The ecumenical movement in Botswana received a great deal of impetus with the arrival of Rev Canon Ronald Charles Wynne on the scene. He was born in 1916 at Leatherhead, Surrey, United Kingdom and died on 18th July 2007. When he was seven, his family moved to Northwood, Middlesex. He attended two junior schools before going to Malvern College, Worcestershire. When he was 17, he was taken to hospital with a severely poisoned ankle, needing three operations in two weeks. He was desperately ill. Until that day, he had gone to church each Sunday with his parents, but his religion was formal, not real. Now he felt that the end had come. Then, one day, he realized that someone was suffering with him. He vowed that if God brought him through, he would give his life to him. When God healed him, Wynne could echo the words of the Psalmist, “thou hast delivered my soul from death and feet from falling that I may walk before thee in the land of the living”. (Psalm 56:12). From then on, he tried to live for God. “Of course he fell short of his demands, but these acted as a compass by which to steer his life” (Wynne, The Pool that Never Dries Up, p.8).
He went to Selwyn College, Cambridge. He had his name down for Lincoln Theological College, but the Principal advised him not to go there straight from university. Instead, he should either spend some years in business, or do a short service job overseas. He was asked by the Society of St. Francis to go to their sister society near Poona in India. This was called “The Society of the service of the ‘Love of Christ’ ”. This Society consisted of English and Indian Brothers, seeking to combine the loving service of Christ with the way of life of Indian Holy Men. This Society ran a hostel for Indian students attending Poona University. His job was to be Warden. The students came from Indian religions and castes, and from several Indian provinces. They were obliged to share a common evening meal. During this time, Muslims agreed not to eat meat so that their Hindu brothers would not be offended. Wynne’s job was to keep the peace among them. He needed humility, patience and love to do this. As he lacked all these, he learned more living among them than they did from living together!
When he went out to Poona, war was declared when his ship reached Aden. When his period of service at the Students’ Hostel was up, what was he to do next? The Principal of Lincoln said, “Civilians do not travel in wartime on British warships; you should go for theological training to Bishop College, Calcutta.” There he found himself training with the future leaders of the Church in India, with men who came from every province; and also with candidates from Ceylon, the orthodox Syrian and Reformed Churches of South India, with an Anglo-Indian, an Anglo-Burma, a Dyak from Sarawak, two Armenian Church deacons, an Egyptian and a Jew! It was a wonderful training but what was he to do afterwards? He made tentative inquiries about a curacy in an English church in Delhi, but then unexpected events led to him being called to serve elsewhere.
On Easter Day, 1942, an elderly Anglican priest named John began to celebrate the Easter Eucharist. This was at Trincomalee, in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). The service was never finished. A vast Japanese fleet attacked this important naval base, causing much damage and loss of life. 500 Japanese aircraft attacked the harbor with the Rising Sun behind them. 75 ancient Gloster Gladiators counter-attacked. Most were shot down; incredibly the Japanese fleet withdrew. Instantly, reinforcements from all three services poured into the place to defend it from Japanese invasion. Many naval chaplains came; but Army and Air Force chaplains only came up once a month from the capital, Colombo. Rev. John had a job on his hands; he also had an elderly mother in England; at any time he might have to leave the island and go home to care for her. In this situation, the Bishop of Colombo had to find additional help. At that time, Wynne was at Bishop’s College, Calcutta.
The Japanese also attacked Calcutta, sinking thirty ships. Wynne’s college was evacuated to a center in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Bishop of Colombo sent him a telegram, asking him to come so he could ordain him deacon. It took him five days by train to reach Ceylon. On the 26th of July 1942, he was made deacon at Christ Church, Jaffna, in the north of the island, before a Tamil congregation. The Bishop, his chaplain and Wynne were the only English people present. Jaffna is now the headquarters of the Tamil Tigers. Wynne went to live with Rev. John. He trained Wynne very strictly. This was not pleasant. But it was probably necessary before Wynne was thrown to the lions. Although he was 26, he was young and unsure of himself. He was more like an adolescent in modern times.
He was ordained priest on Trinity Sunday, 1943, together with a Tamil, a Singhalese, and a Dutch Burgher – four nationalities. John had to go home to look after his mother. So Wynne had to lead the parish on his own. The army supplied him with a truck and a driver on Sundays and twice during the week. He had to officiate at eight services each Sunday, ministering to all three military units, including his own congregation. He started at the Hospital at 7am. There were thirty-six light anti-aircraft gun sites. These were approached through the jungle on newly made tracks. At each site, twelve men clustered around the gun. They sang well-known hymns from Hymns Ancient and Modern. His first confirmation candidates were a regimental sergeant- major and one of his corporals.
The Bishop realized how difficult the position was for Wynne with very little life experience. For that reason, he came for the important services on major church festivals. At those times, his position as Bishop and his experience were vital. The harbor steadily filled up with ships until the fleets divided into two – the Pacific fleet to go east, and the Eastern fleet to remain at Trincomalee. Wynne stayed until the end of the war. The work had grown, and a very experienced priest came to take over. He returned to England to become one of four curates in a large English parish. There, like anyone newly ordained, he had to learn his infantry drill. This experience led him to pray. Here was his prayer: “Lord, without whom our labor is but lost, and with whom the weakest go forth as the mighty, be present to all works in your church, which are undertaken according to your will; and grant to your laborers a pure intention, patient faith, sufficient success upon earth, and the bliss of serving you in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Wynne’s first English parish was Basingstoke, in Hampshire, in the Diocese of Winchester. He went there in 1946. The population was then 18,000 – a nice size for a vicar and four curates. Since then the place has grown greatly. Walter Boulton, whom he had known as Senior Chaplain at the Cathedral in Calcutta, asked him to join him. He had a happy and valuable time with him before he was appointed Provost of Guildford Cathedral in 1952. He was succeeded by John Evans, who later became Archdeacon of Godalming. In 1956, Wynne was invited to become Vicar of Lockerly and East Dean, on the western side of the Diocese of Winchester – six miles north of Romsey, and a few miles from the boundary of the diocese with the Diocese of Salisbury. There were only 600 people; this gave him an opportunity for intensive visitation.
Wynne’s previous overseas experience had given him the desire to go abroad again. It was considered desirable that he would do this before he was fifty. In 1961, he travelled on a banana boat to St. Vincent in the Diocese of the Windward Islands in the West Indies. He was to serve as an assistant priest in the Cathedral Parish of Kingstown. The population was 20,000 of whom 8,500 were reputedly Anglican. As only 1,000 were on the Electoral Roll, it was clear that some intensive visitation was needed. So he travelled on foot in the mountains and the outskirts of the city. Often, as he climbed up to some isolated hut, he would often hear a voice say before he reached the hut, “Oh, I do like to see the shepherd come in search of the sheep that have strayed.” The size of the Cathedral congregation grew. Wynne was glad that he did this visiting as an assistant priest; for after eighteen months, the Archdeacon of St. Vincent moved from Kingstown to Grenada, an island further south, and Wynne was appointed Rector of the Cathedral. Having little help, he did not have the same opportunity to visit the people as he had had as an assistant priest. Also, his workload greatly increased.
When he became Rector of the Cathedral, his sister came to join him; soon they were joined by a lady who had founded the Mothers’ Union in the Windward Islands and in other parts of the West Indies. This was Miss Evelyn Mann. She was near the end of her time as Mothers’ Union Worker. They invited her to live with them. After a few years, he found that his work was too heavy a load without adequate help; also a very capable West Indian priest was available to take over. So Wynne returned to England in January 1967; and, as Miss Mann had no house of her own, they invited her to make her home with them. Before they returned from the West Indies, they were able to find a house in Minchinhampton, near Stround in Gloucestershire. That was in June 1967. They lived there from then on.
Wynne’s work overseas was not over. But he needed a good rest first. He pondered what he should do next, and in May he had a hunch that he was meant to go to Africa to look for a people still following the ways of their ancestors, and not yet following Jesus Christ. Eventually, the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG) agreed that he should consider going to Botswana, which at that time came under the jurisdiction of Kenneth Skelton, Bishop of Matebeleland. He was willing to take him on and chose wisely the first place to which he sent him. He said to Wynne “whatever you may have done before, you must start in a center, which will give you a good introduction to the country. First you need to know with whom you will have to deal; later you will discover what you are meant to do.” He therefore sent Wynne to Francistown in 1968. This was on the railway line between Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe, and Gaborone, the new capital of Botswana.
Wynne assisted the Rector there for 18 months. During that time, he inquired if there were any people in the country who answered to the description given in his call—that is, still following the ways of their ancestors and who did not know Jesus Christ. He heard of a people who answered this description. But they had been living in Angola and were now entering the north of Botswana as displaced refugees. Their territory had been invaded in May 1967 – the same month that Wynne was summoned to Africa. They were now being settled at Etsha in Ngamiland. He met the refugees when they arrived there. He could not forget the look on their faces. He felt confronted by Christ in the eyes of his suffering people.
Wynne asked Bishop Skelton if he could go and serve them. Bishop Skelton told him that the Botswana Christian Council (BCC) had taken the initiative in relieving their needs and in settling them at Etsha. They should approve the idea of meeting of their spiritual needs, so that if he were to go there, it would be with the blessing of the whole church. Eventually, the BCC, with Government approval, sent Wynne to Etsha to work among the Hambukushu as a missionary/pastor, on an ecumenical basis. He spent six years living among them, giving them primary health care, compiling an adult literacy primer, and starting adult literacy classes in response to their request, and because their outlook and culture were basically those of an Old Testament people. Wynne studied their language, and began to compile an English-Mbukushu dictionary. It took them six years to accept him; only then could he start to proclaim the Gospel to them in terms that would be acceptable to them. As there were thirteen villages, this mission, starting on Whitsunday 1977, took three months. Ten out of the thirteen villages produced congregations who accepted Christ as Savior and Lord of their common life. They were baptized in the pools of the Okavango River.
When they were prepared for communion, the relatively small congregations of believers surrounded by the whole village had great converting power. The number of Christians doubled. When the time came for Wynne to retire and leave Etsha, 10% had become members of the church. As the work had grown, it was necessary for him to be succeeded by a team of five to take over. The members were recruited by the World Council of Churches and the BCC. The team consisted of a Methodist pastor and his wife from New Zealand (middle-aged), a young Methodist minister and his wife from the United States, and a woman from the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. In her mid-forties, she had trained missionaries at the Hendrik Kraemer Institute, and visited missionaries at their place of work. She was a highly experienced teacher. She produced a much better primer for literacy teachers to their own people.
The team came to build up the Church at Etsha. They stayed about five years. They were succeeded by a Congregational Minister and his family from the Netherlands who stayed for about nine years. After he left, Wynne was asked to re-visit the people. He realized that they needed a prayer book, geared to their culture, which their lay leaders could use. Wynne prepared it before he went. While he was at Etsha, he sat down with some of their leaders to check the correctness of his use of their language. Subsequently, he completed the prayer books, and then had them duplicated and sent out to the Church at Etsha. His parish at Minchinhampton generously met the cost of this. The prayer books have been fully used in all the congregations. Wynne’s missionary work led to the establishment of a number of Christian congregations along the banks of the Okavango River from Etsha village 13 towards Shakawe on the North-West border and other congregations in other parts of Botswana.
Wynne returned to the U.K. in October 1982 where he spent a few years, visiting half the dioceses in England, and some in Scotland. He told people the story of Etsha, which was eventually recorded in The Pool That never Dries Up (N.p.: USPG, 1988). After that, he continued to assist in his own parish of Minchinhampton – whenever he was invited to do so. At the beginning of June 2002, he fell and fractured his left femur. This limited his freedom of movement but he hoped that with the help of occupational physiotherapists, he could steadily become more mobile. The parish in which he provided assistance was well staffed with a Rector, two assistant priests, a retired Bishop, two retired clergy, and other laity who were at different stages of training. But his ministry was still welcomed. He sat to celebrate communion. Others administered the distribution of the bread and wine to the people. At other communion services, he was able to go up to the altar, using his two sticks. He looked forward to steadily becoming more mobile. At the end of a long life of ministry, he was deeply grateful – to God who gave him the desire and the means to serve him continually with all his mind, with all his heart, and with all his strength.
Personal communication with Rev. Canon Ronald Charles Wynne, London, July, 2002.
Wynne, Ronald Charles. The Pool that Never Dries Up. N.p.: USPG, 1988.
Photo Source: The Pool That Never Dries Up.
This biography, received in 2018, was written by Dr. James Amanze, General Secretary of the Association of Theological Institutions in Southern and Central Africa (ATISCA), Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Botswana (Gaborone), and DACB Advisory Council member. These stories were written as part of a collection documenting the history of the ecumenical movement in Botswana, an unpublished manuscript entitled “Heroes and Heroines of the Ecumenical Movement in Botswana: Celebrating Great Lives, Celebrating Past Leadership.”