On the 18th of June, in 1896, a missionary was killed by the people-group to whom he was ministering. This is, in itself, not an unusual story, no matter what century you begin with. What makes Bernard Mizeki’s story particularly special is his identity and context. He was born named Mamiyeri Mitseka Gwambe, a native African in Inhambane, modern-day Mozambique, then a Portugese colony. He learned some Portuguese before his family moved to the British colony in South Africa where he came across some British and German missionaries and converted. He started working as a missionary and was soon trained and appointed a Lay Catechist.
This early in the missions process, there were not yet many native African clergymen or missionaries; Bernard Mizeki was one of the few in his day. He formed a missionary community, inhabiting a local sacred grove, where he refused to pay homage to the ancestral spirits said to dwell there. Months later, drought and famine caused hostile tribes to increase activity in his area, so the colonial government called the missionaries to safety. But Mizeki remained, and was attacked by an in-law in league with the local witch doctors, and he died soon after.
Later that year, the first of his disciples was Baptized, and soon the Gospel spread among many of the Shona people. Like many missionary martyrs, it was only after his death that the fruit of his labor became visible.
We see in Bernard Mizeki’s story a reminder of the power of the witness of a martyr. As a migrant worker and a native African, his example and teaching were especially effective among the various southern tribes. We are reminded of the value of not foreign missionaries crossing boundaries to preach the Gospel, but also of local missionaries and evangelists who are able to show their target group that the Gospel does not belong to a foreign group. Indeed, perhaps the multicultural effort, African and British working together, gave all the better impression of the power of the Gospel to unite different peoples as one in Christ.
His death date, June 18th, has become his commemoration day in several Anglican provinces.