It seems that many Christian ministers aspire to serve in a larger city and church setting which carries with it a degree of prestige and prominence. Not a few Christian ministers struggle a bit to serve contentedly in a smaller church and community context which may bring less esteem and eminence.
Faithful ministers with appropriate motives are needed in both larger and smaller ministry contexts, of course. Whatever size ministry setting Christians find themselves in, they need to realize the crucial importance of the service opportunities God has entrusted to them presently. And they should willingly give themselves to carry out heartily their present ministry responsibilities.
Andrew Murray eventually became the most prominent pastor in South Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But the first eleven years of his pastoral career were spent ministering in a smaller, isolated community and in a vast, sparsely-populated frontier region. He gave himself wholly to that demanding ministry and as a result experienced a good degree of fulfillment and fruitfulness in it.
Murray was born and spent the first ten years of his life in Graaff-Reinet, Cape Colony, South Africa. After spending a decade getting his secondary and university education in Scotland and Holland, he returned to South Africa in 1848 to begin serving as a minister at age twenty. He was assigned to serve as the first pastor of a new town and British military outpost, Bloemfontein, which had been established two years earlier beyond the northern border of Cape Colony.
During the 1830s and 1840s around 20,000 Boers (Dutch farmers) had migrated from Cape Colony to the immense regions north of the Orange and Vaal Rivers. In addition to ministering at Bloemfontein, Murray served as the first settled minister to the voortrekkers (Dutch pioneers) in that vast frontier region of nearly 50,000 square miles.
When Murray arrived at Bloemfontein it had about fifty houses, a few stores and shops, a courthouse and prison, a military fortress and barracks, and a schoolhouse which doubled as a church meeting house until a separate church building could be erected. As Bloemfontein was home to a British military outpost, most of the town’s residents were English. Initial attendance at the Sunday afternoon English-speaking worship service averaged around seventy. A smaller Dutch-speaking worship service was held Saturday evenings. Sunday school classes were held for English and Dutch children as well as the children of a group of African Bushmen who lived nearby Bloemfontein.
The plains throughout that region teemed with a wide variety of game and wild animals. Once while traveling to hold services at a location about seventy miles from Bloemfontein, Murray had to cross a wolf-infested plain at a time when they were very fierce. After fording a river, he dismounted to rest his horse. When the grazing animal heard a pack of wolves approaching, it spooked and ran off. Carrying his pack on his shoulders, Murray had to walk some twelve or fifteen miles to the nearest house. “How did you do it?” the surprised farmer who lived there inquired. ”I knew I was in the path of duty,” Murray answered calmly, “so prayed to God to keep me, and walked straight on. The wolves snapped at me but did not touch me.”
Between 1849 and 1852 Murray carried out four ministerial tours in the area north of the Vaal River known as the Transvaal. During the first itineration, which lasted just over six weeks, he traveled some 800 miles on horseback and by ox-drawn wagon. He conducted a total of thirty-seven services at six different locations. In addition, he baptized 567 children and interviewed well over 300 young people for church membership, 167 of whom were accepted upon their clear profession of faith in Christ Jesus for salvation.
While Murray would wear a beard throughout most of his adult life, at this time he was still clean shaven and looked quite boyish. But he quickly gained the respect of the Transvaal Boers through his serious, confident demeanor, his overwhelming fervency and his willingness to sacrifice himself for their spiritual wellbeing.
A contemporary testified of the intensity and gravity with which Murray ministered on the frontier: “When preaching, so absorbed was he in his message that should he by his violent gestures knock down Bible and reading desk of the impromptu pulpit, he would not notice it. Solemn were the confirmation services when, before the final confirmation promise was made, he would lift his hand, and with deep emotion would adjure them not to reject the Savior, saying, “If you do and promise falsely to be true to Christ, this hand will witness against you in the day of judgment.”
The residents of some of the areas where Murray ministered pleaded with him to accept their call to leave Bloemfontein and come as their settled pastor. When two men arrived from a settlement some 300 miles beyond where Murray was ministering during his first Transvaal tour, he had to tell them that he would not be able to come and minister in their area for eight months.
He afterward wrote his parents: “When the men heard that they could not be visited for such a time, they were in tears, as they had hoped I might go with them, and when they left again they could not speak. I hardly know what to say when the people begin to discourse about their spiritual destitution and their desire after the Word. Suppose another minister should refuse to come here, but be willing to take Bloemfontein, what would you think of my coming here? … The way in which some of the people here plead really moves my heart. Many are in a fit state for receiving the seed of the Word. May the Lord in His mercy help them.”
Murray had promised to visit the Transvaal’s northernmost Dutch settlement at Zoutpansbergen during his fourth ministry tour. But when word came that the settlers at that location were suffering from repeated attacks of malaria and that several individuals had already died, he was strongly advised not to proceed into that unhealthy region. Since arrangements had already been made for the services there, however, Murray considered it his duty to fulfill his ministerial obligation.
After he arrived there he learned that in recent weeks twenty-four of the 150 settlers at Zoutpansbergen had perished from malaria, eighteen of those within a fortnight of contracting the disease. No home had been spared from death. The majority of those isolated people had not had access to religious services for several years and were overjoyed with this opportunity.
# # #
I have written a comprehensive biography on Murray entitled Andrew Murray, Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.
Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie