Late last year, I was blessed enough to be part of a very fruitful two-week mission outreach to Phoenix, a Durban township with a population of approximately 700,000, more than 95% of which are Indian1. Phoenix has the largest Indian community outside of India in the entire world. This student outreach was organized by the Dutch Reformed Church on the Free State University Campus, in combination with the Phoenix congregation of the Reformed Church in Africa, a traditionally Indian denomination. Having not known too much about Phoenix or Indian culture in general before I went, the trip was really an eye-opener for me, and it also broadened my perspectives on many aspects of life. The church in which we stayed for the two weeks serves a small, Reformed congregation of approximately 200 members, and it is so close to a huge overwhelming Hindu temple that they almost share a wall. About 100 metres from the church in another direction, there is a mosque, and we often woke early in the morning to the sound of prayers to pagan or heathen gods. Coming from an Afrikaner culture, where the dominant religion is lukewarm “Christianity,” it was refreshing to visit a place where it actually really meant something to call yourself a Christian. The spiritual growth we experienced there through – praying constantly, studying the Bible, singing hymns, sharing the gospel with unbelievers, and fellowshipping with each other and the small Indian Christian community undoubtedly made the trip worthwhile. What really revealed God’s grace during the trip was the number of doors that were opened for us as we did house visitations. All this occurred despite an extremely high crime rate in the community, and despite that a great part of the Indians are staunch followers of their traditional religions. I was amazed at how friendly the Indians were to us as a group of white Christian students from the Free State, the province which until 1994 had the strictest immigration laws concerning Indians in the entire country. One of the two people who were actually regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit through our ministry was a 76-year old man, who was a Hindu all his life. I went to see him the day after he formally repented of his sin, denied the Hindu gods, and confessed Jesus Christ as Lord. Ironically, our conversation did not primarily revolve around the gospel, but rather around politics and the history of South Africa. He told me some inspirational stories. He had personally met the country’s first state president, C.R. Swart, and he has a great respect for the Boer-Afrikaner culture and history. In fact, he appreciates everything we did to develop the country, and also told me that the country was generally in its best condition under the National Party government of the 1960’s and 70’s. He said that the lies of the contemporary liberal media about that era angered him.
During the missions trip itself, I was reminded of, and maybe for the first time in my life realized, the great importance of preaching the gospel to unbelievers. When Christ ascended into heaven, the last question the disciples asked Him was whether He would restore the kingdom of Israel before He returned (Acts 1:6). He answered them that this should not be of primary concern to them, as it is a matter of God’s eternal decree; they should not primarily exert themselves to re-establish the earthly kingdom of Israel (v. 7), but rather be His witnesses to all nations everywhere (v. 8). Christ here revealed to his disciples the right perspective towards life. He encouraged them not to seek the glory of earthly, temporary things, such as kingdoms or nations, but to seek the glory of God’s eternal kingdom (Luke 12:31; I Cor. 10:31). The disciples were once again reminded of their primary identity, which Christ showed them in John 15:19 (NKJV): “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Thus, because as Christians our hope is not for the things of this world, we should eagerly and constantly seek to fight our sinful nature, occupying ourselves with works that advance God’s kingdom and have eternal value. There are, of course, various ways in which man can do that, but the purpose always remains the same. In living out the principle of soli Deo gloria, “the Reformers made no distinction between the spiritual or temporal; sacred or secular. They believed that God had created us to be workers or producers and that whether you were in the pulpit, orchard, or kitchen all that we do when done by faith would bring glory to God.”2
Missionary work is of greatest importance, as it is one of the most obvious means by which God is glorified. Psalm 98:3 says, “He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” Isaiah 66:19 identifies the primary motivation and purpose of missions, which is so often missed by the modern church: “I will set a sign among them; and those among them who escape I will send to the nations . . . to the coastlands afar off who have not heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles.” In the past, missionary work has so often been approached from an anthropocentric perspective, where the salvation of those who come under the hearing of the gospel becomes the primary and even the sole motivation. The biblical, theocentric approach focuses primarily on the glorification of God through missionary work and keeps in mind that it is solely the Holy Spirit who can regenerate and change man’s heart (John 6:63). While missionaries should wholeheartedly and rightfully rejoice when someone comes to faith through the hearing of the gospel, they should also rest with the Lord’s sovereign decrees and his divine purposes when the gospel call is rejected by the hearers.
A second means by which God is glorified is through an ethno-nationalist, rather than a civic nationalist, view of the nations that Christ was referring to in Matt. 28:19 and Acts 1:8. The reason is that the Biblical definition of nations is clearly kinist and familial rather than imperial, and the Bible teaches that the geographic distribution and separation of peoples does not serve as the basis of the formation of nations, but is simply the consequence thereof (Gen. 10:5; Deut. 32:8). An obvious question many would now ask is how love for one’s own people and ethnic group can be reconciled with Christ’s explicit command to share the message of the gospel with all people, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. Again, the answer lies in a theocentric, biblical worldview. For the secular humanist on the one hand and the Gnostic/Pietist on the other, these two principles would be very difficult to reconcile, because they see conflicting interests in giving one’s time and love to people of other groups and races, while at the same time having a particular and unique affection for one’s own race and culture. For the Bible-believing Christian, however, this is never a problem, since neither kinism nor missionary work among the nations are purposes in themselves, but both are simply means by which God is obeyed and glorified.
The Indians were imported to Natal during the second half of the 18th century by the imperialist British government to work on the sugar plantations. This influx of immigrants from India was only stopped in 1914.3 This was a destructive step by British imperialism, who took these people away from their homeland and brought them to another British colony, without showing much respect for their culture and providentially-given identity as Indians, but rather viewing them as an inferior class of citizens of the great British empire. The fact that the Indians settled in such great numbers in the country also made the National Party’s implementation of Verwoerd’s policy of separate development very difficult in Natal, because the Indians were not an indigenous group and therefore did not have a territorial homeland. Nonetheless, God has a way of using man’s sin and making something good thereof, and just as He did in the life of Joseph (Gen. 50:20), He decreed that this misstep on the part of the British empire would eventually lead to an opportunity for many of these Indians to hear the most important message they would ever hear, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ, through the preaching of the white Christians who settled in South Africa from Europe. This is once again a wonderful revelation of the plan of salvation God has for his people and shows us, as Afrikaner and Western Christians, the responsibility we have towards a world that has fallen into sin and is in desperate need of redemption, to share the message by which we have been saved and in so doing, give glory to the One who saved us.