Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Cynthia at Annah's wedding.

When I first met Cynthia I was blown away by her voice.  She belted out songs that required operatic training and I knew she had never been to Italy to study with the masters.  Being a resident of Diepsloot, it was unlikely she had studied voice anywhere.  She had been given the gift that most Zulu women received from generations before them – the desire to worship and sing from the depths of their being.

She appreciated the chance to sing and was asked to do so wherever she went.  At weddings, gatherings, the church worship team.  The desire and the ability to sing made Cynthia’s life worth living -especially when she could sing to God.

Cynthia was raised in Kwa Zulu Natal and moved to Johannesburg for the same reason most people do – work.  Her family searched out opportunities to find steady and gainful employment; the tradeoff was that they had to live in Diepsloot. Cynthia was married to Michael, a man that Mario and I referred to as “the Pedi prince”, having an air of royalty.  Wherever he went, Michael could be put in charge – he was a big man and could inspire people to do something just by showing up.  Cynthia and he had a son together, Michael Junior, who was killed when he was only three years old.  A friend of theirs backed his car up and ran the child over, crushing him (and the hearts of his parents). 

Life after Junior’s death wasn’t easy for the couple.  Losing a child makes even a spiritual person go down paths one would never walk.  Somehow they bounced back; somehow God brought them closer to Him.  I met them when they returned to Junction Church after a brief absence.  I didn’t have any knowledge of the accident and casually asked Cynthia if she had any children.  She replied:

“I do.  But he’s in heaven.”

I apologized and I told her I was sorry.  She smiled and said “How could you know?  I know no one has told you.”

Michael was a great help to Mario as we built up the church in Diepsloot.  Mario used to say that Dumisani was his right hand and Michael was his left.  They translated everything for us.  We were (unfortunately) clueless about a lot of things.  What we weren’t clueless about was the worship – Cynthia and Portia  taught us the songs  and we sang them the way they did – belting them out.  The louder the praise the more sincere it was – that was the way we were taught.

Two years into the church plant, Michael fell ill with tuberculosis and was taken to Helen Joseph hospital to recover.  He never came out.

Michael's death rocked us all.  Especially Cynthia – Portia and Dumisani drove with Mario and I as we took Cynthia to the hospital to make the identification and sign papers.  It was a terrible, grief stricken drive.  Wailing and tear-filled shouts were made by those in the vehicle.  The louder the tears, the more sincere the grief. 

Somehow Cynthia bounced back.  Somehow she was surrounded by a good support system.  We did the best we could to comfort her…but there was so much we didn’t understand.

Right before we moved back to California, Cynthia asked me out to tea.  We went to our favorite place – a small garden in Fourways. 

“I have to tell you something,” she said.

“What is it?” I asked. 

“I have kidney disease.  Bonnie knows, but not a lot of other people do.”  Bonnie was a mutual friend – the leader of the widows and orphans program, she worked closely with Cynthia.

“What does that mean?” My heart was beating madly. 

“I am alright until I go into failure.  When I go into failure I will need a kidney transplant.  If I don’t get one, I will go to heaven.”

She told me at the beginning of our time together and we were quiet through the rest of our tea.  When I dropped her off, she turned to me.  “I had to tell you.  Don’t be angry.”

“Why would I be angry?”

She laughed.  “I don’t mean angry at me.  Don’t be angry with the doctors.  Don’t be angry with South Africa.  Don’t be angry at God.”

I smiled.  “I could never be angry at God, Cynthia,” I said.  At the time, I believed that statement to be true.  It was before the great testing of our faith.  Before we left South Africa and our calling; before the great upheaval….

“I won’t be angry,” I promised her. 

It turned out the reason Cynthia told me was that she was going in for surgery.  Our mutual friend, Bonnie told her to let me know out of courtesy, so I wouldn’t be in the dark.  Thank God.

At our going away party, Cynthia, dressed in royal purple,  sang with her whole heart – a song I loved: “’Mandla Nkosi” – or “God holds all the power” – loud like she meant it.  It is in my heart like a tattoo. 

Yesterday my beloved  Portia texted me (thank God for whatsapp) that Cynthia had passed away, stepping from the earth to the clouds to heaven. My heart sank. 

I know Cynthia longed to be with Junior and Michael – and most of all, Jesus.  Still, there was an unfinished grief I felt since I had not been there when she died.  She is the first of my friends to pass away after we moved back home.  It is enough to believe that she is out of pain; out of the poverty she endured in this life. 

I wish I could be there to wail- to cry aloud and expunge the grief in my heart.  Cynthia taught me how… I can do it now. 

Below is one of the videos from our going-away party.  You'll get to hear Cynthia (in purple) sing - even though she was sick by this time