Michael Porthen was born on December 12, 1935 in Bertrams, Johannesburg, and grew up in that area. From childhood he had a terrible, uncontrollable temper. In school he hit his best friend when he teased him during play with Latin-sounding words that resembled his name: porto, portas, portan. When Mike saw his friend bleeding from his mouth and nose, he felt so bad he wanted to cry with him. He lost many friends because no one could joke with him. His temper was so bad that he almost killed people. His Hindu father wanted him to make vows but nothing could help him to control his temper.
1935 to 2012
Church of the Nazarene
Porthen's parents were devout Hindus and his father, Charlie Porthen, was a priest since the age of thirty and kept a small temple in his back yard. He presided as people in trances walked barefoot over red hot coals of fire. He was a good man in so many ways. His mother was Angeline Porthen (1920-1985). Porthen did not understand the rituals and beliefs and began to despise Hinduism. He first heard the gospel at a Salvation Army open-air meeting when he was about fourteen. He made a start as a Christian but did not find the way to full salvation. After high school he lost his earlier faith and almost became an atheist. He wanted to be a medical doctor but was unable to go to university. After finishing high school he studied electronics. Finding a good job, he was promoted to foreman over two hundred men and received an excellent salary. Porthen married Mary Davids (1934-) and they lived in Lenasia,Johannesburg.
One day in 1959, the Nazarene pastor at Lenasia, Samuel Moonsammy, saw Porthen chasing his uncle around outside the house with a knife and lunging at him repeatedly. Porthen was a burly man and was raging like a wounded bull. His mother tried to restrain him, and he fell giving his uncle a chance to lock himself into his room. Porthen's uncle had sworn at him because Porthen refused to make Hindu sacrifices when his uncle's child was ill. The next day Moonsammy met Porthen on the train and said it was hard to believe it was the same person. Porthen was a tall, dark young man, elegantly dressed, and very handsome with a winsome smile. He also appeared to be very intelligent. Moonsammy invited him to special services at the Lenasia Church to hear a missionary, William C. Esselstyn, preach. Soon after that invitation, Porthen began attending the services.
One Sunday evening Porthen heard in a sermon that Christ could take away an evil temper; that was what he was looking for. He went forward to pray at the altar and found forgiveness and salvation. Porthen wept for the first time in his life and later testified, "I had a new peace within. My sins were forgiven. I was free....I sang all the way home. The night looked so lovely, fresh, exciting and vibrant. It was as if the angels were singing...The stars twinkled as never before.... God was real!" His mother saw the change in him immediately and initially thought that he was drunk. When Porthen told his father that he had become a Christian, his father wanted to expel him from the home. Porthen's mother, however, stood up for her son and told Charlie, "If he goes I go." Porthen's father however would not speak to his son for two years after that. He finally told his son, "You don't want to do the prayers my way,...do it your way, but don't push me to become a Christian."
The problem of his uncontrollable temper, however, was not solved immediately. A few months later, when he was twenty-four, Porthen heard that the Holy Spirit could cleanse his temper. He was ready and one afternoon as he was praying with a friend in the church he committed himself fully to God and God sanctified him. Porthen reported that the whole church seemed to light up with the glory of God. When he got up from his position of prayer, his evil temper was gone. He then ran out to the street corner shouting and testifying to everyone he met. Porthen also had restitution to make. From that point forward he began to win others in open air services, cottage meetings and through personal work. He was wonderfully blessed and would pray every morning at four o'clock.On another Sunday, the pastor preached on the call of Gideon, and apparently Gideon's throwing down the altars of Baal made an impression on Porthen. The following week the pastor found him in a heated exchange with his father. He had destroyed his father's shrine, torn up the holy pictures and left the idol lying on its face in the mud. His father remonstrated with the pastor asking him what he had done to his son. The pastor then went and found Porthen and had to explain to him that Christians do not believe in violent evangelism.
Mike prayed and fasted for two years for his father's salvation. One day at about three o'clock one morning his mother knocked frantically at Mike's door saying that his father wanted to see him immediately. Mike found him sitting on the bed with a stern, puzzled expression on his face. His father told him of a vision he had just had. He was on his way to say prayers at the temple. Suddenly a man with a long white beard, white hair and a white robe appeared and spoke to him in Tamil asking him where he was going. When he replied that he was going to make prayers at the temple, the man said, "You are going the wrong way." Charlie asked him who he was and the man said, "I am Jesus, the Saviour of the world, the Way, the Truth and the Life." Mike's father asked the man if he was the one his son believed in. He replied, "Yes, come and follow me." This vision was all the more remarkable because Charlie had never read the Bible. Then he awoke and called for his son. When Mike confirmed that this was indeed the Christ that he served, his father asked for water. Following the Indian custom for making a vow he held the cup of water in his right hand and declared, "From today I am going to serve Jesus Christ." He did. That same day he broke all of his temple idols and relics, burned the Hindu pictures and asked for a Tamil Bible. Soon after that he was baptized. Later Mike's mother and brother also found the Lord.
Mike Porthen struggled with God's call to the ministry. He had a family and it was difficult to give up his good job and salary. Finally in 1964 he agreed to become a minister even though his family initially rebelled. In 1991 he wrote: "Answering the call of God means everything to me. It meant a great change in my life from working in electronics to being in the ministry. The call of God came as something new and special in my life, so special that I cannot live without the call." Porthen then enrolled at the Rehoboth Nazarene Bible College in Cape Town. His wife, Mary, was not a Christian and this became an obstacle to his continuing preparation for the ministry. Porthen prayed urgently and desperately for Mary to find the Lord. She had been an Anglican and converted to Hinduism when she married Porthen. She tried to learn the ceremonies but did not understand what they meant. Two of their children had died in spite of the Hindu sacrifices that they had made. When the third became ill Mary took the child into the bedroom and tried to pray from what she remembered of the past. Immediately the child began to recover. Mary repented in 1966 just in time to save her husband from dropping out of Bible College.
After completing his training in 1968 the Porthens moved to the Durban area in Natal and began pastoring the Merebank Church. Here they worked among the thousands of Indians who were being moved from their homes to Indian areas around the city of Durban. In 1973 Porthen was ordained by General Superintendent George Coulter, and in 1978 he became the first elected superintendent of the Natal District. For most of the years leading to the district becoming regular in 1991, he served as the superintendent. He served as District Superintendent for 17 years and served the Merebank Church as pastor for 44 years.
God used the Porthens to win their people to the Lord and build the church. While he was pastoring the Merebank Church twelve men went to Bible College to prepare to answer God’s call into the ministry. Porthen along with the Merebank congregation opened and organized fourteen additional churches and three missions. As of 2012, several of these churches were being pastored by men and women who were led to Christ and discipled by Porthen. A great window from heaven was opening to the Hindu people of Natal, and they responded to the gospel in large numbers.
Porthen spoke twice a week through Trans-World radio. He was the long-time English-speaking voice on the Nazarene program, "Lifting up Christ," a radio program which was aired to millions of people in many countries in Africa. Responses to the messages were followed up by Christian leaders in the respective areas. For example, one day Parvathie Naidoo at Stanger in Northern Natal became depressed and decided to end it all and leave her several children to the care of a welfare home. At home she stood on a chair and tied her sari over a rafter to hang herself. Her children were screaming so she turned up the radio to drown out the sound. Mike Porthen was preaching and she heard his words, "When you are depressed and family or religion cannot help, Jesus can help you." She prayed along with him as he prayed at the end of the message, took down the sari and wrote to him. A couple of days later she was offered a job and help with her back rent. As Mike urged her to, she joined an evangelical church and continued as a Christian. Another example of Porthen's impact is the story of a farmer near Ladybrand in the Orange Free State who kept belittling his son, Jannie Engelbrecht, because he would not become a farmer. Jannie ran away and developed a deep hatred for his father. One day, searching for entertainment on the radio, Jannie heard Mike Porthen speaking about how hatred that destroy a person unless they were healed by forgiveness. He prayed and forgave his father. Meanwhile his father was ill and longed to see his son. When Jannie arrived home his father cried to him for forgiveness and his son said, "I am the one needing it!" There was a wonderful reconciliation and the father died a few days later. Jannie returned to his local Dutch Reformed Church.
The story of Johnny Ramsammy illustrates other aspects of Prothen's ministry: his work exorcising demons. Ramsammy had sold his soul to the demons when young. He went once a month to the Hindu temple to call on the demons for power, and on one occasion he spent a whole month there praying. With two hooks in his back and tied to his ears he would pull a four-wheeled chariot full of gods. He had spikes through his cheeks, tongue and body and wore shoes with nails protruding upward. None of this drew blood. In a trance the whole time, he would do this from eight in the morning until three in the afternoon. Then he would walk through fire and back again without being burnt. One day in 1969 while visiting in the area a group of Nazarene Christians found Ramsammy's wife very sick. Doctors could not help her. The Christians assured her that God could heal her and asked to pray for her. They anointed her and prayed and she felt relieved. Just then Ramsammy walked in. He was very angry, saying that Christians could not come into his home. His wife told him she was better but he said he had brought things to put on her to cure her. The next day Prothen accompanied the group and they returned to the home. Ramsammy tried to push the workers out of the house, but they prayed and called out to the demons, "In the name of Jesus, come out!" Ramsammy fell into a fit, collapsed and hit his head as he fell. His face was hideous and he foamed at the mouth. He seemed to be dead and Prothen prayed with his hand on Ramsammy's head. He then became pale and said, "Something tore out of me." He prayed a prayer of repentance and was converted together with his household and friends. Ramsammy gave Prothen his shoes and spikes to keep as mementos as he had no further use for them. He joined the Merebank Church; his children married Christians and his grandchildren were in the church.
Another instance where Prothen dealt with demons was in in 1973 Porthen during a tent meeting with Rex Emslie, a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene. At this meeting, a young woman jumped up in the service showing signs of demon possession. After the service they stayed to pray with her. Another lady stayed saying she was a Christian from another denomination. A demon gripped this lady and also her ten-year-old son who was peeking in from outside.For half an hour all three of them screamed while the workers prayed. After this period of time had elapsed, they quieted and the first lady's face contorted. A deep male voice came from her and said, "My wife came to me when she was twelve. Since her wedding night she would not share her room with her husband." The workers told the demon to get out as they would not talk to it. The blood came back into her pale ears and cheeks and her face relaxed as she found deliverance. She was Kamala Chetty, a twenty-three-year-old widow. Her husband had died when he was thirty.
One final story that took place during 1982 also illustrates Porthens work with people who were possessed by demons. During that same year the Porthens were awakened at three o'clock one morning with a loud banging on the door. A crowd was outside trying to support a fifteen-year-old girl who was uttering strange noises. She had told how she had seen a short ugly man calling after her on the beach. Again she began screaming hysterically, "No, don't come after me!" There in the pastor's sitting room she began snarling, screaming, crouching, falling and cursing. As the attacks worsened they carried her over to the church. In a fervent, united volume of prayer they rebuked the devil in the name of Jesus. After a long time of continued prayer, victory came and the girl was delivered. She became a faithful member of the Merebank Church. A large proportion of the Nazarene converts from Hinduism have been delivered from demon possession.
Besides his work as a church planter, radio minister, and with the demon possessed, Porthen ministered in other areas. He was also a prison chaplain for over 29 years. Prisoners at the Westville prison in Durban have listened to the life-changing messages of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Among the thousands that were ministered to weekly, three men are now serving in the full time ministry in South Africa and many others are rejoicing in the Christian faith they found there in prison. As a commissioned evangelist on the KwaZulu District, Mike Porthen spoke in churches, tents and large halls in and around Natal and extensively in other parts of Africa such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho and Kenya. He has also preached in many different churches in England and the USA. Throughout KwaZulu and Natal thousands were influenced to turn to Christ through these missions and out of much strife and violence are becoming reconciled with their former political enemies.
Mike Porthen retired from the superintendency in 1996 when all the Natal districts and churches merged to form the KwaZulu Natal District. That year David Holmes, a minister in the Church of the Nazarene, was elected the superintendent of the new multi-ethnic district. The Porthens, however, continued to pastor the Merebank Church along with the Phoenix II and Austerville Churches at times. Porthen passed away on August 24, 2012. He had a severe stroke in late March of that year and had been in and out of the hospital. He had become very weak and frail and succumbed to the effects of the stroke. Officiating ministers at his funeral were Nathan Porhen and Martha (Porthen) Hendricks. The graveside service was held at Dudley Cemetery, Austerville.
Paul S. Dayhoff
1. Trans African, (1985): 2.
2. Carol Zurcher, "Notes on Interview with M. Porthen." In Like a River Flowing: The Church of the Nazarene in Africa and the Republic of Cape Verde, ed. Hughlon R. Friberg (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1982), 35.
3. S. Moonsammy, "Article," World Mission (1978).
4. Carol Zurcher, "Twas the Day before Christmas," World Mission (1987: 4.
5. Carol Zurcher, "Notes on Michael Porthen's Call," manuscript in possession of the author.
6. Naomi and Martha Porthen, interview by Margaret Dayhoff, July 25, 1992, Oakdale Priory, Durban, South Africa.
7. Carol Zurcher, "Notes on Mary Porthen," manuscript in possession of the author.
8. Michael Porthen, interview by the author, July 26, 1992, Oakdale Priory, Durban, South Africa.
9. Michael Porthen, interview by the author, July 25, 1992, Oakdale Priory, Durban, South Africa.
10. "LINNKS -with a Double N! Loving Interested Natal Nazarenes Knowingly Share in the Cape Verde Islands," Trans African (1982): 3.
11. Trans African (1982): 3. Carol Zurcher, "Notes." Michael Porthen, interview by the author, February 3, 1996.
12. "Prayer Mobilization Line," World Mission (2012).
13. Stanley Ushi, "Obituary."
Michael Porthen, interview by the author, July 25, 1992, Oakdale Priory, Durban, South Africa.
Michael Porthen, interview by the author, July 26, 1992, Oakdale Priory, Durban, South Africa.
Michael Porthen, interview by the author, February 3, 1996.
Moonsammy, S. “Article.” World Mission (1978).
Naomi and Martha Porthen, Daughters of Michael Porthen, interview by Margaret Dayhoff, July 25, 1992, Oakdale Priory, Durban, South Africa.
Ushi, Stanley. “Obituary.”
Zucher, Carol. “Notes on Interview with M. Porthen.” In Life a River Flowing: The Church of the Nazarene in Africa and the Republic of Cape Verde, ed. Hughlon R. Friberg. Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1982.
--------. “Notes on Mary Porthen.” Manuscript in possession of the author.
--------. “Notes on Michael Porthen’s Call.” Manuscript in possession of the author.
--------. “Twas the Day Before Christmas.” World Mission (1987): 4.
“LINNKS –with a Double N! Loving Interested Natal Nazarenes Knowingly Share in the Cape Verde Islands.” Trans African (1982): 3.
“Prayer Mobilization Line.” World Mission (2012)
Trans African (1982): 3
Trans African (1985): 2.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Living Stones In Africa: Pioneers of the Church of the Nazarene, revised edition, copyright © 1999, by Paul S. Dayhoff. All rights reserved.