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In Memorium

Eugene Edgar Grams (1930-2016): A Son’s Tribute 

Eugene Edgar Grams was born in Rosendale, Wisconsin on 19 September, 1930.  He married Evelyn Phyllis Louton in Potgietersrus, Transvaal, South Africa on 20 March, 1952.  He died peacefully, though after a time of failing health, in Springfield, Missouri on 9 December, 2016.  He is survived by his three sons and six grandchildren.

Our hearts are sad to say goodbye, but we rejoice in the sure hope that Dad’s absence from the body means that he is present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).  Though we cannot fully comprehend these things on this side of the curtain of death, we believe that Dad is now with his beloved Phyllis, with their daughter, Faith Hope Grams, with his parents, William and Martha, and other family and friends, including Dad's beloved sister, Arlene, who died as a young girl.  We, as Christians, believe that to depart from this life and be with Christ is far better than what we now experience in a fallen world (Philippians 1:23).  And we wait with a sure hope for the resurrection of all those who have died in Christ.  As John wrote, ‘Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3.2, ESV).  Dad has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). 

Dad’s life is the testimony of a faithful steward of God's grace.  Through God's empowerment and by His grace, he accomplished so much as a missionary to South Africa in the years from 1952-2008 in evangelism, by planting about 35 churches, and through establishing Cape College of Theology (now Global School of Theology) in the Western Cape.  He also served in pastoral ministry in the area of Flint, Michigan at Riverside Tabernacle, Trinity Assembly of God, and New Life Christian Fellowship.  His ministry touched many lives.  We are assured that, by God’s grace and through his faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2.8), he will receive the ‘crown of righteousness’ (2 Timothy 4.8).  May we all have such faith in Jesus, live in such hope, and serve him all our days. 

The following chapter is an excerpt from Stewards of Grace: A Reflective, Mission Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010).   It testifies to the power of God to transform lives.  Dad's ministry as a steward of this grace over many years was the most formative experience for my own life and ministry and provided me with a powerful testimony of the power of God to transform lives.  Thanks, Dad.

Chapter Nineteen: God's Gold

Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in accordance with his great mercy, has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an incorruptible inheritance, both undefiled and unfading, kept in the heavenlies for you, who are being kept by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the final time (1 Peter 1.3–5).

[Some material is omitted from the chapter in this excerpt.]

Gene’s friend, the Sharpeville, Transvaal–based evangelist, Rev. Philip F. Molefe, had said to him, “Let me do the evangelizing and you do the teaching.”  Gene agreed, and the two men, almost the same age, began plans for what would be known as the Meloding Revival. Gene’s close friend and former colleague in ministry in the northern Transvaal, Johannes Mukwevho, also joined them in the Free State at this time.
When Gene wrote in October, 1960 in the Pentecostal Evangel about the wonderful ministry of God in Meloding earlier that year, he spoke of it as a “revival.”[1]  The revival lasted most of the year.

          [Some material is omitted from the chapter in this excerpt.]

There were already a handful of believers in the Assemblies of God church in Meloding before the revival was planned. They formed a house fellowship with the pastor, Rev. Tsotetse. The tent campaign was, however, an effort by others on behalf of this little church that did not even have a building. Rev. Philip Molefe came from Sharpeville for the initial meetings in March and April of 1960, and then again in August of the same year. Johannes Mukwevho also came down from Louis Trichardt in the northern Transvaal when he heard that a translator was needed for these meetings. He and Philip Molefe had worked together before in Sharpeville, just as he and Gene had also worked so well together.  The Assemblies of God work in Sharpeville began about five years earlier than that in Meloding. The initial converts in the revival campaign led by Molefe totalled 325. They were baptized in the river and then marched through the township singing, “I will follow Jesus.”[2]
The plan was that Molefe would be the primary evangelist, and Gene would be the primary teacher during the revival. Gene would also raise funds, engage the various government officials in securing sites for church buildings, and interact with the police. Rev. Bethuel Mofokeng, also from Sharpeville, came to speak in the meetings, as did several others. One of these was Rev. John Tlotlalemajoe, who organized counselors, that is, people who could talk with those wishing to give their lives to Christ after a service and pray with them. He eventually became the pastor of the church in Thabong, Welkom.[3]  Choirs from established churches came on various nights by bus to sing. Christian films and testimonies also conveyed the Gospel, and Gene later held six weeks of Bible doctrine classes for the new believers. There were speakers who addressed women and children as well. Phyllis Grams had oversight for this work, although, again, a number of persons were involved.
Announcements of the intended meetings began with the help of someone from Mission Aviation. This missionary suggested that pamphlets be drawn up and dropped over Meloding from the air. Gene was not too certain about this approach, but as the man wanted to play a part, he found himself dropping leaflets announcing the meetings from several hundred feet above the township. Later on, Gene was somewhat discouraged when he discovered that the leaflets were being used for toilet paper, but, one way or another, news of the tent meetings did get around.
The handful of believers in the Meloding church used to meet in an unfinished, rented house, and a larger place was needed for the campaign. The local government gave its permission to erect a tent in Meloding from the 5th of March to the 5th of April, 1960. But the revival required extending this period several times so that the tent campaign lasted, as they had in other regions, about three months. The tent itself had to be extended to accommodate the large crowds, which, at times, could even reach 2,000 people. As the numbers swelled, many in attendance had to stand or sit outside, but they were still able to hear everything over the public address system. The combined attendance over the first weeks of meetings was over 40,000, if one adds up the attendance for each of the nights. Many people returned night after night, but people not only came from Meloding. Others came from all over the Orange Free State, parts of Basutoland, and even the southern Transvaal. By the time that the campaign ended, the tent was in ruins, in part because of the high winds that blew across the area.
On the first night of the tent campaign, Mr. Phera, a member of the Location Advisory Board for Meloding, became a Christian. That day, he had had a quarrel with his wife and had beaten her severely. By evening, he was intoxicated and stumbled to a seat in the tent. During the service, he sobered up and responded to the Holy Spirit’s speaking to his heart. His life was forever changed that night. His wife saw the difference in her husband over the next few days and also became a Christian. To have such a testimony from a man of such standing in the local government “stirred all of Virginia,” wrote Eugene Grams in a newsletter. Many who came to the tent meetings from the area came because they had heard what had happened to Mr. Phera. Some said, “If God can change a wicked drunkard like Mr. Phera, He can also change me.”
Early in the campaign, three or four gang members became Christians. They would sit, night after night, in the front row seats. Alongside the nightly message explaining salvation in Jesus Christ, the campaign had a theme: God can do anything. There is nothing too difficult for God. He can make the vilest sinner clean, can transform lives, deliver people from demon possession, heal the sick, and restore broken relationships: God can do anything. Mr. Phera had discovered this the first night of the campaign, and these former gang members could testify to the change in their lives as well.
But one night, about two weeks into the campaign, Gene noticed that the former gang members were not present. He feared the worst: were they, like the seed that fell among the rocks in Jesus’ parable of the sewer, going to wither and die after a short, encouraging growth spurt? Gene could hardly preach as he turned this thought over and over in his mind.
All of a sudden everyone in the tent heard the worst noise imaginable. All eyes turned to the back of the tent and saw the tent flaps being pulled back. The former gang members walked in, dragging a man who was entirely naked and shrieking. The men delivered him to the front of the meeting, tied up with ropes and belts. He struggled to free himself but was securely bound. Gene looked at the former gang members for some sort of explanation. One young man said, “Moruti Grams, you have been telling us that God can do anything. What about this?”  Gene looked back at the man, a wild man completely out of his mind, as close to an animal as a human can become. And yet he was even worse off than that, for Gene could see that the man was possessed by demons. His eyes were clouded, as though in a trance, and he did not seem in control of his own person or able to interact with others at all. He had descended into an internal world of torment. A woman came up and covered his nakedness with her Basotho blanket.
The man was well known in the area. He lived mostly in the cemetery but was also known to wander aimlessly far and wide, through fields and along the roadsides. Once he wandered as far away as Vereeniging, nearly 150 miles away, and back.
As when the paralytic man was lowered through the roof by his friends in the middle of Jesus’ teaching in a packed house, this meeting came to a standstill. It is one thing to speak of God’s Kingdom, that God was powerfully present, but it is quite another to have to stand up to a challenge to this message. The entire campaign could be discredited: if the God who can do anything could not help this madman, the speakers would be false witnesses, people’s hopes would be dashed, and the church in Meloding would be demoralized and perhaps even disband.
Gene and Phyllis, together with some other believers in the meeting, began to pray for the man. They prayed for about two hours while people watched: could God help the wild man of Meloding? Then, suddenly, the man’s eyes became clear and he looked around as though to say, “Where am I?”  The trance–like state that he had been in for years broke. He identified himself as Thomas Khajwane.
Thomas Khajwane was reborn that evening. He was transferred from demonic possession to the freedom of a child of God. In the following days, Gene and other ministers visited his home and met his parents. Gene’s Sesotho was still not strong enough to engage the conversation that he needed to have with Khajwane, and Khajwane did not know any English. So an interpreter was also present. His parents were also present. They showed Gene the paraphernalia purchased at great expense from witchdoctors to ward off evil spirits. Some pieces of red, electrical wire, bought from the witchdoctor at an exorbitant price of 60 pounds, were placed at the entrance to the home and in the ceiling—a graphic symbol of power, pointed defiantly towards any invading spirit. But they were powerless to keep away the evil spirits.
The transformation of Thomas Khajwane, needless to say, brought others to the tent campaign. His parents became Christians, as did many others, including a young woman who would become Thomas’s wife. The two would not long hence have a baby girl, whom they named Eugenia.
Soon after his conversion, Thomas explained through an interpreter, “Moruti Grams, I have never been to school a day in my life. How can I ever grow in the Lord unless I am able to read His Word?”  God proved His power once again in this life. Only six weeks later Thomas Khajwane demonstrated to Gene Grams that he could read both Sesotho and English perfectly. He soon became a member of the church choir and later on was made an esteemed member of the town council.

[1] Eugene E. Grams, “Revival in Orange Free State,” Pentecostal Evangel (16 Oct., 1960), pp. 14–15.
[2] Vernon Pettenger, “Before the Sharpeville Massacre,” Pentecostal Evangel (June 5, 1960), p. 15.
[3] Rev. Tlotlalemajoe has remained the pastor in Thabong all these years. At the time of writing, he is in his mid–eighties.