that morning she seemed to have shown such interest in me when we spoke over the phone. And now she had spent so much time with my ‘player’ roommate? Had I been wrong about her?

The next day I resolved to find out once and for all what was going on. I knew that I was in love with her, this much was sure. How she felt about me, however, remained a mystery. I gave her a call to ask her if I could meet her at the train station that afternoon. I knew that she was due to go home to her parents in Mühlacker that weekend. I was thankful when she agreed.

We met at the Schlosspark, a romantic park close to the station, and spent some time together in conversation. I was overcome by how much I admired Rosemarie to the point where I could no longer keep my feelings to myself. I verbally confessed to Rosemarie right then: “Ich liebe dich.” [I love you]. Rosemarie responded by laying her head on my shoulder. With a deep sigh she said, “Oh, Ashley.” Her body language conceded that the feelings were mutual. However, with a heavy heart, she went on to tell me that her parents would not be happy with us entering into a relationship.

That same Friday evening, Rosemarie went to a symphony concert with her mother. During the interval Rosemarie told her mother about her love for me, an African student. The concerned Mrs Göbel knew that the situation could cause a crisis at home. Fearing an explosion from her husband, she immediately opposed the relationship and requested Rosemarie not to meet me again. In her heart, Rosemarie was unhappy about this development, but her mom persisted and my darling was more or less forced to agree. Under no circumstance should her father hear about our relationship. He had made his opinion clear to her in the past. Had he not warned her never to get involved with a foreigner or a pastor? And there I was pursuing his daughter – an African, in training to become a pastor.

Rosemarie respected her mother’s wish not to meet up with me before my return to South Africa. Thankfully, Mrs Göbel did allow us to phone each other. Her reasoning was that with me leaving so soon, it was unlikely that things would get serious enough for her husband to ever have to find out. Because Rosemarie was now no longer staying at home, she was able to phone me without anyone knowing.
We spoke on the phone almost every day during those two weeks. All local calls were charged one unit, irrespective of the duration, so we made the most of it with very lengthy phone calls and we got to know each other fairly well. In fact, we spent so much time on the phone that the fellow students at my boarding house soon complained that I was blocking the line!

Rosemarie was not permitted to attend my farewell at the Christian Encounter group. That evening I taught the young Germans two choruses, ‘My Lord can do anything’ and ‘By u is daar niks onmoontlik Heer’ [Nothing is impossible with you, Lord]. I chose these two songs without thinking much about the content. Yet these two choruses would go on to mean such a lot to Rosemarie and myself in the months that followed. We made an audio recording of the valedictory youth meeting by means of a recent technological advance; the cassette tape. I promptly sent Rosemarie the recording of the evening’s proceedings. In this way she could also learn the two choruses that I had taught the youth group. The two
choruses contained the same message: For our Lord, who can do anything – nothing is impossible.
From an objective perspective, the future development of our intense mutual love seemed hopeless. I was about to head back to my country of origin for good, and besides that, Rosemarie’s father would have prohibited the relationship in any case. We had no option but to stick to our faith that our Lord can do anything.

A foretaste of the miracle that was still to happen occurred just prior to my departure. When Rosemarie went home again the next weekend, her mom gave her permission to see me once more. Rosemarie joined me at a performance of Händel’s Oratorio ‘Messiah’. We were thoroughly blessed when we listened to the words from the prophet Isaiah almost at the outset: Every valley shall be exalted… We looked at each other eagerly and lovingly, applying the promise to our personal circumstances. How we longed for a fulfilment of the verse from Scripture in our situation!

Entrance ticket to the performance of Messiah

Mrs Göbel allowed Rosemarie to accompany me to Stuttgart airport with my roommates. But we were not happy when our scheduled time together at the airport was cut short, because I was required to take an earlier flight to get to Frankfurt. The flight from Stuttgart to Frankfurt was the very first time I experienced the inside of an aircraft.

From Frankfurt, I phoned Rosemarie one last time. We prayed together on the phone, concluding the two special weeks by singing and encouraging each other. The words ‘My Lord can do anything’ and ‘By u is daar niks onmoontlik Heer’ gave us a sense of hope when our circumstances seemed to be so heavily against us. Yes, in faith we trusted that God would deal with our two major hindrances: The objection of her parents to our relationship as well as the legal prohibition of it in my home country of South Africa.

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