I love my country. I love God’s Word and His people. I’m into history.
Having spent any amount of time studying Scripture you’d be struck by just how much value God puts on history. And I’m not just talking about the historical narratives which weave the story of the Old Testament together or Luke’s masterful recording of the historical development of the early church. No, I’m talking about how God emphasises again and again His involvement in history to His people in order to motivate them, rebuke them, inspire them, comfort them. God wants His people to keep close to mind His “Mighty hand and outstretched arm”.
History isn’t that dry, dusty yellow edged book that you were forced to read at school in order to pass an exam. History is a story – no it’s the story – the tale of the people that have contributed to who you are, why you’re here doing what you’re doing, thinking how you’re thinking, living like you’re living. The study of history allows us to understand our people and the societies that we’ve built, understand change and how to cope and adapt to it. It creates a sense of identity, both of self and of corporate.1
That’s history. Now to connect South Africa and the Church.
On his blog Called. Convicted. Converted. my friend Tyrell Haag, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church over a number of posts is giving some insight into the history of the church in South Africa. I’d encourage you to go and check the posts out. Let me give you a brief synopsis of the story so far:
Tyrell begins by telling the story of a 28 year old George Schmidt, who came to Cape Town by ship from Netherlands during the early months of 1737. “This was a historic event! The first Protestant missionary to ever reach the shores of South Africa had arrived.” It is a story that jars one’s teeth; a tale of racism and rejection. A type of religion existed in the colony which was devoid of life. Yet it is a story of victories won for the cross.
“The Two London Society Missionaries, Van der Kemp and his friend Edmond arrived to a very different Cape Town in 1799. A British flag now waved over the Dutch Port; British forces having arrived to secure Cape Town in the wake of the waning Dutch Empire during the Napoleonic wars.” Yet this story isn’t about two white missionaries but rather another man name Ntsikana. Dr Kevin Roy, a wonderful storyteller, says of him, “Ntsikana’s ministry remains an early example of how the gospel can be efficiently communicated within the language, idioms, thought forms, cultural traditions and social practices of a particular people.”
Tyrell next presents a squashed group of 4000 hopeful English settlers who arrived from Britain in South Africa in the year 1820. “A land of hope lay ahead of these families, who had been selected out of a group of some 90 000 – all of whom fleeing the rising unemployment facing Britain after the Napoleonic wars. On one of the ships was a young Methodist minister who longed not to escape England, but to preach the gospel. Little did he know how powerful an impact he would have in history.” Consider How God used this man, “Starting from scratch, after forty years’ labour, in 1860, there were 36 Methodist missionaries, 96 school teachers and catechists, about 5 000 church members, 80 Sunday schools and 48 day schools, 74 chapels and 183 preaching stations.”
So make no mistake, Christian history is interesting. Fascinating. Exciting. Such is the story of Tiyo Soga. This man, dubbed the Black Scotsman, was the first ordained black minister in Southern Africa. He led a colorful life and his legacy lasted long after his death.
Tyrell will continue to blog through the history of our country, telling the stories of God’s People, reaching out to an ever-changing world, with the unchanging truth of Scripture.