Part II

Ireland and Portugal

Ever since I was a boy, I wanted to be a missionary in Africa, This desire had been awakened and stimulated by reading the life stories of Livingstone, Arnot, and Mary Slessor, and by hearing men home on furlough from the mission field. Frankly I was a hero worshipper. I thought that these were the greatest men of modern times, and longed to follow in their footsteps and see the places where they worked.

I had the inestimable privilege of having Christian parents. The 1859 revival has left permanent marks on the manner of life of the people of Northern Ireland. The people are mostly of Scotch Covenanting stock, God-fearing and Bible-conscious. After the Huguenot massacres in France, many of these persecuted people came to Ulster, bringing their skills with them. Northern Ireland has always been a stronghold of Reformation principles and a fruitful field for gospel preaching. Many of the early Brethren were Irishmen. J. N. Darby, William Kelly, Lord Congleton, James G. Bellett, Dr. Edward Cronin, George F. Trench, all had an Irish background. There are now about one hundred and fifty New Testament assemblies in the six counties of Ulster, with a very practical missionary interest in every part of the world. It was into this atmosphere that the writer was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1902.

Although born into a Christian home and nurtured in the facts and teachings of the Bible, I knew that I was not a Christian. I was not very old when I realized I was a sinner and needed a new life and a new power to overcome inbred wickedness. In short, I needed to be born anew. Conviction of sin was very real. Resolutions to overcome evil habits and tendencies only ended in failure. A providential escape from sudden death brought on a spiritual crisis. My problem was that I knew all the facts of the gospel and never doubted them. 1 knew that Christ had died on the cross for sinners such as I, but stumbled at the simplicity of personal faith in the Saviour’s work for my salvation.

It was the custom in Ireland for two evangelists to have series of gospel meetings, sometimes lasting for six or eight weeks, in tents or halls or farmers’ barns. One night in May 1918 I slipped into the back seat of a little wooden hall in Fulton Street, off Shaftesbury Square in Belfast, where meetings of this type were being held. The preachers were Robert Curran, a young man full of zeal, and an elderly gracious man, Sam Wright. Mr. Curran in the course of his address made a statement that arrested me.

“When Christ died upon the cross,” he said, “God His Father was satisfied with the atoning work of His Son, and to prove that, He raised Him from the dead.”

I said to myself: “Well if God is satisfied, why should I not be satisfied too?” Then it occurred to me, how do I know that Christ died for me? Almost immediately the words of Isaiah 53:5 came to mind: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace tons upon Him; and until His stripes toe are healed.” I bowed my head and said, “Lord, if He was wounded and bruised and chastised for me, I accept Him as my Saviour and Lord.”

Joy and peace and the assurance of salvation flooded my soul. I knew I was born again and that the Holy Spirit had come in to dwell. I knew that my salvation did not depend on my feelings, but on what the Saviour had done for me, and I had the assurance of the Word of God that if I trusted in Him, I would have everlasting life. This was the great turning point in my life.

I openly confessed my faith in Christ and a month later was baptized and received into church fellowship in the Donegal!

Road Assembly in Belfast

My training for the mission field was almost entirely of a practical kind. I was an apprentice for five years in Harland and Wolf’s shipyard, then the largest in the world. The training I received in the use of tools in this place proved invaluable in later years.

Every day a group of men gathered together at the dinner hour in the shipyard for a Bible study session. Some of these were able Bible teachers, eager to help young Christians. Many of the young men who sat on rough planks in that circle are prominent workers on the mission field today in many parts of the world. We studied the great basic doctrines of the New Testament and private study was encouraged by free discussion with men who represented practically every denominational viewpoint.

In the summer time we spent our Saturday afternoons with the “Village Workers.” This was a group of young men, led by older experienced businessmen, who systematically covered the whole of Counties Antrim and Down preaching the gospel. We traveled on bicycles, visited every home with literature and an invitation to an open air meeting in the village square. In the evening we had supper together at a restaurant, and then the meeting at some central point. It was here we attempted public speaking for the first time. In those days we knew little about elocution, homiletics, or hermeneutics, but from a full heart told out the message of God’s love to men; and blessing resulted. In most of the places visited regularly year by year, a New Testament church functions today, and the work still goes on.

In those days the reading of two books made a permanent impression on my mind. The first was the biography of Hudson Taylor, who was the founder and pioneer of the China Inland Mission. The second was the autobiography of George Muller of Bristol. Here was a man who, for fifty years, was responsible for the maintenance of an orphanage with 2,000 children. He was a man of prayer who never mentioned his needs to anyone but God. Again and again he did not know where the next meal for the children would come from, but God miraculously supplied every need. His life and testimony were a rebuke to religious begging. He was pre-eminently a man of simple faith in a God who answers prayer. Here was guidance for my life. I wanted, if only in a small way, to put these principles into practice.

Fred Lane of Angola came to Belfast in 1921 for a series of missionary conferences. He gave a most graphic description of a pioneer journey lie had undertaken to the Bangala tribe in the north of Angola. He told of an area where there were a number of tribes entirely unevangelized and at the same time friendly and wide open to the Christian missionary.

Mr. Lane made no emotional appeal for volunteers, but his quiet reserved manner and straightforward story of a need mode a deep impression on my mind, which in time developed into a heavy burden of conviction, that perhaps this was the Lord’s plan for my life, and the niche where I might serve. After three years of deep exercise and correspondence with Mr. Lane, my desire to serve the Lord in Africa was finally realized.

In the meantime I had been working hard at language and other studies with a tutor at night. A knowledge of the vocabulary and grammar of the Portuguese language was a help when I later went to Portugal and was a foundation for the study of other languages in Africa.

In 1923 I felt that the time had come to take some definite step in preparation for the mission field. I told my desire to go to Angola to the elders of the assembly in Donegall Road, Belfast, where I was in church fellowship. Although I was only twenty-one years old, they graciously gave me their full co-operation and a letter commending me to the Lord for His work.

At a farewell meeting, when George Gould, a saintly servant of the Lord, was bidding me good-bye, he said: “I have decided to go with you, all the way.” When I asked him what he meant, he replied, “I will pray for you every day that you are in Africa.” Twenty-three years later, when he was a very old man, I met him again in Chicago. He told me that he had faithfully kept his promise, and all through the years had prayed for me three times a day! Knowing the man and his fragrant life, and his intimacy with the Lord, I was just able to stammer in reply, “Mr. Gould, that explains a tremendous lot.”

I left Ireland in October 1923, with a third-class ticket to take me as far as Lisbon in Portugal, but with no passage money be- yond that, no supplies, and without a promise of support from anyone. I felt that I wanted simply to trust God from day to day and try honestly to put into practice the principles I had learned from the Bible. As responsibility and correspondence has increased, I have been sorely tempted to resort to the expedient of writing a bimonthly form letter and circulating it among my friends. I have no criticism of many of my esteemed brethren who do this, but I have always had a conscience about it, and have deliberately avoided propaganda and publicity of every kind. I wanted to satisfy myself whether the principle of simple faith in God would work today or not. After over forty years of testing and varied experience, I can gladly testify that it does.

The journey to Portugal occupied four and a half days, calling in at ports in France and Spain. I traveled on a ship which I had helped to build. I was proud to think that I had personally built one of the lifeboats on the boat deck. My cabin mates, in a third-class room under the forecastle, were mostly Spanish speaking, immigrants bound for South America. I had my first taste of olive oil and boiled codfish, and incidentally of seasickness.

In Lisbon no one met me at the boat. I was a stranger in a strange land. I had studied the Portuguese language with a Brazilian teacher before leaving home, but like many another sojourner, I found that the Portuguese of the textbooks is very different from that spoken by the man in the street. I had the address of a missionary who had lived in Lisbon for many years. I crossed the street to a policeman directing traffic, and in my best Portuguese asked him for directions. He did not understand a word of what I said, and in return poured out a torrent of fluent Portuguese which left me breathless.

I wandered up and down the streets, inquiring as I went. I must have given a good deal of amusement to the people I accosted. Lisbon, like Rome, is built on seven hills and that afternoon I must have negotiated every one of them. The heat was intense and I was amused to see the mules and donkeys wearing hats with their ears sticking through holes cut in the brims, to protect them from the intense rays of the sun. At last, thoroughly exhausted, I met a Portuguese who directed me to an English lady. She kindly escorted me to my address and handed me over.

The missionary did not seem overjoyed at my arrival, but was good enough to give me hospitality for the night and next morning took me to a hotel near the docks and helped me to arrange for room and board. It was called “York House” and formerly had been a monastery. My room once had been a monk’s cell and had a stone floor.

Next day the missionary came back and offered to help me get my luggage through customs. When I told him that I did not have any luggage liable to customs, he asked me where I was going, how much money I had, and how long I intended to stay in Lisbon. When I answered his questions, he seemed astonished.

“I am an old man and you are a very young man,” he said. “I would advise you to take the first boat back to England!” When I got over my shock, f told him that I respected his advice, but that responsible people had commended me to missionary work and that I planned to stay for some time in Portugal and study the language in preparation for going to Africa.

“I think you would be doing more good in Northern Ireland than staving here to study Portuguese,” he replied with a shrug of the shoulders. I began to realize that my ideas of trusting God and living by faith were not popular!

In the meantime I settled down to work hard at the language, spending on an average about twelve hours a day in study. I had been informed that in order to get a visa to work in Angola, it would be necessary to pass an examination in Portuguese grade school subjects. Government authorities in Lisbon insisted on this. As well as the Portuguese language, it was necessary to study Portuguese history, geography, their methods of doing arithmetic, elementary science, etc. I hired a competent Portuguese teacher and set to work.

It was winter time and with no heat in my room, with its stone floor, it was dreadfully cold. I took off my shoes, wrapped a sweater round my feet, and tried to forget it. After being in Lisbon for six months I passed the examination and received the certificate. After some years this certificate was exchanged by the Portuguese educational authorities for a diploma authorizing me to teach Portuguese in an elementary school in Africa. But during my many years in Africa, teaching school among other things, no official has ever asked to see it.

It is one thing to have a theoretical knowledge of the vocabulary and grammar of a language, but it is something quite different to be able to use it. I thought it would be helpful in getting fluency in the language, to attempt some gospel meetings. Accordingly I bought some hymnbooks and crossed the River Tagus to a town called Barreiro, where no gospel work of any kind was being carried on. I hired a room at the local hotel and then set out to find a place where I could invite the people for meetings.

This was before the Salazar regime came into power and the place was a hotbed of communists, so I encountered a good deal of ridicule and opposition. One day a cooper making wine casks told me to go and do an honest clay’s work, in-stead of distributing literature. I took off my coat and picked up his tools. He seemed surprised that I could fit the staves of a barrel together as well as he could, and not only took my books but invited me to stay for a meal.

At last a place was found which would hold about a hundred people. I paid the rent for a month, arranged seating accommodation, and started inviting the people. At first only the children came, but gradually the adults were attracted and a real interest was developing.

One night a gang of communists came in and sat on the back seats wearing their caps. I asked them to remove them while I prayed, but they refused and their general attitude showed that they were out to make trouble. However I went on with the meeting. At the close they came up in a body, started to threaten me, and then one raised his hand to strike me. At that, a man in overalls jumped up, drew a pistol, and dared anyone to lay hands on me. I quickly reached up and turned out the lights, hustled them all into the street, and locked the door. When they dispersed I slipped round to the hotel where I was staying.

Next day the Portuguese administrator sent for me. He pulled open a drawer in his desk and showed me the fragments of a bomb which these same toughs had thrown at somebody the week before. He told me that to insure my safety he would have to prohibit me from having any more meetings. I assured him that I was willing to take the risk, but he refused to reverse his decision. I then asked him if he had any objection to my going to his superiors in Lisbon and asking permission to carry on the meetings. He said that he did not mind, but as far as he was concerned, that was the end of the matter.

Next day I went over to Lisbon, enlisted the help of some Portuguese friends, and had an interview with the governor, He gave us permission in writing to continue the meetings. A nice work developed and, after I left for Africa, it was carried on by Portuguese friends.

Each Saturday I came over to Lisbon from Barreiro for the services at Santa Catarina on Sunday and usually had my meals at Mr. Swan’s house in Rita Sao Bento. Mr. Swan was one of the early pioneers in Africa and his home in Lisbon was a rendezvous for recruits who were studying the Portuguese language with Africa in mind. His living room was full of African curios; buffalo, sable antelope, and other horns were on the walls, and at the door was the huge skull of a hippo, with open jaws and shining teeth, which Swan had shot.

Here for the first time I met Elizabeth D. Smyth from Hartford, Connecticut. She, too, planned to work in Angola. She had been interested in missionary work through the influence of Mary Ridley, a lady who had spent many years in China. But instead of China, Elizabeth decided to give her life to Africa. We became good friends in the short time we were together in Portugal. In those days f had the idea that a pioneer missionary should remain unmarried and should not allow himself to be hampered by the responsibilities of a wife and home. Later on I changed my mind!

Friends in Ireland sent gifts of money from time to time. Some of these were from humble people who gave at considerable sacrifice to themselves. One gift at this time was from a Portuguese Christian friend in Lisbon and was particularly heart-warming. He had been recently married and was starting a hardware business. He gave me 500 escudos with a little note to the effect that he wanted to start his married life by giving to the Lord for His work. At that time a clerk in business earned about 500 escudos a month, so that actually he was giving me a month’s pay!

After ten months in Portugal, I felt that the time had come to leave for Africa. All my needs had been supplied and I did not owe anyone anything. One day in counting my money, I found that I had sufficient to buy a third-class ticket on a Portuguese ship bound for Angola. The cost was about $45.00 at the present-rate of exchange. After buying the ticket I had a little left over to buy some necessary articles of outfit. I had a sailmaker make me a small canvas tent. Then I bought a collapsible cot bed. The last item was a case of one hundred tins of sardines. I had heard that the Africans’ staple diet was corn meal mush, and I thought that the sardines would at least make it palatable!

The day before I left Portugal an incident happened that was a great encouragement. Some friends in Ireland sent me a post office money order for £24. On sailing day I took this to the post office and the clerk cashed it in Portuguese currency. At that time the currency was very unstable and the exchange had soared to 150 escudos to the pound. In normal times it had been five to the pound. They had only notes of small denomination in the post office and I received a large parcel of money for my £24. When I arrived at the ship, I was allotted to a large cabin under the forecastle in which ten men were to sleep. Two of these were degredados (criminals) going out to Africa to complete a sentence for crimes committed in Portugal. They were being escorted by two soldiers. The other five in the cabin were Portuguese peasants. When I saw my traveling companions, I began to feel anxious about my parcel of money, which in the cramped quarters was practically impossible to conceal.

In three days we reached Madeira. I went ashore with my money and explained my problem to the manager of the bank. He changed my money back into English currency, charging me a small discount. On the fifteenth day out from Lisbon we reached Luanda, the capital of Angola. I went ashore again and met an Irish Methodist missionary, Robert Shields. He was very kind and hospitable, gave me some valuable advice, and then asked if he could help me to exchange my money. He introduced me to a German trader who changed my £24 into Portuguese currency at the rate of 220 escudos to the pound. He too had notes of small denomination, and by the time he finished counting my little pile had increased about 40 percent.

Nothing was further from my mind than gambling on the money market, but it so happened that on the day I landed, the exchange had soared to its peak and then started to go down. Shortly afterwards the currency was stabilized at 100 escudos to the pound and later at 80, where it remains today. In any case, God saw my need and I had sufficient to pay my wav through customs at Lobito and for subsequent expenses on the journey upcountry.

Some of my friends had strongly advised me against traveling third class on a Portuguese ship. But I had no alternative. Actually conditions were not as bad as I had imagined. The bunk was clean and the food abundant, but it was the kind suited to a Portuguese laboring man, plenty of rice and beans mixed with cubes of fat pork and tripe. Instead of water or tea, we were served sour wine at each meal. I refused the wine but always had plenty to eat. The Portuguese always were delighted when there was “bacalhao com batatas” on the menu. This was boiled codfish and potatoes soaked with olive oil and vinegar. They always came back for second helpings.

On the eighteenth day out from Lisbon we sighted Lobito, our destination on the West African Coast.

First Impressions of Angola

When I landed at Lobito in 1924 it was still undeveloped. There was only one primitive “hotel,” infested with bugs and cockroaches and no modern plumbing. I slept on a table the two nights I was there; it would have been more comfortable sleeping on the warm sand outside. In spite of the primitive conditions and the terrific heat, the Portuguese proprietor of the hotel, a stickler for convention, insisted that we wear ties and jackets at the table!

Nearby, at Benguela, was the spot where the early missionaries had landed and where some of them had died before their work commenced. It was also the terminus of the old slave path from the interior. On the other side of the bay I could see the narrow path on which they had walked, winding down the mountainside. The mud-brick compounds in which they had been confined were still in existence. Benguela has not much changed; old rusty cannon sticking out of the sand beside the ancient fort were reminders of its long sad history, and swarthy pockmarked Portuguese old-timers, dozing in the sun on the sidewalk outside the cafes, proclaimed the fact that modern development had passed them by.

But here at last I had my feet on African soil, the ambitions of many years realized. As I thought of the unknown future in the interior of Africa I prayed, “O Lord, give me three years and I will be satisfied!”

The train for the interior ran only once a week. Construction of the line ended at Silva Porto, about 350 miles from Lobito. As there was no sleeping berth available, I slept on a pile of luggage in the corridor. After leaving the coast, the train climbs steeply to the top of a mountain range which fringes the coastline. It rises 5,000 feet above sea level in about 100 miles. At one point there is a third rail in the middle of the track, with a ratchet-like device under the chassis of the locomotive, which prevents it running back in the event of a failure of power! As there is no coal in the country, the locomotives burn firewood. Plantations of eucalyptus trees have been planted along the line to insure a future supply of fuel. After reaching the high altitude of the plateau, the weather turned suddenly cold, especially at night. I noticed that some of the Africans at the stations along the line were wearing potato sacks with holes cut out for their heads and arms. All were barefooted and any who wore a battered hat took it off respectfully when a white man passed.

The journey to Silva Porto occupied two nights and a day. This is a historic spot named for the famous Portuguese explorer and trader who befriended F. S. Arnot and who brought him to Angola in 1885 from the Zambesi. His old homestead, a short distance from the modern town, is now preserved as a museum.

I was met at Silva Porto by William Mainland, the veteran pioneer to the Chokwe tribe. He was a quiet, reserved, slow-spoken Irishman with snow-white hair. As he extended his hand, he simply said: “Welcome to Africa,” and then introduced me to some of the Chokwe-speaking Africans whom he had brought with him from the interior. I was surprised to hear them speak quite good Portuguese.

Maitland traveled in a Reo Speed Wagon of which he was very proud. It was one of the first automobiles in the country and was a pioneer, too, in every sense of the word. The wheels had wooden spokes, and on more than one occasion when, traversing rough country, a wheel went to pieces, Maitland sat by the wayside and laboriously whittled and fitted new spokes, with a native ax and a penknife as his only tools. He carried some pieces of seasoned wood in his toolbox under the seat for this purpose.

We shall meet the Reo Speed Wagon again later on. On this occasion it brought me to my destination at Chilonda, a mission station among the Umbundu-speaking people in Bie, over a rutted dirt road full of potholes, about 25 miles from Silva Porto. On the way we crashed into a deep hole filled with water and broke one of the rear springs. Temporary repairs were made by the roadside in the dark. We limped into Chilonda with the spring tied up with oxhide thongs. On the way we passed Kuanjululu, the site of the first mission station in this area. Here Arnot had located in 1889, but for various reasons the station had been later moved to Chilonda, about 10 miles away.

In the early days, avenues of eucalyptus trees had been planted at Chilonda. These were regarded as a disinfectant of the air against the deadly Anopheles mosquito which carries malaria. The trees had grown to a tremendous height and girth, some of them eight feet in diameter at the base.

The houses were all built of adobe sun-dried brick, thatched with grass, and with clay floors. The floors were covered with bamboo mats woven with strips of black bark. The only lighting was kerosene lamps suspended by a wire from a roof beam. None of the houses or rooms were ceiled. The walls were plastered with mud and whitewashed with a white clay. Furniture was all handmade.

I spent my first week in a little one-roomed house which had been built by Mr. Arnot and where he had stayed when he was at Chilonda. I was introduced to a mosquito net for the first time. This was tied by a rope from one of the roof beams and hung like a tent over the bed. At sundown, the ends were tucked under the mattress. As well as this, I was advised to take five grains of quinine every day as a prophylactic against malaria.

The mattress was not a “Beautyrest” model imported from America, but consisted of a calico bag filled with cornhusks. This was laid on a bamboo mat stretched across wooden slats on the framework of the bed. The pillow was stuffed with soft white thistledown from a bullrush-like plant which grew in the swamps. Everything was spotlessly clean and felt good after what I had grown accustomed to in Portugal and on the journey out.

In 1924 when I arrived at Chilonda, Edward Sanders was the senior missionary there. He was an Englishman from Liverpool, who before coming to Africa had been a chemist. He had come out to help Arnot in 1897. After a short spell at Cavimgu, near the Angolan border of Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, he came back to Chilonda, where he spent fifty years of faithful service. He, too, like Maitland, was a soft-spoken, retiring type of man. He had a florid complexion and a large white handle-barred mustache which made him look like a retired Indian army general He had a highly developed sense of humor and loved to tell jokes which some thought were saved up in a scrapbook. He was an expert gardener with a large citrus orchard, where he experimented with grafting and budding trees. Most missions and many of the traders and government officials in the country benefited from his experience, as he distributed thousands of lemon, orange, grapefruit, and tangerine trees all over the country. This was a highly valuable service in a tropical country where fresh fruit was unobtainable.

Chilonda was a stopping place for the slave caravans from the interior to the coast. Many thousands of these poor unfortunates had passed through the place during the first decade of this century on their way to Benguela. Sanders had a compound as a home for little girls whom he had redeemed from this vile traffic; it was still in existence when I arrived there. Many of the people living at Chilonda were formerly slaves whom the missionaries had rescued.

The language spoken at Chilonda is Umbundu. It is a soft, musical Bantu language of the Ovimbundu people, who number about a million and a half. They live in the district of Bie and are sometimes called Biheans.

African Elders and Preachers

The African has the greatest respect for old age. On coming into the presence of a chief, he gets down on his knees and performs an elaborate ceremony, bowing down till his head touches the dust, then a ritual of hand clapping and the use of respectful terms of address. An elder is called an osekulu. The word is used not only for the ruling elders of a village in their tribal life, but it is also the term used for an elder in the church. The whole idea of respect for authority and mature experience is inbred in the African.

When I first arrived at Chilonda, there were three out-standing African elders in the church, Vongula, Sanji, and Sawimbu. The first time I attended a service in the Umbundu language, Vongula was the speaker.

The church building , like the missionaries’ homes, was made of sun-dried bricks, plastered with mud and whitewashed. It was thatched with grass and had no ceiling. Two kerosene lamps hung by a wire from a roof beam. It had a clay floor with rough plank seats without backs, raised about a foot from the floor. All the men sat on one side and the women on the other. The elders sat on special seats flanking the speaker on the platform. The singing was beautiful. Little children in the front seats harmonized in a delightful way and I could hear rich bass voices of young men at the back. It was easy to see that this was a musical people.

When Vongula rose to speak, I noticed that he was dressed in an old pair of blue pajamas with gold braid. Where buttons were missing, and to hide the fact that he did not have an undershirt, it was pinned at the neck with a safety pin. As he passed me going to the desk, I saw that he was in his bare feet and that there were large thick calluses on his heels, black and cracked. I had never seen a preacher like this before! But as soon as he started to speak and got warmed up to his subject, I forgot about his appearance. Here was an accomplished orator, but more than a mere orator, a man of God. After the service, I asked Sanders about the calluses on Vongula’s feet.

“Don’t laugh at him,” he replied, “those are honorable calluses; that man has literally walked thousands of miles backwards and forwards across Central Africa preaching the gospel.” I have often thought that Vongula was a perfect illustration of the passage in Isaiah 52:7, and quoted by Paul in Romans 10:15: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace”— the beautiful feet of the Saviour and of the pioneer preacher.

Many years later I met Vongula returning from one of his long journeys into the interior. A little boy carried his bundle of simple belongings, a grass sleeping mat, a tin plate and spoon, and a change of shirt. They had been sleeping on the ground at night beside a fire and eating whatever was set before them by hospitable and friendly Africans. He was carrying a long staff covered from top to bottom with notches cut with a knife. I asked him about the notches.

“In the olden days,” he explained, “when I went hunting and shot an animal, I cut a notch on my bow or my gun, and also attached a piece of its hide. Now I am hunting for souls and when one of my people confesses Christ as Saviour, I make a mark on my staff.” His staff was covered with them! I le never owned a pair of shoes, his large spread-out toes wouldn’t have fitted into them anyway, but he was a real evangelist and an honored servant of God. He was the prototype of many African pioneers who in the early days per-formed incredible feats of walking and at the same time gossiped the gospel among their own people.

Sanji, another Chilonda elder, I learned, was one of the first converts in Central Africa. In later years he was tall, lean, white-haired, dignified, independent, with a razor-keen wit. As a lad he went into Lubaland with a caravan of Ovimbundu rubber and slave traders. When he got to Nana Candundu in the Lu-vale country he came down with smallpox. His companions abandoned him, thinking he would die. The missionaries had just arrived in the vicinity and Jeanie Gilchrist from Scotland, hearing of the stricken lad, had a grass hut built, carried him into it, and at some risk to herself, tenderly cared for him until he recovered. On first coming to Angola in 1889, Miss Gilchrist had spent two years in Bie and so knew Sanji’s language. Day after day she told him the gospel; he drank it in and was truly converted. He never forgot the gallantry and kindness of the white woman who risked her life to save him, when he had been abandoned by his own people. On returning to Bie, he determined to preach the gospel in the village where he was born. But a callow youth is seldom allowed to express his opinion in the presence of his elders. Night after night in the onjango (palaver house) he attempted to introduce the subject, but was always rebuffed by the akulu (elders). Finally one night he saw his opportunity and told them this story:

“One time in our country there was a severe drought. It hadn’t rained for many moons, rivers and lakes had dried up, and many were dying of thirst. The animals of the forest gathered to consider what they would do. The first to speak was the lion. He as king demanded obedience from the rest.

“‘I know where there is water,’ he said. ‘If you follow me, I will lead you to the perpetual spring where I drank when I was a cub.’

“When he had finished speaking, the tortoise crawled into the circle and lifting his head, said, ‘I know where there is water!’ The lion was so angered at his insolence that he cuffed him with his great paw, but he rolled with the punch and so was not hurt. That day they still followed the lion, but after a long weary journey, when they got to the so-called perpetual spring, lo, it was dry.

“Next day they gathered again, and this time it was the elephant’s turn to speak. ‘Listen to me,’ he bellowed, ‘when I was young, and there was a drought, the leader of the herd, a wise old elephant, always took us to a waterhole where the water never dried up. If you follow me, I will take you to that waterhole.’

“When he finished speaking, the tortoise waddled in again and piped up, I know where there is water!’ The elephant was so mad that he stepped on him with his great foot but the sand was deep and he sank into it and wasn’t squashed. That day they followed the elephant, but when they came to the water-hole it was bone dry, with gaping cracks on the surface. Weary and tired they had to retrace their steps.

“Next day it was the leopard’s turn; and then the buffalo’s. Even the hyena had his say. Each day the tortoise came with his little speech, ‘I know where there is water.’

“Finally disillusioned and discouraged and when they had come to the end of their resources, brother rabbit spoke up.

“‘Dear friends,’ he declared, ‘we have listened very respectfully to our leaders and have loyally followed their advice, but we have been disappointed and are weary and tired and very thirsty. I would suggest that for once we should give brother tortoise a chance and see whether he knows what he is talking about or not.’

“It was all very humiliating, but they were all so thirsty, that they decided to follow tortoise for once, anyway. With tortoise out front, behind came lion and elephant and leopard and buffalo. After a long journey he led them to a lovely bubbling spring that came out of the rock. They all drank and were refreshed and satisfied, and from that time tortoise had the gratitude and thanks of all.”

Sanji ended his story with the obvious application. He said, “We have been following you elders for a long time along the dark paths of witchcraft and fear and death and we are thirsty still. But,” he ended dramatically, “I know where there is living water!”

He was remarkably successful as an evangelist. In a gospel service, I heard him describing sin. He used one illustration after another to liven up his various points. His final word was on the universality of sin. He ended with a flourish.

“Why,” he said, “it’s just like lice, we all have it!” No one in the audience even smiled. They must have thought it was very apt!

On one occasion, a lady in England, hearing of the fine work Sanji was doing, offered to pay him a salary, so that he could give all his time to the work. Sanji asked Mr. Swan, through whom the offer had come, how he was supported. Mr. Swan told him that he had no salary, but looked to the Lord to supply his daily needs. Sanji asked for a day or two to think about the offer. He was a good hunter. He asked the Lord if He wished him to carry on the work the way he had always done, in dependence on Himself, that He would give some definite sign. The next morning he went out with his gun. He had hardly left the village when a duiker jumped out of the grass. He dropped it with his first shot. He took this as a token from the Lord that He would continue to care for him. He then went back to Mr. Swan and told him to write to the lady thanking her for her offer, but that he wished to continue on, looking to the Lord for his support.

Sawimbu was a real pastor in the New Testament sense of the term. I knew him only in later life, when he was an old man. He was reserved and quiet-spoken with an ample re-serve of practical wisdom. Mr. Sanders told me that Sawimbu was mainly responsible for the decision of what attitude to take to polygamy among African people. This was one of the great difficulties in the early days of missionary work. From time immemorial it was the custom for Africans to have more wives than one. Some of the great chiefs had hundreds. A single woman was practically unknown, unless she was an imbecile or a hopeless cripple.

It presented a problem to the missionaries when a man with a number of wives became a Christian and presented himself for church membership. Even the missionaries were divided in their judgment as to how the matter was to be decided. At a conference the matter was being discussed. Some argued that it would be unreasonable to expect a higher standard from primitive Africans, than, for instance, from Abraham, Jacob, or David, who were polygamists. Others inferred from the statement in 1 Timothy 3:2, “the husband of one wife,” that an ordinary church member might be a polygamist, but an elder must be the husband of one wife.

After much discussion, Sawimbu quietly arose and said, “Brothers, I think you have all forgotten what the Lord Jesus said about this matter. He said in Matthew 19: ‘From the beginning it was not so. At the beginning, He made them male and female, and for this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and the two shall be one flesh.’ Brothers, if one is thirsty and desires a drink of clear pure water, he does not go away downstream where the water has been befouled by men and by the feet of animals, but rather to the head of the stream, where it comes bubbling out of the source. I would suggest that in deciding this matter we should not go to Abraham or Jacob or David, but right back to the fountainhead.” That settled the argument. Since then in Bie, and, for that matter, in most places in Central Africa, church membership is limited to those with one wife and with a clean testimony in their marriage relationships.

At Chilonda there lived a man called Jamba-ye-mina {“pregnant elephant”) whom I came to know and respect. When one of the Sanders children was born, there was no milk for the baby. It was the time of the Bailundu war and the whole country was in an uproar. At Benguela, at the coast, was a box of condensed milk which the Sanders badly needed. Jamba-ye-mina volunteered to go for it. He walked the 350 miles to the coast and on the way down and back had to run the gauntlet of the war parties around Bailundu. But he finally made it and saved the day by delivering the milk. He did not think that there was anything extraordinary in the fact that he had walked about 700 miles and carried a 60-pound load on his head half that distance, so that a missionary’s baby could have the food it needed.

Capango and Hualondo

After a short time at Chilonda, I went to another mission station called Capango, which is about 40 miles to the northeast. Altogether the Brethren have four mission stations in Bie among the Umbundu-speaking people. This would be in an area about the size of Connecticut. Chilonda is the oldest, being founded in 1892; Hualondo, 1893; Capango, 1905; and Chitau, 1920. The American Board (A.B.C.F.M.) was working in Bie to the south and west, but there was no overlapping or competition.

Capango was started by Fred Lane as a branch work from Chilonda. It later developed into a main center. Mr. Lane was one of the early pioneers in Garenganze and was a most gracious, kindly man. It was through him that I was first of all attracted to Africa. He was a great walker and a crack shot. He loved the African and was never happier than when telling out the gospel at the campfire, after tramping 20 miles during the day. When I arrived, he was designing a new meeting room to seat a thousand people. In those days it was impossible to get burnt roof tiles or cement, so it was built entirely of adobe brick with a grass roof. But it was beautifully done and served its purpose for forty years. The roof was supported by hardwood pillars. Being young and agile and accustomed to working at considerable heights in the shipyard, I had the job of helping to erect the roof timbers. Mr. Lane was a perfectionist and the building was a credit to him.

It was at Capango that I first met Annie Gammon, who had been there since 1905. She came from a well-known missionary family who lived at Ilfracombe in the South of England. She often told us that she trusted Christ for salvation when she was four years of age. As a child she sat on the knee of Robert C. Chapman, the patriarch of Barnstable. At least five members of her family came to Africa as missionaries.

But there was one matter which gave me a good deal of concern. The mission station was run as a “Christian village.” When an African was converted he usually left his own environment, built a house on the mission station, and isolated himself from his old life. There was a strict code of laws on the station which covered practically every phase of his life. The missionary’s word was taw and was carried out by an elder called an osekuhi. If a resident on the mission station committed adultery or broke one of the laws of the village, he was not only disciplined by the local church, but he also had to leave his home and garden and go back into “the world.” There were instances where young people had to leave the home of their parents and go and live with heathen relatives. This, I felt, was a wrong principle, but being young I kept my misgivings to myself. I should say that this idea has long since passed away, but it was the rule for many years.

The mission station was run in much the same way that John Calvin ruled Geneva. Calvin had the idea that a city should be governed after the same model as the Israelite theocracy under Moses and Aaron, ft was the union of church and state with a vengeance. His severe theological views and blue laws were imposed on people by force, whether they were church members or not. The remorseless logic of this policy led to the burning of Servetus at the stake.

I have felt for many years that, in a pagan country like Central Africa, it is unwise policy to isolate converts to Christianity from their own people. In doing so, they are spared persecution, but they are brought into a hothouse environment where healthy development is retarded. It is not good for the foreigner either.

He is liable to get an exaggerated idea of his own importance. Recent independence movements in practically every part of Africa have proved that the principle of the missionary’s building up a work around himself was wrong from the beginning. Sooner or later there is bound to be a reaction. Experience has shown that when the African is encouraged to accept responsibility from the commencement of his Christian life, he develops more naturally, and the work is on a much more solid foundation.

One day Mr. Lane suggested to me that there was a need at a mission station called Hualondo, and that I might be able to help out there. It had been started many years before by George Murrain, a colored missionary from British Guiana. Murrain had recently died after an operation in America, and the work was being carried on by a young Englishman and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Lance Adcock. He was not too well and was thinking of going home on furlough, but did not want to go unless there was someone to care for the work at Hualondo. Consequently I went over there and settled in. Adcock was very keen on educational work, was a disciplinarian, and a very clever linguist. He suggested that I help in the school, and while I had little liking or fitness for school teaching, I was glad of the opportunity for contact with the people. A Scripture lesson every day in Umbundu, which Adcock took, was a great help to me in learning the language. I lived at Hualondo for eighteen months. After the Adcocks went home to England, I was some months alone on the place. Here I made my first attempts at preaching in the Umbundu language.

An incident occurred here which was a great encouragement in showing God’s loving care for material needs. I was living in an adobe brick guest room which had belonged to the Murrains. It had a clay floor covered with bamboo mats and a homemade bed in the middle of the room. On the wall were some pegs, and all the clothes I had in the world, except what I was wearing, were hanging on the pegs. In the corner was a homemade desk where I kept my money, papers, and correspondence.

One night, while I was out at the prayer meeting, an African burgled the place. He first tried to pry open the window with the blade of his ax, but I had secured it with screws from the inside and he failed to open it. He then tried the lock. He put a plug of tobacco against it to deaden the sound, and broke it with blows from his ax. He then went in and plundered the room. When I came back from the prayer meeting, I found the bed stripped and the clothes and the contents of the desk gone. I was practically left in the middle of Africa with the clothes I was standing up in. The next day, the man who did it came and clucked with his tongue and sympathized with me in my loss. It was only two years later that I found out he was the culprit! I felt pretty miserable. In those days it was not easy to get supplies in the country, but I tried to be as philosophical about it as I could.

A couple of weeks later an African turned up with a large bundle on his head. It was sewn up in cloth and had been sent on from the railhead in Silvo Porto. When I opened it, I found sheets, pillow cases, clothing, and underwear, and in the center a letter from some ladies in Belfast, Ireland. It contained money which they said was to defray customs on the parcel and they hoped the contents would prove useful! On examining the datestamp, I found it had been sent off a couple of months before the robbery happened. It had been beautifully timed, and here was everything duplicated and brand new!

Permission granted by Gospel Folio Press and the Family of Mr. T. Ernest Wilson.