THE EXPERIENCE OF PIETER AND JOHN WESSELS
The following article is a word for word reproduction of an experience which happened during the early days of the Advent Movement. It was related by Dr Van Niekerk, the great-grandson of John Wessels (the central figure in the experience) during an Adventist camp meeting in the USA. Does this have relevance today?
Before I Boarded the ship that would bring me to the United States of America I thought what would be appropriate to do for that last afternoon?
Should I quickly run out to Heidelberg College and visit some of my friends and see my teachers for the last time; should I take a tour of Cape-town, which I knew quite well; or perhaps rent a car and for the last time go around the Cape Point with it’s beautiful, magnificent scenery. Then a though struck me.
I decided to take a bus and go to a certain spot on the slope of Table Mountain where I got off the bus and walked a few yards into what we call a veld, or piece of land that was unoccupied. And as I stood there amidst the ruins of a building, tall grass and tall trees, the following quotation from Ellen G. White came to mind,
“Upon this land will never again be another building. Only the wind will rustle the grass and blow through the tall trees as a mute testimony to what might have been.”
But let me start right from the beginning.
It was before the turn of the century that my great-grandfather Pieter Wessels, many of you have heard of him and read about him, that Pieter Wessels (a close relative of John Wessels) studied his Bible. He became convinced that the seventh day Sabbath was the right day on which to worship. So, after studying diligently for several more weeks he finally decided that he was going to keep the seventh day as the Sabbath, regardless what his friends or neighbours might think. One evening he called the family together at worship (it was their custom to worship every evening after supper) and he told them that he had become convinced that this was the Sabbath to keep. So they kept it. And when he left the Christian Dutch Reform Church, it is almost a State Church in South Africa, many of his friends and neighbours came to him and said: “You are crazy! What has gotten into you? You know you cannot do this!” But he was determined to continue.
Next he talked to one of his neighbours by the name of Henry van Druitten and the two families together kept the Sabbath. For many month they thought that they were the only people in the whole world keeping the seventh day Saturday Sabbath.
One day grandpa thought, “I will go and visit my very good friend doctor Andrew Murray.” Dr. Murray at that time was the leading theologian in the country of South Africa. So one Friday evening grandpa got into his buggy and drove it over to Andrew Murray’s home in Wellington, about 30 miles from Cape-town. There the two started chatting. They were old friends. They had known each other for years, the families having been friends for years, and they started discussing the new faith that grandpa had found.
They talked through the night and as the sun came up the next morning it found the two of them walking down the little path with rose trees on each side and as they reached the garden gate, Dr. Murray turned to great grandpa and said: “John, you have found the truth.
Because of my position in the Dutch Reform Church I cannot make a stand at this time. But if you feel that this is what you have to do, then do it, because you are right.” And so, more determined than ever, in spite of what his friends and even the relatives were saying, he went back home and started anew to study the Bible and to keep the Sabbath.
Then something happened. There was the discovery of diamonds in the country and very close to one of the ranches that great grandpa owned was this one field of diamonds that they discovered. He decided that it was about time for one of his periodic trips to go and see how things were going on the ranches and then also, at the same time, to see what was going on at the diamond diggings.
He took a train from Cape-town up north to near Blume-Fontain and there he got off and visited three ranches and then went over on a Thursday to the diamond fields. There he looked at how people were prospecting and how they were staking claims and how they were furiously and frantically digging, trying to become wealthy overnight. He was wondering about this because he was a wealthy man already, and then he thought, “Well, I’ll stay a little longer.” He became intrigued with what was going on at those diamond fields and pretty soon he realized it was Friday evening so he decided to stay over the Sabbath.
As his custom was on a Sabbath day, he took out his Bible in the morning, next to the tent where he was staying at the diamond diggings he sat down in the sunshine and started reading his Bible. Pretty soon he noticed something very strange. About three tents over, instead of feverishly digging and staking claims, trying to become wealthy like everyone else, there was another gentleman sitting reading his Bible. He went over to the gentleman and said in Africans: “Good morning Sir.” The gentleman didn’t answer him, so he said” “What are you doing?” And the gentleman said: “You speak English?” Yes I do, What are you doing?” “Well, I am reading my Bible.” “Isn’t it a little strange, you are reading your Bible while everybody else is trying to stake claims and find wealth?” The gentleman said: “Well, this is my Sabbath. I’m a Seventh-Day Adventist.”
Great grandpa looked at him and said: “You are what?” “I’m a Seventh-Day Adventist.”
The two of them started talking. Grandpa found out that the man’s name was John Hunt and that he had been baptized in California by Elder Loughborough and that there was a company of people who called themselves Seventh-Day Adventists and that James White had just been elected the first president of the newly established General Conference whose headquarters were in Oakland, California.
How thrilled great-grandpa was! All this time he had thought that they were alone in the world. Now he had found a man who represented a company of people across the ocean who believed just as he did.
He wrote a cheque and sent a letter to the United States with this man, who incidentally, was at the diamond fields trying to tell people about Christ. The letter said: “Please send us a missionary!” Finally a letter came back, not from James White but from Ellen White, stating: “We do not have enough funds and we do not even have the personnel. We are a young organization.”
Undaunted he wrote back and included another cheque, and he said: “Send us a missionary!” After several months negotiation, finally a letter came back, telling them when a certain ship would be sailing for Cape-town, South Africa and that on board would be a missionary family.
How they waited for this ship to come!
Finally the day arrived and the whole family was out at the docks waiting for the missionaries to come. They finally disembarked and stayed with the family for about a week. During that week grandpa went to the governor of the Cape, Sir George Gary, and said: “Look, I want you to help me to find some land because these missionaries want to go up north and establish a mission station.” And grandpa offered to pay them for whatever land they would give. But not telling grandpa anything, Sir George Gray went into his office, wrote a letter, sealed it and handed it to him, and said: “When you get up north, go to the governor of Rhodesia and give this to Cecil John Rhodes.”
They travelled for four months, by ox wagon. Two of their company died on the way, but finally they reached the north country. There they found the governor of Rhodesia and great- grandpa handed him the letter. He opened the letter, read it and he looked at great- grandpa, and he said: “How much land do you want?” He said” “Well, maybe 800 to a 1000 acres would be very good.” The Governor replied: “ Well, I’ll do you one better. I’ve been told in this letter by Sir George Gray to give you all the land you want! I’ll tell you what, you take a horse and you ride that horse, once you’ve found the place where you want to settle, go one hour in each direction of the compass and the land that you’ve covered you can have.”
He took a horse, the freshest and the fastest he could find, and he rode, one hour north, one hour east, one hour south and one hour west and with the horse frothing at his mouth, he finally arrived at the point of origin. They had covered a little more than 4000 acres. Today we have the Soluthi Mission station on that piece of property. From that small beginning the work started.
As mentioned before, grandpa was a man of quite a bit of means. He would have been considered a millionaire in today’s terms, and he decided that he wanted to do something special, something of his own. So he said: “I have heard about the medical work. And the climate of the Cape is such that it could be a marvellous place for a sanatorium.“ Then out of his own pocket he built the sanatorium at a beautiful place on the slopes of the mountain, just a little way from his own mansion.
He was called the Earl of Landsdown because he was so wealthy, and then they furnished the home, he and his family with great-grandmother went over to Europe and had special furniture made for the special rooms and had it shipped over. Then a strange thing happened.
Some of his wealthy friends came to him and said:” We would like to take some of our vacations at the sanatorium that you built. It really has a good reputation and we want to be close by. But you know, we drink a little and we puff little and we like to play cards, and we certainly don’t want to give up those things when we come and visit your sanatorium. Would you consider building a few rooms, we’ll pay for it, where we can have a smoking room and where we can serve a little beer and then also a place where we can play our cards undisturbed?”
Grandpa thought about it for a while and decided perhaps not to do it. But they prevailed on him and finally he thought: “Well, it shouldn’t do any harm because they won’t be mixing with the other patients.” So he allowed them to do it.
One week later, remember it took at least 3 to 4 weeks at that time for a letter to arrive from America, one week after he made the decision a letter arrived from Ellen G. White. She had been shown in a vision that he was not using his finances and his influence correctly. A second letter came. The third one came, and after the fourth letter he became quite perturbed and said: “ What does this little old lady over in America know about my business anyway? It’s my money and I will do with it as I please.” And so he did.
Something strange began to happen. Where he had the monopoly on all the feed stores in the whole country, supplying the farmers with their supplies, their grain, their implements and fertilizer, he started losing one by one of these stores. He couldn’t figure out why.
One day he went up north to sell one of the ranches because he need to cover some debts, and while he was up there he received a telegram from his brother who was the business manager at the sanatorium. The telegram was very short but clear. It said: “Sanatorium burned down. Come home immediately.”
He took the first train that he could find. It took him two days to travel, about 800 miles. When he finally pulled into the Cape-town station, he was met by his brother Henry. There he told Henry: “ It’s too bad that the sanatorium burned down but I’m sure we have insurance and we’ll recoup our financial losses.” Henry hung his head as he said: “John, I meant to tell you this before but I tried to economize because of the bad turns that some of our businesses have taken and I did not renew the insurance.” There was quite an amount of money owing on the new expansion of the sanatorium.
He had lost most of his business, he had two stores left and he had kept his favourite ranch, the one which he always said he would go to and retire. It was called “Beautiful Fountain”
Now he decided that the only way to cover his debts, because now those people who were once his friends, were pressing him to get their money, was to go up north and to sell ‘Beautiful Fountain’. 28 days after he sold that piece of property they discovered on that ranch the richest diamond mine this world has ever known. It’s name – Kimberly. 28 days.
He went back to Cape-town a broken man. All his friends had forsaken him, except old Henry van Druitten. His beautiful mansion, on the side of the hill; with its gorgeous furniture, the creditors came and took it. Under South African law at that time there were only three things that he could keep. Kitchen and dining furniture, a sewing machine if he had one, and bedroom furniture. Up to this time the letters had kept coming from Ellen G. White. To date there were 69 letters of which 64 were unopened.
On the day when he had to move out to the outskirts of the town where the poorest of the poor people lived, he found a little two room shack and Henry van Druitten brought an ox cart with two oven and they took out the bed room furniture, an old sewing machine and the dining furniture. As they turned the hutch from the dining room on its side to move it through the door, 69 letters fell from the top shelf. Grandpa took those letters, and put them in his overcoat pocket. It was a cold winter’s evening, and he was a sad, despondent and broken man as he went to the outskirts of town.
By candlelight that evening he took out those letters, all written by Ellen G. White, only the first four he had opened. They had different post marks on them. San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, New York, Boston, Frankfurt Germany, Sydney Australia, Oslo Norway and he arrange these in the chronological order of their post marks. He started to read them. In these letters he read his whole life story. (Most are now filed at Andrews University. My family has a few of the originals. A few of them have been published.) He read how Ellen White had predicted that the sanatorium would burn to the ground and that three fire departments would come to rescue but there would be nothing that they could do. That was the way it had happened. Three fire departments came and nothing that they tried could stop that ravenous fire.
So when I visited the site twelve years ago, before leaving South Africa, her quote came to mind that “never as long as time shall last will there ever be a building on that site… the ruins and the wind going through the trees and the grass will be a mute testimony to what might have been.”
What might have been? But that’s not all she told him in these letters. She reminded him of his wealth, and then she made two significant statements.
The first one was that if he had used his influence and his finances faithfully, the Anglo- Boer war in South Africa would never have been. You know what that means? That means that thousands of lives would never have been lost.
Then she made the most significant statement, that I’ve ever heard. She said: “John, if you had used your influence and your means which God had entrusted to you correctly, the Government of South Africa would be well disposed to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and its message.” Do you know what that means? This means that the Government in South Africa may have been a Seventh-Day Adventist Government. You know that country is in the news a lot these days about the hatred between black and white. If at the helm there were people who were “well disposed to the Seventh-Day Adventist message,” just think, just think how the course of history could have been different!
As he read the reminder of those letters, telling him so many things, telling him about incidents at the sanatorium that he thought no one knew about, the special favours to some of the patients, his lack of giving money for the educational work, he vowed as he read the last letter, at the sunrise the next morning, that if the Lord would give him another chance then he would do his best to live up to the counsel of the Spirit of Prophecy. He prayed for many months and finally he was convicted to start up his feed business again.
Again he started with a small store and the Lord blessed him. Fairly soon he had a good business going. He developed that business and purchased more property, and again the Lord blessed him. Not only was there a diamond rush in South Africa but there was also a gold rush and on his very property they discovered gold. Today the family is still operating the mine called “The Wessels Gold Mine” and much of the funds being generated from that mine have gone into the mission work. But never again would the Lord give him the equivalent of his first opportunity.
Would you like to know how much money has been taken out of the DeBeers Consolidated Mine at Kimberly? In today’s money 18:5 Billion Dollars. Could you begin to understand what that would have meant for the Lord’s work?
Nevertheless Grandpa decided to do the best with what he had. He sent one son, my grandfather, my mum’s father over to Battle Creek to study. While there he wrote home and said, “We are building a church here. I would like you to help.” So grandpa wrote a cheque for 10,000 pounds, today’s equivalent of about $150,000, and said: “Here use it for the church.” Grandma, from her own funds, wrote a cheque for $10,000 pound and said: “Here install an organ.” So the first pipe organ was installed in Battle Creek in the Old Tabernacle.
There’s another sideline that’s interesting. Dr. Kellogg, when he wanted to start his Kellogg business, was aided by funds that were a loan from great-grandpa.
However, both he and great-grandma felt impressed that there was more that they could do. As they discussed their finance they wanted to make another gift. Just a week before they had heard that Ellen White was travelling to Australia and that she would be there at least for 3 or 4 month. They decided to write a cheque and mail it to Australia.
You have to stay with me now because it becomes a little complicated. It took 26 days, minimum, for a letter to arrive from South Africa by ship in Australia. Ellen White was in Australia, working with the brethren, planning to establish a school. In a vision, which has been kept on record, she saw a clearing of land with trees on one side, and trees on the other and a six foot long furrow, six inches wide and six inches deep without the trace of horses, or oxen, or any implement of any kind, just this furrow. In the vision the Lord told her that this would be the place to establish the school.
The next morning, it was Tuesday they were leaving to go and search for a piece of property they collected Ellen White in a buggy. They started off in a certain direction. She said: “Where are you going?” They answered: “ We’re heading out towards a place where we think we should look for property.” She said: “No! Turn around and go this way.” They answered: “No you can’t do that! The property out there is very poor,” (in those days they called it sour soil.) “You cannot establish a school there! Our school must be established where you can have agriculture!” They argued with her, and she said: “I’ve got to go in this direction.” After driving most of the day they were hot, tired and hungry and as they were rounding a bend on the dusty little road she said: “Stop!” They helped her of the buggy and she walked into a clearing and there they found a six foot long furrow, six inches wide and six inches deep without a trace of human hands or implements. “This is the piece of property we are going to buy. Find out who owns it.”
Throwing up their hands in despair, they said: “Number one: we don’t have the money; number two: this is a rotten part of the country!” Ellen White said: “Let’s just follow those instructions.” To prove her wrong, they took some samples of the soil very quietly that evening to the University and gave it to one of the agricultural experts to have the soil tested. The next morning when the conference office opened, there was a gentleman sitting in front of the office, waiting for them and said: “Where did you get this soil from?” I don’t know of any such soil round here, it is so rich and good!” What they had found was this pocket of good land, surrounded by sour soil.
One hurdle was crossed, now for the biggest hurdle; the money. They kept asking her: “Where are we going to get the money from?” She knew her Bible well, answering: “The Lord will provide.” Wednesday came, Thursday, Friday morning, still no money. The owners of the property had given them only until Friday to come up with the money. They were desperate and very despondent. The mood at the conference office, we were told was very gloomy that day. Later during that same day a letter arrived with a South African postmark.
Remember it was mailed at least 26 days before. As they opened that letter they found in a cheque in great-grandmother’s hand writing, made out to a Bank in Australia. I was a cashier’s cheque for the exact amount of money that they needed to buy Avondale College.
I do not like to moralize at the end of the story but if you asked me what I think of world events: I have an answer. If you ask me what I think of the fate in history, I may have an answer. If you ask me what I think about the counsels of the Spirit of Prophecy: It should be obvious to you that I have a very definite answer – That I believe in it.
Dr Van Niekerk, the great-grandson of John Wessels
Uriah Smith wrote in 1853
O brother be faithful, soon Jesus will come,
For whom we have waited so long;
O, soon we shall enter our glorious home,
And join in the conquerors song.
O brother be faithful, for why should we prove,
Unfaithful to Him who has shown,
Such deep, such unbounded and infinite love –
Who died to redeem us His own.
Malachi 3:16.17 Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name.
17. And they shall be Mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.