Roots in Christ – Routes into Africa – A map
J Andrew Kok
Manager: DR Church Archives, Stellenbosch
The map of prof Johannes du Plessis, professor in Missiology at the University of Stellenbosch serves as basis for a discussion on the expansion of missionary work in Africa by the Dutch Reformed Church.
John 15: 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
But how can the tender vine “soul” grow and thrive? By putting down roots, absorbing nutrients, and through healthy growth. Decisive hereby is good soil. Plants absorb nutrients through their roots. But, the plant also has to convert the nutrients so that it can grow. In order to be able to absorb the nutrients it is important that we are rooted in Jesus. Roots serve to support and anchor a plant. Missionary work in Africa supplied these most necessary nutrients and served also as the anchors for the spreading of the gospel.
Missionary fervour had been stirred up in the Cape Colony since the early 1820’s through the work of men like HR van Lier and MC Vos. The arrival of clergymen from Scotland gave more impetus to their work. The Dutch Reformed Church Synod of 1827 also called and ordained its first missionary in Clanwilliam in the person of the Rev Leopold Marquard. At the Synod meeting of 1857 a motion was carried that the Church should expand its mission work beyond its own borders. The Synod appointed a Foreign Missions Committee which recruited missionaries from Europe.
During 1860 there was also a conference of ministers held in Worcester. Much was discussed about the awakening in England and the Americas during that time. This revival soon spread to South Africa and revival gatherings were held in Worcester, Montagu, Paarl and Wellington. At this conference it was decided to sent Dr Robertson to Europe to search for ministers, missionaries and teachers to fulfil the need in South Africa. The result of this visit was that two missionaries, the Rev Gonin from Switzerland and Dr Alexander McKidd from Scotland, decided to come to South Africa.
The beginning years in South Africa
One of the first people who decided to go to the missionary fields was Ms Hessie Bosman. She settled in the Free State and started a school. Here she met with Dr McKidd and soon wedding bells were ringing for them at Fauresmith. McKidd worked at Goedgedacht in the Soutpansberg, but unfortunately, his wife Hessie soon died afterwards of malaria. McKidd was heartbroken, but he was shortly thereafter joined by a new missionary in the person of rev Stephanus Hofmeyr. Other support was given by Mrs Hofmeyr, the sister of the Rev JH Neethling, Rev JW Daneel and Mr J Jooste. They didn’t only work under the Bomalatze tribe, but also under the Buys descendants and a few frontiers of the ivory trade.
The other missionary, the Rev Gonin, settled at Makapanskraal near Rustenburg. After two years he moved on to Saulspoort to work under the Bakhatla. When captain Gamjan moved further into the then Bechuanaland the reverend Pieter Brink opened a station at Mochudi in 1877. He was joined by the rev Willie Neethling, but he died tragically when the gable of the church building fall on him during a severe storm.
The first black missionary of our church, the rev Thomas Piri, was placed at one of the outposts, Malolane. After 14 years of service there, he came to Wellington to be trained here at Wellington at this Institute.
This was the beginning of an extensive Foreign Mission enterprise of the Dutch Reformed Church. Its work extended into what is today known as Malawi (1888), Zimbabwe (1891), Zambia (1899), Mozambique (1908), Nigeria (1911) and Kenya (1944).
During the time 1865 to 1868 there was a war against the Basuto. After Paulus Moperi surrendered, he settled at Witzieshoek. The church in the Free State decided to start missionary work in this area and in 1874 the Rev GA Maeder was ordained as the missionary at Witzieshoek. Stemming from this was also the establishment of the Stofberg Memorial School near Heilbron where training for black teachers, evangelists and ministers took place.
Now there was a new urge and drive to go deeper into Africa. In the present day Zimbabwe, lived the Vasuna. It was in what was then called Mashonaland, or as it was also known – Banyailand. This area was described as full of wild animals, birds of pray and also as the hunting fields of the adventurous. But due to the presence of malaria and tsetse flies it was seen as untameable. The Vakaranga who also lived here was oppressed by the Matabele’s under Mzilikazi.
It was already by 1866 that the Rev Stephanus Hofmeyr of Zoutpansberg asked the Zending Commissie to be sent to Banyailand, but it was only in 1874 that missionaries were invited by the Banyai to open new stations. But this didn’t last very long, as Lobengula, the Matabele king put a stop to it. Several years went by and in 1890 the Rev S Helm reopened the negotiations and it was finally approved that stations can be opened in Banyailand.
|The poor Andrew Louw and his cousin AC Murray in Nyasaland was quite lonely on the stations. In the Archives we have these humoristic letters in which they ask each other for advice on how to get a wife.|
In 1891 the first station that was established was at Morgenster by the Rev AA Louw, the nephew of Andrew Murray and the help of local evangelists.
Two more stations at Harawi and Pamushana followed soon afterwards. In 1907 the Dutch Reformed Church also took over the Berlin Missionary Society’s stations at Gutu, Zimutu and Chibi. But disaster struck and six missionaries were lost due to deaths and ill health. But by 1910 circumstances improved and there was now 13 male and 11 female missionaries at work in Mashonaland. They were now also supported by more than 50 local workers. Congregation members was now at 300 and there were 150 learners in Sunday School and more or less 2000 children were attending the missionary schools. The rev JD Moller also gave some training in carpentry to the young men.
Building on these successes leads to the opening of more stations at Chinombe (1906) and later renamed to Alheit, Jena, Zichidza (1908) and Makumbe (1915).
Notice should also be taken of other work that was done in spreading the Word of God. The translation of the Bible, the School for the Blind in Copota (the only one in Southern Rhodesia), the various hospitals and clinics where missionary doctors and nurses worked such as the Morgenster Hospital is all examples of this work.
The Consultative Board of Federated Missions took a decision that a missionary station should be established at Salisbury for the purpose of looking after and ministering to the people of North Eastern Rhodesia who are working on the mines and farms of Southern Rhodesia. In 1912 notice were given that such a missionary will be placed in Salisbury.
The Rev TCB Vlok offered his services and arrived in the same year. His wife Bessie however died within the first six months. Vlok here after married Margaret Blake, the sister of Robert Blake, one of the teachers at the Mission Institute.
It was around 1880 that Dr Andrew Murray undertook a missionary trip to the then Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek – the later Transvaal. The focus was to visit all the interior mission stations. This brings him under the impression of the vastness of the missionary work that was needed. At a ministers’ fraternal of the Presbytery of Tulbagh at Worcester in July 1885 he urged the church not to wait any longer to go to Nyasaland as he was afraid that other missionary societies such as the Presbyterians and Roman Catholics will use the opportunity to settle there first. The question however was who will be willing to go? At this meeting it was decided to establish the Ministers’ Mission Union (Predikanten Zending Vereniging) in which ministers would take out shares or subscriptions at a fee of £10 per year. This was approved by Rev Murray and at the ministers’ conference (Predikanten Konferentie) at Cradock in September 1885 several people committed to join. At the Synod meeting of 1886 the Society was approved but it was also decided against the subscription fee.
On 26 November 1884 a Students’ Mission Union was formed at Stellenbosch and in March 1885 a similar Union, the “Opleidingschool Zendingsvereniging” was formed here at the Missionary Training Institute in Wellington.
During this time Rev AC Murray was coming to the conviction that God was calling him to work in an unevangelized area. In September 1886, after completing his theological studies he went to Edinburgh, Scotland for 18 months to study medicine. Now the Ministers’ Mission Union decided to send him to Nyasaland and he departed on 4 June 1888 by boat to Quelimane at the East coast of Africa. From here he went up the Kwakwa river by boat until he reached Mopea. From Vicenti he travelled on the Zambezi river by steam boat to Katunyas and from there the 28 miles over land to Blantyre. He wrote that this part of the travel was on foot, by horse and lastly by donkey. Once he reached the Lake, he travelled again by steam boat to Bandawa. In the meantime, he got sunstroke and had to stop his journey. While he was recovering, he learnt the Chinyanya language. When he recovered, he continued his journey. On Thursday, 28 November 1889 TCB Vlok and AC Murray pitch their tent at the edge of the Msungudzi stream under a large wild fig tree and so the first missionary station in Nyasaland was opened at Mvera. The meaning of this Chewa word is to obey.
Other stations soon followed and were opened firstly at Kongwe and Nkhoma, and Livlezi was taken over from the Livingstonia Mission. A new station Mlanda was opened in 1902 to replace Livlezi as a central station.
After many difficulties to get permission from Chief Pemba the Mphunzi station was established in 1912 by the Rev AG Murray, yet another cousin. After many delays and protracted negotiations with the authorities another station Malingunde was opened near Lilongwe in 1907. The next station to be opened was at Malembu. In 1910 a station was opened at Chintembwe. The last station to be opened during this time was Mchinji in 1914.
|Dr Pauline Murray were sent to Mlanda in 1928 as missionary doctor. On the first day she was asked to slaughter a pig, and the reason given was because they need the fat to make candles and also to use in the manufacturing of medicine.|
After World War I the last two stations were opened and a third taken over from the Livingstonia Mission. In 1920 the Rev S Strydom opened the station at Dzenza and on 2 August 1923 the Chitundu Mission was opened. On 8 October 1923 the station at Kasungu was handed over.
In 1895 the Synod of the Free State decided that they also need to do missionary work outside the borders of the Republic. This leads to the decision to send Rev JM Hofmeyr as the first Free State missionary in Nyasaland.
Already in 1897, the missionaries became aware of a desire on the part of the Ngoni chief Mpezeni, to receive missionaries. In 1889 the Revs PJ Smit and JM Hofmeyr set out from Mvera to found Magwero on 5 July. In the next ten years this was followed by opening stations at, Madzimoyo (1903), Chipata (1905), Nyanje (1905) and Nsadzu (1907) and later also Fort Jameson. The Rev CP Pauw served for 25 years at Madzimoyo and Fort Jameson. At Nsadzu an leper colony was established, at Magwero the School for the Blind under Ms Botes, the Morelig Kinderhuis and a Girl’s Children’s Home. At Madzimoyo there was also a Teacher’s Training College. A missionary was also placed at Lusaka to look after labourers at the copper mines and on farms.
From 1909 to 1922 the DRC worked in the Angonia Province of Mozambique, an area which lies between Malawi, Eastern Zambia and the Zambezi River. Lots of negotiations toom place with the Mozambique officials. In the meanwhile the church in the Transvaal also received a calling from Nyasaland to start missionary work there. The Rev AG Murray was called upon and he opened a station at Mphatso, just south of Lake Malawi.
In due course stations were also opened at Mwenzi (1912), Chiputu (1914), Benga (1914) and Matenje in 1915.
Northern Nigeria was part of an area known as the Soudan. This area covered the land south of the Sahara and was approximately 3000 miles long and 600 miles in width. It stretched from Senegal in the west, over Northern Nigeria until it reached the current day Sudan, covered 2 million square miles and had a population of 50-80 million people.
Until the beginning of the 20th century there was no missionary worked done in this area. The father of missionary work in Soudan can be attributed to Dr Karl Kumm. It was at a meeting of the North African Mission Society in October 1895 where he got the calling to go to Africa. In 1898 he went to Alexandria to study Arabic, but during a visit to England in 1902 the Soudan Pioneer Mission was established. At a meeting in Edinburg in 1904 the name was changed to Sudan United Mission (SUM). The first four pioneers travelled by boat to Nigeria on 23 July 1904. Dr Kumm was one of them. On 8 October 1904 the first station was established at Wase.
A pamphlet, Crisis in Hausaland – cross or crescent? Was brought under the attention of Dr Andrew Murray and it was decided to establish a branch of the SUM in South Africa. The latter invited Dr Kumm to visit South Africa in June 1907. Rev CT Wood of the Sending Instituut contributed to the excitement of this visit and even before Kumms’ arrival there was a conference organised for the students at the Theological Seminary at Stellenbosch and the students of the Sending Instituut. At this conference Dr Wood had a big map of Africa and explained to the students that the Soudan was the biggest area where the Word of God haven’t been heard yet.
|One day one of the local people arrived there with tropical infection in his leg. The wound was immediately paid attention to with some ointments from the medicinal box. The story spread quickly and soon the chief of the tribe arrived there too. He had a stomach wound with the intestines peeping out. This was more serious. But God is the great provider and soon the wound was healed. This opened new doors for them.|
The Rev JG Botha immediately volunteered to go. He first went to England to follow a medical course and on 10 October 1908 he was ready to leave for the Soudan. The South African branch of the SUM took responsibility for the Tiv. The first station to be established here was at Yola. By September 1908 the staff was expanded and consist now out Rev Botha, Mr Hosking, Zimmerman and Ms Cilliers and Milne. It was not easy – they contracted malaria, the Muslim inhabitants made sure that the Mbula tribe don’t want them there and the language was also problematic. The use of medicine however opened the doors for them.
In 1911 it was also decided to open a station at Salatu. The establishment of new stations followed over the next few years. Stations were soon established at Zaki Biam and Sevav. In 1923 permission was granted to build new stations at Mkar and Adikpo. The last station to be opened in the pioneer time was Kunav.
British East Africa/Kenia
Between 1902 and 1914 about 1300 people moved from the Transvaal to East Africa. They mainly settled on the Uasin-Gishu Plateau in British East Africa – the later Kenia and at Arusha near Mount Meru German East Africa – the later Tanzania. Soon congregations were established; Meru at Arusha and Vergenoeg near Eldoret. By 1932 there was a need identified to start missionary work in Kenia. It was only in 1945 that the Rev Eybers was appointed as the first missionary.
The work in Nigeria was handed over to the Christian Reformed Church of the USA over a period of time and completed in 1963. The work in Kenya was handed over to the Gereformeerde Zendingsbond of the Netherlands in 1961. In all the other countries the DRC continues to work in partnership with the Churches which grew out of its work. Thus there exists today a Dutch Reformed Family of Churches spread over the whole of Southern and Central Africa.
“As these churches and its work is firmly rooted in Christ it develops into vine bearing wonderful fruit.
We give thanks that the branches of your church stretch right around the world
Different nations and denominations
With varying languages, cultures, theologies, worship styles, organisational structures
Yet all find their roots in you and your cross, O Christ.
We give thanks for the other branches of your church in Africa
And pray that our work together may be a sign of out unity and your claims on this people of Africa
May we become your vineyard!”
(From the Chapel Service by Marius Nel)
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Pauw, C.M. 2016. Mission and Church in Malawi: the history of the Nkhoma Synod and the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian 1889 – 1962. Christian Literature Fund: Wellington.
This paper was read at the opening conference of the Andrew Murray Centre for Spirituality, Wellington, 26 February 2019.