TRIMONT - Twenty people gathered in the basement of Waverly Lutheran Church in Trimont Saturday evening, formed a circle and began to sing the hymn "Beautiful Savior" to welcome their guests.
About halfway through, their guests joined the singing. In Zulu.
The five-person delegation from South Africa met with members of the of the SouthWestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
Faith Nqojane, Busisiwe Khoza, Jabu Nkabini, and Princess Tyler sing and dance to a Zulu worship song Saturday at Waverly Lutheran Church in Trimont.
The conference extends from the western border of Minnesota to Highway 15, incorporating the local towns of Ceylon, Welcome, Trimont and Truman.
The visitors, lay people from the town of Rorke's Drift, South Africa, were not strangers to most of their hosts.
Since 2005, several people from southwestern Minnesota have made the trip to South Africa.
Jim Branstad, chairman of the Wantonwan Conference of ELCA, said all American conferences are assigned a sister area in another country. When the SouthWestern Synod was paired with the Shiyane Circuit, it began a relationship that has grown steadily over the years.
The African circuit asked for help with agricultural issues in the wake of the end of apartheid in the mid-1990s. Apartheid was a government-enforced racial segregation that denied black and mixed-raced people the right to own land, or even live within city limits.
Pastor Rebecca Sullivan, the former pastor of the Waverly Lutheran Church and current leader of the partnership committee that fosters the relationship between the countries. According to Sullivan, the government determined the land should be given back to its original owners with the end of apartheid.
The process didn't run smoothly.
"Can you imagine farmers here giving their land back to Native Americans?" she asked.
A team from southern Minnesota traveled to South Africa to consult with farmers from their sister church. With continued conflicts over land ownership and usage, the team wasn't able to give much agricultural advice, but they did help individual homeowners cultivate garden spaces.
After the initial hymn sung Saturday night, the group took turns singing songs for each other before breaking to take part in a potluck.
Tim Peterson, with the Waverly Lutheran Church, said the congregation was excited for their visitors because it was the first time they had had non-clergy come to the area of a visit.
"They are just regular people," he said. "That is why we are so excited."
Sullivan said the reason for the visit was to build relationships between the cultures.
"There are lots of people who can't go to South Africa," she said. "A relationship has to go two ways."
Sullivan has led local people to South Africa four times since the partnership began in 2005, and plans to bring a group again in early 2014.
The delegates will be in the area for one month, visiting various churches, preschools, nursing homes, and the Mankato Farmers Market.
The five delegates are Princess and Simson Tyler, Jabu Nkabini, Busisiwe Khoza, and Faith Nqojane.
Princess Tyler is the chairperson of the Shiyane Partnership Committee, which organizes the communication with the local synod. Simson Tyler works as a farmer and taxi driver. Nkabini is the administrator of an old age home. Khoza runs a daycare center and works with AIDS testing and counseling. Nqojane is a retired teacher and vice president of the partnership committee.