I Corinthians 16:13-14
Be courageous, be strong
But take courage, I have conquered the world
In many respects, last year, 2016, was a very good year for Volmoed. It was the year in which we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the beginning of our community in 1986 when Bernhard and Jane Turkstra came to live here, and the present day history of Volmoed began. It was the year in which we began looking towards the future with new vigour, the year in which the first Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme course was held, and we had an injection of youthful enthusiasm and commitment into our daily life. It was also a year in which an increasing number of people came to visit or stay on Volmoed, and in which Alyson Guy’s art programme gathered fresh momentum.
Last week I gave a talk at the Hermanus History Society on the ” Volmoed Journey.” In preparing to give it, I was struck again by the fact that the story did not simply begin thirty years ago in 1986, it goes far back to the earliest beginnings of human habitation. After all, the story of humanity, so we are told, probably began in the caves at Blombos further along the coast, and in all likelihood we can surmise that people migrated from there to here in those prehistoric times. But even if that is something of a flight of my imagination, we do know for sure that in the fourteenth century there were Khoi hunter gatherers living here alongside the Onrus river that runs through Volmoed. We know this because this place was known as Volmoed, it was called Atta’s Kloof, and Atta was the well-known name of a Khoi chief of that period. But what attracted Atta’s clan to this place?
Probably the same thing that attracts most people to Volmoed still today. Its beauty and tranquillity, and the sense of well-being that people find here. Even the rocks geologists tell us have a special magnetism that has healing properties. Maybe that was the reason why lepers also came to live here during the eighteenth century. They came not just because they were forced to live far away and apart from others, but presumably because they had found a place where their spirits and bodies could be sustained at a time when there was no cure for their horrible disease.
But then, in 1817, the story of Volmoed took a new turn. That year, the governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, sent his medical superintendent, Dr. James Barrie, from Cape Town to find out how the lepers could be helped by the colonial government. Those who know her story, yes she was a woman who had to masquerade as a man in order to practice as a doctor, will know what a remarkable person she was. After all, she rode all the way here on horseback! And she is key figure in the story of Volmoed for it was at her request that a Moravian missionary from Genadendal, Peter Leitner, was appointed the resident missionary to the lepers in 1825. Leitner had been here before then. In fact, in 1817 on his first visit he evidently gave the name Hemel en Aarde to the Valley, and called this part of the Valley, Volmoed. If that is so, then Volmoed — the place full of courage and hope known by this name is two-hundred years old this year! So, what began here in 1986 when Bernhard and Jane arrived, was the continuation of a story that goes back over many centuries. Volmoed, a place where God has renewed and healed people, restoring hope and giving them courage for the journey, is at least two hundred years old, if not much, much older. It is not we who have made Volmoed what it is, but rather, as we often say, Volmoed is a place God has set apart from the beginning for his ministry of healing and wholeness.
Volmoed is, in fact, a sacred space that over time has meant a great deal to many people, and continues to do so. And that is why part the fundamental mission of the Volmoed Community is to ensure that this place called Volmoed remains a place set aside by God for God’s ministry of healing and wholeness. We are caretakers not owners of God’s place of hospitality for all in need of God’s grace and renewal. That is what Volmoed is all about, its core business. It is not in the first instance, a conference centre, a place of retreat, a youth centre, a place for sabbatical reflection and writing, a wedding venue that we have built– it is all of these — but it is only these because it is foremost a place God has set aside for God’s ministry of healing and wholeness.
For two hundred years then, the name Volmoed has become linked to this sacred space and is now inseparable from it. Volmoed is a place where people, where we ourselves, discover the truth of Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Take courage, I have conquered the world.” This courage is not the courage of Stoics who bravely face death without faith, nor is it the bravery of soldiers on the battle field who risk their lives without always knowing why, but the courage which comes through faith in the God of grace whose peace is present and at work in this place. It is the courage to believe that God is at work in the world overcoming evil, bringing love where there is hatred, hope where there is despair, and reconciliation where there is division and brokenness. It is the courage to believe that God is with us in Christ whether in life or death. Such faith is itself an act of courage, some would even say it is an act of folly. It is certainly not an intellectual exercise, the clinging to a set of propositions come hell or high-water, but the courage to live life as an adventure in trust, to live as those who accept that God’s has accepted and forgiven us. Such faith gives us the courage to reach out to the stranger and the alien and invite them to share with us in God’s hospitality. Such courage enables us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and speak truth to power. It is the courage to be truly human and become the people God wants us to be.
Yes, Volmoed is a place that God has set aside for God’s ministry of healing and wholeness, but it is, to add a necessary footnote, more than a place, it is a people that stretches back to Atta’s clan and the Lepers of old and their Moravian carers, to the Volmoed Community of today. Without this community of people of courage and hope, without all of us who gather here week by week, without our many prayers partners around the world, without the wider Community of the Cross of Nails, there would be no Volmoed, only a farm, a beautiful flower farm no doubt, or a developer’s dream, but not the place of courage in which God is at work. And that defines our mission of hospitality and who we strive to be as the present day Volmoed community. Helping each other to discover not only God’s healing and peace, but also God’s gift of hope and courage for our lives in a world that is broken, despairing and seeking a way to wholeness. Courage for living even if we are often buffeted by disappointment, pain and grief. “But take courage,” Jesus says, “I have conquered the world.” That is the word of the Lord for all who come and belong to Volmoed.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 23 February 2017