The Off-Whites | #MyFridayStory №333

Frans Nel
5 min readMay 24, 2024
Pixabay | Pexels

You can live your life believing a lie, but it doesn’t make it the truth.

When my older brother decided to become a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, he was fulfilling a promise he made to God. It was a promise made in earnest by a young teenage boy. He wasn’t bargaining with God; he was making a covenant between himself and his Creator. He was offering himself — his life — to save his little brother’s life. On his knees beside his bed, he wept as he prayed to the God he was raised to believe in. Our Calvinistic upbringing had promoted a God of fire and brimstone, not a God of benevolent love.

My brother switched degrees after completing his second year of medicine, finishing at the top of his class. He felt compelled to answer the call to be a minister. He changed universities and joined another cousin who was also starting his theology degree. They were following in the footsteps of one of my mother’s brothers, himself a respected Dutch Reformed minister. My mother strongly supported my brother’s calling and saw it as fulfilling God’s will.

My parents came from a small farming town in the Northern Cape called Pofadder. When World War II broke out, my dad joined the South African Air Force and was stationed in Germiston, a town outside Johannesburg. My mom was a student nurse and was sent to nursing school, also in Germiston. Until then, their exposure to the English language — written or spoken — was limited. They both struggled in their respective classes as all the textbooks and lectures were in English.

My dad asked my mom on a date to the Nurses’ Ball. Although they knew each other from their hometown, they moved in different circles and their paths had never crossed. My mom says that when my dad kissed her goodnight that night, she knew they would be married for life. It was already at this early stage in their relationship that they had discussed how they would raise their children one day. They vowed never to let their children struggle as they had.

So, my siblings and I all attended English schools. This exposed us to people who were more liberal in their thinking. Our friends’ parents were from places like Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, England, and Scotland. As immigrants themselves, their worldviews and opinions were often shaped by different circumstances. The influence they had in shaping the South African story cannot be denied. Regardless of their nationality, having predominantly English friends greatly influenced our narrative.

Entering the Afrikaans-dominated world of the NG Kerk in the 1970s would have exposed my brother to some conservative, pro-apartheid people. People who believed people of colour were inferior to white people. People who encouraged segregation and discrimination. The church was one of the central mechanisms used to drive this message. I can’t imagine the angst and feelings of guilt he must have endured.

A dozen young, white, Christian Afrikaner men started playing touch rugby on the lawns outside their class during recess and became friends. Each had the dream of one day being a Dutch Reformed Church minister. This band of brothers, including my brother and cousin, were setting out on their academic journey and deemed they should have a name. The name revealed the maverick nature of the group and their displeasure with the establishment of the day. They became known as the Off-Whites.

How fitting and ultimately how telling.

Almost 50 years have passed since the twelve graduated and went on to become Dutch Reformed ministers in cities and towns across South Africa. Some had callings to large congregations with thousands of members, while others were called to churches on game reserves and in platteland towns. They all went in different directions but always stayed in touch. They would gather occasionally with their wives and children, growing tighter knit over the years.

As time passed and they continued to serve the church, one by one a conflict of conscience started to arise in the men. They could not reconcile being called Christian while simultaneously oppressing their neighbour. The years of indoctrination and conditioning started to run thin, revealing the horrible presence of an evil heart. Their entire concept of being Christian was derailed.

My brother had turned his back on God and the church, following in the footsteps of seven other Off-Whites who had already capitulated and turned atheists. When my brother tried to explain why he couldn’t be a Christian anymore, I recall asking him, “But, what about love?” He just looked at me sadly and shrugged his shoulders.

COVID-19 brought the world to a halt and saved my brother’s soul. As the lockdown started, our church responded with a message every morning on YouTube. My brother started to listen in as the pandemic took hold. We would contact each other after each message and talk for hours about what was happening and how it was affecting the world. He sensed the spark of salvation and redemption in the timely messages that were so pertinent and on point.

He could not ignore God appealing to him to soften his heart and let love back in.

My brother died of cancer in 2020, after giving his life to Christ. Before he passed away, we would talk about being Christian and wondered how the message of love could be spread more efficiently around the world. We agreed that the churches, religions, and denominations had long been implicit in perpetuating hatred and division among nations. We felt there was a need for a new way of thinking about how we live together on this planet. A way that promotes inclusivity through a love for each other and for the planet we inhabit.

We agreed that when love is the point of departure in everything we think, do, or say, there is no longer a place for hatred or evil to take hold. It is only when every person has in their heart the desire to be of service to their fellow man, to relieve the plight of the suffering, that we will experience heaven here on earth.

Have a great weekend and please remember to be generous! 😄

As always, thanks for reading. 🙏

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