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.
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