Far away in the north lived my older brother and his family. He worked at a copper mine. For many years he had been estranged from the church after a deep disappointment. He had once permitted his Native labourers to out from a soothsayer the identity of the clever chicken thief who took so many of their fowls. Thinking that the old wizened witch was a fraud he decided to test her.
‘If she can tell me where my wedding ring is,’ he thought, ‘I’ll definitely know there is something in her claims.’
He had lost the ring while bathing in the river. Before he could utter a word the woman spoke up. ‘You lost your ring in the river. The water is too cold or I would get it our for you.’ My brother turned round horrified and went away. The church had looked upon it as sorcery and had punished it with suspension of privileges.
That had embittered my brother. But he had been present at some of our newly established Bible readings and had been deeply impressed. He hungered for what we had found and invited us to visit and help him.
After three tiring days by train we were both (with our two children) bundled into my brother’s car and driven deep into the night through seemingly endless virgin forest.
Finally we arrived in the mining village romantically situated among ancient trees growing in profusion. The Bible readings were to begin almost at once. Hunger for the Word of God had been awakened and my brother could barely wait.
When evening came we sat together in the lounge. I read a word from the Bible and began to speak. I noticed with joy that Bernhard listened intently, drinking in every word.
Suddenly there was a knock and without waiting for an answer, a young man and his wife entered and quietly took a seat in a corner. A disturbing thought crossed my mind:
‘These are not Germans.’ I reflected quickly. My brother lifted his hand to ask me to stop for a moment. Then the first visitor asked whether I would speak in their tongue, for neither of them knew German but we were familiar with their language.
The thought flashed through my mind:
‘You are a Lutheran pastor. You may not do it. These belong probably to the Reformed Church.’
Then the man continued. ‘We’ve not had a service for a very long time. Please speak Afrikaans.’
Silently I rose, went into my room, cast myself on my knees and besought the Lord for guidance. Then something strange happened. I felt as if I were lifted bodily from my knees. I returned to the room joyfully and started again, this time in the unaccustomed language.
Soon the whole village was being stirred up. More and more people came to the meetings each evening. The Spirit of God touched hearts. Many confessed their sins to the Lord and found salvation and peace. The mine management was astonished that so many stolen goods were being returned and that there was so much singing. Sick ones, too, were healed, and praised the Lord publicly.
Then came the day which I shall never forget. After dreadful conflicts my brother at last broke through to assurance of salvation and reconciliation through Christ. I have never – before or since – witnessed such agony of soul. (Soon afterwards God called him over the Timeless River, to be with Himself.)
Not long after this deeply moving conversion my dear brother asked me to minister the Lord’s Supper to him (and to his wife who had also been saved.)
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but no one else may come. As a Lutheran pastor I am not permitted to administer it to a member of any other church.’
‘Well, we’ll fix it for Sunday afternoon when we won’t be disturbed,’ said my brother’s wife.
Came Sunday afternoon. The Cup was already standing on the little polished table in the lounge, the wafers were lying in a small plate beside it, when a young couple entered. The husband had only that morning left his sick bed, healed. He had wholly surrendered his heart to the Lord. He was full of joy and wanted all to know that he had been restored fully. Thus was our little Lutheran celebration ‘disturbed.’ A few moments later he was at our little improvised altar expecting from my hands the Bread as well as the Wine. I administered it to him with a fearful heart.
‘Whatever will be the consequences?’ I wondered. I had just broken a strict rule and had violated my ecclesiastical office. And yet, on the other hand, could I refuse these two, who, like myself and my brother and his wife, were the Lord’s children?
On my return to my parish I had to give an account concerning these Bible readings to the men of the synodal council.
‘You are not permitted to speak anything else but German. You are in office and not a private person,’ insisted one of the men.
‘But what should I have answered the people who begged me for the Word of God?’ I enquired, strangely touched by the pathos of the situation.
‘You should have spoken German until they left the room.’
I could never do that. Not after those experiences up in the north. It left me facing but one answer in my mind, ‘If that is expected of me I shall have to resign from my official position.’
My wife, who had stayed at home, greatly troubled, was deeply moved when reading the Scripture portion for that day. These were the words:
‘Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee from…’ In the evening she showed me that word and I shared with her the grievous experiences of the day. We wondered whether the Lord was not showing us the way through.
Together we knelt down, my wife and I, and called upon Him, who had begotten us again and commanded us to proclaim ‘the great things.’ We were together in this, for, shortly after it had happened to me, my dear wife had accepted the Saviour, surrendering her heart and life to Him and becoming ‘a new creation in Christ Jesus.’ The children soon followed. They became His possession.
The year we became His He gave us another little daughter. In deep thankfulness we called her by a name which described the crowning experience of our lives: Renate (Born Again). A missionary wrote to me wishing us blessing on her birth. Commenting on her name he remarked that the little one was indeed born again already by baptism. My wife and I put the letter away without comment.