In modern times there is a strong emphasis on faith with a view to experiencing miracles. In the process, faith is often put in the service of people’s fleshly desires to realise ambitions such as becoming wealthy or being healed instantly. But what is true faith and why do we need it?
Faith is the bond between us and the unseen God. “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The most important reason why we should trust God is to save our souls by virtue of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus on the cross. Apart from spiritual matters, everything we do in the secular world should also be approached within the framework of faith. If I look for a job, or whatever I do, I must trust the Lord for success in all my endeavours. When I am admitted to hospital I put my faith in the Lord to bless the medical treatment and use it to promote my healing.
Whether I eat or drink, or whatever I do, I aim to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). In faith I refrain from sinful acts and thoughts. When Christians do not act in faith, but in the flesh, by relying on their own strength and insights and gratifying the lusts of the flesh, they do not live by faith and consequently grieve the Holy Spirit. Paul says, “The just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:38).
In a life of faith we do not necessarily always trust the Lord for big and dramatic things, but for basic necessities and also for strength to be His witnesses on earth. The fact that we live in a world under the sway of the wicked one explains why we experience various crises for which we urgently need the help of the Lord. We should never doubt, but must trust Him to supply all our needs from His vast riches in glory. He often provides in surprising and miraculous ways!
Birth of a mission station
The following review of the testing of faith and God’s miracles in the life of a missionary in the former Transkei in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa serves as a practical example of a true life of faith. In April 1988 I stayed with Harry and Gay Oosthuyzen on a mission station at Kentani near Butterworth for a week while distributing New Testaments in schools on behalf of the Gideons. During that week I gained inspiring knowledge of the lives of Harry and Gay as special servants of the Lord. Theirs is a truly remarkable story of the ways of the Lord in the lives of two disciples who completely surrendered themselves to the cause of the gospel. Their unshakable faith and waiting on the Lord’s guidance and provision are interwoven with this story. This stands in stark contrast to relying on human abilities and our natural inclination to abandon our calling at the first sign of suffering and dwindling support.
Harry Oosthuyzen was born in the Transkei, in the south-east of southern Africa, and grew up on a farm. His father was Afrikaans-speaking and his mother English, but all of them were also fluent in the African language Xhosa. At the age of 7 Harry gave his heart to the Lord, and as a young man of 26, in 1952, received a call to dedicate his life full time to proclaiming the gospel. He had a strong desire to start a Bible school where Xhosa-speaking pastors and evangelists could be trained. God even impressed it upon his mind that he would be able to see the ocean from the Bible-school site. Harry was convinced he should prepare himself for this ministry.
To be able to fulfil his ministry Harry first had to get theological training. In 1958, he studied for a year at the Cliff Evangelist College in Sheffield, England, and at the end of that year decided to enrol for a BTh degree at the Toronto Bible College in Canada. He depended on the Lord for all his needs and earnestly prayed for the money to travel to Canada. Then a missionary in South Africa, lying awake one night, was thinking continuously about Harry and later realised Harry was in some kind of distress. The next morning he phoned his sister in Ireland, gave her Harry’s address and asked her to send money to the young man on his behalf.
That enabled Harry to buy a plane ticket to Canada, and he arrived there with just $13 left. But the Lord supplied his every need and, in 1962, gave him a wife by the name of Gay, the daughter of a local pastor. Harry and Gay often fasted and prayed, believing that the Lord who had called them is faithful.
Early in 1963, after completing his studies, Harry and his wife returned to South Africa. But first Harry packed all his theological books, lecture notes and a few wedding gifts in a chest and shipped it to South Africa. But nearing the end of its journey, the ship sank outside East London, on the South African coast.
Harry and Gay had only enough money for a flight from Toronto to London, and when they reached London waited there on the Lord for money to continue their journey. A week later they had the money to buy just one ticket for a direct flight to Johannesburg. The other ticket was for a much cheaper flight via Paris, Athens and various East African countries to Johannesburg. Harry took the latter flight, with only £1 in his pocket! He arranged that Gay would depart from London four days later so they would arrive in Johannesburg more or less at the same time. When Harry’s flight landed in Mozambique it was announced that the airline company was bankrupt and the flight to Johannesburg was cancelled. Harry then travelled to Johannesburg by train.
During the train journey, Harry had a strong sense that he had to go the airline office in Johannesburg and thank them for the flight. The message was clear: “Go and thank them very much for having brought you back to South Africa.” Harry’s first reaction was to resist the thought because the airline had left him seriously in the lurch by not completing the flight. But the thought prevailed, and in Johannesburg he searched the streets until he found the office. He asked to talk to the manager. One of the attendants at the counter heard his name and said, “Oh, Mr Oosthuyzen. Here is a letter for you.” He was dumbfounded, as he did not expect a letter for an unknown person like him at this office. When he opened the envelope it contained two train tickets to East London. There was no indication of the sender.
The manager of the airline was in London, but his wife was in Africa. She was grateful to Harry for expressing his appreciation for the flight. Other people had severely criticised the airline, but this friendly young man gave thanks. The manager’s wife was so positive towards Harry that she took him to the railway station in her big sedan to make reservations, and then to the airport where they were just in time to meet Gay!
In East London Harry and Gay stayed with his mother in anticipation of further guidance from the Lord. He was convinced the envisaged Bible school should be interdenominational to make it accessible to members of various churches. It should also be a venture of faith in which students would not be required to pay any fees, so the staff and students could learn to trust the Lord for all their needs.
In answer to prayer the Lord guided Harry to Butterworth in the Transkei. He wondered why, as the sea cannot be seen from Butterworth. Here a woman referred him to a Christian businessman in Kentani who offered to sell Harry a piece of land directly adjacent to the town. From one side of the plot Harry could see the sea in the distance and immediately knew he was standing on the destined place. But Harry had no money to buy the land and initially rented it for R20 a month.
Harry and Gay moved into a simple corrugated iron building on the plot, living there in abject poverty while waiting on God to realise their calling to start a Bible school. Over the next two years, from 1963 to 1965, the Lord tested Harry and Gay to see if they would remain true to their calling and continue trusting Him even under almost impossible circumstances. Their furniture was made of crude paraffin cases, and during the dark nights rats ran through the small shack. Money was so scarce they could only buy half a loaf at a time. For two years they didn’t have any meat to eat with their bread, but instead ate mushrooms Harry collected on the site where the Bible school was later built. The mushrooms grew there during the two years Harry and Gay had little to eat. Harry said that during the many years since that time he never again saw edible mushrooms on the plot!
After lengthy correspondence and negotiations their application to build a Bible school on the site was finally approved. But they had no money to buy the property. In East London, where Harry addressed a group of people about their intention to buy land and establish a Bible school, a young couple remained behind and told Harry the Lord had moved them to sell their house and donate the money towards this project. They were not wealthy and it had taken them many years to complete the house. Harry refused their offer five times and asked them to pray again to be sure this was what the Lord wanted them to do. During this time of testing they abided by their decision, sold the house and posted the money to Harry and Gay. It arrived in Kentani the very day the transfer documents were to be signed and the money paid over. God truly provided!
Harry and Gay persevered during the time of testing and trials without becoming discouraged and losing their calling of faith. Because of this, God blessed them abundantly. In 1964, the Evangelic Xhosa Bible School came into being. One student enrolled and Harry taught him as if he were teaching 50 students.
It was a huge loss to Harry that the ship which had carried his theological books and lecture notes had sunk, as he badly needed the material in the newly established Bible school. But miraculously the Lord again provided. Harry’s mother in East London had a neighbour who often greeted her and had short conversations with her. One day he asked her whether she had a son by the name of Harry. This man told her he worked for a salvaging company and they had recovered part of the sunken ship’s cargo. Among the goods was the chest with Harry’s books. The kind man charged Harry just R10 for the chest. Had the goods been offloaded in the normal way, Harry would have had to pay about R100 for duties and other charges, which he didn’t have at that stage. A further amazing fact was that no water had penetrated the chest to damage the books – the contents were in perfect condition!
To Harry and Gay the training of preachers and evangelists went hand in hand with practical spiritual work. Schools and residential areas were visited, where the Word was preached and tracts distributed. In 1967, they started with outreaches in Butterworth. They rented an old garage, bought a small printing press and began printing and distributing tracts. They closed the Bible school on Thursdays to do this work in Butterworth. Many people were saved during these outreaches and some of them entered full-time service for the Lord.
To Harry it was important to obey the Great Commission by proclaiming the good tidings of Christ’s saving grace to as many people as possible. When opportunities presented themselves, particularly during Bible-school holidays, the Oosthuyzens and students visited several areas in the Transkei and Ciskei to preach and distribute tracts. Because of the unwavering dedication and untiring efforts of Harry and Gay, there was a special anointing upon their ministry and great breakthroughs followed. Many people were saved, blessed and spiritually strengthened.
During the early years they walked across the hills and through dense, overgrown valleys to proclaim the message of redemption to faraway people. Their knowledge of the Xhosa language, as well as their sympathetic disposition towards the spiritual and material needs of the inhabitants, opened many doors to them. They often shared their own meagre resources with poor people. During one of these visits Gay gave her shoes to a woman and walked back home barefoot. She also gave away some of her children’s clothes. No wonder Harry was nicknamed “Usomlandela”, “Follower of Jesus” – he and his wife executed the commands of their Master to the letter. Only in such a ministry can events like the following occur.
Two traditional Xhosa women from the surrounding area called at the Oosthuyzens’ house one day. They didn’t say what they were looking for but seemed troubled. Harry noticed they were in a spiritual conflict and asked students from the Bible school to minister to them. An hour later they testified about their salvation with shining faces. Every evening Harry and Gay walked to the house of one of the two women to preach there and to build them up spiritually. More and more people attended the services. Later, the valleys echoed the songs of praise of worshippers who were on their way to the meetings.
One day, the woman in whose house the services were held heard the news that her husband who worked in Komga, across the Kei River, was imprisoned there. Harry comforted her and prayed for her husband. On the spur of the moment he said her husband would be back home by the end of the month and also testify about his salvation. That was going to be a big test of the missionary’s credibility, and afterwards he said to his wife he didn’t really know why he had made that promise to the woman. He wrote a letter to the man in prison and included a tract. The warder was a Christian and read the tract to the illiterate man in the cell. The prisoner kneeled down and accepted the Lord Jesus as his Saviour.
Shortly afterwards, Harry heard over the radio that the State President would grant amnesty to certain prisoners during the Republic Day celebrations. Early on the morning of 31 May this man was released from prison. He had only R1 in his pocket, and with that money boarded a bus to a point close to the Kei River. He then took a shortcut across the farms, swam the Kei River and headed for home in the direction of Kentani. After darkness fell, the journey became very difficult and he tore his clothes as he had to find his way through patches of dense forest. The devil also attacked him and made him suspicious with thoughts that his wife had sold his goats and sheep after she had heard about his imprisonment, and that she had left home.
Exhausted and in rags he arrived home long past midnight. He first went to the sheep enclosure, where he noticed all the livestock were still there. He then went to the hut and found his wife asleep. He woke her, and the first thing they talked about was their salvation. They immediately went to the missionary’s house, where they woke him at around four in the morning to inform him of what had happened. The previous evening in the service everybody had been expecting the former prisoner’s arrival back home, as it was the last day of the month. Little did they know of his heroic and lonely journey through the dark bushes of the Kei River valley to start a new life with his family and Christian friends.
Many people repented and were saved because of this remarkable event, leading to the establishment of a Baptist assembly in that area. Congregations of other denominations were also, in due course, established as a result of the Bible school’s evangelistic outreaches.
The involvement of Christian students
In a special and unplanned way, Christian students from Rhodes University in Grahamstown (in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa) became involved in evangelistic and building work on the mission station. On one of his journeys through the Ciskei Harry had offered a lift to a Rhodes student near Queenstown. He had then talked to the student about the Lord, but although the young man was a churchgoer he was not sure of his salvation. While this conversation took place, students of the Bible school in the back of the vehicle prayed for the hitch-hiker. He decided to settle his case with the Lord, and Harry stopped so they could kneel and pray beside the road. With tears of repentance the student gave his heart to Christ.
Back at the university in Grahamstown the student experienced problems living as a committed Christian. He phoned the mission station for counselling. Harry invited him to visit them at Kentani, which he did. He also took along five other students. That visit was the beginning of a long and fruitful association with the Bible school. The students were spiritually strengthened and returned to the university with a new vision for the work of the Lord. On their return they persuaded the Christian Union at the university to commit themselves to supporting the mission station at Kentani by organising work camps at holiday times. That was the beginning of many years of visits by student groups, during which several buildings were erected and many missionary outreaches undertaken.
God often, in miraculous ways, provided for the students’ needs for food. On one occasion Harry was in East London and Gay asked him to bring back some vegetables. Money was scarce and he wouldn’t have been able to buy enough food with what he had. On that day, the market rejected a load of potatoes sent in by a farmer. The owner refused to transport it back home and eventually all the potatoes were given to Harry free of charge. Back at the mission station, in spite of scrupulous investigation, they couldn’t find anything wrong with the potatoes! Harry also got some oranges and returned home with a big load of food.
On another occasion Harry asked a wholesaler in Butterworth whether he had any food products to sell cheaply for any reason. The man told Harry he had a few bags of rice, but they looked so bad he was ashamed to offer them for sale. Grain weevils almost covered the outside of the bags, and the trader offered all the bags to Harry for only R4 just to get rid of them. At the mission station it soon became evident that the weevils had climbed on the bags from outside and that the rice inside was absolutely uncontaminated. For a long time the students had rice as their staple food, each time with a different side-dish.
There was also the occasion when Gay and some of the other ladies said the Lord had laid it on their hearts to prepare a special cold meal for the students on the Saturday. But there was no money for cold meat. As the weekend approached, the situation became more acute, but the conviction to proceed with the cold meal persisted. Eventually, it was 10.30 Saturday morning, and Gay had only some tomatoes and carrots. Suddenly the telephone rang and the chairman of the local tennis club asked to speak to Harry. They had arranged tennis matches against visiting teams for that day but at the last moment the tournament was cancelled. The club did not know what to do with all the cold meat they had bought for dinner and asked whether the Bible school could make use of it. What a feast!
Although the students helped to erect most of the buildings, the Lord also provided housing in other ways. At a certain stage when there was an immediate need for a house for one of the black lecturers at the Bible school Harry made an offer on a large prefabricated house at an auction in East London. The estimated value of the house was R40,000, but Harry could at most afford only R1,000, and made his offer accordingly. He walked around the house and prayed that the Lord would provide. His bid was not accepted, as it was by far the lowest. The disappointment did not last long, though, as the farmer who had bought the house phoned Harry and told him he could have the house as a gift. The man had sold his farm and no longer needed the house!
Trials and suffering
In spite of all the divine interventions and miraculous provision, it was a hard, thorny road upon which Harry and Gay had embarked to establish the mission station at Kentani. If one only considered the highs of their long ministry, one might easily develop a romantic, biased perception of missionary work. Many Christians have gone to mission fields with such ideas, but have completely underestimated the trials, loneliness and resistance from a wicked world, which is part of bearing our cross. Those who fail to persevere become discouraged and often lose their calling.
Harry and his wife experienced intensely both the sweet and sour of a ministry of faith. They knew what it was to say with Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).
Because they had suffered themselves, they knew how to comfort others who found themselves in difficult circumstances: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (2 Cor. 1:3-5).
The Oosthuyzen family also, like Paul, have memories of cold, hunger and nights when they almost felt abandoned (cf. 2 Cor. 11:27). One night they had to sleep in public toilets in Umtata after their vehicle had broken down and they didn’t have enough money to sleep in a hotel. Harry and the boys slept on the floor in the men’s toilet, while Gay and the girls, in the ladies’ toilet. The students slept outside near the petrol pumps.
Their life’s journey led through many other hardships and trials, but these experiences strengthened their faith and determination to live out their calling. In some cases the Lord intervened in wonderful ways to bring relief, but in other cases it was His will for them to accept trials and live with them as best they could – even though this might involve prolonged suffering. He always gives us strength for victory or grace to put up with afflictions.
In their lifestyle these people appreciated every gift and accepted it as coming from God. Their sincerity and the fervour of their grace at meals immediately struck me. During my visit, there was always enough food on the table, but it was never abundant. When another missionary one day unexpectedly arrived during lunchtime, Harry and Gay took some of their food from their own plates to provide a portion for him. I also insisted they take some of my food to share with him. This situation did not embarrass any of us, or the visitor, as it was natural to share with others and assist one another.
Because the work on the mission fields is so demanding and the labourers so few, many of these people burn themselves out in the service of the Lord. Gay was responsible for the entire household: she home-schooled the youngest of her six children, lectured in the Bible school, held prayer meetings and also gave Sunday-school classes. The week I was there she fainted from exhaustion in the lecture hall. She suffered from anaemia and Harry had to take her to the doctor in Butterworth during the morning and again in the afternoon.
Despite the problems, they continued with the Lord’s work, always trusting Him for strength and grace. They joyfully continued with their full programme, as there were always fresh testimonies of the Lord’s saving grace and manifold mercies.
A very special testimony came from the Sunday-school classes. The children were taught to pray in the Name of the Lord Jesus, as God would then answer their prayers. There was a 12-year-old child who was part of a family where the father had left to work in the goldmines. But he never sent money home for their support. The mother was forced to go to East London to beg for money from other relatives, and she left her two small children in the care of the 12-year-old. After three days there was no food left in the hut. The older child then said they should pray to Jesus according to the example given them at Sunday school. After they had prayed and asked the Lord for food, their dog, Twini, entered the hut with a piece of bread in his mouth and put it down on the floor in front of the children!
The difficult situation in which the missionaries and many of their converts found themselves induced me to ask Harry and his wife what they thought about the prosperity gospel. He clearly rejected the popular linking of the gospel to wealth and the absence of all sorts of problems. He said he didn’t find the prosperity gospel in the Bible. A servant is not above his master (Matt. 10:24), and Jesus had nothing. The Lord Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). To Harry, earthly possessions were not an indication of spirituality, for that would mean poor Christians have little faith. Which, he said, is just not true.
Gay was also very outspoken on the subject. She said that if someone wants to serve the Lord he must take up his cross and deny the world. This cross means that pain and suffering must be endured for the gospel. She quoted Philippians 1:29, which says that to us “it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake”. She also quoted the following passage from Hebrews 11, on the experiences of heroes of faith: “Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:35-38).
Gay also mentioned the possibility that the Lord might bring a form of suffering and testing upon Christians in South Africa as preparation for our meeting the heavenly Bridegroom. When tribulation comes, it is the superficial believers who, like seeds sown in shallow soil, first succumb to the pressure and deny their testimony. The process of testing and sifting is needed to separate true from nominal believers. As for the true believers, their faith is strengthened by trials, for this is the way in which the Lord prepares His children to be strong enough for the fight of faith that lies ahead. He does not achieve this purpose in our lives through prosperity and comfort.
Harry and Gay’s children of all serve the Lord. One of the strong motivating forces in the life of this family is their expectation of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. They believe we have only limited time and opportunities to execute the Great Commission. With a view to this we must redeem the time and work while it is still day, because the night approaches when no one can work.
From this perspective, the Oosthuyzen family do not look to earthly gains for their labours, but to a heavenly reward (see Heb. 11:24-26). They were prepared, under the most trying circumstances, to put their hand to the plough, not looking back, while gathering a great harvest for the kingdom of heaven. They put on the full armour of God, fighting the good fight of faith and laying hold of eternal life to which they were called. It is only with a disposition like this that a child of God is able to withstand the trials of mocking and deprivation, and even be prepared to be an outcast. Paul says that a characteristic of a true servant of the Lord is that he must be able to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3).
The Lord called Harry to a district where the resistance of the Xhosa’s religion of ancestor worship and the belief in diviners and traditional healers (“witchdoctors”) was probably the strongest because of the Gcaleka paramount chief staying there. Few missionaries would be able to stand against this wall of resistance. But the Lord gave a wonderful breakthrough to the gospel in this spiritually hard environment. Harry attended a tribal meeting where the paramount chief and senior members of the tribe had gathered in the cattle enclosure. The chief and his counsellors all drank from a bottle of brandy, which they passed from one to the other. Suddenly the paramount chief asked what the white man was doing there, upon which Harry said he had a message for them.
A drum was placed in the middle of the cattle enclosure. Harry stood on the drum and delivered a message of repentance in Xhosa to the meeting. One of the counsellors wanted to thank him afterwards, but the paramount chief silenced him and said he would respond to the message himself. The bottle was passed around another time, then the chief vehemently cursed and insulted the preacher. Harry stood quietly and prayed that the Lord would turn this situation around for the good of His kingdom.
Suddenly the tone of the chief’s message changed. He pointed at the Bible and said, “That message of yours we want and I give you the right to proclaim it in the whole tribal area. Only you, white man, we do not want.” Shortly afterwards the paramount chief died. Harry attended the funeral and reminded the headmen and counsellors that the words of the late chief could not be changed. His successor honoured the decision and the gospel was proclaimed freely in that area. Women and children were the first to be saved, as the men were spiritually harder and more unapproachable.
The biggest resistance to the gospel message came from the traditional healers – the so-called witchdoctors. One day, Harry and Gay met a traditional healer along the road. He was very dirty, his hair plaited into long strings, and his eyes wild and fierce. Harry gave him a tract and told him they would have a service in the area that evening and that he should try to attend. That evening Ntuli, the healer, indeed attended the service and was the first to respond to the call to be saved. He said he had already accepted the Lord Jesus as his Saviour that afternoon. He pointed at his heart and said, “He is now here!” After his daughter had come from school he had asked her to read the tract to him. He came under conviction for his sins, kneeled down, confessed his sins and accepted the Lord Jesus as his Saviour.
On his own initiative Ntuli cut his hair, washed himself and brought all his medicines and magical charms to the Bible school. Harry gave him matches to set fire to these occult things and burn them. Afterwards, this man became a farmer in the district and a strong witness to the Lord Jesus. He confessed to the community that, as a traditional healer, he had often lied to them and then covered his eyes with his hair, for he could not look them in the face because of his lies. Ntuli’s wife, children and aunts were also saved. His wife was the last to be saved, because she was a traditionalist and an alcoholic who strongly opposed the gospel. She was even drunk during the service where she was saved.
The Oosthuyzens’ work expanded rapidly because the blessing of the Lord rested upon it. Apart from the Bible school, Harry’s son Stephen established a Bible centre, the Transkei Christian Bookroom, in Butterworth. The motto of the bookroom was, “Not sales but souls”. A Christian youth camp was established at the sea. The message that Jesus saves has echoed clearly from Kentani and the Bible centre across the green hills of this broken countryside to the distant horizon where the green landscape merges with the blue of the rugged Transkeian Wild Coast. This is where the Galilee Bible Camp is. At this place many young lives were firmly anchored to the Rock, Jesus Christ. Other extensions of their ministry also followed. Lecturers at the Bible school were regularly asked to present Christian programmes over Transworld Radio, and Harry was often asked to preach during functions of the former Transkeian Government.
Harry, or Usomlandela, the Follower of Jesus, became a legend in his own lifetime. Xhosa people everywhere knew about him. After his death his son relocated the Bible school to Natal, while the other children continued with their own ministries elsewhere. But the spiritual legacy of Harry and Gay Oosthuyzen will prevail because they performed work of everlasting value. Through their sacrifice, they not only brought meaning and joy to many changed lives, but also great joy in heaven because of the many sinners who repented through their long years of ministry (Luke 15:7).
How will you be remembered?
Recently I typed “Harry Oosthuyzen” into Google to see if there was any mention of this great man of God on the Internet. I was delighted to see Professor Johan Malan’s account of his visit to the Oosthuyzens in 1988 come up in the listings. But the text was in Afrikaans, and as I’ve lived in the UK for many years, my Afrikaans has grown rusty and I could not understand everything Professor Malan had written.
So I emailed him, told him I was one of the Rhodes University students mentioned in his article, who had worked with the Oosthuyzens at Kentani in the mid-1970s, and asked if he could translate his article into English – to make it accessible to a wider audience. Professor Malan kindly did so, and soon thereafter emailed me his translation. He asked if I could append some of my own memories of the Oosthuyzens, which I’m deeply honoured to do.
If I remember correctly (30 years is a long time ago) I visited the mission station twice while studying at Rhodes, in 1975 and 1976, when I was 17 and 18 years old. One of the things that struck me about the place was the powerful sense of God’s presence as you approached, the knowledge that you were entering a holy place, a patch of heaven on earth. No doubt due partly to the deep, extensive prayer life the Oosthuyzens must have had.
Uncle Harry, as we students called him, had a slightly bowed appearance and there was a genuine air of humility about him. No airs and graces. He was completely approachable. When he spoke you knew he was a man of God: there was power in his words and intensity in his eyes.
In the evenings, after a hard day’s work, mixing concrete, erecting buildings and working in the kitchen, we students would gather in the dining hall to be treated to Harry’s exposition of the Scriptures. These were extremely powerful and you knew that what he spoke wasn’t theory, but that he lived his own teaching. I asked him once how you could follow the Lord fully, and he gave me this simple, yet profound, advice: “Brother, get on your knees before God with your Bible.” Not go to a university seminary or Bible college, or read Christian books – just, get alone with God and let Him teach and lead you.
A striking memory I have of Uncle Harry was that I heard he used to rise early in the morning before any of us students, to empty the foul toilet buckets – so none of us had to. To say he is the humblest, godliest, most sold-out-to-Jesus person I have known or heard in the last 30 years, would be an understatement. His example to us all was humbling and awesome, and my memories of him, Gay and their family are exceedingly precious.
Although I had more dealings with Uncle Harry than with Aunty Gay, I also had the sense that she was a deep woman of God. She was pale, and did not seem a well person. From reading Professor Malan’s account I now realize she was anaemic. There was a calm, godly peace upon her face, the kind of quietness you see in the face of someone who is surrendered fully to Jesus and lives a life of prayer.
Once, Aunty Gay and the girl students prepared a meal for us all. It consisted of one roast chicken and some vegetables, which is astounding, as at least 15 (I’m being conservative to try to be accurate) people had enough food to eat from that one chicken. The Lord miraculously multiplied the food so we would all have sufficient!
Apart from working on the mission station, at weekends we students did evangelistic work among the Xhosa people in the surrounding hills of the beautiful Transkei. We, if I remember correctly, were separated into smaller groups and each assigned a region. We even slept in the Xhosa mud huts and ate (sometimes not very clean-looking) Xhosa food, which was a new, and challenging, experience for me, a white university student, used to more sophisticated living (although I was born in and spent my childhood in Northern Rhodesia – the present Zambia – and had not been as affected by racism as perhaps other fellow students who had grown up in apartheid South Africa). But the dried cow-dung floors had a homely smell!
We used to prepare a short evangelistic message and then deliver it to a group of gathered Xhosa people via an interpreter. My first experience of publicly preaching the gospel! The sense of the Lord’s presence and blessing upon us was strong.
When I think of the mild hardships we students endured for just a short couple of weeks, before returning to the comfort and plenty of our homes (and in later years the status and abundance our new professions gave us), and the many years of faithful, unheralded deprivation and struggle Uncle Harry, Aunty Gay and their family gave Jesus, it humbles me, and my eyes water as I write this.
I remember while at Kentani for only one or two nights having the discomfort of sleeping on hard, cold concrete, with just a sleeping bag between me and the floor; also of wading in and having to wash in the cold water of the river; of having to use an outside toilet that consisted of a wooden seat (if my memory serves me correctly) to sit on, above a bucket in a hole below.
But these are nothing compared to the lifelong sacrifice Harry, Gay and their children made. We take it for granted that if we get a toothache, we just phone the dentist, withdraw money from the bank and deal quickly and easily with the problem. Or if our child needs new shoes, we get into our car, drive to the nearest shoe shop and let our child choose from 40 different styles. Or go to the supermarket and pack our trolley full of whatever we desire. If we want a holiday, we can easily book a flight and escape for two weeks.
The Oosthuyzens, like most of the Xhosa people among whom they lived, had none of these luxuries. I remember them literally having to trust the Lord to provide every nail for their building work. “All” they had to fall back on was the Lord Jesus and his provision. And they lived this life of faith and hardship for many years. Only those with an all-consuming vision of and love for Jesus, with eyes fixed on heaven, and a certainty of the briefness of this life compared to eternity, could have lived such a life, deprived of the comforts, pleasures and entertainments most of us take for granted – and embraced it joyfully.
Speaking of joy, I clearly remember another statement of Uncle Harry’s. I once asked him, if I remember correctly, how it was possible to follow Jesus fully, with all the hardship involved, and he said, “Oh the joy that fills my soul.”
I will always bless the Lord for the amazing privilege as a teenager of having met the Oosthuyzens and observing something of their walk with God at Kentani. This largely unknown family who lived and served Jesus faithfully in a largely unknown part of Africa will loom large in the annals of heaven when they receive their reward. Of this I have no doubt.
If only, during the past 30 years, with periods of serious backsliding, I had recalled more often Uncle Harry’s words to me, “Brother, get on your knees before God with your Bible.”
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).
Perhaps if any other former Rhodes students find this website and read Professor Malan’s text, they might wish to add their own memories of Uncle Harry and Aunty Gay? Students like Dave Meyer, Laurence Nicholson, Claudia Mann, Mary Ann and Daphne Himonides, Gerald West …