The influence of Scottish Missionaries in Southern Africa

Lovedale in the Eastern Cape

There are two reasons why I include this short section on Lovedale in this article: the first is that we have here another Scottish project into southern Africa, and the second reason is that products of the schools at Lovedale were part of the first group of people to go to Lake Malawi as missionaries of the above mentioned Livingstonia mission brought together in memory of David Livingstone.

In 1824 four missionaries, Brownlee, Thomson, Ross and Bennie (the latter two from the Glasgow Missionary Society, which in 1845 became part of the Free Church of Scotland) (Du Plessis [1911] 1965:188) arrived amongst the Xhosa of the (present) Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Ross and Bennie established the mission – called Lovedale in honour of the secretary of their society (Du Plessis [1911] 1965:184). Right from the beginning one of the main focus points of these missionaries was education and training. It was just natural for these people, who were so clearly aware of what education has done for Scotland, to pass through the benefits to the indigenous people (Du Plessis 1912:52). Very soon a printing press was also supplied to them, and the work of literacy commenced.

Graham Duncan (2004) rightly criticised their educational approach which had the effect of alienating the people from their past and their culture by aiming to turn them into (Victorian) black gentlemen. He called it ‘coercion’. However, it must be understood that the missionaries of those days did not think twice about the kind of education they planned, but just transmitted the best they had to their protégés. And In that regard it must be acknowledged that they had wonderful successes.

Already in 1841 the basic school was supplemented by a training institution for evangelists and teachers, in which the curriculum also included technical training. It was this institution which would eventually develop into the Fort Hare University, the first one in South Africa that especially catered for the indigenous black people. When the time came they were ready to respond to the call of the Livingstonia mission and could supply quite a number of trained members to that team.

The Murrays of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa

At the beginning of the 19th century the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ became a British colony, and a process commenced to undermine the strong Dutch traditions at the Cape and to put a stronger British stamp on the society. A large contingent of English speakers were brought out in 1820 to settle in the Eastern Cape … also to act as buffer between the expanding European and Xhosa communities in the east. The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) (no more the state church, but still under the tutelage of the state) at that stage suffered a shortfall of ministers, so qualified candidates were also sought in Britain. Amongst those who were willing to come to serve in the colony was one Andrew Murray from Aberdeen in Scotland.

Andrew Murray sr (so called because he would have an even better known son with the name of Andrew) became the DRC minister in the frontier town Graaff-Reinet where he served from 1822 to 1865. From his marriage with Jemima developed a family which played an extra-ordinary role in the church. His five sons (two of which were John, who became the first professor at the Stellenbosch Theological Seminary in 1859, and Andrew jr) all followed in his footsteps as DRC ministers, and four of his daughters married DRC ministers (Crafford 1992:107). By the third generation the contribution was 45 ministers of religion!

In time this Scottish family would become at home in the Dutch speaking community at the Cape (something like their spiritual forebear St Patrick?) and took leadership positions in church and society. Andrew jr (for example) would later on be called to chair the synods of the DRC for not less than six times! Andrew sr likewise from the beginning played a leading role in the early synod meetings of the church (since 1824). One of the issues in which he became involved was the problem of the colour prejudice amongst the (white) church members. He felt very strongly that this had to be broken down. However, being a pragmatist, he realised that this could not be done by mere decisions. He was also deeply worried that the colour prejudices would hinder the spread of the gospel amongst the indigenous population. He was therefore willing to make compromises, and became responsible for the (often quoted and – with hindsight – regrettable) decision taken at the 1857 synod where, in response to questions from other frontier congregations about integrated communion services, it was decided to allow separate communion in some cases, although it was ‘not desirable or scriptural’. The reason for the compromise was that ‘it would help the furtherance of the gospel among the heathen’ (Adonis 1982:56; Crafford 1982:42).

This missionary motif was inbred in this extended family. Without this family it is a question how much of the extensive mission work of the DRC would have come to fruition. Soon a host of missionaries were Murrays, Hofmeyrs, Louws and other direct descendants of the original Murray family. Amongst them were some of the pioneers of DRC missions further north in Africa: AC Murray in Malawi (1889) (son of the second Murray minister of Graaff-Reinet), AA Louw in Mashonaland in Zimbabwe (1891) (whose mother was Jemima Murray), George de Coligny Murray in the Transkei, John Neethling Murray in the Waterberg (1894–1909), Mary Murray in Botswana, John Murray Hofmeyr (son of the son-in-law minister of Somerset-East) in Zambia (1899), Andrew Murray Hofmeyr in Natal and AG Murray in Moçambique (Crafford 1982:108; Cronje 1981:194).

These mission outreaches into Africa would probably never have happened if it was not for the role of the Ministers Missionary Society and the Theological Students Missionary Society in which Murray family members played a significant role (Cronje 1981:7). Another grandson, AF Louw, became the first head of the ‘Boeresendinginstituut’ in 1902, where ex Boer War prisoners could be prepared for the mission work to which they received a calling during their time in the camps in Sri Lanka and elsewhere (Crafford 1982:274).

Especially noteworthy for our theme is the life and work of Dr Andrew Murray jr (1828–1917). He studied, with his eldest brother John, in Scotland and Holland. Here he had breathed the atmosphere of religious fervour as well as callous unbelief. Although he adhered firmly to the Reformed faith, he could never align himself with the more extreme Calvinist wing and was always keen to associate with kindred spirits in the wider Christian community. His theology was above all that of personal piety and a personal love relationship with God. His theology was therefore also fundamentally in variance with the liberal and critical spirit of the (then) modern philosophical theology that undermined many of the accepted evangelical postulates (see Brümmer 2013), and he (as moderator) became active in the actions against some such ministers of the DRC.

As he grew older he became more and more profoundly mystical, and a man of prayer. He was deeply involved in the spiritual revival which swept through the church in the 1860s, and was in the position to give wise leadership to the movement, also in his official position as moderator of synod (Van der Merwe 1936:155–156). He regarded mission as the main activity of the church, and was deeply involved ecumenically as member and chairman of mission organisations like the South African General Mission and the Sudan United Mission. Through these contacts he was in the position to link up the Lovedale training institute with the need for missionaries at Lake Malawi. He was a prolific writer and became well known internationally through his many writings on the deeper Christian life, prayer and missions (in total some 250 books and tracts).

His passion for Christian missions was intense and he was involved in a number of initiatives. In 1857 he was appointed a member of the first mission committee of the DRC and was instrumental in the decision of the church to commence with a mission project outside the colony (which then meant the Trans-Orange). Whilst searching for mission candidates abroad (Crafford 1982:61) he seriously considered the possibility of making himself available for that task (Maree 1962:16). In 1862 he himself accompanied the first candidate, Alexander McKidd (another Scotsman), to the Soutpansberg in northern Transvaal. (By the way, this McKidd [who unfortunately died too soon] was followed up by Stephanus Hofmeyr [of the Murray clan].)

Whilst he served in Wellington he started the Mission Institute for the training of missionaries (in 1877). It was a private initiative, and was only accepted officially by the church 3 years later, and only taken over in 1903.

Enough is said about the profound influence that this (Scottish) family had on the commendable missionary outreach of the DRC. It is not too farfetched to regard the spirituality which was exemplified by this family as representative of the missionary wing of the South African church in general. If this family supplied an extra-ordinary proportion of the missionary personnel and leadership to the outreaches of the DRC, it is also true that their example and spiritual influence penetrated far further into South African Christian life as a whole. It is this spirit which still permeates the evangelical missionary enterprise.

A common spirituality

I do think there are commonalities between the few examples of southern African Scottish connections. The following – already delineated – can be mentioned and illustrated through the work of David Livingstone, the Lovedale missionaries, and the Murrays:

• They were never ‘mainline’, but often represented an alternative mentality and vision. Livingstone broke with the settled mentality of also his father in law, and blazed a new trail. The Missionaries in the Eastern Cape banked on quality education, when a focus on literacy was not even general. The Murrays sided for a pious personal relationship with God over against the newer liberal philosophic theology on the one hand and the ideological confessional theology on the other.

• They were all (to greater or lesser extent) characterised by a simplicity of faith, keeping to the basics. They were strong leaders, often hard headed, but could also lead through example. People realised that they could be trusted, and could be followed. It did not always go well, and they had their detractors, but often they were resented because ‘the highest trees catch the most wind’.

• When they tackled something which they felt led by God to do they did not easily let go. They had the courage and tenacity to sail against the wind. Andrew Murray started a training school for missionaries out of his own pocket, even if it took years for the church to accept it and to fund it. Livingstone sacrificed his family to continue with his ever widening outreaches.

• These Scots had a pioneer spirituality. The gospel had to get out to the ends of the earth! The older Andrew Murray was willing to offer a serious compromise to open the way for ‘mission among the heathen’. His children and grandchildren opened up vast new mission fields in Africa. Nothing further needs to be said about the impact of Livingstone’s travels and communications. The missionaries at Lovedale were obsessed with forming young black people who would be able to give leadership to the church in Africa, and to reach out to the unreached.

• Books and learning were second nature to these 19th century missionaries. Schools and literacy were important to them, and they wrote books to educate the wider public. Not only at Lovedale, but a string of schools, colleges and other institutions were founded by Andrew Murray the younger. Some of those are still leading institutions.

• It was not for them – any of them – to narrow the gospel only to ‘spiritual’ things. It had to penetrate the whole life of the individual and society. This would naturally involve them in the politics of the day, whether it was colonial policies or church politics. David Livingstone became involved in one of the thorniest issues of the day, namely the abolition of slavery and the trade in humans. The Lovedale missionaries worked for higher education for the black people when it was still frowned upon. The wider Murray family threw in their lot with the Afrikaners even against the might of the British Empire, and also gave immense impetus to the (often unpopular) mission outreach to the marginalised black people of southern Africa. These Scots would not back off from the structural issues touching on the socio-economic needs of the people around them. Their faith, and their calling, was holistic.

A golden thread of a particular missionary spirituality?

I wanted to trace a possible genealogy of missionary spirituality. I think that, without the exact DNA test that biological genealogists could use, we have seen enough to say that the point has been made. It seems as if the same kind of spirit that ‘forced’ the early Celtic missionaries to make such a huge difference to their world in their time was also working in the 19th century missionaries from Scotland. Whether this drive was coupled with a national (Celtic) mentality, or that it may just have been the same (Holy) Spirit, could be debated, but there are enough traits in common to let one wonder.

It goes without saying that the same missionary spirituality would find expression in very different ways in the early and later centuries with its different contexts.

Bosch (1980:112–113) was of the opinion that the monastic tradition was the most creative response of the early church to the chaos and barbarism of the centuries-long European Dark Ages. ‘The disciplined and tireless life of the monks turned the tide of barbarism in Western Europe’. He also quotes the well-known paragraph of Newman:

… Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing, and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully copied and recopied the manuscripts which they had saved. There was no one who contended or cried out, or drew attention to what was going on, but by degrees the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning and a city … (pp. 112–113)

Cahill (1995) adds:

Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waist as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waist their enemies’ heads. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking … And that is how the Irish saved civilization. (p. 196)

Their devotion found expression in their monastic life, but not only in a settled monastery (the so-called ‘white martyrdom’), but also in the ‘green martyrdom’ of penance, by moving out of the comfort zone into the unknown and dangerous world out there … a kind of ‘pilgrimage for Christ’ (Mellis 1976:23). Bosch (1980:112) quotes Walker who put it as follows: ‘… the Celtic urge to travel was turned into Christian channels, so that pilgrimage became associated with mission, and both were subordinate to the spiritual perfection of the monk’. Many of them therefore also suffered the inevitable ‘red martyrdom’ of literally giving their lives for Christ.

The (Irish) monks planted monasteries far and wide, and for centuries these became the centres of culture and civilisation, but also of mission (Bosch 1991:230). These monastic communities were not necessarily intentionally missionary, ‘but they were permeated by a missionary dimension’ (Bosch 1991:233). This they accomplished through their hard work, their exemplary lifestyle (Columbanus is said to have commented that ‘he who believes in Christ ought to walk as Christ walked, poor and humble and always preaching the truth’), disciplined moral activity and their perseverance, their ‘spirituality of the long haul’ (Bosch 1991:232).

The 19th century Scottish spiritual descendants of these monks lived and served in a totally different world. We looked at a few who came to the southern end of Africa, a continent vastly different from Europe.

The African communities that they went to had no Christian history, but were bleeding from the colonial (and pre-colonial) exploitation, and the tension between the (few) Christians and the larger number of pre-Christians. Much of Africa was unknown, as well as the plight of the people. Into this situation Livingstone moved. He discovered ‘the open sore’ of the slave trade, and tirelessly trekked through the sub-continent to do what he could to eradicate it through (as he formulated it) ‘Christianity, civilization and commerce’.

Into an established church in the Cape moved Andrew Murray and did what he could to instil a missionary spirit into the Christian community in order for them to reach out into the then ‘dark Africa’.

Into an illiterate Xhosa community moved the missionaries of Lovedale and gave them the best they could: a Christian upbringing for the youth, coupled with thorough learning and skills for the new world that is waiting.

This asked for just an adventurous, ascetic and pious spirituality as in the days of old.

Author:
J.J. (Dons) Kritzinger1

Affiliation:
1Science of Religion and Missiology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

2014

How to cite this article:
Kritzinger, J.J., 2014, ‘The Celtic connection with southern Africa: Tracing a genealogy of missionary spirituality’, Verbum et Ecclesia 35(1), Art. #1327, 8 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/
ve.v35i1.1327

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© 2014. The Authors. Licensee: AOSIS OpenJournals.