Healing and Revival
"The Mantle of Healing"
Elias Letwaba was born in 1870 to a man of God and of the Word who lived in Middleburg, Transvaal. He was always in prayer and considered a little odd by others around him. His mother, on the other hand, was a nominal Christian. Things changed dramatically when six months before Letwaba was born his mother was grinding wheat. She suddenly saw a man clothed in white standing before her. The messenger said, "You will shortly have a strong baby boy. He is to be a messenger for Me, to carry my Gospel message to many places. He will suffer much persecution and weariness, but I will be with him and protect him until his death, making him a means of blessing to thousands and an instrument in my hands for establishing many Christian churches." The man disappeared and Letwaba's mother became a strong believer from that point forward.
Letwaba's family was educated and learned Dutch so that they would have access to literary material. They often entertained teachers, missionaries, and visiting teachers in their home. At one point, when a visiting preacher came, Letwaba told his parents of his desire to preach the gospel. At nineteen years old Letwaba would tramp the villages with his twelve-year old brother, Wilfred, and preach wherever anyone would listen. He took the name of Elias. God began to speak to him out of the Word. One day God highlighted Matthew 8:16-17 "And when evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "He Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases." (NASB) Letwaba felt a tingling in his hands and a heart to see the sick healed. That day Letwaba was in Heidelberg when he met a woman whose daughter was fourteen years old and never walked. He prayed for the girl and left, not knowing for five years that she was healed from that moment on.
Letwaba joined the Berlin Lutheran Mission but was unhappy to find out that the church was a social club and sin was overlooked. His heart longed for holiness, and he struggled with personal sin. When he was twenty he switched to the Bapedi Lutherans, and stayed with them for nineteen years. Still he struggled with a sense of powerlessness and the teaching that focused on the traditions of men instead of the Word of God. There was a conviction in his life that there was more and he began crying out to God for His power of salvation to be made manifest. In his struggle he became ill and was close to death. Jesus appeared to him and called him to an open confession of his sin so that he would be healed. He was afraid of losing his reputation but he went to those he sinned against first, and then to his wife and the missionaries with whom he worked to expose it all. Letwaba left the Bepedi Lutherans and sought for people who would believe God.
Letwaba connected himself to the Zion Apostolic Church. He saw that the people had a living faith and he chose to be baptized by them. Still his heart was hungry for more. Letwaba went to one of the elders and explained, "I have fasted and cried many bitter tears. I have lain awake at nights, longing for holiness, and for the power of God, but the missionaries with who I work and the native preachers with who I have associated only regard me as a crank, and laugh at me for my pains. Oh tell me where can I find what I need?" The elder told him that John G. Lake and Tom Hezmellhalch were preaching at the old Zulu Mission and that they should go and hear them. It is described that the meetings in Doorfontein in April 1908 were like a spiritual cyclone had hit the city, hundreds were healed and thousands were being saved. So great was the power of God on Lake that he would shake hands with someone entering the hall and they would fall to the ground under the power of the Spirit.
John G. Lake invited Letwaba up onto the stage where he was preaching. This angered many of the white participants. Lake, however, refused to be cowed and kissed Letwaba and welcomed him into the meeting. People were threatening to throw Letwaba out when Lake said "if you throw him out then I will go out too." Letwaba's heart was melded to Lake's from that point. Letwaba followed Lake to his house where Lake shared his heart with him. Since Lake and Hezmellhalch were getting ready for Bloemfontein they invited Letwaba to go with him. On February 9, 1909 Letwaba was gloriously filled with the Holy Spirit. Letwaba traveled with the pair and was involved in the programs.
Letwaba returned home and shared the good news of the baptism of the Holy Spirit with his father. His father immediately responded and was filled and began speaking in tongues. He also began an itinerant ministry of his own. He was beaten, stoned, kicked, and verbally and physically abused but he kept on going because there was a fire in his bones. Letwaba invited Lake to come to his home area of Potgietersrus. Lake and Hezmellhalch would visit for a few days at a time and all the men would minister together, seeing the sick healed. Letwaba felt a pressing desire for the party to go north to Zoutpansberg. They did so but several of the members caught malaria and two of the party died. Letwaba was broken-hearted as the men returned to the south but God called him to go back to the north Transvaal.
Letwaba began his ministry by walking hundreds of miles to visit remote village. Everywhere he went he prayed for the sick and preached the gospel. One village he visited was in drought and all the animals were dying. The Holy Spirit came upon him and he declared, "I decree to you people, by the Word of God, that by this time tomorrow you shall have the rain you need. Your fields and your cattle shall be saved, and you will know that God still lives to answer the prayers of those who believe in Him." Letwaba spent the night in prayer and by the morning rain poured down upon the village. The village became open to Christ. Letwaba was an intercessor. He often spent hours in prayer seeking God. In one case he was praying in a building that was being painted by unbelievers. They were mocking him, but the power of God hit the building and the entire building shook. They refused to work again until he was done his time of prayer.
The Apostolic Faith Mission, recognizing Letwaba's leadership, gave him the superintendence of the Zoutpansberg, Waterberg, and Middleberg native churches. Letwaba felt a growing need to have a school to train leaders. Oftentimes those who had heard the good news had little scriptural foundation and fell into error easily. He decided to open the "Patmos Bible School" at Potgietersrus. It was built on faith in 1924 and completed without debt. It went on to include dormitories for the students and a school for children. The coursework was extensive and covered three years. Letwaba fed the students from his own home farm and small salary from the Apostolic Faith Mission. Letwaba was self-educated and spoke seven languages including English, German, Dutch, Tonga, Zulu, Suto, and Xosa. He trained his students extensively in the Bible but also included practical skills in speaking and deportment as well as the English and Dutch languages.
Letwaba had the
care of thirty-seven churches. On Sundays he would lead services at five
or six locations and would start at 5:30 in the morning and continue until
9:00 at night. He also taught six hours a day at the Bible school. He
continued the school until 1935 when he was 65 years old. His congregations
were tribally mixed, and often his sermons had to be given through two
or three interpreters. He had a heart for holiness His was a fervent preacher
and saw healings and miracles in his ministry. It is reported that he
saw as many as 10,000 healings in his life. He is often considered to
be the man who received the mantle of Lake's healing ministry in South
Africa. Letwaba died in 1959 at the age of 89.
A description of Elias Letwaba is found in Gordon Lindsay's book on John G. Lake called "John G. Lake - Apostle to Africa". Chapter 5 is titled Elias Letwaba, the Man Who Carried on the Work and Chapter 6 is titled The Mantle Falls on Letwaba. There is also extensive coverage of Letwaba in the book titled "When God Makes a Pastor" by W. F. P Burton published in 1934.
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