My father's religion

Our family has been a religious family for centuries. The earliest traces we can find of a religious lifestyle date back to the early 1600's. The Labuscagne' family was a Huguenot family, living near the town of Bergerac in the south-west of France, about 80 km up-river from the coastal city, Bordeaux. There the family suffered probably lived through the dramatic Huguenot wars, in which they presumably fared fairly well initially. Ultimately, however, the Huguenots were overcome by large-scale Catholic attacks. After that, they lived under immense persecution. Especially during the times of the Dragonades, when soldiers were deliberately billited in the homes of Protestant families, living conditions became practically insufferable. During these times Protestants were prohibited from pursuing professional careers such as doctors, lawyers or accountants, and could scarcely make a living as tradesmen.

The family's founder eventually succeeded in escaping to Switzerland, and from there made his way to Holland, and ultimately to South Africa where a new dynasty was founded. Of the extended family in France, all traces eventually vanished. It is presumed that they were all murdered during the Huguenot persecutions. At the Cape of Good Hope, the founder of the family continued in the Protestant lifestyle as a loyal member of the Reformed church. When his descendants finally moved deeper into the interior of South Africa, they carried with them their Bibles and their faith. Over the next 250 years, they continued instructing their children in the faith, whether they lived near churches and towns or in isolation in the wilderness.

Our modern generations were raised with the faith and the traditions of our forefathers, which was frankly-speaking, a part of the cultural life of average Afrikaner families in South Africa anyway. Our family branches had by that time been heavily involved in supporting missionary work in Africa since the 1820's. My great-great grandparents, great-grandparents and grandparents had built churches for the Zulus on their properties over the years, and had always organized and sponsored a ministry of one kind or another to their workforce. It was against this background that my father grew up. His own path towards religious awareness was described to my by his mother - my grandmother.

My grandmother told me that when she was young they were living the life of a typical Afrikaner family. They lived a life of financial comfort and were free to do enjoy the pleasures of life. They went to church regularly and did all that was expected of a nominally religious family. But something was missing. As she told me that day, "we went to dances a lot in those days, and life was good." Then one day, something changed. My grandmother said she was busy in the pantry of her kitchen at Wydgelegen when my father, who was about 6 or 8 years old at the time came in from behind and out of the blue asked her the question: "Mommy, are you saved?"

"Instantly," Grandmother told me, "I felt like someone had poured a pail of ice water over me, because in that very moment I knew that I could not answer him with surity." She hoped she was, but she did not know for sure. My grandmother was so distraught at this realization that it created a spiritual revival within herself which she would ultimately keep alive for the rest of her life. In her feverish search for answers, she somehow also kindled the fire of religious fervocity in my grandfather. In this manner the two of them began to drift away from their century-old association with the Dutch Reformed Church, in search of more dynamic spiritual leadership. They presumably found what they were looking for in the tent-revival meetings that they attended in various parts of the country. By the time that my grandmother was healed of cancer to her nose through the prayer of an evangelist called Dr. Van Zyl, the family had long departed from the tradition-based ways of their ancestors.

My father, on the other hand, was left relatively cold by all this excitement. He went through the motions being neither particularly hot nor cold about religion as a child. His parents seemed happy with his attitude, and that was all that mattered. During his high school years a measure of sophisticated rebelliousness began to surface. For example, my father started smoking secretly at a fairly young age, and when he wanted to express himself, he made full use of the rich vocabulary that the shadier fringes of the Afrikaans language had to offer. This was probably inspired by a vague feeling of abandonment at having been sent to a far-distant private boarding school. At the same time, these were the years fo the hippie movement, and my father probably enjoyed causing a polite frown from the old establishment with his slightly longer than average hair, and more englightened outlook on life.

It was around the end of my father's school years that he made a discovery that would change his life. One day he happened to tune into the program of a man called Herbert W. Armstrong, who was broadcasting regularly on LM Radio. Spellbound, he listened to the Bible being described in a way that was for the first time plain speech, logical and easy to reference from the Scriptures. He quickly became a regular listener, and started ordering printed material to learn more. As my father had a career planned in agriculture, it interested him that Ambassador College, which Mr. Armstrong had founded, had one of its campuses in England where they ran an experimental farm to study the principles of biblical farming practices. This corresponded very much with what he had in mind.

Writing in from The Plain Truth magagazine, my father found answers to the questions of life, such as "Why were you born?" and "What is your ultimate destiny?" and even the decisive answers about heaven and hell. My father soon found opportunity to share his excitement with his parents. To his dismay, he found that his parents did not share his enthusiasm. Although his parents accompanied him to one or two Church gatherings, they were left unimpressed. It was too radical a departure from the principles of conventional Protestantism.