25 Years in South Africa

By Paul and Helen Williams

January 31, 1968. After being delayed for several days in Switzerland (when we enjoyed a great visit with the Jerry Earnharts) the seven Williamses — Paul (37), Helen (37), Kenneth (15), David (13), Mark (10), Timothy (8) and . Stephen (6) – arrived at Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg on a sunny, hot summer day. Because no one in South Africa knew exactly when we were to arrive I phoned the Topes and Votaws from the airport and we waited to be fetched. We had reached our new home:

Beginning in Johannesburg

We found the country to be a fascinating place. Although South African English has its differences from American English, and although Afrikaans is the first language of 60 percent of the 4 million whites, we had no zeal trouble communicating, Soon we had settled into a large, old house in Florida, a western suburb of Johannesburg, and our sons were wearing their new school uniforms as they set off to school. Old brother and sister John Sunn, baptized a few months Deviously as a result 6f the teaching of their daughter and son-in-law, Gloria and Basil Cass, and of the teaching of the Topes, began meeting with us each Sunday in the Johannesburg YMCA, thus beginning the church which now meets in Brixton, Johannesburg. Gene Tope introduced me to the three churches meeting in Soweto, the million-strong black township serving Johannesburg, and took me to Vendaland where about a dozen small churches were meeting in various villages. There was plenty of work to do, and we got stuck in.

A Fascinating Country

I say South Africa was fascinating. It was at least two different countries – not geographically, but socially. Apartheid (defined as “separate development”) separated the whites and the non-whites (Africans, Coloureds and Indians) and emphasized the separateness of the non-whites from each other (the thirteen-or-so African tribes, the Coloureds and the Indians). There were even separate schools? for English-speaking whites and for Afrikaans-speaking whites. The white population lived on a high standard of living, almost like Americans; the non-white population lived on a low standard. Living areas, schools, hospitals, transport, restrooms, even elevators, were separate and unequal Africans had to carry identity documents to show they had the right to live and work in the area where they were, and very often they could riot get official permission to live and work where they wanted to.

But part of the fascination of the country was, and the freedom of expression. The English language newspapers in particular were unmerciful in condemning the government for its apartheid policies. The white opposition party in Parliament was stridently proclaiming against the laws.” Ant? though non-white political parties were banned, there was plenty of organized and unorganized opposition among blacks, too.

And there was, and is, freedom of religion South Africa has an incredible mixture of religions, from the established western denominations to African ancestor worship and hybrids of the two, with the Hindu and Muslim religions strong among the Indians. Bible is taught (sort of) in the schools, and ministers of religion are treated with respect. We are as free to preach the gospel in South Africa as in the United States, and usually more welcome.

Preaching In Johannesburg

In Johannesburg we tried many forms of evangelism. There was a weekly teaching ad until the paper banned us -because a Jew in their composing room objected to my article showing that the law of Moses was nailed to the cross.

We held neighborhood gospel meetings when we engaged hail for–Four or five nights, advertised the services by distributing 5,000 copies of three different adverts for three weeks before the meeting, and prayed for visitors to come. Enough came for us to get contacts for home Bible studies, and sonic were baptized. A few members from other places moved to Johannesburg and began meeting with us. The church grew until in 1973 we were able to buy a house in Brixton, tear out some walls and begin meeting there.

In Brixton we were able to hold gospel meetings and lectureships. The attendance of blacks at these services led to one informal objections from white neighbors but no official problems. (The law has always allowed blacks to attend churches in white areas.) Then two Coloured families ere converted and became the first non-white members of is congregation. (Today the Brixton church has an attendance of about 90 on Sunday mornings and its membership consists of whites (majority], Coloureds, Indians and blacks.)

It has been a joy to me that one of the early ones to be baptized, Hendrik Joubert, is now preaching the gospel. He and his wife, Suzette, are like our own children to Helen and me.

The Brixton church continued to grow. Several families Rhodesia placed membership. Most of them were untaught concerning institutionalism, so there had to be a lot teaching on that subject: On one of our lectureships I’ve three lectures on the problem. As we grew, we formed two other churches. The Coloured brethren decided to start meeting in Eldorado Park where they lived, and brethren Krugersdorp (15 miles west) started meeting there. (There had previously been a church In Krugersdorp, and people taught there at that time are still faithful Christians, but it had ceased meeting some years before.) Because one of the men in the Eldorado Park church became a hindrance to the cause, that church did not prosper and one of the original families is now worshipping with the Brixton church again. The Krugersdorp church has continued to grow and is a good congregation. Hendrik Joubert, David Beckley and John Schultz (who is now there) have worked with them.

In 1983 the Brixton church remodeled the house in which they were meeting and the result is an attractive little church building with an auditorium seating almost 100, a baptistry under the speakers platform, three classrooms and two .rooms. Later they put a rondavel (round room) behind the building for an extra classroom. Brother Leslie Maydell has been working with them since we left Johannesburg in 1984.

Soweto and Vendaland

With the Johannesburg church, I was also working with the Soweto churches and with Vendaland churches, There was a good bit of informal debate between black faithful brethren and black institutional brethren. Brother Tope and I did a lot of teaching on this subject. I had a debate with Seventh Day Adventists (which continued weekly for sometime) in Soweto and in Vendaland l had two debates with brother John Hardin on institutionalism. The three Soweto churches grew to be five.


On the subject of debates, I moderated for Ray Votaw in a one night debate with a Seventh Day Adventist and I had a one night debate with Mr. Ahmed Deedat, the head of a Muslim Propagation Society, which about 2,000 people attended in a sports stadium near my house. In that debate I affirmed that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.

Political Change

Part of the fascination of South Africa is the profound political change which has and is occurring. The change between 1968 and 1993 is almost unbelievable. All apartheid laws are gone, schools and living areas are integrated, an interim government is just months away, a new constitution which will bring in a complete new political dispensation is probably a year away. The part of this change which none of us likes is the violence which is accompanying it, violence which is affecting the lives of Africans very much. Pray for our black brethren, please. The whites feel threatened, but have not had to endure much direct violence. Helen and I have been quite safe wherever we have gone.

Preaching to Zulus

As the years went by, we visited the United States each four years. In 1972 we stayed 11 months, since then each visit was for three months. And of course our children grew up. By 1984 they were all in the United States except David and his family (three sons), who were getting ready to return. Helen and I decided to move from Johannesburg to Zululand where the need to preach the gospel among the Zulus was very great. Since then we have been living in the small town of Eshowe where there now is a church of about 35 members with an attendance of 50-60 on Sunday morning and there are churches in six other places in Zululand where there were none. Brethren converted here are strengthening churches in other places, even as far away as 700 miles. The little church in Eshowe is fully supporting David Ngonyama who is preaching the gospel together with me and it is active in helping the poor of this congregation and elsewhere.

Throughout these 25 years, churches and individuals in America have faithfully supported us and our work. God has blessed us with good health and continuing opportunities. Helen and l are happy in this work (and would be sorry to have to return to the United States) and continue to thank God for his marvelous blessings.

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 7, p. 6-7
April 1, 1993