Recent Travels to Africa, 2007

Recent Travels to Africa, 2007

Benjamin hunkered Vietnamese-like at the Dulles Airport gate, sick at his stomach. It did not seem to matter that people were passing on either side of him to get into the transport which would take us to our plane. The flu passed to each of us over the next few days. This is the way Jim, Benjamin and Bryan Elliff began our latest trip to Africa. It was not an auspicious start.

We were greeted by my friend, Martin Holdt, from Pretoria at the Johannesburg airport. He looked a bit different to me after something like thirteen years when I had previously been under his care in a very different South Africa. Like me, he was “filling out.” It was good to renew our friendship, though we had corresponded here and there over the years. Martin is a seasoned leader of reformed Baptist people, and many others, through his radio work and his conferences. Since my last visit his wife had passed away. He was now married to Elsabe, his vivacious wife, who is also in the medical field. In addition to her other activities, she also superintends the Augustine Book Room, located in their church, a fine bookstore of almost everything you could desire.

FIEL Conference Mozambique
In my last visit there, Martin had graciously scheduled me all over the country. Eighteen of those venues, however, were to include some of the same people! This meant that I had a lot of work to do to keep from repeating myself. The first day I stayed up all night to prepare for the next day’s conference. I’ll never forget being so emotional in that first meeting that I could hardly keep from tearing up about everything I said. I seemed to be always behind in my preparations for that trip, from first till last. It was physically very difficult. But that was then and a lot of time had elapsed. I was now ready for my sixth trip to this interesting country.

We stayed at the home of Nick and Marietta Bestbier and their beloved dog, Milo. They were so gracious to us, showing us around if we had any extra time. Among those short trips, we toured a lion park where we were allowed to pet lion cubs! When we set out for the drive through to visit some prides of lions close up (that is, there was nothing between us and them except our closed windows), I had to be taken back to the bathroom for my turn with the flu! I understand it was really interesting, but I’ll just have to take their word for it.

Benjamin and Bryan were, first of all, involved in a rally of the youth from several churches. There were about 150 or so there. Bryan spoke from Romans 5: 12 and following and both of them sang. We were all amazed at the attention that the youth paid to the message and the seriousness. God seemed to make an impression on us all. We ate pancakes afterward, with jam and powdered sugar. All of this with the ever present tea and coffee. It was a memorable night.

The next day I was interviewed by Martin at the studios of Radio Pulpit, a radio station that covers the entire country. Martin has over 100,000 listeners for this weekly program. We taped six interviews. Benjamin and Bryan sat in on the interviews and learned something about how all this works.

I held a “Childhood Conversion Seminar” on Saturday for Constantia Baptist and others from other churches. We had a stimulating time. I was impressed how hey bought up the books I had bought and seem so engaged in the discussion.

On Sunday I preached and Benjamin and Bryan sang in Jonathan Holdt’s church, Bethany Baptist, in the morning. This is Martin’s son. We followed that with a wonderful meal in their home along with his fine wife and children. Then we did the same in the evening at Constantia Park, where Martin pastors. Afterward Elsabe fed us some fancy soup and bread. We met Susi Roth from Germany at this meal. She is a friend of Martin’s staying in their home for a short while, working with children from the orphanage. Errol Hulse from Leeds, England, attended that evening also, along with his wife, Lynn. We will be with them on our trip to Barberton.

Game Reserve
The next day Martin took us to a game reserve in the place where he grew up, Pilansberg. What a great trip! It is on this trip that we got to know Susi. We found out that she was one of the first families in Germany to homeschool. Martin had been with them in Germany recently. She spoke almost perfect English, American style. I mentioned that she might be able somehow to help in translating some of our work. I also gave her Wasted Faith. When I wrote her later, and mentioned that we might work on such a possibility, she admitted that she had already translated the book, at least in a rough form, and that her father was working with her on getting it just right. I found out that she and her father had translated other books. The end of this is that we are hopeful of publishing that book in Germany if all goes well. In fact, I may stop over to see the family and work on that project this November when on my way to Romania! God’s providence? I am sure of it.

Back to the game reserve. My boys were particularly interested in the discussion between Martin, Errol and I on baptism. Martin, to my surprise, takes a more open view, accepting in rare cases paedobaptist believers who cannot be convinced of immersion. Errol and I are on the other side of that issue. So, we had a lively discussion about it all on the way to the game reserve. I wish I could have had much more time to find out Martin’s rationale. From my view now, he starts pragmatically rather than from Scripture, but he would likely say otherwise.

We went from Pretoria to Barberton, SA, by a small bus. It was about a four hour trip since we had to swing down to Johannesburg airport on the way. We were audibly tested by the “Jackarand” radio station’s music, which we heard the entire trip. But it was also great to see the countryside and to visit with a pastor’s daughter who sat next to me.

We were met by Karl Peterson at the service station where the bus let us out. Karl and Lynn were formerly in Mozambique as missionaries, but have now come across the line due to health problems that were exacerbated by the air pollution of Mozambique. What a great family! We immediately bonded with the kids and the two dogs, and the chickens! Of course, all homes of whites in SA are fenced. They had a great little “compound” there, complete with guest quarters, the former servant house. Good food, family fun, and washed clothes made this a special time. Glynn worked way too hard for us.

Squatter’s camp,

Benjamin speaking

On Sunday Benjamin and Bryan went to a squatter’s camp outside of town, where people lived in houses made of left over strips of lumber from the lumber mill. Benjamin preached in a dirt floored building to about 30 people, mainly children. I spoke in the church where Karl is pastoring. They were really attentive. In the evening, we gathered in that same place to hear Errol Hulse preach a biographical message on Luther and the Reformation.

EP Book Tent
Our main reason for being in Barberton was to hold a conference sponsored by Evangelical Press. About a hundred African pastors attended in the a venue in side the black township. Errol and I spoke several times, Bryan led a workshop, and Benjamin and Bryan sang. We enjoyed the African food and fellowship. Beside the meeting hall was a tent with lots of Evangelical Press books, along with some of our CCW literature. These were all about 65% discounted so that they would be affordable to the pastors. And they did buy them!

EP Conference
I received a note from Karl a couple of weeks after this conference. He said that he met up with one of the black pastors downtown. Here is what he wrote:

I met a black pastor yesterday in town who attended the conference. He said that the conference has really generated a back-to-the-Bible movement in the township. The small Bible institute has more students and people are really reading the books. His own believers commented that his own sermons are so much better now that he has been reading the books, sometimes until 2:00 in the morning. We need to keep feeding them with good books.

I forwarded this note to Anthony Gosling of Evangelical Press knowing that he would love the news!

From Barberton we drove with Karl to Maputo, Mozambique. The border stop was filthy and VERY interesting. Thankfully, matters were dealt with quickly there. Karl is used to taking this trek since he still directs a Bible School in Maputo. We took a quick stop at a home that missionaries use in town to pick up Paulo Brasil from Brazil. This Presbyterian brother would go with us to Nampula and the 8th Annual FIEL Conference. He and I were to be the principal speakers.

Veteran missionary Dr. Charles Woodrow picked us up from the airport and took us to his home. It was on a large plot, half of which is designated for his dream, a hospital. His large home, complete with the standard fencing and dogs would house 24 guests! But existence for Charles and his beautiful family began in much more humble accommodations. They lived for a long time in two shipping crates! Those crates are still on the property. I could hardly believe it. But now, through various providential turns of God, they have a larger home to accommodate quests (and future workers). They are some of the most hospitable people you will find. And God is using them. It was Charles and Karl who were principally in charge of the Mozambique FIEL Conference. Salome, our friend from Natal, SA, is working with Charles for some time and is a very efficient help for them.

Nearly 200 pastors, including wives, gathered for this momentous event. Some traveled three days by bus. The conference lasted four nights and five days at the rustic, but beautiful Wyliffe campgrounds. There we met Roland and Susan Seiler, Wycliffe missionaries, and several other wonderful leaders. I wish I could name them all. Louis Paulo and I spoke various times during the week, answered questions, dealt with problems that pastors have, etc. It was a remarkable time. And, of course, there were books. Our CCW books have been translated into Portuguese, so these were available among the mix of excellent FIEL translations. The pastors took advantage of the low prices. From the beginning the attendees have been poor pastors by anyone’s standards. In the first couple of years, some pastors would come without shoes! They pay a price to be there, though the conference is subsidized by FIEL gifts. I believe that the conference itself costs them eight dollars, and that includes some excellent meals, served outdoors in the shed especially made for the occasion. “Shema” was always included, a staple sticky “grits-like” maize substance. I didn’t like it, but I also ate all I was served!

From the conference, we made our way back to Karl’s home in Barberton, SA, for more preaching in his church and the squatter’s camp.

We ended our adventure at Kruger Game Reserve for two days of looking for wild animals. I’ve been to Kruger before, but this was by far a much more exciting trip. We even took a night ride with a guide. Thankfully we saw “the big five,” lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and cape buffalo. Amazing! In the two days we were only able to visit the lower end of this gigantic reserve which is probably the size of Israel. All along the way we were constantly exclaiming about the diversity and beauty and function of God’s creation. We spent a long time at a watering hole where a lion pride eyed various animals as they came to drink. Once a lion chased an impala and we thought we would see a kill right before our eyes. But that will have to happen next time.

We are hopeful that much good will come out of this trip. Our eyes have been better opened to the African situation. We are hopeful of working with Karl in producing a manual for pastors. They need such a tool and it has been on Karl’s heart for some time. We’ve already sent some additional CCW books over. Also, an Afrikaans translation of Wasted Faith is now in the works. Salome is doing the translation and Martin is arranging for printing and costs from his end. Out of the meeting with Susi Roth and further communications with Gerd, her father, we are hopeful of a German translation and distribution project being completed. And we made friends which we will have for many years to come.