Changing lives by selling books door to door
By Jan Malan as told to Wilhelmina Dunbar
A plumber by trade, I lived with my wife and family in the town of Otjiwarongo in South-West Africa, now known as Namibia. A few Seventh-day Adventists lived in Otjiwarongo at the time, but I didn’t know them; in fact, I’d never heard of a church with this strange name.
I was a staunch member of the state church. Most Sundays found me and my family in church. We were a well-respected Christian family. I was a conscientious employee of the South-West African administration, and my work covered a wide territory. I was always glad to get back home to my family.
One day after returning home I had hardly settled down to relax when my wife remarked, “Jan, did you know that Sunday is not the seventh day of the week?”
“All Christians worship on Sunday, the seventh day.”
“But Jan, look here. A man selling books called today and showed me on this calendar that Sunday is the first day of the week. Saturday is the seventh day.”
For the first time in my life I took a good look at the calendar. “Why have I never noticed this before?” I said. “I will ask our dominee [pastor] to explain this to me.”
Stirring the Pot
A Seventh-day Adventist pastor happened to be holding a series of evangelistic meetings in the home of one of the Adventists. Once a week Jan Bekker, from Windhoek, visited the Otjiwarongo district, and our neighbors had been attending the meetings. Twice their 12-year-old daughter had invited me to go along with them, but each time I thought up some excuse not to go. But I received a third invitation from the literature evangelist who had come to deliver a set of The Bible Story ordered by our neighbors.
“I don’t have transportation,” I told the man. “I only have a bicycle, and my family won’t be able to come.”
“That’s not a problem!” said the man. “I’ll come and fetch you by car.”
That evening’s lecture covered the second coming of Jesus. Impressed by the Holy Spirit, we attended each lecture, while still going to our own church each Sunday.
When the seventh-day Sabbath was explained by Pastor Bekker, I knew it was time to confront my minister on the issue.
When I arrived at his house I found him and two colleagues in a meeting. “I’m sorry to disturb you,” I apologized, “but I have a question. Why do we worship on a Sunday, when the fourth commandment tells us to worship on the seventh day, Saturday?”
One of the visiting ministers, Dominee du Toit, jumped up and shouted: “With which sect are you involved?” Looking at his companions, he added, “He’s a snake in the grass!”
Many rude and insulting remarks were made about Seventh-day Advent-ists; anger dominated the discussion, and I finally left, feeling more confused than ever. Something was wrong, and I made up my mind to find out the truth. Six months after attending my first lecture I was baptized by Pastor Bekker.
People of the Word
Now that I was a Sabbathkeeper, I found I could no longer work for the South-West African administration. I opened my own plumbing business, which I operated successfully for four years. Then I sold my business, and we moved to the Strand, a seaside town about 36 miles east of Cape Town. I was offered a job with the proviso that I would have to use my own tools. Before leaving Otjiwarongo, I carefully packed all my equipment for transport to South Africa. But when the box arrived three weeks later, it was completely empty; everything had been stolen. I couldn’t work if I didn’t have my own tools. I was stranded with no income, and no way to provide for my family.
I called Pastor Bekker to tell him of my predicament. I told him I was ing of becoming a literature evangelist. “Jan, come!” he said delightedly. “This is the best news ever!”
Soon I found myself in Noordoewer, a town on the border between South Africa and South-West Africa. It didn’t take long for the local state church minister to find out that I was selling books to his parishioners. Two days after my arrival I learned that he had already warned his members not to buy any books from me. Undeterred, I approached a house and opened the gate. As I approached, a woman in the house came out onto the porch and told me I had to leave.
I told her I only wanted to show her my treasures. I was not allowed into the house, but she reluctantly allowed me to show her the books I was selling.
As I left that house a young girl across the street invited me in and went to call her father. The family was friendly, but just as I began my canvass the front door opened and the Sunday church minister walked in, accompanied by a young man from his church. His arrival told me that my presence had been reported by the woman across the street. Before I could start my canvass, the minister began making angry, disparaging remarks about Seventh-day Adventists.
I asked him what he had against Adventists. “It’s your fanaticism about your Sabbath and your baptism,” he replied. “I don’t want you corrupting my church members.”
I reached down and took out of my bag the small Bible I carried. I began reading texts from Genesis through Revelation. I held out my Bible to the minister and said, “Now, sir, the texts I just read are in all Bibles. This is not a Seventh-day Adventist Bible. It is not my Sabbath or my baptism that is being proclaimed; it is the Lord’s Word that Seventh-day Adventists obey. Here, take it and show me why you worship on Sunday instead of Saturday.
“Are you Mr. Malan? Our dominee has warned us not to have anything to do with you.”
“Dominee,” I said, “if you can show me from the Bible that the Sabbath has been changed from Saturday to Sunday, I will stop this work, and I promise that I will be sitting in your church this very Sunday.”
I reached into my bag, took out a copy of The Bible Speaks, and handed it to the minister. “I don’t want your book!” he told me angrily.
“I’m not selling it to you,” I said. “Just take it home and study it. It’s my gift to you. Contact me if you find any error in it.” He eventually took the book and left the house, followed by his young companion.
I had remained courteous throughout the confrontation. However, I felt bad that his visit had ended that way, and I apologized to the owner of the house.
The man said, “Before you arrived today, my dominee told me that he would confront you and run you out of town. I told him, ‘Dominee, don’t do it. These people know their Bibles, and you’re going to be embarrassed.’
“Years ago my brother and I attended a series of meetings in South Africa. We decided to become Seventh-day Advent-ists. However, after the Adventist pastor and his helpers left, we were alone. There were no other Seventh-day Adventists, and no church, and no one visited us. My brother became a Seventh-day Adventist, but I decided to remain with my Sundaykeeping church. Now I’m the head elder.”
One day I met a woman who, when she opened her door, said: “Are you Mr. Malan? I knew you’d be coming around. Our dominee has warned us not to have anything to do with you. We mustn’t buy any of your books. So if he says we mustn’t, I suppose we mustn’t.”
“Well, you don’t have to buy my books,” I told her, “but I’d like you to have a look at them. In fact, your dominee has one of my books.”
“He has?” she replied. “Well, if he has, then I must have one too! Let’s have a look.” So I was invited inside. I began to display my books, and she asked, “Which one does my dominee have?”
I pointed to The Bible Speaks. She responded, “Then I must have the same book.”
Two years later I happened to visit a road camp in the same district. At one of the homes the woman told me that a young man had asked to be informed when I was there. While I was busy with my canvass a young man arrived and asked, “Sir, are you the man who sold books in Noordoewer? I’m sorry that you didn’t come to our house as well.”
He explained that he lived where the woman had stood on the porch and told me to go away. “She was my mother,” he said. He then asked to see the books I was selling, and he immediately bought three books.
“My father also asked that you please call at our house when you are in that area again. My parents are now interested in your books.”
What had brought about the change of heart? I wondered. It could only be the working of the Holy Spirit.
The Harvest at Last
One of my territories was the town of Ai-Ais (pronounced “ice ice”), a beautiful and popular tourist attraction in Namibia. One summer I was given permission from the owner of a well-patronized store in town to give Bible studies outside the store. Each evening when it was dark I projected slides onto the white wall of the store to illustrate and explain the studies. Many of the town’s residents, as well as tourists, attended these studies.
One evening I noticed a man in the audience dressed in a heavy black coat with his hat pulled over his eyes. At the end of the lecture while I packed up my equipment the man came over.
“Sir,” he said, “is it possible to talk with you about this evening’s program, about the change of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday?”
“Can we have other people present?”
“Yes, let’s meet Wednesday at 3:00 in the community hall,” said the stranger. “I’m Dominee Dippenaar, the local minister. I’ll make the necessary arrangements.” Then I understood why he had been wearing an uncomfortably warm coat and hat.
The following day I contacted Pastor Bekker in Windhoek and told him about the meeting. Two days later Bekker arrived by train, and we went to the dominee’s home, which was next door to the community hall. When we arrived, the minister told us that he had to cancel their public appointment because his church board had refused his request to hold the meeting.
He asked if we could meet privately, and we agreed. Inside the hall Bekker began to present the study “Why I Am a Seventh-day Adventist.” He explained the Sabbath, baptism, and what happens at death. After three hours we knelt and prayed. Tears streamed down Dominee Dippenaar’s face, forming little puddles on the floor. He thanked the Lord for allowing him to experience this moment in his life, being touched by the message of truth.
The number of Seventh-day Advent-ists in Windhoek kept growing, but they had no church in which to worship. An Adventist woman had died, leaving in her will a parcel of land in central Windhoek for the building of a church. But when the Adventists applied for a building permit, their request was denied.
One of the municipal members who opposed the application was Dominee du Toit, the same minister who in Otjiwarongo had referred to Seventh-day Adventists as a sect and called me a “snake in the grass.” He went on to become moderator of the state church in Namibia and opposed Seventh-day Adventists for the rest of his life.
However, today there are five Ad-ventist churches in Windhoek. And Seventh-day Adventists own the building where Dominee du Toit had once been the minister. It is one of the largest Adventist churches in the area. n
Jan Malan is retired and lives in Gauteng, South Africa.