Letters from the field taken from Echoes of Service
Quirima, Feb. 2nd, 1940 —We recently went to Loanda. On the way back to Capango and Camacupa we had a difficult journey, owing to heavy and continuous rains and consequent flooding. We travelled in a light Ford motor-lorry and sank in again and again to the axles. Each time we had to cut heavy branches of trees and, using a fulcrum, jack the car up bodily out of the mud and slip logs underneath. Night overtook us, bogged again in a place where there were no villages, utterly exhausted with the heavy work and wet to the waist. We lay down on the ground in the bush until daylight, and at intervals we heard a leopard and hyenas howl. After a while our native boy managed to get a fire going out of the damp grass and firewood, which made things more pleasant. Towards morning some men turned up from a road-repair camp, and they helped us to get out of the mud. We had a couple of minor adventures getting across the Quanza and Luandu rivers, which at this time of year are swollen and have a terrific current. Both have pontoons made of petrol drums lashed together and boards on top. When raining, the clay banks of the river are very slippery and it is a precarious business getting the car on and off the pontoon. Both rivers have crocodiles and hippopotami.
T. E. Wilson
Quirima, April 27th, 1940 —We have just had a dry spell of about three weeks in the middle of the wet season, and I took the opportunity to get out and do some itinerating, while my wife carried on school and dispensary here at Chitutu. I have been exercised about endeavouring systematically to preach the gospel in every village that we can reach in the Songo country. There are now four out-posts on the way to the Jombo river, where our native brethren carry on a regular gospel testimony, and I visited these places in turn, having meetings for the believers at night, and in the daytime tramping around the heathen native villages, preaching the gospel in their palaver huts or wherever I found the people. At one place an elderly man, who has a reputation of being demon possessed, interrupted the preaching, like the girl in Acts xvi., making all kinds of complimentary remarks about God and the way of salvation, but he himself would have nothing to do with it. He sent a little boy for fire, and when it was brought to him he took a live coal, threw it in his mouth and apparently ate it. The rest he dropped on the ground and put his bare foot on it. To all appearance it did not burn him. This caused a laugh, and effectively killed any interest in the gospel in the place. We again gave them the gospel and passed on. When we reached Cassunga, where two young Songo brethren carry on the testimony, one of them, called Sakaya, had that evening been almost blinded by a snake, and he was going around with a cloth wrapped round his head in great agony. He had been out in the bush and, hearing a rustle in the long grass, stooped down to see what it was, when a concealed snake spat its venom right into his eyes. We repeatedly washed them out with boracic lotions, and it now looks as if there will be no permanent injury. Sakaya is an ex-slave and a very likeable fellow. Shortly after he was saved he undertook a journey of over 300 miles on foot with a 6o-lb. load, in order to earn the money to buy a New Testament. He has learned a lot and can preach the gospel very effectively. His fellow- worker is the slow, steady, solid type, so they make a good pair. They have had an uphill fight at Cassunga, but lately have seen considerable blessing. At the next place the Christians had been having a good deal of persecution of a very trying kind, and this, along with hunger in the district on account of wild pigs destroying their gardens, made them feel very discouraged. I had a few meetings to try and give them a lift. There are a number of places where we would like to see work begun this year. We would appreciate your prayers that the door may be kept open and souls won for Christ.
T. E. Wilson
Chitutu, June 27th, 1940 —We have just held our first conference in the Songo country. It was arranged and carried through entirely by the native brethren. We encourage them to accept responsibility for the work of the Lord among their own people rather than lean on the foreign missionary. Many walked over 120 miles to be present.
Five believers were baptized on the Lord’s day. The ministry mostly centred around the coming of the Lord, and considering that those who took part were comparatively a short time ago in heathen darkness and completely illiterate, it is remarkable how clear a grasp they have of the Rapture, the Judgment Seat of Christ, and the Appearing. The joy and power in which it was given out showed too that the Truth had a grip of them. The believers in these parts have recently passed through trying times of persecution, and we feel that all returned to their homes with fresh desires to live for Christ and to spread the gospel among their fellow countrymen.
During the sixteen years since we came to Angola, we have given most of our time to pioneer work in unreached parts of the country and, while the door remains open, we intend to continue this kind of work. Just before the above-mentioned conference I had a very enjoyable journey preaching among the large Chokwe population which has congregated around the LuanduFalls. A number of villages heard the gospel for the first time. Lions were doing some damage in the vicinity, raiding live-stock and killing an occasional native. As I did not carry a gun, a Portuguese official at the post of Sautar gave me a black soldier with a rifle as a bodyguard! This was done in kindness, but we did not appreciate his company, as the sight of a soldier generally makes the people run away into the bush. However, the lions did not molest us and the soldier heard the gospel several times a day. As a result of this journey there are a couple of places where we would like to see a gospel testimony established, and native brethren are forthcoming to occupy the ground; but it is becoming increasingly difficult to get official permission.
A little time ago we had the joy of baptizing seven believers here at Chitutu and seeing them added to the assembly. They represent the three tribes in our area, Songo, Chokwe, and Ovimbundu. One of the men baptized, a Songo, was formerly a well-known character with a reputation for being demon-possessed. He was saved six years ago.
Chitutu, July 1941 —This morning we baptized six believers, all men, four of them Congos, and two Chokwes. One of these is a Government hunter at the local post. For many years he was in the Portuguese Colonial Army, and, being a crack shot, after his discharge the local official retained him to keep his soldiers and policemen supplied with wild meat. He came to the baptism in the uniform of a cipaio. Only those who have lived in Angola know what this means. In the midst of many fierce temptations he has maintained an unsullied testimony for several years. Another man baptized had previously been sprinkled. At one time he very stoutly defended this as valid baptism, and his attitude about it was such that we did not feel free to receive him. He has now completely changed, and it was a real joy to see him follow the Lord in this step and take his place at the Lord’s table.
T. E. Wilson
Capango, 1942 —You will notice we are no longer at Chitutu. We were obliged to take this step for various reasons. Since the war it has been practically impossible to communicate with the outside from Chitutu in a reasonable length of time, and letters would lie sometimes for months waiting for transport. Friends at home thought we were careless about answering mail, but this was not so, as we seek to be very conscientious about these things. Since the railway went through Angola about 200 miles to the south, the Chitutu area has been left in an isolated pocket. The people have been gradually drifting away for ten years past as the men have to be near the centres to find the money for their taxes. Those who remained found it next to impossible to find the tax money, with the result that every year hundreds of men are sent to the mines in the Lunda country and the plantations at the coast. For these reasons the native population has been seriously depleted, and with no prospect of things improving, we were forced to the conclusion that it was the Lord’s will for us to move to a centre from which we could continue to help the work in the Songo country, and at the same time, reach out in other directions. Capango seemed to be the ideal place for this purpose. This change does not mean that the work at Chitutu has been abandoned. We have a light motor lorry and can get there in a day. The assembly and out-schools go on as formerly and we try to visit them regularly.
For many years I have been exercised about giving all my time to ministry and gospel preaching among the hundreds of scattered groups of Ovimbundu, Chokwe and Songo believers, many of whom very seldom get a visit from a missionary. We have felt that the greatest need is for the teaching of simple New Testament principles. The government want to push us more and more into industrial and institutional work. At the end of the year they sent us a thirteen page questionnaire to be filled in, wanting to know among other things how many trades we had been teaching the natives, but personally I feel I should give God a full day’s work of pioneering with the gospel and building up the assemblies. Experience has taught us that to allow ourselves to be side tracked from this path does not pay either materially or spiritually.
We have just spent the week of prayer with the believers at Hualondo. We had meetings for prayer and ministry three times a day. About 600 came to some of the meetings and we realized much of God’s presence and help. Hualondo is blessed with a fine group of native elders who have been the mainstay of the work for many years. We plan to go back to Hualondo for a time of Bible study in the dry season (D.V.). Last Lord’s day we had the privilege of baptizing fourteen believers at Capanga.
T. E. Wilson
Capango, 1942 —I have just returned from a Visit to the Songo country, and this time saw a new assembly planted at a place where we have had a gospel testimony for some years. There are some good, steady brethren there, who know the Scriptures and who will act as guides. I also obtained the necessary permission to start a work at a place called Case kuseku among a well-populated group of Songo villages beside the Luandu river. This is an answer to prayer, as the door seemed fast closed. A Songo brother, called Muacu, who was saved some years ago, and has gone on well since, plans to go to this place with his wife and family and carry on a regular testimony. He has been commended by the assembly. This makes eight places among the Songo tribe where the Gospel is being sounded out.
At present we are at Chilonda for the quarterly conference of believers from that area. About 800 have gathered together and we have realized much of the Lord’s presence and blessing. On the Lord’s day 42 were baptized. Some of these came from isolated outposts and have walked many miles to obey the Lord. One man professed to be saved.
T. E. Wilson
Capango 1942 —Recently my wife and I visited Chitutu and the Songo country and sought to help and encourage the sorely-tried believers in all the centres of testimony. We had a very busy time and in the course of a few days had a variety of experiences. We had to investigate a case of murder, perform three marriage ceremonies in one day in two widely-separated places, treat a lad for snakebite, extract a number of teeth, had art experience with a lion in the middle of the night, saw a new little assembly begun, and on an average had several meetings a day. In these days of closing doors our chief concern is the planting and building up of assemblies and the encouragement of groups of believers who are maintaining a Gospel testimony in the surrounding darkness. We had great joy on this journey in seeing some exercised along this line among the native brethren. At one place where God has blessed over a period of years they told us, quite on their own, that they feel the time has come to commence remembering the Lord. In this particular instance, there are a number of good steady brethren to take responsibility and act as guides, so we feel happy about it. At one place where a Songo brother has begun a new testimony, we arrived after dark expecting to sleep on the ground beside a fire, but we found the few believers had erected a new grass hut for us, and had made quite a comfortable bed-spring out of woven strips of cowhide, raised off the floor. They had given themselves all this work to entertain us for one night.
T. E. Wilson
Capango, 1942 —We returned here after a journey lasting a month when we visited all the centres of testimony among the Songo people. Many years ago Mr. Lane brought two Songo boys from Luandu to Capango; one did not turn out well, but the other has now returned to his own people and is trying to get a foothold. He is having an uphill fight but is sticking manfully to it. We also visited Sinai where an assembly has recently been begun. At each place along the way we had meetings, seeking to strengthen the believers. As a whole the work in the Songo district is being severely persecuted. We visited a group of Ovimbundu believers, who are carrying on a pioneer work among Chokwes at a place called Catalumba, beside the LuandaFalls. They have a good sized assembly, and recently there has been a friendly offshoot to a new work at a place, Munyango, on the railway. Since our return we have been to a conference arranged entirely by African believers at one of the outposts called Mukendenge. They had erected a huge grass shed with platform and benches. Five oxen were killed to feed the visitors and they had gone to great trouble to build temporary huts so that all could have accommodation; 752 visitors were entertained. Last Lord’s day nine believers were baptized here.
T. E. Wilson
Capango, 1943 —My wife and I have just returned from a week-end at an outpost called Cassumba. Believers came in from three outlying groups who carry on a Gospel testimony, so we had very full meetings. On the Lord’s day we had five meetings. We had not bargained for this, but the believers were so anxious for help, that they arranged the meetings themselves and announced them. We had another meeting at on Monday morning before leaving them. These people need spiritual help.
This week I am having a series on the Feasts of Jehovah of Lev. xxiii. at Capango, illustrated by a home-made chart with Portuguese lettering. Many of the elders and young men are intensely interested in the Old Testament types. Some have quite a good knowledge of Tabernacle teaching and that comes out in their preaching.
T. E. Wilson
Capango, 1943 —Conditions in Central Africa are changing very rapidly. The advent of the railway and the motor-car mean that the most remote places are opening to so-called civilization. All along the railways and highways, towns are springing up, many of which are destined, by their geographical and strategic positions, to grow into centres ofcommerce and transport. The native population is flocking in thousands to these towns. Bulawayo, for instance, has over 25,000 Africans in its native locations. In some parts the native hut tax has been increased to such an extent that the people are forced to come to these places in order to be able to pay it. In other cases many are attracted by the opportunity for gain and fancy clothes. In some parts of the country, where mission centres have been long established, the population has gone down to a serious extent, and the question arises whether we should not face up to the situation. Instead of continuing to have our centres in the rural areas, should we not concentrate on the towns and work out from there? It would be grand to see assemblies established in places like Jadotville, Elisabethville, Livingstone, Wankie and many other towns, which have large populations both black and white. There are many problems connected with the subject—the high cost of living in the towns and the immoral character of the native populations, which may make assembly planting very difficult. Here in Angola there is also a line of towns at the coast and along the railways, but owing to the present government policy, we cannot get a foothold in them. Even Portuguese nationals are not allowed to hold a meeting for the preaching of the gospel in a house.
At Bulawayo, in S. Rhodesia, I had a meeting for both black and white. Here we found some belivers from the Songo country who ran away from Angola on account of persecution. Mr. E. H. Sims carries on a splendid work among natives and Europeans. On a good site, in the native location, is a Gospel Hall, which has been built with a view to expansion. Miss Manders has her hands full with work among the many Bantus congregated there, and her house is full of literature in many languages. At Salisbury there is a small but very active assembly, and I had meetings there. As far as I know these are the only two assemblies in S. Rhodesia, and there is almost unlimited scope for the Gospel pioneer, with the aid of a friendly Government and one of the finest climates in the world.
After this I had some weeks in a Gospel tent in Cape Province helping our brother Sam Moore, who is doing a splendid pioneer work among coloured people. He goes to a place with his tent, thoroughly canvasses the district, and visits the people in their homes, and stays as long as there is any manifest interest. If there is blessing he instructs the believers in the Truth and forms an assembly. God is blessing his efforts among these needy and neglected people.
While down South we heard of the formation of an assembly at Nairobi, one of the first in East Africa—just a few young people who have taken their stand for the Truth in the face of much ridicule from religious people. They need our prayers, as do the large territories of Tanganyika, Kenya and Uganda, practically untouched, as far as assembly testimony is concerned.
I had a very interesting time in Northern Rhodesia among some Ovimbundu believers who ran away from Angola some years ago. They have built their own meeting-room, organized a school, and formed an assembly. They gave me a great welcome, as we were able to bring them first-hand news of their relatives in Bié and give them a message from the Scriptures in their own language. It was good to see them going on with the Lord even in exile.
Since getting back to Bié we have heard of more severe persecution in the Songo area. A prominent brother has been nearly beaten to death, others are in prison, and most of the young men in fellowship sent away on forced labour. Next week, D.V., I set off for the Songo district to visit these tried and suffering saints.
Capango, 1943 —At present I am having meetings in a district lying along the Quanza river on the Bie side. The last time I was here was in 1925, when there was no organized work and hardly a believer. Now there are about ten centres of Gospel testimony carried on by men from Chilonda and Hualondo. We go around the native villages in the day time, have three or four meetings a day preaching the Gospel in their palaver sheds, and then have a larger gathering, generally for believers, at some centre at night. I had an encouraging meeting in the chief’s compound. It is stockaded in the old style and decorated with the skulls of animals killed in hunting. The people are the soul of friendliness and hospitality, and the believers especially are pathetically grateful for any spiritual help. We carry a tent in which to sleep, but we are often offered a native house and rather than offend their feelings we accept. Last night we were awakened by huge hopping spiders and rats running over our bedclothes. They drop out of baskets hung from the round grass roof in which seed corn, etc., is stored. Numbers and interest are good at the meetings and there is some blessing.
T. E. Wilson
Capango, 1944 —Before being ill I had an enjoyable time in the Andulu area. A remarkable work has been going on there in a quiet way for a number of years. We found out that an African brother has been responsible for beginning twenty-nine Gospel testimonies since God saved him thirty years ago. Some of these have developed into flourishing assemblies, and offshoots are continually pushing out into the regions beyond. I had the privilege of baptizing twenty-four believers and seeing them added to local assemblies. The brother responsible is just an ordinary African believer who works in the fields every day for a living and has no outstanding gift, but he is very aggressive in the Gospel and has a real shepherd care for the Lord’s people.
T. E. Wilson
Capengo, 1944 —One of our greatest problems in this land is to know bow to spend the Lord’s money wisely. Where there is a great need it would be so easy to finance evangelists, Bible women and put up schools and assembly buildings, but we have proved by experience that it is a mistake for the foreign worker to do this. Such evangelists look upon the missionary as their employer and buildings erected by the white man are allowed to fall down unless he keeps them in repair. We have found that there is a more excellent way. We are able to help indirectly through the assembly offering box and other means. There are quite a number of African brethren who have stepped out in faith in God and whom He is richly blessing. Many others work in the fields every day for a living and yet are evangelists in the true sense of the word. The people are very poor, yet they give freely of their labour in building their own meeting places. When they are the product of their own toil they feel more responsibility in keeping them up. A new hall to seat 400 has been built by the saints at Sachiwala. There is a possibility of an assembly being begun there soon. Over a period of years souls have been saved here and there are now about sixty baptized believers in the locality. Many of them walk about twenty miles each Lord’s day in order to remember the Lord here at Capango.
Capango, 1945 —Yesterday we went to Benguela which is twenty miles along the seaboard from Lobito. This, as you know, is one of the oldest towns on the West African coast. Many of the older houses still have the high walled compounds in which the slaves were confined before shipment. I went to the cemetery in order to clean up Mr. Robt. John Johnston’s grave. He was the first member of the party who came out in 1889 to lay down his life. Behind the cemetery are the brown hills and native paths up which the early pioneer missionaries trudged on foot on their way to the interior. While I was seeing to the grave a one- legged man appeared and started a conversation. He turned out to be the grave-digger and caretaker of the cemetery. I had a most interesting talk with him. He claims to have been regenerated through reading the Bible before he had ever met anyone to explain the simple Gospel to him. Another interesting contact we made in Lobito was the Swiss manager of a hotel. He was brought up in the assemblies in Switzerland but has drifted around most of the cities in Southern Europe in the hotel business. His wife is a Portuguese who came into contact with the Gospel in Lisbon in Mr. Swan’s day. They had to flee from Barcelona during the civil war in Spain and came to Africa. Both are interested but are tied seven days a week to their business. We would value prayer for these needy souls on the African littoral.
T. E. Wilson
Capango, 1946 –My wife and I have just returned from a journey through the Songo tribe visiting all the centres of testimony lying between the Quanza and Jombo rivers. We were encouraged to see the magnificent way in which the Songo believers have been able to carry on the work in spite of almost intolerable conditions. The whole country is now on forced labour, collecting crude rubber from roots in the forests. At first there was a good supply of these roots, but, as the country is cleaned out they have to go farther and farther to find them and now the people have to make a round trip of six days. A certain quota has to be provided each month, and if it is not forthcoming each man gets a tremendous beating. On an average they are paid about three shillings a month. They are kept at it night and day, with the result that crops are neglected and famine conditions are rapidly overtaking the people. At each of the places where Gospel work is carried on the believers brought us little gifts of food, but when we saw the condition of the children, we hated to take it from them. But they insisted on sharing with us what they had. Before leaving Chitutu I called to see the local administrative officer. There was a hippo hide whip lying across his desk, and as I went in a number of natives came out with swollen hands from a beating. I begged for some of the believers to be let off forced labour for a time so that they could attend to necessary repairs to their Gospel Hall. He let off half-a-dozen men, but the others must make up their quota of rubber. At another fort we found the district officer and his wife suffering from toothache and I extracted some of their several teeth. I have known this particular official since 1926, when he was a sergeant in the Portuguese military occupation force, and he has always been very friendly. The believers in his area have a much easier time.
Two new places for Gospel testimony have been opened in the Songo tribe this year, one beside the Luandu river and another by a group of Songo believers, who for many years were in slavery in Bie, but have now come back to their own country to take the Gospel to the very people who sold them. They are building a new village at a place called Sambi.