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Review: Thandabantu

Gregory Edward Reynolds

Thandabantu: The Man Who Loved the People, by J. Cameron Fraser. Belleville, Ontario, Canada: Guardian Books, 2010, 70 pages, $7.25, paper.

This sweet little book tells a large story in a very modest but poignant way. Adding to its moving content is my own association with the author and vicariously with the various Orthodox Presbyterian missions in Africa. J. Cameron Fraser was a classmate of mine at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, graduating a year ahead of me in 1978. He and his wife, Margaret, left a lasting impression on my wife, Robin, and me.

The book is a personal supplement to an earlier, more complete biography by Alexander McPherson published in 1967 by the Banner of Truth Trust, James Fraser: A Record of Missionary Endeavor in Rhodesia in the Twentieth Century.

Faithfulness in the cause of Christ is the theme of the book and the characteristic of the man, James Fraser. His African nickname Thandabantu means "the man who loved the people." His unflinching love for his Lord moved him to love the Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean) people, as the wonderful black and white photographs of the homes of the Frasers quietly testify. The family home in Strathpeffer, Scotland (23) is an elegant country house, standing in stark contrast with the thatched hut in which James Fraser, and eventually his wife, lived in Zenka, Rhodesia (39) from 1938 to the year of J. Cameron's birth, 1954. For the last five years of his short life, James lived, with his family, in a slightly more commodious dwelling in Mbuma (52).

In persuasively presenting the need for the gospel in Rhodesia to the 1946 synod of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Pastor Fraser recounted an exchange with an African travel companion, Paul Ncube:

Throughout the trip this man, who is of a very solid and 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 that 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 Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ." If we go forth in that spirit we can be sure that the Lord will acknowledge our efforts. (35-6)

James and his wife, Christine, gave their lives to this effort. Making way for gospel preaching and the building of the churches were the twin labors of education and medical assistance, the latter being the labor to which Christine devoted most of her energies. Indefatigable workers, the Frasers wore themselves out by their midforties, most likely making them more susceptible to the diseases that caused their deaths. But their labor was not in vain. Several touching stories of conversions enrich this very personal account.

My only regret is that the 1967 biography is out of print and rare on the used market. This missionary narrative stands with the best works in that inspiring genre. The clarity of the gospel articulated in the confessions of Reformed churches is, as John Nevius and John Paton attested, the only sure foundation for missions. I highly recommend this little book.

The book is available in the U.S. from Reformation Heritage Books

Gregory E. Reynolds
Amoskeag Presbyterian Church
Manchester, NH

Ordained Servant Online, December 2010.

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