Scary stories from a lovely place
Why do Christians always say “that’s okay though, I know it’s not about numbers” just after they have said that people were scarce at church/bible study/other non-descript Christian meeting? I don’t say it anymore. Since living in Jozi I’ve had more experiences of numbers being scarce at things I’m partly responsible for, than not. But I always used to. I used to be that annoying person in a meeting, trying to be cleverly spiritual when low numbers were under discussion; “just remember guys, it’s okay, it’s not about numbers” while trying to work out in my head what the low numbers actually meant, and feeling a suspicion that they did count for something.
Even though I don’t think they do. I don’t, I don’t, I don’t. But they have to mean something. They could mean that it was too warm in bed to get up and go to chilly church. Or that there was a taxi strike and people couldn’t get to campus without fear of persecution by irate taxi drivers. Or that there’s a test that everyone is desperately trying to cram for. Or that Sunday morning TV is too cool to miss. Or that my witty advertising, delicious cooking and promise of good fun with fellow church people just isn’t enough to coax you to come to the women’s breakfast/growth group/evening church/women’s lunch/planning meeting. And that’s fine, I hear you. Often I’d rather be reading the paper with a cup of tea than waiting alone for people to come to my bible study.
Numbers certainly count for normal people. If you’re a humanities lecture I’m sure after 30 people out of a class of 150 come to your lecture on Wordsworth you’ll be feeling a bit let down. Especially when you’re put 5 hours into the preparation of said lecture. I don’t think Prof. Wordsworth will head back to staff meeting and say, “guys it’s okay, I know it’s not about numbers”. Or a soccer team. What if you ran out on to the field for your debut game there was no one in the stands? It could mean that because of violence in previous matches you are now playing a closed game. Or it could mean that everyone is at the pub watching the rugby.
In an aside, at church yesterday (where numbers were rather low actually) I was talking to a new woman who was also newly homeless. She had been living with the father of her son, but he was violent, so she left carrying two bags and a huge bundle of baby. I folded back the layers of blanket and had a peek at Thabo, he was tiny, tiny, tiny! Maybe two weeks old at the most and very, very cute. Beyond survival, they didn’t have a plan. Stephen (the nicest husband in the world) bought me a chocolate brownie but then decided to give it to her. I was annoyed only for a split second. I should be seeing her today and helping her think about finding a shelter.
So maybe this numbers game isn’t actually so stupid. Maybe it’s not about numbers but individuals. I was disappointed that so few people were at church. But tiny Thabo and his mum were there and we could help them.