BEGINNINGS IN SOUTH AFRICA
At the time of the merger that gave birth to The Pentecostal Holiness Church, Jacob D. Lehman was a missionary in South Africa having arrived in 1903. He was from Pennsylvania originally and a member of the Brethren in Christ Church.1
While on leave in America in 1907 he heard the dynamic messages concerning Azusa Street and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Before returning to Africa he received his personal Pentecostal experience. In 1912 he was granted membership in the newly formed denomination. In 1913, he applied to be accepted as a missionary of the church. He apparently had his support from independent sources and was accepted to serve as a missionary of the denomination without remuneration. With his acceptance as a missionary, it gave him the distinction of being the first missionary of The Pentecostal Holiness Church in Southern Africa. The year 1913 became a historical marker for the work of thousands of nationals and many missionaries who have dedicated their lives to the spread of the Light of The Lord Jesus Christ across the continent that was known for many years as The Dark Continent.
Rev. J. Brooks in his book, Mighty Moments, records the following concerning a Rev. Henry C. King, who was a member of the North Carolina Conference. “In 1912 he stepped out by faith and went to Liberia, West Africa to preach the Gospel. He had been there only twelve months when he was stricken with a deadly tropical disease. Some other missionaries helped him onto a ship and he returned home very sick and frail but still alive. God spared him for a purpose. He survived the ordeal and married a lovely lady, Miss Donnie Eldridge. Together they raised a fine family and continued their ministry for many years….” Without this information, his sacrifice may have gone unrecorded in the history of Missions. As the permanent work of the denomination had its beginning in Southern Africa, the history follows from Lehman as recorded herewith.
In 1914 while in America, Rev. Lehman came in contact with the Rev. K.E.M. Spooner and his wife Geraldine M. Spooner. They were anxious to leave for Africa as missionaries, but had not found a missionary board or society to sponsor their ministry. They decided to return to Africa with the Lehmans. The fare was miraculously supplied and although they did not have passports, they were able to obtain them in England. They landed in Cape Town on January 21st,. 1915. Rev. Lehman enlisted them as missionaries of the Pentecostal Holiness Church. The two couples labored together until in 1921 when the Lehmans returned permanently to the States.2
Rev. Spooner was born in Barbados, British West Indies and his wife in Port Lemon, Central America. Both were well educated and the story of how they met and God’s guidance in their lives can be read in the book Sketches of the Life of K.E.M Spooner. Five years after their arrival in South Africa an official of the government informed him that it was the fault of the officer at the port that they were permitted to land. There was a law that the Colored population could not be increased from without the country. Technically this would have prevented their entry. God had again provided for them.
At the first conference held in South Africa in 1922, the Spooners were officially recognised as missionaries of the church. His churches were brought into the Conference. In the same conference he was elected as Assistant Superintendent and he served continually in this capacity except for one year when he was in America, until his death.
His twenty-two years of missionary work were outstanding. The Lord enabled him to organize 60 churches and mission points, seven day schools, 23 Sunday schools, 2 Pentecostal Young Peoples Societies(Youth Ministries) and organized an annual camp meeting at Phokeng which lasted from ten days to two weeks. This camp meeting continued annually until in the nineties, when the logistics of holding it there caused its demise.
On Sunday the 28th, of February 1937, Rev. Spooner was called into the presence of the One whom he had served so faithfully. Following an emergency operation for appendicitis, it seemed that they had not reached the cause of the problem. The doctors decided to operate again. They performed the operation, but he was too weak to recover. It seemed an untimely death, but God does not make a mistake.
Some of the remarks made concerning Rev. Spooner by missionaries, government officials, national workers and friends of many races give a more complete picture of the true worth of this man to the Kingdom of God “Notwithstanding that social relationship in South Africa is very much influenced by a strong color prejudice, Mr. Spooner became the personal friend of most Europeans(White population in South Africa) with whom he came in contact, and even those whom he only occasionally met always spoke.
Brother Spooner was truly a Godly gentleman. “As for his spirit of sacrifice, I know of none who have excelled him…” “He was an educator. He had no children of his own but he always manifested a great interest in the spiritual and temporal welfare of other people’s children…” very highly of him. The reason was that the goodness of his character was transparent. One had only to meet him to appreciate his frankness and candor…” His own last words to his wife are significant as to his love for the work of the Lord. He said “My dear wife, be brave, carry on and do not let the work of God die.”
Mrs. Spooner or Mother Spooner as she was usually called did carry on. She was the inspiration of all who met her. She was a pioneer in the work of the Women’s Prayer Bands and Woman’s Auxiliary. There were two churches built that bear her name. During Vacation Bible Schools held in later years in Phokeng, she would usually be the first to reach the hall and would sit through most of the morning hours, enjoying all that was being taught to the children. Wilhelmina Kgoadikgoadi was adopted by the Spooners and lived with them until her marriage to Arthur Grootboom. They cared for Mrs. Spooner when in her latter years, she could no longer care for herself. In 1971, at the age of 98 she was ushered into the Lord’s presence.
In a fitting tribute the women in their annual convention following her death, stated, “We, your Committee on Memoirs regret the passing of our Beloved Mother, Geraldine M. Spooner. She lived a saintly life and was an example for all of us to follow. Her presence will be missed but her life and works yet speaketh. She went to be with the Lord on 25th’, December 1971..”
While the Lehmans were working in the Johannesburg area and the Spooners were working in Phokeng and the Rustenburg areas; God was working in the heart of a young man in America. In Falcon, North Carolina God was speaking to Joel E. Rhodes. As he prayed, he heard the call to go to Africa. Being obedient to the Lord, he began to make his plans to go as a missionary.
In 1917 Rev. Rhodes and his family arrived in South Africa. They began work in the area of Krugersdorp. Rev. Rhodes was asked by the church officials to oversee the work that had been established. District Conferences were held as early as 1920. In reading the reports of the various workers, their personal sacrifice can be seen as they reported of the many miles they travelled by cart and by foot.
In order to unify the work, Rev. Rhodes realized that they needed to form an annual conference. This took place in Sophiatown, outside Johannesburg on the 19th, and 20th, January 1922. This was referred to as “General Conference” in the minutes.
Minutes of that conference gives the names of nationals who from the beginning of the work, helped to open churches in new areas and to assist with the organization of the denomination on the District level. These were now elected to serve on the Conference level. S.E. Mokhesi was elected as General Secretary and Jafta Manyako was elected as General Treasurer. Rev. J.W. Monagane was appointed as Evangelist and Dan Rangaka was listed as Trustee. Twelve delegates represented the expanse of the work. The Districts were listed as Rustenburg, Witwatersrand, Middleburg and Maquassi. In the evening service on the 20th. Akila(Aquila) Kgoadikgoadi of Doornkop, Middleburg District was ordained as an Evangelist. This family has been active members through many years in South Africa.
In the business session of that first annual conference the main item of business was concerning the translation of the church Discipline into some of the languages of the members. It was agreed to translate parts of it into Sesotho, Setswana and Zulu.
In writing about the ministry of Rev. Rhodes, Rev. D.D. Freeman stated, “Rev. Mr. Rhodes was our greatest missionary. He spent thirty years on the field. He walked, rode bicycles, wore out three motorcycles, camped out through all kinds of weather and put his whole soul into the work he loved.”3
In Krugersdorp is the first church ever built in Africa for the Pentecostal Holiness denomination. Built by Rev. Rhodes, in Munsieville in 1917 it still stands in the 21st.Century.
During his tenure of office he chose to move the headquarters from Krugersdorp to Pretoria. They needed a church to serve as Headquarters church. Rev. Rhodes took much of his own funds and built a church. The board wanted the church to bear his name, but he chose to name it after his daughter, Gloria. He apparently did not write a lot of articles or books, but rather spent his time preaching and building churches. He was responsible for erecting 24 buildings. Some of the buildings were churches. Others were schools or missionary homes.
In Pretoria in the home of the late Mr. Stevens, Rev. Rhodes organized a church consisting of friends of the White community, and this formed the foundation for a conference that was later organized. Miss Ethel Stevens, one of the charter members of that congregation, later was to become a missionary of the denomination. Mrs. Rhodes worked faithfully by the side of her husband and was, together with Mrs. Spooner, instrumental in starting the work of the Women’s Prayer Bands.