I have been on this plane for nearly 17 hours. All along the way, across the Atlantic Ocean and from the North of Africa to its Southern most tip, my mind has been racing, my emotions have been boomeranging throughout my body and my soul has begun the awakening process without me realizing it. What courage it took to quit my successful and good paying job and a promising career in Washington, DC, to put all of my belongings into storage, to find a tenant to rent my house, and to say good bye to all my friends and family as well as to leave the comfort of the “Good Ole US of A”. What will I miss while away from home? Will my friendships survive the great distances and time zones between us? What was I coming to? Who would be at Jan Smuts International Airport to welcome me to a new beginning? What was I going to do once I got there? Why did I leave home in the first place? I don’t even have confirmed work opportunities in Johannesburg, South Africa. How long would I stay in South Africa? How stupid or bold could I have been to allow the forces to be set in motion for me to be on this plane right now? All of these questions, thoughts and feelings were racing through my mind as I had no plan in place waiting for me on the other side of the world, (e.g., no job or trusted network waiting for me in Johannesburg). Yet, I felt guided to South Africa. It was so easy to close life down in Washington and even turn down other successful opportunities there. What was guiding me to this country that has started a new era in its history? Was I also starting a new era in my own history?
I landed in Johannesburg exactly a year after the country’s first democratic elections; 27 April 1995. There was no one there to welcome me and I had to call Charlene, a short plump colored woman I met on a previous trip to South Africa, to pick me up at the airport. She told me that she was busy at Hindu temple and that a friend of hers would come and collect me at the airport. She forgot to give me an idea of what her friend looked like. I waited about an hour at the airport for someone to take me Charlene’s home. Again, the doubts began and I asked, “God am I on your journey or have I made a mistake?” This short thin white-looking woman approached me with long curly black hair pinned up in bun and with beautiful green eyes. She was plainly dressed in jeans, flip flops and a white tank top. It felt strange but I could tell she was looking for me. She said in a very strange accent, “Howzit? I’m Clara. . . are you “Joe Zay?”
Confused and exhausted, I replied, “Yeah that's me.”
“Well, Charlene asked me to collect you. She’s wasn’t able to come because of another commitment. Lets go.” I followed this petite woman passing all the men asking if we needed a taxi to town. We got into this old citi golf and putted out of the parking lot. She immediately began asking me a zillion questions about life in America with her heavy accent. Later I discovered it was a Cape Town Colored accent.
In talking about life in America, it eased my soul and I began to feel a bit more relaxed. We off ramped into this neighborhood in the Northern suburbs, lined and shaded with lush jacaranda trees that blanketed the sky. We went down a street where the road ended at the end of the block. We got out and I saw a small white Hindu temple on the hill with a river down below and lots of open green space surrounding the temple. I saw Charlene down by the river dressed in orange and red soft-cotton fabric that draped hugging her body and covered her head like a veil. She had one basket of mangos, oranges, lemons, and passion fruits and another basket full of yellow and orange carnations, daisies and marigolds. By the time I went down to the river to greet her, she was praying and washing her feet from the tap. She stopped when she saw me. She just smiled and told me that she would talk to me after the ritual and that I should just find a seat in the garden or check out the temple. I later discovered that it was the Johannesburg Melrose Shree Siva Subramaniar Temple.
Exhausted from the flight I walked a bit in the garden and felt a feeling of peace encircle my entire being. I sat on the lawn for a while and allowed the sun to warm me. Charlene was still down by the river cleansing the fruit and flower offerings. I felt like I needed to pray to my Lord in this strange place and hoped Christ would not feel offended by me going into the temple to pray to Him. I was still feeling a bit uneasy, uncertain and unsure of what I got myself into. I left the garden and went to the temple entrance. It was a small white stone building that had an alter with lots of open space. I took off my shoes and went inside. The floor had white tiles and the walls were painted white. At the alter, I noticed the three gods with offerings of flowers around their necks and more flowers, fruits, nuts, and lots of candles all around the alter. The rest of the interior of the temple was simple. I found a place to sit in the back corner. I was the only one in the temple. I closed my eyes and began to open my mind and heart to the presence of my Lord. All of a sudden a tall and thin Indian man was standing in front of me. He had piercing light brown eyes, think black hair in a short cut, a thick mostache and was dressed in a single white cotton cloth about 10 meters long wrapped around his lower body and draped over one shoulder. He was standing in front of me with a pleasant smile and hands positioned in vertical prayer format.
He then spoke in a very thick Hindi accent, “Excuse me sir, can I have a moment to talk to you”. His voice was soft, serious and sincere. I thought that with his presence, approach and nonthreatening demeanour, he could be trusted. Not knowing what to expect, I nodded my head in the affirmative. I was very conscious of my American accent.
“Don't be alarmed, but I need to tell you a few things first. You are not from here, you’ve just travelled a great distance and you will be here in this country for a very long time. You have been chosen by God to do something big for many people but be careful because there is evil all around you. You are in great danger and I need to help you so that you can stay alive and be able to do God's will...to help so many children and others. Don't worry, God will be with you and will surround you with His angels.” I was stunned at what he was saying and wasn't sure what to say or do. I thought how could he say such deep things and I had no plan as to what I intended to do and just knew that I would give South Africa a try for at least a year or two. Yet, the more he talked, the more my mind raced. I couldn’t believe that all this was happening. Just a few hours in the county and I’m already confronted with some major forces of evil. I still heard the man’s voice, but went inward questioning this journey and the choices to be made. Do I stay or do I go back home? After all, I do have a round-trip ticket. I thought...do I listen to him or do I try to ignore him? Can I trust anyone now that I heard what he had to share?
I then felt his hand touch my arm and I looked at him. He told me that I was brought to the temple by God's angels for him to help me with protection from the danger and evil that would try to stop me from fulfilling God’s divine plan. I didn’t know what to think or say. I’ve only been in the country for a few hours and already I’m subjected to danger and evil. I remained quiet, trying not to say anything or offer any body language other than confusion to this man.
The man just ignored my confused looks and began to pray. He said the prayer in English so that I guess I could understand what he was saying. He asked the Absolute Truth to put a hedge of protection around me and to send His angels and the right kind of people that could assist me in my assignment. He also prayed for the evil to back off of my life and that the evil they were planning would bounce back to them in more severe terms. He prayed a lot more for what seemed to be like 30 minutes. Afterwards, he went to the alter, burnt some incense and prayed softly for another ten minutes. I wasn’t sure if I should stay or quickly run out of there. Yet at the same time, my spirit kept me there. I watched this gentle man and I began to pray fervently to Christ and asked the Holy Spirit to guide me through all that was happening around me right then and there. When this man finished, he came over to me and had a colorful bracelet made of different color cotton threads with nine knots tied around them which was evenly spaced. He told me that he needed to tie the strings around my right wrist, that he had prayed for divine protection from all evil and that I should never take the strings off until they naturally would fall off. As the man was tying the strings around my wrist, Charlene walked in and saw what was happening. Her light green eyes sparkled and she gave a peaceful smile and wink to me. He then put a smudge of ash on my forehead - my inner eye. Afterwards, I thanked the man by bringing my hands in a prayer-like stance towards my mouth and lowered my eyes. I then went outside for some fresh air. I didn’t know what to make of all of this. I sat on the grass near the river and waited for Charlene to finish in the temple. In the meantime, I pondered the significance of all that had just transpired in the temple and looked at the vivid colors of the rainbow tied to my wrist by the holy man. I felt a strong sense of peace.
When Charlene finished in the temple, she came to me and gave me a big hug and welcomed me back to South Africa. She told me that I was very fortunate to have that encounter with the holy man. She further told me that for most who want to see him, they must get on the long waiting list, fast for several days, bring offerings and wash themselves. There was must preparation before such an encounter she said. Yet I didn’t have to do any of that. She didn’t ask me what he said to me or the reason for the colorful strings around my wrist and the ash on my forehead. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything to her or just let it go for now.
In the car and on the way to her house, I decided to tell her what had happened. She listened intently and concluded that he knew what he was talking about and that many people come to him to hear a prophecy, seek protection or some other blessing to be bestowed upon them by him. She told me that he was a very powerful spiritual man of God. I decided to keep the colorful string bracelet on my wrist until it fell off naturally, as he indicated. We both had a great sense of peace after our own experience at the temple with the holy man.
Reflection: A Year Back in America - Part 1 The Summer of 2015