Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I greet you in the name of our Lord and Saviour, with deep gratitude and tremendous joy. I have looked forward to this morning’s celebration, for I take great pleasure in singing the praises of one my Lord’s most faithful servants and one of my own truest friends.
The Reverend Erlo Stegen has led an extraordinary life of service. As he celebrates his 80th birthday, it is a privilege to be among the many who gather in thanksgiving, both to our Lord and our brother.
For more than six decades, Reverend Stegen has toiled among the people of this region, seeking revival, restoration and hope. He has evangelised and taught, he has set his hand to practical work, he has led a ministry and developed a team who have taken his ministry further.
I know that the communities around KwaSizabantu praise Reverend Stegen, not only for bringing them the gospel, but for helping them find work for their hands, food for the bellies and dignity for their souls. He is a blessing to us all.
Today, as Reverend Stegen joins me in that elite group of octogenarians, I look back over all the years I have known him, and I thank the Lord for lending us His faithful servant. Despite the ordinary trials and vicissitudes of life, and despite some extraordinary burdens wrought through spiritual battle, the Reverend Stegen has flourished, and his life’s work at KwaSizabantu has flourished with him.
I think of the words of the Psalmist, King David, who wrote in Psalm 92 verses 12 to 15 –
“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing, To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
The Reverend Stegen is still bearing fruit. He is still fresh and flourishing. And all this is certainly to the glory of God, so that he might say, “The Lord is my rock.” Reverend Stegen has given the greater part of his life to serving our people in this community, and the communities around KwaSizabantu. He has worked hard and served with humility. Under his inspirational leadership, this mission has been a place of hope and healing for countless men, women and children, including members of my own family.
Reverend Stegen and his beloved late wife, affectionately known to all as Aunty Kay, have selflessly given their lives and everything they have in the service of the Lord.
I have been proud to be associated with this Mission and its founder for many years. I am proud to call Reverend Stegen both a friend and a brother. He has played a major role in the life of my family and community. My own children attended school at KwaSizabantu Mission, and their minds and character were developed under the good influence of my friend, the Reverend Erlo Stegen. I think many young people, who are now spread throughout the world, influencing lives and shaping the future, can trace their good foundations to KwaSizabantu.
The influence of this place certainly extends well beyond Zululand. I remember how, several years ago the auditorium at KwaSizabantu was gutted by fire, and we were all devastated, wondering how it might be rebuilt considering the poverty of this region. Yet, without the mission ever making an appeal, individuals from as far as Europe, and sometimes entire denominations – often with no connection to KwaSizabantu at all other than fellowship in Christ – collected money and sent it to restore the auditorium. The outpouring of love from God’s children all over the world opened our eyes to the importance of this place in the eyes of the Lord.
I will never forget Reverend Stegen’s wise words, when he said that “Revival is not churches filled with people, but people filled with God.” Revival has been evident in this region, and this place is the epicentre.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsay, once famously remarked that there would come a time when Africa would send evangelists to Britain and European societies. How prescient he was. The Word of God has come to Africa and is going forth from Africa.
KwaSizabantu Mission itself has sent evangelists to Europe and across the world with the good news that Christ can mend the broken-hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. The hope of Christ is moving from this place to reach the nations. Surely His labourers will not rest until every heart has had the opportunity to receive Him.
I know that this is the desire of my brother’s heart. I have been privileged to walk closely with Reverend Stegen for many years. He has been one of the faithful who pray for me continuously and uplift me in the work the Lord has called me to do. I am grateful for the many instances in which Reverend Stegen has guided me, with the wisdom of the Lord, and encouraged me in the midst of the greatest trials.
He has walked beside me through the valley of the shadow of death, as my wife and I lost four of our children. I, in turn, have prayed fervently for him as he mourned the loss of Mrs Stegen, and the tragic loss of his grandson, Matthew. Together, we have wept over the passing of many friends, knowing that the loss is ours, not theirs; for we have the infinite blessing of knowing what lies beyond the veil.
I have the greatest respect for Reverend Stegen. I admire his character and strength. I admire his leadership and humility. And I am grateful for all he has done for my people in KwaZulu Natal, for my family and for me. He is a faithful friend who brings hope and light. He will always be welcomed, for don’t we always welcome the bearer of good news?
How fitting to the life of the Reverend Stegen what we read in the book of the Prophet Isaiah 40 verses 29 to 31; which read;
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak;
30 Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall;
31 But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary;
They will walk and not faint.
Beyond anything else, Reverend Stegen has been a messenger of hope. We congratulate him on this milestone birthday, and thank God for his life, his character and his friendship.