South Africa General Mission: Rusitu Mission Station
The Rusitu Mission station is located in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe in Chimanimani (formerly Melsetter), approximately 5 miles from the border of Mozambique and 75 miles south of Mutare (formerly Umtali).
The South Africa General Mission began in 1889 under the leadership of Mr. Spencer Walton and Rev. Andrew Murray, its first president.
Cecil Rhodes, who was trying to establish British control in the area in competition with the Portuguese, had invited Scottish missionary, Andrew Murray, to establish mission stations along the edge of the Chimanimani mountains (which he did at Silinda in 1895).
In 1897, three missionaries, Harry Raney, John Coupland and Dudley Kidd set out on a lengthy and hazardous journey from the coast up into the Chimanimani area. Shortly after they arrived at Rusitu, Copeland died of malaria. The initial focus was on the soldiers and sailors in the Cape Town area. But the mission soon expanded to broader evangelism among the Africans.
Harry Raney went on to be one of the early leaders of the mission. He was joined by Douglas Wood who served between 1900-04 and produced the first ChiNdau grammar and wrote the first hymns in that language in 1903. In that same year the first local man was converted, and the settlement grew significantly as a result of Africans from across the border with Portuguese East Africa coming to live near the mission.
In 1902 Rev. John Edgar Hatch (1871-1945), an American who had been a chaplain during the Boer War, came to work with the mission at the Melsetter station. In 1907 he married another American missionary named Julia Flora Winter from the Silinda mission station. She had arrived in the field in 1904, and worked as a translation assistant. A year after the marriage, Julia gave birth to a baby boy, Lawrence. Tragically, just two weeks after giving birth, Julia died of black water fever, a serious complication of malaria. She was just 35 years old.
The widowed Hatch moved to Rusitu in 1911 and married his second wife, Catherine Mackenzie (1875-1959). Together they continued to bring up Lawrence. It was this couple who were holding the fort at Rusitu on their own when Rees and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Howells arrived in the middle of 1915 to support them.
For fifteen months from October, 1915, the Revival continued in Gazaland, centred on the mission stations at Rusitu and Silinda. But then in 1917, Rees and Lizzie were invited to a gathering of missionaries with the South Africa General Mission in Durban. Rees expected to be one of many contributors, but was asked to speak each day for the entire period of three weeks. Eventually, an invitation was extended to the Howells to go on an extended tour of all the outstations of the mission. The journey took them over 11,000 miles, visiting five countries — Swaziland, Pondoland, Bomvanaland, Tembuland and Zululand. They would continue to travel with the Revival until 1920, when they returned home.
By 1930, Clyde and Hattie Dotson from the United States and Miss. Elmina Doner from Canada had joined the mission. At that time, Rusitu Mission consisted of five brick buildings: two missionary homes, dorms for girls and boys and a clinic. Mr. Dotson became head of the mission shortly thereafter.
In 1949, after a disagreement between Mr. Dotson and some of his Rusitu colleagues, the Dotsons resigned and became independent missionaries.
The Rusitu Bible School was opened in 1952 and in 1954 the mission changed its name to Africa Evangelical Fellowship (AEF). A teacher training school was opened nearby at Biriiri in 1956. By 1959, there were 11 missionaries at Rusitu (and 6 at Biriiri). Twenty-nine “outschools” were staffed with 100 full-time teachers and the clinic had become the Rusitu Mission Hospital providing pre-natal and post-natal care. The training school became a fully-fledged secondary school in 1967.
Currently, Rusitu Mission (UBC), including a high school, the Rusitu Bible College, church (destroyed in the 1980s and since rebuilt), and the Rusitu Mission Hospital, is owned and operated by the United Baptist Church of Zimbabwe.
- SIM Southern Africa website
- The South Africa General Mission (Rusitu) – R Glen reprinted in Houser, Tillman
- Free Methodist and other Missions in Zimbabwe,” pp. 109-110, 2000. \
- The Story of Melsetter – Shirly Sinclair 1970
- Revival in Gazaland (Part 4) – Rees Howells
- Mark M. Loomis