Today (June 18th) the Holywell Community will remember Bernard Mizeki martyred in Africa in 1896. The Fellowship of St John the Evangelist have named a grant in his honour. That grant has been awarded to the Community this year.
He was born Mamiyeli Mitseki Gwambe in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) and around the age of 12 he moved to Cape Town. He was educated by the monks of the Society of St John the Evangelist at their night school. He excelled as a student, particularly as a linguist. He mastered English, French, high Dutch and eight African languages – later in his life his work as a translator of sacred texts was pioneering and invaluable. He was baptised in 1886 and took the name Bernard. He then went to work at St Columba’s Hostel in Cape Town – a shelter run by SSJE to house African men particularly to protect them against alcoholism. From here Bernard was sponsored to attend Zonnebloem College to train to become a catechist. In 1891 he accompanied Bishop George Knight-Bruce to the new missionary diocese of Mashonaland in Southern Rhodesia – here Bernard Mizeki became the catechist to the Shona people. He set up his mission station at Nhowe
A persecution of Christians arose in 1896 – African missionaries were targeted for being agents of the colonial government. Bernard was warned to leave but he stated he was the servant of Christ alone. The persecution became more organised but still Bernard remained at his station. On the night of 18 June 1896 he was taken from his hut and killed, probably at the instruction of a local witch doctor. This date is now kept in the kalendars of several Anglican provinces as the feast day of the Bernard Mizeki, the proto-martyr of southern Africa and the place of his ministry and death is a great centre of pilgrimage. Soon after Bernard’s martyrdom the first Shona people, inspired by his example, were baptised.
Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of your love in the heart of your holy martyr Bernard Mizeki: Grant to us, your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.