Grace and Peace to you …
Today some of us are in Namaqualand. We have been attending our annual Synod since Wednesday. A few of us cycled up here while others travelled by bus. We are in Namaqualand because it is the 200th anniversary of the Namaqualand Methodist Mission Station – yes the Methodist mission work has been going on since 1816 – the mind boggles!
This building has a particular connection with the Namaqualand Mission because we have Rev. Barnabas Shaw’s tombstone in this building [front left on the floor] and it was Shaw who established the first Methodist Mission Station in Namaqualand in 1816. Barnabas Shaw began his ministry in the country among the Methodist soldiers attached to the various regiments stationed at the Cape – despite the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset’s refusal to grant him permission on the ground that “the soldiers already had their chaplain and that preaching to slaves might offend the ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church who were well established”.
Shaw writes in response to being refused permission: “Having received this answer I therefore left His Excellency and determined to commence reaching without it. My resolution is also fixed never again to ask any mere man’s permission to preach the glorious Gospel … If Lord Charles Somerset be afraid of offending either the Dutch Ministers or English Chaplains, I am not, and will therefore do my duty. In the course of a few days I began to preach, without any hindrance or interruption…” This means that the Methodist work began by an act of civil disobedience, reminding us all that our primary allegiance is never Caesar but God.
He soon left for the “interior”. After a few days on their journey and just beyond the Olifants River they met the chief of the Little Namaquas travelling to Cape Town to seek a Christian Missionary. This was on 4 October 1816. This “desert meeting” Shaw regarded as a “particular providence”.
At Lily Fountain they built the first Methodist Mission Station in South Africa. The first fruits of Shaw’s ministry was Rev. Jacob Links who in 1822 became the first South African to be ordained into the Methodist Church. Sadly in 1825 Rev. Jacob Links together with Rev. William Threlfall and Johanness Jager were ambushed and killed en route to establishing another mission – making them the first Methodist martyrs.
We know that the words and deeds by colonial missionaries were not all innocent or helpful. Sometimes colonial missionaries were patronising, disrespecting traditional beliefs and at times even murderously brutal. So our celebrations for the Methodist Missionary work cannot be without honest critique.
This reminds us that in all we say and do, regardless of how pure our intentions and strong our convictions, we must remember that we may well be hurting people rather than helping them.
May the story of the missionaries give us courage and humble us at the same time.