"> '); Prevailing Intercessory Prayer : Du Plessis: History of Christian Missions in South Africa, Ch. 39

A History of Christian Missions in South Africa

"The Hermannsburg and Hanoverian Missions"

Chapter 39, pp. 373 - 379

Johannes Du Plessis

I had knocked at men’s doors and found them shut; and yet the plan was manifestly good and for the glory of God. What was to be done?” Straight forward makes the best runner.” I prayed fervently to the Lord, laid the matter in His hand, and as I rose up at midnight from my knees, I said in a voice that almost startled me in the quiet room, “Forward now, in God’s name ! “—Pastor Harms.

The Hermannsburg Mission

The Hermannsburg Mission owed its inception to a man of great faith and evangelical fervour, Pastor Ludwig Harms (1808-65), who was the son of a clergyman of the Lutheran Church stationed at Hermannsburg in Hanover. In 1844 young Harms was ordained a minister, becoming at first assistant and subsequently successor to his father. During the revolutionary year 1848 he preached and laboured with great earnestness, and a remarkable revival broke out among the simple peasants who formed the majority of his congregation. Himself imbued with the missionary spirit, Harms urged upon all who came to conversion under his ministrations to devote themselves to the service of God and to labour for the extension of His Kingdom. The response of his flock was hearty and complete, and Harms in 1849 established a missionary society which became known as “Die Hermannsburger Mission “.

From the very commencement Harms left upon the Hermannsburg Society the impress of his own personality. He was ardently attached to the Lutheran Church, and could anticipate no satisfactory results where the missionary society was not bound by indissoluble ties to the Church by which it had been founded. In his estimation the Church built up among the heathen should be in every respect—in doctrine, in liturgy, in discipline, in Church organisation—the counterpart of the Church at home. Closely allied with this conception was the idea, borrowed of the Middle Ages, that the Christianisation of the world would be most efficiently and expeditiously effected by sending out colonies of missionaries, in order thoroughly to leaven the whole environment in which they settled. Among the members of this colony a sort of democratic socialism was to be introduced: all the labourers in the mission, whether clergy or laity, were to stand upon an absolutely equal footing, and perfect community of property was to obtain among them.

It was intended to establish the first of these colonies among the Gallas in East Africa. Funds were quickly subscribed for the new undertaking. The mission ship “Candace” was launched at Hamburg, and twelve of Harms’ pupils, together with eight colonists, were despatched to the field which had been selected. The effort to settle among the Gallas, however, proved fruitless; and the vessel returned to Natal, where the party disembarked and proceeded to found (1854) their first station, which they called Hermannsburg. It is situated a few miles east of the village of Greytown, in Umvoti County (Natal).

The Zulu Mission 

Within ten years of the commencement of the Natal-Zulu Mission eight stations had been occupied in Central Natal. For the establishment of these stations a number of farms had been acquired, and on these natives were allowed to settle, it being the intention of the missionaries to impart to them Gospel instruction, and to train them to habits of industry. This object was but partially attained. It was found to be a matter of extreme difficulty to persuade the natives to attend Divine service, send their children to school, or pay the annual fee for settling on mission land. Greater success was attained with the training school at which young natives were qualified for work as teachers and evangelists. To this institution pupils came in considerable numbers from all parts of the Hermannsburg field.

The attempts at colonisation were largely unsuccessful. The principle of community of property created so much friction that it had soon to be repudiated. Into the Bechuana field, which was subsequently occupied, it was not even introduced. The spiritual and material interests of the mission often clashed, and the rule of equality between the missionary and the colonist could not be maintained. These initial difficulties proved to be a serious trial to the faith and forbearance of the earliest missionaries. In course of time, however, the chief causes of friction were removed, and the Zulu section of the mission entered upon a period of prosperity and spiritual fruitage. 

The Bechuana Mission

The mission to the Bechuana was undertaken at the direct request of the Boer Government. After the destruction of Kolobeng, which has been described in Chapter XXV [an earlier chapter of the book this section comes from], Secheli, the Bakwena chieftain, applied to the Transvaal Volksraad for a missionary to replace Dr. Livingstone, who had commenced his famous exploratory journeys into the mysterious heart of the continent. President Pretorius thereupon addressed a request, dated 9 April, 1857, to the nearest Moravian mission, to supply Secheli and his people with a missionary. This the Moravians were unable to do, and Pretorius then approached the Hermannsburg authorities, who felt this to be a Divine call to enter a new field, and undertook the work. The pioneer of the mission among the Bakwena was Christopher Schulenburg, who in 1858 laid the foundation of the station Liteyane (Shoshong). For a time the work here prospered exceedingly. Secheli himself accorded the missionary his hearty support; the services were well attended, and many began to seek in earnest the salvation of their souls; the school was filled with scholars, all eager for instruction in biblical and general knowledge. Among those whom Schulenburg was permitted to baptise was Khama, who in later years became the well-known Christian chief of the Bamangwato. All things promised well in the new sphere of labour. 

But the fair morning was soon overcast with dark and lowering clouds. In 1860 August Hardeland, who had done excellent work as missionary in Borneo, was appointed Superintendent of the South African field. He was a man of immense energy and initiative, but, apparently, deficient in tact and forbearance. Schulenburg and his fellow-missionaries in Western Transvaal had received no official notification of Hardeland’s appointment; they naturally resented the somewhat high-handed way in which the latter had set to work and did not accord him that prompt obedience which was his due; and Hardeland accordingly took the extreme step of dismissing them.

While these unhappy bickerings were in progress, and during one of the absences of Schulenburg, John Mackenzie arrived in Secheli’s country and settled at Shoshong. When the Hermannsburg missionary was able to return, he found his brother of the London Mission in possession, and could hardly do otherwise than accept his co-operation. The missionaries of the two societies shared the services on Sundays, and worked side by side in the school during the week. In their doctrinal instruction they imparted only the truths upon which they agreed, and were honourably silent about those on which they differed. Superintendent Hardeland, however, severely censured Schulenburg’s conduct, and made the compromising attitude which he had adopted towards the London Society one of the reasons for his recall. The Bakwena field was accordingly left in the hands of Mackenzie and his colleagues. 

Hardeland returned to Germany in 1864, and his successor, Superintendent for Western Transvaal, H. Wilhelm Behrens, made strenuous efforts to recover the lost field among the Bakwena, but in vain. The territory of the Hermannsburg Mission was henceforth confined to Transvaal proper, where a chain of stations was established, stretching from Pretoria, the capital, to the western border. The chief station of this field was Bethany, some twenty miles west of Pretoria. An interesting history attaches to the commencement of missionary operations among the Bakwena of that district. Many years previously a youth belonging to this tribe had found his way to the Cape Colony in search of work and wealth. He had there met with a Wesleyan missionary, through whose instruction he had found Christ, and by whom he was baptised as David. For a time the young Christian continued to live and work among white men, but the desire to carry the good tidings of salvation to his own people gradually gathered strength. At length he severed his connection with his European master, and returned to his home in the Transvaal. With great earnestness and devotion he here gave himself to the work of witnessing for Christ. Nor were his labours without avail. The people of his tribe learnt to observe the Sabbath, to attend Divine worship, to read the Word of God and offer prayer, and not a few became faithful followers of Christ. 

The chief of the tribe now felt it to be an urgent necessity that he should obtain a white missionary to consolidate and extend the work which David’s zeal and earnestness had inaugurated. The Hermannsburg Society was accordingly invited to settle among them, and the result was the establishment of Bethany,—the most prosperous, possibly, of all the stations of this Society. Great was the joy of the little community of Christians when Behrens arrived to devote his life to work in their midst. He was welcomed with tears of joy. “Behold (they cried) God has remembered us in His mercy. O happy day!” But the greatest joy was that of David, the faithful witness and untiring worker. By the advent of the missionaries the keystone was placed upon the archway which he had been erecting at the cost of such long toil and so many prayers. To David’s sterling character more than one of the Dutch farmers bore witness in words such as these: “If all natives were like old David, there would be fewer objections to mission work. His humility and large-heartedness are beyond all praise.” 

In addition to Bethany, several other stations were erected in Western Transvaal during the years 1864 and 1865. Much greater prosperity attended the work in Transvaal than that among the Zulus. In the latter field no large and bold scheme for occupying a goodly area was adopted; and the result was that the mission soon found itself hemmed in, and to a considerable degree hampered, by the presence of other societies. In the Transvaal, on the other hand, the mission entered upon an extensive and unoccupied field, with no other societies in the immediate neighbourhood. To the east lay the sphere belonging to the Berlin Mission, with which, as a Lutheran society, the Hermannsburgers stood upon an exceedingly friendly footing. In the immediate north, in the Pilaansbergen, the Dutch Reformed Church had established itself among the Bakhatla; but as the bulk of this tribe soon after moved farther towards the north, and eventually settled beyond the Marico River, the latter mission could be guilty of no encroachment upon Hermannsburger territory. Taken as a whole the Bechuana Mission was “a cup of joy which the Lord graciously provided for His faithful servant Ludwig Harms, for the missionaries, and for the whole mission community at home.”! 

The Hanoverian Free Church Mission

This mission must be looked upon as an offshoot of the Hermannsburg Mission. In order to understand the relation which subsists between both, it is necessary to go back to the history of Ludwig Harms. The pious founder of the Hermannsburg Society died in 1865 and was succeeded as Director by his like-minded brother, Theodore Harms. The latter, though Director of the Mission, was at the same time a minister of the State Church of Hanover. In 1878 Theodore Harms came into collision with his ecclesiastical superiors. Certain marriage laws had been promulgated, against which Harms entertained strong conscientious scruples, and to which he refused obedience. He was accordingly deposed from his office as minister, and he thereupon established the body known as the Free Church of Hanover, to which were drawn most of his supporters in the work of the Hermannsburg Mission. 

Theodore Harms died in 1885 and was succeeded by his son Egmont Harms. By this time the wound which had been inflicted upon the Hermannsburg Society by the deposition of its Director had to a great extent healed. The friends and supporters of missionary effort who had remained faithful to the old Lutheran State Church, and who were deeply grieved at the separation of Theodore Harms and his Free Church adherents, now made earnest endeavours to heal the breach. These efforts were happily crowned with success, and in 1890 a union was effected between the secessionists of 1878 and the State Church from which they had been severed for twelve years.

There remained, however, a party in the Free Church who refused to endorse the action of Egmont Harms in re-uniting with the State Church. This party professed to be the repre- sentatives of the pure Lutheran tradition, and to have been actuated in their dissent from the union resolution by fidelity to Lutheran principles. They summed up their objections to the step which E. Harms had taken in the following words: 

“He places the Mission Enterprise above the Church. Instead of maintaining that pure doctrine and a pure administration of the sacraments are the bond of union in the Church, he makes, in practice at least, the Mission Enterprise the bond of union” [Missionsblatt of the Hanoverian Free Church, 1900, p. 52.]. 

The party who subscribed to these views refused to re-unite with the State Church, and by a resolution carried at their Synod at Wriedel (5 June, 1890), they decided to continue the Hanoverian Evangelical Lutheran Free Church. 

This momentous step could not fail to have far-reaching consequences for the mission work in South Africa. Four of the Hermannsburg missionaries in Natal decided to throw in their lot with the anti-unionists, and so they formed the nucleus of the Free Hanoverian Mission in South Africa. Two of the mission stations which had been founded by the Hermannsburg Society, with a few hundred converts, thus passed into the hands of the “Wee Frees”—as, with a reference to the recent history of the United Free Church of Scotland, we may call the band of Hanoverians who refused union. 

Since 1890 the work of the Hanoverian Free Church has greatly prospered. The two stations have now grown to eight, which are worked by ten missionaries. The number of converts now exceeds 5000. Instruction is conveyed to the native mind and heart in four Government-aided schools and six mission schools. The missionaries have the assistance of two native evangelists and some twenty native teachers and helpers. During the year 1908 the income of the Mission was approximately £1800.

Johannes Du Plessis, A history of Christian missions in South Africa, pp. 373 - 379.