The Dutch Reformed Church in Botswana (DRCB)

The Dutch Reformed Church in Botswana (DRCB) is the eldest of the sister churches in the church family outside the South African borders. The church’s birth dates to 1877 when the first missionary of the Dutch Reformed Church, Rev. Pieter Brink, began missionary work at Mochudi in Botswana.

Botswana, the country of the Pula

Botswana is a huge country, but it is sparsely populated by just over 2 million people. Gaborone is the capital, and Setswana and English are the two most commonly spoken languages in the country. Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds. This trade, among others, transformed Botswana into a middle-income nation with a strong currency, the Pula, which means rain. Some of Africa’s largest and most picturesque wilderness areas are found in Botswana and safari-based tourism is another significant source of income for the country. As Africa’s oldest multiparty democracy, Botswana has the reputation of being one of Africa’s most stable countries in terms of politics. It is relatively free of corruption and has a stellar human rights record. However, the country also faces several challenges such as severe droughts and HIV/Aids.

Botswana, a Christian country

Botswana is generally considered a Christian country, as more than 70% of the population profess to be Christian. Groundbreaking missionary work was done by the London Missionary Society through the well-known Robert Moffat, his son, John Moffat, and his son-in-law, David Livingstone. Robert Moffat was the first to translate the Bible in Setswana. As a result of the work of the London Mission Society, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) was established and is one of the major churches in Botswana.

The DRCB and mission work in North-western South Africa

The origins of the Dutch Reformed Church’s work in Botswana can be traced to a farm called Saulspoort, near the Pilanesberg in the current Northwest Province of South Africa. The farm once belonged to Paul Kruger, former president of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (South African Republic or ZAR) which existed between 1852 and 1902. Evangelist David Mogatle Modibane and the Swiss missionary Rev. Henri Gonin from the DRC in the Cape Colony started missionary work among the Bakgatla people near Saulspoort in 1866.  However, there were clashes between Chief Kgamanyane of the Bakgatla and President Kruger over the laws imposed upon the Bakgatla (what Chief Kgamanyane saw as disrespectful treatment of himself by Kruger). Almost all the Bakgatla people, including many converts of the DRC mission endeavour, moved across the border of what was then called Bechuanaland. The Bakgatla people settled at Mochudi on the banks of the Ngotwane River. Rev. Gonin did not follow the Bakgatla people, but stayed on at Saulspoort where he continued his work.

Rev. Pieter Brink, who studied at the Missionary Institute in Wellington, worked with Rev. Gonin at Saulspoort for some years and learned to speak Setswana. In 1877 he and his wife, Anna Elizabeth, were sent to Mochudi by the DRC Cape Synod. Rev. Brink laid the foundations for the mission work but died in 1886 at the young age of 43 due to poor health. The German couple Rev. Emil Bernhard Beyer and his wife Anna (née Endemann) succeeded him. With them, Miss Mary Murray and Miss Lenie van der Merwe established solid groundwork in education, medical and social work. In 1877 Miss Debora Retief replaced Miss Van der Merwe.

When Chief Kgamanyane died in 1874, he was succeeded by his son Lentswe. Because of animosity between the Bakgatla and the Bakwena tribes, the mission could not expand beyond the Mochudi area. But, in 1892, Chief Lentswe converted to Christianity after the chief experienced an intense internal struggle during a time of seclusion in the hills. His conversion to Christianity meant giving up traditional practices, and he sent two of his three wives and children back to their families. After the chief converted, practically the whole Bakgatla tribe accepted the Dutch Reformed Church as the ‘people’s church’.

Mochudi was the first mission station to officially form a congregation, followed by Sikwane in 1885. Several schools were established at Mochudi and the surrounding area. The large church building at Mochudi was built in 1904 and is still used today. The church slowly expanded, and several church buildings were eventually erected in various towns in Botswana. Institutions for disabled persons were also established. Several other missionaries such as Revs. Willie Neethling, Pieter Stoffberg, D. J. Joubert, J. C. Knobel, Johannes Reyneke, and Ado Krige did wonderful work in Botswana. Generations of the well-known missionary family like the Murrays also laboured in this mission field. The first black minister of Botswana was Rev. Thomas Phiri.

 

 

Rev. Thomas Phiri

Numerous medical doctors also played a role in mission work in Botswana, among whom Dr G. H. J. Teichler, an eye specialist, will be remembered. The young Rev. Neethling also made a big impression. In 1896 the gable of the church building collapsed because of a storm, and it fell down on the young minister. He died saying: ‘God makes no mistakes,’ words that are remembered and quoted at Mochudi to this day.

Women who served in Botswana left enduring impressions. Debora Retief is one of the women who worked as a missionary in Mochudi for over 42 years. To this day, the Debora Retief Memorial Hospital is an esteemed institution where nurses also receive training. Agnes Krynauw worked at Mochudi for 22 years and the girl’s hostel of the Homecrafts Centre was named after her. Miss M. Vermeulen and Miss E. J. von Mollendorf built on these foundations. From 1975 until her retirement in 2006, Miss Elize Cronjé played a major role in the establishment of the Home Crafts Centre. Girls from across Botswana attended this centre to learn home economics and other subjects. Sadly, the Home Crafts Centre was recently destroyed in a fire, and not enough money could be raised to rebuild it.

In 1955 the two Botswana congregations, Mochudi and Sikwane, officially became part of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church of the Transvaal. Other Botswana congregations followed: West Mochudi in 1964, East Mochudi in 1969, Gaborone in 1970, and Makaleng in 1977. In 1972 the eight Botswana congregations formed their own presbytery.

After Botswana’s independence in 1966, the new government proclaimed a Societies Bill in 1973 with the result that only one Dutch Reformed Church was now recognised as the Dutch Reformed Church in Botswana. The question was if this church (the DRCB) would continue as a regional synod of the DRCA or formally become independent. After permission was granted from the relevant role players, the Dutch Reformed Church in Botswana officially registered as an independent church in 1979. The Afrikaans-speaking congregations of Lobatse in Gaborone also joined the DRCB. In the same year, the Northern Cape Synod seceded from the Western and Southern Cape Synod of the DRC and entered a partnership with the DRCB.

The church today

Today the DRCB consists of one synod and four presbyteries. It has approximately 10,000 members, 20 congregations, and seven branches. There are 27 preaching points that are ministered by 20 ministers.

Congregations are governed by church councils which have four statutory meetings in a year and several special meetings. The four circuits are made of about five congregations each and they hold their assemblies annually. The highest governing and policy-making body is the Synod which is led by the Moderamen. The Synod Assembly is held every two years.

The DRCB is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ as the head of the church, based upon the Bible as the holy and infallible Word of God. The Doctrine which the Church confesses, in accordance with the Word of God, is expressed on:

  1. The ecumenical creeds which consist of the Apostolic Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
  2. The forms of Unity which consist of the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the five Canons of Dort.

The training of ministers is coordinated by the DRCB Training and Development Committee. Previously it was done at Kgolagano College, the University of Botswana, and the University of Northwest. Of late, the Training and Development Committee has extended the pool and theological training in the DRCB. It takes place at the theological faculties and centres for professional development at Kgolagano College, University of Pretoria, University of the Free State, University of Northwest, Stellenbosch University and the University of Zimbabwe and Justo Mwale University in Zambia.

Ministers are serving Holy Communion.

 

Ministries of the church

  1. Children’s Ministry – This is commonly known as Sunday school for children ranging from the infant stage up to about sixteen years old. Most of these children attend primary school. The children’s ministry exists to communicate the love of Christ to the children. It is imperative to God that children are influenced by teachings from the Bible from an early age. While there is a curriculum, most of the time children are taught songs, Bible verses, and stories. The teachers are mostly volunteers from other action groups in the church, especially from the Mothers Union. Sunday school children then attend catechism classes based on the Thuto ya Bokreste booklet and eventually graduate to youth Mokgatlho wa Basha wa Bokeresete (MBB).
  2. Youth Ministry: Mokgatlho wa Basha wa Bokeresete (MBB) – In most cases, these are youth who have been baptised and confirmed in the church as full church members. The Youth ministry is intended to instruct and disciple the youth in what it means to be a Christian. It also teaches them how to mature as a Christian and how to encourage others to claim Jesus as their Saviour. This is accomplished through teaching, relationship building, and/or mentoring. The youth also engage in other activities for the common good of the young people, sometimes without an overtly religious agenda. The MBB has its own constitution which guides their operations derived from the church constitution.
  3. Women’s Ministry known as Mothers’ Union – Mothers Union embraces all married women and unmarried women who are over the age of 35. The Mother’s Union was established to provide spiritual growth and development to young ladies and mature women so that they can be encouraged, educated, empowered, and enlightened for personal improvement in their relationship with God.  The ministry facilitates their spiritual development by mentoring, modelling, and encouraging a positive image and Godlike character in them, while creating an atmosphere of encouragement and emotional bonds of trust among them. The group’s activities are centred on providing encouragement, education, empowerment, fellowship, and mentoring at the point of need. They visit the sick and the backslidden, raise funds for projects within their churches and provide that motherly love in the church. Just like MBB, Mothers Union has its own constitution which guides its operations derived from the church constitution.
  4. Men’s Ministry – Men’s fellowship embraces all men in the church. The ministry was established to serve as a counterpart of the Mothers’ Union. In other words, it serves men as the Mothers’ Union serves women.  The Men’s fellowship also has a constitution which guides its operations derived from the church constitution.
  5. Music Ministry – Often overlooked is the music ministry where the choirs preach the gospel through music. Different choirs are encouraged in the church e.g., Sunday school, youth choirs, male choirs, and church choirs.

Projects

The church owns projects aimed at integrating the disadvantaged groups in the society into mainstream education:

  1. Mochudi Resource Centre for the Blind– This centre caters for children with visual impairment. Visually impaired children in Botswana aged 3 – 6 and those in primary school between 7 – 12 years can receive stimulation, rehabilitation, resettlement, and life skills training programs at the centre. The centre offers the Extended Core Curriculum to children
  1. Podulogong Rehabilitation Centre – This centre provides stimulation, rehabilitation, resettlement, and life skills training programmes as well as residential services for learners that have completed basic education. Vocational courses like secretarial studies, business studies, computers science and so on, are also available here.
  2. Some congregations own nursery schools and a rehabilitation centre.

The DRCB has a standing partnership with the Government of Botswana regarding some of their projects regulated by Memorandum of Agreement documents. The church operates from its premises and the different congregations have their own premises of operation.

DRCB congregation members are celebrating the church’s 40 years of existence.

 

Challenges today

  • The DRCB has had difficulty expanding because of its agreement with the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) to focus on the Mochudi area and not establish congregations in the UCCSA’s core areas. Consequently, the DRCB is not a large church but energetic.
  • The DRCB faces significant challenges. They have a shortage of well-trained pastors and there is some tension and division in their ranks, mainly due to power struggles and gender issues. Maintenance of property is very expensive and some of the Afrikaans churches in Botswana do not want to join the DRCB. In Botswana, Neo-Pentecostal churches preach a gospel of prosperity and harbour questionable prophetic practices. These churches are very popular and are being established all over the country. Many DRCB members maintain dual membership with another church. The church struggles to maintain proper Sunday school and catechism classes. This poses the danger that members would not know the contents of their Reformed faith. HIV/Aids, poverty, generational gaps, and uncertainty about the church’s identity continue to be key challenges. The Covid pandemic has had a huge affect on the church attendance and also the resulting financial income.
  • For a long time, the standard of training offered to ministers locally has been diploma-level, hence most of the ministers have obtained a Diploma in Theology. The Training and Development Committee has worked hard on correcting this situation. This alone causes a number of problems.
  • The inability of congregations to pay (call) ministers.
  • The church’s voice against the secular world. The church has seen the government passes laws that are anti-Christian.

Endeavours

There are, however, also many commendable efforts and much to be thankful for. Dedicated leadership is working hard to strengthen and expand the church. Recently the Reformed Church in Zambia (RCZ) has sent a missionary pastor to assist the DRCB and there is a fruitful partnership of mutual assistance between the DRCB and the DRC Northern Cape Synod. These partnerships between congregations bring increased energy. The creation of new possibilities for the training of pastors, such as at the Northwest University, Mahikeng Campus may also boost the church. With help from the government, the DRCB runs three schools for children with disabilities, thereby contributing to society.

The DRCB has also indicated that they are very keen to participate in the reunification process of the four domestic churches of the DRC family in South Africa.

Contact

Mrs Letjani Moatshe
00267 72260977
lmoatshe@gmail.com
drcbsynod@btcmail.co.bw