Last Friday Cathy and I had a struggling day and night. Neither of us slept and our hearts were troubled. The voices in our heads and hearts were discouraging and overwhelming us. Now we know why. I would like to give you the picture in words. Hopefully this longer account can help you see through our eyes.
I was to visit a very poor township and teach Bible to a group of pastors from the area. That night I would be speaking at Bethel Christian Center and again on Sunday morning. Cathy remained behind to pray and to avoid the potential heavy heat that she could experience in the shanty town.
Ronas Marule and myself drove into Leandra Township early on Saturday. The shanty homes were made of thin wood, tin, cardboard and many other makeshift materials. The sky was filled with haze as the people burn coal to keep warm in the early morning chill. At certain spots I could see the dark smoke filling the sky.
We drove up to the senior citizen facility that was built inside this poor neighborhood. The building was painted in bright colors and African patterns that were brilliant. Ronas said it resembled Zulu designs but he mentioned the name of another tribe I could not pronounce. I glanced up and noticed barbed wire around the perimeter of the roof. I asked one of the Pastors, why is there a wire fence around the roof? He quickly responded by saying it is designed to slow down those who would climb on the roof and remove it to gain access into the building. I had never seen a fence like that around the perimeter of a roof.
I walked up to meet several pastors who were patiently waiting our arrival in the community. They were very warm and not alarmed that we had arrived later than scheduled. It is the African way. They were kind and humble men who warmed up to the presence of the tall white American. They came to learn about the Bible.
We moved inside and began the process of meeting each other as I tried to learn their names and background. There was Thomas, Philip, Daniel, William, Kenny, Filmore, and a number of others. There African names were Dlamini, Ngowonya, Mathebula, Tsolele, Nkosi, Maseko and Mahalangli. There were twelve in all. To my surprise one of the pastors announced he came from a Zion Christian Church. Theologically they blend Christianity with ancestral worship and the local Bantu religion. But He quickly noted that he believed in the Bible. Others came from the Swedish Alliance Church, Methodist Church and several independent Christian Churches. What I didn’t realize at the time was that three of the pastors were from the ZCC.
They had very few Bibles with them and struggled to find a few Zulu versions in the senior center. They spoke very little English and I worked through an interpreter to conduct an inductive Bible Study with them. I first asked if any of them had formal Bible teaching. Not one had attended any Bible classes. No one had come alongside them to teach the Bible. They could not afford to attend any formal Bible school. They did everything as they felt led. Now I could see how the Christian faith could become homogenized with their local and ancestral beliefs.
These elderly pastors amazed me with their open and honest comments. They were not guarded in any way. One Pastor said I prepare for Sunday morning services by showing up on Sunday. I open the Bible and find a verse to read and preach from there. No study or preparation. If anyone questions me after the service I get upset at them for questioning me the Pastor. I was stunned.
I took them to 2 Peter 3:15-16. I laboriously carried them through observations, questions and finding answers to those questions. They would speak in Zulu and the translator would tell what each pastor said. I would react to the comments and he would tell them in Zulu. You could hear and see their reaction when I described the strebloo (Greek word for twist) a tool of torture used in Roman prisons. A man was placed on the table with his hands and feet tied to the machine. A guard would twist the rack to pull the arms out of socket. They used this torture to get men to confess and say what they wanted them to say. I pointed out that Peter says untrained and unstable men do that with the Word of God. They twist it out of its natural position so it could say what they wanted it to say. They gasped when the interpreter demonstrated the arms being pulled out of socket. The reality of Peter’s words struck very hard. You could see the fear and concern in their eyes.
Unknown to me at the time was the manner in which many of them twisted the Word of God so it could say what they wanted it to say. Over a three plus hour period we walked carefully and discussed together three different scriptures. They were prying me with questions. They would say, I have never heard this! I invited the pastors to attend the night service and let them know that I would teach more of God’s Word. After three and half hours they were hungry for more and reluctantly ended the session.
That night two of those pastors sat on the front row of the church. People got up to testify what the Lord was doing in their life. Then pastor Filmore Mathedula stepped forward and began to speak in Zulu. Ronas interpreted for me. He was short in stature with a goatee and smile that had numerous missing teeth. He was wearing a coat, tie, pants, shirt and shoes that did not match. The shirt was plaid while the tie was paisley.
Humbly he spoke in a soft voice and used his hands to describe his feelings. Placing and cupping his hands over his eyes, he described how God caused the scales to fall off of my eyes today. It made me think of Paul in the book of Acts.I would get up and open the Bible and point it at other people. He held the open Bible facing the crowd. Then he turned the open Bible towards himself. Today I learned that I need to turn it around because the Word of God is for me first!
What I did not know at the moment was this pastor was a Zionist pastor. During our afternoon discussion I could tell he knew the Bible better than most of the pastors in the room. He asked good questions but was very weak in Bible comprehension. One of the Zionist pastors asked if there was a connection between Abraham and Jesus. I took them to Matthew chapter one. Their simple honest questions were very refreshing.
On Sunday morning the interpreter explained to me which one of the pastors were Zionist. He said that the pastors had already created a stir in the community with other pastors. They were astonished that this white American understood the Bible and could comfortably wade through their questions about God. They were clamoring for more time in the Bible.
We are scheduled to return to this township church on the last Sunday of May. Pastor Muzi came and asked me if we could do another session with the pastors on that Sunday afternoon. I gladly accepted.
I called Cathy on the phone and explained the events to her. Tears welled up in my eyes as we both realized what had been going on. We now understand why Friday night was so hard. Satan wanted to protect his turf. He knew those Zionist pastors would be attending the next day. He was trying to stop that meeting from happening.
I sent out a special request for prayer on Saturday morning knowing that we were facing something daunting. Thank you so much for those prayers.
Cathy and Danny Sartin
Four decade veteran of youth ministry in churches, Youth For Christ and now is the Founder and Executive Director of Deeper Still Missions. Danny and his wife Cathy spend most of their time mentoring missionaries in Africa, Europe, Central America and North America. Future opportunities include South America and the Asia Pacific area.