Letters from the field taken from Echoes of Service
Hualondo, Jan. 27, 1925. I have just returned frommy first itinerating trip in company withMr. Adcock. We took advantage of a dry spell in the wet season to go to the Gamba district, which our brother has had upon his heart for some time. It was his object to preach the gospel in these parts, look for openings to establish out-stations and also invite any promising boys to the school here. The first night we reached Kanjengo where we spent the week-end. The few believers there had built us a grass hut in which to sleep. Several meetings were held around the camp fire, when the gospel was preached and words of exhortation given to the Christians. On Monday we were joined by Vongula, one of the oldest believers in Bié, and he proved a tremendous help in the preaching. It was encouraging to find in village after village an open ear for the Word of God, and crowds of willing listeners.
On Tuesday afternoon we were approaching an ombala, or chief’s village, when our men discovered the body of a man hanging hammock-fashion between two trees. We went on into the chief’s compound, and found a crowd of men around the old man talking excitedly. Some one asked what had happened to the man outside. They seemed annoyed at the question, and said, “Oh, he died of the sickness of the devil (epilepsy), and as no one would claim the body we put it there.” We were inclined to disbelieve the story, but gathered the people, and Mr. Adcock spoke to them of the realities of sin and judgment, afterwards lifting up the Lord Jesus as the only Saviour of sinners. Permission was asked of the chief to open a small place there for gospel testimony, and he seemed favourable, but wanted a present to seal the friendship. If one of our Christian young men feels led to go and live among them a small work may be begun. Our carriers ultimately found out that they had really killed the man on the previous day. Please pray for them! The same night we were just arranging to have a meeting round the camp fire when the tom-toms started in the village close by. Some one with a deep bass voice began something between a wail and a chant, all the juveniles joining in the chorus with high- pitched, shrill tones. A lad had just passed away and they were doing this to please the departed spirit. It went on far into the night, so our meeting had to be abandoned, but next morning, while we were striking camp, Vongula and others of our Christian carriers went down and preached the gospel. That day we had nine meetings in as many places and were gladdened by the readiness to hear. Br. Adcock was saying that it is a long time since he knew of so many open doors. Requests for teachers come from several needy parts. We would ask your prayers for a mighty awakening and in- gathering on this Bié plateau. God encourages us by hearing of a few accepting Christ.
We were all saddened to hear of the sudden home-call of Mr. Murrain. When the natives were told the sad news they made Hualondo a second Bochim. A Portuguese trader near sent all his work-people home and closed down his place for the day. Our brother in his many years of service out here had endeared himself to all classes of the community and was a real father to the people.
T. Ernest Wilson.
Hualondo, Angola June 27, 1925.—For some time we have had the desire to visit the Bangalas, an unevangelized tribe whose country lies to the north-east of Chokweland, and who were visited by Mr. Lane in 1918. As soon as the rains stopped, Mr. Adcock and I started off with the object of “spying out the land” and preaching the gospel in those parts. For the first week heavy going was encountered in the lowlands about the river Kwanza, much of the country being flooded, and we were forced to wade long stretches, the water at times being to the thighs and occasionally to the waist. On reaching the Kanyika hills, however, this was left behind, and afterwards we had pleasant travelling through beautiful and well-wooded country. An easterly course was followed until reaching the river Kwango; then striking north we made direct for the Bangala country, passing through many villages of VaMinungu en route. The latter had the greatest terror of us, and when we entered a village there was usually a stampede for the forest. A friendly talk, however, with the bolder spirits who remained generally brought them out of hiding. In many places it was the first time they had been visited by any missionary, and many begged us to remain and teach them, instead of paying a flying visit. After three weeks’ march we reached Muandonje, who is a paramount chief of the Bangala people. They are a bold and insolent tribe and very degraded. Some of their personal decorations were grotesque, to say the least. One man had a small medicine bottle tied to a short pigtail at the back of his head, while many of the women had a piece of brass wire stuck through the cartilage of the nose. However, at night we had quite a crowd listening to the message, and the chief expressed his willingness to welcome anyone who would build among them. The country there is flat, with a scarcity of good water, and might be unhealthy, but there is a considerable population in the vicinity. Thence we turned south, and after five days reached Chitutu, where we saw a site which Mr. Adcock suggested would make a good centre for evangelizing the country around. From this point we would be within striking distance of five tribes, in a territory that is absolutely destitute of the gospel. On this journey we covered about 540 miles in five weeks, and had about sixty meetings, exclusive of those we had alone with our carriers. We had the joy of seeing one of our men make a public profession of conversion. T. Ernest Wilson.
Hualondo, Jan. l3th, 1926.—A large village near Hualondo has been exercising me lately. It is the residence of the local chief, and is largely characterized by indifference to the gospel. In earlier years, I am told, some who accepted Christ there were maltreated and persecuted, one woman. who is now on this station, bearing the marks of a beating with a hippo-hide whip till this day. I thought of having a weekly gospel meeting in it and began some weeks ago. At first it was very discouraging, as nearly every night there was a thunderstorm and I only got a thorough drenching for my pains, just a few turning up. The old men of the place seemed to be opposed, and when asked to come to the meetings only replied with a sullen scowl. A good deal of visiting was done, however, around the huts, and now nice numbers are coming out. Some nights ago a woman, with a baby tied to her back, confessed Christ, and I have since heard of another.
T. Ernest Wilson.
Hualondo, April 14th, 1926. — A few weeks ago we were called over to the Administration of Andulu to have our boys examined in Portuguese. On coming back we reached a good-sized river, called the Kune, and decided to camp on the off bank as it was getting late. Near to my camp was a large party of children working under a native soldier at the construction of a wattle bridge. Many of them were in a most emaciated condition through starvation, as we are now in the hungry season, and they get neither food nor pay for their work, but have to forage for themselves. After dark we went down to their camp on the river bank, where drumming was going on. This soon stopped and a drum was offered for a seat, while the people came round and squatted on the ground. We taught them that hymn in Umbundu, “Come to the Saviour, make no delay,” and then spoke to them very simply about the rest of Matt. xi. 28. I have seldom seen a more touching sight than that crowd of African children, many with little, wasted, naked bodies, through hardship and ill-treatment, sitting listening to the gospel by the light of the moon. After bidding them good-night we rose to go, when I felt some one pull my sleeve. On turning round there stood a boy of about fifteen years, who said that “the words had smitten him” and that he had just trusted in Christ. We had just time to give him a few words of encouragement and then pass on. We have since heard that two or three of these children have been drowned. The report says that the old plank bridge was carried away by a sudden rise in the river caused by heavy rains. The soldier ordered the children into the swirling torrent to make fast the floating boards, when some were swept off their feet and drowned. We are having encouragement in the regular gospel meetings. Last Lord’s-day three souls believed the gospel, one being a Chilenge man. About six of this tribe have now made a profession here and seem bright cases.
T. Ernest Wilson
Hualondo, June 21, 1926 — On May 4th I set out with twelve natives with the object of visiting the Bangala, Songo and Chokwe countries. The first night we camped at Kambumba, where there is a company of be1ievers, one of whose leaders is a leper. We had a nice meeting with them at night. Afterwards they poured into my ear all their troubles. The local native chief, who is no lover of the gospel, does his best to harass, while all their young men are being taken off for State work. They are thoroughly discouraged, and wish to move off and join up with the Christians at Kanjengo for mutual strength. But we pointed out the needy villages around, and reminded them of their privilege to continue the gospel testimony even in the face of obstacles. Please pray for these tried ones. They are a sample of the condition of many of the little scattered companies in this land. Next day we had a long march of about twenty miles, and on getting into camp we were all tired, so were somewhat careless in erecting my little tent. We had an interesting audience here also around the camp fire, to whom we talked until late about the facts of sin and salvation, then turning into our blankets for the night. About a terrific storm blew up with heavy rain, and, the stakes of the tent not being properly driven, they came out of the ground and it fell on top of me. I crawled out into the blinding rain and tried to raises it, but, as this was beyond my strength alone, there was nothing for it but to creep back under the canvas and patiently wait for the dawn. The water poured through the ventilators and soaked everything. Next day I began to feel unwell and had considerable difficulty in keeping up with my men, but after two days got into Chitau, where Messrs. Bodaly and Roberts, with their wives, labour for the Lord. Itproved to be a severe attack of malaria, and these good brethren nursed me night and day back to health and strength. Under God, I owe my life to their kindness. They thought it not wise to go on with the journey for the meantime, so I returned to Hualondo. In my absence, eight souls had professed conversion and I was cheered the other Lord’s day by two lads slipping into my house, Nicodemas-like, to tell me that they had accepted Christ. Some meetings for believers on the Tabernacle are well attended. I start off again this week, D.V., for the interior.
T. Ernest Wilson.
Monte Esperanca, Sept. l9th, 1926.—I came here about a month ago at Dr. Bodman’s invitation to give a hand with building operations, but hope to return to Hualondo this week. The work on the hospital site is still in its pioneer stage, and all meetings are held in the open air under the shade of a rough framework of tree branches, there being as yet no meeting-room. Today a nice number of Va-Luimbe turned up, to whom we preached the gospel in Umbundu, which was afterwards interpreted by a native into Luimbe. The language of this tribe has never yet been committed to writing. They are a quiet, docile people, and have much pleasanter faces than the Ovimbundu. The chief clothing among them seems to be skins or bark cloth, and is very sparse.
At Hualondo we were rejoiced a short time ago by a young man professing conversion. He is a native of the Va-Chilenge tribe, whose country lies in South Angola. He was brought up here by some Boers engaged on ox-waggon transport work, to look after their cattle, in which work Va-Chilenge men are particularly expert. We think a real work of grace has been wrought in his soul, and he now brings others to the meetings.
T. E. Wilson.
May 23rd, 1927.—I have just got back to Chokweland after spending almost three months in the Songo country preaching the gospel and building a mud and wattle house. A start was also made to commit the Songo language to writing, but in the meantime Umbundu or Chokwe is perfectly intelligible to the natives, except perhaps some of the women and children. Chitutu lies in a border district where several tribes converge, and their dialects must be mastered, if every man is to hear “in the tongue with which he was born” A few years ago these parts were almost depopulated by a punitive expedition sent to quell and uprising among the natives, and it is said that over 7,000 able-bodied men as well as women and children were captured and sent off to work on plantations and railways near the coast. Famine followed in the track of this disaster and those that were left were constantly preyed upon by native slave-traders from Bië, who took advantage of the people’s distress to exchange corn for slaves. Many sold their children to pay their hut-tax or save themselves from starvation. This year a new administrator was installed. He is an elderly man with a sense of justice, and under his protection the natives are flocking back again and occupying old village sites. The old haughty, independent spirit is gone, and everywhere we went we got a good ear for the Message. The spiritual darkness is like that of Egypt, and we may expect a preliminary period of plod and seed-sowing before much fruit is seen. However, we feel that God has a people here to be gathered out; already several show a definite interest, and we trust that the Holy Spirit has begun to work. T. Ernest Wilson.
Marriage.—June 23rd, at Luma-Cassai, Angola, Thomas Ernest Wilson to Elizabeth Smyth. They are now working at Chitutu.
Chitutu, August 1927.— Mr. T. E. Wilson has, with the permission of the Administrator, chosen a site in this district, and applied to the High Commissioner for it. The Administrator has meantime permitted him to erect a mud-and-wattle house, to serve until the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Adcock. Mr. Wilson writes: “This part has a much larger population than I expected, and it is increasing. Today over a hundred Va-Songo, A-Chokwe and A-Hembe came to help me, and I could get hundreds more if I could employ them. The spiritual darkness is intense, but there is an ear for the gospel and one or two seem interested. We earnestly ask your prayer that a people may be gathered out for Christ’s glory from these dark souls.” Chokwe is the prevailing language.
Chitutu, Oct. 11th, 1928.—Weare now more or less established in the Songo country with the local authorities apparently favourable to our presence. The initial stage of the work has been very difficult, as the people here are not accustomed to work, and most of the manual labour incidental to building has had to be done by oneself. The people come well to the meetings at night, but on the Lord’s-days they insist on going to their fields, so we have our meetings early in the morning before they go. Hunger is now intense, and all the crops are watched day and night by men armed with bows and arrows to keep away wild pigs and troops of baboons, which work dreadful havoc. In the meantime the people are living on roots and the glassy, stupid stare tells the tale of slow starvation. Last Sunday a crowd turned up at the meeting with painted faces and all more or less drunk after a night’s dancing and carousal. At first we were inclined to be discouraged by the indifference, but persevered in trying to reach the conscience with the Word, and we have had the joy of seeing some young men pass from death unto life. Others seem to be interested and may soon be prayed over the line. For a week past my wife has been very ill with malaria, and our trial seems to have broken some of them down. On the Lord’s-day night I went out and found an old man standing in the dark with his stool in his hand, and a crowd of villagers behind him. He explained that they had come to hear the word of God. This is a welcome change, as this particular man generally avoided the meetings. Please remember this dark Songo country in prayer.
T. Ernest Wilson.
Chitutu,Dec. l9th, 1928.—At last we are beginning to see some first-fruits of the work here in the Songo country. Ten months ago I slept one night in a large Chokwe village where there was quite an interest. In the morning I mentioned to the elders that, if any of their young men would like to come with me and help to build, they were welcome. At once a lad called Zuze volunteered. He picked up his spoon, tin plate and sleeping mat, which comprised all his worldly store, and followed me. He was a great singer and talker, and would keep me awake into the small hours singing monotonous native chants. Day after day the Word of God was spoken and Zuze’s song gradually dried up. Several nights after the gospel meeting was over and everyone gone away, he sat on, staring into the camp fire. He evidently wanted to speak to me, but I thought it best to let the Holy Spirit work, and avoided speaking to him. At last one night he got up before the others and confessed Christ publicly. Then the song came back, but a different song—the new song of redemption. When we send for mail to Kasai, nine days’ journey away, he nearly always goes, and we know that every village between gets the gospel, as he cannot be silent. Another young man, called Muachingongo, also appears to have Divine life, He is hopelessly stupid as far as learning anything is concerned, but he affirms that he knows his sins are forgiven arid his prayers seem to indicate that he is growing in the knowledge of God. Some others give us joy and a few disappointment. We would ask your prayers for this dark district with its unreached tribes. The Bangalas, Hembes and Minungus are yet without the gospel, but within easy reach of us here.
T. Ernest Wilson.
Chitutu, Aug. 29th, 1928—We have returned from a very interesting trip through a group of Songo villages previously unreached by the gospel. In some respects the dry season is a rather inopportune time as we had considerable difficulty in finding good water. The people dig wells which are nothing better than evil-smelling holes containing water of the colour of whitewash and of about the same consistency. We generally had to send some distance for water for cooking purposes, but as we always took the precaution to boil it, we did not suffer any after effects. We have made some progress in putting the Songo language into writing and can now understand a good deal of what is said. On this journey we made a rough translation of the creation account in Genesis and hope D.V., to follow this up with selections from the Word of God relating to redemption, etc. We find the Songo language much more difficult than Umbundu or Chokwe and it has little in common with either. Our little boy was a never failing source of attraction for drawing the crowd, as many had never seen a white child before, and this always provided an opportunity for presenting the gospel. At each camping place the womenfolk would come around and ask to hold the baby. They decorate their bodies with a mixture of red mud and castor oil, so when they had finished with him his condition can better be imagined than described. However, it is a point of contact and we feel that we are getting nearer to the people. We have lately been encouraged by seeing a few more confess Christ. The last one is a man of considerable influence and may be the means of drawing others. He is the first polygamist to be saved, and we prayed much that his second wife, a child of about 10 years, might be returned to her relatives. He has now done this without any suggestion from us.
T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, Nov. 15th, 1928— We have had the joy of seeing some more brought to Christ. The chief difficulty in the way of these people is their matrimonial relationships. Nearly every man is a polygamist, and for the merest trifle a wife can be sent away and another taken. The headman of our nearest village has had eleven wives that we know of, and at present has five in his compound. Two of these polygamists have recently professed conversion, and we would ask prayer that their lives may be so straightened out that they may become bright testimonies to the power of the gospel. Some are so hopelessly entangled that it seems humanly impossible to extricate them. All those who have been saved since we came here are young men. Many women and girls come to the meetings very regularly and seem interested, but as yet none have confessed Christ. The lot of a woman among these tribes is a deplorable one! A girl is engaged to be married as early as six years of age, and is sent to her husband when she is eleven or twelve. He is often an elderly man with numerous other wives, and the girl becomes the slave of all. Her life thereafter is hopelessly ruined, and even her mental faculties seem to become atrophied, so that it seems difficult for her to take in the gospel intelligently. It is a burden which we carry on our hearts every day before the Lord, and the worst has not been told. We would earnestly solicit your prayers that many may be saved out of this corrupt moral system and transformed into pure-living children of God. We have now got written permission from the Governor-General to carry on work in the Songo country, and three weeks ago began school with fifty scholars. Many others have promised to come. The population is increasing around us and people from a distance are coming to build. T. Ernest Wilson.
January 1929, Angola: Songoland.—Mr. T. E. Wilson writes that some of the converts are undergoing persecution. Having learned the dignity of honest labour, they have been able to clothe themselves decently with cloth, which has aroused the cupidity of the older men, who demand that they hand over part of the cloth to them, or else return to antelope-skins and the old life. A short time ago a man, not a believer, who worked hard and so was well dressed, was brutally murdered on a charge of getting his riches by witchcraft. Converts living in such an atmosphere need prayer. It is good to hear of the testimonies to the keeping power of God, of young men from assemblies in Bié, who have been working in the diamond mines in the Lunda country, where there are many temptations.
Chitutu, Feb. l3th, 1929.—While camped at the Luandu river one of our men, a Songo, had an attack of demon possession. We had just finished our evening meal when we heard blood-curdling yells proceeding from the huts where our carriers were sleeping. Thinking it was a wild animal, I ran over, and found the man stretched on the ground and six powerful fellows sitting on him. Even so, he was dragging them around with superhuman strength, shouting all the time in a frenzied fashion, his eyes starting from their sockets. The men told me that, if they let him go, he would go off into the bush and drum all night on a fallen tree trunk. At other times he would crawl into an animal’s burrow and lie there until dawn. He is a drummer at heathen festivals, and these attacks have come on through dabbling in witchcraft. We have met people at home who ridiculed the scriptural accounts of the Lord casting out demons, and said they were cases of ordinary epilepsy or lunacy. One has only to live a short time in pagan Africa to get that idea thoroughly dispelled. The power of Satan out here is very real and he is often seen in his “roaring lion” character. This particular man has since remained with us, attends the meetings regularly, and seems interested. Please pray that he may be truly saved. We had some magnificent opportunities for gospel testimony at different places where we camped, among Va-Songo, Va-Luimbe and Ovimbundu. Just across the Quanza was a large camp of natives working under a sepoy (Indian soldier). The latter was very polite and hospitable to us, but fearfully cruel to the natives. In the evening he asked permission to drum and dance. I replied that it was our custom to preach the gospel at night wherever we found ourselves, and asked him to gather his people for a meeting. He readily complied, saying that they would dance when I had finished. It was an inspiring sight to see that large crowd of semi-naked down-trodden people listening to the story of the Prodigal Son. When we had finished, the soldier jumped up, and shouted, “Bring the drum!” Not a soul appeared to notice him, and one after another slipped off to their huts till he was left alone. It showed at least that the Word of God had gone home, and we trust that there may be results. Next morning, while the stars were still shining, the people were called out, the roll called, and they were driven off to their work pursued by a shower of sticks, clods and curses. The country between Mt.Esperanca and our district had never, as far as we know, been traversed before by missionaries; indeed, we could not find a native who knew the road. We got a boy to guide us as far as the LuanduRiver, but beyond that we had to trust to compass bearings, cutting straight across country. It took us eight days to reach Chitutu. We found a very good population of Va-Luimbe, and many fishing villages of Songo people along the rivers, in most of which we had a meeting. We hope, if the Lord will, to work this district systematically, as it has large possibilities. Since getting back eight young men have professed conversion. Some of these have heard the gospel daily for almost two years since we built here. Others heard it for the first time just three weeks ago. Every Lord’s-day we have a mixed audience of Chokwes, Songos, Minungus, Ovimbundu, and sometimes a few Hembes. Chokwe is more or less the lingua franca, but occasionally we have to use Umbundu for the sake of those who do not understand, and we are gradually getting Songo into writing. We have now got a vocabulary of 1400 words in the latter language.
T. E. Wilson.
Chitutu, July l8th, 1929 — Since last writing we have had a baptism and also the privilege of forming a native assembly—the first in Songoland. Three young men obeyed the Lord. No one in this country had ever seen a baptism before, and there was some apprehension, especially among the womenfolk, as to what was going to take place. The mother of one of the boys said that she was afraid her son would be drowned. A nice number of unsaved gathered and there was no ridicule from the heathen as we had expected. Mr. and Mrs. MacJannet were passing through on their way to Bié, so we had their help and fellowship. The enemy had been very active of late and we have felt his power in various ways. Some children who attended our school and meetings have been very ill and two died. In some of these cases we had good reason to suspect poison. I had an encounter with a Songo witch-doctor who came to divine who had stolen a hoe and to administer the poison test to the natives who are helping us with building. When he saw me coming he hid his antelope-horn of medicines and other articles connected with his trade, and then protested his innocence. This same man was arrested yesterday in connection with two other poison-test murders. The Portuguese commandant of the fort came along with a native soldier and told us that he had evidence that the people had been killed not far from our house. We went together to a near village and apprehended the head man. The chefe pointed a gun at him and ordered him to take us to the bodies. We found them about half a mile from the foot of our garden, pushed into animals’ burrows and covered with branches. They were dis-interred and a post-mortem held. There was no doubt that they had died of poison. Eight arrests were made, including three witch-doctors. We hope that this will help to bring this awful work to an end. Many young men would come to the meetings and we believe might be saved, but they are held under the power of these wicked men. However, they are not beyond our prayers.