My first visit to Queenstown as a newly appointed stake high councillor was to be the beginning of many unforgettable experiences. Those experiences would lead me to understand better how our Heavenly Father touches the hearts of all His children, and how He extends His love and protection to those who try to serve Him.
In 1987 I was assigned to Church units in East London on the coast: Queenstown, Sada and Cimezile in the Ciskei; and Ilinge in the Transkei. As a recent immigrant from Harare, Zimbabwe, I served at first as a companion to Brother Dennis Raubenheimer on these visits as he was familiar with the area. Wherever we visited, after the meetings all the members would line up to shake our hands.
In these branches, we used interpreters; the majority of these Saints could not understand English any more than we could understand their native Xhosa. The singing in these branches is a delightful experience. One has to hear the unique harmony and volume of their singing to appreciate fully the joy of their pure, untrained voices. We travelled on a winding gravel road. One had to be constantly alert to hazards such as wandering sheep and goats on these roads, as well as the perils of crossing rocky river beds; on one occasion, the muffler was ripped from the exhaust system of my car.
In Cimezile I met one of the most spiritual families that I have ever known, Wilson and Judith Nqunqa and their eight children. Brother Nqunqa had done the high-quality stone work of the outer walls of their typical African hut. Pictures of the Church President and General Authorities lined the walls of the spotlessly clean house. In their humble home, where even the children spoke in soft tones, the reverence and Spirit we experienced was as it might have been in the house of the Lord.
When I moved to Queenstown, I began to visit these branches weekly, rather than monthly as I had been doing due to distances. One Sunday I felt uncomfortable about going to meet with the members in Sada. I told my wife that I felt I would be letting them down if I did not go. “Ernie,” she replied, “If the Spirit is prompting you not to go, then you must heed that warning.” I did—and my next visit to Sada proved the wisdom of her counsel. Had I visited that Sunday, I would have been caught up in a riot. Police used tear gas to break up an angry mob, and the Saints were forced to scatter when the gas drifted into the meetinghouse.
On another occasion I once again felt prompted not to travel to Sada for Sunday meetings. This time I heeded the warning without question. President Gquola told me later how fervently the members in Sada had prayed I would not keep my appointment that day. A group of men, convinced that I was a spy, had been waiting to deal with me.
It was a privilege to be associated with the members of the Ilinge, Cimezile, and Sada branches, as well as those of Queenstown, and the faithful missionaries who have given of themselves so freely. They have helped me gain a testimony of the great work that has yet to be accomplished as we labour to share the gospel with the people of Africa.