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The vision for the Grahamstown Evangelistic Mission grew out of our daily Bible Study and Prayer Fellowship, which I initiated in my first week of National Service at 6th South African Infantry Battalion. As the Bible Study grew and as we had the joy of leading fellow soldiers to Christ, we were praying over how to reach the next intake, which would come in July 1980. When I suggested organising an Evangelistic Mission during the first month of the next intake, there was excitement. But, inevitably, hard realities were discussed: Initially, there will be over 2,000 conscripts. How on earth could we reach them all? How could we possibly organise permission? What venue could possibly be big enough? Who would be the best Evangelist to invite?
Well, I immediately knew that Rev. Roger Voke was the ideal man. Roger Voke was a dynamic Evangelist and the most challenging speaker that I had heard at Holiness Conventions at Glenvar Bible College and Keswick Conventions. Roger Voke had trained me in Evangelism Explosion.
The Chaplain’s Office
After completing my infantry training, I was assigned to be chaplain’s clerk (which meant that I cleaned the church buildings, rang the bell for services and drew up the Part Two Orders for Chaplain services, etc., The chaplain had given me a key to the building to accommodate our Bible Study and Prayer Meetings each night. I handled some basic correspondence and collected the mail for the chaplain, amongst other duties. It also meant that I had access to the chaplain’s stationery.
So, I had the audacity to handwrite a letter, on chaplaincy stationery, to Rev. Roger Voke, asking if he would be willing to be our guest speaker at the “Grahamstown Evangelistic Mission” for the July 1980 Intake. The letter included the details of how many men he would be ministering to and how I planned to arrange for further meetings in the local churches and schools in Grahamstown.
Within a few days, an enthusiastic reply came back from Roger Voke accepting the invitation and informing me that he had contacted Rev. Frank Retief of St. James Church of England to requisition their music and drama team. He also mentioned his intention to invite Rev. Harold Peasley to conduct an Evangelism Explosion Clinic for our Bible Study and Prayer Group members, to better prepare us for counselling, follow up and outreach to our unit.
Attempting to Achieve Authorisation
He asked a whole number of logistical questions which led me to take ever more bold and unauthorised steps towards realising this dream. After morning P.T. and a stint at the shooting range, I found the chaplain smoking his pipe and reading the newspaper in his office, so I asked what he thought of inviting Rev. Roger Voke, an international Evangelist, to be a guest speaker for an Evangelistic Mission to the new intake in July. Without pausing in reading the newspaper, the Dominee extracted his pipe and said that he doubted that the Commandant would give permission and anyway there was no venue big enough to accommodate all the troops.
Approaching the Commandment
I realised that there was a tension between the commandant, who was apparently Gereformeerde (Reformed) and the chaplain, who was NGK (Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk). I had a good rapport with the commandant’s secretary (she typed up my Bible Studies along with the Part Two Orders for the chaplain services each week). So, I requested a meeting with the commandant. The Commandant was somewhat surprised to see a simple Rifleman march into his office. He asked: “What is on your mind, son?” “Sir, I have just come from speaking to the Chaplain. I was proposing an Evangelistic Mission to reach the new intake with the Gospel and the Dominee was questioning whether you would grant permission.” The Commandant looked surprised and replied: “I have no objection to any measures that you may organise to bring the Gospel to every intake of this unit. Our men must hear the Gospel!” I saluted, thanked the Commandant, did an about turn and marched smartly out of his office.
The Transport Hanger
With that tenuous verbal encouragement, I marched over to the Transport Hanger and found the Lieutenant in charge. “I have just been speaking with the Chaplain and the Commandant. We are planning an Evangelistic Mission for the new intake. We need your Transport Hanger to be cleared of all vehicles in time for the event.” The Lieutenant was aghast. “But it will take a week to clean out this Transport Hanger. Many of the vehicles in here cannot even be moved without repairs, or being towed!” I looked at the man and asked: “So what do you want me to tell the Chaplain?” The man looked intimidated at the mention of the Chaplain, who had the equivalent rank of Colonel and therefore was the highest rank in the base. “Well, of course, we will do it,” he assured me.
The Logistical Arrangements
Then I followed up with a request for a vehicle and a driver to go to town to organise services, school assemblies and the loan of over 2,000 chairs. The Transport Officer apparently assumed that I had the necessary authorisation, which actually I did not. So, through prayer, bluff and audacity, I arranged services in many churches in town, school assemblies in every school in town and hired the 1820’s Settlers Monument main auditorium for a special final Sunday night Evangelistic crusade, to which all in the town would be invited. I also arranged to borrow, from different schools, enough chairs to fill the Transport Hanger for the over 2,400 Officers, NCO’s and soldiers anticipated for the Evangelistic outreaches every night at 6th SAI Bn.
Enthusiasm for Evangelism
The enthusiasm throughout the town was intense. Every church I approached was eager to participate. Doors were opened to every school who were eager to welcome the respected international Evangelist Roger Voke to address their assemblies, including all students, teachers and staff. Christian fellowships that I was running at the local Rhodes University and at the local Nurses hostel at the Hospital also got involved and helped with the organisation. Youth groups eagerly combined for special events.
In the next weeks, a stream of memos, phone calls and letters were issued from the chaplain’s office. Which the chaplain was mostly unaware of, as he tended to play golf frequently and was seldom actually in the office. Juggling military duties with chaplaincy duties was challenging enough. Organising an intensive 12-day Evangelistic Mission with over 40 meetings, required going into hyper-overdrive.
Funds Run Low
There was such a shortage of funds. While I was able to use my salary to pay for the printing of the large A2 posters to advertise the Roger Voke Crusade at the 1820 Settlers Monument, I could not afford the typesetting costs and so, with a ruler and a permanent marker, produced the simple design myself.
The week arrived. By then I had accommodation arranged at the homes of different pastors and church families in town, all eager to host the members of the music and drama team and Rev. Roger Voke, Rev. Harold Peasley and Rev. Roger Horward, who would be leading the music and drama team.
The Part Two Orders
One of my duties was to write out the Part Two Orders and take it through to the Commandant’s secretary to type up and have it roneod (before photocopiers we used Gestetner Roneo machines which printed from wax stencils through a perforated drum) and distributed to all companies and sections. The chaplain never checked my draft of the Part Two Orders. So, I always took them straight through to the Commandant’s secretary. Each day I allocated a different company to report to Wenela e.g. Alpha Company - All Ranks 10 am at Wenela Hall for Chaplains period: Guest speaker: Rev. Roger Voke.
Lunch Time all Officers at Officers’ Mess for special lunch and message from guest speaker: Rev. Roger Voke.
19h00 All Officers, NCO’s and all Ranks, all Companies at Transport Hanger for special Evangelistic Rally: Guest Speaker: Rev. Roger Voke. So, it went on. Every day a different Company for Chaplains service. At some lunch times, special meetings for either the NCO’s, or Officers. Every evening, a combined Evangelistic Rally in the Transport Hanger.
City-Wide Evangelistic Campaign
Meanwhile, another parallel programme was being designed to maximise the use of the team. Each morning, the music and drama team and Evangelistic speakers were being booked for different school assemblies, normally 8 am, including Saint Andrews College, Kingswood College, Diocesan School for Girls and Victoria Girls. On both Sundays, the team was split up between different churches in town, including the Methodist, Baptist and Assemblies of God congregations. It all culminated the final Sunday evening with the Crusade, which packed out the main Auditorium in the 1820 Settlers Monument overlooking Grahamstown.
The Moment of Truth
The Part Two Orders were published every Friday morning and I waited with bated breath. A roar of anger from the chaplain’s office alerted me to the fact that the dominee had noticed my innovations in the schedule. He ordered me in and gave me a severe talking to and said that he was going to rescind the orders. When I reminded him that the Commandant had given his permission for any initiatives we could take to ensure that all intakes are thoroughly Evangelised, he dismissed it out of hand. I saluted, did an about turn and left the office in a state of prayer.
Because it was that time of the day, I walked to the base Post Office to collect the daily mail. One letter stood out amongst all the others. The gilt and purple triangle of the Chaplains Corp alerted me that this was a letter from the Chaplain General. After delivering the envelope to the Chaplain, who was still steaming, I soon heard another exclamation of surprise.
The Chaplain General
Apparently, the Chaplain General of the South African Defence Force had been informed by Roger Voke of the Grahamstown Evangelistic Mission. The Chaplain General was now congratulating and commending the Chaplain for his tremendous initiative and Evangelistic vision! Moreover, arriving at the railway station that afternoon was a consignment of equipment which he thought would make our event more effective, including audio visual materials, PA systems, extra 16mm projectors, overhead transparencies, slide projectors and much more. The Dominee could not even look me in the face as he told me to arrange transport to collect the consignment so generously made available by the Chaplain General for this Mission, which now, no longer seemed to be cancelled. I knew better than to try ask any questions at that sensitive moment and responded with a “Yes Sir”, a firm salute, about turn and went rejoicing on my way to arrange transport. A tonne of bricks was probably going to fall on my head when the whole schedule was over, but the Mission was a “Go!”
I welcomed the convoy from Cape Town, saw them to their hosts, then gave them the detailed daily schedule. I thought Rev. Voke would be happy with the packed programme that I had arranged, but he exclaimed! “Peter, you want kill me!” He started rattling off the daily speaking engagements arranged for him and declared: “This is not a schedule! This is a marathon race! No human being can possibly keep up with such a schedule!” He then started to reassign some of the engagements that I had arranged for him to Roger Horward, Mark Dickson and Harold Peasley. The team seemed somewhat intimidated by the intensity of the schedule. They phoned Newton Park Baptist Church, down in Port Elizabeth, to send up their choir to assist and there was a flurry of activity to rise to the challenge of the Grahamstown Evangelistic Mission schedule.
Evangelism Explosion Training
The next day, Saturday, Harold Peasley had 34 of our Bible Study and Prayer Group members to train in the 6SAI Bn. Chapel. We were taken through the Evangelism Explosion Training programme of Dr. James Kennedy.
Coffee Bar Outreaches
That evening several of the team attended our Bible Study and Prayer Fellowship and coffee bar event. The team informed us that they had brought a trailer of thousands of biscuits donated for our coffee bar outreaches every night at the military base. There was unprecedented excitement at all this activity and we never had so many visitors at our coffee bar or Bible Study and Prayer Fellowship. Evangelistic conversations were intense.
On Sunday, I joined the teams that were ministering at the Methodist church and at the Baptist church. Others were spread out amongst a variety of congregations in Grahamstown.
On Monday morning, the Military programme swung into action. Every morning there was a different Company at the Wenela Hall. Each Lunch Time there was a special Evangelistic message, either at the NCO, or Officers’ Mess. Every evening the Transport Hanger was packed with over 2,400 soldiers of all ranks. The Commandant and all his staff were right in the front row. The St. James Music and Drama Team and the Newton Park Baptist Choir were very well received and the applause and cheers was often deafening. Roger Voke was on top form. He was, without a doubt, one of the most dynamic Evangelistic speakers I had ever heard.
At the end, 99 men came forward to publicly commit their lives to Christ. Each of our trained counsellors had to counsel three men. It had been a long and busy day. Each day had an average of 5 Evangelistic meetings at local schools, churches and the military base. Yet, at the end of that day, I saw Roger Voke straightening out hundreds of chairs. Those of us who were not at the coffee bar, or counselling, felt suitably chastised and immediately threw ourselves into straightening the chairs, so that our guest Evangelist, who was at least three times our age, could get some well-deserved rest. It was almost midnight that I finally got to the door of my bungalow and there was another National serviceman standing waiting for me. “I should have gone forward tonight,” he said. “Is it too late?” I beamed and declared: “No, it is most certainly not too late. Tonight 99 people came forward and I wondered where was that one lost sheep that the Lord said we should leave the 99 for, to seek after.” It was a perfect ending to an amazing day.
The Harvest Was Large
To hear over 2,000 soldiers sing: “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise!” was inspiring. We counselled over 360 soldiers that week. I have no idea how many people came forward at the Evangelistic meetings at the churches, schools and at the Grahamstown Evangelistic Mission’s Rally in the 1820 Settlers Monument that week. But it was many.
Intense Ministry Marathon
Each night, or rather early hours of the morning, as our head finally hit the pillow, we were out, cold. It seemed we had no sooner got to sleep than the bugle sounded for 5am P.T. Each day was packed with logistical challenges, Evangelistic encounters, counselling opportunities and intensive prayer in action. It was a never to be forgotten intensive outreach, which transformed many lives.
Long Term Abiding Fruit
There was no doubt that many lives were transformed and quite a number mentioned to me that they were called to dedicate the rest of their life to Missions. Now, 40 years later, I can look back on numerous of those soldiers and several students in town, who ended up in Operation Mobilisation, Youth With A Mission, Wycliffe Bible Translators and a host of other missions worldwide.
Everything has Consequences
It was an exhilarating experience to have dared to organise an Evangelistic Mission to reach our entire Battalion and the adjacent town, without exactly having the authority to do so. Of course, the military has a way of dealing with those who buck the system. I knew that what you sow is what you will reap. There are consequences for everything. There is a price to be paid. As I was waving goodbye to the Roger Voke Evangelistic team convoy, heading back to Cape Town, as the last car passed out of sight around the bend, I felt a hand on my shoulder, a military policeman. The Chaplain had laid charges against me for breach of military discipline.
There followed weeks of CB (Confined to Barracks). That does not sound so bad, but CB was designed for AWOLers, drug addicts and other delinquents. CB involved wearing a red helmet, full kit and at the double, drilling and P.T. throughout the day, interspersed with inspections, with only a 2-minute break between each hour of intensive at the double drilling or P.T., rock sit-ups, etc. Those in CB are targets for sustained Punishment P.T.
There were NCO’s who remembered that I had ordered the bars closed for blasphemy and that I had laid a charge against an NCO for repeated blasphemy. For these and a number of other issues, there were grudges to settle and individuals keen to see that I got what was coming to me. Standing at attention while the corporal stubbed out his cigarette on the inside of my arm, or held a hot iron against my arm, or stood on my shoulders while I was doing press-ups, again and again, I repeated the verses: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
Not that all of the NCO’s were unsympathetic. There were a few individuals who quietly apologised to me saying they understood what I had done and greatly appreciated it and admired me, but they had a job to do. Those individuals would allow the 2-minute breaks each hour to be longer and the P.T. to not be quite as intense when others weren’t watching.
It Was All Worth It!
But it must have been disturbing for some of the new Christians to see the organiser of the Evangelistic Crusade, Bible Study and Prayer Group, treated like a criminal delinquent. Attendance at the Bible Study and Prayer Meeting dropped off during that time of disgrace. But I think I went through that 3 weeks of at the double CB drilling and punishment P.T. with a smile on my face, because the whole time I kept recollecting, remembering and relishing the memories of what had been accomplished and experienced during that incredible Grahamstown Evangelistic Mission. It was definitely worth it!
William Carey declared: “Attempt great things for God! Expect great things from God!”
As I reflect on how this audacious campaign had succeeded against the odds, I dared to dream of smuggling Bibles across hostile borders into Marxist countries we were at war with, such as Angola and Mozambique. So, the vision for Frontline Fellowship was born. As C.T. Studd declared: “Some like to live within sound of church or chapel bell, I would like to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell!”
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
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