Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 26, 1968


Paul K. Williams

About 12 miles from the center of Johannesburg are the African townships, collectively known as Soweto. This short journey is, for the white man, a journey into another culture.

The city African is much more removed from the white man's culture than is the American Negro. Many, many of them grew up in tribal areas. They speak with pride of their tribes and observe their tribal dress and customs. Last Sunday I was speaking with a member of the Lamba tribe. This small tribe claims a Semitic origin, and long before the white man came here the Lambas were circumcising male babies and refusing to eat pork or any meat not slaughtered by an approved Lamba butcher. To this day they are very strict about circumcision. An uncircumcised preacher is in danger when working among them in their tribal area. If they discover he is uncircumcised, they will take him and remedy the matter.

As I drive along the streets of Soweto, I see many women dressed colorful. Some tribes dress their women in colorful anklets (nearly to the knee); others have the women wear large, bright collars from the chest to the chin. Among the most beautiful are those who wear tall, colorful headdresses.

Many women wear blankets, and an African can tell what tribe a woman belongs to by the pattern on her blanket. Some of the men are marked by small scars on their cheeks, put there by their parents when they were babies. Some of the Zulu men have split ear lobes in which they wear painted wooden discs about the size of a quarter.

The women carry most every load on their heads. They carry their babies on their backs, held there by a blanket fastened in front.

But these external things are merely indications of the deeper unseen cultural differences. Their whole way of life is governed by their tribal customs. If a young man wishes to marry a young girl, he must pay "lobola" to the girl's parents. The amount is set by tribal custom, as high as 20 cows in the case of a Zulu. Pagan customs concerning mourning for the dead, sacrificing an animal when a child is born, and other things are quite prevalent. Last Sunday I saw a procession of witch doctors in their outlandish costumes solemnly marching down a street to the accompaniment of drums and eerie wailing. When men and women are converted to Christ, they have to be taught to abandon these pagan customs. When they do, they are often scorned by their fellow tribesmen.

Most of the independent African denominations, and these are by far the majority of the African churches, have an anti-white bias. They draw much of their practice from African (pagan) customs and religions and scorn the teachings of the white man. They love "uniforms," and on Saturday afternoons and Sundays you can see men and women dressed in green, blue, white or red uniforms, some carrying flags, going to or from religious services.

Because of the great cultural separation between the African and the white man, and because the white man is always the "master" and the African is always the "servant," there is misunderstanding and mistrust between the two. The white man is always honored in their assemblies. They are sincerely grateful to have him come to teach them. But the white man has to work to develop a trusting and open relationship. A common complaint voiced by white preachers is that it is hard to get an African, even an African preacher, to "level" with you. There always seems to be something held back. I think this is because the black man does not trust the white man, and his defense is to tell the white man only what he thinks the white man should know. This distrust is not completely overcome even in the church.

I am working hard to overcome this distrust. I am working more closely with the Africans in Johannesburg than any white preacher in the church has ever done. The African brethren rejoice that this is so — that I have this much interest in them. This is establishing, I think, a trusting, understanding relationship between us. If we can continue to progress along this line as we already have, our work together will be most harmonious and fruitful.

— 56 Maud Street, Florida, Transvaal, Republic of South Africa