Text and photos by Tumi Nkopane
30 Sept.-02 Oct. 2016
I was sent by Zanele Muholi my photography mentor, to document one of Victory Ministry Church International’s (VMCI) annual conferences held at Mopani Lodge in Pretoria from 30 September to 02 October 2016. The first service was at night and started at 23:15 instead of 18h00 because people came from different branches and arrived late.
The congregants of VMCI freshened up then went to the Hall for the night service. I was so tired but had to document the first service of the conference and it was so challenging because I was the only photographer who was documenting the whole service. I thought they’d be back up of some sort since VMCI has a photographer but he wasn’t documenting. My battery got flat during the service; luckily the service didn’t take long because everybody was exhausted from traveling.
I went to sleep and shared a room with Maureen Majola and Lethu Mazibuko. These two ladies welcomed me with warm hands in their space; I thought I was going to share a room with Butch Lesbians because of the church rules. “Butch Lesbians don’t share rooms with Femmes, even couples don’t sleep in the same room.” When the two ladies told me this, I believed that the church is practicing Holiness in certain spaces. Having a Spiritual connection with the Almighty needs you to be pure so that God can feel you easily.
We slept late because we were talking about my experience of documenting the whole conference alone and I took that as an honour and a learning curve in life. As people we are always comfortable and forget that being uncomfortable can be a good thing to happen in a person’s life.
Maureen woke up early to go and pray while Lethu and I was still in bed. I thought to myself, ‘it’s weekend and month end and all I see in this space is the youth praising the Lord and not going to spend money in Clubs by boozing drinking alcohol.’ I wished that both the LGBT and Heterosexual youth from where I come from would unite in Christ rather than in Pubs, Taverns, Parks and any place where they’ll drink alcohol.
We woke up and went to the Dining hall for breakfast then after we prepared ourselves for the morning service. It started at 10:00 I was so nervous in taking photos alone in a space where I felt am being watched but I told myself that ‘Tumi you came here to make a name for yourself,’ I took photographs with a smile because the light was so perfect. I was flowing even though I had one camera battery, one memory card, one camera and no tripod I still flowed.
Apostle Zungu announced that Pastor Khanyile’s wife has been admitted to Hospital with cancer. Everybody had to pray for Mrs Khanyile to heal from this disease. I was so emotional thinking I’ve lost my best friend from cancer. The congregation prayed then Apostle Thuli prayed for everybody even for the Pastors. I’ve never seen such a spiritual act, when Pastors themselves fell on the floor, it was a shock at first but I realized that they also need prayers and deliverance because there are human.
After the service we went for lunch then there was a briefing session made by Apostle Zungu and Pastor Mazibuko. It was about homosexuals and gender and its categories because there were those who didn’t know nor understand the difference and meaning of the abbreviated word “LGBT” so the Apostle and Pastor tried to explain it further.
The second service of day two was held in a very little hall that accommodated about ±150 people including children. That was my other challenge because I didn’t have the same freedom of movement I had in the first hall. It was wide even though there was an echo. The service was so uplifting and had a lot of words of encouragement and it was so alive the congregants were praising and worshiping at the same time…
The congregants wore their traditional clothing, everybody looked so beautiful and happy with their singing and dancing. The mood changed during the second session when Apostle Zungu had to announce that Mrs Khanyile had passed away. Everybody was so sad and crying, the service was too intense and time had to be compromised by every speaker on the programme.
Mr Royo preached about “God positioning His children” as I took it personal that God knew where my passion was and how I’m going to make myself happy and that’s through Photography and that’s where my position is at…
What I strongly liked about the conference was the Worship team and the Intercessors of the Church. They really have a strong connection with God, they always Praise and Worship before the first service starts and by doing that, the Spiritual connection with God arises in Church, His presence is felt easily.
When the last day of the conference started, everybody was running around like headless chickens with steam irons since it was a “Purple Sunday”. The theme was purple shirts, which is part of the church’s uniform. I guess the purple shirt unifies all the VMCI branches to be seen as one, whether you’re from a certain background but you still have to wear the purple shirt. It was so nice to be in a space filled with youth who have a very high and strong connection with God and being around Gogo and Mkhulu Menziwa was such an honour and great experience since I’ve never seen an old Queer couple. The love of God kept them together as they’re still together and everybody can see how much they care and love each other.
So as an Anglican that experienced the space twice this year, 2016 has been a spiritual challenge for me because of the strong relationship that the congregation has with God and the comfort of being amongst the congregants has made me wish to have Intercessors in my church and they must have a strong bond with God like the VMCI Intercessors.
The 2016 annual conference was really one of my milestones because I had to document the whole event alone with only one camera, battery and memory card. I managed to get the best photographs I’ve been looking for and will make my mentor and myself proud. I was honoured to be given such an assignment, because I’m a religious person who likes to explore and experience different religions. Not that I’m spiritually weak but only a person that likes to connect with God in any spiritual space.
Previous by Tumi