Category Archives: Narratives

An Alternative View of Church Unity

Weiers Coetser

An Alternative View of Church Unity

This article was first published by Adventist Today in June 2017.


Midway through 2017 we find ourselves, for better or worse, on the rutted and pothole-filled road of “church unity.” The landscape that this road tries to navigate has been defined by some as justice. But it’s all very complicated, and here I’m going to try to give you a better lay of the land.

“The beat of justice resonates within you,” said Dan Jackson warmly and reassuringly shortly after the October 2016 Annual Council decision to accept the draft Church Unity document. He was addressing those in the North American Division who felt disillusioned by the Church’s persistent unwillingness to deal equitably and fairly with all its members and clergy—male or female.

But will things take on a different nuance if we look back at our past? Commentators have observed our tendency to co-opt, and collude uncritically, with the dominant socio-political realities of our time. A bird’s-eye view back to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is in order. We bought into the great American dream. We shaped our global expansion on the same lines. We did it with the same inexorable drive as the most august institutions of colonialism and global capitalism.

The Historical Path

Here are some connections between Adventist history and the history of colonialism:

In 1863, when the Seventh-day Adventist church was beginning to take official shape, David Livingstone was still exploring the Zambezi. Much of the African continent had not even been charted. The West was enthralled by stories of adventure purveyed by newspapers who sponsored exploratory journeys through the “dark continent.”

As the Seventh-day Adventist church put down its roots in America, and as the civil war was being fought around the issue of slavery, colonialism was far from a retreating force. Significant swathes of the world were still up for grabs by exploitative entrepreneurs and nation-states. The conditions that the colonial drive created over the next few decades were truly horrifying. Between 1860 and 1910 more than 10 million people would die in the Congo alone.

The Seventh-day Adventist church’s first missionary drive into Africa and the Orient coincided with the height of colonial optimism. Diamonds, gold, and rubber all drew prospectors and businesses to this new frontier to amass a fortune without regard to the welfare of the local nations.

Along with them went our church’s first missionaries on their own project of global expansion.

Along the way, it would be safe to argue, we Adventists bought into the worldview that underpinned colonialism. We exported an American product to the world, laced with the language of a peculiar kind of exceptionalism. In return we were buoyed by the accomplishment of our great commission as the world was transformed by this American/European vision of reality. Seldom did the Church show a deep-seated interest to engage with the cultures that it encountered, to risk being transformed, or to acknowledge the potential for diversity. Additionally, our inspired organisational structure allowed for strong centralised control.

The extent to which the Adventist church mirrored the colonial project deserves to be explored in more depth, but the evidence shows that we cannot claim that we were immune to the ideologies that undermined the fabric of society. The South African church, for example, simply mirrored South African Apartheid. We’ve been slow at setting up centres of leadership and learning in the countries we entered, relying much more heavily on a retainer class of church administrators and thought leaders who had studied in the United States, such as in the halls of Andrews University.

Colonialism insidiously undermined the fabric of the historic communities where we drew our members from. Many argue that patriarchy was a rarity in earlier indigenous societies and was a result of colonial exploitation. Women bore the brunt of the economic and physical violence perpetrated by the colonial project. Think of a system where men are forced to become migrant laborers, in cities that are designed to exploit labour but destroy family bonds. They would return only occasionally to rural areas to bring money and HIV/AIDS infections to the women and girls at home. Did we preach headship theology historically? Perhaps this was a tacit endorsement, validating violent systems of patriarchy.

Colonialism eventually collapsed, giving rise to anarchic political situations in the countries that were under the grip of Western powers for many decades. The West’s exploitation, however, did not end there. Now the international market economy took over, creating the dependencies (sometimes by propping up deeply flawed dictators, or loaning excessive amounts of money to weak nations leaving them forever indebted) and the opportunities for great multinational companies to exploit every bit of wealth that might still be present in these parts of the world.

Turning of the tide

In recent decades, however, the instability that culminated from centuries of exploitation without building healthy societies has begun to bite back. Perhaps the most telling example is the current migrant crisis where Europe and the West is being overrun by the same people whose natural resources and labour they have benefited from over the last five centuries of slavery, colonialism, and globalisation.

“Postcolonial” migrants are now coming with huge needs and stringent expectations. Europe’s response is to be completely perturbed. The European states seem inept in engaging with the crisis in any way other than to protect self-interest. Fences are being erected (literally and figuratively). The response is mostly defensive, trying to find ways to define how the situation should be managed. But the rest of the world now seems unwilling to play according to the Western rules. They keep piling in by the droves. In boat after boat they arrive to claim some of the perceived wealth and stability that Europe and America had benefited from for hundreds of years—at their expense.

Unsurprisingly it seems a parallel phenomenon is happening with Adventism. The global product of American evangelical fundamentalism that we exported to the rest of the world is coming home. I would suggest that this global picture of justice, (or the historic lack thereof) is what shapes the landscape that presents itself on the floors of the General Conference and the Annual Council.

As I listened to the October Annual Council debate last autumn, I sensed that the church still has a long way to go to deal with its colonial legacy.

  • In gathering of global church leadership we are still having problems pronouncing the names of international speakers while those of many North-American speakers pose little problem. To what extent is the notion of a global, international church just a veneer even at the level of the highest most global of executive committees? Is this perhaps a marker that we have some way to go to develop the necessary relationships and skills to deal with the intricacies of being a global church?
  • The overwhelming majority of responses were from American and Europeans. Whether opposing or supporting the motion (having to do with a document to bring North American unions that ordain women into line with the General Conference) one wonders who the real intended audience of these entreaties were. Was it the small group that drafted the report? Was it top level administration? How successful were they in addressing the global church?
  • Almost every African member that spoke (there were very few) seemed to demonstrate a completely incommensurate view of the world.  I perceived little or no interest to engage in any of the clever or intricate arguments made by the North American and European speakers. They defined the issues differently and they too were unapologetic about their point of departure.

It was like two ships sailing past each other at night. The one was largely silent. The other was full of sound and fury, but the occupants of this ship did not seem to recognise how radically power has shifted in the church. In the battle for the correct view of justice, meaningful relationships seem to have fallen on the wayside.

What about Ted Wilson?

Those in favour of women’s ordination see Ted Wilson as the one who embodies the fundamentalist drive to enforce unity. If they can make him out to be the pariah, they can still believe that they are busy with an internal theological debate within a Western church with a range of Western theological perspectives.

One commentator recently asked if Ted Wilson does not merely have his finger on the pulse of the church and knows where the power lies and the energy flows. I think that Elder Wilson embodies the challenges that face the church. His leadership has become the focal point of tensions brought about by our colonial legacy. Our real failure seems to lie in our incapability to meet in meaningful engagement across the divisions created by our legacy.

What lies ahead?

There is a danger that the church will become more fragmented. The Western church could easily dissolve in the face of the results of its own historic legacy, and become invisible. It could continue to insist on its right and ability to define the terms of engagement, erecting more robust boundaries, leaving the rest of the global church poorer. Administrative decisions by Annual Councils and General Conference sessions could become punitive, even more quickly weakening the Western church.

Or we could choose a more hopeful route. We could acknowledge the complexity of the situation and open ourselves up to learn a new set of skills to pursue justice on a broader level. The clarion call of the Gospel will never go away: for us to be big hearted and generous as we encounter the strangers at our gates.


Blogging Through “The White Elephant” No. 5

Author of the four gospels
Ps. Weiers Coetser
Devil's Advocate
Devil’s Advocate


Paul Coetser, co-editor and Devil’s Advocate




We’re blogging our way through Brian Neumann’s book The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism. We are now at Chapter 2, which has the title “In Vision. Applying the Standard — part: one” (pp. 59-68.)

Neumann states up-front in chapter two that: “Nowhere in the Bible does God say that some physical phenomena, manifested by the prophet when in vision, should be used to prove if a prophet is true or false” (p.60).

He shows, I think convincingly, how attempts to construe Biblical accounts of prophets in vision into a checklist of physical criteria that can be applied to check a prophet’s authenticity does not constitute conclusive evidence.

In developing his argument, Neumann submits three accounts from different historical sources of Ellen White’s visions and shows how these accounts were employed by early Seventh-day Adventists to “prove” Ellen White’s authenticity as a prophet (p.62-65).

He, however, also quotes a contradictory statement by Arthur G. Daniels (General Conference President), who said at a 1919 Conference on the Spirit of Prophecy:

Now with reference to the evidences [physical signs]: I differ with some of the brethren who have put together proofs of evidences of the genuineness of this gift, in this respect, — I believe that the strongest proof is found in the fruits of this gift to the church, not in physical and outward demonstrations…. 1

Included in the quote by Daniels, is his seeming uncertainty about the truthfulness of the stories about Ellen White’s superhuman strength, such as holding the family Bible, while in vision.

Critical Reflection:

Here is a fun fact: In 1906 C.C. Chrisler conducted an interview with Ellen White where she recalled stories from the early days of the Adventist movement. In a recollection she tells how she once exposed the deceit of a certain fanatical woman. She says:

One woman — she was holy, tall, dignified, but she was one of the fanatical ones — would go right into a vision and tell them what they must do. They sent for me and I came up. Said I, ‘What is it?’ They said what she was doing. She was in vision, and she said they must do so and so. The poor woman did not know what spirit she was of. ‘But, Sister Howland,’ said I, as though I was whispering, ‘get a pitcher of cold water, good cold water, and throw it right in her face; that will bring her out of it the quickest of anything you can do.’ She started to get the water, but before she got there, [the woman] had come out. She was deceiving them in this way. 2

I can imagine the glint in the 76 year old Ellen White’s eyes as she remembered that story. Perhaps we should add throwing a pitcher of cold water into the face, as one of the tests for a Biblical prophet!…

The societal and religious context in which the advent movement originated

But on a more serious note.  I think Ellen White’s recollection in this interview highlights something about the context in which Ellen White’s visions took place, particularly in the early years. Seventh-day Adventists today are a pretty restrained lot. There is little that is charismatic, exuberant, or ecstatic about our worship practices today. Not so in the early days of the Adventist movement.

The Adventist movement in the 1840’s was part of a bigger movement that swept over America at the time in which there was great exuberance, ecstasy, emotional meetings, people falling around chaotically, uttering cries, groans, and shouts, including visions and prophecy.

Early Adventists, including the youthful Ellen Harmon (she married in 1846),  had to navigate their way through this landscape buzzing with new experiences and ideas, including the doctrinal minefields that would face any group that had just thrown out many of the standard Christian traditions and denominational allegiances. 

There were also many inside and outside the movement who were critical of the “movement” in general, and of Ellen White specifically.3

The fact that Ellen White emerged from this period and social environment as one who was regarded as a leader with spiritual authority says something about her character and the quality of her spiritual leadership.  In the same interview referenced above, she shared how others were sometimes puzzled about how she could have an influence over them, whereas they could never influence her to receive and accept their testimonies.

In hindsight, we know today that the pioneers of this new movement did not always get things quite right. This is evident from the theological and interpersonal controversies that erupted over the years. Early Adventism was in a state of development. 4 My feeling is therefore that it would not be surprising if the pioneers got other aspects of the movement’s witness and apologetics – such as placing undue emphasis on physical signs – wrong as well.

Development of Ellen White’s visionary experiences

A second observation, highlighted (amongst others) by Ronald Graybill, is that Ellen White’s ecstatic visionary experiences lasted from 1844 to 1870 and reduced in frequency over this period in tandem with the decline of other forms of enthusiastic worship. The evidence and the stories recounted to support the Biblical nature of these phenomena came from this early time.

After 1870, “vivid dreams, often called ‘visions of the night,’ became her main revelatory experience.”5 Thus at least 45 years of her ministry (1870 -1915) did not involve any of these “public daytime” visions. The bulk of her writings did not rely on visionary experiences at all. 

This underscores for me that it is probably wise to suspend judgement a little in favour of developing a holistic picture of Ellen White’s lifelong ministry and impact.

Development of how we use and evaluate historical evidence

A final observation is that the way that we use and evaluate evidence also changed and developed over time. Brian mentions in his book that John Loughborough, a staunch supporter of Ellen White, wrote a book in 1892 6 which outlined the history of the early Adventist movement.  Historiography has progressed significantly since then. Today there are at least some who regard Loughborough more as a “hagiographer than historian…” He is said to have “often proved unreliable in the latter role.”7.

We could probably take a leaf out of the book of dispassionate historians, who, when historical realities seem odd, or incoherent to them, regard it as a signal to be careful not to rush into a judgement and take a stance of an inquisitive investigator. Over years this approach has done much to advance our understanding of the time. Certainly, there is room for hard questions. There might however be more nuance in the picture that emerges than we initially would imagine.

The way forward with Ellen White

As reflected in the previous blog, I’d say that we have at least two options of what to do with all of the above.

  1. If we chose to apply a narrow set of standards of what constitutes the ultimate truth about Ellen White’s authority or authenticity, we might classify Ellen White as a false prophet. Or,
  2. we can take a broader view, and look at the overall picture of a “prophet” who had a defining impact on the development of a world-wide movement that seeks to interpret the Bible faithfully.

Within the framework of the second option it is possible to admit that the movement – and the prophet’s initial approaches were flawed in some ways and no longer cuts mustard. This admission, however, does not imply a total rejection of the movement and its prophet.

From the platform of such an admission we can develop, and transform our explanations of historical phenomena into something that is more mature and authentic for the time that we live in.

Ellen White Devil's Advocate
Devil’s Advocate

Weiers, it is early days and there are still a few hundred pages of Brian’s research that must be studied and digested. But it seems to me that your arguments are moving in the direction whereby one recognizes that Ellen White’s prophetic ministry has had a determining influence on the formation of the Adventist Church as it manifests itself today. Further, that her ministry is still relevant for modern day Adventists provided that one accommodates the fact that she is not the ‘saint on a pedestal’ that traditional Adventism had made her out to be.


What is your response to the concepts discussed in this blog? Please leave a comment below or take part in the dialogue on Facebook.

Step Out

A Faith Trip Inspired Movie

Step out
Step out in Faith

Step Out

We’re very happy to announce the release of an Adventist film that is based on faith.  We have released this story on YouTube and are excited to share this documentary with you.  Below are the details:

Title: STEP OUT – A Faith Trip Inspired Movie

Runtime: 1 Hr. 18 Mins.




Summary: A group of 12 students embarked on a trip that tested their faith in God. Their plans were to depart from Riverside, CA and make their way to GYC in Seattle, WA with no food and no money.  These students filled two vans with literature and canvassed neighborhoods along the way seeking donations for food, gas, and lodging. 

After a lot of hard work, we are excited to share with our fellow brethren in Christ the story of “Step Out” and the exciting journey of placing your trust in God.  As our mission work, there is no admission price for this film so please feel free to share and screen it with your youth group and church.

Step out: Pacific Union Conference Article: 

On Dec. 16, 2012, 12 young adults began a journey from Southern California to Seattle, Wash., for the 2012 Generation of Youth for Christ conference. Inspired by Weimar College’s Faith Trip to Houston in 2011, these young people decided to put their faith to the test and allow God to provide for them through literature evangelism ministry. “We filled two vans with books and one tank of gas. We left Riverside, Calif., praying that God would provide,” said Lesieli Heimuli, literature evangelism director for Faith Trip Inspired.

The goal was to distribute literature for donations in neighborhoods that would cover gas, lodging, food and other needs. “People thought it was crazy, but we believe in this work and that God is coming soon,” said Luisa Paongo, a newly baptized Adventist.

The majority of them had no literature ministry experience, so directors needed to train them during traveling hours and down time. “We had an inexperienced team and more than 1,000 miles to travel,” said Pau Moala, the canvassing leader. “However, we witnessed God move in ways we’d never seen before. To literally see Him provide was breathtaking.”

Each day, the team woke early, had devotions, prepared breakfast and sack lunches, packed the vans, stocked books and headed to their next location. After arriving in their expected territory by afternoon, they canvassed until 8:30 p.m. Afterward, they counted the donations they’d received and drove to their designated location to sleep.

Going through Redding, Calif., the team experienced their first day of cold weather and snow. Drivers had to stop to put on chains before continuing. On arriving in Grants Pass, Ore., they were greeted by Pastor Christian Martin, who opened his church to allow the team to rest and rejuvenate for another long day of traveling. “It was snowing so hard when they arrived that there was a power outage in my neighborhood,” said Martin. “It has not snowed like that since 1994; yet they still canvassed. I was stunned by the team’s persistence.”

For two weeks, the Faith Trip Inspired team canvassed through rain, snow and sunshine. On days off, the young adults visited convalescent homes and hospital patients, and caroled while sharing GLOW tracts on Christmas. “I never experienced anything like this,” said filmmaker Michael Taimi, who taped their experiences. “I will never be the same again.”

On Dec. 27, Weimar Academy students met with Faith Trip Inspired to create a jumbo team totaling 22 students. Their goal was to take literature into some of the most affluent homes in the area. “Literature evangelism is a war tactic for spiritual warfare,” said Jojoe Tonga, current leader for Weimar Academy students. “A person would be foolish to love war, but the burden for souls drives us into battle.”

Faith Trip Inspired raised a total of $6,639 and filled orders for more than 300 books and pieces of literature in homes across three different states. Financially provided for, the team returned home spiritually uplifted and ready to continue the ministry in their home churches across the U.S.

I thank you in advance church family for your earnest love, support, and prayers.



Michael Taimi

Director/Executive Producer

One of the characteristics of young people is their enthusiasm
and willingness to step out and try something for a cause that they believe in. How do you feel about the venture depicted in this video? Please feel free to comment below or on our Facebook Page. Remember to “Like” this post and feel free to share it with your friends and acquintances.


Blogging Through “The White Elephant” No. 4

What do prophets do in the Bible?

Author of the four gospels

Ps. Weiers Coetser.

In the previous post of this series of blogs relating to Brian Neumann’s book, The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism 1 I raised some concerns about the particular standard that the author sets by which all who claim to be prophets should be tested. I suggested that it would be worth developing a more complete picture (or a theology) of the function of prophets in Scripture.

Brian Neumann himself points in this direction but then narrows the focus to:

  1. the prophet’s consistency with Biblical truth,
  2. the visionary experience of the prophet, and
  3. the accuracy of a prophet’s predictions.

Brian’s discussion of these “criteria” is clear and is supported with excellent material from Scripture and from early Adventist church history.

My objection is that these “tests” are too reductionistic and fail to capture a holistic biblical view of how prophets function and how they establish their authority.

Here I outline a few broad characteristics of prophetic function that I feel are deserving of further investigation.

  1. Prophets are almost always disruptors in a religious or socio-political system which has become stuck or lost its way. They are perceived to be anti-establishment. Their messages frequently contradict what the religious and political powers of the day peddle to their complacent followers.
  2. Prophets are often challenged with regard to their authority. Because they threaten the established religious sensibilities of their time, one could even say that they are “unbiblical.” The religious establishment in the Old Testament was keen to preach the biblical traditions of God’s blessing, exclusivity and prosperity. Prophets, on the other hand, came with threats of future instability and condemnation of unjust practices. Imagine being a devout Israelite and hearing your prophet say that a foreign, idol worshiping ruler has now become God’s servant! In the long-run the value and consistency and biblical base of the prophetic message might become clear, but one should expect that a prophet will ruffle some feathers and be seen as a danger, rather than a blessing to the community.
  3. Prophets frequently used unorthodox methods of communication. Both Hosea and Isaiah produced children and gave them “horrendous” names. When Ezekiel’s wife died, he was refused permission to mourn her death. They employed a variety of actions and symbols to get their message across. What eventually gave them authority was their sheer spirit and determination to convey a message from God.
  4. Prophets were often flawed individuals who suffered from depression and bouts of frustration. Being human, their style and messages also changed over time.
  5. The majority of prophetic messages were not primarily concerned with predicting the future, but were more focused on practical issues of religious and societal change.
  6.   While visionary experiences feature in some prophecies, this is not the only mode by which prophets receive messages from God.

Marks of the prophetic gift are therefore:

  1. Complete, authentic, and passionate engagement with the realities of the day.
  2. A constant desire to see the designs of God realized in practical terms in society and within the religious community.
  3. Regular calls for reform, deeper engagement, and staying focused on God’s  desire for the community; and
  4. A strong sense of justice.

How would one evaluate the claims of a prophet?

My personal opinion is that one should look at the overall picture of a prophet’s ministry and impact. The following are broad suggestions:

  1. Is there internal consistency and authentic selfless desire to do God’s bidding?
  2. Is the cumulative result of a prophet’s work over time edifying to the community in which the work is manifested?
  3. The disruptive nature of the prophetic gift means that there will be times of tension between prophet and community. Following the principles laid out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, the eventual result of the prophetic gift needs to be a symbiotic relationship that energises and builds both prophet and community.
  4. Like all people, prophets are human with personal flaws. Is the general direction of their life a movement towards grace, and Christian maturity. Perhaps a comparison with the fruits of the Spirit would be relevant as opposed to the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:18-26).

Note: There are other important questions that also need to be explored in connection with the work of prophets. In my pastoral experience I’ve come to realise that most Seventh-day Adventists style their ideas of what prophets should do after the apocalyptic prophets and prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. There is therefore a strong emphasis on visions and predictions of the future.

I think this is only a small part of the picture. Most prophets function on a more mundane level in a particular time and place, casting vision for how things will be when God’s kingdom is realised.  Should we perhaps take a leaf out of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), that does not group Daniel into the prophets (nevi’im), but groups the book with a section of scripture known as the writings (ketuvim)?

More importantly, one needs to ask: How universally applicable are prophetic manifestations? Is it not better to evaluate the work of a prophet within a specific time and a place with regard to a specific community? Do we set ourselves up for problems when we try to universalize the import of a prophetic ministry for all times and for all people?

Deviil's advocate
Devil’s Advocate

Weiers, are you suggesting that a prophet is only of significance within a specific time and place? If this were true Ellen G. White would hold no relevance for us today. Neither would any of the Biblical prophets!

Perhaps as I progress with Brian Neumann’s book, he will deal with elements that form this broader vision of prophecy.

For now, at the end of Chapter One, my critical feeling is that I want to resist an attempt to reduce the tests of a prophet to three or four (somewhat arbitrary) criteria. I would be a little more circumspect about setting up a series of tests for a prophet. If this vision of the prophetic gift, presented in broad outline here, is taken into account, we should judge prophets in a similar way to how we judge ourselves — the Biblical principle of “Do to others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31).

The authority and impact of a prophet is often a negotiation between a community and the prophet. And one would hope  the relationship results in a maturing and thriving community of faith.

Deviil's advocate

Weiers, are you sure about this last sentence where you claim that the authority and impact of a prophet is the result of negotiation between a prophet and the community where he lives? I thought a prophet is best depicted as a “lone voice” in the wilderness calling the community to repentance regardless of their own feelings and opinions. The prophet is only interested in proclaiming the will and messages of God!

But I am ready to continue reading the book. The standards (tests) that Brian propose are relevant, if only because Adventists have often used these same arguments to defend the prophetic work of Ellen G. White.

Deviil's advocate
   Devil’s Advocate

Weiers, do I detect some ambiguity here? Earlier you took issue with the “reductionistic nature” of the “tests”,  but here you say that they “are relevant”. And, the reason for their relevance: “because Adventists have often used them in the past.”

I am inquisitive to see what his conclusions are going to be and how he will get there. If Brian successfully argues that we have misapplied these standards, it could be reason for the Seventh-day Adventist church to think of new, more up to date approaches to establish and affirm the authority of Ellen White.

Possible further reading to develop a strong biblical theology of prophets: Walter Brueggeman, The Prophetic Imagination.

I probably could not describe the work of biblical prophets more succinctly and movingly than Michael Card does with his song, “The Prophet.”

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The essence

Reflecting on my Journey to Biblical Truth

The essence by Martin Bredenkamp
Dr. Martin Bredenkamp

Martin Bredenkamp has recently shared with us how he and his wife Charmaine have been disillusioned with some of the doctrines of the Adventist Church and how they have started on a personal search for the essence of Biblical truth. In this blog Martin shares some of his introspective reflections on the journey that they have started on. Self-analysis does not always come easily, neither does an honest sharing of one’s conclusions. We laud Martin for sharing with us and pray that he will continue to walk humbly with his Lord and will find peace in the path that the Lords leads him in.  Editors.

The essence

I read through the testimony of Evert Potgieter before I went to South Africa, and it got me thinking deeply about the essence and meaning of our respective religious experiences. I pondered his experience and that of other genuine and serious seekers after truth, children of God, and wondered how it is that we arrive at such diverse outcomes. I mention him because of his reaction to my blog on the Soap Box. I also want to mention Brian Neumann, and Ps. Marthinus Pretorius.

Evert Potgieter

I was in grade 10 at Sedaven high school when Evert Potgieter was our boys’ preceptor. He held that position the year before Dr. Paul Coetser arrived  (1971). The essence of Evert’s ministry as preceptor was that he really cared about us boys. One of his peculiarities was that he had us run before dawn every morning to keep us healthy. He gave sincere talks at our worship times. He then moved out of my life and I lost contact with him for many years. I was unaware of his struggle with God a few years after he started his pastoral ministry. When I read his blog a few weeks ago I was touched by the deep conflict that he went through when he doubted the church and its doctrines. After a period of doubt and uncertainty, he chose to accept the church and E.G. White, while rejecting the teachings of one of his respected university mentors.

Evert’s story made me rethink where I am right now, in the process of rejecting some of the Adventist doctrines. Am I correct in rejecting these doctrines, or have I been misled? I revisited my stance on these doctrines, and concluded again that what I have found is not error, but truth. Truth, that I believe is supported by the Bible, by the history of doctrines, and in places by my understanding of science as well. Does that mean that my childhood mentor and friend has been misled in his beliefs?

Brian Neumann

I know Brian Neumann from my Helderberg College student days. I was in college at the time and Brian in the high school. Brian came from a strong Adventist background, but was a devotee of the popular music industry of that time. God called him out of that, and he then committed himself with his whole heart to  evangelism. While being very active in the ministry, he started doubting the Adventist interpretation of the Spirit of Prophecy. He came to opposing conclusions relative to Evert Potgieter.

Is he right and Evert wrong? Which of them were “led” by the Spirit of God, and which was “misled?” This is the essence of some of my thoughts during my vacation.

Marthinus Pretorius

Then there is Marthinus Pretorius. I know him personally too since he studied theology at Helderberg College while I was studying Science there. I know he is genuine and a seeker after truth. He recently wrestled with the essence of Brian Neumann’s book, “The White Elephant,” and after much soul searching he opted to remain loyal to the church and its doctrines. Was he “Spirit-led” in his decision, or “misled?”

I grappled with the outcomes of the soul-searching of these three friends, others too, and my own. If we are all seekers after truth, why such diverse outcomes? Did the Spirit of God bring us to these opposing conclusions? Did God lead some of us, and not the others? What is the essence of the matter?

New insight

A new thought came to my heart and mind: Is the outcome of our searches important to God, or is it what searching does to us that God is concerned about? Have we learned to know God better as a result of our search? Is our personal relationship with God in place? Are we part of the elect? God loves us too dearly to reject us when we make mistakes or wrong decisions. I believe that the essence of true religion is that God reveals Himself to those who diligently seek Him. I believe that those that seek Him in all sincerity and submission are already saved, and when our walk of life comes to and end on this earth, He will take us to Himself when this dispensation ends at the Second Advent.

My conclusion

The essence and final implication of all of this is that doctrine is not the most important issue in salvation, but rather,
  1. whether we really know God, and
  2. how we relate to our fellow men?

The essence of God’s Kingdom

Christ told a number of parables to teach people about the essence of the Kingdom of God. The parable of the sheep and the goats is one of these parables. In this parable I read nothing about doctrine. I do, however see Jesus placing the emphasis on love for our fellow man. From this parable I learn that the citizens of God’s Kingdom are those that care for the needy. Their care for others are so automatic that they do not even know they are doing it. The goats, on the other hand, believe they are serving God, but neglect their neighbors. They are lost! 

 Buddhists in the Kingdom of God

I am amazed when I look around me in Thailand, and see how caring the Buddhists are to each other, and to strangers! I believe there are many sheep here that have not even heard of Christ yet. However, at the end of time, God will reveal His will clearly and unambiguously. I also believe that denominations will have little to do with the saved or the lost when that time comes. In fact, God is going to call his children out of all denominations into His fold. Christ Himself will lead His Church then, and not some human leader. The essence of our work, to prepare for this time, is to seek God sincerely, and be prepared to give Him whatever He requires of us. God, in His love for us, will make sure that none of us will be lost if we seek Him and belong to Him. The elect will not be deceived in the time of great deception.

Blessings to all of you, and may you find great joy in God’s love while you seek Him.

How do you relate to what Martin shares in this post? Please feel free to respond by putting your comment in the box below or on our Facebook page. Please remember to “like” our page and to share this post with your friends who may be interested. Keep in mind that this is but one of many posts and if you subscribe you will receive each new post in your inbox the moment it is published.



Adventist Church responds to Quebec Shooting

Editor: Mosque shooting in Quebec
Dr. P.W. Coetser – Editor
Mosque shooting in Quebec
Pastor Weiers Coetser – Editor







Mosque shooting in Quebec

The North American Division, which represents the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States and Canada, issued a statement decrying the mosque shooting in Quebec. That statement is printed below in its entirety.

1-30-17 The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada Issues Statement After Mosque Shooting in Québec

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada joins citizens across our nation in mourning the loss of six innocent lives in the senseless killings that occurred on Sunday evening at the Mosque in Québec City, Québec. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of each victim, continuing to keep them in our prayers. We are heartbroken that a space of safety, security, and peace for many has been violated.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada affirms that there is no place for hatred of a person’s race or religion, as well as the actions that are based on this hatred. We believe that God has called us to love all of our neighbours equally, regardless of race, gender, religion, or lifestyle. Therefore, we stand with the people of Quebec and with the people across Canada that will continue to daily demonstrate a spirit of love, compassion, and peace in midst of such sadness and despair.

We pray for the day when all people of all races, genders, religions, and lifestyles can live their lives without fear or hatred. We encourage the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to embody the character of Jesus by demonstrating the love and compassion He exemplified. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV).

The world has been shocked time and again by senseless killings of Christians by extremist Muslims. This time an extremist “Christian” senselessly killed Muslim worshipers in their mosque. The first “natural” response of Christians would be: “Tit for tat”, “Now it is their turn, serves them right!” Is this an appropriate response?

Weiers Reflects:

Media coverage over many decades has conditioned us to stereotype followers of Islam within a framework of intolerance and terrorism. I think in the process we do a great injustice to vast numbers of peace-loving, hospitable, community minded people who have no interest in violence or promulgating sectarian views of their religion.

In the last few months I’ve determined to try not to get caught up in the polarising debates in the media, but to get to know individual people of the Muslim faith and to be a friend to them. In the process my world has become enriched: The friendly conversation with the Turkish barber who enjoys watching football, the retired medical doctor who now serves as Imam in a local mosque, looking after students who travel from around the world to attend university in a country where the practice of Islam has to be almost invisible in order to keep peace; the eccentric lady from Oklahoma who converted to Islam and now finds herself through a series of circumstances that I have not been able to understand in my community in the North of Ireland, living out her faith in a unique and meaningful way.  We’ve shared meals, traded banter, listened to each other’s stories, and generally revelled in hearty, humanising friendship. I pay tribute to my friends, who are different from me in so many ways, but who enrich my life so much.

In the end I think a more tolerant and peaceful world can only be built, one building block at a time through real friendship, tolerance and human interaction. This is something we all can do.

Please share your opinion in the comment box below, or on our Facebook page. Please remember to “Like” our page. Editors


Windows No. 14: H.F. Steenberg

The Rock who served with integrity and compassion

Editor of Sedaven: origin and growth
Dr Paul Coetser B.A, M.A, M.Ed., D.Ed.

H.F. Steenberg: The Rock

Two boys dorm escapees are making their way to the girls dorm late at night. “Chip, chips, here comes the Rock!” warns one of them. “How do you know?” asks the other. “Look over there, you can see his flashlight coming.”

The “Rock,” of course, is a reference to none other than Pastor H.F. Steenberg. Perhaps he was known as the “Rock” because of the meaning of his last name. (Steenberg = Stone mountain) Perhaps it was because he lived in the house partway up the “koppie.”(hill)

HF Steenberg Principal and administrator
Pastor H.F. Steenberg

I would like to think that he was known as the “Rock” because he stood steadfastly for principles, fairness, and integrity like a rock.

But who was he?

H.F. Steenberg: The academic

H.F. Steenberg (Hendrik) was born in Ermelo and grew up in a fairly poor home. After high school, he earned a degree in teaching, but that was just the beginning of his academic career. He was also qualified in Afrikaans, History and Theology. He earned a master’s degree from Andrews University and travelled throughout the USA studying school systems. Later he completed an M.Th. degree from the University of South Africa.

H.F. Steenberg: School principal and Conference president

H.F. Steenberg became the principal of Sedaven in 1971 and remained there till the end of 1986 when he became the president of the Transvaal Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He served as the conference president until a year prior to retirement when he declared his unavailability due to retirement plans. His last year was served as a pastor again. A heart attack claimed his life at the age of 73.

He was always an energetic, hard worker. At one time, while at Sedaven, he served on more than 45 committees!

H.F. Steenberg: Various remembrances 

Evert Potgieter Toe Lr. Steenberg die koshuisvader was, was hy “Slobby” Ek onthou hoe ons almal een aand in die top dorm na ligte uit hard in die donker gepraat en gelag het oor iets wat Slobby die dag gedoen het, en toe skielik Lr. Steenberg se stem: “Slobby sê, gaan slaap nou of julle kry almal pak!” Ek dink dit was daardie aand dat my respek en liefde vir hom begin groei het. Jare later sou ek op Sedaven skoolhou, met “Slobby” as my hoof. (FB: Sedaven Memories)

My first and greatest memory was of Pierre Steenberg‘s father. Ps. H.F. Steenberg was principal and our History teacher. I remember his small finger couldn’t bend so when he pointed a finger that would also stand up. When he scolded us he’d say he’d jump down our throats so deep that his shoe laces would stick out of our ears and his wife would cry for him.(Diane Vosloo, FB: Sedaven Memories)

H.F. Steenberg had a great love for beekeeping and he managed to start a fairly successful beekeeping industry at Sedaven. At one stage the school had more than 70 hives that were kept at various places on the school farm and on farms around the school. When it was time to “harvest” the honey pastor Steenberg would take some boys at night time to a group of hives and together they would take out the honey combs. Back at school, the next day, the honey would then be processed in the “honey-room”. In this way many students learnt the basics of bee keeping which became a valuable skill and hobby in later years. H.F. Steenberg also planted several hundred special eucalyptus trees which produce a specific kind of flower that makes a qood quality honey. These trees are still a landmark on the Sedaven farm. (P.Coetser).
Drakensberg trip: Some of us went with “The Rock” in his Peugeot station wagon the night before. Climbed the gully and slept at the hut taking some kit and tools. Early the following day several of us went back down to the parking area to meet the school bus with the others. A half-drum was tied to poles, carrying more cement, spades and other tools. This too was carried up the gully to the hut!! I recall a few of us went down a third time to assist the weary and heavy laden stragglers. What a trip…!!! (Marrick Schoonraad, FB: Sedaven Memories)

H.F. Steenberg building toilet on mountain
H.F. Steenberg joins a mountain group organized by P.Coetser to build toilet on Mont-Aux-Sources
Paul Coetser: some of my own memories:

I served under and together with H.F. Steenberg from 1971 to 1980 when I was called to Helderberg College. I have only the best of memories of these years of serving together.

One of the most significant leadership qualities that I remember is that Ps. Steenberg never poured cold water onto any of my ideas. When I suggested something, even if he did not really like the idea, he would always give me the green light and say, “Go ahead, try it”. Then he would not withdraw, but give me every possible administrative support within his power. Here I think of projects like taking students on Bible camps, taking students on mountain hikes, starting a school vegetable garden in the area below the Teachers’ flats, arranging a “Big Walk” to collect funds for a school combi, etc.

A second characteristic of H.F. Steenberg’s leadership style was to have a committee for everything. There must have been 20-30 standing committees at Sedaven! One of the bookshelves next to his desk was dedicated to a number of small black books in which each committee kept it’s minutes. [The ‘committee-concept” is pretty much part of Adventist management style, but I never really caught on to it and later when I became school principal I reduced the number of committees significantly.]

Through his many years of service at Sedaven High School various opportunities and job opportunities came his way, such as an offer to head a college faculty. He was also offered the position as a member of the Provincial Council – unopposed. That position came with prestige, lots of money, and a bright future. However, his calling was to Sedaven and later to the Conference.

 Was all the hard work really worth it?

H.F. Steenberg: Family man

H.F. Steenberg playing with his son
Frolicking with son Pierre
We had two standing arrangements with my parents: every night when dad came home – when he did not have some kind of meeting – he would play with us “riding the bull”. He would be on his knees on the carpet, one of us would be worrying him from the front and the other was on his back. Then the bull would buck and kick up backwards in an attempt to throw the rider off! We will never forget the bull-bull games! The other standing appointment was that once a month, on a Sunday, we could choose any activity that we liked, as long as it did not cost money, and we would then enjoy this as a special family-time treat! A few times dad also took us fishing. (Pierre in a personal letter, January 2017)

H.F. Steenberg: Pastor

The position of school principal does not only entail educational leadership and management. It demands and provides many opportunities also for pastoral service. H.F. Steenberg was a pastor in his heart of hearts. He spent many hours counseling students, staff and church members. He was regularly involved in preaching in the local church and in many pulpits across the Conference. One of his greatest joys was to be asked to baptize students who have given their hearts to the Lord.

From time to time in the years after dad passed away, some or other Sedavenite would contact me (Pierre) to tell their story. Stories that until now were not known by more than a few people. Stories of changed lives attributed to Pastor Steenberg’s intervention. Stories of Pastor Steenberg going to people’s homes in his vacation time to salvage certain situations. Stories of he and his wife giving students in tough situations a refuge in their home. (Personal letter from Pierre Steenberg).

Due to the sensitivities around these stories we choose not to mention names, but  there are countless individuals who remember gratefully what H.F. Steenberg and aunty Mavis meant for them!

Editor’s note: If you have any comment on this post or have a story about H.F. Steenberg that you would like to share, please post it in the comment box below or on our Facebook page. Do remember to “like” our page as well.


Blogging through “The White Elephant”No.2

What are we leaving behind?

Author of the four gospels
Weiers Coetser
Devil's advocate
Devil’s Advocate



Paul Coetser: Co-editor and Devil’s Advocate




Weiers is a pastor in Northern Ireland and co-editor of the Adventist Soapbox website and blog.

We (the editors of the Adventist Soapbox) have embarked on a quest to pen some of our thoughts as we engage with Brian Neumann’s book, The White Elephant in Seventh-day AdventismThis blog focuses on the introductory section (pages 1-36).

What Are We Leaving Behind?

Brian Neumann devotes much of the introductory 36 pages of his book to recounting the story of his, and his wife, Kamy’s journey of research and discovery about Ellen White.

As pastor I could imagine myself in Kamy’s sitting-room as she discussed her questions and objections about Ellen White after submitting her resignation letter to the Church, first with the older Pastor Z, and then with the young Pastor A. I’ve been in such conversations over a variety of issues, even if they were not all conducted in “terminal” situations like these. At times the interactions were cordial and friendly, and even affirming, regardless of differences or a lack of one clear answer. At other times they were filled with frustration or barely hidden animosity.

The contrast between Pastor Z – a traditional Adventist who admitted his own misgivings about the role of Ellen White in the Church but still defended her – and Pastor A – a representative of the progressive wing of the church who showed a greater readiness to consign her to history – also resonated with me. Brian’s important point is to illustrate the fact that the urgent question of Ellen White’s authority and role in the Church spans across the various divisions that one might encounter in the church.

I salute Brian and Kamy’s spirit of integrity and willingness to go where the evidence leads. I also know that the factors that impact on our spiritual journeys and decision making are complex and often multi-layered. At one point (p.28), Kamy describes one transition from being faithful to a “cause” to being faithful to Christ. This again touches my heart strings. I think that is one of the most important moves that anyone can make.

I think that it was on the basis of this move to “faith maturity” that  Pastor A, a pastor representing The One Project felt that he could present to her his cause: a Seventh-day Adventist denomination that does not rely so heavily on the writings of Ellen White. This was also not a viable option for Kamy.

Brian and Kamy’s story is a story of “moving on”.

By way of analysis I wonder if it would be worth wondering what they are leaving behind? What are the essential features of the Adventist world that they inhabited? Why was Pastor A‘s solution, for example, not an option?

Devil's Advocate
         Devil’s Advocate

Weiers, your questions are thought-provoking, May I suggest that the Adventist believer who is confronted with “evidence” that long held beliefs – such as the prophetic calling and inspiration of White – are simply not sustainably true, can follow one  of three paths: “rejection” (pretend that the evidence is false), “revision” (give up all belief and possibly leave the Church) or “transform” (accept the new reality and accommodate it constructively in life and practice within the Church). 1

The question why one outcome was chosen over others is not simply a psychological question. I think it is useful to think about the bigger context in which decisions happen. How do our prior commitments and experience impact on how we make our choices?  I think it also goes to questions of theology, and the decisions that we make about how we know what is true (epistemology).

From my analysis the reality of the Adventist world today is one where various epistemologies often come in conflict with each other. Some Adventists, believe strongly that truth is clearly visible in the Bible. You just need to open its pages and it will jump out at you. Others work from the assumption that one often works with different layers of understanding and that the Bible and our interpretation is inevitably a product of cultural conditioning.

Different epistemologies also lead into a variety of possible approaches in evaluating Ellen White. Brian outlines several choices that are vying for acceptance in the Church today.

I wonder if one could argue that these choices boil down to one of two fundamental decisions that one must make about the influence and authority of Ellen White. Does accepting Ellen White as prophet mean that she is perfect in every way and conforms fully to a set of strict requirements? Or can one take a more nuanced view of Ellen White as prophet and a human being, fallible like the rest of us, but who still made an impact on the Church for the good.

These questions became quite pertinent after Ellen White’s death. At that time the church decided on an idealistic, high view of Ellen White. This view has however come under pressure in recent years as information have become more widely available that call into question how prophetic inspiration works.  How one responds to this new information depends to a large extent on which perspective one takes on these fundamental decisions about Ellen White.

Perhaps another way of asking the question is: How do some of the assumptions that we make about reality and how it is knitted together, determine the conclusions that we come to? An even more challenging question could be: How stable are the foundations that we build the decisions of our life upon?

These questions are not judgmental. They come to mind as I read the compelling stories of Brian and Kamy. As we continue reading the book, some of these issues might become more clear. My own hunch is that faith is a rather fragile thing and faith development is not a simple linear trajectory. Foundations may not always be as stable as they seem, and when they shift, they can do so in unexpected ways.

Deviil's advocate
Devil’s advocate

Weiers, is faith really “fragile”? Did the Apostle Paul not point out that “faith and hope”, apart from “love” are the strongest motivators of all. By the way, What do you mean by “faith”? Is it belief in God as a Person, or is it faith (belief) in a set of doctrines (beliefs)?

I hope to explore one element of this line of questioning in  more depth in the next blog post on “Chapter 1.”


Note: The White Elephant in the Seventh-day Adventist Church contains and presents many new perspectives on the life of Ellen White. The book would be worth purchasing just for the spirit and the passion that is contained in Brian and Kamy’s personal stories found at the beginning of the book.

Read article one in this series.


Windows: No.13 Sedaven: Humble beginnings

Overview of Sedaven's humble origin and development

Editor of Sedaven: origin and growth
Dr Paul Coetser B.A, M.A, M.Ed., D.Ed.

Sedaven: Humble beginnings

(Sedaven: Humble beginnings was written in 1970 by Matric student Kathy O’Reilly and published in the 1970 edition of the Protea – Pictures and explanatory comments added by editor.)

A little more than two decades ago the site on which Sedaven is now situated was a mere wind-blown, deserted piece of ground, and a sanctuary for numerous wild creatures and birds. 

Sedaven: Humble beginnings

Koppies clothed in verdant serenity stood like lonely sentinels outlined against the sky. Pink-tinted proteas smiled down upon the rich golden ground.

In scouting around for a suitable site for the establishment of a high school, Pastor J.B. Cooks, then the Educational Secretary, came across the above mentioned site. Fortunately it complied with all the requirements.

It had to:

  1. be away from the large cities,
  2. be near a hospital,
  3. be near a railway station,
  4. have a healthful climate,
  5. have a good water supply,
  6. be a place where there would be an opportunity for young people to be out in nature, where God’s handiwork could be seen and appreciated.

Providentially this 800-acre farm was found to be ideally situated for the establishment of the proposed high school.  It was located only five miles  (8 Km) from Heidelberg, a homely town in the Suikerbosrante.  Building operations were soon under way.

 Although Helderberg College caters for college students and high school pupils, it was felt, especially by the believers in the Transvaal, that Helderberg was rather far away, and that a local high school should be established for pupils from the northern provinces.  The idea was that Sedaven would be a preparatory school for Helderberg College.

Sedaven: Humble beginnings 

Sedaven High School was inaugurated on 16 January 1951. Pastor Jan van der Merwe, the then-president of the Orange-Transvaal Conference must have smiled to himself to have seen his brain-child shoot up into a startling reality, as it was under his enthusiastic leadership that the decision was made to establish this boarding high school.

 Being a Conference project, Sedaven has of necessity grown slowly, but, through the years, more and more buildings and facilities have been added.  


Sedaven: Humble beginnings - Sedaven Church
Building Sedaven Church
Sedaven: Humble beginnings
End result







At first schooling from Std 5 (Gr. 7) to Std 8 (Gr. 10) was provided for, but, in 1953 the first matriculation class was taught.

To date (1970) Sedaven has had five principals.  

Sedaven: Humble beginnings - HF Steenberg
Pastor H.F. Steenberg

Pastor H.F. Steenberg will be the new principal of Sedaven as from next year (1971).

Sedaven: Humble beginnings

Pastor du Plessis, who has been a wonderful principal and an invaluable guide to Sedaven’s young people for the past decade, is to retire at the end of this year.  He will surely be missed by all the pupils who have grown to respect and value his fatherly counsel.

Most of the recorded memories about the life and times of Sedaven come from student alumni. The following information and anecdote relate to some of the single staff who lived in the “teachers’ flats” in 1957. Dr. D. Birkenstock who started his teaching career at Sedaven remembers:…

I was trying to recall who lived in the Teacher’s flat in 1957. On the ground floor it was Isobel Brydon, myself and in the large flat was Jessie Patrick. On the top floor, in the two single rooms was Billy van Heerden and Donald Bertelsen. I think the big flat was shared by some ladies, I think Betsy le Roux, Marie Botha and I do not recall any others. We all had coal stoves that also heated the water for our showers and baths.

On one occasion Jessie had given us a number of Avocado’s she had received from Durban, I had no place to store them so I put about ten of these inside the oven of the stove, we would use only once or twice a week and we would remove them before we made the fire in the stove. You have guessed what happened, it was Sunday evening and Billy made the fire in the stove, soon it was burning brightly and for some reason we went to Billy’s flat to chat. After a while we smelt something strange and we went back to my flat. At first we could not trace the smell but then I opened and the sight that greeted my eyes was ten pitch black blobs in the oven.

Luckily the water was hot and we could both have baths in preparation for the new week!

    Sedaven truly has lived up to its motto: Non Sibi Sed Deo – not for self, but for God, in that many of its pupils have entered the denominational work.

The following is another 1957 memory from Melody Schleicher a student at the time:

A very funny incident happened one night at the girls’ dorm. I think it was the night we all waited up to see the Sputnik. In any event, some of us noticed a bicycle and two chaps going from behind the dining room/kitchen building and sneaking behind the girls’ dorm. A couple of us went to the wooden fence and peeped through to see what they were up to. It was Athol de Beer and Rodney Austen. They had a sheet and were fumbling around with it, the idea being to gives us girls a fright. Spooks in the night kind of thing. I rushed to my room and grabbed my sheet off the bed and was back again before they were quite ready to open the gate and waited wrapped in the sheet. As the gate opened I stepped forward and said “Boo”. You have never seen such surprised chaps in all your life. Rodney Austen bolted and Athol had trouble getting onto his bike to make his getaway. I am chuckling now at the memory.

Editor’s comment:

  • Sputnik was launched on 4 Oct 1957 and heralded the beginning of the arms race between USA and USSR.
  • Athol de Beer passed away a few weeks ago (December 2016)

Today (1970) Sedaven, with its modern library and laboratories, and its dormitories, which are at present being renovated and extended, compares favourably with any of our other institutions.

 Visitors coming to Sedaven for the first time are pleasantly surprised at its setting and scenic beauty.  

Sedaven: Humble beginnings

Such are its surroundings, that the Rand municipalities have bought up 13,000 morgen adjoining Sedaven for the establishment of a nature reserve.

The beautiful surroundings and the underlying purpose of the school inspired the words of the school song which echoes in the minds of all alumni:

Where Heidelberg by mountain range and flowing stream is bound, where sunny veldt the seasons change and songs of birds doth sound, we live and work in love and peace and try both God and man to please. Take pride in duty done, unite in work and fun!

Sedaven, Sedaven, we glory in thy name, thy fortunes ever be the same, be the same!

Aan Heidelberg se berg en hang langs ruisend waterstroom, in sonnig veld met voelgesang wat ruis uit bos en boom, woon ons in liefd’ en vree byeen en doen ons plig en vra sy seen. Vra Sy seen!

Sedaven, Sedaven, ons roem jou voortbestaan! Waar jy ons lei daar sal ons gaan, sal ons gaan!

Even if the work that was studied at school eludes the minds of old Sedaven pupils, the fun they had at Sedaven never will.  Not even time will wipe from their memories the nocturnal call of jackals and the barking of baboons in the koppies.  Memories like mystical fragrances linger on.

If the images and content of Sedaven: Humble beginnings resonate with you, please write a comment or “like” our page on Facebook. We are always interested in additional stories or corrections of what we have published! [Editor]

Cover Image taken from Wikipedia. License. CC BY-SA 3.0


Windows No 12: Sedaven 1951

The Pioneers

Dr Paul Coetser B.A, M.A, M.Ed., D.Ed.




Sedaven 1951 

[“Sedaven 1951” was written by ESTHER (UYS) GEBHARDT and first published in the “Protea” of 1972. – The section that is printed in bold was originally written in Afrikaans and later translated into English by Evert Potgieter.]

Red water

Amidst the cheerful chatting of a group of girls and the clattering of dishes being washed, a question was heard, “Where is Cathy?  She is supposed to help here today!”

This brought instant outrage: “She can’t be allowed to get away with it!  Its warm, and the bell for afternoon classes will be ringing soon.” 

But then somebody answered, “She’s gone home.  Didn’t you know?”  A chorus of voices: “Home! Why?!”  And the short answer to that: “Because of the red water.”

Yes, Sedaven 1951’s water was red!  Up in the sugarbush-hills where the fountain erupted, the water was clear and sweet.  But very quickly the high iron content reacted to the oxygen rich Highveld air; hence the rust-red water.

To the principal, pastor C.C. Marais (known and revered as uncle C.C.) this was simply one more challenge among many others.  He used to say jokingly that the high iron content helped to develop strong backbones!

Building a school

His was the task to build a school – literally from nothing. The expectations of the school committee and parents were high, and funds pitifully low. 

According to plan, this newborn, Sedaven, was to open its doors to boys and girls and staff members in January of 1951.  And so classes started on the 16th, and the official opening occurred on January 17.

 But was this really a school?  Two buildings on the bare veld at the foot of the “Suikerbosrand” (sugarbush-reef), the principal’s house nestled against a hill, an old farm house up against an opposite hill, the cow shed, and o yes, another small grass thatched house between the hills up above the Little Dam.  At times baboons would leave the hills to play on the roof of this little house! 

Early mornings aunty Enslin ventured forth from this same little home to cross the stream by the orchard as she made her way to the girls’ dormitory.  Preceptress?  No, dining-room matron!  You see, the girls’ dormitory had to serve as kitchen, dining-room, classroom, dormitory, as well as domicile for the preceptress!

A young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Sparrow were the acting “parents” of the girls.  The youthful “housemother” (dean of girls) was kept very busy with such a large family of girls while her husband taught school with music as major.

In the boys’ dormitory Mr. P. Bonnet was just as busy with his young son Pierre and some fifty additional boys.  His trusty cane was a ready help in maintaining order and discipline!

“Did you say, ‘boys’ dormitory’?  This room does not seem to be occupied by boys!”

“Indeed, no!  This is the principal’s office, complete with telephone and number befitting a new school – 321”

It was in this room that Mrs. Marais – wife of the principal, “oom” C.C.- served as school secretary.  Originally this space was supposed to have been the living-room of the preceptor’s apartment.

The boys’ reception room [years later the worship and study hall] had to double up as class room for the Std. 4, 5 and 6 pupils.  The corner room served as class room for Std. 7. 

And the little nook between the two – actually a part of the reception room, partitioned off for temporary use – was very important.  It served as library, science room and store. 

Three long shelves were installed along one wall. The top shelf held the laboratory equipment.  In this very same room the Std. 8 class startled their young teacher, Miss. J. van Wyk, badly by causing an explosion during a science experiment!

A small one room building behind the boys’ dormitory – where the tennis courts would be built years later by Pr. A. Bambury and his helpers – was home to Mr. Bonnet’s “baby” – the engine that provided electricity for all of Sedaven every evening. 

There was no power during daylight hours.  And great the rejoicing when that motor quit during study hour!  After all, it was impractical for one hundred students to study by candle light!

Woe to those who dared to raid the peach orchard!  For the morning after, “oom” C.C. would stand at the window and stare at the hills, rubbing his cheek and muttering about “too much water”, and every student would know that he wasn’t speaking about rain! 

All would listen intently to find out how this master detective had gone about his work, and pretty soon the culprits would shift around guiltily in their seats.

Those sharp eyes of “oom” C.C. would often notice some praise-worthy deed, and then there would be a medal parade.  Some lucky student would receive a silver medal, a “ticky” – a small silver coin worth 3 pennies as reward.

Or else, for an unworthy deed such as littering with orange peels, a copper medal would be awarded – a big old penny, about the size of an American quarter.

The manual labour program at Sedaven 1951

It was required of every pupil to take part in the “work program”  on an unpaid basis.  In this way young hands were kept busy sweeping, dusting and cleaning.  The older boys helped on the farm and at the dairy.  The older girls helped in the kitchen/dining room or helped teachers with various duties.  

Sedaven 1951 - Farm buildings
Sedaven farm (dairy and silo)

How well I remember marking books for Miss. Martha Coetzee – later Mrs. Jacobs, and still later Mrs. Combrinck, second wife of Pr. Combrinck –  teacher of the primary classes.  The hours spent then in deciphering hieroglyphics still stand me in good stead!  

There was also the important work of sorting laundry in the tem­porary shack behind the girl’s dormitory.  Laundry lists to be checked on Sundays against the contents of each bag – need we say this was not the most popular work?  With no washing machines available, laundry maids came in on Mondays and did the washing by hand on the hillside below the filter-reservoir.  The ironing was done by using sad-irons heated on a small coal-stove in the laundry. Those forgotten heroines should have a plaque of honor hanging in Sedaven’s library!

Week-ends: Sedaven 1951

Week-ends were special times at Sedaven.  On Friday evening the dining room tables were stacked at the rear of the room, chairs were set out in rows, and all was in readiness for the Sabbath vespers meeting. That over, down came the tables to be set for breakfast the next morning.  Following the meal, the procedure started all over again – tables were stacked, chairs set in rows.  After the Sabbath morning service, down came the tables again, to be set for lunch. Now they stayed down until – you’ve guessed it – sunset, when they were stacked again to make space for games or whatever had been planned for the evening.  Films were few – the school had no projector, so films could be shown only when the Conference projector was sent from Johannesburg.

On those glorious Sabbath afternoons nature walks were quite naturally part of the program.  1Then the girls would go with their preceptress in one direction, and the boys with their preceptor in another, to roam the hills or walk up the valley to the Big Dam.

There was the luxury of hot water for baths and showers, on condition that someone stoked the boilers.  This was no popular task, but a very necessary one.  The work was assigned to the boys, but the girls could perform quite well as stokers when the boys were kept busy elsewhere.

Dining room protocols

The dining-room was a very important place for the young people.  Tables were set, and dishes were served at the table, with a boy at each table being assigned as “waiter” for the week, to be sure that the “second helping” was duly conveyed from the serving deck to the hungry diners at the table.  And how those boys could eat!  (We wonder, do the boys at Sedaven still have such healthy appetites?)  Well do we remember a rather young waiter coming to the serving deck, brown eyes a-twinkle with mischief and friendliness.  Soon another young waiter would come in, this time a very courteous, smiling, blue-eyed boy.  So young then – where are they today?  Doing Sedaven proud, for the brown eyes have not lost their sparkle as Michael Stevenson goes about his work in the U.S.A, and courteous, friendly Neville Willcox-Tosen was serving as a missionary teacher in New Guinea when last we heard of him.

These are but two of the many names that are recorded on Sedaven’s roll of honor of those in the Master’s service, or in service for their fellow-men.  A few had this privilege but for a short time, and in memory of them we would be quiet for a few moments to whisper: “We are happy that you shared 1951 with us”.


Summer brought changes in more ways than one.  Mrs T. Uys came as preceptress and Sedaven became “home” to yet another family.  Two months later joy rippled through the school as the news spread: “The Sparrows have a baby boy! They’re calling him Michael.”  This was a very special first in a very special year.

Sedaven 1951 - Michale Sparrow
        Michael Sparrow born at Sedaven 1951
Thanks very much, Paul, for your reminiscences of Sedaven. As you know, I was born there in November 1951, when it was barely a year old, and my parents were part of the first members of staff there when it started in 1951. Then, we left again as my father was both a qualified music teacher as well as a theologian, so he constantly was “used” in organising the music at evangelistic efforts on the East and West Rand as well as in Pretoria in those days. When they needed a music teacher back at Sedaven, we used to go back there, so I spent 51, 53, 56, 59 and 66/7 at Sedaven. It looks like we missed you as you were not there during those years? Anyway, the place has some very special memories for me, and getting baptised in the big dam at the end of 66 was one of the memories I will never forget, and will cherish for the rest of my life. I almost drowned also in 1959, having fallen into the round swimming pool next to the church, but fortunately I had a bright yellow shirt on, and I was fished out of the pool, spluttering and gasping for air!! I was but seven years old, and would still like to know who saved my life then?…  Michael (This post was submitted in a private letter to the editor. January 2017)

Summer also brought another climax of this unique year.  One Sabbath early in December the sound of young voices reverently singing a hymn of consecration was heard across the waters of the dam as Pastor Marais baptised the first of nine young people.  The joy of that sacred moment and the sound of those voices will surely remain as my most hallowed and treasured memory.

Sedaven 1951, we, the pioneers of ’51, salute you!

Have you been one of the Sedaven 1951 pioneers? Do you still have contact with one or more of the pioneers? Please write a comment below or on our Facebook Page sharing some snippet of information that may add to better understanding life at Sedaven 1951.