Several evangelists work at Mbuma. They have a special role at the Mission Hospital. Kees and Beppie van der Linden had the opportunity of speaking to one of them, Mr G. Nkiwane, during a visit to Mbuma in June 2022. Together with Sister Willie Geurtsen, they visited him at home and saw him at work both at hospital and in the bush. We are grateful that he gave us permission to write up this interview for the Stichting Mbuma Zending magazine on his experiences and ministry.
Mr G. Nkiwane is 57. He did not have an easy start in life. Following his parents’ divorce, he went to live with his maternal grandmother because his mother was occupied with the search for work. His grandmother, who effectively brought him up, had some knowledge of the Gospel. Mr Nkiwane recalls her praying every morning and evening. However, she had no Bible and never mentioned the Word of God. She also took part in ancestor worship. Half a century ago, everyone in the area believed in the power of ancestral spirits.
Halfway through primary school, an aunt of Mr Nkiwane’s came to live with his grandmother. She had a New Testament, and he started reading it. When he came to the accounts of the passion and death of Christ, he was deeply moved by what he read, even though he did not grasp the spiritual significance of these things at the time. His relatives took his tears to be a sign of feeble-mindedness and took the New Testament off him.
It was at Mbuma Mission that Mr Nkiwane attended primary school, thanks to which he also attended church services regularly—though he understood little of what he heard there. Yet when Rev. Mazvabo preached once on Dost thou love Me? from John 21, he was cut to the heart and saw what a vital book the Bible was.
There was no money for secondary school fees, so Mr Nkiwane asked Margaret Macaskill for assistance. Miss Macaskill was a nurse at the Mission Hospital and he got on well with her. He could see that hers was a life led by faith from day to day. It was from her that he heard that he had a soul, that God owns that soul and that he must listen to God.
This friendship was a key impulse for Mr Nkiwane to seek the Lord. The conviction took shape in him that the love of Christ was also for him. Margaret ensured that he could go on to study at John Tallach High School. As a teenager, he read the Scriptures often, at home as well as at school. This did not go unnoticed, and he was teased for being like an elder. To this day, Mr Nkiwane is ashamed that he did not respond to the taunt. What is worse, it made him lose his fellowship with God for years. In hindsight, he acknowledges that this was God’s disposition with him, and says, “His ways and His thoughts are higher than ours.” Although he remained outwardly a believer, praying and reading the Bible, he was cold-hearted within. It upsets him to think that it took a bout of serious illness to return him to the Lord.
After teacher training, Mr Nkiwane obtained a post at a school in a location that also had a Free Presbyterian congregation. There, he befriended an elder who urged him to return to his faith and start attending church again. Rev. Mzamo also encouraged him at that time that he was capable of confessing his sins and of looking to Christ. This pastoral care brought him great peace. In 2003, Mr Nkiwane returned to Mbuma, now as a teacher. He became a member of the Free Presbyterian Church in 2005.
His Bible knowledge did not go unnoticed, and Mr Nkiwane was asked to take the Scripture class at hospital. He was perturbed to come across people there who were close to death and living in gross darkness. This strengthened his resolve to speak to them of the Gospel. When the hospital management saw that development, they conferred with the elders and appointed him a hospital evangelist in 2008.
Work as an evangelist
Asked how people respond when he arrives and starts speaking to them, Mr Nkiwane says that patients welcome it when he prays for their healing and reads the Scriptures to them. He adds that it takes several bedside calls before people open up about the needs of their soul and preparing for death. He often has good opportunity to press this subject home, and when he does, it is striking how little knowledge of the Christian faith people have. While they do acknowledge the existence of God, they are ignorant of reconciliation in Christ. People are frequently prepared to listen to that message when they are ill and in pain. Outwith the hospital, he encounters more resistance.
Mr Nkiwane leads a team of four evangelists, but he spends as much time as he can engaging in evangelism with people himself. He is keen to speak one-to-one with patients and relatives, loves being present at the hospital and makes himself as available as he can to speak about the realities of sin and salvation. He also tours the villages around Mbuma for a range of meetings, such as discussions with chiefs and health workers or co-ordination with representatives of other churches.
When he has these opportunities to speak to people beyond the Free Presbyterian remit, Mr Nkiwane seizes the chance to speak practically about health and sickness. What does the Bible say about marriage and sexuality? What causes disease, and how should it be treated? What does the Word of God tell us about calling on spirits? In what do we place our confidence? This plain speaking was difficult in the early days and met with displeasure. It calls for a wise approach and prayer to speak properly in such circumstances, but the Lord is blessing his endeavours. As time has gone on, these encounters with outsiders have proven very fruitful. Mr Nkiwane asks for our prayers to continue these conversations.
We also paid a visit to Mr Nkiwane at home on his smallholding. His garden and fields are excellently maintained. He says that he sees it as a calling to farm as carefully as possible, to set a good example for locals—particularly the young people, to impress upon them that it is perfectly possible to live decently here. The youth are very tempted to get themselves to South Africa one way or another; failing all else, as illegal immigrants. Often, that decision ends in misery.
Mr Nkiwane was hesitant at first when we asked him what his special message for Dutch readers was, as he is unfamiliar with life in the Netherlands. However, he did say that we need God wherever we live in the world. Seek Him! We can only prosper in life with His blessing. God is good and that is why each of us must seek Him.