What God Joined Together: Chapter 6 — Miles apart

  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

In January of 1971, I bumped into my former Afrikaans teacher, Mr Adam Pick. He was now the principal of Elswood High School. My reputation as an ‘above average’ Mathematics teacher had somehow done the rounds and he promptly asked me to come and teach at his school. This came as a bit of an unexpected temptation, as prior to this I had already made the decision to resign from the teaching profession to pursue theological studies. Being a Moravian himself, however, he knew that the seminary I intended to attend had just moved to Cape Town after the Group Areas expropriation of the church’s property in Port Elizabeth. He sowed seed into my heart, suggesting that I could also study theology part-time. This is exactly what I decided to do.

I soon took up a full-time teaching post at Elswood High School in Elsies River, making it clear that I would only be teaching for a year. Thereafter I wanted to study theology full-time.

My parents were now living in Elim and my sister and her family resided quite far from the school in Elsies River where I would teach. I needed accommodation in that vicinity. Mr Pick introduced me to a family that owned a 3 by 3 metre outside room with one double bed that I would share with my brother Windsor. On the inside of the door I hung my most important possession, a photograph of my beloved Rosemarie. I especially made use of the picture for our regular Sunday 10 p.m. rendezvous. We had set this time aside to pray for each other exclusively. What special times we experienced in divine union although we were so many miles apart.

On the occasional Sunday night I engaged in the prayer rendezvous with my darling while I was travelling back to Elsies River in the train after the Sunday evening symphony concert at the City Hall. I had frequently utilized my monthly train ticket to get there during my teacher training years, and still enjoyed attending occasionally after my return to South Africa. The event started at 8.45pm and was advertised as ‘admission free’. What this really meant was that one could be a seat-filler at the back of the auditorium for no charge. Those ‘free’ seats were often empty, barring a handful of ‘Coloureds’ and a lone Black man who attended regularly. I never experienced a single White person sitting there.

Back in Germany, Rosemarie deemed it wise to go home to see her parents in Mühlacker less frequently. The secrecy of our relationship was starting to take its toll, particularly on her mother, who was deeply torn between her love for her husband and the allegiance to her daughter and her ‘wayward’ choice of a boyfriend. She reckoned with the possibility that I would return to Europe in the future. In a letter to Rosemarie she wrote very wisely:

… I feel that if Ashley were to come to Europe one day, should you still think about it as at present, it would be the opportunity to get to know him. Think about how many people have had to experience a time of parting. Sometimes God requires a time of testing of us. In the meantime, you can learn some additional things for His service. Should you serve Him together one day, He will surely make your way clear…

Rosemarie’s father was, however, still clueless as to what was going on. After a few months, the secrecy of our relationship so much affected Mrs Göbel that she eventually landed in hospital with a serious gall ailment. Rosemarie herself was also coming close to a nervous breakdown. The tension in the family became unbearable.

Finally Rosemarie had to face the fact that our relationship was the reason for all of this. She knew that she could no longer withhold the truth from her father whom she loved so dearly. On one of the rare weekends at home, she eventually plucked up the courage to tell him about me. She knew full-well that it would hurt him tremendously.

As expected, Papa Göbel was shattered. All his ideas about his daughter’s future seemed to have taken a deep plunge. He cried excessively and uncontrollably like a deprived child, and said things a responsible parent should never say to their children – hurtful things, shameful things. The years of indoctrination while growing up had taken its toll. His ideological world of Aryan racial supremacy crumbled. Deeply hurt by her father’s reaction, Rosemarie took her bag and ran out in tears. This also brought her into a spiritual crisis, thinking that the termination of our relationship would be the only way out.

Two young Kriegdienstverweigerer2 [conscientious objectors], who were doing the substitute for military service at the School of the Blind where she was doing her internship, came to the station in Stuttgart to pick her up after her weekend trip to see her parents. But she was so distraught about what had happened in the interaction with her father that she tearfully disappeared into the ladies’ room at the train station. There Rosemarie wrote me a letter in which she stated:

I never thought that our relationship would end in this way. Yes, my darling, I have given up all hope that we will ever see each other again. Why? Because I can’t take it anymore. The responsibility towards my parents is too big.

I deemed it appropriate then to write a formal letter of apology to Mr Göbel. But rather than leaving it at an apology, I requested insensitively to correspond again with his daughter, yet not secretly. He replied equally formally, naming the reasons why I should terminate my relationship with his daughter. Ultimately it came down to this: He had nothing against me personally, but he didn’t want Rosemarie to marry someone from any nation other than Germany.

I probably should have left it at that. Instead, I stubbornly requested him to allow me to continue the correspondence with Rosemarie at festive occasions. Ethically, this was deplorable. I more or less attempted to twist Mr Göbel’s arm. In the same letter, I insolently suggested that if I did not get a reply from him, I would assume that he had agreed to my proposal. I still had to learn that one could aggravate a problematic situation by forcing an issue. Mr Göbel was too angry to reply, and instructed Rosemarie to write me one final letter terminating the relationship! As a result, the tension at the Göbel home in Mühlacker increased to breaking point and Rosemarie decided to stop going home over the weekends.
The Göbel family was soon very busy preparing for the pending wedding of Rosemarie’s sister Waltraud. When no reply came from Mr Göbel, I uttered a totally uncalled-for sigh of relief. I deduced that I could now go ahead with the writing of my thick epistle for Easter. Via this letter Rosemarie would have enough material to read and to re-read until Pentecost!

Easter 1971 would have been the first occasion for our mutual exchange of letters. I sent mine, but her letter didn’t come at the expected time. After some delay, a letter from her did eventually arrive. Had I not been so ignorant, the contents of this letter should have alarmed me excessively.

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