Nicholas Bhekinkosi Hepworth Bhengu’s lasting legacy: World’s Best Black Soul Crusader

Dan S.B. Lephoko

Director – Children On the Move

Associate Research Fellow – Department of Science of Religion and Missiology, University of Pretoria.


This is a scholarly book that commemorates the legacy of Rev. Nicholas Bhekinkosi Hepworth Bhengu who was born on 05 September 1909 at eNtumeni, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He was the founder of the Back to God Crusade in the 1950s that has become institutionalised within the Assemblies of God. He taught his church to be self-sustaining and he also encouraged material independence through hard work. He died on 07 October 1985 at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. Many people in Africa have been influenced by his rich legacy as an evangelist, pastor, teacher and church planter. Bhengu combined evangelism with development which was critical for the black people who were under a repressive regime in South Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa. He was a religious revolutionary who ‘planted’ more than 2000 churches in South Africa and neighbouring countries by emphasising non-denominationalism without pressurising converts to discard their churches to join any. He was determined to build a movement that would be a vehicle to reach out to the continent of Africa through his churches. The book aims at providing academics and researchers reference material of interactions between spirituality, church dynamics, socio-economic development and political environment. Its contribution to existing research with regard to the formative growth of Christianity in Africa is significant and innovative. The book’s target audience includes academics in the religious fields of missiology, church history and contextual theology, specifically researchers with intent to write scientific commentaries on the life history of Bhengu. Based on a qualitative research methodology, the author of this scholarly monograph conducted personal interviews using a structured questionnaire with specific questions designed to draw conclusive contributions for the subjects. Ethical clearance is endorsed by the permission granted by the subjects who were assured of the protection of their confidentiality as well as the published results in the book. This includes the audio-tape interviews of people in South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. These participants served as ‘co-researchers’ and they represent a cross-section of people who worked with Bhengu, family members, pastors, youth and women within the structures in Bhengu’s work. Interviews were also conducted with people outside the Assemblies of God with an ecumenical focus. These include Apostolic Faith Mission, Church of the Nazarene, Africa Evangelical Church and para-church organisations. The records of interviews – as well as written submissions, Bhengu’s taped sermons, telephonic interviews and annotated photocopies of primary sources – are in the possession of the author and they were approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the University of Pretoria. No part of the book was plagiarised or published anywhere else, except to acknowledge that sections of the book represent a substantial reworking of the author’s doctorate thesis, entitled ‘Nicholas Bhekinkosi Hepworth Bhengu’s Lasting Legacy’ at the Faculty of Theology, Department of Science of Religion and Missiology, University of Pretoria, South Africa. The author is a participant observer who has been a member of the General Executive of the Assemblies of God, pastor and worked with Bhengu over many years during his lifetime.


  • Introduction: Participant observer
  • Chapter 1: Impact of apartheid on South Africa (1948–1985)
  • Chapter 2: A prophet sent by God
  • Chapter 3: The history of the Assemblies of God
  • Chapter 4: Theological influence
  • Chapter 5: Teaching and preaching
  • Chapter 6: Missional churches
  • Chapter 7: Tensions in the Assemblies of God
  • Chapter 8: The Teaching Team and the Executive Committee
  • Chapter 9: A South African Jeremiah
  • Chapter 10: Caring for the Body of Christ
  • Chapter 11: Homegoing
  • Chapter 12: A lasting legacy


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