Grams: Outpouring of the Spirit

Grams_review_20200804

Rollin G. Grams. 2010. Stewards of Grace: A Reflective, Missions Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962. Eugene: Wipf & Stock.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the truly remarkable events of 20th century Christianity has been the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Pentecostal movement. It is also relatively undocumented. Rollin Grams’ book, Stewards of Grace, works to fill this gap. Rollin is the son of Pentecostal (Assembly of God) missionaries, Eugene and Phyllis Grams, who labored most of their careers in South Africa. He writes their story in their own words. The book is, however, more than an oral history or a travel diary. Rollin writes from the perspective of a biblical scholar who can interpret their experiences in terms of the biblical tradition.

Why might we, as Christians, read be interested in the lives of these quiet missionaries? Grams writes:

The Story of Eugene and Phyllis Grams is a story of one way to live justly amidst the social injustices of apartheid—the policy and practice of racial separation and inequality of South Africa. It is one way to live missionally before the needs of the world (x).

The words—live justly—and—live missionally—stand out here. Our lives in Christ are in tension with the world—how exactly do we deal with that and remain faithful to our calling as Christians?

Salted throughout the book are asides (he calls them capsules) to explain to a non-Pentecostal audience what is going on. For example, in an early capsule, Grams provides historical insight into the Pentecostal movement. Pentecostalism is often dated to begin with the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 (www.AzusaStreet.org) in Los Angeles, California. However, the Azusa Street Revival was one of many offshoots of the Welch Revival of 1904 and 1905 (19). Pentecostalism builds also on the much earlier holiness and faith healing movements (18). The multi-ethnic, multi-racial context of the Azusa Street Revival is a Pentecostal distinctive and an important contributor to its rapid growth worldwide.

Not all his capsules focus on Pentecostalism.  For example, Grams’ first capsule deals with Apartheid. What was Apartheid? Apartheid started in the Afrikaans Dutch Reformed Church whose General Synod ruled in 1857 that blacks should worship separately from whites. This doctrine pointed to God’s separation of the races at the time of the Tower of Babelthe whites viewed themselves as Israelites entering the promised land (3). This religious separation became law after the Nationalist Party gained control of the government in 1949. A series of laws were passed. The Mixed Marriage Act of 1949 made interracial marriage illegal. The Illegal Squatters Act of 1951 authorized the government to relocate into “homelands”. The Abolition of Passes Act required blacks to carry identity books at all times (4). It was in 1950 that Nelson Mandela was elected to the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress (ANC). After the abolition of Apartheid, Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994 (5).

Other than the capsules, Grams primarily writes a series of short stories. The book consists of 21 chapters that frame these stories. These chapters are preceded with a forward and followed by short postscript. Far from dry, Rollin poses a sense of humor that makes the stories come alive.

Apartheid is now history.  Historians will likely want someday to understand the events and people that led up to the quiet revolution in South Africa. The church likely played a leading role in this effort, even if historians gloss it over. I can tell you as someone who worked in international affairs that few people envisioned the changes that took place in South Africa. The role of Christians, such as the Grams, in providing hope to persecuted and reviled people cannot be underestimated. Rollin’s book provides source material for that evaluation.

A good screen writer could place this biography against a backdrop of the times and create a classic in Christian cinema.

Grams: Outpouring of the Spirit

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

 

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Rare Human Being: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela by Rev. Sindile Dlamini

Sindile Dlamini
Sindile Dlamini

Rare Human Being: Nelson Mandela

Our guest blogger today, Rev. Sindile Dlamini, comes from South Africa.

Nelson Mandela Tribute

The outpouring of sympathy at the passing of Tata Nelson Mandela still intrigues me. (Tata means father in Mandela’s Xhosa language). The global leader has left an indelible mark in the lives of many people the world over.

When I spoke to a colleague recently, he continued to express his grief for Mandela describing him as a rare human being.  As I pondered, Nelson Mandela was indeed a rare human being who was marked for greatness from his birth.

Background

At birth, he was given the following name: Rolihlahla. In our culture the naming ceremony of a child carries great significance as it determines a child’s destiny. When translated, Rolihlahla, means trouble maker. And Mandela would become a troublemaker of great significance as he dared to speak truth to power to the point that he was incarcerated for twenty seven years. At the dock, he dared to say he was even prepared to die for the cause of a free and democratic South Africa. In prison, he continued to be a troublemaker fighting for the rights of prisoners who were subjected to unbearable conditions. This caused him to win the respect of his jailers and on a wider context those who had imprisoned him to the extent that they were willing to begin negotiations for his release and set the stage for transforming South Africa into a democratic state.

Nelson

Another flash back to his names–while he attended primary school, his Methodist teacher gave him the name, Nelson, after the great Admiral Lord Nelson, a British Navy service man. It was the missionaries practice to give African people English names when they arrived in Africa.  Perhaps most African names were a tongue twister and they wanted African people to assimilate to the religious culture. Yet, on hindsight, this has led to DuBois’s “double consciousness.”  Like Lord Nelson, Nelson Mandela led and lived a life of service, consumed with serving his people through the political machinery and movement of the African National Congress party; leading to his appointment to serve as the first black President of a free and democratic South Africa. In this position he modeled reconciliation, forgiveness, and social justice.

Afterwards

After his death, we continue to reflect on a life well lived, a life that fulfilled its God given purpose and destiny.  As a South African living in the United States I marvel at how much our histories intertwine. When I mention that I am from South Africa, most people will invariably ask me about Nelson Mandela. Indeed he is a rare human being who touched lives not only in South Africa but in Europe, North and South America, and Asia.

In Psalm 2:8,  the Psalmist poses the following question: “ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession”. Sublimely Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela asked the question and God answered a resounding, yes, as evidenced by his life, service, and rare status.

Biography for Sindile

HU Stage Rev Sindile Dlamini
Rev Sindile Dlamini

Rev. Sindile Dlamini comes to Washington DC by way of Johannesburg, South Africa. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

In May 2011, she graduated with a Master of Divinity from Howard University School of Divinity. She started as the Research Assistant in the Office of the Dean and served as Secretary and Elections Coordinator for the Student Government Association.  In 2009, she was a Graduate Student Assembly Humanitarian Award recipient. She also received a Special Recognition Award from the School of Divinity Student Government Association.

She advocates for youth to participate in service projects in the city such as Martin Luther King (Jr) Day of Service and Howard University Alternative Spring Break Service Project. In this context, youth learn the value of giving back and making a difference in the community. In this way their service competence will effect positive generational change for the community, locally and internationally.

Ministry

She is also an associate minister at Michigan Park Christian Church under the leadership of Pastor. Marvin Owens and has served as a Board Secretary in 2011-2013 and participates as a Christian Education teacher.  In addition, in the wider community she is a board member for Life Restoration Ministry, Baltimore, MD. She serves as a Diaspora Coordinator for Vuka Africa Foundation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Currently, she is a Professional Chaplain at Howard University Hospital providing pastoral and spiritual care to patients, families and staff. In addition, she has previously worked as a chaplain at George Washington University Hospital. There she strengthened her pastoral care skills with palliative care patients and the trauma unit.

Publicly, she has appeared on ABC, NBC Channel 4 and Sheryl Lee Ralph Radio Show. There she talked about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela and highlighted Mandela as a symbol of social justice, reconciliation and service and truth.

Therefore she desires that her gift and calling advance the kingdom of God in all spheres of society.

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Unity in Christ’s Mission

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This past summer at General Assembly (GA) in Pittsburgh, I served as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate (TSAD) representing Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) in Charlotte, NC.  One of the highlights of GA for me was getting to meet both outgoing moderator, Cindy Bolbach, and incoming moderator, Neal D. Presa.  Neal later contacted me about serving on GA committee looking at the Belhar Confession (Belhar)[1] which I was unfortunately unable to follow up on because of my commitment to finish seminary.

Belhar arose as the South African Churches began to reflect on their role during the apartheid years (1948 to 1994).  The confession remarkably anticipated the abolishment of apartheid rather than simply ratified it. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church formally adopted Belhar in 1986[2].  By contrast, the secular response to Jim Crow legislation (the U.S. template for apartheid) was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which the PCUSA ratified in the Confession of 1967.

Reflecting on Belhar, the question arose.  What are the core principles of the PCUSA and how would Belhar enhance them?  Core principles normally reflect one’s deepest, jointly-held convictions. The Confession of 1967 guides our reflections on questions similar to Belhar. Does putting forward Belhar again suggest that we should amend the Confession of 1967?

The real story in South Africa is not that white churches adopted a confession; the real story is that they threw their doors open to all of God’s children.  What led these churches into revival?

Part of the South African revival story is a mission story.  A recent book by Rollin Grams, Stewards of Grace:  A Reflective, Mission Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962[3] documents part of this story.  Rollin is an NT scholar at GCTS and the son of Pentecostal missionaries, Eugene and Phyllis Grams, who labored most of their careers in South Africa among the black townships before it was politically safe to do so. Rollin writes their story in their own words. The book is, however, more than an oral history or a travel diary. Salted throughout the book are asides (he calls them capsules) to explain to a non-Pentecostal audience what is going on.  Far from dry, Rollin poses a sense of humor that makes the stories come alive.

An absence of priorities, not confession refinement, remains the PCUSA’s biggest challenge. Our membership is growing older and our young people are not joining the church.  Furthermore, our members are mostly Caucasian and wealthy while the young people in our communities are increasingly multi-ethnic and poor.  In this sense, the journey of the white churches in South Africa is also our journey—even my own personal journey during seminary.  How do we move from ratification to reformation?  What will lead our churches into revival?

This month Centreville Presbyterian Church welcomed its new associate pastor, the Reverend Dr. Jesse Mabanglo.  Like Neal Presa, Pastor Jesse hails from the Philippines.


[1]Download Belhar at: www.pcusa.org/resource/belhar-confession.

[2]Belhar is now one of the standards of unity of the new Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa.  Closer to home, the Reformed Church in America adopted it as a confession in 2010.

[3]Rollin Grams. 2010.  Stewards of Grace:  A Reflective, Mission Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962.  Eugene:  Wipf and Stock.

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