What God Joined Together: Chapter 5 — Love grows where my Rosemary goes

  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

When I returned to South Africa in October 1970, I had no doubt that Rosemarie Göbel was the girl I wanted to marry. My resolve and determination not to get involved in a relationship that could lead to marriage whilst in Germany were thus effectively dashed. A new resolve grew in my heart. I wanted to fight the law that prevented her from coming to join me in South Africa.

During this time, I was starting to get ready to attend the Moravian Seminary as a full-time student from the beginning of the next year. In the meantime, I took up a teaching post at Alexander Sinton High School in Athlone, substituting for a teacher who was in hospital during the last school quarter of 1970.

I was so excited about my new-found romantic relationship that I latched onto every opportunity to narrate our special story. Even many a learner at school had to hear it. When one of them pointed out to me that there was a pop song doing the rounds with the words Love grows where my Rosemary goes, my heart resonated in agreement. In the first few weeks, our airmail letters flew to-and-fro between Cape Town and Stuttgart in quick succession. I wrote about almost everything that I was doing, writing at railway stations and on trains, reading and re-reading her letters in all sorts of places.

But it was also not long before I was swept along by the race politics of the day. How eager I was to get going with the task of working towards racial reconciliation in my dearly beloved home country. Already in Germany I had decided that, once back in South Africa, one of the first things I would do was to join the Christian Institute (CI). This was an organisation which stood up against apartheid by uniting Christians of different races.

Influenced by my intensive reading about the experiences of Martin Luther King in his battle for racial equality in the southern states of the USA, I had a plan of action ready. I believed that we should demonstrate our unity in Christ as people of different races visibly, and be prepared to suffer the consequences, if needed. In concrete terms, that meant being ready to be arrested in contravention of immoral racist laws.

At the CI in Mowbray I linked up with Paul Joemat, my fellow Moravian rebel soulmate. There we hoped to connect with other young people who shared our vision of actively opposing the unchristian apartheid policies. At the very first meeting with other young people linked to the CI, I suggested that we could take a train ride jointly, entering into a ‘non-White’ carriage and then walk through to the ‘White’ side together. This rebellious gesture could very well have led to imprisonment, but we were ready to embarrass the government in that way.

Unfortunately, the ‘White’ compatriots disagreed, pointing out that it was CI policy to stay within the limits of the laws of the country. Paul and I had been rather naïve to expect that other young people would also be prepared to be arrested. I was disillusioned, because the basic tenet of my reasoning fell away: I believed fervently that doing things together as believers from different races would be the most effective opposition to apartheid. It was also my conviction that our united opposition had to be visible, and that it would include the contravention of the deplorable race laws. I discovered that I was probably expecting too much for the bulk of middle-class ‘Whites’ in 1970. Even in the ‘Coloured’ society of the day, landing in prison – even for a good cause – still had too much of a stigma attached to it. Paul and I subsequently stopped attending the CI youth meetings.

Though I was not at all ready to give up the fight against apartheid, emotionally I was preoccupied with my intercontinental romantic relationship, and for quite a while I was not actively involved in trying to bring about racial reconciliation. In fact, I was so much ablaze in my love for Rosemarie that I was already planning my return to Germany to see her again as soon as possible.

I caused self-inflicted problems over in Germany, as I had been quite outspoken there about my desire to return to South Africa to serve my people. In a newsletter to friends in Germany dated 22 December 1970, I wrote from my parents’ new home after their relocation to the mission station Elim:

I can already hear your question: You always asserted that you see your duty in South Africa and now you have fallen in love with a German?

I defended myself in the same newsletter with some clever semantics:

It is not so much that I fell in love, but that GOD granted us this exceptional love.

I pointed out in that newsletter that if I had had my own way, I would have returned to South Africa much earlier and then we would not have met each other again two weeks before my return in October 1970, after we had initially lost contact with each other.

During that same December visit to Elim, I divulged my romance with Rosemarie to my cousin John Ulster. He was the minister and superintendent of the mission station at the time and it was he who pointed out the obvious to me: I would have to choose between South Africa and Rosemarie. However, I was adamant that I wanted both. This must have sounded really stupid and naïve. Marriage between a ‘White’ and someone from another race was completely out of the question in our country. I was, however, too much in love to give her up that easily. I was determined to fight to get Rosemarie into South Africa though the idea sounded crazy to everybody else.

As Rosemarie was still residing at the School for the Blind in Stuttgart at this time, we could correspond without her parents getting upset about it. Rosemarie initially kept the promise to withhold the information from her father but she did share it with Waltraud, her only sister. Waltraud was engaged to Dieter Braun at that point and everything was set for their wedding a few months later.

Many acquaintances on either side of the equator were rather skeptical about our relationship, waiting for the novelty of our new-found love to wear off as time would go by. For my part, I did not feel a need to prove anything, though. I was so sure of our strong love. Rosemarie, however, experienced intense loneliness. Besides her friend Elke, nobody seemed to show any understanding. She wrote in one of her letters:

Yes, Schatz, I have experienced so many disappointments from people from whom I had expected it the least. I could even say that everybody to whom I have spoken about you reacted in a negative way, believers and non-believers alike. Often it is very difficult because they use arguments which I can’t counter… Often I have to hear, “Your love will cease, especially when the physical circumstances will wear you down.”

Had Rosemarie’s friends read my letters to her, those sentiments would have been confirmed. I gave Rosemarie heartaches with my naïve ‘honesty’, for example writing about girls in Cape Town that I liked, but who could never match up to my darling in Germany. When she received interest from local young men, who also hoped that she would forget about the African young man as time would go by, she gave me the same bitter medicine. I was, however, too naïve to sense any danger. With the money I was earning through my teaching, I wanted to visit her as soon as possible. I knew that the advice of my cousin John Ulster was realistic; I had to choose. I could not have both the girl and the country I loved. Nevertheless, I somehow still hoped to bring Rosemarie into my beloved fatherland.

There was, of course, also that other rather large snag: Rosemarie’s father still didn’t know about our relationship. The secrecy became almost unbearable to my darling. We so much desired to live as children of the Light. She knew that sooner or later, she would have to tell her father the truth. On Christmas Day 1970, Rosemarie wrote:

I had thought I’d wait to tell my father about us until certain things would have changed in his life. However, I can’t wait any longer because I can’t bear this responsibility. I know how he thinks. It could very well be that he will forbid me to write to you.

There was a foretaste of the possible reaction from her father a few days later, when Rosemarie was all set to leave for a week long youth conference in the village of Liebenzell taking place at the end of 1970. The village, situated in the Black Forest, is well known in Southern Germany because of the mission agency located there. Her father warned her;

“Just see to it that you don’t fall in love with a missionary. Otherwise you may still end up in Africa or who knows where, just to be thrown out by the native inhabitants.”

She expected him to explode if he heard that his daughter was already in love with someone interested in missionary work, and one who is in fact a native African! My darling was in complete desperation as she left for the conference. At the conference itself, her desperation worsened. My Schatz [darling] thought that she had no choice but to let go of me. The last day at the short conference in Liebenzell was a red-letter day for her. On the 5th of January, 1971 she wrote:

There are many letters which I had started to write but tore up again, because I discovered that I wasn’t being honest. Then I started to pray, but I somehow couldn’t get further than “Lord, you see how I love him. Surely you can’t expect me to release him?” But I knew that this was exactly what God wanted from me; to be prepared to let go of you. In the night, I couldn’t sleep because I was completely frustrated. The mere idea of a sacrifice almost drove me to insanity. And yet I knew, to find peace again, I had to get through all this.

Then she went on to write victoriously:

… I sensed the power of Jesus so that at last I could say: “Yes, Lord, I want to be completely obedient to you. I will give Ashley back to you if you require this from me.” Thereafter I found inner peace and I knew that I would tell my father about you the same day.

With this sense of peace at heart, Rosemarie returned to their home in Mühlacker, determined to tell her father about our relationship that same day. As much as the thought of possibly losing me hurt her, she knew that choosing her own ways over those of God was ultimately going to hurt her even more. But somehow, she could not bring herself to act on her intention to tell her father about her love for me, an African theological student, right away.

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