On a recent return visit to South Africa late last year we had the opportunity and privilege of seeing first hand a small but exciting Reformed work in the town of Butterworth, in the Eastern Cape Province.
We set off early in the morning from Durban and headed due south. Most of the major roads in South Africa are very good and the first half of the journey was easy going. Just before we left Kwazulu, Natal, we encountered major road works, but these were soon behind us and we entered the Eastern Cape. Although it is the home territory of ex-president Nelson Mandela, this is one of the poorer regions of the country.
We soon came to unusual road signs: ‘Beware of potholes for 180 km’! To be followed by ‘Beware of cattle for 120 km’! They did not mention the dogs, or sheep or goats, or the wildly swerving minibuses that serve as taxis for many of the people.
The potholes we saw. In fact a few we drove through rather than around! The signs kept being repeated just so you didn’t forget (as if we could). We passed through some of the most beautiful countryside in what is an outstandingly beautiful country, and all the way along there were small villages dotted along the highway.
Eventually, after driving over 500 km, we arrived at Butterworth, a very busy black town with milling crowds everywhere. Suddenly, as we waited at the traffic lights (called ‘Robots’ in SA), there was a tap at the window and the beaming face of Sikhono Hashe to welcome us and guide us on our way.
We had met Sikhono several years ago at a pastors’ conference in Pretoria, and at the Skogheim Reformed Conference. So it was a real joy to renew fellowship with him. This time we had the added delight of meeting his wife Norma. She suffers a great deal of ill health but, as she says, her task is to stop at home and pray for the work wherever Sikhono is.
Sikhono is a mature student of the Toronto Bible Seminary, where he studied from 1990 to 1993. When he returned to South Africa he was not well received by his denomination, but he and four pastors from Natal formed an association, to encourage and help one another. Two of those brethren have since passed away.
There is considerable opposition to the work even from other ‘Christians’ who proudly confess that they are worshipping both God and their ancestors at the same time. We were taken on a tour of the township before arriving at Sikhono’s house.
The ministry in Butterworth is still in a pioneer stage. They have no building, although they have been allocated a piece of land. But because of political intrigue it is at some distance from where Sikhono and most of the church people live. So the services are held in his tiny house.
They meet together every evening for devotions, when Sikhono shares the Word of God with them and teaches them the glorious doctrines we love. When we arrived at their house, I thought they had a tape recording playing, but as we entered I realised that the lounge was crowded with mainly young people, singing joyfully. We listened while they sang several hymns to us in Xhoso. We were able to join in with some, because we knew the tunes, but we didn’t try the language!
After I had preached to them, with Sikhono translating, we listened to more singing. We so wished that we had taken a tape recorder with us. One older lady, who had travelled down from Umtata, about 120 km just to meet us, had a most beautiful voice.
The economic situation that these people face is very difficult indeed. There is extremely high unemployment and, to help some of the young men become self supporting, Sikhono and his small group are trying to set up a welding workshop to manufacture window frames, burglar guards, and the like. This is a practical outcome of gospel love. Emmanuel Church in Honeydew, Johannesburg, is helping them get started.
It was good to hear them talk of the encouragement they have had over the years. One particular event that stood out for Sikhono and Norma was a visit years ago from Douglas MacMillan, and the encouragement he gave them through speaking of ‘the Lord our shepherd’.
Sikhono says that in the black townships, where he has lived and worked all his Christian life, there are no truly Reformed churches, that is, ones that really hold to the doctrines of grace. Although Free Church of Scotland missionaries there have worked very hard, there has been little encouragement.
Language and culture barriers have been big hindrances, but this situation is beginning to change, as they have a Bible college, which is producing black graduates who embrace the Reformed faith. This lifts Sikhono’s heart.
We spent a very pleasant time with Sikhono and Norma. When we returned to Durban the following day, we knew that we had left a little bit of our hearts down in Transkei, with that small band of believers and those whom God has called to oversee them. We have much to pray about for them. Will you join with us? Please!