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Nicholas Bhengu - His Preaching



JOHN BOND by Peter Watt


The mayor of East London might have been disappointed at Bhengu’s sermon in the meeting he had arranged under his mayoral auspices, but in actual fact Nicholas Bhengu was a powerful and eloquent preacher. There were times when he could be dull, but such were few and far between. Walter Hollenweger is the author of “The Pentecostals”, a wide-ranging handbook on the Pentecostal churches world-wide. He speaks of Bhengu’s elegant English and impeccable Zulu. A tall man (about 6ft2in) with a commanding presence, Bhengu could be thunderous and cajoling all in the same sermon.

Nicholas Bhengu addressing the meeting in Greenmarket Sqare, Cape Town.

Some Personal Notes

My First General Conference of the Assemblies of God

H. C. Phillips

The Congress on Mission and Evangelism held in Durban

W F P Burton and some Congo Missionaries

Nicholas Bekinkosi Hepworth Bhengu
His Youthful Dreams
His Preaching

- Bhengu and Education
- Bhengu and Money
- Miraculous Experiences
- Spiritual Happenings
- The Sanctifying Spirit of God
His Departure

- Mylet Bhengu

Bhengu’s “Isinthunzi”
- Government and Politics
Some Faults, Virtues and the Burden of His Heart

President Lucas Mangope of Bophuthatswana

Early Days in Durban

The Glad Tidings Assembly

William Frederick Mullan
The Fairview Assembly
Fred Mullan and the Gifts of the Spirit
A Miracle and a Vision
The Revival in Norwood
James E Mullan

Paul O Lange
William Branham in Durban
Oral Roberts in South Africa

Billy Graham in Salisbury and Durban
The American Missionaries from Springfield, Missouri
C. Austin Chawner and the Portuguese Work
August Kast and the Mount Tabor Mission Station

John and Yvonne Stegman

Colin La Foy and the Coloured Leadership
The Work in Zimbabwe
Mauritius and Reunion Island

Special Answers to Prayer – 1
Special Answers to Prayer – 2

A Beautiful Square with Good Vibes
Prayer and the Hippie Revival
The Young Turks
Tensions within the Group
The Split of 1981 – Part One
The Split of 1981 – Part Two

The Beginnings of the Faith Movement in South Africa

The Statement of September 1989
The Charismatic Renewal

The Start of the Pentecostal Revival World Wide and The Swedish Pentecostal Assemblies

Letting Go of the Reins

APPENDIX 1 : How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit

APPENDIX 2 : The National Church by Nicholas Bhengu

APPENDIX 3 : Article from the Argus 5/02/1981

APPENDIX 4 : Pointers to the future of the Assemblies of God in the New South Africa (10/06/94)

Time was hardly a factor when he really got wound up. Once I heard him speak for nearly an hour in a conversational rambling way which I took to be his sermon. Then to my surprise he opened his Bible with the words “Now let us turn to the Word of God”. After reading a verse of two of Scripture he proceeded to preach, perhaps for another 90 minutes. And yet I remember another occasion when he was addressing a white audience in one of our assemblies. After a time, one or two of the congregation appeared to lose concentration and become restless. Almost immediately Bhengu closed his Bible and rounded off his sermon. So tuned in was he to the reaction of his audience.

Another time I was with him when he addressed a couple of dozen uneducated peasants at Livingstone. Our venue was the back yard of a mission house in Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). We had no chairs but squatted on our heels in the dust while the congregation squatted in a circle about Bhengu. He spoke to them about “George” who was playing with a caterpillar. George had made a circle of fire. The caterpillar was trying to escape. First it went “there” only to be stopped by the fire. Then it went “there” with the same result. After nearly half an hour the audience had grasped that they were like that caterpillar, hemmed in completely. Then “George” took a twig and let the caterpillar crawl across the fire to safety on the twig. Of course the twig represented the cross of Calvary and Jesus’ death for our sins. I marvelled at the condescension of a man who had addressed thousands but who would decline to use a chair and crouch in the dust on a level with his primitive audience. Also at the patience of a man who would reiterate what to him must have seemed a puerile story to make the Gospel clear to his tribal listeners. Surely this was the love of God in him! And in fact, a display of his preaching skill.

I saw something similar in Nyasaland (now Malawi). This time he had a larger audience of over 200. Again there was no church building, no chairs, no pulpit, Bhengu was then dying of liver cancer though none of us knew it at the time. He was feeble and distrait with pain. When we dined at the hotel in Lilongwe he would nod over his food, dozing off until one or other of the ministers with us, Fred Shabalala or Brother Shongwe would gently rouse him saying softly “Baba, Baba, here is your food, Baba. Eat it.” Yet when he came to preach he gathered new strength. For me the sight of Bhengu standing on African soil, in the shade of a thorn tree, preaching the Word of God to his fellow Africans in Malawi, is unforgettable. If there was ever any anti-white feeling in Nicholas Bhengu, he sincerely sought to transcend it by the grace of God in the name of Jesus Christ. But I have no doubt that the true depths of his compassion were stirred by the presence of a group of Africans, his own people, hungry for the Gospel.
I saw this when I attended a Nicholas Bhengu crusade meeting held in a tent somewhere on the Rand. As usual, the tent was as usual crowded to capacity. The people were seated on roughly constructed pews made out of builders’ scaffolding. There was a single naked electric light-bulb burning over the preacher’s head. It illuminated like a glow the haze of fine dust stirred up by the movement of our feet. Bhengu was making an altar-call. The dust had powdered his face as though it were a mask. I saw two black stripes on his cheeks as his tears made a rivulet there. He was pleading with souls to accept Jesus as Saviour. “My girl, my boy, come as you are. Jesus loves you. He died for you. Come as you are. Jesus loves you.” As he pleaded and wept over them, my heart and eyes were weeping too. Such tenderness!
But at other times he would roar with furious zeal. One afternoon I went to visit him at Lamontville near Durban. Jim Mullan was with me. Bhengu was preaching in a tent to about 1000 people. The meeting was prolonged and we sat outside in my car listening to him over the loudspeakers. He was winding up his sermon. My heart stirred as I heard him shouting out fiercely, “Forget about Bhengu! Forget about church! Forget about the Assemblies of God! Bhengu can’t save you! The Assemblies of God can’t save you! Only Jesus can save you!” Jim Mullan looked at me in the car and said, “Old Bhengu’s really giving it stick today”. He truly was and often did.
How electric were some of our conferences at Witbank in the days when we would assemble there in a large marquee under rather primitive conditions. More than once the crowd stood to their feet and even rushed the platform as he appealed for our consecration to the cause of Christ and the Gospel. On one such occasion his sermon had been interrupted by cryings out and prayers from the hearers. A woman began to sob aloud with tears, “Oh my God, I’ll be that one! I’ll be that one.” Bhengu at the microphone responded. His voice was deep and vibrant. “Amen, my sister, you be that one!” It was like a benediction and an answer to her prayer. It came from the depths of his heart. It reminded me of the time at Dumisa College recounted by Fred Suter. The lecturer Fred Suter had uttered the words, “Africa has yet to see what God will do with one life that is fully given to him”. As Suter said that there was an uproar. The young man, Nicholas Bhengu, leapt up and over his desk stamping his feet in a transport of emotion, crying aloud, “I’ll be that one! I’ll be that one! I’ll be that one!”
Thank God for that woman. Thank God for Bhengu’s reply, “You be that one my sister”. Thank God for many women and men converted and taught by Nicholas Bhengu who can yet make a blessed difference in our beloved land of South Africa.

To listen to Nicholas Bhengu at his most anointed was an elemental experience. One of our white ministers who had heard George Jeffries, the famous Welsh evangelist preach in the early days in England said of Bhengu “It’s like hearing George Jeffries in the Royal Albert Hall. When Jeffries went into a ‘hwyl’ they would switch off the microphones and he could be heard in every corner of the vast auditorium.” A ‘hwyl’ (pronounced “hooyl”) is the state of emotion when a Welshman gets elemental and begins to sing his sermon.
George Jeffries had a brother Stephen, one of the early Assemblies of God pioneers in England. Stephen Jeffries visited South Africa in 1928 to preach. Nicholas Bhengu told me how affected he had been by hearing Stephen Jeffries. He had coveted such a ministry as Stephen Jeffries had and had prayed for it as a gift of God to him. In the wisdom of God the blazing torch gets passed on from one to another, sometimes all unknown to the individual passing it on.

I have a personal reason for remembering Nicholas Bhengu as a preacher. I had an adopted sister, Pat, of whom I was very fond. She never went to church, professing to be an atheist. I think there had been a sadness in her life and she was wounded in spirit. Unfortunately she had a strong dislike for Africans.
In the 1950s when I pastored a small congregation in Durban, the church bought an old YMCA hut in Moore Road which could serve us as a place of worship. My sister came to the dedication service we held. Nicholas Bhengu and several others were invited as speakers. Shortly before he was due to speak I noticed he was jotting down notes on a scrap of paper with a stump of pencil. I realised he was preparing his address at the last minute while sitting there on the platform. “You old scoundrel” I thought fondly to myself. When his turn came, he spoke for about 20 minutes. He transfixed us all. Afterwards my sister Pat confided to me, “I like Nicholas Bhengu, John; he’s the only black I don’t hate!” Please pardon the sentiment. It was she who felt it, not I. Some weeks later she said to me, “I like your little church, John; you can count me as a member”. Still later, she asked me to baptise her. Before I could do so she was admitted to Addington Hospital on the beachfront in Durban. She never came out. I buried her content in the faith that she was “safe in the arms of Jesus”. One day I fancy Nicholas Bhengu will greet her in heaven among the thousands of his converts from all races. She won’t be hating anybody then!