In 1869, William Hunt—a gold prospector in California—attended evangelistic meetings run by J. N. Loughborough in Healdsburg. Hunt accepted Adventist teachings and promised Loughborough, “By the Lord’s help I will be faithful to the truth as you have shown it to me.” Hunt then left America, travelling to the gold-diggings in Australia and then to the Diamond fields of the Kimberley.
The June 6, 1878 issue of the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald published a letter by J. H. C. Wilson—formerly a local preacher of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Kimberley. Wilson stated that he and five other people—including his wife—had decided to accept SDA beliefs as a result of literature they had received from William Hunt. Nothing more is known about Wilson and the group he began.
Also in the Kimberley, Pieter Wessels—a Dutch Reformed Christian—studied his Bible and became convinced of the truth of the Seventh-day Sabbath. As a result, he was disfellowshipped by his local church. In a 1924 letter he records what happened next: “ About a month after I had begun to keep the Sabbath, Brother van Druten came to me and reported that a Brother William Hunt, an old man living in Beaconsfield was keeping the Sabbath. He had explained to Brother van Druten the teachings of Daniel and Revelation. Brother van Druten reported that there were Sabbath-keepers in America. I was astonished.”
“ Brother van Druten handed me a copy of the Review and Herald which he had received from Brother Hunt. I was not able to understand much of the English but I kept the paper. I read and followed the texts of Scripture from the articles. To my mind they agreed with the Bible….Shortly after this experience Brother van Druten and I went to Brother Hunt and asked him to write to our people in America. We requested that they send us a Dutch minister.”
The letter included £ 50 to help pay travelling expenses. It took two years for their request to be answered, but on July 28, 1887 a party of six: D. A. Robinson, C. L. Boyd (and their respective wives), G. Burleigh, and R. S. Anthony arrived in Cape Town on the Hawarden Castle. None of the group spoke Dutch. The Hawarden Castle
D. A. Robinson C. L. Boyd Robinson remained to work in Cape Town, while Boyd travelled to Kimberley
C. L. Boyd travelled back to Kimberley with Pieter Wessels. Wessels and van Druten had not been idle while they waited for assistance from the GC and Wessels records that there was “a company of ten or twelve Sabbath-keepers” in the Kimberley when Boyd arrived. Soon after, an SDA Church was established in Beaconsfield with twenty-one charter members—the first in South Africa (Orange Free State).
The first SDA Church building was built in Beaconsfield, Kimberley in c1888.
The early work of the SDA Church in Southern Africa was solely amongst Whites. R. W. Schwartz points out that, “ C. L. Boyd became interested in presenting the message of salvation to the African tribal peoples in the area, but his ‘individualistic temperament’ kept him from gaining support among his fellow workers. Before he could develop a program for native Africans he was recalled in 1890 to America.” Light Bearers to the Remnant , 224.
Roeland Street Church in Cape Town—the second SDA Church in South Africa.
The third church in South Africa was established in 1889 in Rokeby Park in the Eastern Cape as a result of the work of D. F. Tarr.
In 1891 diamonds were discovered on the farm of Johannes Wessels—Pieter’s father. Johannes received over 1.25 million dollars from de Beers for his farm. The Wessels family had previously travelled to the US and had been impressed with the SDA institutions there. As a result of their generosity and vision, the SDA Church in South Africa was able to establish a number of denominational institutions in the Cape Town area—Claremont Union College (1893), a Sanitarium also in Claremont, ? Sentinel Publishing House, and ? Orphanage.
The Claremont Sanitarium opened in 1897. It had 51 beds and was modelled on the Battle Creek Sanitarium. It cost £50,000— £30,000 of which was supplied by the Wessels family. The four-storey building was fitted with expensive imported European furniture and fittings.
The Sanitarium was relocated to Plumstead c1904 following a fire at Claremont; this was the original location of the orphanage.
In 1892 there were 130 members in South Africa, and the Cape Colony Conference was organized with Asa T. Robinson as its first president. The conference administration was located in a building at 28a Roeland St, Cape Town. Asa T. Robinson, his wife Loretta, and daughter Gladys.
The first press was donated by the Review and Herald publishers in America, and arrived in South Africa in 1890. In 1892, the press moved to the basement of the Roeland St Church in Cape Town where it operated for four years. The South African Sentinel was the first magazine published—in September 1895. 4300 copies were printed. Its Dutch counterpart was De Wachter .
Richard Moko was a Xhosa who was the first black SDA minister in South Africa. Unfortunately, very little is known about his life and work. He may have been a minister in the Congregation Church. Moko was baptised in the Kimberley in 1895 and granted a licence to preach in 1897. He worked mainly in the Eastern Cape at King William Town, East London, and various rural areas. He wrote the first tract that the SDA church in South Africa published—in 1895—in an African language (Xhosa).
Daniel (Danie) C. Theunissen was the first coloured ordained SDA minister. In 1905 he was given a six-week Bible worker’s course and employed as a full-time evangelist. He was ordained in 1911. Theunissen worked in Cape Town and was instrumental in founding the first coloured SDA church in South Africa. It was built in York St, Salt River, in 1918. In 1922 he was unwilling retired at the age of 49—apparently for financial reasons. Despite this he continued to labour full-time as a minister. In 1930 he travelled as a delegate to the San Francisco GC Session. His son—Daniel Gold Theunisson—was the first graduate from Good Hope Training School to enter ministerial work.
References: J. B. Cooks “Richard Moko—First Indigenous Minister of our Church in South Africa”. (Available from the Adventist Heritage Centre at Helderberg College.) Jean Cripps, “Our History” series Trans-Africa Division Outlook November 1970-October 1971. I. F. du Preez, and R. H. du Pre, A Century of Good Hope: A History of the Good Hope Conference, its Educational Institutions and Early workers, 1893-1993. East London: Western Research Group/Southern History Association, 1994. Keith Tankard, Richard Moko: The Very Strange Case of an African Missionary http://www.knowledge4africa.co.za/eastlondon/moko.htm William A. Spicer, Our Story of Missions for Colleges and Academies. Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1921. L. F. Swanepoel, “The Origin and Early History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in South Africa, 1886-1920.” MA, University of South Africa, 1972.
This PowerPoint presentation has been produced by Jeff Crocombe for a class on SDA Church History and Heritage at Helderberg College in Semester 1, 2006. It should not be used without giving credit to its compiler, nor reproduced in any way without permission. You may contact Jeff Crocombe at: [email_address]