Staden, Hans von
Hans von Staden, the founder of the Dorothea Mission, an interdenominational faith mission, was born on February 27, 1905 in Winburg, South Africa. His father had emigrated from Germany in 1883 and his mother was a descendant of the pioneer missionary Güldenpfenning of the Berlin Mission. Hans von Staden’s mother tongue was German, but his home language became Afrikaans with English as his second language. Hans was the third of seven children. His mother, Dorothea von Staden, was a devout Christian who prayed earnestly for the salvation of her children.
In 1923, Hans von Staden enrolled as a student of science at the University of Stellenbosch in the Cape Province. His professors predicted for him an outstanding career in the field of science.
Towards the end of his first academic year, he experienced an increasing inner battle which could be summed up in his questions: “Is God, after all, a reality? Has he a claim on my life?” One evening, while walking for hours along a beach and praying earnestly, he had an overwhelming awareness of the presence of God. This experience did not yet lead to his conversion, but from that moment onwards, Hans von Staden could no longer doubt the existence of God and that the Almighty One indeed had a claim on his life. He prayed earnestly concerning God’s guidance for his future. Should he dedicate himself to His service?
The decisive turning point in his life came one evening in July 1926 when he became intensely aware of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hans von Staden surrendered himself unconditionally to Him and rose from his knees as a born-again child of God. Now he could no longer doubt at all that he had to dedicate his life to the Lord’s service.
In 1927, after having obtained his B.Sc. degree, he was appointed traveling secretary of the Student’s Christian Association for one year. It was a strenuous but richly blessed year in his Master’s service.
Afterwards, Hans von Staden joined the Africa Evangelical Band (AEB) which was founded in 1924. During the first years he served as an evangelist both in South Africa and Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia at that time) and, in 1931, he was called to East Africa.
In 1932, he felt clearly guided by God to ask Lettie Prinsloo to become his wife. Lettie was converted at the age of 14 and her mother, a deeply devout child of God, was a descendant of the Huguenots. Hans and Lettie had met as students at Stellenbosch University. After a career in teaching, she clearly heard God’s call into full-time service and joined the Africa Evangelistic Band. Hans and Lettie von Staden were married on December 20, 1932 and God blessed them with seven children, three sons and four daughters.
Hans and Lettie von Staden served the Lord together in East Africa until their mission society called them back to South Africa in 1934. Eight years later, Hans von Staden heard an unexpected call. The following is a quote from the booklet I Heard His Call:
It was during February 1924 that my wife and I visited her parents in Lindley, in the Orange Free State. The lovely shade of the willows on the banks of the Vals River was my chosen spot for Bible study and prayer early in the day. One morning I became peculiarly conscious of the wonderful presence of the Lord. Deep in my heart I heard His voice: We were to dedicate our lives to the evangelization of the souls in the townships of South Africa. At that time they were still called the old “locations,” many of them being terrible slum areas.
It was a sudden and unexpected call. Should someone ask me how I knew it to be the Lord’s call, I would not be able to explain or prove it. But to me it was a matter of absolute certainty. Servants of God who know His voice will be able to appreciate my experience. Until that moment I had never once thought about work for God in the locations. I had almost no knowledge about them. But I was assured of a Divine call. Naturally I returned home to tell my wife. At that moment she, too, became conscious deep in her heart that it was God calling us.
Right from the beginning it became clear to Hans von Staden that their new work for the Lord should be entirely a “faith work,” not asking anyone for financial support, but trusting God alone to undertake in every way.
The first most important step was to train African evangelists for this new work. This necessitated the opening of a training centre. Through a Christian friend, Hans von Staden learned about a farm to be sold on the outskirts of Pretoria which seemed ideal as a mission station and training centre. However, they had no funds to buy this property. They took their project to God in prayer and pleaded His promises. One day before the final decision was to be taken as to whether they would purchase this property or not, the mother unexpectedly visited her son and daughter-in-law. She lived in a different province of South Africa and knew nothing about their situation. Quite unexpectedly, she told them that God had clearly spoken to her that she should donate a substantial sum of her savings to be used in their work for the Lord. What a remarkable answer to prayer!
When the newly founded mission had to receive a name, Hans von Staden could think of only one name: Dorothea Mission. After all, his mother, Dorothea von Staden, had been used by God to lay the financial foundation of the work and “Dorothea” means “Gift of God.” The one great aim of this new mission society was to take the message of salvation–the Gospel–as the “Gift of God” to the multitudes of lost souls living in the “locations” which had spread far and wide, mainly on the outskirts of the towns of South Africa. They were, to a large extent, the result of more and more people leaving the rural areas to seek work in the towns.
God continued to guide the work, step by step, and blessed it. He called black Christians to be trained as evangelists and soon the first white believers also heard God’s call into this ripe harvest field. God also provided an increasing number of friends to pray for the Dorothea Mission and to support its work. Later on, some applicants also came from European countries to serve the Lord in the Dorothea Mission.
In 1960, Hans von Staden travelled to Zimbabwe and Zambia to attend the crusades held by Dr. Billy Graham. It made a tremendous impression on him to see how African people gathered in the thousands to hear the Gospel. When he drove with a friend through the densely populated townships of Bulawayo (the second largest city of Zimbabwe), he was overwhelmed by the sight. Here he was confronted by the same spiritual needs as in South Africa. As he wrestled in prayer, seeking God’s will and guidance, it became clear to him that God was calling Dorothea Mission to extend its work beyond the borders of South Africa.
The first new mission field became Namibia in 1961. In 1962, the Dorothea Mission held a major evangelistic crusade on the outskirts of Harare in Zimbabwe. This opened the door to a permanent work in Zimbabwe, including a training centre for evangelists. Then work extended to Malawi and Zambia. Also, in 1995, the Dorothea Mission began to work for the first time in Mozambique. On account of the civil war, this country had been closed to missionary work for many years. There are altogether about 60 workers who serve the Lord on a full-time basis with the Dorothea Mission in these six countries.
The crusades of the Dorothea Mission consist mainly of tent meetings. The evangelists also hold children’s meetings and do house visitation. Evangelistic work is done in schools and patients are visited in hospitals. Converts are encouraged to join Christ-centered congregations. The Dorothea Mission is an interdenominational mission society. Throughout the years, invitations for evangelistic crusades have been received from different churches, including the Dutch Reformed Church of which Hans Von Staden was a member. As much as possible the evangelists also try to do follow-up work to strengthen new believers in their faith. The mission has its own media department. Christian literature is published in 15 languages and, to a limited extent, the Gospel is broadcast over the radio. Over many decades, the Lord, by His grace, has richly blessed the missionary work of Hans von Staden and his fellow-workers in the Dorothea Mission.
On August 21, 1986, when the founder of the Dorothea Mission, Mr. Hans von Staden, was called to glory, his second eldest son, Prof. Paul von Staden, took over most of the administrative responsibilities as acting director. In 1993, God called Rev. Eben Louw as the new full-time director. He was succeeded by Rev. Neels Els who, like his predecessor, had been a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. Rev. Els served from 1998 to June 2002. Since his departure, Prof. Paul von Staden is, once again, acting director as well as chairman of the council of the Dorothea Mission.
A favourite verse of the late founder was Philippians 4:19 “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” As a faith work, being entirely dependent on the Lord’s provision, this mission society can never thank Him enough for His unending faithfulness during all the years of its existence. The Dorothea Mission longs to be true to God’s call to the very end so that He can fully accomplish His eternal purpose through its ministry, to the glory of His Name. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Rescue the Perishing - The Story of the Dorothea Mission (Dorothea Mission Press: 1984).
This story, submitted in August 2003 by Prof. Paul von Staden, Dorothea Mission, South Africa, was written by Ingrid Otto, full-time worker of the Dorothea Mission since 1962.