Letters from the field taken from Echoes of Service
Chitutu, Sept. 15th, 1931— We arrived here early in July and found the little band of Christians almost at an end of their endurance. Three of them have been carried off to an unknown destination and most of the others beaten. They were told that we were not coming back again and they must scatter. However, they clung together and maintained a gospel testimony. When we arrived two young men had to be disciplined for moral lapses, but on the whole we feel thankful to God that the devil did not succeed in wiping out the testimony. These days we are getting better numbers to the meetings than I have ever seen in the Songo country. It is quite cheering to see a crowd of Songos, the women with heads covered with mud and oil, listening to the gospel, many of them for the first time in their lives. A young woman professed conversion last week. Yesterday we had the first Christian wedding in the Songo country. The bride was the first woman to be saved at the commencement of the work here. When we first saw her, about four years ago, she was a repulsive-looking creature. She was somewhat deformed, and constant ridicule had produced a bitter, cynical expression in her face. But grace has made a wonderful transformation, and she seems an altogether different person. A large number of heathen came to the wedding and this gave us an opportunity of explaining God’s order for the home and family. This is very necessary in a country where every man is a polygamist, and where a wife can be bought for two yards of cloth and, if not satisfactory, can be divorced without ceremony. A short time ago my wife and I took a trip out to Bié. On going out of a Songo village on the path I stumbled into a decomposed human head surrounded with fetishes and pots filled with native medicine. The person was probably killed for witchcraft. T. Ernest Wilson.
Chitutu, December 1931 —Since our return to the Songo country last July we have been very much encouraged by seeing the Lord’s hand working with us. Large numbers of strangers are coming to the meetings and about a dozen have professed to be saved. It has all been hand-plucked fruit and we are still in the pioneer stage of the work. The Lord’s-day before we left Chitutu for a journey, at the close of the gospel meeting the chief of the district stood up and said that he was now resting for salvation on the atoning work of Christ. We were all speechless for a moment, as he is the worst man in the neighbourhood and has been guilty of almost every imaginable crime. He has five wives. On one occasion he was caught stealing Government coffee and was carried off to the fort. He was suspended by the feet from a roof beam while the officer prepared to shoot him. In some unaccountable manner he got away. The officer himself told me this story, and when I asked the chief he confirmed it. It will take time to prove whether he is really born again, but nothing is too hard for the Lord. Just now we are having opposition from a strange quarter. A little time ago a man came from the Kasai district, and announced that he had just been to heaven and there conversed with some of the ancestral chiefs of the Chokwes. They told him that they were about to rise from the dead. He was instructed to go back to earth and tell the people to kill all their black goats and fowls, burn their idols and throw away their tobacco. Then the resurrection would take place, and the chiefs would appear, led by a person called Sayeze who gave himself out as the Son of God. They would bring illimitable wealth in motor-cars and every one would be eternally happy. It is wonderful how this ridiculous story has taken hold of the imagination of the people. The whole country is on the tip-toe of expectation. We would ask your prayers that the Lord would give us the physical and spiritual strength to go up and down the country preaching the truth of the gospel. T. Ernest Wilson.
Chitutu, Jan. l3th, 1932 — During the six months since our return the work has developed beyond our expectation. We came back in fear and trembling, expecting to find the people scattered and our labours of years gone. We find that very few have run away from persecution, and there is now an ear for the gospel that we have never before experienced in this country. The Lord has used various means to bring this about. A Songo village near us was dominated by a witch-doctor, who refused to allow the people to come near us. He killed some people by poison, and then was found to have sold some children belonging to his own relatives into slavery. The Fort sent men to arrest him, but he ran away and is now in hiding. Most of the people came to us and built a village close by. They come regularly to the meetings, and some of them show evidence of being saved. The chief of another large village was killed in a mysterious manner last July, and several of his young men have come and built near us. During the last three months of the year medicine was given to 750 people, and this has had the effect of opening the hearts of some who formerly were very much opposed. The local Portuguese officials are very favourable to us. It is our object to put more and more responsibility into the hands of the natives, but this is very difficult, as only one of the Christians can read the Word of God intelligently enough to get any food for his soul. To correct this we have concentrated a good deal on school work. Every professing Christian comes to school and many are making good progress. We are kept busy seven days a week from till , preaching, teaching, building, etc. T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, April l6th, 1932—We have had the joy of baptizing six believers and adding them to our little assembly, so we now number thirteen in fellowship. Two of those who thus obeyed the Lord were women—the first in this country. It was also a great joy to baptize a Songo man, the first of his tribe to be received into fellowship here, all the others being A-bhowe. As we are some distance from a large river, we had to dig a large hole in a swamp and let the water drain in to form a baptistery. A good number have been lately saved in the regular meetings, and these we are seeking to teach the simple truths of the Scriptures. The more we know of these people the more we are appalled at the depths to which they have sunk. Nearly every man has a little child-wife of perhaps seven or eight years of age, as well as several grown-up ones. These are continually being exchanged. At night we lie and listen to a voice crying in the dark to the spirits, asking them to have mercy and not kill their children. Nearly every day we hear tales of witchcraft, child-stealing, murder and immorality. Yet out of this corruption God is saving souls, and we rejoice to see evidence in many of them that they have life from God.
T. Ernest Wilson
Songoland October, 1932 — We have just returned from a journey of 1300 miles to the other side of Chokweland and back. Our main object was to attend the conference at Mboma, but we took a circuitous route to prospect for the Lord in a part of Northern Angola that is wholly unoccupied with the gospel. We had the joy of preaching to many for the first time. At a place on the KwanguRiver (a tributary of the Congo) we found a ready ear for the Word. It was near this place that Livingstone was in danger of his life in 1853. We found a large population, who were very importunate that we should stay with them, but this is impossible at present. A short time ago an almost naked man appeared before our door, crawling on his hands and knees, for one leer is withered. He told me that he had just arrived from a village about 100 miles away, which we visited several years ago. He had crawled all that distance, the journey taking over a year, as he had to rest when the skin on his knuckles and knees was worn into sores. He had to cross several rivers without bridges and come over a precipitous mountain range in a lion-infested country. He was able to shoot birds, etc., with his bow and arrows for his food. He says his object in coming is to be near the gospel.
Mr. T. E. Wilson
Chitutu, Dec. 26th, 1932 — The first young man to be saved here has just passed through a severe test. When converted he was living, as man and wife, with a little girl of perhaps seven years of age. When he was saved he agreed to send the child to live with his mother until she was grown, he in the meantime feeding and clothing her. This he did for five years. Some time ago the girl’s heathen parents came and carried her off to their village and secluded her in a hut. They organized a beer-drink and dance and invited the whole countryside for a three days’ carnival. The man was told that if he wanted his wife he must come and join in the dance and heathen ceremonies. Messenger after messenger was sent urging him to come, while all the time the drums were beating in code, inviting him. On the final night a huge crowd had gathered dancing and shuffling around the drums and the beer-pots in the moonlight. We had a prayer-meeting, asking the Lord to preserve the young man from falling into the trap. A short time after we finished praying there was a terrific thunderstorm, with heavy rain, which sent the dancers helter-skelter, and the whole affair was a miserable failure. We are very thankful to God that the man had the spiritual stamina to stand out against the whole countryside and his heathen relatives. It will make it easier for others. This question of child-marriage is one of our greatest difficulties. To combat it we have taken some little girls and will try to help them till they are grown. An unmarried girl of ten years is practically unknown in this country.
T. E. Wilson.
Chitutu, Feb. 4th, 1933 — Work among the young people is encouraging just now, several having made a profession of faith in Christ. One is a young mulatto woman whose father went home to Portugal recently and left •her in our care. She will need special prayer, as nearly all half-caste girls in this country sooner or later fall into sin and go off with degenerate Europeans. The temptations and pitfalls set for them are tremendous. A few nights ago her negro mother also professed. Two young Chokwe men, who were being trained by older men as witch doctors, have been brightly saved. One of them once drew his knife to stab me when I insisted that he should not dig a hole in the foundation of our school. He is now saved, baptized and in fellowship. The other told us that he was learning to tell fortunes for a living. A short time after his conversion one of his legs suddenly swelled up without any apparent cause, and a piece of bone came out of his child’s hand. To a native these are unmistakable signs of witchcraft. He then came and told us that he still had some fetishes in his house which were troubling him. On the Lord’s day he brought them along to the hail and we consigned them to the flames. Some of the old folk kept at a respectable distance, as they thought that something dreadful would happen. As they went up in smoke we sang, “My chains are snapt.”
At present we have fifteen boys, Sons of neighbouring chiefs and headman, who have come here to attend our school. Nearly all of these have professed to be saved, and it is our great desire that, when they return to their villages, they will be a help in the evangelization of the country. They cultivate in the morning for their food, and attend school and the meeting in the evening.
We are getting more Songos into the meetings now. Some time ago an old half- blind Songo witch doctor professed conversion, and he has been the means of attracting quite a number of his tribe under the sound of the gospel. Some of these have also been saved.
T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, April 9th, 1933 —Last Lord’s day we had the privilege of baptizing five believers and adding them to the assembly here. Practically the whole countryside turned out to see the baptisms at the nearest river, and, although it is a novelty in these parts, the crowd was most respectful.
Little by little we are getting to know something of the persecution to which the believers about here have been exposed when they were saved. They do not often talk about it, and we get most of our information from casual remarks. The first woman to be saved in this country is a cripple. Her spine is so twisted that it is shaped like the letter “ S.” ‘When she first came to the meetings she was beaten with a whip and a palmatorio. She was warned on the peril of her life not to look straight into our eyes. Her elders told her that, in order to teach people to read, we kill a native, remove their blood and smear it on the children’s eyes. One day we gave her a book with a red cover. When she arrived in the village they gave her another beating, and said that the white people would turn her body into the same colour as the book. When we built our hail, they ‘ said that some one would die, as our buildings could not be completed without a Chokwe’s blood. Then they spread a report that we had a man’s head buried underneath the platform. Under these circumstances we ofttimes wonder that any one comes to the meetings. Yet numbers steadily in crease, both at gospel meetings and school, and souls are being saved. The assembly now numbers seventeen. A large number of young people have professed to be saved, and we trust, if the Lord tarry, they may be used to spread the Gospel in other parts that are still in darkness.
The native with the withered legs, who crawled over 100 miles on hands and knees to come here to hear the gospel, has been saved. He seldom misses a meeting. It is touching to see him crawl into the hall on all fours and hoist himself up into a seat. His happy face is an inspiration.
T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, June 28th, 1933 — You may remember my writing some time ago of the conversion of a young man who was being taught by a witch-doctor to tell fortunes for a living. Some time afterwards his wife was saved, and one Lord’s day they brought their idol and burned it outside the hall. We had the feeling at the time that there would be trouble, and so it has turned out. Just as he was about to be baptized he was taken suddenly ill and went off to his home village. His children, too, have been continually sick. I was shocked last week to hear that he was dead. Suspecting foul play, I walked the twenty odd miles to his village, and found his practically naked body lying on the ground in a grass hut, bare of furniture of any kind. The body had not been touched since he had died two days before. I strongly suspected poison, but could find no definite evidence. I had no means of making a coffin, so went outside and asked the men of the village, who were making bamboo doors for their huts, to let me have some bamboo and bark rope with which to make a basket in which to bury him. This they refused to do. I finally persuaded some little boys to cut some, while the two Christian young men who had come with me dug a grave in the bush. Not one of the villagers would touch the body, so we had to wrap him up ourselves, tie the bundle to a pole and carry him to his last resting-place in a clearing in the forest. I asked the headman of the village to accompany us to the grave. He said “No! the dead man followed the things of the white man and this is what has come of it.” After repeated invitation and argument, some of the men and boys came with us to the burial and we preached the gospel to them over the open grave. Some were afraid to come near, but peeped from behind trees. That night, after more persuasion, most of the people came to the palaver house and we had a splendid gospel meeting and discussion afterwards, which lasted for two hours. I found that they intended to blame the man’s wife, who is a baptized believer, for his death, and probably kill her too. She is practically a slave, being the unredeemed pledge for a debt contracted some years ago. Our visit prevented her being injured, but we do not know what they will do when we have left.
Half an hour’s walk from this village there is another, where some time ago a man with whom we are very well acquainted was accused by the headman of this village of being a wizard. He was given the poison test, but promptly vomited it. The head man then seized an axe with which to kill him, but he fled into hiding. The infuriated chief, determined to do away with the “wizard,” caught his own younger brother, killed him, cut out his heart and with it made a powerful fetish. He then prepared a” magic gun.” This consists of a few bent twigs in which the fetish is hidden, and the whole carefully concealed in the bush. It is pointed in a certain direction and, when the condemned man passes, it is supposed to go off and kill him. However, the “wizard” is still alive, although in hiding. Last night this headman came to the gospel meeting and listened very attentively to the message. We wondered what was passing through his mind as the realities of a future judgment and of meeting God were explained. He is a typical Chokwe chief, with six wives, and full of pride and dignity. Pray for him.
We had some excitement the other day when one of the girls living on our compound was kidnapped. The custom in this country is to marry girls at six or seven years of age. To fight this we are offering our protection to any girls who come to us. We have now seven whom we are trying to keep till they are old enough to be married. One night, while we were at the prayer-meeting, three men came and carried off one of these girls. When we found it out they had an hour’s start, but we immediately set out and caught them about four miles away. We reported the matter at the fort, and the officer has put the kidnapper to work on the road with a chain around his neck. This is severe and degrading punishment, but crimes of this kind are very frequent.
Three women have recently professed to be saved, two Songos and a Chokwe. We would again ask your prayers for this needy country, especially that the native Christians may be protected from Satan and from wicked men.
T. E. Wilson
Chitutu, January 1934 - For some time we have heard of a large district to the north-west through men who have been trading there in fish. Our way opened recently to pay a visit, so I set off with four men with loads reduced to 50 lb. for quick travelling. After a long march through thick forest we came to a huge plain which extended as far as the eye could see. Our greatest difficulty was the terrific heat and lack of water. We know now what real thirst means when the tongue swells, the lips crack and the temples feel fit to burst, while every pore calls out for the precious liquid. After a long time we saw a belt of trees away on the horizon which betokened water, and to this we made as fast as we could. We found a practically dry river-bed with here and there a pool of stagnant water covered with iron rust slime. The boys eagerly drank it, slime and all, but I collapsed on the bank with exhaustion and disappointment. They collected some in a tin mug, and, although it was the colour of coffee, I drank it and asked for more. On this trip we were forced to drink water ranging in colour from dark brown to creamy white, but up till the present have felt no ill effects. We got to a group of villages just as the sun was going in. It was too late and we were too tired to put up my little tent, so I slept in a new hut which a native offered. There were several bales of dried fish hanging from the roof, and as soon as I lay down and turned out the storm lantern, a number of large rats dropped from hiding-places in the roof and started to scamper over my blankets. The most of the night was spent in trying to keep them away from my head. Other vermin, too, were there in plenty! Next day we started on another march through a country full of villages, the best populated part I have seen in Africa. It is entirely without the gospel. We had many talks with chiefs and headmen and on the whole our reception was decidedly favourable. We hope, God willing, to pay a more extended visit later on with the gospel, and would ask your prayers for blessing on the Word.
T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, April 15th, 1934 —A short time ago we had the privilege of baptizing twelve native believers from the Songo, Chokwe, and Ovimbundu tribes and adding them to the assembly here. After wards each one of the men gave his testimony before a large crowd of natives, and it did us good to hear the different ways in which they were brought to Christ. One came to look for gain, but found true riches in Christ instead. Another’s village was burnt out by a punitive expedition and he had to flee, but heard the gospel in Bié and was saved. He has now come back among his own people to spread the Good News. Practically all of these have had to go through severe persecution and yet have stood firm.
We have had a surprise visit from Messrs. Maitland, Gammon, and MacLaren, of Chokwe land, and took the opportunity of having some special gospel meetings. Mr. Maitland had a chart on “The Two Roads and the Two Destinies” in Portuguese, and this was used. About twenty professed to be saved. This is the greatest wave of blessing which we have yet seen in the Songo country. Some of those who were saved are remarkable cases. One young man has been repeatedly under the influence of demons. On one occasion he was carrying my wife’s hammock on a journey out to Bié when he had one of these attacks. It took six strong men to hold him on the ground while all the time he roared and bellowed like an animal. Sometimes he would break out through the roof of his hut in the middle of the night and go off into the forest and drum on a fallen tree trunk until dawn. Ordinarily he is as quiet and inoffensive as a child. The peace of God’s salvation will be a great rest for his poor worn-out body and soul. One woman who was saved has had a worse matrimonial career than the woman of Samaria. In the honey-beer season she was seldom sober, and we have often seen her rolling drunk with a little baby tied to her back. She gradually got interested in the meetings, came under conviction of sin, and seems to be truly saved. Two of her sons have also been saved.
T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, May 1934 — The past year has been one of great hardship for the natives. First there was an invasion of locusts, which ate the standing crops then the rains were late and a long drawn-out drought increased the distress. Many will die of hunger, and all are forced to eat things that seem impossible of digestion. We have twenty-five native children looking to us for food and clothing, and while the Lord supplied the means to buy food, yet it was almost impossible to get any. Sometimes they made a meal of raw corn stalks. Conditions, however, are steadily improving and we think the worst is over.
T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, June 11th, 1934 — At present we are itinerating in a group of Chokwe villages beside the Jombo river. We have built our camp on a height overlooking the river, and swarms of mosquitoes rise from the swamps at night. Native scavenger dogs give us a lot of trouble. Last night while we were asleep they raided our food-box and ate a pot of meat which we had hoped would last for a week. Yesterday my wife was baking bread in a hole in the ground, lined with red-hot ashes, and while her back was turned they actually ate one of the hot loaves out of the fire.
There is a real opening in this place for permanent work, and we are very much exercised before the Lord that steady native brethren and their wives may be led to build in the district. Meetings held in the open-air, under the shade of the forest trees, have been very well attended, and the Holy Spirit seems to be working in the hearts of several. One woman has professed to be saved and a number of elderly men are apparently on the border line. The headman told us that he would welcome any messenger of the Cross who would build there. We have one old Christian woman with us, and it is a joy to see her eagerness to take the gospel to her own people. She has suffered much on account of her faith in Christ. She must be nearly seventy years of age, and yet walks miles in order to tell the gospel to the women.
From here we intend to strike out north-east among the Minungu and Hembe villages along the Kwangu river. These places are as yet wholly destitute of the gospel. Later on we may spend some time in a large Songo district. At present I am translating part of the Word of God into the language of this interesting tribe of fisher folk. We have seen quite a number of Songos saved, baptized, and added to the assembly.
On these trips we take a number of Christian young men as carriers and encourage them to help in the preaching, thus seeking to develop gift. One of these young men has just been very ill with a mysterious disease, in which the head swells and blood drips from the gums, tongue, and palate. Death usually takes place in three days. He was so far gone that he could not swallow medicine of any description. The Christians prayed very earnestly for his recovery, and they were wonderfully answered. A few days later he was up and carrying a hammock in the caravan, apparently none the worse for his experience. A day or two after he was almost drowned in a whirlpool in the JomboRiver, but was pulled out just in time by some of the other boys. We can ill afford to lose any of our young men, as we look to them for the future evangelization of the country if the Lord tarry.
T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, November 15th, 1934 – As we come to the end of another year we are full of thanksgiving to God for the way He has protected and blessed His work during the past twelve months. We have had the privilege of entering three new districts with the gospel and some souls have been saved. There is a special joy in taking the Word of Life to people who have never heard before. We have had many difficulties and many heartbreaks, but the fact that some precious souls have been brought to Christ amply compensates for this. The assembly at Chitutu has been doubled in numbers and continues to grow in grace and gift.
The wet season is now upon us and torrential rain makes travel and itineration practically impossible. We are therefore giving more time to the instruction of the believers. Several young men have expressed a desire to go and occupy the ground opened up this year, but before doing so we wish to give them a thorough grounding in the simple foundation truths of the Word of God. A man who does not know his Bible could do more harm than good in a new country. It does us good to see the way some of our young native brethren are taking hold of things and are able to carry on meetings without outside help. This is all the more remarkable, as a short time ago nearly all of them were in the blackest paganism. We seek to encourage and guide them along these lines as we wish to see the assemblies stand on their own feet.
We are continually reminded of the constant presence of the unseen powers of darkness. There have been three mysterious deaths beside us recently. One of these was a man to whom I had frequently preached the gospel, but he always rejected it. Witch doctors have been trying to kill him for a long time on account of some long-standing crime. He was given the poison test, but vomited it. They then tried to shoot him, but the gun misfired. After this he ran away, while his persecutors tried fetish after fetish, some of which involved murder to obtain the medicine. For years he contrived to elude them, but they have evidently got him at last. He came often to the meetings, and the haunted look on his face told the mental strain he was undergoing. But, as far as we know, he died as he lived, without Christ. His brother was the first one to be saved in this country, and is now one of our best men in fellowship. One of the Christian young men gave a very solemn and pointed message to the crowd of natives who gathered at the funeral.
A few days after this a man was beaten to death with clubs, his head being completely smashed. Crimes of this kind take place very frequently. A young married couple started coming to the meetings recently, and we thought they were interested. Then both suddenly be came sick and the wife died. The relatives told the man that the spirits were displeased with him and he went away never to return. His younger brother was saved about two years ago and almost immediately afterwards was poisoned. I had to bury him myself as nobody would touch him. We have seen things of this kind happen again and again, and feel convinced that wicked men who know a lot about slow poison are at work. The difficulty is to get any direct evidence.
T. E. Wilson
Chitutu, April 1st, 1935 —The whole district between here and the Casai river is in a deplorable state. Some of the men, who have been through there lately, say that in many villages every scrap of food has been destroyed. In a remarkable way the Lord has supplied all our need here and although we are responsible to feed about thirty-five native boys and girls, they have never gone to bed hungry. This has been quite a testimony before the natives. Then the Lord has wonderfully answered prayer in connection with the locusts. This wet season has been exceptionally severe, raining heavily every day with a clammy cold which has killed the young locusts as they have hatched out.
Recently three souls have professed to be saved, one a very hard case, who had rejected the gospel for years. He was a spirit-medium, and many a time in the middle of the night I have heard him cry and pray to the spirits to have mercy on them and not kill their children. The Lord has spoken to him very loudly through sudden deaths, and we felt sure that he was under conviction of sin. Like many others in this country he is full of native duplicity and craft, and it will take time to prove whether he is genuine.
We have just come from a little clearing in the forest, where we laid the mortal remains of a young native girl who was faithful unto death. In much suffering and physical weakness she stood firm for the Lord against her heathen mother and other pagan relatives, until the Lord took her home. She left a testimony without a stain. She had been married only a few months to one of the Christian young men. He behaved admirably too. Our hearts are sore, yet we rejoice at the grace of God which can save and keep a child of the African forest true to Himself in the midst of terrible temptations. To-night a number of the girl’s distant relatives have turned up and demand to be paid for the “crime” of the girl’s death. She died of tuberculosis. To-morrow we shall have a long palaver.
T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, June 9th, 1935 —Yesterday we had the joy of baptizing eight believers, from three tribes and adding them to the assembly here. We had the baptism in the morning at a beautiful tropical pool in a ravine, and in the evening we had a testimony meeting, when each of the men baptized told how he was saved. It was a good meeting and revealed several with a natural gift for speaking. A woman and a boy professed to be saved afterwards.
One of the men, Sambonge by name, especially thrilled us with his story. He is a typical Chokwe, and in his unconverted days at the beginning of the work here was one of the proudest natives I ever saw. Naked to the waist, he was dressed in two antelope skins suspended from a belt, in which he always carried a large knife. With an axe over his shoulder and a bow and arrows in his hands, he had a swagger that let everybody know that he considered himself as good, if not better than, anybody in the country. He said, “When I heard the gospel for the first time I felt fear in my heart.” He got mixed up in a poison-test case, in which two people were killed, and an official gave him a flogging with a hippo- hide whip, which left his flesh in ribbons and which embittered him against white men for many a day. He will carry the marks of that beating to his grave. However, he continued to come to the meetings, and after a while he rose in a meeting and publicly testified to faith in Christ. He had two wives, one of whom, accord ing to the custom of the country, was a little girl. He took her twice to her father and divorced her according to native law, but each time she came back to him. Finally, her father married her to another man. These last few years Sambonge has had many severe trials, which have effectually cured him of his pride, and it was a real privilege to baptize him and see him take his place at the Lord’s table. Another man, called Tanda, is such a terrible stutterer as to be almost dumb, but he was so keen to give his testimony that we told him to go ahead. He was so long-winded that finally we had to suggest that he stop.
The assembly here at Chitutu now numbers fifty-six, including ourselves. The Lord is raising up competent native brethren to take the over sight. It was a treat for us to stand back and see the way they dealt with these cases for baptism. Three others wished to be baptized, but for various reasons they were asked to wait. The African knows far more about the private life of his fellow-countryman than any foreigner, and his judgment in a case of this kind is seldom at fault. One young fellow, who was saved a number of years ago, has developed into a very sober, steady Christian, and is quite a theologian and keen Bible student.
T. Ernest Wilson
Chitutu, August 20th, 1935 — At present I am seeking to open up a place in the Songo country called Cassunga with the Gospel. There is a good population in the district, and once more we have the privilege of breaking new ground and preaching to people where Christ never has been named. The assembly at Chitutu has commended a young Songo brother and his wife to the work, the first in this country to take this step. He will live in this place and maintain the testimony, when later on we try to occupy other places where the door is open. He will look to God for his support just as we do ourselves. He will have to suffer for the gospel in this place, and be exposed to terrible temptations, so he needs our prayers. For the present we are building a hail to seat about 200, and a little house where our native brother can live. We work all day at the building, etc., and preach every night and three times on Lord’s day, in the near villages. We hope the place will become a centre for spreading the gospel in the surround ing country. The district itself is not attractive, having many swamps in the vicinity, which mean malarial mosquitoes in the wet season, but our attraction is the souls for whom Christ died. We would appreciate your prayers that the Holy Spirit would break in on their dark minds and hearts and lead them to Christ.
T. E. Wilson
Chitutu, November 22nd, 1935 — In my last letter I mentioned having received permission from the Administrator to open up work in a new part of the Songo country. Towards the end of the dry season I spent a good deal of time in this place, living in a grass hut and building a hall of sun-dried bricks with a little room attached, where we can live when we are in the district. A young native brother has been commended to the work by the assembly at Chitutu, and he and his wife and child will live here and maintain the testimony. For several weeks I had a meeting every night, and several in the villages around every Lord’s day. Some young men professed to be saved, and are already being persecuted by their relatives. Some old men were very determined in their opposition. One in particular was very bitter, and the last time I saw him, he was turning back a crowd of children from coming to the meetings. After being at Chitutu, I went back for a week-end, and found that he had suddenly died and had been buried the previous day. How solemn a thing it is to interfere with God’s work! I went up to his village, and found the elders divining to find out who had killed him. I stood watching for a time, intending to wait until they had finished, but when I heard my name mentioned by the diviner, I thought it was time to get back to my camp. As he prayed to the spirits, the perspiration poured out of his entire body, and he had that wild far-away look in his eyes which we have seen so often in demon-possessed people of this country. A crowd of men sitting in a semi-circle around him, repeated word for word everything that he said, and seemed to be hypnotized. The presence of a white man generally causes a stir in these villages, but they did not raise their heads, nor notice me in any way. In the evening the diviner came down to my camp, and I had a long talk with him. To show that he was a real king and not an upstart, he repeated his genealogy right back to the first person whom God created. According to him this was a woman called Cafuti. I asked him how it was that they were so far from God now, and he said, “Oh, the black man stole God’s food, and the white man stole His pen, so we are both sinners.” I told him of Adam and Eve and the fall in the garden, but he dismissed it with some obscene remarks, and seemed to think that his version was just as good. One wonders if it is possible to reach these dark-minded, sarcastic old men, yet thank God, in a good many cases we have seen the miracle wrought. We are pushing ahead with translation work in the Songo language, and hope soon to have the Gospel of Mark in print. We hope that this will be a help in reaching this dark tribe. Please remember our efforts in prayer.
T. E. Wilson.
Chitutu, February, 10th, 1936 — Another year has come to a close, in which we have experienced much of God’s blessing and His sustaining grace. Doors have been opening here in the Songo country, souls have been saved, baptized, and received into assembly fellowship, and we never had larger numbers at the gospel meetings than now. The material outlook in this part of the country is far from bright, yet even this seems to be working out for the furtherance of the gospel.
Last Lord’s day we had the privilege of baptizing five believers from the Chokwe tribe and seeing them added to the assembly at Chitutu. We have since heard of four others, and we expect to have another baptism shortly. One of those baptized is the son of an old man who died here some time ago, apparently without hope, after hearing the gospel many times. When I heard he was dying, I went to see him. A number of old men were holding him in a sitting position, trying to make him say who was responsible for his death. Among these people there is no such thing as death from natural causes. When the dying man saw me he took one look and screamed, “Wilson is the wizard,” and then died. Witch doctors and native judges were called, and after debating for days they pronounced me innocent. Now this man’s son has been saved and received into the meeting. Another man baptized was an ex-slave whose arm was broken by his slave master. The case was taken to the fort, where the master was punished and the man was freed from slavery. One of the Christian young men here set his arm, tied it up with bark rope and bamboo, and it healed perfectly. His heathen relatives told him that his arm would rot inside, but he replied, “If I am never able to lift a hoe or an axe again, I am not going to the witch doctors.” A short time after wards he was saved and seems very bright.
T. E. Wilson
Chitutu, April 1st, 1936 — We continue to have some little encouragement in our work of seeking to reach these dark tribes with the gospel, and building up God’s dear people. Since the new year we have had two baptisms, when eleven African believers thus obeyed the Lord and took their place at His table. Some of these were very interesting cases. Several were slaves twice redeemed. One well-built young fellow, in giving his testimony, told us that he never knew his father or mother, as he was sold for a bag of corn to Ovimbundu slave traders when he was a mere infant. When he grew up he got into trouble with his slave-master and ran away. He came back here to the country where he was born, discovered relatives, who brought him to the meetings, and he was saved. He then, like Onesimus, went back to his slave-master, redeemed himself and his wife and child, and has come back here to live and bear testimony. One of the women who were baptized came here a couple of years ago with castor oil and red mud dripping out of her hair and running down her back. She came to our girls’ school for a time, but was so wild and uncontrollable that many a time we felt like sending her away. However, she too came to the meetings, and has evidently been truly born again. She has proved herself to be one of the best Christian women on the place. A few souls have recently professed to be saved. One is the wife of a man whose body we saw dragged out of a wild pig burrow some years ago. He had been killed by the poison test. She just escaped the same fate by being on a visit to another village at the time.
For a month past I have been busy doing the final revision of the Gospel of Mark in Songo, and now the manuscript has gone to the press. We are hoping that this first portion of the Word of God in Songo may be a help in reaching that tribe with the gospel. Practically half the assembly at Chitutu are Songos. Just now we are making plans for the coming dry season. There are two large districts which we hope to work with the gospel. Kindly remember our efforts in prayer.
T. E. Wilson
Chitutu, June 10th, 1936 —The wet season ended somewhat earlier than usual this year, and we took the opportunity to get out to some of the more distant places with the gospel. Brother Long went east, to a group of Chokwe villages and had meetings every night in the village of the chief. A number of Christian young men also went off across the Kwangu and Jombo rivers, and while trading in wax and fish preached the gospel wherever they went. They report a good interest and large crowds. One old chief called Mungowa, who was one of the last to fight with the Portuguese when they occupied the country, gave them a hearty welcome and invited them back. While these two parties were away, I started off in a third direction through a hitherto unreached part of the Sondo country. I travelled on foot with five men carrying my loads. The gospel was preached in the head villages of five chiefs, as well as in many smaller places in between. My object was to find out the centres of population, and the attitude of the people to the gospel, with a view to opening up permanent gospel testimonies, manned by natives later on. With the exception of one place, where the people were indifferent, and practically starved me out by demanding exorbitant prices for food, I invariably had a good reception, and was urged to return. Most of the population in these parts lies around the shores of two large lakes, and an abundance of good fish supplies the men with the money to pay their head-tax to the government. This is an important factor in the Lord’s work in Central Africa, as one of the greatest hindrances to the establishment of assemblies, is the nomadic habits of the people, who have to move around to find the money for their taxes.
The Sondo chiefs here wear a skull cap with horns sticking out on either side, which give the impression that they are growing out of their head In one place a native clown dressed up to represent an evil spirit interfered with the meetings by taking the people off to dance, but when he had finished, both he and the dancers came and listened to the gospel. It was a joy to tell these people, for the first time, of the power of Christ to save, and yet the journey left me with a sore heart. The need is so great, and the darkness so intense, that in a few weeks one can only touch the surface. There is room in the territory covered on this journey for half a dozen native Christian men well instructed in the Scriptures, to go and live in the most important villages and carry on a regular gospel testimony. Please remember this need in prayer. We have the men, but it requires the Holy Spirit to fit, call, send, and sustain. Here at Chitutu we have had a few encouraging cases of conversion.
T. E. Wilson
Chitutu, Nov. 13th, 1936 —It is our great object continually to reach out into the regions beyond and to preach Christ where He has never been named. There are large stretches of territory, containing several tribes, north, south, and east of us here, which have never yet been evangelized. Some of these places are sparsely populated, but in others the villages are comparatively close together. In the dry season, which has just come to an end, we had the privilege of pioneering in three new districts among the Chokwe, Hembe, and Songo tribes. Now we are trying to consolidate our work. After all, the secret of the evangelization of rural Africa lies with the native believers. We have been very much burdened before the Lord that He would raise up the men fitted for the work of occupying the ground which we have been seeking to open up. As a rule the African of these parts lacks initiative, and prefers to be directed by the white man. We felt, however, our responsibility not to lay down foundations underpinned by the foreigner, which would collapse if he were absent. After much prayer and ministry along these lines, we are thankful to see a move on the part of the believers to take the gospel to their own people. Last year one young man stepped out in faith and the Lord has given him some souls in spite of much trial. Now four others have expressed the desire to go forth with the gospel. Some of these are very valuable men in the assembly and we sorely miss them, but we rejoice to know that God is answering our prayers.
Smallpox has broken out in our district. Three cases have been discovered right beside us. We were a little anxious about our children, as unknown to us at the time, they were exposed to the disease, but so far have been preserved.
T. E. Wilson
N. Ireland, April 1937 —Just before leaving Chitutu we had the joy of seeing ten African believers obey the Lord in baptism and take their place with us at the Lord’s table. This brings the assembly up to about seventy in fellowship.
Four of the Songo brethren have expressed a desire to go out with the gospel. We expect they will go forth in the coming dry season, and carry on a testimony at Wassungwa and Sinai in the Songo country. They are all able, godly men, and will be missed at Chitutu, but it is good to see the gospel spreading through native instrumentality.
T. E. Wilson
Chitutu, Aug. 31st, 1938 —We arrived back in the Songo country a little over a month ago and received a very hearty welcome from our fellow workers and from the natives. The work has progressed in our absence, and we feel thankful to God for the faithful work put in by Mr. and Mrs. Long, and also for a prolonged visit by the Allisons.
Owing to economic difficulties in finding the money to pay tax some of the young men have had to go further afield, as there is practically no industry in this area. Some of our best men are pioneering with the gospel among the Songo tribe. For a long time there was not much response from this tribe, as they were very loyal to their chiefs and old heathen customs, but in recent years there has been a break and a good number of them have been saved. Five Songo men, commended from the assembly at Chitutu, are preaching in three centres among their own people. They help to support themselves by cultivating rice, carpentry and trading in fish. One of these places has been comparatively barren of spiritual fruit so far, but at the other two a number of souls have been gathered in. One of them has about twenty baptized believers.
T. E. Wilson
Quirima, November, 25th 1939 —Since last writing we have been privileged to open another outpost for gospel testimony among the Songos, and just at present we are making arrangements for another near the Luandu river. At the end of September we received permission, and as the rains were at hand I hurried along with some native brethren and worked every day from daylight until dark making bricks. We managed to get a couple of houses up and the roofs on before the heavy rains started. We had two meetings every day, a short one at dawn and another at night, after the people had eaten their evening meal. It is always an enjoyable experience to break virgin soil and preach the gospel to people who have never heard it before. Night after night we had a large crowd of both men and women, the latter with their head-dress dripping with red mud and castor oil. Many of them had sleeping babies tied on their backs with antelope skin. They must have been interested to come so regularly every night, with absolutely no attraction but the simple gospel. With people so ignorant it is seldom that immediate results are seen, but we had the privilege of doing the spade-work and sowing the good seed of the Word. At this place there was not a scrap of shade, and the heat was so great at that it was impossible to take meals in the tent. Another source of inconvenience was the hordes of large biting flies which infest this part of the country at this time of year. Each bite draws blood and leaves a painful swelling. Mosquitoes were also plentiful after sundown. Although I took every precaution, after a time I began having fevers and spent three weeks in bed running temperatures. Two young native brethren and their wives have been commended to the work at Lukembo, and they are now settled in, maintaining a daily testimony and endeavouring to evangelize the surrounding country. One of these men is an ex-slave, who was sold out of this country when a child. When he grew up he ran away from his slave-master, came here and was converted. He then went back and arranged things honourably with his master, who freed him. Subsequently he found his way back here and has now gone out to preach the gospel among the tribe who once sold him into slavery. He is not, like most Africans, a born orator, but has a good testimony, which is more important.