I watched Hlumelo hurtling down the aisle of the Cape Town City Hall, explosive smile, bursting out of his school blazer. He leapt into his mother’s arms. She looked at me and mouthed quietly, “I have never heard him sing in his choir before,” as he squashed his face up against her cheek. “Transport from Philippi is a problem at night so we don’t usually come to these choir shows,” she explained. I realised I was witnessing a ‘kingdom moment’ and took a snapshot in my mind.
I was there to watch my 8-year-old nephew Chad sing in his Rondebosch school choir, along with other schools from Cape Town. It was an evening affair, made extra special by the fact that it was hosted in the City Hall. Chad and Hlumelo are in the same class and are best friends. Their homes are far apart geographically and socio-economically – Rondebosch and Philippi, near Crossroads. Hlumelo’s mother works hard in other people’s homes, and Chad’s mother works hard in her own. Hlumelo sleeps over each week so that he can attend Cubs with Chad, and I have laughed watching him teaching Chad to dance in his home in Philippi.
The week before my sister, Sally, had made a simple invitation to Hlumelo’s mother to come and sleep over so that she could hear her son sing in the Choir Festival. It was an obvious invitation — mother to mother — every mother would love to see their son sing. And it was no big deal for Sally and Gavin to open their home. They live like that — open home, open hearts to the people God brings into their life. Sally said a simple ‘yes’ to an obvious invitation from God. And Eunice, Hlumelo’s mom, did the same. She said a simple ‘yes’ too.
Facing many challenges as a single mother living in a community that has a myriad of pressures that go with poverty, a night out to hear her son sing was just what Eunice told me she needed. In the morning, Gavin, my brother in law, served her coffee and rusks on a tray in her room, as he does with any guest. “I will never forget that in my whole life,” she said when chatting to Sally later that morning. It’s a sad reality that not many white men in South Africa have had, or taken, the opportunity to wait on a black woman.
For Chad and Hlumelo to be best friends comes relatively easily. They are the same age, in the same school and enjoy the same things. Both of their mothers are open to making the effort that is required for them to see each other outside of school. It’s not their young friendship that blesses me the most. It’s the growing one between the two families that gives me hope in a country so divided.
When I hear Jesus’ introduction to His stories: “The Kingdom of God is like …” this is one that comes to mind. When I think of building and stepping across the cultural and socio-economic divides in our city, I think of moments like these. Small acts — one human to another, one mother to another — broke down some walls in a few peoples’ lives on that Thursday night and Friday morning. No great shakes. Minimal effort. Small acts that translated to a greater memory for two families. And two mothers who said ‘yes’, and both stepped out of their comfort zones.
This was a “sign of the Kingdom” for me … something I needed to see as racial misunderstandings seem to be amplified, subtle forms of superiority and inferiority abound, (the not-so-subtle ones are easier to identify) and God invites us to show our neighbours who are caught up in the status quo, ‘another way’. Both Eunice and Sally did that with their yes’s. It was a simple ‘yes’ that made all the difference … and I believe it will be those simple yes’s that change our city and help us live lives that are counter-cultural and point to the One who crossed the greatest barriers of all time.