The following is an excerpt from Dr Kevin Roy’s book “Zion City RSA” with a few alterations, additions and subtractions by me to make it more suitable for the blogging format. For the full bibliography see the bottom of the article
This is the seventh in a series of posts I am doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here
It was a warm summer morning on 17th day of the first month of 1837. The 36 year old Lindley was awoken at dawn as he lay in his Ndebele style hut- what was that sound he heard through the groggy fog of sleep? He had heard nothing like this in the three years he had been in South Africa. It was the sound of gunfire, mingled with shouts and screams, men and women fleeing for their lives down the plains of Mosega. The Voortrekkers were attacking the Ndebele; a move of retaliation after Mzilikazi had his Ndebele warriors attacked the Voortrekkers the previous October. Mzilikazi and his warriors fled and eventually settled on the other side of the Limpopo River, in the eastern part of today’s Zimbabwe (they live there till this day).
In a panic Lindley tried to stop the mayhem, but the bloodlust of the battle meshed everything into a hazy blur. His only concern was to keep his wife safe till the battle ceased. Left lying outside his hut, Lindley was unable to go with the Ndebele, his passion to share the gospel and the last few years of his life had been a waste, or at least he must have thought.
“What are you doing here?” A Voortrekker astride a horse asked the startled Lindley. “I am a missionary sir, and I have been serving these people for years now.” he replied. After a brief pause the young man replied, “Ja, tough hey. Well get up, you better come with us.” Lindley got his few possessions together. After speaking some more with the Voortrekker party he discovered that they would be passing the Natal coast. His plan was to go with them and join up with some fellow missionaries from the American Board who were seeking to start a work among the Zulu in that area.
Days and nights he spent travelling with the Boers were not wasted. The Voortrekkers came to admire him both as a man of God and as a crack shot with a rifle, a skill he developed in his youth in the woods of Ohio.
Finally he arrived in Natal. Things were looking up. To his great joy the Boers seemed to be getting on with the Zulus; and he prayed that peace would allow him to begin a real ministry among them. Lindley could hardly believe it, he ran to tell his wife, “you wont believe this dear, but the Zulu king Dingaan has invited the Boers to a farewell before the continue their journey north to the land that he has agreed they could settle in”, with a twinkle in his eyes he looked joyfully at his missionary bride, full of hope that this will mean the Zulu’s would be open to his ministry as well. The prospect seemed wonderful, Dingaan had agreed to give the Boers some land in Natal to settle in, and now he was extending hospitality to them. Little did he know that the farewell was just a guise…
That night, Dingaan and his Zulu warriors ambushed the Voortrekkers. Piet Retief and about 60 other Voortrekkers were killed, other attacks followed and the entire region was plunged into violent conflict. The American Board advised all its Natal missionaries to leave the colony. Lindley was on the move again, this time on the way to the Eastern province of the Cape Colony
In 1838 the power of Dingaan was broken at the Battle of Blood River. After returning to the short-lived Republic of Natalia, Lindley was invited by its House of Assembly to minister to the Boers. Based in Pietermaritzburg, for the next seven years he ministered to the largest parish any man ever had in South Africa. In his own words, ‘I had for my parish all the country embraced in the district of Natal, the Free State and the Transvaal Republic. I was sole minister for all the extended territory I have named and had the care of, I suppose, not less than 20 000 souls.[i]’
During the seven years of Lindley’s ministry to the Voortrekkers, five congregations were established. Thus he played a key role in the foundation of the Dutch Reformed Church in Natal, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.
In 1847 Lindley resigned his post as minister to the Boers and returned to the American Board mission and the work they were doing among the Zulus. At a time when many missionaries were inclined to take an overly strict view of many African customs and required converts to make a complete break with them in order to be received into the church, Lindley took a remarkably independent point of view. He vigorously defended those customs that in his view had social value and were not forbidden by God’s word. Such a custom was lobola, whereby a man would pay a certain number of cattle to his bride’s father as part of the marriage contract. At a time when the custom was much spoken against by many other missionaries, Lindley gave it as his opinion,
“The uku-lobola, as it exists among the tribes of South East Africa, has been, on the whole, a great blessing to the people. If today one word from my mouth would instantly annihilate the custom, I would not spea
k that word.[ii]”
For twenty-six years Lindley was associated with the mission at Inanda before he finally returned to the USA at the venerable age of 73. Lindley had the gift of being able to develop a deep understanding of and friendship with the people he served. At a time when relations between Boers, British and Zulu were marked by conflict, bloodshed and animosity, Lindley succeeded in gaining the respect and love of all three. To the Boers he became a Boer and to the Zulus a Zulu, understanding their peculiar customs and traditions with sympathy and insight. The little town of Lindley in the Free State was named after him.In these sentiments he was entirely supported by his wife, who claimed “that their marriage custom of paying cattle is to the Zulu girls the greatest protection they have against the immorality of the nation, while it insures to the women good treatment and care which they would not otherwise receive. When a woman is married, the cattle are a surety in the father’s hands of her good treatment … if the people are black they have many better laws and customs than ours, white and civilized as we are …[iii]”
To go to the next post in this series click here
[i] Davies, H. Great South African Christians (Cape Town, Oxford, 1951), p.46.
[ii] Davies, H. & Shepherd, R.H. South African Missions 1800-1950 (Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson, 1954), p.180.
[iii] Ibid., p.181.
This is an excerpt with slight alterations from me: Roy, Kevin . Zion City RSA. The Story of the Church in South Africa. (Cape Town, South African Baptist Historical Society 2000); Hofmeyr, J. & Pillay, G. J., 1994. A History of Christianity in South Africa. Pretoria: HAUM Tertiary