A Zulu Apostle – Mbambo Matunjwa

A Zulu Apostle – title page

On the 22nd Nov 1891 Allister Smith and four Salvation Army volunteers arrived at the Amatikulu River in Natal. After several days of visiting peoples’ homes they organised a series of evangelistic meetings.

On the first night Smith preached the gospel and although they had decided not to make an appeal for responses after the first sermon, he couldn’t help himself, and asked, ‘Are there any here who will give themselves today to this God who gave His only Son to die for us?’

Immediately, a young Zulu warrior stood to his feet and declared, ‘I am willing!’ After he prayed with Smith and gave his life to the Lord he went back into the crowd and urged his best friend to do the same.

His name was Mbambo Matunjwa. In a relatively short time he became a respected young preacher of the gospel. Within a few years he was winning hundreds to Christ and was gradually promoted through the ranks of the Salvation Army until he became a Major.

Suffering in service and in war
Matunjwa’s story is a deeply challenging one. His father was the chef to Prince Sitegu, and experienced both the favour and the dangers of serving in the royal court. After a sickness had swept through the royal family a sangoma was called in to determine if any foul play had taken place. The cause was determined to be malicious and four of Matunjwa’s family were slaughtered as a result of the sangoma’s finding. He wrote, ‘This is my earliest recollection – seeing my relatives lying on the ground, clubbed and pierced to death, their gaping wounds crying for vengeance.’ Later, his parents, both spared, became sangomas, and Mbambo became a skilled warrior, part of a resistance that almost wiped out the British 24th Regiment in 1879. During the civil war that followed, Matunjwa was wounded in battle, being speared through with an assegai. He said it felt like a fire passing through his body.

Matunjwa survived the wound, married, and at the first evangelistic gathering of the Salvation Army described above, he responded and gave his life to Christ.

Mbambo and Nomalanga Matunjwa in later years

A tragic blow
He was so successful at planting churches that he was moved to a region further north. However, soon after the move he and his wife encountered the shocking loss of both their sons in quick succession. The younger boy died from natural causes and the elder son from what was strongly suspected to be food poisoning.

They were heartbroken. After their initial successes in evangelism this was an almost insurmountable blow. Nevertheless Matunjwa continued preaching and continued to see fellow Zulus responding to the gospel.

Forgiveness, pure, perfect, radical forgiveness
On one occasion after he’d finished his message, he made an appeal for those who wanted to repent to do so by coming forward. A young man came forward and asked to speak with him privately. He confessed that he was a sinner and needed forgiveness and asked Christ into his life. Matunjwa urged upon him the truth that God does indeed forgive sin.

But then, to his horror, the young man confessed that he had been the one who had deliberately poisoned the preacher’s son. He begged to be forgiven. Matunjwa turned away in agony. With a heart aching with sorrow, yet knowing the reality of God’s grace, he turned to face the young man and offered to forgive him.

It didn’t end there. With a maturity that challenges all our impulses toward revenge, Matunjwa decided to begin a discipling relationship with the young man, teaching him the basics of living the Christian life.

Matunjwa’s wife, Nomalanga, also had to face the reality of both the discovery of her child’s murderer and the forgiveness her husband had offered him. And – astonishing though this may sound – this godly couple invited the young man to live with them in their home, effectively adopting him as their own son.

He went on to become an effective gospel preacher, and, like his adoptive parents, also served in the Salvation Army.

I have no more words.

For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here

©2017 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

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Go-ahead Dare-Devils Wanted!

The young William Booth – done up nice and proper for a picture
The young William Booth – done up nice and proper for a picture

After a year working in East London, Booth had managed to gather about 60 people. This was a ‘mission’ rather than a church, the focus being on evangelism and not on Christian worship as such.

Booth and Barnardo
One of Booth’s early partners in the East End of London was soon to leave him: Thomas Barnardo, then a medical student, but who soon founded the impressive Barnardo’s charity, which opened schools and orphanges for abandoned children and is still operating today.

Generously, Booth said, ‘You look after the children and I’ll look after the adults – and together we’ll convert the world.’[i]

Early skirmishes and victories
One of Booth’s earliest converts became his first bodyguard. Peter Monk, an Irish prizefighter, was an imposing figure and accompanied Booth to evangelistic meetings.

But one bodyguard is apparently not always enough. Richard Collier records that disturbances were frequent at Booth’s early London meetings. Mrs Eliza Trotman narrowly escaped death when some yobs fired a train of gunpowder at her, causing her clothes to catch fire.

Peter Monk, the ‘General’s Boxer’, would walk up and down the meeting place staring menacingly at trouble-makers to keep them quiet while Booth was preaching.

Booth’s operation gradually became successful. The famous evangelist Gypsy Smith was converted and trained for ministry by Booth when he was only seventeen. Smith was one of numerous young, poor, uneducated men who became the chief evangelists in London. While others were wowing crowds with oratory, these unschooled, rough, preachers were somehow able to reach those who would never approach church or chapel.

Young people released into leadership
It may seem crazy to us, but Booth had little choice. He worked with those God gave him – and they were often young. Very young. Gypsy Smith was rejected when he was sent by Booth to Chatham in Kent. Even the other new converts thought a seventeen-year-old way too young to be a leader.

Smith’s answer? ‘If you let me stop here awhile I shall get older. [And] if I haven’t any more whiskers than a gooseberry I have got a wife.’[ii]

Booth began to send these young preachers to different locations across London and beyond. Careful not to call them ‘churches’, in the early days they were known simply as ‘mission stations.’ They were led – overwhelmingly – by those in their twenties, or younger (more of that in a later post).

Booth was clear: he did not want settled congregations enjoying their favourite preacher: He wanted evangelists on a mission to reach their cities – ‘Godly go-ahead dare-devils.’[iii]

We could probably do with a few more of them today.

More next time…
For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here
© 2015 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] Richard Collier, The General Next to God (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins 1965) p.42
[ii] ibid p. 46
[iii] ibid p.47

The Father of Modern Missions was a Calvinist

It may come as a surprise to those unaware of the influence of Reformed thinkers and pioneers but it’s true.

William Carey was a Calvinist.

To those who are familiar with church history, of course, this is not particularly surprising. There have been passionate, missional, church-planting pioneers and Evangelists on both sides of the theological debate: Reformed or Arminian.

The causes of the church’s lack of evangelistic zeal are usually found elsewhere – weak leadership, worldliness, lack of Holy Spirit power, unbelief, fear – and it is shameful that great and glorious doctrines are used as a kind of fig leaf.

Like most other Protestant missionaries of his day
Dr Thomas Schirrmacher writes, ‘Carey was a Protestant by conviction…The turning point, he believed, was reached by the Reformers.

‘He names especially Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, Bucer and Peter Martyr. He [said, in ‘The Enquiry’, that]… missionaries must, among other things, be “of undoubted orthodoxy in their sentiments” [ie, Reformed].

‘Carey’s theology is not only unusual for modern tastes in its Postmillennialism, but also in its Calvinist soteriology, for many now believe that the doctrine of predestination extinguishes missionary effort rather than intensifying it.

‘Carey, like most other Protestant missionaries and missionary leaders of his day, agreed with the Calvinist view.’ (from an essay, ‘William Carey, Postmillennialism and the Theology of World Missions’)

Let Reformed Bloggers Rejoice!
So Carey was a Calvinist. Let all Reformed bloggers rejoice! Well, not so fast!

Carey’s passion wasn’t exhausted by writing intense, Scripture-filled blogs, letters to the editor, or even in crafting water-tight sermons that harmonise good doctrine and the need for missional churches.

No, he didn’t just preach well that others should go, he and his family left for India in 1793. Radical. Normal.

As a result of his ‘Expect Great Things’ sermon some friends gathered in 1792 in Kettering, England, formed the Baptist Missionary Society and raised just over thirteen pounds for worldwide evangelisation!

For the next part of the William Carey story click here

To read the first part of the William Carey story click here

© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

The Holy Spirit and a Life Given freely for the Mission

Moravian Leader, Count Zinzendorf
Moravian Leader, Count Zinzendorf

Willingness in a Day of God’s Power
We have seen how radical the Moravian movement was in terms of their willingness to go to far off places and faithfully serve people with the gospel.

This came about, by their own admission, as a result of the move of the Holy Spirit amongst them in 1727. We shall see in later posts how this same dynamic operated in England and America, a move of God so powerful that it’s been called ‘The Great Awakening’.

Crossing Racial and Cultural Barriers
In this post we’ll look at how this impulse for mission enabled them to cross cultural and racial boundaries (albeit imperfectly) and how they reached out towards the slave communities of the West Indies (then under Danish rule).

Mark Noll, in the slow moving but fact-filled work, ‘The Rise of Evangelicalism’ takes up the story:

‘In the early 1730’s a black servant at the court of the King of Denmark, by the name of Anton, was brought to Herrnhut by Count Zinzendorf so that he could plea for volunteers willing to go to his native St. Thomas (Virgin Islands).

Anton hoped in particular that they could share the gospel message with his enslaved sister Anna.

David Nitschmann
David Nitschmann

In response, Johann Leonhard Dober and David Nitschmann left Germany for St. Thomas, where the work they began in 1732 produced almost immediate results.’ (Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, IVP, p.161-2)

Apostolic Passion
It was in preparation for this work that the servant-hearted Dober expressed his willingness to give all to reach the slaves with the gospel, even if it meant his own enslavement. The motivation of his heart was expressed with apostolic simplicity: ‘on the island there still are souls who cannot believe because they have not heard.’ (Christian History Magazine, Issue 1)

Johann Leonard Dober
Johann Leonard Dober

The Moravian missionaries followed in the footsteps of the Anglicans, who had arrived earlier, but the local people preferred the Moravian message.

Noll writes, ‘Anglican Christianity remained resolutely hierarchical, made much of status and hereditary roles…[and] maintained sharp racial divisions.’

By contrast the Moravians seemed to be offering a far more inclusive style of church life. ‘They encouraged blacks to sing with whites, preached spiritual equality before God and welcomed the expression of religious emotion…’

‘So radical were the Moravians for their time that one of the early workers in St Thomas actually took a bride [of mixed race], a step that brought down the wrath of the island’s white planters…’ (ibid. p.162)

The Moravians also encouraged black preachers (or, ‘exhorters’) to emerge and serve in leadership positions in both small groups and congregations.

When they began planting churches in Jamaica (1754), Barbados (1765) and Antigua (1756) they were permitted to operate by the planters, but under close scrutiny. Noll adds, ‘ On Antigua there was special response, with over 11,000 gathered in Moravian churches by the end of the century.’ (ibid. p.162)

Did Moravian Missionaries really sell themselves into Slavery?
In my research on the Moravians I have yet to find an instance where Moravian missionaries voluntarily sold themselves into slavery, although this is often claimed.

Some assert that Dober and Nitschmann did this but produce no supporting evidence or sources to support the claim. As already noted, Dober expressed a willingness to become a slave if that were necessary, but I would be grateful to anyone who actually has primary or reliable secondary sources for the claim that any Moravian Missionary actually did so.

The Spirit and the Needs of the World
Nevertheless, once again we can see that a move of the Holy Spirit amongst Christians resulted in life long sacrifices for the sake of bringing the gospel to others. These Moravian community didn’t enthusiastically embark on a kind of self-centred quest purely for further experiences of the Spirit (although we must assume they enjoyed many such glorious times in the context of mission).

They certainly had their faults, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, but were determined to bring the gospel to others.

They were filled with the power of the Spirit and set the course of their lives towards connecting with those outside the church, in order to bring them to Jesus Christ.

May God do the same with us in our day, for our generation.

Next time we’ll see how the Moravians’ church planting efforts improved the economy of the host societies. Click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides