TEAM History: Southern Africa

From the beginning of the mission movement in the late 1800s, Africa captured the attention of those who wanted to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. The 1939 movie Stanley and Livingstone, based on the true story of a reporter’s quest to find missionary David Livingstone, intrigued the world with its exotic cultures, dark-skinned people and strange customs.

Written by Bob Wright

In the 124 years since TEAM began ministering in Southern Africa,

missionaries have weathered bad health, fiscal trials, near-civil war and the HIV/AIDS epidemic – all while God raised up a national network of churches and Bible schools.

In the late 1800s, Fredrik Franson had ministered among African-American believers in the U.S., and he had spoken with his board of directors about his vision to inspire American churches to go to Africa for ministry. He first considered Angola as the initial beachhead, but after hearing about the populous Zulu tribe in South Africa, he felt God’s leading to send missionaries there.

A group of eight missionaries left New York on April 2, 1892. Their leader was Andrew Haugerud, and the group included Malla Moe, a single woman who had little formal preparation but who deeply sensed God’s calling to Africa. She would eventually spend 60 years there. The people of the region so loved her that in 1992, 100 years after her arrival, Swaziland issued a commemorative stamp in her honor.

The group arrived in Durban in mid-May. Their ultimate goal was Transvaal, but they decided to go initially to Natal to study Zulu. Workers from other countries cooperated with them, and William Dawson, a Norwegian who was especially gifted in learning Zulu, eventually became the group’s leader. In 1906, Franson traveled to South Africa to see firsthand how the work was progressing. Even though he went to visit his small group of eight, he cooperated with various groups who were working in that region.

Upon returning to the U.S., he reported that missionaries were working in more than 40 stations and that they had seen close to 1,000 people respond to the gospel. Franson stayed in South Africa for 16 months, preaching, encouraging and equipping both missionaries and nationals.

Malla Moe’s unique ministry of itinerant evangelism took her to various parts of South Africa and Swaziland. She traveled alone in her Gospel Wagon, a small house on wheels where she would live and work, and she became friends both to common rural tribesmen and Swazi royalty. She led many to faith in Christ, but she also realized the importance of grounding each new believer in their faith. On her third and last home assignment, she recruited Mr. and Mrs. M.D. Christensen and Mr. and Mrs. Art Jensen to come to Swaziland and start a Bible school, later to be named in honor of Franson.

  • A Swazi church service segment called the siguco, a circle dance, where the participants are preparing their spiritual weapons according to Ephesians 6:10-17

The early missionaries to Africa faced numerous challenges, not the least of which were disease and lack of good health care.

By the time T.J. Bach visited South Africa in 1933, he saw 79 organized congregations with nearly 5,000 members. While Malla Moe continued her evangelistic efforts, trained African workers now fanned out to share the gospel as well. The economic challenges of the Great Depression, and eventually of the Second World War, affected these inland areas of South Africa. The ship bringing three missionaries (the McCallisters and Lydia Rogalsky) to South Africa was sunk by a German ship.

The missionaries eventually succeeded in making it to South Africa where they enjoyed a long, effective ministry. The early missionaries to Africa faced numerous challenges, not the least of which were disease and lack of good health care. These same challenges affected the people with whom the missionaries worked, so it seemed logical that they would establish clinics and a large hospital. While the hospital took care of those who were sick, it also served as a training hospital for nurses and other healthcare workers.

To meet the educational needs of young people, missionaries established a teacher training college in Vryheid as well as some high schools and primary schools in other areas. As the work in South Africa neared its 50-year anniversary, the work began to change. Work among tribal groups in more rural settings continued, but it was done more and more by Africans themselves. Following World War II, the major cities of South Africa began to experience huge growth from rural groups moving there for work and career opportunities.

The cities weren’t equipped to accommodate such growth, so shantytowns grew up around most cities. The minority white population was in leadership, and they felt threatened by these changes, so they codified into law what had already existed unofficially: separate development, or apartheid.

Overpopulated areas that lacked public services created problems for the country, but they also brought opportunities for ministry. Newcomers to these areas were looking for friends, for meaning and for encouragement. Sometimes workers from beyond South Africa’s borders were recruited as miners, and they lived in dorms, sending their pay back to their families.

Mining operations often invited missionaries to establish churches among these workers. As people moved to the cities, they naturally gravitated to others from their own cultural groups, so TEAM accepted this new challenge to work among groups besides the Zulu. The end of World War II created a flood of new missionaries to all parts of the world. South Africa welcomed 50 new workers, and many of them accepted the challenge of working in these culturally diverse areas. This sometimes meant learning several languages, but the new workers accepted that challenge as well.

Besides working in evangelism and church planting, missionaries started multiple educational ministries and an extensive literature ministry. With the sudden growth of the ministry came challenges. The field didn’t have a central place where administration was cared for. Multiple ministries came about with little unified vision. When Vernon Mortenson arrived in 1954, he helped resolve some of these issues by encouraging the field to select a leader who would give full attention to overseeing the work. Headquarters were also established to handle administration and financial affairs for the entire missionary body.

With the increase in literacy and the growth of churches in various cultural contexts, it became apparent that very little literature in these language groups was available. Missionaries came together to start Word of Life Publications, an editorial, printing and distribution work that eventually served the whole country. As with other aspects of the work, this particular ministry is now in the hands of national leaders.

  • Dr. Morrill and pilot John Snavely prepare a patient for flight to the hospital

  • Convention held at Franson Memorial Bible School, 1927

  • Warriors of Bokivni Beg, chief of the Swazi, marching around a cattle corral

  • Children in Mozambique play in the streets in front of a local church, 2008

  • A Zion Bible College class at Nhlangano Framer Training Center

South Africa and Swaziland are at the epicenter of the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic. The country is not only trying to care for those who have HIV/AIDS, but is also challenged by the effects this disease creates for families, children and whole communities.

As missionaries established and expanded their work among other cultures, church organizations grew up along the same cultural lines. As these groups grew and matured, both national leaders and TEAM had to define new working relationships. Just before the end of apartheid, TEAM-related leaders asked the mission to facilitate a “unity movement” to bring various groups together. The initial efforts were unsuccessful, so in 2002, the South African leaders asked TEAM to help them once more. That effort also failed to materialize.

In 2011-2012, mission leaders asked the field to reset its overall goals for ministry. The most significant change that came out of these efforts was that TEAM no longer focused primarily on church planting but on leadership training through discipleship. Such redefinition of roles and responsibilities didn’t happen suddenly. Even while the national church and TEAM discussed the changes they were facing, numerous missionaries worked alongside national church-planters under the capable leadership of various church denominations.

Missionaries also helped with building projects, children’s ministries, literature work and teaching in Bible colleges. Over 100 years ago, a church in Zion, Illinois, sent missionaries to Africa, where they established churches among the tribal people of Swaziland. When the missionaries left that ministry, the church was growing, but it lacked the solid, biblical foundation it needed.

Over the years, that church has mushroomed to millions of people, but their understanding of biblical teaching gradually merged with traditional religious teachings. Some 20 years ago, that same (continued from page 50) church in Illinois re-established contact with this church and found them receptive to teaching. An organization called Zion Evangelical Ministries of Africa (ZEMA) has welcomed workers from TEAM to help them in this historic opportunity. Centers for study began 20 years ago with one school and 20 students. Today there are more than 70 schools with 1,500 students. Missionary Dudley Donaldson has recently started a radio ministry that targets this same group in Swaziland, and other stations have started in South Africa.

South Africa and Swaziland are at the epicenter of the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic. The country is not only trying to care for those who have HIV/AIDS, but is also challenged by the effects this disease creates for families, children and whole communities. Missionaries are now using Crossroads and True Love Waits materials, which present life skills along with the gospel and abstinence training to thousands of young people in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho.

Missionaries have also engaged in compassion ministries to those who have AIDS, bringing to many the hope of the gospel. Looking back over the years of ministry in Southern Africa, it’s not hard to see God’s blessing. In the beginning, the need was great and the church didn’t exist. Now there is a significant network of churches, pastored by capable leaders, and several Bible colleges, led by nationals, actively preparing young leaders for the challenges ahead.

The story of the work is not without its bumps and bruises, but it is abundantly evident that God has been at work and the future is bright. New missionaries are on their way. The ministry area is now called TEAM Southern Africa, and they hope to expand into Lesotho, Botswana and to the ends of the earth.

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