South Africa

The Power of Seed

By Mike Shamy

Bernie Marshall in South Africa

Bernie Marshall in South Africa

In the late 1980s, with the Apartheid system still in force in South Africa, a Canadian mining engineer in his late-20s moved to Johannesburg at the behest of his company. Quietly, with almost no one noticing, he planted some Gospel seeds among a small group of black college students.

Decades later, the seeds he sowed continue to bear fruit.

Not long after his arrival in South Africa, he noticed a group of black students playing soccer. He stood by and watched for a while, and then he approached the group, asking them if he could join the game. They guys thought it odd for a white man to interact with them, but they let him play.

The engineer, Bernie Marshall, kept showing up to kick the ball with that group of guys. For a white man to initiate social contact with black South Africans at that time was a radical move. But trust developed and then sincere friendship.

Bernie eventually invited the young South Africans into his home for meals. And over the next four years or so, Bernie and his wife, Nancy, began to read the Bible with them.

One of those young men was Manfred Molomo, who for over 10 years served as the national director of the Navigator work in South Africa and is a Ph.D. candidate in management.

“He just loved us,” Manfred told me, remembering those days with Bernie and Nancy. “He took us to his home. That was the first time I had ever been to a white man’s house. Not only that, he came to our village and he sat on the floor of our homes with our families.”

The day came when Bernie and Nancy had to return to Canada. The South African students put together a small farewell party for them, after which Bernie and Nancy said good-bye and got on a plane for Canada.

“That night, while they were on the plane,” Manfred told me, “I gave my life to Christ.”

Manfred began to carry his faith into his network of friends and family. He got to know a Navigator couple, and through Manfred and his friends’ connections, they watered and nurtured the seeds that Bernie and Nancy had planted.

Out of that community the first South African national ministry team of The Navigators emerged. Through seeds planted in obscurity by a young Canadian couple, many people in Manfred’s community came to Christ: kids, parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, neighbors. A whole generation of young people came to Christ. Professionals in the South African workplace have also come to Christ.

Bernie and Nancy have long since left South Africa. But the work of the kingdom of Jesus continues to grow there because of the small seeds they planted. For a white man to initiate social contact with black South Africans at that time was a radical move. But trust developed and then sincere friendship. Manfred told me that Bernie’s impact in South Africa wasn’t because he was a brilliant teacher with an amazing ministry program. What made the difference was that “he loved us; we knew he loved us.”

Jesus said, This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).

Jesus also said, in Matthew 13, that we, his people, are good seed called to grow and bear fruit among the lost. He adds that His Word is good seed, the message of the Gospel. As ordinary men and women, our lives can have generational impact as we love and serve those around us in simple ways.

How many seeds are in an apple? Four, maybe five or six. But how many apples are in one seed?   

Mike Shamy was born in New Zealand. Mike and his wife, Audrey, became Navigator staff in 1980. From 1989 to 1996 Mike led and coached ministries in New Zealand. In 1999 he led the U.S. Metro Mission. Mike joined the International Executive Team in 2004 and is co-author of The Insider.