And I learnt too of the existence
of missionaries who all did something or other among the African population.
The time came when I heard about “the compound work on the mines”,
and I accepted what I was told about it, namely that it was a very viable
way of spreading the Gospel into remotest Africa. The mines recruited
labour from Mozambique, Nyasaland (now Malawi) and elsewhere. There were
missionaries who preached to these labourers, who would of course carry
the message back to their homes when their contracted term of labour
ended. I was actually given a copy of what was called “The Heart
Book”, an illustrated tract depicting the condition of mans’ heart
before and after the individual became converted. Fred Mullan did not
approve of “The Heart Book” because it contained a passage
depicting a Christian backsliding and going to hell. Fred Mullan was
a strong proponent of the teaching “Once saved, always saved”.
Nonetheless, I thought the missionaries who distributed “The Heart
Book” were doing a wonderful thing, for I had actually heard
of one copy that found its way into a primitive kraal somewhere in
As a result, at least ten adults had seen it and become Christians.
For my part, I felt it was quite romantic meeting missionaries from far
places who now endured in difficult circumstances in remote areas in South
Africa, districts like Tzaneen, Duiwelskloof, Nelspruit, Kaapmuiden and
the like. They came from Norway, Sweden,Canada, Britain and America. Some
I found to be warm, interesting people. Some were a little eccentric.
Increasingly I got to know about the American missionaries. They came from
the Assemblies of God Missionary Board in Springfield, Missouri, and they
thrilled me with many stories of the early days of revival in America.
I became particularly aware of one couple, Edgar and Mabel Pettenger. She
was American but of Swedish extraction, a fine-looking very positive woman,
kindly but dogmatic and very outspoken. He was an alert, wiry little fellow
with a loud clear voice and a rich American brogue. Both the Pettengers
were fine people, good friends to those they agreed with, totally intolerant
of those they disagreed with; fiercely American in their loyalties and
outlook, unquestioningly devoted to the Assemblies of God in Springfield,
America. I am sure that their manifestly fine qualities and unswerving
loyalty to the home-board made them very, very influential with the Missions
Board of the Assemblies of God in America. In South Africa I came to know
Edgar Pettenger as totally inflexible in his dealings and opinions, not
only fixed in his ideas, but militant in opposing anything he took to be
a deviation from the norms applicable in the Assemblies of God in America.
I had not been long in the ministry before I saw that “live and let
live” was not by any means part of Edgar Pettenger’s philosophy.
I came to realise that he actually went out of his way to goad certain
people whose opinions were different from his. It sometimes resulted
in quite childish disputes. For instance, when I spent a short holiday
Port Elizabeth with the Mullans, Jim Mullan received a letter from Edgar
Pettenger. The envelope bore the address:
Reverend James E Mullan”.
Here was no slip of the pen. He knew right well that Jim
Mullan abhorred the title “Reverend” as applied to ministers. Pettenger was
obviously goading Jim Mullan whose dogmatism he despised. Jim Mullan asked
me on that occasion whether he should open the letter or send it back unopened
as a protest against the use of ministerial titles. Privately, I thought
the matter ridiculous from both sides, but I advised Jim Mullan to open
the letter and then to protest to Pettenger in writing when he replied
to it. Unfortunately, it is out of such incidents that hostilities grow
leading to unnecessary disputes and divisions. Edgar Pettenger targeted
Nicholas Bhengu as well. In 1946 I attended a convention in the Fairview
Assembly Hall in Johannesburg. I learnt that behind the scenes an executive
meeting had been called to apply discipline to Nicholas Bhengu because
on his letterheads he refused to have the denominational name “Assemblies
Without for one moment upholding Nicholas Bhengu in the attitude he
was adopting, one has to recall that Bhengu and his friends Alfred
and Gideon Buthelezi had all started out with a strong prejudice against
to a denomination. One does not know what promises had been made to
them in order to persuade them to join the Assemblies of God. Edgar
would have been wise not to make a big issue of the name on Bhengu’s
letterheads. But he was one who “went by the book” one
might say. It took all the tact and wisdom of H C Phillips, W F Mullan
James Mullan to defuse the situation in which we could easily have
Bhengu and all that he has meant to the Kingdom of God in this land.
There were other incidents that could be recounted but it is enough
to recall these two from more than fifty years ago to show that almost
the first the American missionaries were uncomfortable with developments
in South Africa. As things developed and the Assemblies of God became
increasingly indigenous, the American missionaries grew more and more
their demands and complaints, even though they had little right to
do so. After all, the American home board had actually withdrawn from
in 1933. Somehow American missionaries had come dribbling back to the
field but in 1958 they were again talking of withdrawal. By the time
an executive member in 1959, their over-riding demand was that we should
have a constitution. In fact we did have a constitution consisting
of seven points, but it was the barest minimum which enabled us to
do business and
register property. When questions of principle or procedures arose
it was our habit to delve into previous minutes of the General Executive
Conferences and form a judgement on the current issue in the light
of these past resolutions. In effect, we had a body of minutes which
served as a
quasi-constitution, or rather, set of by-laws.
I was quite content with this arrangement, the only one I knew. So
were some others on the General Executives including James Mullan who
strong opinions against having any constitution beyond the existing
document of seven points. The Americans were not. They told us we needed “a
policy”. For some time the use of the term “policy” genuinely
confused us, for we did have a policy on which we based our whole way of
working. We told the American missionaries that indeed we did have a policy
which we held to strongly. It took me personally, some little time to realise
that when the missionaries spoke of a “policy” they actually
meant something framed in the form of a constitution. Somebody had dubbed
our seven point document “the Bikini Constitution” because
of its brevity which covered so little. They wanted more.
At first I opposed the notion of a fuller constitutional statement.
I remember quoting to the General Executive the words “the genius of the British
peoples is to walk in the fog”. I reminded them that to this very
day there is actually no British constitution. I thought we could get along
quite well without writing things down explicitly. But the reaction of
our own blacks took me by surprise. Nicholas Bhengu said, “I don’t
want to walk in the fog; I must see where I am going”. For once the
American missionaries and Nicholas Bhengu’s black churches were
in agreement, superficially at least.
When finally the General Executive agreed to frame a set of by-laws
which together with our “Bikini Constitution” would enshrine
our working policy, the Americans were not satisfied with that. They
something very different from what we had in mind. They would be satisfied
with nothing short of an American model. They wanted to have South
Africa split up into regions, each with a regional superintendent.
would be confined to a particular region, would work under the direction
of his regional superintendent, and could only minister outside the
confines of his region if he had the specific consent of the regional
concerned. In effect, they wanted Nicholas Bhengu to be confined to
East London and to work under the direction of some missionary regional
The Executive responded to this by telling the Americans that far from
confining Nicholas Bhengu to a region in the Eastern Cape, we were
convinced he had a ministry for all of Southern Africa. We said, “If Bhengu
feels led to go and preach in Timbuktu, we’ll take up a collection
and send him there!” The audacity of these American demands astounded
me. Even Morris Williams who spoke for the Springfield missionaries
confessed that the American work represented less than five percent
of our membership
and that the African work numbered more than 90 percent. Yet they were
pressing on us these outrageous demands. Of course their plan was to
bring Nicholas Bhengu under their thumb. The same fate was intended
Mullan and his white assemblies.
When it came to personal reactions, I can only describe what went on
in my own thoughts. I genuinely could not believe that the Americans
truly wanting to apply such a heavy-handed policy. I had yet to realise
what it meant to be dealing with a bureaucracy which the American system
certainly was. My friend Irvin Schaffer, an American missionary, told
me one day, “Brother Bond, Brother Morris Williams is coming to South
Africa from Nyasaland to look into the whole situation of the Assemblies
of God here. He will tell you where you fit into the work. He’ll
do the same for Brother James Mullan and for Nicholas Bhengu”.
I simply laughed it off. But Schaffer had information at his disposal
he really meant what he was saying, arrogant as it was. Brother Morris
Williams did come to us in 1962. We received him cordially with open
arms and great brotherly love.
Morris Williams presented us with a list of demands, some of which
he said were negotiable, some non-negotiable. We spent two years talking
what he wanted. Again we found that when he used the term “non-negotiable” he
really meant it. We were too naive to realise that at first. But we
too knew what we could accept and what we had to refuse.
In 1964 the Americans split away, taking a number of black churches
with them out of the Assemblies of God. In all, 15 missionary couples
and two single ladies, a total of 32 missionaries. I was surprised
to realise how small the American contingent was for they were so dynamic,
and influential. I felt the work would fall apart without them. So
did they and they boasted of that possibility. In the event, it turned
to be a blessing in the long run. After a traumatic period that followed
their departure, our work took on an increasingly indigenous character.
Churches grew, stabilised and were blessed. Ministries from South Africa
came to the fore. We found we did not need the Americans after all.
We could manage quite well without them.
When Morris Williams told us in an executive meeting in 1964 that the
American missionaries were withdrawing, I asked him outright, “Are you forming
a new movement?” He answered, “Yes”. I then asked him, “Are
you taking a different name from ours?” He replied, “Yes”.
But it turned out that they actually took the name International Assemblies
I tried to convince them that they were pirating the same name as ours
but they ignored all pleas. I sought legal advice on the point just
to make sure that my contention was right. I was told that under the
Law of South Africa, an interdict could be sought and gained against
the Americans. Of course we didn’t take the matter to court. They got
away with it. But I don’t think they have been blessed in their
Some years later a group of them sought me out to apologise for what
they had done to us. They confessed that they had been influenced in
by certain recalcitrant black Assemblies of God members and ministers.
To quote their own colloquial expression, they said to me, “The very
people who led us up the garden path kicked us in the pants and we parted
Latterly, moves have been afoot to heal the past. The Assemblies of
God and the International Assemblies of God have jointly signed a declaration
of co-operative fellowship, but nothing very practical has come out
it as yet.
Looking back over 35 years, I believe the Missionary Home Board at
Springfield, America at that time went through a phase of missionary
Probably that phase has now passed and one hopes a better attitude
regrets all the unpleasantness, repenting too of one’s own guilt
in it all, for no one emerges from such controversy unstained.
When one is aware of the strength of the Assemblies of God now, where
conventions of seven to ten thousand people gather at the huge Thaba
Centre, and where Soweto alone has 18 congregations with churches erected,
several housing more than a thousand regular attendants, one feels
comforted. It was worth suffering to keep such a great work intact
and inviolate from