A field of one million pray-ers

Deborah Froese with files from Miriam Maenhout Tshimanga
June 16, 2017
Mennonite Church Canada
A million people in a field
Young women in church uniforms
Poster with mission statement
Winnipeg, Manitoba

They were called and they came, a million people from every corner of South Africa. They gathered in an expanse of field near Bloemfontein for the largest prayer meeting the country had ever seen.

"This [Bloemfontein] is the centre, or the heart of the nation,” said organizer Angus Buchan as the event began. “And we are asking God to change the heart of our beloved nation, beginning with our own hearts.”

He went on to say, “We will ask the Lord to bring justice, peace and hope in our beloved South Africa.”

In 1991, South Africa ended apartheid, a legalized form of racial segregation, but some say the culture it created lingers, creating varying degrees of poverty, mistrust and oppression. (See Journeying toward reconciliation:reflections from South Africa.)

Buchan is a well-known evangelist and writer in South Africa, said Miriam Maenhout Tshimanga. She and her husband, Hippolyto Tshimanga, moved to Bloemfontein last year to serve as a Mennonite Church Canada workers. Buchan’s faith and a relocation with his family from Zambia to South Africa are chronicled in the well-received 2006 film, Faith Like Potatoes, based upon a book by Buchan of the same name.

The prayer service began with the national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika. “Actually, that is a prayer in itself,” Maenhout Tshimanga said. The title means “God bless Africa,” and contains lyrics in the five most widely spoken languages of South Africa.

Following the anthem, Buchan shared a sermon that called on the leaders of South Africa to place God above all else. The event focused on James 5:16: “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

“We firmly believe that if our nation stands together as one and calls upon the name of Jesus Christ,” Buchan said, “He will hear us and heal our nation and bring peace to our hearts and homes.”

The April 22, 2017 prayer meeting came about in response to a video clip posted on social media by a middle-aged farmer. Speaking in Afrikaans, the farmer noted that God had sent rain in abundance when the country prayed for rain, and he pleaded with Buchan to call the country together to pray for peace. And then he said in English, “Uncle Angus, we are waiting for you. Say the word and we will come.”

The video clip went viral and its message resonated with Buchan. He said he felt the Holy Spirit saying two things: “It’s time” and “one million people.” He posted those phrases on social media, and within a few hours, he had thousands of positive responses from across the country.

Although the program was scheduled for noon, it was delayed until 2:00 p.m. to allow people who were still in transit from across the country to arrive.

One million people fell to their knees for a time of personal prayer followed by a communal prayer from Buchan. He prayed that God might end crime and racism in the country. After each prayer item, the crowd shouted a powerful “amen” and Shofars (ram’s horns) echoed across the field.

“I think that everybody went home with a very positive feeling,” said Maenhout Tshimanga, “and I hope that things will change for the good in South Africa.”

Miriam and Hippolyto serve as Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in Bloemfontein, South Africa. They came in response to an invitation from Grace Community Church (GCC), a community of five congregations, to assist with Bible training and leadership development. They also plan to provide entrepreneurship training for members who struggle to earn a living wage.

Photo Credits: 
Miriam Maenhout Tshimanga