Many Sydney Anglicans are grieving the death of a very dear brother in Christ

Rt Rev Edwin Ngubane, the Area Bishop for Johannesburg and Pretoria with REACH (Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa, formerly known as CESA) and Rector of Christ Church Hillbrow in the heart of Johannesburg’s red light district, died on Sunday 29th June. Edwin was 44. He succumbed to a series of strokes following many months of battling TB and pneumonia.

During two short visits to Sydney and other parts of Australia in 2011 and 2013, Edwin made many dear friends across our Diocese and beyond to about five other Australian Anglican Dioceses. 

Edwin’s own journey of grace was and is a remarkable one. Born into an ancestor-worshipping Zulu family, putting himself through Teachers College while living rough under a bridge in Durban, a dalliance with Islam in his early twenties, homeless again on the streets of Johannesburg before being cared for, provided shelter and introduced to Jesus by the very church that he has been the Rector of for the last eighteen months.

I wrote a fuller article about Edwin’s story and ministry at Hillbrow entitled Rescued From Hell in Hillbrow. I don’t want to repeat what I wrote there, but rather share three personal memories as I reflect on the short life of this dear brother in Christ.

A Pastor’s Heart

Edwin was the Rector of Melville Union Church in suburban Johannesburg before taking up the position at Hillbrow. The Melville property is strategically situated next to two university campuses, has a vibrant student ministry, a solid core of professional adults and an effective ministry to homeless boys who live on the streets of the surrounding suburbs.

My younger daughter was on the staff at Melville when Edwin took up the position of Senior Minister there, so he was Kim’s pastor when she and her husband Stephen had their first child, Silas, in Johannesburg. In the years that have followed, every conversation I had with Edwin, whether in Australia or South Africa or even Nairobi (I was last with Edwin at GAFCON 2013), whether in person or by electronic means, the first question Edwin always asked was “How is my little Silas?”

Silas will be for me an ever-present reminder that he was loved and prayed for from birth by this ever-faithful pastor.

A Wicked Sense of Humour

Edwin was a guest of the Diocese of Sydney in August 2013 when Glenn Davies was installed as our new Archbishop. On the Sunday Edwin spoke at St Peter’s Campbelltown. He showed the congregation his pinky finger, the top half of which had been ceremonially severed when he was a young man as a part of a ritual to initiate him as a Zulu warrior.

Edwin invited any who would like to join him in the ranks of Zulu warrior-hood to come out to the kitchen where the chopping board and knife were at the ready for the purpose!

Bold For Jesus

Edwin had only been at Melville Union Church for a couple of years, reveling in the challenges of student ministry, family ministry and, understandably, the ministry to homeless kids in the area.

Then the vacancy at Hillbrow was announced and almost immediately Edwin had a growing conviction that, despite being in the work at Melville for such a short time, this was a an opportunity he should pray about and consider seriously. 

The area was dangerous. The parish was not financially viable. The challenges immeasurable. But Edwin believed he had been prepared for this ministry, given his background, ethnicity and life experience. Undaunted by the task, Edwin wanted to serve his Master at Hillbrow, no matter how overwhelming the obstacles seemed.

Edwin and Genevieve launched into Hillbrow with a combination of optimism and realism that I found irresistibly attractive. It was always a joy to preach in his pulpit, pray for his ministry and chew the fat over coffee and a Monte Christo salad at the local Mugg and Bean.

I have felt numb with sadness since Sunday, moments of disbelief and mixed with many tears, that I won’t see my Zulu friend, my daughter and grandson’s loving pastor and a vulnerable congregation’s faithful shepherd on my next visit to Johannesburg, or any time this side of eternity.

All the usual questions have raged through my mind about why someone so young, someone so gifted, someone so suited to the challenge of Hillbrow. And many of them without an immediate answer.

But that Edwin is in the presence of his Lord and Master. And until we are together with them we give ourselves to the work of the gospel with the same faithfulness and courage as our Zulu warrior/brother.