D1. VARIOUS MINISTRIES AND OCCUPATIONS
As our “notice month” drew to a close, we became more and more concerned, first of all, to find a house to live in. It had to be within reach of the school our two sons were attending. To rent a house, was out of the question because we did not have a single cent to our names, nor a monthly income. Though we had run out of ideas, God still had a plan in store.
This is how it came about that we found a dwelling place. Through the Dorothea Mission, we previously got to know the de Wijns, three spinsters whose brother had died a couple of years before. After his death, his wife, Gertie de Wijn (tannie Gertie) moved in with Tannie Rosa Oberholzer, the widow of the Mr Oberholzer, the Secretary for Justice, whom I got to know while I was stationed in the head office of the Department of Justice. So, first of all, they must have had a good report of me through Mr Oberholzer. Tannies Gertie de Wijn and Rosa Oberholzer, were also sisters and members of the Hartbeeshoek Dutch Reformed congregation, as we were. They both also supported the Dorothea Mission and were aware of the role we had been playing in the Mission. We had also been in personal contact with them on occasion during the preceding years. So they got to know us from three different sources and must have had a good opinion of us.
Consequently, when the Lord put the thought into my mind to approach them regarding Tannie Gertie’s home which had not been occupied for several years, ever since she had moved in with her sister, I felt bold enough to approach her to rent her house. Great was my joy when she immediately said: “Ben, you and Martie are so welcome to use it and I will not to be charging you any rent.” It was an old place. One of the cupboards was still filled with her late husband’s clothes and the shelves of the pantry were stacked with rows upon rows of canned fruit which had crystallised over time, but we were delighted and relieved to have four walls around us and a roof over our heads. I vividly remember the sense of peace I experienced that first night when I lay down next to Martie on the double bed and switched off the light. It was as if we as a family were four little birds, salvaged from a river in flood and held in the cupped hands of our Benefactor. Did the Lord not say: “I will in no way fail you, neither will I in any way forsake you.” (Heb 13:5). “Could a mother forget a child who nurses at her breast? Could she fail to love an infant who came from her own body? Even if a mother could forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)
Once we got settled in, the next step was to get our new ministry established. Accommodation was a bit of a problem, but we managed to establish an office in one half of the dining room which was quite large. We used what little funds that had come in, to buy tables and shelves for the audio cassettes and for the large variety of Gospel tracts which we always kept on hand. Next we had to compile and send out a newsletter to those that had been ordering audio cassettes from us while we were with the Dorothea Mission, informing them of our break with the Mission and that we would still be distributing these cassettes with its permission. How delighted we were when letters from individuals gradually arrived, not only to order cassettes, but also to inform us that they would love to receive our newsletter in future and would support us financially as God provided. This was a wonderful confirmation that we were within the will of God
A tremendous challenge was to set up an audio recording studio to record messages in eight different African languages to enlarge our supply of cassettes. We obtained Tannie Gertie’s permission to use an empty room in an adjoining outbuilding for this purpose, then made it soundproof as far as possible, with padded walls and ceiling and a thick carpet on the floor to dampen the echo, beautifully built workbenches to accommodate the different tape recorders, the audio mixer, patch bay, quick-start turntable, etc. While I did the welding, carpentry and other hard physical work, Martie did a tremendous job in soldering together all the wires and other connections, especially for the patch bay. When at last the construction work was completed, I scouted around for high quality used tape recorders and other equipment.
At last we could say that we now had a proper recording studio and could invite Gospel preachers and choirs to come in for recordings. The Lord blessed our efforts and within a couple of months we were able to issue quite a sizeable catalogue of cassettes in English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho, Pedi, Shangaan, Venda and Tswana, in addition to the ones we had brought over from the Dorothea Mission. Martie was in charge of the duplicating and distributing of the cassettes which she handled superbly, freeing me to get on with the other duties of our multi-faceted ministry.
Our cassettes were being used by farmers who played the messages to their employees, medical staff in hospitals, warders in prisons, employers in factories, taxis, and of course also by African Christians in their homes. Encouraging testimonies we received from listeners as to how the Lord was using these little handheld messengers.
Once we had the recording studio, we could not resist the urge to compile and broadcast radio programs in one of the vernaculars, namely Zulu. We got an African Baptist minister with the surname of Mhlophe (which means “White”) to deliver the messages and also recorded many choirs, some even travelling from Soweto, to make up the programs. Since Zulu is widely spoken all over the country and also understood by most of the other language groups, our programs had a significant impact, far and wide.
As time went by, and a stronger financial base was established, we looked around for other possibilities to spread the Gospel, not only by way of audio media, but also via printed media. We converted our pickup into a mobile bookshop with shelves that could be pulled out under a sort of folding gazebo. It created quite a pleasant atmosphere. We parked the vehicle on an open space where thousands of factory workers passed by and many of them dropped in and bought Bibles, Christian books and audio cassettes. Gospel tracts were distributed free of charge.
Our evangelist, who was in charge of this ministry, also visited a number of factories during their half hour lunch breaks, and brought short 10 to 15 minute messages to the employees, while they were eating. Since this was an ongoing ministry, with the speaker returning to the same factories week after week, the Gospel gradually penetrated the hearts of some of the people who came to the Lord and testified to the blessing that this ministry was to them. Some very interesting factories and institutions were visited in the course of this Ministry, such as a factory that manufactured toys and furniture for preschool children, another that built trailers and similar equipment for the Army, an industry that supplied pre-packed meals for hospitals and another that did their laundry.
Probably as a result of my involvement with the Department of Justice, my heart had always gone out to those that had fallen foul of the Law and were imprisoned for long periods, some for life. I often wondered whether they were properly ministered to by prison chaplains, so I approached one of the maximum security prisons outside Pretoria where long-term prisoners were held. Though I was allowed to preach to groups of prisoners a few times, the chaplain informed me that prison rules allowed pastors to minister only to prisoners that were members of their own congregations or, at least, denominations. That meant that I was totally excluded and not allowed to enter through those massive prison doors.
My burden for these people, however, did not allow me to give up so easily, so what I did was to enquire from the chaplain whether prison rules allowed prisoners to be entertained by way of videos being screened. This servant of God actually, in his heart, approved of me and would have liked it if a way could be found for me to become part of his ministry team, so when I came up with this idea, he immediately grasped the opportunity and approved my amended application. (“Where there is a will, there is a way.”) I then set about building a trolley, complete with a large video screen, video player and loudspeakers and, with his blessing, went from cell to cell, “entertaining” the incumbents with video films such as the “Pilgrim’s Progress” and many others. He even appointed one of the prisoners to act as my interpreter.
This ministry was a little bit scary for we were locked into a cell with forty high risk prisoners for at least an hour, during which time the wardens were a long way off and would not have heard our cries for protection. However, the Lord who watched over Daniel in the lion’s den, and his three friends in the fiery furnace, kept his hand over us and we never, as far as I can remember, faced any real danger. The repeated application of God’s Word to the hearts and minds of these people, also bore fruit, and after some time, there were quite a number of convicts who had been transformed into converts. The chaplain, by further stretching his imagination, succeeded in interpreting the prison rules to the extent that these people were now “members of my congregation” and that I could see them regularly. Once a week they were therefore released from their cells to meet with me in the courtyard where I instructed them in Christian living.
My interpreter had a very interesting testimony. He had been a member of a death squad that hired themselves out to murder people for a handsome reward. As was to be expected, he did this once too often, was caught, convicted and sentenced to death. (At that stage the death penalty was still in force in the South African judicial system.) While he was in death row, waiting for his sentence to be executed, he conversed with a fellow prisoner who was awaiting his own execution. This man had had some exposure to the Gospel which he then shared with, let’s call him Lucky, who believed the good tidings of salvation by grace through faith, accepted the Lord Jesus as Saviour and received eternal life right there in the death cell. He put his faith into action, began praying to his Almighty Father, and soon after was informed that his sentence had been mitigated to that of life imprisonment. Oh, the grace of God that pursues the worst of sinners right up to the gates of hell. The bearer of the good tidings, however, as far as Lucky knew, never practised what he preached, was never saved, and consequently did not go to heaven: the terrible consequences of man’s hardening of his heart. The scene of the two robbers that had died on crosses next to the Lord Jesus, is still being enacted daily all over the world, not only in prisons but in homes, at the workplace or wherever people are living this side of the grave; some hear the Gospel and are saved but others turn a cold shoulder and are swallowed up in eternal death.
To me, a prison is comparable to hell itself, and then I am speaking about an ordinary prison, not places where the inmates are tortured or treated in an inhuman way. To be locked up in a maximum security prison day by day, month after month for endless years till death eventually sets you free, is an indescribable torture in itself which I, being so fond of the open spaces and of cycling for 20, 60, 100 km on end, will not to be able to bear.
In closing: regarding prisons, just a little bit of humour to lift our spirits. When on training as public prosecutors by the Department of Justice, we once visited a prison for lesser offenders that were allowed more freedom. A group of them had formed an excellent men’s choir which, in farewell, sang to us: “God be with you, till we meet again.” We had to smile for we knew that we were very likely to meet with some of them again in court.
I was often invited to preach somewhere on special occasions which then developed into an ongoing ministry. This is what happened when I was called on to stand in for another pastor who was unable to meet his commitments towards a police training college. I really sensed the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon me as I delivered a message to the large number of young African men that had congregated on that Sunday morning. As usual, I invited those that wanted to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour to step forward and then assisted them to do so.
As I was doing this, I noticed a slightly older man, but still in his twenties, looking very worried and standing a little bit apart from the rest. When I had finished speaking to the group and they had left, he looked around furtively, then came up to me and in a subdued voice told me that he had a very severe problem. He also wanted to accept the Lord Jesus but had committed very heinous crimes. What he had done was that he had waylaid three people one after the other in a desolate place through which they had been walking, killed them and robbed them of their possessions. What he wanted to know from me was firstly, whether God would be willing to forgive him for his sin and secondly, whether, having been pardoned by God, he would have to hand himself over to the police.
Though I had been in contact with offenders of all kinds of crimes before, it still was quite a shock to stand face to face with a self-confessed murderer and having to council him on such a serious issue. It was of course quite easy to tell him that the Lord would be willing to accept him and, by grace, forgive everything he had done, but as to whether he was to make a confession at a police station, that was another matter I felt I first had to pray about for, as I said, the death sentence still applied to such crimes and I would almost certainly have been sending him to the gallows by advising him to follow this route. I consequently assured him that I would not say a word to the authorities in this regard but would pray about it and then give him my answer the next Sunday.
On returning home I told Martie of my predicament, then went to a very senior Christian leader in whom I had much confidence, asking for his advice. Having prayed together, he looked me in the eye and said that he knew what he himself would have done: he would have made a full confession of his crimes to the authorities, leaving the consequences to God. That was the only option that would give him peace of mind. The Spirit of the Lord confirmed this word to me and so I returned to this poor man and told them what I believed the Lord wanted him to do, again assuring him that this was none of my business and that I would never do, or say anything that would incriminate him. Having prayed and committed him to the Lord, I left him to make his own decision in his own good time. I never met with him again, so, to this day I do not know whether he came to the Lord Jesus like the robber on the cross, or whether he went away sadly as did the rich young ruler for whom the price was just too high to pay. Oh, the horrible wiles of the devil that cause us to believe that we will get away with what we do or say, just to find out that there is a terrible price to be paid for every wrong we ever did.
Though our ministry, known as Media Mission, had grown considerably, the Holy Spirit was continually urging us on to “enlarge our tent, to stretch the ropes, to put down the pegs further apart” so that more people could hear the Gospel and be saved. In response to this call, we searched for erstwhile workers of the Dorothea Mission whom we knew to be anointed servants of God and invited them to join our Mission and serve as evangelists in the surrounding hospitals. The Lord blessed our efforts and a number of them that were not yet firmly established in ministries of their own, sensed that the Lord was calling them to enlist with us. Since they were mature Christian workers, there was no need for us to put them through any lengthy training and so, after some briefing, we appointed them to minister on a full-time basis in hospitals of their own choice.
We also provided them with equipment to increase the effectiveness of their ministries. What we did was to build them small trolleys mounted on castors, fitting each with a cassette player and a number of cassettes in the languages spoken by patients that would possibly be admitted to the specific hospitals where they would be ministering. Each of them was supplied with quite a number of these trolleys. What they then did was to chat to newly admitted longer term patients and with those that showed some interest in the Gospel, they would leave one of these trolleys, showing them how to play the cassettes of their own choice. After a day or two, the evangelist would then return to the patient to enquire whether he had been listening to the messages and was able to recall what he had heard. It was very much like laying a fishing line with bait and very often the evangelist had the good fortune of finding a fish on the Gospel hook. He would then either lead him to the Lord or answer his questions and return to him after a further few days. What was remarkable was that, though it happened in rare circumstances, some of the patients had by that time already, on their own, taken a step to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
Many testimonies could be given of such spiritual “instrument babies,” and we were increasingly impressed by the power of such media when put into the hands of an anointed servant of God. After some months we were running such ministries in eight different hospitals, one as far afield as 500 km from our Pretoria base.
Let me just recall one incident of a soul who was saved in the course of our ministry, though not exactly by using the cassette players. At that time the ANC (African National Congress) was very actively engaged in acts of terrorism all over the country. African people that were not willing to side with them, were “necklaced” with motor car tyres over which petrol was poured and set alight, causing the victim to burn to death. They also placed bombs in crowded places, indiscriminately killing and hurting scores of people in every blast.
One such bomb was left in a motor car parked in Church Street, a main street of Pretoria, next to the building where the South African Air Force had its headquarters. The powerful bomb exploded in the late afternoon when the streets were thronged with mostly African people returning home from work. One of these was an African man walking down towards a taxi rank from where he was hoping to travel home. At the exact moment when he passed the specific motor car, the bomb went off, wrecking the windows of the multitude of nearby buildings, killing many people and injuring many more. This unfortunate man was one of those that was badly burnt by the blast and shortly afterwards rushed by ambulance to one of the hospitals.
On learning of this shocking incident, I immediately phoned our evangelist, Piet Mathobela, requesting him to go the hospital and minister the love of Christ to the victims. He immediately did so, went from bed to bed comforting people and praying for them. When the man that was so badly burnt was in a state to be spoken too, Piet sat down at his bedside in an effort to assist him spiritually. He could not understand why his own people, people he had never seen nor wronged, had almost killed him and maimed him for life. Piet then explained to him how so many bad things happened to innocent people because of satan’s hatred for mankind but that God wanted to turn bad into good. After some days light broke through the darkness that enveloped this man’s soul so that he opened his life to Jesus and was gloriously born-again. He later on gave testimony of this wonderful event in his life, saying that God had used this evil deed for his good for he, though not an evil man himself, never knew the Lord Jesus and would have been lost, had he died on that fateful day.
This then, is how the Lord used us after we parted with the Dorothea Mission; for this we give Him all the praise and glory of our hearts.
LORD, YOUR LOVING KINDNESS IS BETTER THAN LIFE.
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