At the age of twenty-two Jimmy MacPhie was saved. He was invited to a meeting by another native of Bellshill, who was also to be commended to the Lords work from the Bellshill assembly. This was David Walker, who was two years his junior, and who had been saved two years previously under the preaching of the great Irish evangelist, W. P. Nicholson.
Among the preachers to whom Jimmy MacPhie listened in those days was Fred Stanley Arnot of Central Africa, and as a result he became interested in Angola. He developed in spiritual things and was commended to the work in Angola by the saints gathered unto the Lord in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He worked in the steel works and was thirty years old or more before he sailed for that country. Two interesting contacts were made in London on his way to Africa. At St Pancras Station a disabled girl approached him and asked, "Are you the missionary going to Africa?". She had heard of him on the train and wanted to give him a little gift, two shillings (10p), which touched him deeply. The other person whom he met was William Hoste, who was going out to teach the Scriptures and whose company he had on the passage, as the result of which they became lifelong friends. The voyage ended at Lobito on the west coast of Africa and occupied twenty-two days. The next stage of the journey was by rail. The final stage, to Bie was on foot with the help of carriers.
Due to his age, the brethren in Glasgow and Bath did not agree with Jimmy MacPhie going abroad and so did not have fellowship with him. This brought reproach from workers in Angola and he soon felt that he was not wanted in the Bie district. He thus took to travelling, and while away from the "mission station" he met some Luwena people. These people interested him and he felt the urge to go and see their country. He affectionately called the Luwena "the bandits". This entailed a long walk, five hundred odd miles, through country inhabited by thieves and warring people. He liked the country, so he returned to Bie for his belongings and then left to make Cazombo his headquarters and home until the Lord took him to be with Himself.
During the period of the First World War he travelled for hundreds of miles by foot, oftentimes bare-footed, to save his boots which could not be replaced owing to the War. Being "free" he was able to stay at various places to allow families to leave for short holidays.
He finally was "recognised" by the brethren in Glasgow when Mr William Hoste, speaking about his travels in Africa at the Half-Yearly Meetings in Glasgow, said, "You have a man out there in Africa by the name of James MacPhie. If you have any more James MacPhies, send them out, Africa needs them". He had met up with Mr MacPhie travelling from village to village preaching the gospel. Being alone like this with Africans, he acquired a good working knowledge of the different languages he encountered.
On returning to Scotland around 1920, Mr MacPhie married Miss Anderson of Motherwell. Together they returned to Angola, via Cape Town, taking the train to Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). From Broken Hill there was a five hundred mile walk through forests, jungles, and swamps to reach Cazombo. Mrs MacPhie, like all ladies, was wheeled in a bush-car. This was a chair sitting on top of a wheel with shafts, front and rear, for two Africans to push and pull along the narrow African paths. One of the bush-car men became ill and Mr MacPhie took over and pushed his bride for many miles until the man had recovered.
A small house of mud was built at Cazombo. This house, although wider at the top than at the bottom, stood for many years. Mrs MacPhie had taken a few lessons in medicine, and over the years helped Africans and Portuguese during their many illnesses. My wife (Mary Halliday) when a child was seriously ill and through prayer and Mrs MacPhies knowledge she was nursed back to health.
Hundreds of Africans, too, learned to read the Word through the devoted service of Mrs MacPhie. She went to be with the Lord at the end of 1964, one week before her life-long "African" friend Mrs Geddis.
The MacPhies had a programme to follow each year. In the tropics there are two seasons, wet and dry, with each season lasting approximately six months. So, every year when the rains stopped, tents, foodstuffs, etc. were arranged in 70-pound loads for men to carry for the six months of no rain. So! Off they went, from village to village, district to district, telling the lost of the Saviour. Eternity alone will reveal what was done on these long, long journeys. During these trips they had an African cow and calf with them to supply milk. He often said, "Folk laughed at the cow, but were always glad of the milk". They carried a cockerel, too. This let them know when it was time to get up as there were no alarm clocks out there in those days!
On my way to Cazombo in June, 1948 I met Tuloshi at Lumbala, Angola. Tuloshi, who was in line to be a chief, first heard the gospel some years earlier when James MacPhie was on one of his long treks through the villages. He became concerned about himself and he travelled long miles to hear the Word of God. He was saved and moved to build and live at Lumbala. Through his gospel work folk were saved and an assembly established. The assembly at Lumbala did well until the insurgents took over the area. The believers were scattered, but later the saints got back together again. Tuloshi is now with the Lord.
In 1949 Bob Neill and I were travelling a long way from the beaten track and camping amongst some remote people. To get there involved slogging through swamp and jungle and we were bitten by the dreadful tsetse fly. We were sure no one had ever been here before, but on asking the villagers they informed us that "Nala Mafu" (Mr MacPhies African name) had been in the area and had crossed the swamp a few hundred yards to the west.
At the end of the dry season the MacPhies returned to their home at Cazombo, where Mrs MacPhie and their son Robert stayed while Mr MacPhie went out for a further three months before the floods made it impossible to travel. During these months he travelled with two or three African brethren. They were all on bicycles and so they travelled "light." Their bed was a grass mat in the little round hut with no walls, usually found in the centre of most villages. He had a blanket, and his boots were usually used for a pillow. There was no canned food in those days, so he lived on African food such as cassava, dried fish, chicken, and leaves.
There was a large well-instructed Assembly at Cazombo. Mr MacPhie taught them diligently, covering all of the New Testament many times. When the whole Bible was printed in the Luwena tongue, he was able to use it freely with the assembly. He was a good singer and the Africans were never allowed to "drag" the tunes. He had a strong personality and he always looked upon his reaction to wrong as righteous indignation. This spirit gave him authority in speech and, when ministering the Word of God, to condemn wrong-doing. When advised to leave the area in 1967 because of the danger due to terrorist activity, he declined, preferring rather to remain with the assembly.
The Scottish saints supported them well. Once when being asked to relate how the Lord supplied during times of need, Mrs MacPhie said that they had never been brought low like that. She was an honourable woman and never pleaded lack of support. They always had some old people to look after as well. These "unwanted" folk had a house supplied and a daily ration of food.
When the Geddis family arrived at Kalunda, 50 miles east of Cazombo, in 1921, he was there to meet them. The truth of God bound them together. They were close friends until they were separated by death. Since James MacPhies home call from Cazombo in 1970, they have been together with Christ while their bodies lie in the land they loved until that day when the trumpet will sound. With them there shall be hundreds of Africans to answer that call (1 Cor 15.51,58).
(Brother Halliday and his wife served the Lord for many years in Africa Ed.)