Church to be restored

2015-06-10 06:00

AGAINST the slope of a typical Free State koppie, just outside the busy central business area of the town Thaba Nchu, stands the church building, proudly, with signs of its former simplistic beauty still evident.

The older Tswana speaking people in the vicinity vaguely remember its Afrikaans name, Ereskuld-kerk, but they are probably not able to tell its story anymore.

Around 1833 the Barolong Chief Moroka, together with members of his tribe and their Wesleyan missionary, Rev. James Archbell, left their dwelling across the Vaal River and established themselves at the foot of Thaba Nchu (Mountain of Darkness). Moroka was a wise and peaceful ruler and amid the turmoil of the Difacane, this new settlement became a haven of peace, hosting several vulnerable groups.

Mount Thaba Nchu became a familiar beacon in the Trans Gariep and a resting place where many roads crossed – also those of the white immigrants moving northwards from the Cape Colony during the so-called Great Trek of 1837’-38. Different Trekker groups – those of Potgieter, Maritz, Retief and Uys – outspanned at Thaba Nchu. This is where the Trekkers started to arrange themselves as a worshipping community.

Here at Thaba Nchu, Rev. Erasmus Smit took lead in ministe­ring the Word and sacraments and marrying couples – under the supervision of elder Sarel Cilliers.

It was at Thaba Nchu where Piet Retief was elected as chief commandant and governor of the Trekkers.

During the battle of Vegkop, near the current town of Heilbron, Mzilikazi raided all the cattle of the Potgieter Trek. The Trekkers were left stranded and helpless. Chief Moroka then sent oxen to fetch them and allowed them to settle for some time at Thaba Nchu. This act of kindness saved them from disaster. The Methodist and Episcopal Churches established themselves well at Thaba Nchu; therefore the Dutch Reformed Church initially did not embark on mission work in the area. But from 1928 the then Mission Secretary of the DRC Free State, Rev. Valie Strydom, took initiative in starting with the DRC’s own mission endeavours; “The Afrikaner Church is indebted to the Barolong to show gratitude”, Strydom said.

This initiative led to the building of a home for old-aged people, a school for the deaf and the blind (today the Bartimea School) and a teachers’ training college. Rev. DG van der Merwe, the local DRC minister, made a huge contribution in implementing these projects. As part of the renewed interest in the Thaba Nchu mission, they collected money from all over the Free State to build the Ereskuld-kerk. The building was inaugurated in 1932 – without any debt – as acknowledgement of the Afrikaner’s indebtedness to the Barolong.

Over the years different denominations used the building with nobody taking responsibility – the building became dilapidated. Recently a branch of the local DRCA congregation started worshipping here again and they took responsibility for the maintenance.

Rev. Sigh Melaletsa, the first black minister to be ordained in the DRC Free State, recently accepted a call to Thaba Nchu. A joint committee, existing of representatives of the local DRC and DRCA congregations, the Student Church in Bloemfontein, the Barolong tribal authority and the Partners in Mission Ministry of the DRC Free State, started making plans for the restoration of the church. They are raising funds and inviting volunteers to help.

The restoring the Ereskuld-kerk must serve as symbol of reconciliation in the DRC Family of Churches. It is therefore also part of the 150th celebration of the DRC Free State’s origin

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