Persecution for Christ’s Sake in Rhodesia

For the most part, we are furnished a very biased and one-sided account by both the secular and the religious press concerning the situation m countries like Rhodesia and the Republic of South Africa. The result is that we frequently do not have a true picture of affairs in those countries. I am referring to such things as the struggle concerning apartheid in South Africa, the communist character and influence of various anti-white and anti-government movements among the blacks, the attitudes of blacks and whites toward one another in the church. particularly the Reformed church, the corruption of the World Council of Churches and its Fund to Combat Racism (supported in the Netherlands by the GKN), etc. Repeatedly private correspondents have both warned and assured me that here in America we do not understand the situation in South Africa. They have warned that we must not think of the situation in South Africa, for example, in terms of black-white relationships in the United States; that we must not think of the struggle about apartheid in terms of the racial segregation-integration struggle in this country; and that we must not think of the attitude of Reformed churches toward these matters in terms of Reformed churches in either the Netherlands or the U.S. Literature received from South Africa—both church papers and books and brochures—has tended to confirm these warnings and assurances. 

And while I do not deem myself competent to make a thorough evaluation and judgment concerning the political and ecclesiastical situation in that part of the world, I have long been convinced that on the whole we do not get the “straight goods” from either the secular or the religious press. Moreover, frankly my sympathies lie with those who are usually maligned as the “white minority” and as the oppressors of the “black majority.” And I have seen much concrete evidence of the fact that this “oppression” is a myth and that the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa has done much, very much, to promote the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ among the teeming black majority in that part of the world. 

It is not my purpose, however, to write about these matters in detail. 

Nor is it my purpose especially to oppose the WCC’s Fund to Combat Racism and those who support it—though by implication, because they are supporters of the rebel groups to be mentioned subsequently in this article, they do indeed stand condemned, and that, too, not merely as revolutionaries in general, but as explicit enemies of the cause of Jesus Christ. 

But it is my intention to call attention to children of God who are persecuted for Christ’s sake

For one thing, we often think of a struggle such as that going on in Rhodesia as being purely political—whatever the nature of that political struggle might be. But it is more than that, much more. It involves the lives and the lot of real Christians who are living there and who are inevitably involved. For another, while we frequently pray quite in general for people of God in the midst of persecution and tribulation for Christ’s sake, I think we often are not aware of the fact concretely that there are indeed such people of God in tribulation, nor of the fact that there are churches in this country and elsewhere whose funds are being used to support and to arm the very revolutionaries who are responsible for such persecution. 

I was reminded of this recently when I received the November/December, 1978 issue of the DRC (Dutch Reformed Church) Africa News, published by the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk of South Africa. Under the title, “New Pattern of Worship In Rhodesia,” there appears the following graphic account of the situation in the African Reformed Church The account is a bit long, but I quote the pertinent sections in full.

The young Church in Rhodesia is increasingly becoming aware of the fact that the so-called “freedom fighters” of the Patriotic Front are not merely fighting to take over the country but also to wipe out the Christian faith. No congregation of the African Reformed Church can function normally any longer. The first-hand accounts below testify to this state of affairs. 

Two congregations cannot pursue their customary procedures at all and hold services on Sundays. In the circumstances, a new pattern is unfolding, i.e. the church of the hearth.

“Ordinary Building Becomes House Of God” 

It might be a large dwelling hut or a shelter with a thatched roof resting on poles or even, here and there, a brick building with a corrugated iron roof—usually the home of an elder, but on a certain day it becomes the House of God in that ward. 

This is the new pattern which is developing in the Nyashanu congregation, one of the most sorely tried congregations in the current “war”. No services are held any longer in a school or church building, for fear of incidents. A retired minister, Rev. Edward Ngara, who lives in those parts, has however agreed to visit the faithful in their homes. Then the Christians themselves decided: If we can then as a family come together, why not as a group? 

Great Joy In The Church Of The Hearth 

It began at first with one elder who opened his home for such a gathering. The word passed around and on the Sunday there were more than 30 Christians assembled in the house of the elder of Gotora. It must have been a sacred moment for those believers when the eternal Word of God resounded there as in earlier years when they were able to hold their congregational gatherings without fear. 

They were able once more to receive bread and wine and to bring their children to be baptized. 

Other elders took courage, especially those in the more settled areas and they also opened their homes. The attendance in one case was 12; in another, 15. And thus the church of the hearth is gaining ground and the community of the faithful in Nyashanu brought to worship in a new fashion.

Communion Wine In Jacket Lining, He Takes His Life In His Hands 

And the movements of the Rev. Edward? These have to be very circumspect. After the service his Bible and hymn book have to remain where they are to be restored to him on a subsequent occasion. The contributions which the faithful insist on rendering to the Lord, despite orders to the contrary from “the people in the bush,” have to be inconspicuously collected and dispatched. Thus does this old minister together with his flock, take their lives in their hands so that the Church of Christ might prevail. 

The Great Struggle of the Church In Rhodesia 

It was Communion weekend at C., an outpost in a congregation in the vicinity of Morgenster. As usual, the Christians were already gathering on Saturday for the preparatory service and to commune in a sociable mood around the cooking fires. There they could sit and talk, laugh and sing until all hours of the night. For do they not gather thus only once in three, four months? 

A short distance away, at the church, were the men, the minister, the Rev. Z., the grey-haired old evangelist M., also well into his 70s and the elders and other male members.

Men Armed With Rifles Appear 

The sky was overcast early on the Sunday morning. But there was also something else to dampen the joy of the gathering. In sinister fashion, on the fringe of the bush, half-a-dozen men with rucksacks on their backs and rifles in their hands, appeared and hurried to the school where the women and girls had slept. Terrorists! It was as if the overcast sky suddenly became darker. Not long afterwards came the messenger from the women’s camp to tell the men: Come! 

Today Is The Day! 

Was this to be the end? They had to go. When they came closer they saw the Bibles and hymn books already stacked, ready to be burnt. “You don’t want to listen,” the leader of the group from the bush snarled at them. “We are engaged in a big struggle and we have long since told you to desist from your praying. But you won’t listen.Today you will see what is going to happen!” 

Corporal Punishment For Congregation 

The whole congregation of 60 to 70 persons are commanded to lie flat on the ground, men, women and children, including the Rev. Z and the aged evangelist M. The sticks planted in the ground around the mango trees in the school yard, are uprooted and, as if they were about to begin threshing wheat on a threshing floor, the terrorists proceeded to beat the defenseless people lying on the ground. What was to follow? 

Bibles Are Burnt 

A drone became audible in the sky above the clouds. Now it was the turn of the attackers to become worried. Would it be a Defence Force helicopter tracking them down? Hastily they collect their belongings. The pile of Bibles are burnt and with a parting threat they disappear into the bush. 

Suffering For The Sake Of Christ 

With bruised bodies and filled with fear the little congregation scattered. No service and no Communion was held that day at C outpost, and it will also not happen again soon. But here and there in a humble hut in the bush, there will be more than one faithful heart that will have to ponder those happenings at the weekend of C: Is this what awaits me if I want to be a follower of Christ? Am I prepared for this? 

Pray for Christians at C Outpost and for many others like them who have to decide anew in these days if they want to pay the price of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Thus far the account from the DRC Africa News

Not only does this furnish an insight into the antichristian character of the terrorist activities of the Patriotic Front, but it should also lend realism and fervor to our prayers for God’s people in tribulation.