B. CALLING AND BIBLE SCHOOL
The Mission had its own Bible School in an upper-class suburb of Pretoria. It was quite a nice, fairly modern building. One wing had rooms for the men and another for the ladies. Then of course, there also was the dining room, kitchen and a hall where we could all gather together, and a separate hall where the lectures were presented.
The lecturers consisted of two to three members of the Mission and two ministers from churches in Pretoria that would come in once a week to lecture to us. The curriculum centred on the Word of God and consisted of a comprehensive study of the Old and New Testaments, Exegesis, Homiletics and Church History. We also studied biographies of Christian leaders of the past like Dr Andrew Murray, who had been a very prominent leader in the Dutch Reformed Church in SA, and of White South African missionaries who had left their spiritual imprint on the country. Biographies of African leaders that had made an impact during their lifespan, were especially interesting and inspiring. In this category we studied the lives of Apollo, the Apostle to the Pygmies and of Samuel Morris (Kaboo) who grew up in the Ivory Coast, found the Lord and eventually ended up at a college in the United States where he stirred up considerable missionary fervour amongst the students. As regards internationally known missionaries, we were blessed by reading of the faith and endurance of men such as Hudson Taylor, George Müller and William Carey. In addition to these spiritual subjects, we were also instructed in the Zulu language to equip us for our work amongst the African people.
When I entered the Bible School we were eleven students from very diverse backgrounds; seven men and four ladies; all but me unmarried. Three came from abroad, from Britain. Two were graduates; the rest matriculated. We had this one thing in common: we felt called by God to serve Him within this Mission as missionaries to the African people. We really appreciated one another and were joyful and full of mischief.
I really enjoyed the Bible School from the very outset. By that time I had had a considerable amount of teaching on God’s Word and had studied many Christian books, so I came there with a sound basic knowledge, but also with many questions and I was really enjoying exploring the Word to acquire a deeper insight. Another factor that caused me to appreciate the opportunity to attend the Bible School, was that I had been doing a secular job for quite a number of years and to me, to be set free from my daily responsibilities and to be able to concentrate on the study of God’s Word 24/7, was a gift from heaven, a gift which very few other Christians would ever have. There was also a strong emphasis on spiritual growth and development which I appreciated, because I realised that there were many areas in my life that needed the touch of God and this was my opportunity to get those in line with His will.
Wherever you find students, you find debate. There were ongoing discussions between us on every conceivable Biblical topic. We were forever debating one portion of Scripture or the other, the more so because we came from so many different ecclesiastical backgrounds, backgrounds ranging from ultra conservative, reformed, solemn to the very “free,” “happy-clappy” Pentecostals and Charismatics. There was a healthy interaction between us, a challenging of one another’s viewpoints. You would sometimes see a student walking away from such a debate, frowning, deep in thought, realising that his or her standpoint was not as cut and dried as proclaimed from the safety of the pulpit. It was great fun.
To complete the picture, let me just explain that the Mission actually had two Bible Schools. There was a need for this, because many of the African people that enlisted to do the work of God, had had almost no education at all. Some could hardly read and write. It would have been counter-productive to accommodate those that had ten to fifteen years of education with the almost illiterate in the same class. For some the teaching would have been way above their heads and for others very, very boring. For that reason there were two different Bible Schools.
Right from the start, both groups of students were instructed in practical evangelisation. Every Saturday morning we went over to, what can be called the Mission Farm, outside Pretoria where the Bible School for the African people was. There we all gathered in a hall, were edified or challenged by a message brought by one of the leaders, had a prolonged time of prayer for all facets of the Mission’s work, and had lunch together.
Then, the whole lot of us would get into a bus and go out into the African townships surrounding Pretoria to take the Word of God to the residents. For the first two hours we went house visiting, going out in pairs; two men together and two ladies together. Each team consisted of one White and one African student, the African translating for the White when his turn came to speak, for many of the people in the townships could not speak either English or Afrikaans. So in this way there was a healthy interaction between the White and African students. We got to know one another very well and deep bonds developed as we worked together Saturday after Saturday.
Come 4pm, we would normally converge at a certain point to which we had agreed before, and hold an open air meeting. We connected up a car battery, amplifier and two loudspeakers. The loudspeakers were just hung onto two nearby poles. These open-air meetings were totally new to me. We would start off by singing songs and inviting nearby people to the meeting and once we had a good group gathered, we would minister to them. One of us would give our testimony of salvation. That meant that we would explain who we were before we found the Lord, how it happened that we came to the point of accepting Him and how He had changed our lives since. That was a great opportunity for recently converted students to seal their faith by continually giving testimony, for in Revelation 12:11 it is written that the martyrs overcame the devil by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.
Another student, usually one of the ladies, would then deliver a short message to the children, for there were always scores of them attending, either listening open-mouthed to all these wonderful stories or bumping and pinching one another to the annoyance of the poor learner preacher. Next, another student would preach a message for the adults. While this was in process, the rest of the team would be standing around, watching out for drunks and other trouble makers and of course (hopefully) also praying for the preacher and the audience. In closing, an invitation would be made to accept Christ as Saviour. It was quite thrilling to see people actually coming out and giving their lives to the Lord and it was a tremendous stimulation to us in this ministry to which God had called us.
Since we returned to the same spot week after week for perhaps two to three months, many of the people in the area got to hear the message over the loudspeakers. In the beginning some would just turn their backs on us and pretend not to be listening, but many of them were gripped by the Word and after some time they would come up to the fences of their homes and listen attentively. Later on they would leave their premises and join the audience and then, in the end, there would be some of them that would come to us for assistance to accept the Lord Jesus as Saviour.
By the time the meetings closed, it was dusk. We then got into our bus to return to the African Bible School and from there travelled by mini-bus to our Bible School in Pretoria. For me that was not the end of the journey for I then still had to drive home some 8km by scooter, which, in winter, was quite a trial.
On such outreach afternoons we would always be accompanied by one of our lecturers. He (or she) would do house visitation with us and be present during the meetings. In the course of the following week he would sit down with every student, discuss the message he had brought and point out the weak and strong points. If a student needed help to compile his message, he would ask him beforehand to jot down the main points and would then go through it with him and assist him to put everything properly together.
Very soon after the opening of the Bible School, it was planned for us not to attend lectures for a full term, but to do an outreach (hold a campaign, as we called it) in one of the nearby townships. In this too, we were accompanied by one or two of our lecturers. This was a tremendous challenge and a wonderful opportunity to get to know our ministry.
What we did was pitch a tent in a park in a township for Coloured people near to Pretoria in which to hold the meetings. After having pitched the tent the rain came down in torrents all night long. I returned there the next morning on my own for the other students were for some reason or other, otherwise occupied. When I got there, I found the inside of the tent to be one huge pool of mud for we had pitched it on the lowest part of the park. Since we were planning to start with the first meeting that very night, I realised that something drastic had to be done. I borrowed a wheelbarrow and shovel from nearby Christians and for the next two hours carted loads of mud out of the tent, then rolled up the sides for the wind and sun to complete the job. When the other students arrived just after lunch, the floor was dry and the outreach could proceed.
The campaign followed very much the same pattern as our Saturday afternoon outreaches. However, after the afternoon’s open air meeting we did not go home but gathered at the tent, prayed for the evening meeting, ate some sandwiches and had a cup of tea or coffee from flasks we had taken along. By that time the first people had arrived and we had to commence with the evening service.
The setup within the tent was quite primitive, especially the benches. The next day we cut grass to make a mat towards the front of the tent where the children and some of the women could sit. We did have some sort of pulpit and of course microphones, an amplifier and loudspeakers. The evening meetings were attended by non-Christians as well as by Christians who were interested to learn more about the Word of God or that had brought friends and relatives along, trusting that they would be saved. The meeting followed very much the same pattern as the students’ open air meeting, starting with a long period of worshipping the Lord in song, then a message for the children or for Christians and then the main message. These evening services often lasted up to 3 hours.
We did not see as much fruit on our efforts as we would have wanted, but were deeply touched by the need of the people. The abuse (I prefer to call it use) of alcohol had devastating effects on users and their families alike and we saw so many living corpses, breathing bodies whose spirits were locked up in dungeons of darkness. We pleaded with them, prayed for them, admonished them but all to no avail for they had consistently, for many years, over and over made the choice of selling their lives for the short-lived pleasure of intoxication, and now their evil master had them in his grip of steel. I returned to the Bible School the next term with new determination to be equipped and filled to all the fullness of God’s mighty power in order to be able to help those that were in this pitiful state.
“Be the saviour of those who are given up to death, and do not keep back help from those who are slipping to destruction.”
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