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Spearhead

Miriam Butcher (née van Reenen) shares her Spearhead experience. 

 

“1967 was a very special year for me. It was the year in which churches working together in the greater Wynberg area joined forces to bring African Enterprise to do an evangelistic campaign. I was invited by a Baptist friend to attend a tent meeting on the Plumstead cricket field. At the time, I had a month to go before my 19th birthday and was working at the Old Mutual.

 

“What a meeting it was for me as there was so much fun, enthusiasm, wonderful songs to fill one's mind and make one think. Above all there were the testimonies and the Bible teaching. I could not wait to go back the next night and all nights following to hear more. As Michael Cassidy preached and challenged us to come to Jesus who had died on the cross so that we could have His forgiveness and eternal life, I knew the message was for me.

 

“Following the tent meetings Michael also preached during the week of Pentecost. I was filled with the desire of having the Holy Spirit work in my life. 

 

“All of this started a delightful time of worshiping at St Luke’s. This was such a great time of learning and being able to get involved in the wider circle of St John’s Parish. This in turn led to work with the Africa Inland Mission. My gratitude to St Johns Parish and in particular to St Luke’s is enormous for the support I received during the 35 years I worked with AIM.

“Thank you, African Enterprise and St John’s Parish for your work in preaching the Gospel.”
Miriam settling into life on the islands with her cat. After some time others joined her. Farewells at the airport drew a crowd in those days. Heather, Lilian and Miriam on the islands (r)


There is a very interesting back-story of this outreach.


The Rector of the Parish, Stanley Wakeling and Bruce Evans, at the time, Minister of Christ Church, were very concerned about the ‘young people of all races of the southern suburbs of Cape Town, who were largely unreached by Christianity’. They met together with many other Church leaders, of all denominations to see what could be done to reach the teens and young people of Kenilworth, Wynberg, Plumstead and Diep River.


Together, they decided to invite Michael Cassidy and the African Enterprise (AE) team to come and work with them. The 2002 book ‘African Harvest - The captivating story of Michael Cassidy and African Enterprise” by Anne Coomes, shares some of the background. Thank you to AE for giving us their enthusiastic permission to use quotes from the book.


It was not going to be easy

“Nothing was going to be easy. For starters, the Security police, who by now were entertaining perennial suspicions of AE because of its disregard for apartheid ideology, were alerted by some conservative Christians to the mission symbol which included a spear, interpreted by them as a military symbol. Surely this AE must be linked to Mkhonto weSizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress! They accordingly tried, though vainly, to block AE’s non-racial meetings. Then African Enterprise and the churches had agreed that the original contacts with the young people would have to be made outside the church buildings themselves. There had been churches in the area for years, and their impact on non-Christians was minimal. It was useless to imagine that young people of the southern Cape suburbs would suddenly wake up one morning and say, “Hey, let’s really enjoy ourselves – let’s go to church!”


CHUM groups

“No, the place to get in touch with the unchurched youth of the area was where they already were – in their homes. This was a new idea for African Enterprise to try out. So CHUM groups (Christian Home Unit Method) were founded and set up. They were based in the homes of 30 different Christian families from Diep River to Plumstead, from Wynberg and Kenilworth to Ottery. Christians able to lead such groups needed very special skills, and the AE team trawled over 25 congregations looking for just the right people. The team then trained their 30 CHUM leaders in a series of preparatory classes.


“Then there was the backup needed: each CHUM group also needed hosts, speakers, song-leaders and general staff. The task involved was gigantic, as most of the people were quite unfamiliar with such programmes.


“So Spearhead kicked off with 30 small groups meeting informally for several months in people’s homes. Christians invited their non-Christian friends and schoolmates. The CHUM evenings followed a pattern of fun singing, food and skits to produce a congenial atmosphere. Gradually, it would finally move on to a non-threatening proclamation of the gospel.”

 

Tent meetings

“The city’s press were intrigued, then friendly, then determined to give the mission good coverage. Soon Spearhead was in the headlines. This had a fortunate snowball effect, and by the time the main week of meetings in the tent began, there were nearly 800 young people inside. For the following ten nights between 600 and 800 young people came each night. The tent in the Plumstead Cricket Ground was filled to overflowing, and Chris and Paul outdid themselves by providing the most varied musical programme yet. Soon several hundred extra seats had to be added outside. Skits and drama featured regularly. Some conservative Christians complained about ‘guitars’ being used. “If you compare the Psalmist’s orchestra in Psalm 150.” Replied Michael in a magazine article “you’ll find the Spearhead orchestra conservative by comparison!”


“By September the South African Baptist newspaper concluded: For many churches and Christians in the Cape Town suburbs, Spearhead has lived up to its name. It has made a strong thrust into the life of the community’s young people with the news of Jesus Christ. The job is not yet finished, but Spearhead has been one more step on the road to this goal.”

 

Rob Wakeling also recalls the event:

 

“I remember Michael Cassidy explaining the ABC of becoming a Christian: Admit, Believe, Come. C could also be Consider or Commit. Sometimes D was added standing for Do or Decide. Mission meetings were held in a big tent in Plumstead and in the Wynberg Methodist Church Hall. The team headquarters was in the small Cottage Hall, which was originally the Sunday School Hall at St John’s.”


After the event, the Rector Revd. Wakeling in his editorial in Advance, encouraged the parish,

“If the Churches are to hold these young people, there must be a welcome for them and youth activities in which they may find a fellowship which will help them grow in the knowledge of the faith… Can they find these things in our Parish?”

It is a good question.

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