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Away to Germany

When our pastor heard of my decision he was delighted. But although he had known me from babyhood he certainly knew nothing of the conflicts that raged deep down in my heart. The two missionary brothers rejoiced and gave me every assistance to master the rudiments of Latin and Greek. The most difficult part was learning to speak German correctly. We in Africa had to learn to speak four languages – five if the Low German dialect (often the home language) is included.

It seemed odd to hear everyone speak German on the German ship. Later, in the streets and public places of German cities, I frequently experienced again this same strange sense of surprise.

On the long sea journey certain incidents moved me deeply, touching me to the very core. At one of the ports a man (obviously a clergyman) embarked. He was the minister of a German Baptist Church in the Cape Province. Since we ‘missionary people’ gathered each morning for a short time of prayer and fellowship, he joined us with his daughter. I well remember a message he once gave us on prayer. His text was ‘even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight.’ He spoke to his heavenly Father simply, definitely, and filled with childlike faith.

‘Yes Father…’ I could hardly believe my ears. Was not this man a Baptist, the equivalent of a heretic? Was it possible for a person to be anything but a Lutheran and still have a good conscience? Here was a question that faced me for the first time in my life. Something real. And I watched it most closely and pout it to the test most critically throughout the whole journey. The exclusive Lutheran within me received a severe shaking.

To crown it all this German advised me to read the Bible in English as well. He considered that it would increase my understanding of the Word of God. An English Bible! Had we ever seen, in the whole of the Pongolo valley, anything else but the German Lutheran Bible? Did not a Bible which we never touched lie on the top shelf of the bookcase at home? My mother had said ‘Children, this Bible is revised. Leave it alone. Don’t read it.’ There it stood, the revised Bible. I can still see it before my eyes wrapped in its grey packing paper. I think only once did I take it into my hands with a thumping heart then quickly put it down again. And here was someone urging me to buy an English Bible! I did so, however, at the next port.

Perhaps that ‘Baptist’ was quite unaware of the shocks he caused me. The impression he made, however, was profound.