This update is related to the God’s Design for the Church in Africa campaign.
Can You Start from the Beginning?
South Africa, with its breathtaking scenery, bustling city life, vibrant culture, diverse adventures, and beautiful coastlines, draws thousands of tourists every year eager to experience its beauty.
Yet, underneath the beautiful landscape and seamless exterior of this country lies scars left from decades of apartheid. Literally meaning “apartness”, the South African apartheid presented itself much like racial segregation in the United States. Think segregated bathrooms, segregated buses, segregated schools, and much more, all of which favored the white population in terms of quality and accessibility.
If you’re visiting South Africa, it won’t take long to notice the undercurrents of its history still painfully surfacing: the oppressed lower classes, after many years of being deprived from proper schooling or religious education, now see a large gap in their learning. One place this is most evident is in the church. And not just among the church members, but equally among the church leaders, per native Tommie van der Walt:
I recently taught at a conference of about 50 South African pastors. The guy in charge of the conference had asked me to spend my session teaching on a passage of Romans. But about 10 minutes into the session a guy in the audience put up his hand and said, “Tommie, hang on just a second. There’s this one word you’ve been using: salvation. Can you explain to us what that means?” So I put down my notes, and leaving aside what I had prepared to preach on Romans, I started to talk through the gospel and explain what salvation means.
Tommie sees every day that although the apartheid ended nearly three decades ago, the impacts are still being felt among the majority of South African believers who are trying to live rightly, but experience a knowledge gap that prevents true, biblical understanding of faith. These men who are leaders in their churches, large and small, haven’t been taught the basics of the gospel. What they need is an opportunity to start over at the beginning of the gospel, so that they can learn the truth.
One out of every two children born in the next thirty years will be born in Africa, but many won’t have access to God’s Word. Your gift of $50 will provide Bibles to ten children. Would you partner with us to support the future of the global Church? Learn More.
Pastoring without Training
Growing up, Tommie was surrounded by the apartheid, but he wasn’t on the oppressed side. Instead, he grew up in a White, nominal Christian family, relatively unaffected by the oppression happening just down the street. His parents did the best they could to teach him the Bible, but “I went through a dark patch during my schooling, so my parents sent me away to boarding school.”
Tommie spent several years wandering from the Lord until two friends who ended up in the hospital witnessed to him from their hospital beds. The Lord used this time in his life to bring him back to the faith he learned about as a child. Through numerous providential events in the following years, the Lord would use Tommie’s conversion as a platform for ministry in his own still-hurting nation. But his heart was first prepared for that work through ministry work in India.
It was in India when Tommie first experienced the pervasive lack of accessibility to biblically sound resources. “I was asked to start a school of theology for some young men who were interested in ministry. To train them, I had to take my own books—some of them from Crossway!—and photocopy them to use as textbooks.” These men, aspiring to be pastors, had no way of accessing good quality texts. And as a result, they hadn’t received good training—if any training at all—to equip them as pastors.
After two years of ministry in India, Tommie and his family were sent home to South Africa due to government upheaval that banned visa renewals. He soon started looking for ministry opportunities in South Africa, encountering a similar situation from what he had just left in India: “The majority of people here are uneducated. They can’t read, and they don’t want to read. That results in a massive void with the combination of a lack of resources…it impacts the health of the church.”
Thus began the ministry of Imprint, with Tommie’s vision of training under-resourced pastors throughout South Africa. “This is where my heart is: to get pastors’ libraries filled with trustworthy, affordable resources and the training that goes with it to help their churches.”
The Impact of Pastoring with Training
Imprint will be five years old in August, and even through COVID lockdowns, Tommie has distributed more than 100,000 books for free to pastors and believers in need, along with thousands of others sold.
The majority of his work doesn’t happen by selling books online, though he does do that in small amounts. Instead, oftentimes “I drop a pin on a map and share it with the pastors of the remote mountain villages. Then these pastors come to the pin at the determined date and time. We set up camp for the day, where we train them and provide them with resources that they can take with them back to their villages.”
Tommie trains pastors not only in an effort to bring down illiteracy levels, but also to address the misunderstandings about Christianity that run rampant throughout South Africa. Making up about 50% of the population, 30 million South Africans would identify themselves as Zionists. Tommie defines this as “a mix of Christianity with cult or ancestral worship. They still slaughter goats, bulls, and chickens, and they believe in black magic.”
He goes on to share an example of what this looks like: “A pastor I worked with would stand behind the pulpit to share God’s Word with his limited understanding. After he prayed to close their time, he told the congregation, ‘If this isn’t helping you, meet me at my home after this and we’ll slaughter a chicken for you.’” These practices are ingrained into their lifestyles, and without proper theological training they may never know the difference between wrong and right worship.
The Lord‘s Telephone Is Not Broken!
Crossway is partnering with Tommie and his ministry to provide theologically sound resources to pastors throughout South Africa as well as countries throughout the southern part of the continent. He prints numerous Crossway titles, though the most notable might be Conrad Mbewe’s God’s Design for the Church: A Guide for African Pastors and Ministry Leaders.
Through a recent initiative, generous donors supported a project to supply this book for free throughout Africa to support pastors who may not have received theological training, like those reached through Tommie’s ministry. Tommie has helped to facilitate the distribution of more than 7,000 copies of Mbewe’s book in English. Currently, 12,000 copies translated into Zulu—a major language spoken in South Africa—are being printed and will be distributed to Tommie’s ministry network of pastors. In the book, Mbewe presents this call to action:
Statisticians tell us that 90 percent of the people who are currently functioning as pastors [in Africa] are untrained. . . . Thus, you have men who are ministering in churches but who do not know the history of the church, have not been taught Chrisian doctrine systematically, have not developed the skills of rightly handling the Word of God, and who have not been schooled in doing ministry work in and through the church. Does it surprise you, then, that there is so much confusion in [African] churches?1
Through the generosity of our partners, Crossway has been able to link arms in mission with Imprint. The teaching of the Word of God continues to go forth into all the world, even the most remote spots of South Africa. As the Lord wills, Tommie plans to continue to grow this ministry by taking the good news and theologically sound resources all over South Africa and beyond. And as he does so, he is choosing to trust in the Lord to make this happen. As he explains,
Every time I think, Are we going to make it? the Lord provides. Every time I think, Will I have enough books to give to these pastors in need? the Lord provides. And every time I think, Who can I ask to help me with this distribution? the Lord provides. The Lord’s telephone is not a broken telephone, and because of that more people are hearing the gospel, and more people are being saved.
Pray for the Lord’s provision of willing and eager ministry workers to join Tommie in this effort to reach pastors all over South Africa.
Pray that more pastors would become familiar with Imprint as a ministry, and therefore come to trust in their work.
Pray for the search to find an office and storage space so that the ministry of Imprint can continue to grow and thrive.
- Conrad Mbewe, God’s Design for the Church in Africa: A Guide for African Pastors and Ministry Leaders (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 173.