A Brief History of WBS in South Africa

Reuel Lemmons (1912–1989) served as the director of World Bible School after the founder, Jimmie Lovell, serving from 1984 to when he passed in 1987. His world impact was immense as he wrote prolifically and spoke for many Gospel meetings and lectureships, and as he preached the Gospel in 79 countries. He especially impacted Southern Africa by eight years of weekly Gospel preaching over the powerful radio station, Radio LM out of what is now Maputo, Mozambique. That program had an estimated audience of 1,800,000 listeners.   

 In the mid-1940’s, Eldred Echols, a missionary in what was then called Rhodesia, managed to get 30 minutes prime radio time over Lourenco Marques Radio out of Mozambique. The station was popular and covered, by short wave, most of Africa. The central church in Cleburne, Texas, where Reuel was preaching, accepted the challenge and financial responsibility and had himcut vinyl records (no tape recorders then) and mailed them to Africa for a weekly, Saturday broadcast. Reuel had to stay up all night one Sunday to cut the first record to get it there in time. The program helped to stimulate and instigate the work of the Lord in many places. 

Reuel offered free correspondence courses to those who responded to his lessons. Tex Williams (1928–2019) rose to the challenge of following up with respondents whom Reuel passed on to him. The success of this work, especially for South Africa, led Reuel and Tex to see the great value of Bible correspondence evangelism. Eventually, these experiences led each in turn to become leaders of World Bible School. 

In 1957 Tex, Mary Jane, and their young son “Rocky” had taken a freighter from New Orleans, along with the C.W. “Abe” Lincoln family, toSouth Africa to serve as missionaries. Tex worked with other missionaries in South Africa to establish and strengthen congregations in Port Elizabeth, Pietermaritzburg, Durban, and Benoni. He was instrumental in helping establish Bible schools for preacher training.  

Tex traveled extensively for mission work (especially for Sunset and for WBS), eventually touching on 120 countries with direct work in 90. In 1987, Tex became the director of WBS and continued, after acquiring our non-profit status, as “President” until 2006.  

WBS began to have some students in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, not many were familiar with World Bible School, but John and Bessie Hardin, and then their co-workers Peter and Leslye Mostert, accepted the challenge of doing follow-up when American teachers referred students to them. After receiving permission from Jimmie Lovell, Peter, Simon Magagula and Samuel Ramagwede translated early WBS courses into some of the languages of South Africa. 

WBS became a major force in South African evangelism starting in the mid-1980s. The Reese Family became involved in WBS efforts when John and Beth Reese moved to South Africa in 1978.  With Bill Bryan, they strengthened the church in Kempton Park.  They also followed-up with WBS students when requested and were impressed with their desire to learn.  Could this be an answer to reaching more souls in Guateng’s huge populations? Harding University in the U.S. invited the Reeses to be visiting missionary teachers for the school year of 1984-1985. During that year, the Reeses asked a number of U.S. congregations to form teaching teams partnering with the Reeses to focus on South Africa.   

The Reeses returned to South Africa and placed advertisements in leading South African newspapers, including the Star and the Sowetan. Between 1985 and 1991, the estimated number who requested WBS courses from those ads was 100,000. American Christians did the correspondence teaching and passed on the most responsive students for follow-up to the Reeses and a growing team of follow-up workers. South African leaders include the Magagulas, Molefes and Masogas.  The number of students referred to this Gauteng team for follow-up eventually totaled 5,000. John Reese would later serve as the fourth president of WBS from 2006 to 2021. 

In Natal, the same type of follow-up was being organized by Ron Pottberg and Clay Hart who worked with Sam Pakade, Alfred  Mdze, Elphas Ndawonde and, at times, Johnson Ngoyo. Ron also worked with George Funk who would go on to develop the Gospel Chariot ministry, one of the great cooperative partnerships that makes WBS effective. 

Ron and Jankela Friedman had studied at Sunset International Bible Institute in Texas and had prepared formoving to Natal by sending Introductions to addresses they got from the phone book for Amanzimtoti. By the time they arrived in Amanzimtoti, they had about 1,000 students ready for follow-up, which greatly helped them in establishing the Lord’s church there. 

Part of the Kempton follow-up team is pictured right (Nigel Hausberger, George Thompson, Kelly Dyess, John Reese, Patrick Kenee).  They did their best to visit individual students, with good success because they were hungry and, through their WBS studies, had proved their interest. However, so many were referred for follow-up that it soon became apparent that we also had to develop methods that could meet the needs of many students at the same time. The team moved to what was then a new method: WBS seminars.  Because all follow-up requests were entered into the WBS office computer, the team could print labels and send letters to all WBS students in a given area, inviting the students to meet at the planned place and time near them.   

In this way, those students who showed the most initiative came and received further teaching, and many were baptized into Christ.  These WBS follow-up seminars were held across much of South Africa, usually in prominent venues. 

The WBS seminars were great cooperative events involving WBS follow-up teams and many local evangelists and the churches of Christ in each target area.  Seminars began in 1987 and before the December seminars, 118 already had been baptized.  Among many seminars in 1988, two saw 72 baptisms (41 at the Johannesburg seminar and 31 were baptized at the Pretoria seminar). 

Don and Rita Boyd worked with WBS follow-up in South Africa from 1995 to 2003. Opening up a World Bible School Learning Center in Cape Town, many WBS students were followed-up on and found their place in the local congregations. Mark and Flora Swartz and Ken and Judy Kindall-Ball opened a WBS Learning Center in another part of Cape Town during this period as well.  Ben Little helps with WBS follow-up and baptisms after his father became a Christian through a World Bible School study.


Today, Lazarus Munetsi and Machona Monyamane  coordinate follow-up with key partners like Gospel Chariot RSA. Here they are pictured together with Brian Davis the current president of World Bible School. We thank God for the past 50 years of service and fruit for the Kingdom of Christ and eagerly look forward to the doors God is opening for the next 50 years! 

We welcome you to jot down your memories of WBS. We will be adding memories to our website! Contact us to send us your stories.

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