To find the way forward, one must first examine what has come before and gain a clear sense of how it has shaped what is now.
For that reason, SIM South Africa country director Siegfried Ngubane undertook a month-long research trip around South Africa last summer. An encourager and listener by nature, Siegfried approached many church and community leaders and members to hear their understandings of history and their views on things today. He visited sites in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Free State, and Northern Cape.
“The whole thing was divided into three questions: number one, I wanted to look at what God had done, the history; number two, I wanted to look at the current, the now — what is the result of that; and number three, what can we learn from that, in order to do missions better in the future?” he said.
“In all my traveling, different questions were around those three. ‘Have you met missionaries?’ ‘Do you know missionaries, what they’ve done, what kind of, where they come from,’ all those questions, which give me history, then we’d talk about the result. ‘Do we have churches?’ ‘Do we have people who are now in missions as a result of that?’ ‘What other things can we do better?’ ‘What did they mess up?’ ‘What are the wrong things they did?’ So those were the kind of questions; they were open-ended questions. I would start the conversation, allow people to give me their story.”
The tour covered churches, theological institutes and communities spread through most of South Africa.
Siegfried visited Port Elizabeth, Alice, and the region of Mpondoland in Eastern Cape; Port Shepstone and Ixopo in KwaZulu-Natal; White River, Nelspruit and Barberton in Mpumalanga; Polokwane in Limpopo; and Paul Roux, Senekal, and Bloemfontein in Free State. In Northern Cape, he set up base in Kathu for visiting Olifantshoek, Dingleton and Kuruman and for an excursion into Lykso and the Taung region of North West. Upington and Calvinia were his last stops in Northern Cape, and he visited Cederberg, Western Cape on his way back to Cape Town.
“There are many other areas where God has had His work started, but unfortunately one cannot cover all of them,” Siegfried said.
Before completing his report, he plans to visit several areas of the Western Cape early this year. He also hopes to visit several Bible colleges in Mpumalanga to explore how their missionary origins have shaped the work they do now, especially two that have thrived under local leadership.
“Because, you see, the problem is that we go as missionaries, we start God’s work, and if that work remains our work, when we pull out missionaries, then everything falls back. But these two colleges, they continued,” Siegfried said.
On parts of his trip, Siegfried was accompanied by family or friends. His son travelled with him the first week, and his wife Maureen joined him later. Friends from Germany also joined him on the road. “It was a great blessing; I thank the Lord for that opportunity,” he said, adding that his son was doing matric then. “I don’t know what exactly he’ll be doing now, but for me to spend that time with him was very, very important. It was time to just bond and just pour out and spend time praying together, talking together, but I also think that it was time for him to prepare him for his independence.”
Sometimes, Siegfried’s trip shifted from researching missions to practising missions himself.
“In Ixopo, I didn’t have much of history of missions, so I found myself more in mission activity, visiting churches in that area. I had the opportunity to do things like preaching, but I also had my friends from Germany, who came for a family visit, and we ended up forming a short-term team with them, right in a very rural village of KwaZulu-Natal,” Siegfried said, adding that they visited people in their homes, encouraged and prayed for them, preached in a local church, and officiated at a wedding.
“If I can kind of summarize all that I have learned, well, missionaries were children of their time, especially in our time in South Africa. It wasn’t an easy time, so other people would share a lot of pain, the way they were treated by missions or missionaries, and some of the missionaries themselves would share some painful memories of how they were treated by their colleagues but also by the people living there. It wasn’t easy, with a lot of mistakes, so that’s negative, but there were a lot of positives,” Siegfried said. “The gospel was preached, churches were built, but the focus of missionaries in the past was, number one, the gospel, number two, education, number three, health, so all these in one way or other came out in my interviews.”
Siegfried said missionaries proclaimed the gospel, planted churches, and started schools and hospitals that served the South African people, not just the colonisers and Christians.
“I want to add another positive: most of the good, quality leaders came from missionary schools or were educated by missionary endeavours, so those were the people who, because of their education, would stand against the injustice of the past and, who started here in South Africa, the movement to fight against oppression. Those were evangelical Christians, [at] the beginning of it, and praise God that that was because of His work through the missionaries. It’s not only the political area. In other spheres of life, the first black authors, educators, medical personnel, were from the missionary schools.”
Siegfried hopes the lessons of his trip — and the seeds he planted in relationships — will help SIM SA better participate in the changing face of missionary work. Although for many years, missions tended to be “from the West to the rest (of the world),” many missionary organizations have become more diverse in both their sending and serving locations and in the Christians participating in God’s Great Commission. With so much history though, many Christians in South Africa still think that missions is for Caucasian people to do and others to receive.
“There’s still a lot of that, unfortunately,” Siegfried said. “Look, I think that there’s a lot of ignorance about missions because of that, and as a result, I think — I’m giving the way forward, I’m talking about the future, which needs to happen now — that missions agencies like SIM have a responsibility to educate the church of God for missions. By ‘church of God,’ I’m referring to all the church, all sectors, black, white, and all churches. We need to be going out there, we need to be visible, we need to bring awareness, and that’s all part of education, because missions is from God Himself; He is a missionary God. So unless we mobilise the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world, we are failing in missions.”
By Brian Heffron, SIM SA missionary journalist
If you would like to explore your role in God’s work of crossing barriers with love to those living and dying without Christ, then please contact SIM SA’s candidate coordinator at 021 715 3200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.