A Murderer Forgiven

The life journey of Joel Mbambo Matunjwa, the first Zulu Officer

In his book A Zulu Apostle, Commissioner J. Allister Smith tells the story of the first Zulu Officer who came to know Christ through his ministry in South Africa. Leaving his traditional religion of witchcraft, Joel Mbambo Matunjwa committed his life to God and The Salvation Army in the early 1890’s.

He and his wife soon became officers and with their family were sent to Zimbabwe. This was a time of violence and unrest when the presence of a Zulu man and his family would have been met with significant opposition by the local people of that land. However, Joel, convinced of God’s perfect will for his life, was determined to serve wherever God would send him.

They arrived at the designated location of the corps and quarters in Zimbabwe only to find that the building had been demolished and destroyed by rebels in the area, the previous Corps Officer having been murdered in this attack on the corps.

That evening, the Matunjwa family was forced to sleep on the ground in the open air. In addition to this discomfort, there were real dangers. The lions had taken over this now-deserted area and, as they hunted at night, the officers had to keep a fire burning to scare the prowling intruders away.

The next morning, the Matunjwa family rose to build their own home, and a modest corps dwelling out of sticks and mud. Soon, despite the danger, opposition, and difficulty, the corps was blossoming once again. This family trusted that God, who had sent them, would protect them and provide for them! God honored them in return.

As the corps began to grow, so the opposition increased in an attempt to discourage the officers from continuing Christian ministry in their community. The rebels developed a plot to murder Joel’s 17 year-old son.

Sadly, their plan succeeded, and the Matunjwa’s son became a victim of poisoning. Unaware of this plan, the Matunjwas were heartbroken and confused, as even the local doctor could not explain the death of this healthy young man.

Some time later a young man came to the corps meeting, and after hearing Joel’s message, knelt at the altar. As Joel prayed with this young man, he was astounded to hear his confession: he had murdered Joel’s son, and he begged for the forgiveness of the Matunjwa family.

Joel asked the young man to meet him at his home the next day. When the young man arrived, he was terrified; sure that this would be the opportunity that Joel would take to exact vengeance for the death of his son. Instead, Joel led him into the room where his son had once slept. “This is now your room, my son,” Joel said. “We forgive you.”

The young man moved into the Matunjwa’s home and became their son. Eventually he entered the Training School as a Cadet and went on to become a faithful officer in The Salvation Army.

The Matunjwa family chose to forgive despite their overwhelming pain and hurt.

By Envoy Sharon Bussey

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