The African town of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe is a long way from anywhere. 100 years ago it was a staging post for trader wagons to change oxen. Slowly the signs of western civilization began to appear. In 1910 a new school, named after Sir William Milton, opened its doors on Borrow Street.
John and Hendrik weren’t close friends, but they were both enthusiastic students at the school. Both were young leaders. Hendrik had the edge in brainpower, but John’s abilities shone in sport, music, chess and the high school cadets. Both boys came from overtly Christian homes. John’s parents were enthusiastic members of the Salvation Army and Hendrik’s dad was the pastor of Bulawayo’s Dutch Reformed Church.
One afternoon, after homework, the boys sat designing their signatures. John had tried various flourishes with the pen and Hendrik took an interest in his page. The boy born in Holland and raised in Cape Town noticed that John Usher was descended from the Tudors, an English royal family. He suggested adding the name Tudor before Usher and John signed his name that way to the end of his days.
Milton’s principal inspired young minds with biblical quotations. John and Hendrik often heard him speak of the need for courage and the path of service.
In 1917 Hendrik announced that his father had been transferred to the small town of Brandfort in South Africa. It was only 7 years since the end of the Anglo-Boer war. The Afrikaners were bowed under bitter poverty and disillusionment. The preacher’s son watched for 2 years as his father struggled to bring new hope to shattered people. At 18 he went to the church’s university in Stellenbosch. He married fellow student council member Betsie. All his degrees were obtained cum laude.
After studies in Europe and the USA, at 26, with a doctorate in philosophy, he became the university’s youngest head of Sociology. His learning embraced a common aim. Hendrik wanted to uplift the poor, broken families ravaged by war.
John thought his future lay in industry. He was keen to rise into factory management. His lust for wealth and power were interrupted when his friend, Vivian, invited him to the opening of a Salvation Army facility to serve the black population of Bulawayo. The singing and preaching moved his heart and, at the very time that the peace treaty ending world war one was being signed in Versailles, John made his peace with God.
John trained as a Salvation Army missionary and dedicated a lifetime to the Zulu people in South Africa. He and his wife Ellen’s passion was seeing the people they served freed from superstition, poverty, disease and fear.
In 1949 Hendrik left his 10-year job of newspaper editing to enter politics. He became Minister of Native Affairs. The man who’d spent all his life considering the poverty and struggles of the Afrikaner people was presented with the needs of the other tribes that comprised South Africa. By this time John had become a Salvation Army major and was in command of large areas of their work among the Zulu and Sotho people. Two Milton boys: each charged with finding solutions to human suffering.
Hendrik believed that by keeping the nations separate each could develop wealth & security. John was convinced that all humanity is to be united under one great Christian message of love and compassion. Hendrik worked until the day Apartheid was an implemented government policy. John served until he could see his work in the hands of South African black leaders. Hendrik Verwoerd is reviled by many today and John Tudor Usher is largely unknown. Perhaps heaven has a different perspective. Sociology guided Hendrik. The Bible was the light on John’s path. Choose carefully what influences you.
Andrew Paton of Clinton Church of the Nazarene, born in Africa, has pastored in Hunterdon County since 1997. Before that he ministered in Durban and Bedfordview, South Africa and prior to that was an officer in The Salvation Army. He has been in full time Christian leadership since 1975. He and his wife Carol have two married sons and five grandchildren.
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