Jacobus Christiaan B. Coetzer grew up in the North West Region of South Africa. His parents were very religious. They led good lives but knew nothing of salvation. They strongly opposed mission work among the Africans and Chris grew up to hate missionaries.
His father was a farmer, a butcher and a diamond digger. He fought against the British in the Anglo-Boer War. He directed the choir and taught the catechism to the young people in the Dutch Reformed Church. Chris listened eagerly as a boy and learned all the answers. He also memorized many passages of Scripture.
Chris worked hard as a boy. He and his older brother had to get up early, brew the coffee, milk the cows, and then walk a long distance to school. If they were late the teacher whipped them. Chris was frail as a child and often missed school because of illness. He always caught up with his classmates, however, and surpassed them. He hated and was angered by injustice. He always defended the smaller and weaker boys who were bullied. Though small for his age he was wiry. The bullies had to reckon with his fists and would go home with bleeding noses.
One day, in school, his teacher marked an answer wrong in his mathematics homework, following the answers in the back of the teachers’ book. He beat Chris in punishment. That made Chris furiously angry because he knew that his sum was correct. He argued with the teacher who sent him to correct his mistake. Again, he returned the same answer and, again, the teacher punished him. Why was it that the rest of the class had the answer according to the teachers’ book? Chris remained adamant. Eventually the teacher worked out the answer himself and found that Chris was right. The answer in the teachers’ book was incorrect. He also found that the other pupils had stealthily used the teacher’s book and had copied the answers to their sums without working out the problems for themselves.
Times were hard during the depression years and also later after World War II. After school, the two Coetzer boys had to dig for diamonds. Digging in the dry gravel was hard work. One afternoon, as his father was washing the gravel, he found a sizeable diamond. A digger standing by picked it up and playfully said he was going to keep it. Chris picked up a stone and glared at the man who quickly returned it to its owner.
As he grew older, Chris became a militant nationalist. As a young man in his twenties, a successful farmer, he became greatly concerned about his soul. Life was dark and he was unhappy. His sister and her family found the Lord. During a visit he went with them to an evangelistic meeting. For the first time in his life he sensed the presence of God in a meeting. He did not respond at that time but became so desperate that he returned the following day to speak to the preacher. However, he found the tent was gone and the preacher had left. Darkness and despondency settled on him and, at times, he was even tempted to end his own life.
Months later, on another visit to his sister, a tent campaign was again in progress. The very first evening, Chris found assurance of salvation. He later testified that, as he prayed, the Lord spoke to him about three things. They were his deep hatred of British, Jewish and African people. When he surrendered those hatreds, he found forgiveness and a new life. Then he began testifying and his unsaved relatives thought he was crazy. A few years later he was able to lead his mother to the Lord and, eventually, his father as well.
He then heard God’s call to full-time service. He argued with the Lord and was afraid to read the Bible. He remembered the stories of the rich young ruler and Jonah. But he could find no peace. Finally, unable to bear this burden any longer, he surrendered and gave himself to the Lord for His service. He sold everything he had and made provision for his parents for whom he had been caring. In January 1939, he went to the African Evangelistic Bands Bible College and helped the evangelists in holding tent meetings. During this time Chris was sanctified. Although Afrikaans-speaking, he was in an English College and was asked to pray and preach in English around the Cape Town area.
God then called him to preach to the African people and especially to the Tswana people whom he had known during his youth. This was a great struggle for him. He argued, “No, Lord, I do not love them. We used to fight. I cannot preach Calvary to them.” The call persisted and he finally agreed, “Lord, I am willing if you will love them through me.” His family was horrified. He became a total outcast and for a while was not welcome in the home of his unsaved brother. Eventually, however, his brother apologized and they were reconciled.
In 1940 Chris Coetzer set out in an old bakkie (pickup) with a tent accompanied by Isaiah, a Christian Sotho man as an interpreter. He had no sponsors or promised salary. As they held evangelistic campaigns on farms and in townships, people found the Lord and some were called to preach. In order to train them, Chris had a part in the founding of the Dorothea Mission and Bible College near Pretoria. During World War II, gasoline was rationed but God’s stewards always gave him money and ration vouchers at the right times. Often Chris and Isaiah were without food for days. With only one blanket each and no firewood they were often unable to keep warm. One day Isaiah, an elderly saint, prayed, “Lord, we are not praying for food, if you will only save these people.” That evening the Holy Spirit came and the whole congregation prostrated themselves in the dust weeping and confessing sins and then testifying to forgiveness. The following day a newly-saved lady walked eight kilometers to get a bundle of firewood for them. Someone else brought them a loaf of bread and a tin of jam.
Mrs. Susanna Carolina Olga (Lourens) Coetzer (1919-) grew up in an Afrikaans home in Natal and had a true Christian upbringing. Her father was a farmer and a business man. He often preached at rural Sunday services and conducted prayer meetings. During a severe drought the elderly Zulu people on his farm came to him and asked him to go with them to the top of a hill to pray for rain. He preached and prayed. God sent rain. Olga’s parents prayed for the salvation of their children.
After her father passed away, Olga went to live with her mother and taught in the village school that she had attended as a child. Her godly mother helped her to find the Lord in 1943. Olga explained, “The things of the world that had allured me lost their attraction for Jesus satisfied and filled the void in my heart. The Bible became a live book and prayer was talking to my Father who had become real.”
Soon afterwards the preacher in church read Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham, when called to go…, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” She said, “I almost jumped out of my seat for I realized and knew God was calling me to full- time service for Him. I was willing. I was thrilled at the honour bestowed upon me.” As a teacher she began seeing success in witnessing for the Lord. Six months later, during a holiness convention, she made full surrender of her life and asked God to sanctify her.
A year after she was sanctified, she met Chris when he came to hold meetings among the Zulu people in her home community. Olga had learned Zulu as a girl growing up on the farm. It was love at first sight. Before their marriage, she attended Dorothea Bible College and came to know African students and evangelists. God showed her the need of the African people that she once had greatly feared as a nation. As individuals, however, they were great friends and there was mutual respect. Chris and Olga married in 1946.
They travelled together preaching to both white and African people. The Lord provided for their needs and in 1948 they made their home in the Northern Cape. With a one-ton bakkie and a new marquee tent, they often went out with a week’s provisions and held campaigns among the Tswana people. Without a refrigerator, in the heat of the Kalahari desert, they had to cook all of their meat every day to keep it from spoiling. They went back “home” to replenish their supplies and wash all their clothes and bedclothes that had become caked with red dust. The laundry had to be done by hand using homemade soap. The Tswana women on the farm refused to help Olga with the hard work this involved, saying, “We do not work for a white pauper.”
Chris and Olga learned the Tswana language and many people found the Lord through their ministry. In 1948, during a meeting in the Ganyesa area God came in power and young and old prostrated themselves before the Lord in the dust praying and confessing their sins. The police sergeant, who witnessed this, said he would not prosecute anyone as they testified of salvation from theft, murder and other sins. He and his family were also saved. A small girl said, “I used to go and buy liquor for my mother, but now God has forgiven me.” An elderly lady testified, “I was brought up in the church and later became a prayer woman wearing a church uniform. But in these days I have found out that I had never been saved. In spite of my church standing I feared the demons and committed ritual murder on a man and two children. But now God has forgiven me”.
The Coetzers won the confidence of Tswana chiefs, and white farmers also helped them. There was a great response on the De Kock farm near Barkly West, Northern Cape Region. Some that repented there and later became successful pastors were Mr. Steven Modise, Mr. Johannes Kgwadi and Mr. Johnny Mohola (1935-). Mr. Piet Olepeng became a faithful lay pastor. Chris Coetzer was called Motsotsonyana (Very Soon) because he often sang the chorus, “By and by (translated “very soon”) we’ll see the King.” Their converts came to them and said, “Missionary, give us a church. We are no longer welcome in our churches. They deny the fact that you can say your sins were forgiven and that you know it. Do not leave us as orphans.” The Coetzers were interdenominational workers at that time and they began praying for a holiness church to come to the Northern Cape.
God led them to join the Church of the Nazarene in 1959 and they were appointed as missionaries in 1961. They were anxious to begin establishing churches to conserve the fruits of their evangelism. For six years they served at the Lorraine Mission in the Northern Region lowveld and evangelized in Sekhukhuniland. The above-mentioned young men enrolled at the Arthurseat Bible College (southeastern lowveld of Northern Province) when it opened in 1963. Chris Coetzer was ordained in 1965.
These were fruitful years of ministry. God was with Chris through difficult, but successful, negotiations with an uncooperative commissioner in Tzaneen over the status of the Lorraine Mission. He threatened to close the mission and the “permission to occupy” papers could not be found. Another problem was obtaining visas for students to travel to Bible College in Swaziland. Later Chris invited the commissioner to go fishing with him. This he did and they became friends.
While building the church at Mabins, on the Olifants River below the mountains, a young helper was warned not to disturb the rafters that were not yet properly secured. The warning was not heeded and both the helper and Chris fell with them and could easily have been killed. A five-kilogram hammer fell on Chris’s head but he got back up badly shaken with only a torn lip.
With the able help of the worker, Rev. Johannes Sentsho, permission was obtained from the chiefs in Sekhukhuniland, the heart of the Pedi homeland, for the Church of the Nazarene to begin operations there. This involved a whole series of miracles as the opposition was fierce.
While laying the foundation for a prefabricated building at Ga-Nkwana, to be the first pastor’s home in Sekhukhuniland, Chris had to travel to Pietersburg sixty miles away to fetch cement. On the way, the front wheels of the jeep suddenly locked and the vehicle overturned. A sharp pointed stone went through the side of the jeep opposite Chris’s head and barely missed him.
In 1968, the Coetzers, along with the above-mentioned Tswana workers, began pioneering the churches in the Northern Cape and Northwestern Regions that were later organized into the Northern Cape District of the denomination. Churches were organized and built at Kimberley, Barkly West, Taung, Cassel, Ganyesa and Mafikeng.
When they moved into the tribal areas, permission was needed from the chiefs who never refused to grant it. At Mafikeng the African leaders put in the request and it was refused. When Chris Coetzer requested to speak he was asked who he was. He said, “I am Rra-Motsotsonyana (Father Very Soon).” Surprised, the chief asked: “Are you that white preacher who went about living in a tent and preaching the Gospel in our tribal areas?” When told he was, the chief said, “Give him the best site available for a church,” and the entire council agreed.
After retiring in 1980, Rev. Chris and Mrs. Olga Coetzer went to live near their son at Upington in the Northern Cape. Their only child and son Johannes Coetzer, passed away on Feb. 3, 2002, after suffering with a malignant tumor, following two surgeries. His wife, Jeanette, and their daughter, Carmen, were recovering from an automobile accident in which Carmen sustained serious neck and back injuries, and Jeanette suffered an injury to her ankle. Chris Coetzer passed away on July 20, 2003. Motsotsonyana saw his King.
Paul S. Dayhoff
Chris and Olga Coetzer, written biographical report, 1992. Coetzers’ testimonies in, “Meet Your Missionaries,” The Other Sheep, (February 1964), 11; Chris and Olga Coetzer, letter, Upington, June 12, 1995.
Joanie Doerr, Out of Africa, Weekly E-mail newsletter from Africa Region, (March 6, 2002), 4.
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.