Dutch Reformed Church: Morgenster Mission

Dutch Reformed Church

Morgenster Mission

Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) missionary, Andries Adriaan Louw, established DRC’s first mission station in Southern Rhodesia at Morgenster in 1891. Despite poor health and not yet being ordained, Louw was the only one to answer the call for missionaries by Reverend S.P. Helm following Helm’s exploratory trip to Mashonaland the prior year.

Louw set off by ox-cart in April 1891 accompanied by seven Sotho-speaking African evangelists. After a laborious journey of several months, they reached Chief Mugabe’s mountain near the Great Zimbabwe ruins. With the Chief’s permission, a mission was established on 9 September 1891 about 35 km from Fort Victoria (Masvingo).

The mission was named Morgenster (meaning morning or day star) after the house Louw grew up in his hometown of Paarl, Cape Colony. The mission was granted 6000 acres the following year by Dr. Jameson, the British South Africa Company’s administrator of the territory.

Louw’s wife, Cinie, later joined him and they began their ministering among the Karanga. Five years later, the first two converts were baptized. The work grew rapidly and within ten years of their arrival, in 1901, the first outstation (prayer house), Pamushana, was established. The first presbytery meeting of the Church in Mashonaland was held in 1918.

A mission school was started in 1892. A school for evangelists was begun in 1925 with Reverend Henry Murray (Sr) as the first lecturer. A seminary was established in 1936.
The first African pastor, Rev. Ezra Shumba, was trained and admitted to the ministry in the late 1930s. As of 1936, the mission already employed one thousand school teachers, who were required not only to educate children, but also to spread the Gospel.

By 1948, schools for girls, the deaf and dumb, and another for the blind, had also been established. A printing press was installed at Morgenster to enable the Church to provide mission literature in the vernacular language.

DRC began one of the earliest medical missions in the territory when it opened a hospital at Morgenster in 1894 with the arrival of medical missionary Dr. John T. Helm. Dr. Helm also ministered to lepers, starting a voluntary leper settlement at Morgenster in 1899. By 1912, the number of leper patients had grown to 40. In 1913, the government removed the lepers to a farm in the neighboring Native Reserve.

Dr. M. H. Steyn arrived at Morgenster in 1924. Under his supervision, the John Helm Memorial hospital (1930) and Cinie Louw Memorial hospital (1934) were established. In recognition of his many years of service, Dr. Steyn was awarded the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1951.

Morgenster Mission was handed over to local control on 4 May 1977, which at that time consisted of the Teachers College, schools, hospitals, Theological College, printing press, Mabuku (department of church bookshops), Munyai Washe (the Christian church magazine), Penya (the evangelism outreach program) and farm.