The Bible is full of stories of prophets. In fact, most of
the Bible is written by prophets. As you read, you find that God used old or
young, men or women, farmers or statesmen as prophets. Often, the message God
gave through His prophet was rejected and the people chose to cling to their
favorite sins rather than to surrender their hearts to God. But when they
accepted the message and followed God, what rich blessings they enjoyed.
Following is the amazing story of a man God used far more
recently, just as he did the prophets of old, to bring a whole race of people to
Nsikana, The Heathen Prophet
By Josephine Cunnington Edwards
About two hundred years ago, in the fertile hills of South
Africa, lived a tall, muscular young man named Nsikana Gaba. (En-si-KAH-na
GAH-ba) He was different from the other young men, and the villagers shook their
heads over him, talking about him in a quiet, reverent way.
Many of the villagers didn't mind stealing, just so they
didn't get caught. But not Nsikana! He had never heard of the Bible or the Ten
Commandments, yet he never stole or joined in the tribal wars. He didn't like
the lazy company of the others of his tribe, but would often meditate alone
where he could look up at the deep-blue sky or at the stars, and feel a Presence
he could not see. The other young men couldn't understand him. When they talked
on filthy subjects, Nsikana walked quietly away. They laughed at him sometimes,
but more often they felt afraid, so they watched and wondered.
Nsikana's people, the Xosas, had the custom of smearing white
clay on their bodies after bathing in the river. We think that strange, but when
we realize that make-up is not so different from that clay, we need not be so
proud of our superior civilization.
One moonlit night, Nsikana and the other young men of the
village bathed themselves, smoothed clay on their clean flesh, and started out
together for a dance in a neighboring village. This was a dress-up occasion. No
young man in a new suit felt more dressed up than these Xosas on that night so
They laughed and chanted as their bare feet pounded the path.
The one silent, watchful one was Nsikana. He was listening, as he always did, as
if to an inner, unseen voice.
Suddenly, a light streamed down from the dark skies and
bathed Nsikana, just as the light that shone on Saul while traveling to
Damascus. Nsikana stopped in the midst of the circle of brilliance wondering at
the strange radiance. He was not afraid as was Saul, for he had done no wrong. A
quiet peace such as he had never felt before stole over him. But even as he
stood there, the light slowly withdrew and was gone. Nsikana did not move. He
stood still in the velvety darkness, filled with wonder.
His companions were far ahead. He could see a flicker of
their torch far down the winding path. They had not seen the light nor felt the
deep, wondrous peace. Nsikana felt a bewilderment steal over his simple,
childlike heart. He walked on silently, awaiting something else, some other
Presently, he came to the edge of the village where the dance
was being held. He could hear the pounding feet and throbbing drums. The long
shadows of the dancers leaped and swayed. Bodies gleamed in the glow of the
fires. Women tended pots that spread savory odors of the feast that was to
follow. Toothless old men beat the drums. Naked children flitted about. Chickens
roosted in the trees, and occasionally, out in the darkness, a lion roared. It
was a typical African night. The stars of the Southern Cross hung like a giant
kite high in the sky.
The bare feet of the dancers stomped on in perfect rhythm.
Great circles of men, glistening with sweat, danced tirelessly. There were
special dances with special patterns. When one was finished, another would
begin, accompanied by eerie, chanting songs. At times, some would sing out
questions and others would chant back the answers. There was perfect timing in
the monotonous melodies. Sweat flowed freely, but the dancers did not seem
weary. They plunged into every new dance with tireless enthusiasm.
In one of the dances a circle was formed. The participants
wove to and fro, stepping forward and backward, chanting questions and demanding
answers. As fast as one leaped out of the circle another leaped in, chanting the
weird answers to the droning questions. Nsikana suddenly sprang into the center
to dance and sing like the rest, but the Light would not have it so! He had
scarcely begun when the strange brightness came again, bathing him in its soft
To Nsikana's eyes the whole village was suddenly ablaze with
glory, but to his amazement no one else saw the light. They danced on as if
nothing was happening. Instantly Nsikana realized that the message was from a
Great One, for him, and him alone. The song died on his lips. He left the circle
quickly and stood for a moment thinking. The noise and confusion of the dance
filled the village. Many of the young men were drinking the strong,
native-brewed mtwala which made them foolish and loose-mouthed.
Nsikana had never touched the stuff. His hours of meditation
alone in his kraal had led him to the conclusion that strong drink was evil.
Anything that numbed his ability to think could not be good, he decided. Nsikana
did not know of the Holy Spirit, yet here, in the clamor of the noisy village he
felt the Spirit's presence. "I cannot stay here," he told himself.
"The light will not come again to this place. I must go away and meditate.
I do not know what it is or why it has come to me, but I must go where all is
still so I can learn more about it." He did not know he was repeating the
words of holy men of old who had written, "Be still, and know that I am
God," Psalm 46:10.
Swiftly Nsikana strode away, his heart beating wildly in
anticipation. His burning desire was to get away from the pulsing throb of the
drums. He had no desire now to be one of the frenzied dancers. Alone in the
darkness of the bush he knew that he was in danger. But the lion, the lurking
leopard, the fangs of the coiled snake, did not enter his mind. He trode down
the path swiftly, steadily, fearlessly. Soon he was threading his way among the
rocks that skirted the bed of the Gquora River. The water was shallow here, but
he stepped carefully for the rocks were as sharp as the points of spears.
Just as the water flowed over his feet, the radiant light
again streamed down over him. He stopped instantly, unafraid; his whole being
alert and listening. His heart surged with a joy he had never felt before.
"Nsikana! Nsikana!" A Voice lovelier than a rainbow called to him from
the midst of the light.
"I am here, Great One," he answered, trembling with
eagerness. "What does the Great One want of His poor Xosa child?"
The Voice came again, melodious and sweet, so thrilling that
the flesh of the young man tingled. The invisible Speaker bade him step down
into the deeper waters of the stream and bathe the hardened clay from his body.
He did so eagerly. While he was bathing, the light faded away. The darkness that
closed gently about him had a sweetness and assurance in it. He had been
obedient to the Voice. He stopped to wash his blanket carefully, for some of the
white clay had rubbed off on it. Then he flung it wet across his strong
shoulders and went on toward his village.
Bells of joy rang in his heart. The light had spoken! The
Being drenched in light knew him by name! The dim outlines of the huts of his
village rose before him. All was still. Only the old, the weak, and the sick had
stayed behind, and they were sleeping. Suddenly he stopped stock-still in the
path. The light! The light! It was shining down again, enveloping his hut and
his kraal! He could see his great white ox chewing his cud placidly in a glow
brighter than the noonday sun.
"Great One! Great One!" he whispered, his voice
breaking in his joy and excitement. Drawn by a mighty power, Nsikana walked
closer, quietly and reverently. While the others were dancing or sleeping,
Nsikana met the Jesus of the Damascus road. He met the Great One of the burning
bush and the pillar of cloud and fire. That night the Voice spoke to him of many
things. The words of counsel sank deep in his heart. This was not so strange for
"in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is
accepted with Him," Acts 10:35.
Nsikana knelt a long while, bathed in light, listening. He
felt no weariness, for the Voice seemed to fill him with strength. Suddenly the
light was gone. The dazed young man made his way to his hut, rolled out his
sleeping mat, and lay down. Though at peace, he could not sleep. The wondrous
things he had seen and heard drove sleep from him. He pondered the counsel he
had received. The beautiful Voice had bade him go on the morrow to talk to the
great chief of the Xosas.
The next day his companions regaled him with accounts of the
pleasures he had missed. They scolded him for leaving just as the fun was
beginning. They joked with him, calling him mtebe, which means "old
man." But he did not care what they called him. Silently he went to the
kraal of the great chief. The talk all around the great kraal was of the night
before, but Nsikana's mind was too full of more important matters to pay
attention to such trivia.
The chief was holding audience in his house. About him were
his servants, wives, and dogs. Leopard skins lay on the smooth earth floor where
Nsikana sat down to wait. He rose to his feet soberly when asked to tell his
mission. "I have a message for the chief from the Great One of the heavens
who dwells in light," he responded quietly. The reply was so strange that
every eye in the room turned to him. The chief bade him go on, interest
flickering in his somber old eyes. Such a thing had never happened to any Xosa
Nsikana revealed all that had happened the previous night.
His voice was vibrant with the importance of his message. The chief leaned
forward, cupping his hand behind his ear, listening intently. Nsikana's voice
went on in the silent hut. He told the chief of the strange Voice that had
spoken to him from the midst of the light, calling him by name. The Voice said,
'I have many things to reveal to you, Nsikana, for the salvation of your
people.' The Voice told me there would come to this country a strange race of
men, with flesh the color of a plucked fowl. There will be hair on their heads
and on their faces, but not such as we have; it will be long and straight."
The old chief gasped, shaking his head in surprise. Every
person in the room listened carefully as Nsikana went on. "They will be a
clever, strong people. They will know many wonderful things the people of the
villages have never dreamed of This strange race will know how to travel faster
than the leopard or the cheetah, in a strange wagon of fire." Dramatically,
Nsikana pointed to the cleft in the Ntaba Dzika Ndota Mountains. "In the
dream that the Voice gave to me, I saw the wagon of fire, long, fierce, and
terrible, coming through a cut in those mountains. But this will not be while we
live. These men will come after we have lain down, old and weary, and have been
covered with the good mother earth. Then what I have told you about will happen.
But we must warn and prepare our children for the great and terrible things they
will see and hear after we have laid our burdens down."
No one in the kraal realized the passage of time. No one
wanted Nsikana's voice to cease. So much had been packed into that
light-drenched interview with the Lord. Nsikana told them that this race would
bring to the country two things that would change the people's lives. First, he
would bring a strange calabash, full of the drink of wickedness. "Our mowa
and mtwala are evil, and upset men's minds and thinking, but this will be
far worse. We must teach our children and our children’s children never to
touch it or taste it, for there is a curse upon it. If they drink it, sorrow,
misery, disease, poverty, and death will come upon them as swiftly as a lion
leaps upon the zebra."
His next warning was almost impossible for them to
understand. "They will bring with them strange round things of many sizes,
made of gold and silver. These will be as the buttons we make for the fastening
of our clothing, but they will have no holes in them, and they will not be for
decoration or for apparel. They are to be for trade and barter, as a man now
trades a pig for a goat. He will carry these buttons with him in bags, and he
will have a great love for them. For them, some of this race will not hesitate
to cheat and lie and kill. They will teach our people the importance of the
buttons so that they too will begin to love them and will do all they can to
gather many. But this devotion to the buttons without holes will ruin our
people. They will go anywhere to acquire them, and the nation will be scattered.
No one will ever be able to bring the tribes together again."
So overcome was Nsikana at what he had seen, that he covered
his face with his hands and his chest heaved with his sobs. Presently, he
continued, "Parents will not see the graves of their children. They will
die in a far country. Nor will the children care for the old ones when they are
weak and sick and in trouble."
At this juncture Nsikana called for a pot of water. When a
servant brought it to him, he poured it out on the ground in front of the chief.
The dry ground quickly absorbed it. "Pick up this water again,"
Nsikana directed the waiting servant, handing the pot back to him. The man sank
to his knees and trembled, shaking his head.
"That is impossible!" the chief cried.
"Spilled water can never be picked up, you know that."
"Neither can the Xosa people ever be gathered together
again after they are scattered by the calabash and the buttons." Nsikana
replied calmly. He stood silently, his face expressive of great sorrow. Then a
look of joy crossed his countenance. He took a step nearer to the chief.
"But there is a way out, there is good news to
come!" His voice was ringing now with joy. "Not all of the men who
come will be evil and cruel to our people. Good men will come to help us. They
will heal our diseases and teach us a better way to live. We will be able to
tell these people from the others, for they will bring with them warnings
against the buttons and the calabash.
"Mainly, though, they will bring with them umqulu, a
scroll. The Voice told me there will be marks on the umqulu that will
speak words of life. I do not know how marks can talk, but the Voice said that
our children would understand this. If we take the words that the umqulu will
speak, and obey and love them in our lives and hearts, the buttons and the
calabash will never break the unity of our nation. Our families will be blessed
and established by the words of the Great One in the marks of the umqulu."
Nsikana Gaba bowed politely and turned to go. The chief and
his family stood as he left. Then the whole kraal burst into a babble of
amazement. Did the chief believe these strange words? What could be done? Was
this danger coming soon? The old chief pondered for a while. "We must do as
Nsikana has told us," he said deliberately. "Our children must be
taught. Then when the evil comes, the blow will be softened."
Because of the chief s counsel and the young man's blameless
life, Nsikana Gaba came to be looked upon as a prophet. The people listened to
what he said. In the years that followed, the light came many times to him as he
sat pondering, or when he knelt, talking to the Great One.
On a gentle rise of ground near his old village, still stands
"The Bell of Nsikana." It is the strangest bell in all the world. A
great concave section has been split from the side of a gigantic boulder. This
is so suspended, that when it is tapped with a rock, a rumbling reverberation is
heard all over the countryside. The old people love to tell the tales their
fathers and their grandfathers have told them of the doings of this great man.
It is said that when the people heard the bell, they dropped whatever they were
doing and ran to Nsikana's kraal. It was a signal that he had seen another
vision. They felt themselves to be a people favored of God. They listened to the
prophet wide eyed.
Nsikana had never seen a white man, could not read, and never
saw a book except in vision, yet he preached the gospel. He told the people
about the creation of the world. He talked to them about Christ who suffered
death for all the world. He described the holy city, the New Jerusalem, which he
saw the same way the seer of Patmos saw it. He told them of the better land and
the better life, where death and sorrow and suffering will be unknown.
Nsikana taught his people a song. He sang it so often that
even the little children knew it by heart. It is a delightful song, full of the
funny little clickclicks of the Xosa language that strangers cannot pronounce.
When reading and writing came to the tribe, men wrote Nsikana's words and his
music down. Translated to English, here is how it goes:
"Thou great God of heaven, Thou art a shield of Truth.
'Thou art a true Refuge. Thou are a shelter of Truth.
Thou art He that dwelleth on High.
Thou that created life, Created the heavens.
The Maker of stars and constellations and shooting stars
talks to us.
The Maker of darkness made it purposely.
The trumpet blew, calling us. That witnesses to seek souls,
He that gathereth, gathereth the flock and leadeth us.
Thou art a great garment that we wear.
Thy hands have wounds, Thy feet have wounds-For whom was Thy
Have we asked Thee to pay this great price?
Have we asked for Thy city?
The people still talk about Nsikana Gaba, the prophet of the
Xosa people. For how true his prophecies have proved to be! The calabash of the
white trader was the downfall of many in the tribe. As bad as was the native
brew, the whiskey of the white men was much worse. When gold was discovered in
the Transvaal and diamonds were found in Kimberly, men came offering
"buttons without holes" to the Xosa young men, to hire them to work in
the mines for these gold and silver pieces. The old ones wept to see their young
men go, for they remembered the prophecy of Nsikana. Many never returned, and no
one knew whether they were alive or dead.
Today if you travel to the country where Nsikana lived, you
can buy a ticket for the "wagon of fire." It will carry you down the
tracks through the very cleft in the mountains that Nsikana pointed to. Not far
away the village people proudly show the prophet's huge bell. Better yet are the
results of the umqulu! You can see churches that the missionaries have
helped to build in which to teach the people to beware of the calabash and the
love of the buttons without holes.
How can the people doubt that Nsikana was a true prophet when
they are now being taught to follow the same light he told them about nearly two
hundred years ago? Undoubtedly it was the Lord of the Damascus road who spoke to
What a merciful God we serve. One who cares enough about
those simple heathen tribes in the jungle to send a prophet to shed light in
their darkness. How blessed those were who listened will only be known as they
tell their story in heaven.
How important it is that we not fall into the trap the people
of Israel fell into of rejecting the messages and messengers God sent to them.