Growing up As A Missionary Kid In 1960's South Africa

I was born in Maine, USA, in the late 50's. The only memory I have of America before I travelled back many years later though, was a large apple tree with many rotten apples on the ground, a kid named Ricky who lived up a long street, and a boat ride (The 'Queen Mary' to England, and The 'Pendennis Castle' to Cape Town, South Africa)

From that point on, my memories are very vivid. I was an english speaking 'Yankee', in a schoolyard full of tough, rough-accented Dutch South Africans, picking on the strange new-comer. I am a survivor, and learned to fit in pretty quickly. My accent changed, my language became a hybrid of the American-English spoken at home, the British-English spoken by many around me, and a Dutch dialect called Afrikaans. This was all I knew. This was home.

My parents were called to the missionfield in 1963, and after a year of so of deputation work to gather support, they sailed to Africa. (traveling by plane was new back then, and for short internal destinations only)

Public school, which was a major influence in my life as it is in all of our young lives, consisted of a classroom of kids just like here in the US, but that is about where the similarity ends. We wore school colors and had a strict dress code. Grey pants, long legged in winter and shorts in summer, white shirts, ties with the school colors, blazers and/or sweaters, also with the school colors. Girls wore grey pleated dresses, well below the knees, white shirts, school colors, and had their hair in pony tails or tied back. The boys' hair could not touch the back collar, and had to clear the top of our ears.

Teachers were called Sir or ma'am, and NOT spoken to out of turn. The cane was regularly used on boys' backsides, and detention for the girls. We would take out a thread from our ties for each 'cut' we got from the principal, and treated them as war trophies. My tie was pretty ragged by the time I was through with schooling.
School was hard work right from the beginning. You had to pass all of your courses, and they were strictly graded. No 'credits' from earlier years or anything like that. If you failed a required course (6 required plus 3 others) you failed the entire year. You then had to repeat ALL of the courses again and pass them all. There was no summer school to make up for failed courses, since school started in January, the first weekday after new Years day, and went all year. You got two weeks off in July, and two weeks off in December at the end of the school year. Of coarse we also got some holidays in between. Easter, for example, the entire country basically shuts down for 4 days.

In 1973 I went to boarding school in the Province of Natal, in a one-horse town out in the middle of nowhere called 'Mooi Rivier' while my parents and younger brother Peter went State-side for a year.

It was an all boys school, 20 or so to a dorm. We each had a bed, a locker, and a trunk. Every morning at 6:00 AM we were awoken by the dorm prefect and sent on a three K run. After the run we hit the showers, made our beds, and cleaned our areas. Then it was off to the Mess hall for breakfast while our areas were inspected.

I can only describe the school as much the same as Oliver Twist's school in the classics. You learned pretty quickly to wolf down what you could in order to get seconds, as there was very little and only about one third of the boys got more than a very small plate of food. I still wolf down food to this day. I try not to, but have to force myself to slow down. After that it was off to classes.

This may sound like a hard-luck story, but in all honesty that boarding school was one of the most influential and memorable times of my life. I may have hated it at the time, but I would never trade it.

We lived in a few different parts of the country while I grew up, as my Father's ministry pulled us in different directions over the years. 

For the most part we lived inland, in the Johannesburg Gold mine area.

I played a lot by myself when not playing with the neighbor kids (some of them missionary kids from the U.S.A. as well) I would take off into the veld (short for bush-veldt) for hours on end. I got the know the bush well, and loved hiking the koppies. (hillsides)

I became fascinated with snakes at one point. There were quite a few around, and not of the safe variety we have here in the northeast USA. The first snake I ever caught was a baby Rinkhals (ring-necked spitting cobra). After finding out what I had caught, and having survived the experience, I went on to study them better and caught many more in my lifetime. I have had Green Mambas crawling freely over my neck, and cobras curled around my arm while striking at kids around me watching. (My parents were faithful in praying for me, as they knew that between me and my brother, I was the reckless adventurer type).

The smells and sights of the South African bush are still vividly etched in my memory. I had my own 'secret' places where very few people had ever been to or knew about. I imagine today much of that is built up and developed. One pace was in an area nearby called "Heldekruin". It was a pretty large undeveloped area not far from us where I used to spend time. I discovered an Eden-like spot with a little stream and waterfall. It took about 2 hours, trekking through hot, dry, tick infested, thorny underbrush, till you come across this unknown little oasis with a cool breeze, water flowing and no bugs. Water is rare in South Africa, so it is an event to come across some. I spent a lot of time in my youth at this spot, and never once came across anyone else, nor signs of anyone having been there. Later in life I would bring girlfriends to it, if they were up to the difficulties getting there. (and if they meant enough to me to share in my private place)

Gas (petrol) has always been expensive in South Africa and the weather is good for most of the year. These two factors bring about a large population of motorcycles. They are everywhere. I was on a small motorbike by 15 Yrs old, and it was not until I was eighteen that I even learned how to drive a car. I used to love Dirt-biking. I could go far and wide in the bush, trailing places I could not go when I was younger and on foot. I was still a loner pretty much, although I had plenty of friends, but I loved riding the bush by myself.

I also loved tearing up the dirt on the top of mine Dumps. Mine dumps are man-made mountainous piles of sand which is excavated from the gold mines. They plant scrub to keep them from eroding. Great fun up there, as long as the mine security did not catch you. (I had to get away from them on more than one occasion)

Later on in my early twenties I graduated to large road machines, and was off to other parts of the country. I still preferred to travel by myself mostly. I have the fondest memories of the hours spent in the saddle, traveling through the Eastern Transvaal, South, West, and all across the country alone. I loved the Eastern Transvaal in particular, but the South Coast region was my favorite. The trip from Johannesburg to the South Coast was an all day trip through desolate semi-desert areas, small towns, and tropical coastal regions. It has to be some of the most beautiful country in the world.

There were some areas to the west where the only gas you can get is to pull into a farm and buy from them. They are not compelled to sell gas to you of coarse, but I found that the Afrikaans Farmer (Boer) is one of the most steadfast and solid breed of people anywhere, and if you do not mouth off to them or come across with an attitude, they not only will help you with gas, but may invite you in for a meal or place to stay. It was like a modern version of the American west, with drifters passing through finding rest and food, and then moving on.

Riding through the Karoo desert and on to Cape Town can only be described as a once in a life-time opportunity not to be missed. Cape Town is, in my opinion, the cleanest city in the world, and just plain beautiful.

I used to carry a little kodak instamatic-type camera sometimes, and took a few pics during my travels. The photos are my own, not professional, and some are pretty faded. (Sad to see how photos I took in my twenties are now sepia tones!)

TV and movies were something I only read about. I saw my very first movie when I was about 12. It was called 'Melody' starring Mark Lester (original Oliver Twist actor), with the early Bee Gees doing the music score. I will never forget it. TV was something we all marveled about. I remember when TV first came to us. I was 19, and it was on for about one hour a day. Everyone in the nation was glued to the set. During the down-time the broadcasting company would transmit a test pattern. I knew people who would sit and watch the test pattern for hours on end. I often think it is not much different over here, with people spending hours in front of the box in a mindless daze.

After many different career attempts I settled down to working in the printing industry, which I still am in to this day. Some of those jobs I tried included different sales positions, truck driving, security guard , armored car driving, diamond cutting, as well as just plain bumming around.

Anyone reading this will be asking me my thoughts about apartheid, the political system that was ruling at the time I lived there. I was not a South African citizen, since I kept my American birthright, and was not involved with the political process there at all. There were many serious faults with the entire system, that was obvious to me. All men are created equal in God's eyes, and any system that sees otherwise is wrong. There were also many grievances and wrong-doing on both sides however, as in all of mankind's history. No government without the Spirit of the living, risen Christ guiding it's every decision succeeds at true equality, at least in my opinion.

My parents served out the rest of their lives ministering to the lost and dying in South Africa. They worked in various arenas. Short wave radio broadcasting, Church planting, Evangelical Tent meetings from city to city, and ministering to the needs of the everyday people that came across their path.

[Pictured: My Parents in 1985, in the last photo I have of them together before she was killed.]

In 1987 my mother was murdered by marauding thugs under the guise of freedom, while my father was away in Cape Town on a tent meeting campaign. She lived and died serving the people of South Africa, white, black, brown, indian, all races, colors and creeds. They killed her none the less. I was very close to her, and my loss goes deep. I do not hold it against those who committed this act however, and truly hope that they come to a saving knowledge of Christ themselves, the Christ that my mother gave up her to share with them.

Here today I see prejudice all around me coming from people who do not have even the remotest reason for it. I have plenty of reason to hate the African native. Look what they did! I do not even recognize anyone by their color however, but by what is in their heart. I can honestly say that before God almighty.

My father went on serving for 16 years when he died of kidney failure and went on to be with Jesus and my mother in glory.

As in the words of Forrest Gump, "...and that's all I have to say about that!"

My brother, who still lives in South Africa with his wife Gail, keeps me up on the changes over there. When visiting briefly in 1987, after being gone only three years, I saw huge changes in the land. Every house has a large fence surrounding it with padlocked gates. Large and quick-to-bite dogs are in every yard. My brother has told me horror stories of the way life is now. He once faced down an intruder with a small .22 Derringer he has, and by the grace of God the man left the property. The intruder was involved on a shoot out minutes later with another neighbor. Gail, my brother's wife, once grabbed his .45 colt and rang a bunch of shots out the window at intruders in the yard, chasing them away. She is NO Rambo, and did this with her eyes shut.

People live a whole different life over there now. A life we really can't identify with here in the USA. God Bless America! May we never take it for granted, and may we guard what we have diligently. Let us recognize the wolves by their attempting to erase our Godly background and heritage!

I remember roaming around the town we lived in at night, while only 12-14 years old, talking to the night watchmen and exploring places real and imaginary. We do not let our boy out of our sight for a second now, even here in rural New Hampshire, much less in the country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world today.

Times change, and men without the Spirit of the living, risen Christ are given over to the evil they chose. The evidence of the choices made are obvious unfortunately, everywhere in the world.

South Africa is one of the most beautiful places in the world, literally. Anyone who has travelled down the South Coast, visited Oribi Gorge, climbed Cathedral peak in the Drakensberg mountains, walked the length of Table Mountain in Cape Town, driven the Garden Route, or sat as a guest at the table of Afrikaans farmer while traveling the South West by motorcycle, will attest to that.

I loved the country, and would not have changed a thing about my upbringing. It saddens me to see it in such condition as it is in today, but then again, the entire world is feeling the effects of nations who make choices against heaven.

I was a man without a country during my early adult years, not knowing where I wanted to settle. Everything I knew, my way of life, my friends and family were in South Africa. I was drawn to the country of my birth however, and finally chose to make it my home. This is my country now, in spirit as well as by birth, and I genuinely consider it home. I am so glad I can raise my boy here, with trees and wildlife around, unlocked doors, and a sense of security. This is home, it is America the beautiful, and I wouldn't live anywhere else on earth. I do reminisce often about South Africa though, and realize that we are all connected under the waters. In fact we are all connected by the living water of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.


About 'Withstanding The Storm,' "Author Nathan Lambshead reaches out to those who are not being reached in church, using his own experiences and shortcomings to convey the story of God’s grace and mercy. Rather than preaching at the reader, Nathan presents his faith in a testimonial form. Written in a simple, easy-to-read style, Withstanding the Storm will challenge and encourage you to grow and make a consistent commitment to the Lord." You can find the book on The Tate Publishing Site or from Good News Graphics.

Be sure to also check out earlier articles written by Mr. Lambshead. You can also contact him by e-mail.