There has probably never been a woman in the whole of world history as powerful and highly honoured as Queen Victoria. Her nearly 64-year-long reign coincided with Britain’s period as the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. And what providence God showed in her reign, just as in the reign of Caesar Augustus! That Roman emperor had his own purposes in mind when he ordered a census to be taken of the whole world, but through his order God accomplished His own purposes. The Lord is still the same today.
The year was 1897. Queen Victoria marked two great occasions that year: her Diamond Jubilee, marking sixty years on the throne, and her diamond wedding anniversary. Her Diamond Jubilee was being commemorated that year not just in the British Isles but in many other lands around the world.
That year, a very small church denomination was developing. It had come into being just four years previously. Two ministers who could no longer accept the tendencies and the synodal decisions of the Free Church of Scotland had come out of that body. With a small number of likeminded believers spread across the whole of Scotland, they formed the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. They were not wealthy; they had no church buildings, no manses, almost nothing.
And also in 1897, in the Transkei in South Africa, a young black man was wonderfully converted. His name was John Radasi. He was not a heathen; he had grown up in a Christian household, but under the sound of a rather superficial religion. Something happened, though, while John was growing up: free grace triumphed in his heart. It is worth retelling how.
John was an excellent singer; he was a member of a choir. This choir — nothing happens by chance; all is subject to the Lord’s will — received an invitation, one that was a very great honour, to come and sing in America to mark Queen Victoria’s sixty years on the throne. “This is my chance,” thought John, who was nearly twenty, “and it will probably never come again in my lifetime. Now I can discover the world.”
Yet how differently did things turn out than he had intended. The Lord shot one of His arrows into John’s heart; he lost all confidence in his earthly existence and came to experience the agony of facing the certainty of death knowing that his condemnation would follow. His soul was tormented and in all his travels through America, he could find no-one who could explain to him what his inmost being was going through.
However, there was at least one fellow chorister to whom he could make himself understood; a man who shared his spiritual apprehension. Realising that they were in the same predicament, the men decided not to return to South Africa but to take a ship to Britain instead.
They disembarked in London after their long voyage and began seeking counsel in that capital of the Empire. Their search was in vain. They did encounter much godlessness, and much superficial, outward religion, but there was no solution here for the urgent questions of their souls. The only pointer they were given (and even this was probably meant mockingly) was, “You won’t find what you’re after here; you need to get up to Scotland, where such people are still found.”
And so it was that John Radasi and his friend James Saki arrived in Edinburgh late in 1897. What were they looking for? They did not even know themselves. They started walking around the city; it was cold and raining. Where to stay? They might well have been thinking to themselves that day, “We have made a dreadful mistake; we should never have come here; why did we not stay in South Africa?”
(To be continued)
This article is an edited form of the Dutch children’s story told at the annual meeting of Mbuma Zending in 1994 by L.M.P. Scholten. Mr Scholten died on 29 November last year at the age of 81. He was a member of Mbuma Zending board for many years and often spoke at the annual meeting.