OUR STORY – Chapter B9




The Dorothea Mission was founded in 1942 by the late Mr and Mrs von Staden (affectionately known as Oom [Uncle] Hans and Tannie [Aunt] Lettie). At the time of the founding of the Mission, both of them were ministering within the Africa Evangelistic Band. This is how Oom Hans describes his calling:

“In February 1942, my wife and I visited in Lindley, in the Free State. The lovely shade of the willows on the banks of the False River was my chosen spot for Bible study and prayer early in the day. One morning I became intensely aware of the wonderful presence of the Lord. I heard His voice deep within my heart: We were to dedicate our lives to the evangelisation of the souls in the black townships of South Africa. It was a sudden unexpected call…” (Extract from the booklet, “I heard His call”.)

Soon afterwards they resigned from the Africa Evangelistic Band and founded the Dorothea Mission. Oom Hans’s mother donated funds for the purchasing of land for the Mission, hence the name Dorothea Mission which means, “Gift of God”. A site was bought just outside Pretoria where they built a house for themselves which also served as a Bible school where they trained African students to be evangelists. Shortly afterwards they started with tent campaigns in the African townships adjoining Pretoria and gradually also further afield.

A number of workers of the Africa Evangelistic Band joined them and so, within a relatively short time, the ministry grew and became very effective. Financial and prayer support were recruited especially from the Dutch Reformed Church which is a main line, reformed denomination of which both Oom Hans and Tannie Lettie were members. They also did deputation work in countries such as Germany, Britain and Switzerland from where they received a flow of income as well as students who wished to be trained in the Bible school to become part of the Ministry. The Mission not only ministered in all of the larger South African townships, but spread its wings and established branches in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia and Mozambique. The Lord was using this Mission in a mighty way and many African people came to know Him in the tent meetings or even in their homes, since house visitation was part and parcel of the Ministry. By the time I joined the Mission, which was in October, 1972, it had been running for 30 years and the von Staden’s had both become elderly people.

Once a year they had a celebration meeting, called the Dorothea Birthday, both at the Pretoria Bible School campus and at a central spot in Soweto (South Western African Townships). At the Pretoria campus, a huge tent was pitched and the meeting was attended by approximately 1000 supporters from all over the country. I have wonderful memories of these birthday meetings. About a week beforehand all the students gathered at the premises to get the grounds and buildings shipshape for the great occasion. The presence of God was tangible all over the premises during that time. At twelve midday, a bell rang and we would all gather together in little groups wherever we were working and sit down for a time of prayer. Every evening too, after having had a hearty supper, we gathered in the hall to listen to the ministering of God’s Word to us and to pray for the coming meetings. Every day more Mission workers from all the different parts of South Africa as well as from surrounding countries where the Mission ministered arrived, so this was a joyous time of fellowship with all the other workers.

The Birthday Meetings themselves were held over a weekend on the Saturday morning and afternoon as well as on the Sunday afternoon. They all commenced with a time of thanksgiving towards God for His goodness for the past year, followed by testimonies by the different workers as to what God had done through their ministries in the areas in which they were working. In closing, a message was brought by a guest speaker. After the meetings coffee, tea, cool drinks and all kinds of eats were provided for the guests that sat down all over, fellowshipping, speaking of the wonderful testimonies they had heard and just having a general good time together.

The weekend Birthday Meetings were followed by three days of prayer. Four meetings were held daily during which the workers from the different fields gave further testimony as to what God was doing in their areas and also mentioning their needs. The rest of the workers then gathered in small groups and prayed for these needs.

A considerable amount of time was also allotted to pray for countries all over the world. One of the very gifted workers continually collected information on the spiritual state of every country and their spiritual needs in general. This information was a great stimulus and helped us to pray diligently for these peoples worldwide. The meetings closed with a message by a guest speaker from countries such as China, Germany, Switzerland, Britain, the Netherlands, the USA, etc. They of course also told us about the state of the church in their countries and about their specific ministries. In this way the Mission’s workers gradually gained a world view of the state of the Church. At the close of these meetings, all the workers returned to their respective fields of service.

The Mission had a very lofty code of conduct which did not allow students to get involved in love affairs during their two or three-year period of Bible school training. How shall I put it: if you did fall in love during that period, you just had to put your emotions on “pause” until the end of it for you were to concentrate on your studies and on opening up your life to God, and a love affair would distract you from pursuing this objective. This of course was quite an ordeal for some of the students of whom many were young people of a marriageable age.

Then, having completed your training and if your desire to get married had not yet evaporated, the rule was that after having prayed about the matter and being firmly convinced it to be the will of God to marry a specific lady, you were to reveal your feelings to the director of the Mission. If he saw no real objections, he would also pray for God’s guidance for a period of time which could easily be a month or more and would then give permission for you to court the lady. Your next step would be to approach her and enquire whether you could see her in private, assuring her that you had the permission of the director to do so. Well, as things go, she would by that time already be well aware of the fact that you had a very special interest in her and she would also have prayed about it and made up her mind on how she would react to your attentions.

Meeting with one another privately, either just once or on an ongoing basis, also posed a problem. If she was a co-worker, it meant that both of you were living on the premises, possibly in the men’s or ladies’ hostel. This complicated matters even more for there would be no place for the two of you to meet with each other and it was considered indecent for two young people of opposite sexes to sit near to one another engaged in intimate private conversation within view of the other young people and students. But love always finds a way and a solution was to find a Christian family somewhere nearby that would understand the dilemma and put their lounge at the disposal of the lovers to meet each other.

A further obstacle hampering a budding love affair from coming to fruition, was that the Mission would often send out these two young people on campaigns in different directions. A campaign could last anything from two to six weeks and very likely the campaigns on which the two of them went, would end at different times so that they would not be back at the Mission at the same time to be able to get to know each other in a deeper way. Normally only three days were allowed back at base before workers went forth on the following campaign. So, as you can see, cultivating an intimate relationship with a view of getting married, was a very tricky matter. This could be one of the reasons why there were so many unmarried workers within the Mission. There were of course those that clearly felt called to a life of celibacy in order to be able to devote all their time to the work of God.

The bottom line was that workers who wanted to get married, depended more on the guidance of the Holy Spirit than on their feelings for each other or on having spent time to put their relationship to the test before marriage. Modern young people may be appalled by the thought of being subjected to such restrictive rules, but I daresay that marriages approached and contracted in this way, worked very well; the spouses loved and honoured one another and lived fulfilled lives to a ripe old age when God’s time came for them to go Home. I know of only one couple that divorced and that only happened some years after they had left the Mission.

There were many great Christian workers in the Mission and some of them were real saints. In this regard I am for instance thinking of a lady called Celia Coolidge. She came from Britain and was one of those who never married. She poured her life into the vast African township of Soweto. There she did house visitation and made many converts, especially African women whom she brought together in small groups and instructed in the Word of God, with much emphasis on not only getting to know the Word, but on putting faith into action; living a life in which Christ became visible. Celia duplicated her own life and Christian character in the lives of scores of women living in that township. She was a very soft-spoken, tender-hearted, humble, friendly person and when her face broke into a smile, everybody around smiled with her. To be annoyed with her, was just impossible even when she opened up her borrowed motor car’s oil cap and filled the engine with water to ensure that it would not overheat and be damaged while she was having the use of it. Even the Lord could not be angry with her and just sent somebody to drain the water, flush out the engine and set her back on the road again without any real damage to the engine, for which I am sure she thanked Him profoundly.

Celia was also responsible for holding weeks of prayer all over the country. The Mission, at that time had a forty seater bus called Nehemiah. It did not quite do justice to its name and we often, on a winter morning, had to tow it round and around the Mission premises for some time before it would cough a couple of times, befoul the air with black smoke and then grudgingly come to life. It definitely was not a self starter as his biblical counterpart was, but got its name because it was supposed to be a tool in Celia’s hand to transport Christians to the venues where the weeks of prayer were to be held. In this way it contributed to the rebuilding of the walls of God’s kingdom in many countries all over the world, hence the name: “Nehemiah.” Celia of course did not drive the bus herself and, as for me, I took one look at that piece of ancient machinery and decided that I would rather be chided for failing one driver’s licence test after the other, than passing it and having to get to know Nehemiah in a more intimate way.

I would, however, never forget one such week of prayer which was held at Komatipoort, near to the Mozambique border. Since Celia had to see to the food for all the attendees, she had much to do in the course of such a week and so she asked me to take care of the spiritual side by organising the meetings and leading some of them myself. This I did and for some inexplicable reason we just sensed the overwhelming presence of God throughout.

One day, as I was requesting prayer for the country of Israel and its people and spoke of the soil on which God’s feet touched the earth, we suddenly became aware of His awesome presence. A hush came upon us with tears flowing down our cheeks as we prayed for the Holy Land. Next we prayed for the country of Mozambique just across the border where a devastating tribal war was raging. I am convinced that our prayers of that day contributed towards the reaching of a truce later on, followed by peace and the establishing of a democratic government which is still in power to this day.

At those meetings two young African women broke down in tears, giving their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ. At the end of the meetings when we gave an opportunity for people to testify as to what the Lord had done for them during that week, they told us that some two years before, the two of them had conspired to bring a certain young Christian man to a fall. He was a very powerful preacher and led many people to the Lord. They attended his meetings especially for the sake of tempting and leading him astray and in this one of them succeeded after some time, getting him to sleep with her. The next day the immensity of his sin came forcefully upon him and that was the end of his Ministry. These two ladies now realised what terrible sin they had committed and confessed it with deep sorrow upon which both of them were saved and found peace with the Lord. As the attendees witnessed God’s abounding grace, great joy flooded their hearts.

At this week of prayer we also saw the Lord doing a miracle as regards material things. The Mission never had an abundance of funds and towards the end of the week we just did not have sufficient maize-meal, bread, vegetables, etc., to feed everybody for many people from that area flocked to the meetings. Celia told me of this shortage of food and we decided that all we could do was to dish out whatever she had in those large pots. As we stood there watching the spoons being dipped into the food then tipped into the plates, we could not believe our eyes for the process just went on and on. You could not actually see the food in the pots becoming more, but it was indeed doing so right before our very eyes. A number of times she and I looked up at one another in amazement as everybody, every last one, was fed and some came back for second helpings. The awe that comes upon a person when seeing things like this happen, is indescribable and you often feel you cannot speak of such holy moments.

There were also other “saints” like Oom Hannes Joubert and Tannie Rosa Kühn and many others that need to be mentioned. Mr and Mrs von Staden set an example both in life and in ministry that was well worth following, and God used them to raise an army of men and women that loved the Lord dearly and were willing to sacrifice all they had for Him and for His Kingdom. By their ministry the sweet flavour of the love of Jesus was carried into scores upon scores of townships all over South Africa, whereby many African people got to know the Lord Jesus Christ and we met many of them as we, of a later generation, moved across southern Africa to do our share in spreading the Gospel. These dear people, our predecessors, have by now long ago all passed on into the presence of the Lord and their works have followed after them.



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