My Grandfather, Andrew Louw of Morgenster Mission
My grandmother, Cinie passed away many years ago and my grandfather Andrew, was now old and living by himself in his own room which I almost regarded as a sanctuary. The books that lined his bookshelf breathed of ancient men and women who had served God as missionaries in distant lands and others whom God used as instruments for evangelical revivals. To me his Bible was the holiest of all these books. On his desk was a small silver-colored, metallic shoe with needles stuck into a velvet cushion that fascinated me. He even had a walking stick with a slim dagger inside that could be pulled out if ever an assailant should attack him. Somehow I could not associate my grandfather with a dagger in his hand. After all, he was a man of God who had left his fatherland, South Africa, in 1891 to bring the gospel to a downtrodden people beyond the northern border of the country of his birth. It was his answer to God’s call some years earlier.
Born of Godly parents, he intended to study for the ministry following in the footsteps of his father. He enrolled at the seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church at Stellenbosch in the Cape. His frail body was, however, susceptible to the cold and wet winters of the Cape and he was advised to spend a spell in the Karoo, a region where the climate was drier and healthier.
During this time, he attended a service by a visiting missionary, Rev. Sam Helm, who at the end of his sermon made a plea for missionaries to the Banyai people who lived in what now is southern Zimbabwe. Black evangelists had already paid periodic visits to the region, but the time had now come to establish a permanent mission there. Andrew expressed his willingness to go and soon thereafter started to make preparations to embark on this God-given call.
Andrew left the town of Boshof in the Free State by ox-wagon on 8th April 1891, travelling to the country of the Banyai people across the Limpopo. It took him five months to reach a mountain overlooking the lowveld where the local chief Mugabe, welcomed him, and with his consent Andrew established a mission station which he named Morgenster after his parents’ home in Paarl. Three years later, on his first home visit, he married a multi-talented linguist Cinie Malan who, with Andrew’s help, developed a written language and later first grammar for the local indigenous dialect of the Karanga people. The translation of the New Testament followed. Andrew and Cinie ministered together to the Vakaranga until her death forty years later.
When I was a boy, Oupa [grandfather], as we knew him, had long since retired, but was still lean and lanky, upright as a candle as we used to say. He lived with us in the same house and I had the privilege of sharing many precious moments with him. He never attended dinner without a jacket and afterwards he always did a reading from the Bible and we knelt at our chairs while he led us in prayer. Visiting him in his room and adjacent enclosed stoep [small porch] became one of my favorite pastimes. In winter he usually had a fire going in the corner fireplace which could hardly hold more than one small log. For him to bend down to revive a dwindling flame was too much effort, being close to ninety. “Marthinus, please blow some life into the dying fire,” he would invariably ask. Sometimes, when only red glowing coals remained, I would bring them to life again with a few puffs. “You do not let out one long blow, but short puffs like a train engine does,” our gardener instructed me. He wanted to make sure that the fire which he had started earlier in Oupa’s room will last the whole evening.
Oupa’s Bible always lay on his desk on the left hand side. Seeing that he was such a “holy” man, my curiosity about his Bible, which in my mind was probably different from other Bibles, got the better of me. I sneaked up when he was not looking and opened the Bible. It was indeed very different because many pages had inscriptions, sometimes only a word or two in ink. I was fascinated. The Bible seemed to be a treasure of almost heavenly proportions. Suddenly the wish to one day inherit my grandfather’s Bible, overcame me. I approached him and lo and behold he wrote on the front inside page of his Bible that he was leaving his Bible to me as I requested. In later years, I discovered that he had written dates next to verses indicating special occasions or experiences. Every twenty-eighth of February, the date of his birth, 26.8.19… was inscribed next to a verse that must have been special to him on that day.
Oupa kept chickens and doves in the backyard and engaged me to help him in feeding and caring for them. When he went away on holiday I was left in charge of the chickens and had to write to ensure him that they were doing well. He would write reminding me of other tasks and give advice on what to do. On 3 Dec 1947, when he was visiting family in South Africa, he advised as follows: “Make sure that there is permanganate in the little bottle kept by Vhurai (who was instructed to regularly add a few drops to the water supply for the hens) and give to Piniere the tin containing Epsom salts.” I was twelve years old and happy to be able to help him in this way.
The privilege of staying with Oupa in the same house came at a late stage in his life. Through the years I learned about his life and how his calling came about. On arrival at his destination in 1891, his first task was to build a hut of poles plastered with mud, similar to the dwellings of the local people. A fort called “the camp,”” or Fort Victoria, had been established by Cecil John Rhodes’ “Pioneer Column” only a year earlier. Hungry for news and provisions after more than three months of isolation after leaving Kranspoort in the Soutpansberg, Andrew and a hunter he had picked up on the way, Mr. Euvrard, went on their first mission after pitching their tents to visit the camp. An attack of malaria did not prevent Andrew from walking the seventeen miles or so. On enquiring about a doctor, someone pointed out a gentleman in a khaki riding-habit and leggings. “There he is.” The friendly doctor produced a thermometer and put it in Andrew’s mouth. “My good man, you should not be knocking about the bush with a temperature of 102 degrees. You had better come into the hospital.” Andrew who did not expect to find a hospital at the Fort replied, “Thank you, I have never been in a hospital before and I don’t think I am sick enough to go into there now. If you will be good enough to give me something to make me perspire, I shall be fine tomorrow.” Great was his delight to find sixteen letters as well as newspapers and periodicals that had been waiting to be collected by him.
Unfortunately, Chief Mugabe was in the bad books of the officer in command at Fort Victoria, since he had been raiding neighboring chieftains, while the police were trying to establish peace in the area. Mugabe refused to return the cattle he had raided and to pay the fine imposed. Andrew tried his best to mediate, but in a confrontation between the two parties Mugabe was killed. Tension between Andrew and Mugabe’s people could have erupted, but by this time Andrew had already acquired some measure of credibility with them. Three months after his arrival, on old year’s day, Andrew was surprised to find people arriving in great numbers at his hut. Apparently Mugabe had instructed them to attend a meeting. Andrew was delighted and with the assistance of evangelist David took the opportunity to bring them a gospel message. Thereafter they admitted to Andrew that there was something which bothered them. “Since you came with the book it has not rained.” Andrew explained. “God in heaven has the power to provide rain and he may decide to provide rain or keep back the rain. We can ask him for rain and He will grant our request if He thinks it is good for us.” Andrew prayed and the assembly dispersed. Not long afterwards, good rains came. One of their witch doctors told Andrew, “Now we know that your God has the power to send rain.”
The new colonizing authority clearly valued the potential value of missionaries as mediators with the local people. Andrew received a message from the Fort that he had to come to collect a supply of groceries. Andrew’s father had asked Cecil Rhodes in the Cape whether he would allow supplies destined for Andrew to be taken along on one of the transport wagons now plying their way regularly to Rhodesia. Rhodes advised that it was unnecessary and that he had telegraphed the management at Fort Victoria to make such items directly available to Andrew from the company’s stores adding, “Your son is worth more to me than fifty policemen. He deserves it.” Andrew duly received a supply of salt, maize meal, rice and so forth to the value of some £40.
Andrew knew that he needed a life partner and consulted with his brother James who was at the seminary in Stellenbosch. It is he who recommended a recently qualified teacher from the village of Riebeek Wes, Cinie Malan, whom Andrew married. When the second Shona and Ndebele uprising broke out early in 1896 the authorities in Fort Victoria insisted that they, who now had a baby first-born son, would not be safe at the mission and ordered them to decamp to the Fort where a laager [encampment] had been set up. They had already stashed some supplies in a cave near the mission in case they were alerted of an attack, but reluctantly acceded to the commander’s order and in the end, spent three months in the laager, where Cinie amongst others also started a school for the children. We heard some fascinating anecdotes of their experiences during these trying times from our parents.
Apart from studying the Karanga language, Andrew and Cinie wanted to learn more about the ways, beliefs and culture of the people. It was a new experience, confronting them with the task of testing indigenous beliefs and customs against Biblical principles and, at the same time, recognizing their culture. Certain practices like killing a twin or babies with defects at birth could not be compromised and alternatives had to be found. First a haven for orphans was found and later separate schools for the blind and the deaf were established. Other practices around birth and marriage in particular that were foreign to white culture had to be considered as to which could be accommodated without negating the gospel message.
As the years went by, the mission grew into a sprawling complex consisting of a training school for evangelists and pastors, a hospital, a home craft school for young women, a teacher training school, a printing press, a bookshop, a saw-mill, a maize-mill, a primary and later secondary school. Seven other mission stations were established across the southern and central parts of the country, each with a wide-reaching network of village “out-schools” as they were called. Who can count or assess the impact of the lives that were transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ? The Bible that I inherited from Oupa became for me an example of the gospel for mankind - a token of the grand legacy, considering the many missionaries who, like Andrew Louw, spent their entire lives carrying forth the gospel.
Oupa told us about Barnabas and Lidia. Although not of Zulu origin, Barnabas had, as a Swazi, fled from King Shaka’s rule and eventually became one of Mzilikazi’s warriors in Matabeleland, and took part in raids on the Karanga people. Unfortunately, he attracted the attention of one of the king’s wives and the king became aware of it. The young warrior knew he was in trouble and fled for his life. Nowhere in his own country was he safe. Southwards he went across the Limpopo where he found a safe haven at Kranspoort, a Dutch Reformed mission near the town of Louis Trichardt. Here he met another refugee, Lidia who happened to be a niece of Mzilikazi. They were converted and married. He was baptized with the Christian name of Barnabas. Their son Isak was one of the seven evangelists who accompanied Andrew on his trek to Morgenster where they soon joined him. Without any education, Barnabas became God’s lowly servant who spread the word of God wherever he went. He always carried a little New Testament with him and when he encountered a policeman who happened to be on patrol at the mission, he held it up to him. “Do you know this book?” he asked. Once a warrior of King Mzilikazi, he had raided and killed the very people he was now serving as God’s envoy! He told the local people, “As a warrior of Mzilikazi I stabbed to death many of your people. Now I have come to you not to make war and spill your blood, but to preach peace through the blood of Jesus Christ.”
What about Lidia? She was a wife and mother. She not only cared for the physical needs of her family, but was also their spiritual inspiration. At her funeral Isak remembered: “She was the one who prevented me from going to Kimberley to look for money at the diamond diggings, and encouraged me instead to go yonder and take the gospel to the Banyai.”
Andrew and Cinie’s second child was a girl whom they gave the name Annie. She was a particular joy to them, but also a reminder that God’s children are not immune to disasters and disease. She contracted black water fever (cerebral malaria) and they feared the worst. They walked into the nearby veld in order to identify a possible place where a grave could be dug. When they returned home, Barnabas wanted to know how Anna, as he called her, was doing. He followed the Louws to her room and stopped by Annie’s bed. When he saw her condition he promptly fell on his knees and started praying. “Dear Lord, Bambo Louw came to bring us the gospel of Jesus and you cannot now take their daughter away.” Annie was my mother.
- The story of Barnabas praying for my mother is recorded in Afrikaans on a CD as it was recorded during an interview with him. I also changed a previous correction to Coenraad’s version that Blackwater fever is not the same as cerebral malaria with bleeding inside the urinary bladder. This is not correct. In the blackwater condition, the malaria parasite causes bleeding in the kidneys which gives the urine an almost black color. Kidney failure is often the result. (Note from author’s email dated 8/21/2018)
Andrew Louw’s biography, Andrew Louw van Morgenster (N.p.: Kaapstad N.G. Kerk-Uitgewers, 1965), was written by his son A. A. Louw. See also W. J. van der Merwe, From Mission Field to Autonomous Church in Zimbabwe (N.p.: Transvaal Kerkboekhandel, 1981) and Die Môrester in Mashonaland by Ds. A. A. Louw, senior (Stellenbosch: Christen-Studenteverenigingmaatskappy van Suid-Afrika, 1954).
This story, received in 2018, was written by Marthinus Steyn, the grandson of Andrew and Cinie Louw.