The women of the community will be peeling vegetables together tonight, in preparation for the funeral of a friend tomorrow. I will miss her familiar, welcoming smile that always helped me to feel less out of place. Tomorrow we will bury our dear Mama Jane. She has been mother, mentor, teacher, pastor to our team and to our community.
I first knew Mama Jane as a retired teacher who would be teaching us the local language. Our topics during our lessons included TV, culture, politics and education and we always thought that she could teach Jacob Zuma a thing or two. We came here to Sosh to love and serve, we have learned about practicing hospitality, and how to be generous. For Mama Jane, she embodied these practices, with joy. Beyond greetings and grammar there is much more that Mama Jane taught us.
Mama Jane taught us hospitality. We used to laugh that we didn’t know who the people in her house were, because she always seemed to be homing different family members or friends. When winter suddenly arrived in our first year here, we were welcomed to our language lesson by a heater, cups of tea, and a cosy hat for me.
I remember one week in our Learning Community we were talking about hospitality. Mama Jane shared that a white man had come to her door one Friday night begging for food or a blanket. It was late and she was concerned for him, so she sent someone out to buy bread for him, while she looked out what she could give to him. The same guy had come to our door while we were gathered as a team, and we had sent him away.
Mama Jane taught us about generosity, about sharing what she had. She hosted kids club at her house every second week. She could hold the attention of 50 children over the Jesus Storybook Bible. The kids would show up at her place whenever they were bored, I found some of them acting out a wedding in her garage one time. If they wanted to bake, she would get out everything they needed and leave them to it. She wasn’t constantly watching over them, but her safe presence was there. She pastored a small church in her garage, and once the church moved, she would gather up the neighbourhood kids to accompany her to the service.
I don’t remember ever feeling like she didn’t have time for me, that’s probably why the kids gathered in her yard. There was room in her heart even for the ones who ask for affection in difficult ways. She loved children. The last time I saw her, she was confused, but she still asked about my baby, and our friends’ baby.
Mama Jane taught us about joy. She had so much of it – when the kids were getting their faces painted as superheroes at camp, she wanted hers painted too. She was delighted when she found a group of other Gogos (grandmothers) to exercise with. Mama Jane was my absolute favourite person to bake for, any time I took her a wee treat she would squeal with delight and savour it so slowly.
Mama Jane taught us about faithfulness. Amongst the well-worn worship phrases that sometimes seem to lack meaning, I knew that her words were true. She had lived through apartheid and personal tragedy, yet she trusted that God was good.
Mama Jane didn’t ‘raise support’ or write newsletters. She didn’t announce her entrance into the community. She loved her family, her neighbours and her church. As one friend said yesterday ‘she was truly a legend’.
Mama Jane’s life story probably won’t be told in one of the TV movies that she loved. Yet her hospitality, generosity, joy and faithfulness have encouraged many of us to love well. I write these words here to share her lessons, and because Hope breathed through her into our lives and community. Perhaps our Setswana will fade, but we won’t forget the heart lessons that this quiet saint taught us.