OUR STORY – Chapter C3

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Some of the campaigns were very demanding, spiritually as well as physically. One of these was an outreach to a place called “Opanzi” on the Makatini flats in the district of Josini at the uppermost north-eastern tip of Kwa-Zulu Natal. We were invited there by the pastor of a congregation in Josini. His was actually a congregation consisting of Whites, but because of his love for the Lord and for lost souls, he had a tremendous burden to reach out to the African people who were living so far from civilisation and were steeped in witchcraft and ancestral worship. Since he was keenly aware of his limitations in conducting such a cross- cultural spiritual outreach, he invited us to come over and assist him.

A team of eight of us left Pretoria early one morning and arrived at Josini late that afternoon, fairly exhausted after the 500 km drive with heavily loaded vehicles. After a brief discussion we set off for Opanzi with me towing an ordinary caravan which the pastor made available to us as a family. The drive there in itself was quite tricky for the road was very sandy and we once had to go through a drift with fairly deep running water and uneven stones at the bottom, so the caravan was lurching from side to side. However, we made it safely to Opanzi which means “The low down place.”

The caravan had no side tent, neither did we have any shade netting and we did not camp under a tree but right out in the blazing sun where temperatures could easily soar to 45°C. We were, however, very grateful to be accommodated in the luxury of a caravan, way out there in the bush. The African members of our team were housed in traditional clay huts, but one young man had to make the best of a piece of tarpaulin presented to him. He chopped down one or two young trees, planted them in the ground and draped the tarpaulin over them to form a sort of tent into which he crawled at night. To live like that for 3 to 4 weeks when you are on holiday and taking it easy, is no big deal, but when you have to dress in suit and tie when conducting meetings, it is a totally different story and I have always marvelled at our African workers’ ability to look spic and span day by day, notwithstanding the poor conditions under which they were housed. The service tent provided for our use resembled shade netting for its roof had hundreds of little holes in it and was also torn in quite a number of places which we had to stitch up before pitching it. However, that was all the dear pastor had and so we had to make do.

This was one of the earlier campaigns on which I was sent, shortly after leaving Bible School and it really was very challenging to me because of the great cultural difference between us and the people to whom we were to minister, and especially also because they were steeped in ancestral worship and witchdoctors (sangomas) played such an important role in their lives. In the beginning people were very hesitant to attend the meetings for they did not know what to make of us and were especially in fear of us as Whites and of the caravan in which we were living.

The loudspeakers were another source of concern to them. Sound travels a great distance in that country which is almost as flat as a table, with the result that people living even some kilometres away, heard us and those nearby could even discern the words of the songs we were singing and preaching. On the third day we hoisted three powerful loudspeakers on a tall pole. This of course had the effect that we could be heard even more clearly and aroused more fear. They cautioned one another to take note that the sound was becoming louder and louder which proved that we were stalking them, getting nearer day by day.

They also suspected Martie and me to be witches, out to get them and should they fall into our hands, they would never see their homes again. For this reason the attendance at the meetings was small in the beginning and continued to be so for quite some time, but news spread quickly and very soon some of them were overcoming their suspicion and curiosity took over. They came flocking into the tent, sitting down as far as possible from the front from where we were ministering.

In studying the Gospels and the book of Acts, I had read about people who were demon possessed and how the demons were cast out. However, we never received any specific teaching on this matter and I had no practical experience in dealing with demon possessed persons at all. That demons are very real is of course a fact. The devil and his hordes of evil spirits are continually in the process of trying to influence even us as Christians.

When a person opens his life to such an extent that an evil spirit takes over within him, its impact is a hundredfold more powerful and he loses all self control. This is often triggered by the person listening to the preaching of the Gospel. You will suddenly notice that someone within the audience is experiencing much discomfort and begins twitching and turning this way and that. Then he will start screaming, barking like a dog or making some or other animal sound or other unworldly noise. He might jump up, run around, throw himself down on the ground, writhe like a snake, foam at the mouth and when it becomes really bad, the person might even jump up and just run off. It is most terrible to witness such a manifestation of the presence and power of the devil.

This was the reason why the pastor enlisted our assistance; he had encountered many such demon possessed people in that area. Fortunately some of our team members knew how to deal with them. When the demonic spirit manifested during a meeting, the meeting of course had to be stopped because it would be totally disrupted and the rest of the people would be scared out of their wits. What we normally did, was to gather around the person as a team and command the spirit to leave. It would often not obey immediately as was also seen in the ministry of the apostles.

When this first happened at Opanzi, we had to fast and pray for a number of days before we were able to cast out the devil from the women in whom an evil spirit manifested during our tent service. Her deliverance was just as astounding as was her previous spiritual binding. She suddenly came to herself as if emerging from a different world, and looked around as if woken from sleep. That she had been delivered was quite clear to all of us. We then led her to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as her Saviour which she was eager to do. Once she was born again and the Holy Spirit had entered into her life, there was no further possibility of the evil one repossessing his earlier home.

The people of Opanzi were amazed and awed at the mighty power of God and started flocking to the tent in greater numbers. Very soon they had come to learn many of the choruses like: “There is power in the Blood of the Lamb,” and you could hear their joyful singing as they departed home, group by group, in different directions after our evening meetings which continued until deep into the night. This was not the only case of demon possession we came across but the others were more easily dealt with. It was as if a barrier had given way during our time of fasting and prayer.

The pastor, who invited us, put two young men with Land Rovers at our disposal and they took us along little footpaths to clusters of huts way out in the bush. (Forgive me for being a little naughty by telling the following story. One of our team members was mama Makhalwa, a heavyweight not only in spirit but also in body, especially in the lower parts of it. She not only suffered more than us walking in that loose sand under the blazing sun, but especially so when trying to heave herself up into the back of the Land Rover pickup. It was of course quite embarrassing to her to have us pulling, pushing and heaving to get her up and seated every time we had to travel to a different kraal. The Lord heard her prayers and led us to discover a tough cement block which we took along on the Land Rover from then on and so, whenever mama Makhalwa had to get onto or off the Land Rover, one of the young men hastened to put down this step for her so she could help herself.)

During the house visitation we had to take care to observe the protocol of the local people. Not doing so, would be considered as disrespect or ignorance as to how civilised people should behave, resulting in their despising you and considering your message not worthwhile listening to. When getting to a kraal, we would stand outside the gate and call out: “Sikhulekile ekhaya,” which can literally be translated as: “We are greeting at the house.” The people moving around on the premises will totally ignore you but you will often see two or three children running in different directions into the bush and after a while returning with a number of chairs which would then be placed under a large shady tree where the people of the kraal normally gathered.

Then, after another long wait and many more preparations, a child would be sent to invite you in. This child would also ask for your Bible and carry it for you. You will be led to the place that had been prepared and the head of the kraal, normally a man, would step forward and in a slightly bowed attitude, grasp your outstretched hand in both of his or stretch out his right hand while gripping his right arm with his left hand. He will then invite you, as his guests, to sit down on the chairs. If the people of that kraal had had contact with Christian ministers before and had acquired some knowledge of the importance of the Bible, your Bible would be laid on a special little rug within your reach. Having greeted you, he would remain standing and then call for each of his wives to kneel down on the “cansi” (sleeping mat) laid out before you for this purpose and greet you by hand. This would be followed by both parties enquiring after each other’s health.

Your host would also enquire as to which route you took to get there and what you saw and experienced along the way, for travellers were the local newspapers that kept the inhabitants up to date as to what was happening around them and further afield. Only after all these preliminaries had meticulously been complied with, would you be afforded the opportunity of preaching the Word of God to them. This means that two hours may have elapsed since your arrival which, for a Westerner full of the Holy Spirit and of zeal to preach the Gospel, could be quite a trial. Fortunately they also have endless time to listen to the Word and would in fact be very disappointed if you only brought a short message. They were slow in understanding when it came to Bible truths, for the Word was new to them and you had to get yourself to think as they thought, speak on one principle at a time, and explain it over and over again until you could see the frowns disappearing and the faces lighting up in a smile, indicating that they had understood and been edified by what you conveyed to them.

During one of these home visits, we encountered a youngish woman that also was demon possessed. She was very friendly to us and glad to have us teaching her from God’s Word but we had hardly begun doing so, when she virtually turned into a different person right before our eyes. She started twitching and becoming very tense. We recognised her condition for what it was and decided to discontinue our message and allow her to calm down. Once she had returned to her normal self, we enquired how she had come into this condition. She then told us that some years before, she wanted a certain young man to fall in love with her and that she had gone to a witchdoctor to procure medicine which he purported would attract the young man to her. Very soon after she started taking the medicine, she discovered that something very strange and painful was happening inside of her; not in her body but in her spirit. The reason for that of course was that the medicine had been sacrificed to evil spirits before being given to her and by opening herself to it, the evil spirits were afforded a door of entry. At that stage we were at the end of our campaign and I cannot recall if one of our team ever had the opportunity to minister deliverance to her.

It was during this campaign that I, for the first time in my life, attended a funeral where ancestral worship in its fullest form was practised. What happened was that an elderly man we had also visited in the course of the outreach, passed away and we were invited by the local pastor to attend the funeral. We were expressly told that we would not be allowed to minister, but only to attend. The whole team, including myself went there and sat a little apart from the rest of the mourners.

The funeral took place on the day following the death of this man. It could not be postponed any longer because of the heat and the unavailability of facilities to preserve the body. The corpse was laid out in the clay hut where the deceased had been living during his lifetime for he had lived separate from his wives as was the custom. As we looked on, a tall reed screen which had been hastily constructed that morning, was firmly affixed to the front of the building to cover the only door through which the room could be entered. The men then broke a hole into the side of the room, removed the corpse through it and immediately closed it up as effectively as possible. A shallow grave of about 1,5 m had already been dug right in front of the building. The body was covered in a cloth for they were too poor to afford a coffin and, in any case, such an item was unobtainable in that area, and lowered into the grave. His personal possessions such as his clothes (from which the buttons had been cut), a blanket, eating utensils, and wash basin were lying in a heap next to the grave. The men proceeded to take these items one by one and throw them into the grave on top of the body.

Then, while the leading member of the clan held a hollowed out reed vertically on top of the head of the corpse, the other men covered up the grave with soil. While they were doing this, he pulled up the reed higher and higher so that, by the time the grave was filled up and there was a mound of earth on top, the reed stuck out about 30 cm above the soil. (The spirit of the man was supposed to be within the reed.) He then knelt down on the grave facing away from the people, gripped the reed in his right hand where it was still planted in the soil and started addressing the spirit of the diseased saying: “Uthui, you now have to go. You cannot remain here any longer. You must go. We are coming, we are coming. Do not think of us anymore. We will be joining you, you must now go.” While he was thus imploring the spirit to leave, the deceased’s two wives started crying, wailing aloud. This infuriated the speaker who shouted at them: “Be quiet, shut up; you are keeping him back. How do you think is he going to leave if you go on like this?” As soon as they calmed down (which was instantly) he continued imploring the spirit to leave, then plucked the reed from the soil and cast it backwards over his head. As fortune would have it, the reed fell right next to the two wives who screamed in terror and scurried away some distance. The ancestral part of the ceremony now being completed, the meeting was handed over to the local pastor to do his “Christian” part.

The emotions that went through my soul in the course of the proceedings, were those of deep, deep sorrow for these deluded people and anger towards the devil that had, for so many centuries, deceived them with his lies. First of all, they were some of the poorest people to be found in Africa, but instead of being allowed to use what little possessions the father, husband or relative had owned, all of these were to be destroyed and for what reason nobody could really tell me. It could be that it was to indicate to everybody that the deceased had not been murdered for his possessions. A greater possibility is that it was to prevent him from returning to the premises for that was the reason why the screening was put in front of the door and the hole broken into the side wall was quickly sealed up again. The argument was that, should the spirit of the deceased return to his room and fail to find an entrance to enter through, he would be persuaded to move on into the next world and not roam about, troubling those that were left behind. This was so terribly sad to me. One moment the relatives were still in loving fellowship with their beloved husband, or father or whatever, and the next moment they were in fear of him and did whatever they could to rid themselves of his presence. All of this was brought about by deception and wrong perceptions that were handed down from generation to generation and were firmly believed by one and all.

Have we ever thought what a blessing it is to be born in a Christian home or even just in a nominally Christian society and being free of these false beliefs right from the moment of birth. Should we not also, having received so much light, so much revelation of the truth from the Lord by means of his Word, feel constrained by his love to cry out to Him to enable us in some way or other, to take the Gospel to such spiritually depraved people all over the globe. Certainly the love of God and of the people He created, compels us to do so.

Enough of the dark side of the campaign. On the third or fourth day after we arrived at Opanzi, the team brought one of the local elders to me who wanted to present a gift to us. He did not have it with him and requested us to accompany him and receive it at his home. I was very reluctant to do so for we still had a large area in which to do house visitation and wanted to get on with the job. I asked him what it was that he wanted to give to us, to which he replied that it was a chicken. My reluctance to accede to his request must have reflected on my face for after a second or two, he added that the chicken had four legs. I frowned and stretched my mind for an answer to this riddle, arguing that at least such a chicken would have a little bit more meat. Noting my predicament one of my co-workers whispered: “It must be a cow.” This persuaded me to accompany the elder and see for myself what it was.

On arriving at his kraal, he took us to the enclosure where his cattle were kept and pointed to a beautiful young heifer which he had separated from the rest and now gave to us. I found it hard not to cry for such generosity from a relatively poor man amazed me. I protested saying that he was impoverishing himself and his clan, but he would have nothing of my protests, led us to sit down in front of his home and then told us his story. He said that he had had a dream the previous night during which he heard God speaking to him, saying: “Have you seen those people there at the tent?” to which he replied: “Yes I have seen.” The Lord then asked him: “Where will they find meat to eat?” to which he replied: “I don’t know.” God then said to him: “You give them one of your cattle.” So that was why, the next morning he had kept the young a heifer from going out to graze, then walked all the way to the tent to tell us about it. We sat there, each with his own thoughts, knowing that there were no adequate words with which to thank this dear man and that we had no option but to graciously accept his present, praying that God would richly reward him with many more cattle to take the place of this one sacrificed, not to us, but to his Creator.

We had no means of transporting the animal to where we were staying, so he and his sons brought it to us the next day. They arrived while we were out doing house visitation but, as prearranged with them, they also slaughtered it for us for we did not know how we would manage to do it out of there in the bush. When we got home they had already done so, for which we were very grateful, but on entering the caravan, I found Martie in a very emotional state for she had witnessed the killing of the animal. Let her describe this in her own words:

When the men got there with the heifer, they tied its head to a wooden post, pulling it right down till its nose touched the ground. The owner then took up an assegai and went to stand right next to the animal. Holding the weapon in both hands and resting the sharp point on its neck, just behind the head, he stood for a moment or two, then thrust it down with all his might, probably penetrating the spinal cord and cutting right into the marrow, for the animal fell down immediately without even uttering a bellow. I appreciated that this probably was the easiest and least painful way of slaughtering a beast out there in the bush, but still it was most shocking and traumatic to behold.”

Martie’s shock, however, gradually faded away as we as team, day by day, sat down to enjoy the delicious roasted meat. Here again we saw God’s mighty hand providing for us in a most unusual way.

Martie also had her ample share of testing there at Opanzi, but let her again speak for herself:

On going down to Opanzi, our younger son, Jaco, was just a toddler. When we arrived there, we were dead tired for we had travelled hundreds of kilometres from Pretoria and the last part of our journey was just on a two tracked road winding through the bush. Jaco had had just enough of sitting down all the time in the cramped space of our single cab pickup which the four of us shared. When I opened the door on my side, he clambered over me, wriggled right out of my hands and rushed forward, enjoying his newfound freedom. The next moment, however, he tripped over something in the semidarkness, went right down onto his face, scraping a considerable amount of skin off his forehead and nose. So before we had even entered the caravan, I had to deal with the first casualty and our only chemist was our little box of medicine which we took with us wherever we went.

Speaking of Jaco, as a youngster he was very strong-willed and from the very first day he had made up his mind that the caravan which was lent to us, belonged to us, and to us alone. So whenever anybody else, even members of the team, stuck their heads through the door opening, he would scream at the top of his voice causing me so much embarrassment.

The availability of water was a very real problem for it had to be transported to us from Josini which was about eighty km away, with the result that we normally had only one drum supplied to us per week. With that we all had to bath, I had to wash the dishes and clothes for a family of four, cook and provide drinking water for all of us. That called for some meticulous planning.

The environment too, was not all that friendly and I always had to keep a close watch on where the children were and what they were doing, for Ben went off on house visitation for a couple of hours every day and there was no possibility of him being contacted in a hurry should any one of them get hurt which could so easily happen, and then of course we would still have to travel all the way to Josini for medical assistance. Danger was always lurking just around the corner. One day as I threw out a basin of water into the grass just a couple of steps from the door of our caravan, a cobra reared up in front of me, ready to strike and very upset because of the unexpected bath I had given it. However, we went right through that campaign without any of us needing medical attention, and that in a malaria area that swarmed with mosquitoes.” (End of Martie’s woes.)

On the spiritual side we unfortunately had a very unpleasant experience with the local pastor (not the one from Josini who invited us, but the resident African pastor of that area.) He had no idea of what it meant to believe in Christ and was quite happy to have ancestral worship and Christianity run side-by-side. I think this is generally referred to as syncretism. As time went by, scores of his church members who attended the meetings, became enlightened. They came to understand that there is only one God, the God that created them. Next they understood that He was one with his Son Jesus Christ and with God the Holy Spirit. They understood that Jesus, the Son of God died for their sins on the cross and that they needed to be born again. Having been in the darkness and bondage of ancestral worship since birth, this was a glorious revelation and many of them spiritually rushed in to lay hold of the Saviour and were gloriously born again. They also saw with their own eyes the miracles God was doing by delivering some of them who had been demon possessed for scores of years. A great joy came over them, they were exhilarated and went all over, testifying to what God had done for them.

This put their pastor in a very bad spot for he was confronted from all sides by converts who wanted to know why he, purported to be a Christian minister, had not brought them the light and the power of Jesus Christ. He got terribly jealous and mad at us as he saw his followers falling away. He then gathered those that had hardened their hearts against the message of salvation and did all he could to discredit us and to get us removed from what he considered to be his domain. But God had been working in such a powerful way, that the new converts just could not be stopped and gained the upper hand wherever they moved. Our last meeting at Opanzi was a celebration to the glory of God as one after the other stepped forward and gave his or her testimony of salvation. I remember one man saying that he just could not understand what we were preaching but one night as he was walking home in the dark, singing one of the choruses, namely “There is power in the Blood of the Lamb” his heart suddenly became enlightened so that he understood what we meant by salvation and there and then, all by himself, he accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour.

The next day, as we were pulling down the service tent and packing our gear to return home, scores of converts were sitting under the trees, singing one chorus after the other, choruses they had learned during the campaign. Since my and Martie’s command of the Zulu language was still poor, they could not communicate freely with us to express their heartfelt gratitude for what we had done for them, so they did it by way of singing these songs to us. We were deeply touched. In those moments all the hardships, trials and tests just slipped off our shoulders as joy and gratitude flooded our hearts.

One last testimony: one of my pickup’s tyres had become somewhat flat during our four weeks at Opanzi and I just did not know how I was going to pump it for our pump was missing. We brought this need before the Lord in prayer and low and behold, shortly before we had to leave that morning, a little wagon with rubber tyres turned up, a vehicle that was unheard of out there in the bush where everybody used sledges to cart their goods about. And what do you know, he had a pump with him and so we could pump the wheel before leaving. God never runs out of supplies.

Let me share one more story regarding the Makatini flats. Some time after this campaign, it could even have been a year, we returned to minister there. On this occasion I led the team out on my own, while Martie and the kids remained at Josini. Way out there in the bush and near to the Mozambican border there were many wild animals and people were often harassed by hippos as they walked along the river banks at night to attend our meetings.

Here we met up with a very arrogant witchdoctor, well known all round. He boldly told us that he knew quite well that his power came from the devil whom he was worshipping. However, said he, the devil was very powerful but if our God was more powerful, he would be willing to serve Him. Sad to say, as far as I know, he never switched loyalties.

It was there that I had an unpleasant experience with a snake. We were housed in a shelter with a thatched roof and split poles for walls. We had stretchers that were very low. Late one afternoon, as I was lying on a stretcher on my stomach, reading a book, a metre long snake suddenly glided deftly over my left arm, no further that 30cm from my face. All I could find in a hurry was a gas bottle which I lifted up to face level, then cast it down onto him as he was slithering away across the sandy floor. I managed to crush its spine in two places and then crushed its head. A somewhat shaking experience but nothing to be compared to what Martie would be going through just a few days afterwards. Let her tell it in her own words:

On this occasion, a follow-up to the first visit to Opanzi, I stayed at Josini while Ben and his team went off to minister at a remote spot in the bush. The children and I stayed with a certain Tannie Joey, a very dear Christian lady, fluent in Zulu, who was assisting the pastor of the White congregation who had invited us, in his reaching out to the African people.

One night after having put Jaco to bed, I went back to check whether the children were okay, as a mum usually does. Bending over Jaco, I realised that something terrible was wrong, for he had, in a very short time, developed a high fever and seemed to have difficulty in breathing. I rushed back to call Tannie Joey. We both ran to his room. Tannie Joey took one look at him, told me that he had convulsions as a result of the fever and that he was choking because his tongue was sucked back and blocking his throat so that he could not breathe properly. She tried to force open his mouth, cutting her fingers on his teeth in the process, but not succeeding. I ran out of the house screaming for help, then returned to where she was bending over him, having immersed him in a bath of cold water. She realised that she just had to force his mouth open, for he was already blue in the face and was choking to death. To do so, she used the handle of a toothbrush, breaking out one of his teeth in the process, but eventually succeeding and getting his tongue back in place, enabling him to breathe properly once more.

As I got up and moved into the passage, I saw a large group of people gathered, praying to God to step in and do a miracle which He certainly did. After a while we managed to get hold of the military doctor to have a look at Jaco. He did so and gave us pills which he had on hand and told us to keep a fan on him until the fever abated. By the next day he was much better, then he recovered fully and never suffered any adverse after effects.

Tannie Joey however had to pay the price for her brave and unselfish deed. She always had heart problems and a few days later she had a bad heart attack which had most probably been brought on by the traumatic experience she had gone through, but God again overruled and she still lived for many years. We stayed with her in another town some years later while we were holding a campaign in the area where she was living. To have to go through such dramatic experiences without the presence of one’s husband, certainly tells on one, but God always restores His peace and gives one courage to press on towards the crown awaiting everyone who played his or her given part to win souls for His Kingdom.”



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