THE WORK IN AFRICA --A HISTORY OF ITS BEGINNING
April 1, 1991 Issue
by Paul O. Nichols
In 1951 my wife and I agreed to go to Nyasaland, British Central Africa to do mission work. At that time no one in our brotherhood had ever been sent to a foreign field. It was unheard of in our ranks. But we had received a "Macedonian Call." The request for someone to come over and help them came from E. C. Severe. The letter was addressed to Homer A. Gay. The Old Paths Advocate had somehow found its way into this far off corner of the world and Bro. Gay's name had been selected from his field report, and a letter was written to him. He saw in this as an opportunity to do good. So he let it be known to the brotherhood through the OPA.
At first there seemed to be no one among us who was willing to accept the challenge. For some time Bro. Gay continued to hear from Severe and he would pass on the information to the brotherhood. The plea for help continued to be put before us.
Finally, one day I said to Wilma, "If the brethren would send me to Africa, I believe I would go." Without hesitation she responded, "And I would go with you." I was much delighted at her response. But even though we agreed that we would go, we told no one. At the time we were in a meeting at Lexington, OK.
Later that year we were back in California and were guests in the home of Gilbert Wilson. Still sitting at the dinner table, after a good meal, Gilbert asked me if I would go to Africa. I told him I thought I would. In response he said, "I'll give the first hundred dollars." When his father heard about it, he said, "I'll give the second hundred."
That year at the Labor Day Meeting at Fresno, California the brethren discussed the need of sending someone to Africa. It was agreed that they would send Wilma and me. At that historic meeting there were several preachers present, including Homer L. King, Homer A. Gay, Ervin Waters, Chester King, James W. Russell, and myself. The brotherhood was informed through the Old Paths Advocate.
Nyasaland was a British Protectorate, so we consulted the British Consulate in Los Angeles. We received the necessary information and made an application to enter the country. We began to do all that was required, including the inoculations. Then we began buying up the provisions that we thought were appropriate. While we waited for our application to be approved some of our short term inoculations expired and we had to take more. I cancelled meetings, thinking we would be leaving for Africa soon. During this waiting period I did some painting and wallpaper hanging, and Wilma got a job at Sylvania in order to have expense money. Then I went back to holding meetings not knowing how much longer it would be before we would be making the trip.
Nearly a year after our application was filed for permission to work in Nyasaland, we left New York, September 22, 1952, aboard the Queen Mary. The trip took six and a half weeks.
From New York we went to England where we transferred to the Kenya Castle. This vessel took us to Mozambique, East Africa where we disembarked at Beira. There we caught an antiquated train pulled by an old steam engine which was our means of getting to Limbe, Nyasaland. We arrived after dark and met E.C. Severe and three other men at the train station. Our transportation to Wendewende Village was a 1941 Chevrolet Station Wagon with a bad radiator, and one window that was out of operation. We arrived at the village about 10:00 p.m.
The house we moved into was vacated by a native family. It was of homemade brick and had a grass roof and dirt floors. For food the Africans provided us a cabbage head, a bunch of onions, and a pot of murky water from a shallow well. We slept on army cots, had pressure gas lanterns for light, and a Coleman camp A stove for cooking purposes. We were introduced to strange insects and poisonous snakes. We had no radio to receive news from the outside world and were the only white people for miles in any direction. We also were the only people who had a car.
The church building was even more primitive than our house. It was of mud and poles. It also had a grass roof and dirt floor. And the windows were just openings in the wall with no glass. It was truly "air conditioned." Here is where the gospel was preached, where I studied with the preachers, and where we conducted worship service. We also went to other villages and preached the gospel to large crowds of people. We found the Africans friendly, so we had no fear for our lives nor property wherever we went. Many times they would give us eggs and gifts from their gardens. Some of them would ride bicycles or walk for miles to attend church services or a Bible study. These things made it a joy to be among them, regardless of the hardships that we had to endure.
I had to have an interpreter when I preached, and E. C. Severe was a good one. He could speak seven languages and dialects. At first, he later admitted to me, it was hard for him to understand some of the things I said because of my American accent and some of the words we use which differ from British English. But in a very short time he was doing an excellent job of translating for me. He was an intelligent person.
Due to the unusual circumstances it was necessary to make special arrangements so that all who attended the services could understand, not only the preaching, but all the other items of worship. The way we did this was to have some songs in English and some in the native tongue. We also had prayers in both English and Chinyanja. When one waited on the table for communion what was said and the thanksgiving was translated. The instructions and observance of the contribution was explained in both languages. And, of course, the preaching was in English and always interpreted. These arrangements may not have been the only way or even the best way to do it, but by conducting the services in this way, at least all worshipers could observe all of the items of worship whether he could or could not understand English, or whether he could or not understand Chinyanja.
People were taught the plan of salvation over and over and over wherever we went. As a result there were many baptisms. I can remember one service at Wendewende when thirty-two came forward at the invitation, twenty-eight to be baptized. And at one camp meeting there were seventy-six responses.
The services among the Africans were much longer than we in America are generally accustomed to, for two reasons. One was due to the translation process, and the other was due to the number of communicants. Some services would last two and a half or three hours. But in spite of the uncomfortable accommodations and the length of service, I do not remember ever hearing one African complain.
Loneliness is one of the hardest things to contend with in a foreign work. Being separated from relatives and brethren and sisters in Christ whom one loves and with whom one is close is one of the emotional hardships one can anticipate when he goes to preach the gospel and work in distant land. Knowing that he is not going to see or be associated with these people for months or years can make a person pretty depressed. Language barriers and cultural differences can affect one's emotions; frustrations are often the result. To deal with all of these things the preacher and his family need to pray a lot and to concentrate on the work and always remember the reason they are there. This is sometimes easier said than done; especially when the day's work is done and the quiet hours of darkness give you time to think about home and things that you miss most.
Our support furnished by the churches in America in our first mission effort in Africa was three hundred a month. Later it was raised fifty dollars. Out of the support we paid expenses, bought supplies, and even paid duty on parcels of clothing sent from America for distribution among the needy, because brethren sometimes forgot to send money for this purpose. And when it came time for us to return to the States, part of the transportation expenses had come out of support, because brethren had failed to donate enough funds for that purpose. Today, however, brethren are more considerate and sensitive to the needs of preachers and their families whom they send to other countries. Remember ours was the first foreign effort, and it was a learning experience for all of us.
In 1958 Gayland Osburn and I volunteered to go back to Nyasaland to encourage the brethren and to further teach them the will of the Lord. Many of the brethren agreed that it was time for someone to go back, and they supplied enough money for the trip, which had to be guaranteed before the government there would give us permission to work there. They also generously supported us eight hundred dollars a month.
When we arrived in Nyasaland, to our dismay, we found that this country which was such a beautiful and peaceful place to live and to do the Lord's work, was now torn by strife and political upheaval. A federation of Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, and Southern Rhodesia was imposed on the people against the wishes of many of the African leaders and general population.
Soon after our arrival a "State of Emergency" was declared and fighter planes flew over in a show of power. Soldiers from outside of the country began to pour in by the truckload with guns and bayonets. A barbed wire entanglement communications center was set up in the heart of Blantyre and citizens' vehicles began being commandeered. There was rebel marauding, general destruction of property, and burning of businesses. At one place, Nkata Bay, twenty-two Africans were killed by government forces in one battle. These were fearful times. We had a radio with us on this trip and every night the news was filled with disturbing accounts of death and destruction.
We were making our home among the Africans at Wendewende -- nine whites, four adults and five children -- in the midst of thousands of Africans. This fact was a bit unnerving, but we had come to do the work of the Lord, and so in Him we put our trust. We traveled to various places wherever we were needed and had invitations; we preached the gospel and taught the people. And there were studies with the preachers that would last for several days.
We experienced difficult times, not only due to the political situation, but otherwise as well. Wilma had major abdominal surgery; Roetta had hepatitis; Linda had malaria and pneumonia; and Gayland nearly burned to death in a gasoline fire. But in spite of all these problems and others, we were doing the work for which we were sent. Finally, due to circumstances beyond our control, it became necessary to make a decision. Wisdom and good judgment demanded that we leave Africa sooner than we had planned. We came home in 1960.
Later the country gained its independence from England and the name was changed to Malawi. Today the government is one of the most stable in all of Africa under the leadership of Dr. Hasting Kamuzu Banda, who is a highly educated man, and who is lifetime president of the country.
Since the first trip to Africa that Wilma and I made to pioneer the work in Nyasaland there have been seven or eight other preachers sent from the States to this field to do the Lord's work. Now not only do we have hundreds of congregations in that small country, which is about the size of Indiana, but we have congregations in several other African countries, as well as in other places around the world where brethren have done or are doing mission work. And let us never underestimate nor disparage the good that is being accomplished by the native preachers among their own people.
Let us thank God and take courage (Acts 28: 15).
Paul O. Nichols 1991 OPA Main Page HOME