A Visit During South African Keswick
Coillard attended one of the South African Keswick conventions, during which time he was hosted at the Murray home. His reflections are brief but insightful.
Being too weak to bear the fatigue of a visit to Basuto-land, I had to give it up, to my great regret. Thirty-seven hours by rail brought me to the Cape. At Wellington, I was present at what is called the "South African Keswick," and spent, in the home of Mr. Andrew Murray, and that of his brother-in-law, the venerable Dutch pastor Mr. Neethling, at Stellenbosch, some of those days one can never forget. There I met Mr. Dudley Kidd, of the South Africa General Mission, and my venerable friend Mr. R. C. Morgan, of the Christian. It was Mr. Neethling who started among his colleagues, the pastors of the Dutch Church, a subscription of £1 a piece to procure a carriage for me, and they responded so cordially that he was able to remit the sum of £115 to me for this purpose.
A souvenir and a contrast! Forty years ago, I landed at the Cape. The Synod of the South African Dutch Church was in session there at the time. What prejudices then against the natives, against missions and missionaries! And yet even then, one saw the first gleams of a new dawn. In this Synod there was one small group of men who possessed the sacred fire, and who were urging the Church in the direction of missions: Mr. Andrew Murray was one. From the different congregations, they had obtained money, but not men. Dr. Robertson, pastor of Swellendam, was sent to Scotland. To his powerful appeals, two young men responded,—a Scotchman, Mr. MacKidd, who died shortly after; and a young Swiss, M. Gonin, who was completing his studies in Edinburgh at the time. They were accepted; and a third joined them in Africa—a young Boer, Mr. Hofmeyr, full of zeal and devotion as they were. They founded their first mission to the north of the Transvaal. Later on, a second was planted among those very Banyal whose needs we had made known; and, finally, a third, side by side and in perfect harmony with that of the Free Church of Scotland, at Lake Nyassa.
The Murray family, which is in South Africa, is what that of the Monods is in France, and has already given five or six of its members to these different missions. One of them I must mention, Willie Neethling, whose bright career, already richly blessed, was so soon to be interrupted by his tragic death. He was the son of Mr. Neethling, of Stellenbosch, whose wife is the Rev. Andrew Murray's sister. I had met him near Mafeking. He was then newly ordained, and on his way to occupy his first mission station, at Mochuli (Linchwe's place), accompanied by his sister; and was, like myself, stopped by the rinderpest. He, full of ardent life—myself, apparently, upon a dying-bed. In the following February , during a furious hurricane, part of the roof of his church had fallen upon him, and he only survived a few hours.
We who are left behind stand painfully perplexed at seeing these young lives, so full of promise, cut short at the beginning. Do we question God's wisdom? Not so did he. "God makes no mistakes," he kept repeating with his dying breath. "He is good—so good. Never doubt His love."
His mother wrote to me, "I received the news on Saturday. The next day was the first anniversary of his ordination. I was going to church, not for that ceremony, but to celebrate his coronation; for well I know his Lord will crown him with eternal joy."
We feel humbled and stimulated by the spectacle of this ardent youth, so absolutely, so joyfully surrendered; and of this mother, whose serene faith, shining through her tears, counts it an honour to give a beloved son to his Saviour, to the heathen, and to death. Be it far from us, the faithless whisper of a Judas, "To what purpose is this waste?" Nothing is lost which is offered to God, and which God accepts—not even the perfume of this short but beautiful life, poured out to Him.
To us, all this is a sign of the breaking down of former prejudices: we are looking forward to a time of blessing for the South African Dutch Church, the sister of our own, and through it to the dawn of a new day for heathen Africa.
Feeling now so much better—indeed, quite well—a terrible temptation seized me to go back to the Zambesi. But how? The rinderpest and the Matabele war together made it impossible! So I embarked.
Taken from "On The Threshold of Central Africa" by François Coillard.