It was with both great sadness and also great celebration that we heard of the departure to Glory of our brother, Abiel Thipanyane.  I say great sadness because our brother had been a member of AE virtually since its inception when he participated in our Lesotho mission in 1966. So our friendship and partnership have been very deep and long, going back 58 years. So, to part with such a friend and colleague does indeed fill one’s heart with sadness. 

But I also say that his passing gives cause for celebration because not only had he lived a wonderfully dedicated and Godly life, along with a great ministry, but he had told me several times over several years that all he wanted to do now was “to go to heaven and be with Jesus”. And now his wishes have been granted. 

In fact, he has gloriously entered the mysterious marvels of Glory about which the Apostle Paul can write: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has there entered the heart of man the things God has prepared for them that love Him.”  (1 Cor 2:9). Our brother Abiel is now beginning to partake of all those mysterious marvels. He will have seen His beloved Lord face-to-face, and I have no doubt that he has already heard Jesus say: “well done, good and faithful servant … enter now into the joy of your Master”. (Matt 25:23)

We met Abiel Thipanyane in 1966 during our nationwide, pre-independence Mission to old Basutoland, shortly before it became Lesotho. As a young Assemblies of God student, he had heard about our Mission and came to our offices asking if he could volunteer as a helper and worker. We found his abilities to translate from English to Sesotho, and vice versa, to be outstanding and at the very beginning of the Mission, it was in this capacity that we used him. However, as the main preacher for the main evening public rallies, I needed a really good interpreter. We tried several different brethren who did not seem to be quite up to scratch. Then one of our Team said: “why don’t we try this great young guy in our office who translates the two languages so well?” I had one practice run with Abiel in a little local church, and knew at once this was our man. Thus did he begin to interpret for me in our main evening rallies when we had thousands present. 

He did this so exceptionally well that potential members of the future Lesotho Parliament offered him a job as the official Parliamentary interpreter. Abiel politely declined this lucrative and prominent offer, saying that he was called as an evangelist into the Lord’s work. This happened just as we on our side were expressing our desire for him to join the AE ministry. This he did, and basically served us, first officially, then unofficially, until the end of his life. And what a wide, dedicated, distinguished and effective ministry he had. 

As I reflect back on our brother, I think of him first as a great man of God, with Jesus as his first and ultimate love. He would do anything to express his love for Christ. This took priority place in his family, and he loved his wife Jemina dearly, as well as his boys, Tsiliso, Skaleli, Mkhele and Poolo, and he was distraught when the latter two went to the Lord prematurely. He was also deeply devoted to his grandchildren, and they to him. 

I then think of brother Abiel as a great man of the Bible, which he saw as the inspired, authoritative Word of God. For him it was a case of: if the Bible says it, I believe it. That settles it! And of course he was a great preacher and evangelist, and thousands across our continent came to know the Lord because of him, and also through his regular radio programs. From my side, I preached with him in the stadia, schools and colleges, and from a bit of a distance, I greatly admired his ministry in hospitals. He founded AE’s hospital ministry and pioneered it until doors opened to him in hospitals all over the country. 

Beyond that, Abiel was a marvellous Bible teacher and a discipler of Christian converts, this flowing from his strong commitment to seeing new believers become life-time disciples of their Lord. 

Like most Africans, he had strong gifts of music and was an amazing song leader. In fact, he and I in many places shared in teaching people a wonderful harmonious song, which could be sung in parts, called “Ea Makatsa” meaning “It’s Wonderful” referring to “the story of His love”. He could also act and in AE’s one hour film on The Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep, he played the part of the Shepherd with a cast of literally 100 sheep and all filmed in the mountains of Lesotho. He was brilliant.

This tribute would be incomplete if I didn’t mention his strong commitment to justice and non-racialism. He abhorred apartheid and stood against it with vigour. One story well illustrates this. We were doing a city-wide mission to Monrovia, capital city of Liberia, in a series of clusters over a couple of weeks. One group of five of our team was entering the country, 3 blacks and 2 whites. Abiel, as my deputy team leader, was leading the group. They duly passed through immigration and customs, and were exiting the airport building when a few Liberian officials came up to them and said “are you the group from South Africa?”, to which Abiel replied in the affirmative. “Well,” said one official, “we know you have visas, but Foreign Affairs have now overruled this and said that only the blacks may enter, and the whites must be put on the next plane back to South Africa.” To the astonishment of the officials, Abiel Thipanyane replied, “I’ve spent much of my life in South Africa fighting against racism and racial discrimination by whites against blacks, and I am not now going to tolerate discrimination of blacks against whites. We will all now return together to South Africa.” And this is exactly what they did, even knowing that those five tickets had cost us R50 000. When I heard this, shortly before leaving South Africa myself for Monrovia, I felt never more proud of my team than I did then. And I saw the loss of R50 000 as nothing compared in value with the courage of this anti-racist stand from my brother, Abiel. 

And so we come to say Au Revoir to our beloved friend, Ntate Abiel Thipanyane. All of us, especially Jemina, his family and friends, will miss him greatly, but we rejoice with unspeakable joy that we will see our brother again, because Jesus has said: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”(John 11:25 -26).