Transformed by the renewing of our mind
By Michael Sokupa
Southern Africa has had its share of both colonial and missionary experience. A glance at the changing geopolitical division of the continent over the centuries reveals that dynamic process.
The commemoration of 150 years of Seventh-day Adventism as an organized movement gives an opportunity to reflect on how mission work started in southern Africa.
The First Missionaries
In July 1887 two missionary families arrived in South Africa: C. L. Boyd and D. A. Robinson. On June 18, 1887 Ellen White met these families in Moss, Norway, as they were on their way to South Africa. She wrote them the following counsel: “I have desired to talk with you, but dared not, because I have not felt that I had strength to do justice to any subject in private conversation.”1 In her testimony “Counsels to Missionaries en Route to Africa” she advised the workers “not to stand apart from one another, but work together in everything that interests the cause of God.”2
Ellen White warned the missionaries about being influenced by the individuals they would meet, and urged that they not be swayed to discriminate based on race or socioeconomic status. “There will be men who have means who will discern something of the character of the work,” she wrote, “although they have not the courage to lift the cross, and to bear the reproach that attends unpopular truth. First reach the high classes if possible, but there should be no neglect of the lower classes.”3
She also guided them about methods they should use as missionaries. Topping her list was printed materials. “Let the publications, the papers, the pamphlets, be working among the people, and preparing the minds of the reading class for the preaching of the truth.”4 The role of literature was realized when an Adventist miner, William Hunt, shared some literature with Pieter Wessels and George Van Druten.
The first Seventh-day Adventist congregation was organized by C. L. Boyd in Beaconsfield, Kimberley, South Africa. Ironically, before Ellen White issued her warning about being influenced by class, wealth, or race, people of means and class were attracted to the Sabbath truth through their own reading of Scripture.
Wessels and Van Druten discovered the Sabbath because of their own Bible study. When diamonds were discovered on land farmed by Wessels, Pieter Wessels’ father contributed into the development of the Adventist work with his means. With A. T. Robinson, Pieter Wessels visited Cecil Rhodes, prime minister of Cape Colony, to ask for land that would eventually become Solusi Mission.
The Work Begins to Spread
In 1894, missionary families settled in a turbulent political environment of southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
G. B. Tripp, H. M. Sparrow, and W. H. Anderson and their wives worked toward building a mission. Racial violence forced them to flee to Bulawayo. The three families lived out of an ox wagon for five months.
In 1902, land was purchased from Seventh-day Baptists in Nyasaland (now Malawi), and the mission station known as Plainsfield was later renamed Malamulo.
In 1905, W. H. Anderson crossed the Zambesi River to establish the Rusangu Mission in Zambia. Zambia is the fastest growing region within the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, and has recently received authorization to divide into two union conferences.
In 1919, Anderson opened the work in Bachuanaland (now Botswana) in cooperation with medical missionary A. H. Kretschmar, who started a hospital at Kanye.
In 1922, Anderson traveled to South-West Africa, now known as Namibia, to explore mission sites in that territory. He was refused access into Ovamboland, and had to travel back to Windhoek to receive permission to pass into Angola. The following year, with the help of T. M. French and J. D. Baker, Anderson chose a site for the Bongo mission.
Anderson contributed significantly in the early development of the work in southern Africa by documenting his methods.
When Anderson observed local evangelists engaged in meetings lasting only two weeks, he insisted on a longer series. He reports that in Lower Gwelo, Zimbabwe, for example, when they finished the first two weeks, they had only two people who had made decisions for baptism. On the third week, 15 more decided, and on the fourth week, 38 more individuals dedicated their lives to Christ.
During that series he reported that 84 people joined what they called a “hearers’ ” or “probationers’ ” class. In this class the new converts were given instruction for as long as two years. After that, if faithful, they were taken into the church.6
Anderson advised, “When a man goes to the mission field, he must have love for the people, if he is to win them. If he doesn’t have love, he might as well not go. . . . Love is the basis of all missionary work.”7
In 1946 Anderson reported that he had followed a plan in which he assigned each of his evangelistic coworkers an area of homes to visit. Each worker was expected to visit each of the homes in their area every day. Even though people would often not come to the public meeting place, Anderson noted that Africans rarely refused to welcome anyone who came to their homes.8
Regarding the involvement of missionaries in political issues, Anderson stated that missionaries had to avoid such involvement. He emphasized that before passing judgment on the system, it was important to first show people the right way. He made Jesus his model in this regard. There were sociopolitical ills in the Roman government of His time, he asserted, but Jesus always focused on uplifting humanity first.9
A Firm Foundation
Even though Ellen White never set foot on the continent of Africa, her burden for the work is apparent by the counsels she wrote to the missionaries who served there. The extensive work of W. H. Anderson presented a showcase for the work of missionaries in those early years. Anderson took time to record statistics, as well as methods that he used.
The Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has reached a membership 3 million. From its humble beginnings and methods, God has cared for His work in this part of the world church.
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Southern Africa (Cape Town, South Africa: South African Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1977), p. 7.
2Ibid., p. 8.
3Ibid., p. 10.
4 Ibid., pp. 13, 14.
5 Ibid., p. 14
6 W. H. Anderson, “Frontier Evangelistic Methods,” Ministry, April 1940.
7W. H. Anderson, “Missionary Problems Considered,” Ministry, October 1933.
8W. H. Anderson, “Work Among African Natives,” Ministry, July 1946.
9W. H. Anderson, “Veteran Missionary Answers Questions,” Ministry, September 1935.
Michael Sokupa is academic dean of Helderberg College, in Cape Town, South Africa.