TOWARDS the end of 1947, in what was then Rhodesia, there was much activity in the Shangani Reserve, when the Roman Catholic Church was hastening to mark out as much territory for itself as possible. For many years previously the London Missionary Society had worked there but had not extended its work after establishing a preaching station, a school and a teacher training college. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland was also working in the Reserve. As far back as 1923, the year before Rev. John B. Radasi’s death, Mr John Mpofu, an elder, and his son Alexander, a teacher, had begun mission work in Nkai. Paul Magaya (or Ncube) was another indefatigable Free Presbyterian evangelistic worker in the Reserve, whom Rev. James Fraser often described as “our faithful evangelist”. A description is given of him by Alexander McPherson, who was building supervisor on the Mission, in his book, James Fraser – A Record of Missionary Endeavour in Rhodesia in the Twentieth Century.
There we read that in June 1947, Dr MacDonald, medical missionary, and Mr McPherson decided to visit the Free Presbyterian kraal schools in Shangani. “At Dankambella pan, a large clearing in the forest, Paul Magaya had his kraal. Magaya came out when he heard the car. A middle-aged man with a round black face which was badly pock-marked, his appearance was not prepossessing until he smiled. Then his features were transfigured with the most honest, friendliest countenance one could wish to see. One of those converted under John Mpofu, this good man was later appointed along with Alexander Mpofu, to be a paid evangelist, and none was more zealous than he in performing his duties. He was indefatigable in touring the outstations and might be encountered riding or pushing his bicycle anywhere within the limits of the Shangani mission, a large area indeed.”
Paul Magaya often accompanied Mr James Fraser in his mission journeys in the Reserve. In closing his Synod address in 1946, Mr Fraser said that in the previous year he and Paul Magaya went on a mission trip to Lupani and Gwampa River valleys. “Throughout our trip,” said Mr Fraser, “this man, who is of a very solid, unemotional type, had been very happy in his own quiet way. I said to him, You looked very happy throughout the journey, why were you so happy?’
” Well,’ he said, it is not so long ago since the Reserve was in total darkness, and even now there is only a little light, but the Word of God is in this Reserve, and the Holy Spirit is at work here too, and there is no hope for the powers of darkness. Christ must prevail. The whole Reserve will yet be lit up with the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ’.
“If we go forth in that spirit,” Mr Fraser added, “we can be sure that the Lord will acknowledge our efforts.”
In the varied descriptions of the work given by the late Rev James Fraser to the Synod over the years, or to personal friends, there are glimpses of the work of spreading the gospel done by Paul Magaya, along with others, some younger, some older than he. The following quotation from James Fraser mentions an incident one day in 1948, when Mr Fraser had intended taking certain new teachers to their various schools but had to change his plan. “The bus in the evening brought six young male teachers, quite new to their work and new to their surroundings most of them belonged to more civilised parts. James found accommodation for them in one of the school buildings and supplied them with food until Monday morning, when under the guidance of the faithful Magaya they set out, some on bicycle, others on foot, to travel distances up to 40 miles along forest tracks.”
In an address to the 1948 Synod, Mr Fraser said, “Despite a thin veneer of civilization, most of the men in the Shangani Reserve are heathen and cling to the old ways with the utmost vigour. . . Paul Magaya, a zealous and shining witness for the Truth, said to me the other day It is we who profess to believe who are a stumbling block to the heathen. We do not obey Christ’s command in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”.’ This indictment certainly does not apply to himself, for Paul is known far and wide as one who is very willing to spend, and be spent, in the Master’s service. An unpaid evangelist, he sacrifices his worldly interests to spread the Gospel among his people. A large proportion of his time is spent cycling round the Reserve, exhorting the congregations and seeking to bring the Gospel to places where the name of Christ is unknown. Plodding his way through the heavy sand, which is characteristic of all parts of Shangani, sometimes carrying his cycle on his shoulders, he has been known to visit seven widely-scattered stations in a week. The white folk would consider that he had done well if he had done this in a high-powered car.”
In October 1949, Mr Fraser was making a tour of an unusual kind. Quite often he would be accompanied on his trips by one, and sometimes by two, of the African elders. This time he undertook a tour of the Shangani Reserve stations with no fewer than four elders, and one aged male member. The member was old Nhliziyo, one of the most respected men in the Zenka district, and the elders were John Mpofu, Philemon Ndebele (father of Rev A B Ndebele), Paul Magaya and Alexander Mpofu (eldest son of John Mpofu).
Mr Fraser writes, “While Alexander and I examined the schools and arranged for services after school hours, the rest of the party visited the kraals, reading with the people, and urging them to come to the school to hear glad tidings from Heaven. At one station, where their efforts seemed fruitless, Nhliziyo was asked by the teacher if he liked the place. If we had come to admire the view,’ replied the old man, I should say this place is very nice, but since we are seeking precious souls and find them so bound by Satan that they will not listen to God’s Word, I consider this a very bad place indeed.’
“Round the camp each evening there were animated and profitable discussions all centring on the Truth. One evening Paul Magaya put the question, How is it that some professing Christians have all the appearance of true believers yet have no influence for good on the people among whom they live?’
“Paul wound up the discussion by quoting in full the words of that great servant of Christ whose name he himself took at his baptism, Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart’ (2 Cor 3:2 and 3).
“This memorable trip ended with a Communion season at Boda Boda, the second in the history of the station. The Spirit of God was manifestly present in convicting power. As Paul Magaya said that evening, pointing to the door of the school where the solemn services were held, Many people came out of that door today like wounded deer’.”
On one occasion, Zenka Kirk Session noted that despite the large influx of people who had come to live at Zenka, the congregation had increased very little. It was decided to bring the church services to the people. The headman of a heathen kraal agreed to have a service in his kraal, and about 100 people assembled there. It was decided that two short addresses should be given. Paul Magaya gave the first address using a vivid illustration: “You people who are running away from the Word of God and its claim upon you are foolish indeed. You cannot flee from God and find a secure refuge anywhere in this world or in the world to come, for God himself in Christ Jesus is the only refuge for sinners. All the refuges of time in which you trust will be destroyed and, unless you repent and believe the Gospel, you will be destroyed with them. You are like a lizard which hears the sound of approaching footsteps and, without waiting to see whether what is drawing near is friend or foe, rushes to the nearest dead tree and hides under its bark. The poor lizard does not understand that all dead trees are appointed for the fire and so it makes its refuge a thing doomed to destruction. If it does not see its mistake in time it will be burnt up with the dead tree. So it will be with you who run away from the sinner’s best friend, the Lord Jesus Christ! Have done with the refuge of sin and worldly pleasures lest you and they be thrown together into everlasting fire.”
Two lay preachers or paid evangelists were appointed for Shangani. One was Alexander Mpofu and the other was Paul Magaya. Mr Fraser wrote of them both: “Alexander is the more refined and more enlightened. He was trained at Lovedale and taught in our own school at Nkai for over 20 years, but Paul has sterling qualities too. His zeal for the truth is excelled by none, and his tenacity of purpose together with his great physical endurance bears him along where most men would fall by the way.”
Mr Fraser continued, “Towards the end of last year, Paul Magaya had a long spell of illness, accompanied by acute spiritual depression. When I visited him on Sabbath evening he seemed to be much more cheerful. When I asked him how he felt, he replied, My body is still very weak but I have been refreshed in soul by a dream, in which I believe God gave me a message of encouragement.’
” And what was the dream?’ I asked.
“He replied, I dreamt that I had set off on a preaching tour on my bicycle. Starting from Zenka I visited places in all parts of the Reserve, and then I kept on cycling until I reached the sea.’ (He had never seen the sea). There I found great activity people were rushing about and seemed to be preparing for war, aeroplanes were roaring overhead and there were many ships moving on the sea, and some under the sea. I stood by the sea shore in fear and trembling. A man came up to me and said, “Do you see all those wonderful inventions of men?” “Yes, I see them,” I replied. “And do you think men are very wise and clever when they can make machines which can fly in the sky and move under the sea?” he asked. “Yes, very wise,” I replied. “And what wisdom have you got,” he asked me. “Oh, I have no wisdom except that I believe in Jesus,” I replied. The man turned and looked at me, and said in a very solemn voice, “The wisdom you have is the only wisdom worth having. I have a message for you from God go back and tell the people of Shangani that unless they repent they shall surely perish by the sword. I have also a message which concerns yourself go home and open your Bible at Psalm 118, verse 17. The words you will find there you may take as God’s message to yourself.” When I awoke I remembered my dream clearly, and I looked up the passage to which I was directed. I found these words: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” These words have dispelled the gloom and darkness which gripped my soul and I am now joyful in heart, although weak in body.’
Mr Fraser concluded by saying, “Alexander and Paul are both eminently suitable for the work which has been committed to their care, and although they can only plough a furrow here and there in their vast field of labour, we trust their earnest efforts may be so blessed by God as to yield a rich harvest of precious souls.”