Project Canterbury

Dawn in Swaziland

By Christopher Charles Watts, M.A.
Archdeacon of Swaziland

London: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1922.

Chapter XI. Missionary work among the natives

A STORY is told of a young man full of enthusiasm for the missionary cause who applied to the committee of one of the societies for work. The chairman looked at him a moment or two in silence, and tl1en said, "Do you know your alphabet? ""Of course I do "answered the candidate, slightly nettled. "Then say it over to me, and let me hear it," said the chairman. Swallowing his wrath and disappointment at his reception, the candidate complied with the request, with the best grace he could. "Ah!" said the chairman, "you will do. You have proved that you do not resent small annoyances, and do not turn back from a great purpose because the things you are asked to do seem trivial." The moral of the story is true enough. The purpose and urgency of the work are but it involves many annoying details, and it is sometimes hard for the missionary to realise what his efforts achieve, and how vast are the results of his work, as he wrestles day by day with darkened and childish souls, and attends to all the petty duties which are inevitable in a pioneer country.

At first sight he is struck with the size and the intense reverence of the native congregations. The missionary can scarcely provide enough services for the Swazis, and the longer they are the more will the native congregations appreciate them. The unaccompanied singing is wonderful, and the demeanour of the worshippers such as might be expected in the chapel of an English theological college. Many of the people walk miles to attend, and at the end of the service their first question is, "When will the next take place?

The missionary sees at once that the whole religious outlook of the native is different from that of the European, and his desire to work amongst so responsive a people is strengthened. The demand for prayer-books, hymn-books, and Bibles is also very great, and large quantities are sold, in spite of the poverty of the people.

But as he gets to know them better a process of disillusionment sets in. He finds that some of the most devout of the worshippers have been guilty of terrible immorality, and that some of those who are most eager to receive the Sacrament are living in outrageous sin. He finds Christians of the second generations most disappointing, and realises the truth of Livingstone's advice, "that no young missionary should be placed on an' old Mission station." Amongst these people he finds that the desire for education and for European civilisation are greater than their love of the Gospel. He is told by Europeans that native Christians are more immoral and less honest than the heathen, and by sorrowful experience he soon begins to dread that this is true. He finds that the belief in witchcraft has still a strong hold on the minds of his flock, and he wonders sometimes how far they regard the sacraments simply as "white men's medicine," and of a stronger kind than can be produced by their own witch doctors.

Begging, which is ceaseless, and is practised by the whole race, from the highest to the lowest, becomes a source of deep annoyance. The missionary, with all his heavy expenses, is paid but half the wages of an artisan, and must, if his work is to be effective, be constantly producing sums of money from various sources to keep it afloat. Consequently the ceaseless demand for money or goods from every native teacher and every out-station gets on his nerves. In his distress, the words of the king of Israel come often to the mind: "If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee, out of the barn-floor or out of the wine-press?

"The ceaseless effort to get money is wearing me out," wrote the Bishop, and those in less responsible positions can enter into the bitterness of the complaint. "Ah, Doreen is a sad, bad child," said an Irish woman of her daughter, "one eye on her catechism and one eye up the chimney all the time!" The missionary can never really sit down to the work itself, for one eye has to be always up the chimney looking for the money.

When he reads in Mission papers that "the missionary should be free from financial anxiety," it seems like a dreadful kind of irony, yet in many cases the demand for money is just, though it has to be refused. The teachers and workers are sweated in their wages; the accommodation provided for them is miserable, and they are unable to work effectively owing to lack of funds. If a hail-storm destroys their little crops they endure semi-starvation, and their wives and children are in actual want. The European, with his wider vision, can endure the loss of countless openings for extending the work owing to lack of funds, but the native worker loses heart if he has always to be told, "There is no money, we cannot take advantage of the opening," when he has laboured to secure some good field for extension. And one begins to lose enthusiasm when he hears,

I know your church and school is over-crowded, but we cannot build, nor can we provide the books and slates. You must go on another year as best you can, and we will see what can be done."

Another force to be reckoned with is the moral collapse of old and trusted workers, who are also friends--men who have shown real spiritual insight, whose lives and words have often been a help to the European missionary, men of whose sympathy he was always sure, and on whose advice he leaned. And now they have fallen into open and terrible sin. For months they have been deceiving him, and only when their sin could no longer be concealed have they come forward to confess it. Their case is tried by a body of their fellow Christians, men to whom they have ministered, whose dread of being themselves involved if an inquiry were instituted has prevented their reporting the matter when they ought to have done so. And now they sit, those grave and reverent judges of their brother, with faces depicting the greatest sorrow and godly anger, for has not the erring one committed that most unpardonable of all crimes, that of being found out?

"Ah! you must not be too angry with my people. The Gospel is a new thing to us, and we have very far to go," were words spoken by a native to the writer. And they are most true.

Yet, in spite of the countless ways by which a native can drive a white man to frenzy in a hot climate, e.g., by his unpunctuality and ignorance of the value of time, his petty quarrels over trifles, and his unending volume of talk which has to be endured before the real matter at stake is even mentioned, the Swazis are a very lovable people. Their unfailing good-nature and pleasant manners, their hospitality and kindliness, the system of community of lands and goods under which they have been brought up, their desire to help in difficulties, the way in which they will seize on the slightest pretext for being cheerful, forbid the missionary to despair. "Yes, we know we are a bad people, but we do not mind at all," said one of them at the conclusion of a matter.

But there are yet other reasons for encouragement. There can be no doubt that they have a real capacity for spiritual life. Like David, they can sin deeply, but like David, they can deeply love. The Good News is often good news, indeed, to them. They have, and in good measure, a deep, simple, child-like faith in the power of Christ, and in Christ they can do all things. Their faces will often lighten with real spiritual fervour as they receive the Sacrament, and when they say so simply, "We know that we often fail, hut we are those who try," it is perfectly true.

From a nation such as this are saints made. Amongst the Mission workers are to be found an old Zulu priest, who battles steadily along, year in year out, never lowering his standard though he works alone; another who rules well and fearlessly, yet whose sternest judgments are tempered with the love of Christ, who has a real knowledge of spiritual things, and has won the deep respect of black and white through long years of honest and courageous service in the Master's cause; another, a priest taken as a herd-boy from Endhlozana, and now a gentle but true fisher of men; another who has roused from their lethargy and vice the people of an old-established Mission station at the Usutu; and yet another who, when placed in a difficult position at the royal kraal, could, like St. Athanasius, stand out against his little world and take defeat with fortitude and courage. Who can despair of a nation such as this?

There is no such thing as a native mind," said an experienced Colonial official to the writer. "The native acts on the same general principles as the white man; the same rules apply to him." In the case of the large congregations which we sometimes see in England, the Christian teaching received is a light in darkness, but it is only a few who are so affected that the whole tenor of their lives is changed. So is it with the natives of Swaziland. Christ is a light to all, and a guide to take them through these dangerous days, but it is only here and there He calls one closely to Himself and everything is changed--his whole life becomes changed.

No man can convert another, for that is the work of the Holy Spirit of God and of Him alone. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit." Yes, men realise the existence of the Power which from time to time transforms native life, but they cannot grasp its origin. To wrestle with God in prayer that the Holy Spirit may come in deeper measure upon those who teach, and those who learn in heathen lands, is the task which appertains to all who believe in the power and the love of God.

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