Mary, a single parent with a six-year-old boy to raise on R800 ($125) a month, has the warmest smile you've ever seen. It is lit by the African sun, and brings joy wherever it reaches. It seems even to get around corners, the word Mary uses to describe the tough times that have informed much of her life.
Mary travels 50 miles to the city, five days a week, in a packed minibus. She walks the rest of the way to work in blazing sun or squalling rain, wearing her only nice pair of shoes. On Saturday mornings she cleans the tiny house she saved many years for. Then she goes to choir practice and sings all afternoon and most of Sunday.
"How can you get tired when you are giving thanks to God?" she asks in her hesitant but delightfully musical voice. "The psalms say to 'praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.'
"We are told we must not forget all the good things that God does for us," continues Mary. "We should expect Him to renew our youth like the eagle's - birds I know so well - and to heal all our diseases. We are told that those who do His will rejoice in His 'love and compassion.' And then comes the part that helped us Africans so much during apartheid: 'The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.' "
Mary says what she's learning now is that oppression isn't confined to what a political system imposes. "It's like being tied up with a rope we cannot make loose. Sometimes it's so bad we believe God has forgotten us. That's how it was under apartheid, and sometimes the rope tries to tie me again."
She explains that when her little boy is teased at school, that oppressed feeling comes back again. Then she prays that her boy will cope. When she feels exhausted by all the walking she has to do to get to work, she knows this is another form of oppression, and she prays to be lifted from it. When she is "sick with worry" about her relatives who depend on her for money, she tries even harder to give thanks for the blessings of God, which flow through us all "like a mountain stream." Sometimes, in her mind, she can smell the fresh, clean water - and that helps.
"I have never been without a job," Mary recalls with shining eyes. "I have worked long hours and often traveled far to my place of employment, but I have always had shelter from the rain, and always been able to buy mealie meal [corn meal] and bread and milk."
We speak together about the healing and comfort that God consistently provides for His children. It was this healing and comfort that Mary Baker Eddy, who started this newspaper in 1908 (and who was also a single parent), found in her own life through Bible study.
True government is in God's hands; and those hands are always open - African style - to heal and to help everyone, but never to oppress. His laws always support justice. And He is an ever-watchful God who is both Mother and Father to us. Mary ooohs expressively in her Tsonga tongue. She delights in eagle imagery - with which she identifies easily in this country where eagle sightings are a daily occurrence. She agrees that the Scriptures leave us in no doubt that God's loving arms lift us strongly and effortlessly, like an eagle's wings, above oppression of any kind.
"I found that many times under apartheid," she says with a smile of gratitude. "Even when I was raided in my home and searched by the police at night, I always felt God here with me.
"When you have experienced those things," she continues, "you never forget them. That's why I am still singing my praises to God - all Saturday afternoon, and again on Sundays. I will never be able to catch up. And that's OK, too!"
A few immortal sentences, breathing the omnipotence of divine justice, have been potent
to break despotic fetters and abolish the whipping-post and slave market; but oppression neither went down in blood, nor did the breath of freedom come from the cannon's mouth.
Love is the liberator.
Mary Baker Eddy
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society