The Free Church has a long history of international mission work, and this remarkable book meticulously charts the history of mission in one particular location; the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Its authors, Bill and Elizabeth Graham, served the church in South Africa for twenty years, and the book is suffused with their own love, respect and delight in the Lord’s work in that particular place.

Beginning in 1823 with the story of John and Helen Ross, this detailed account of nearly two centuries’ worth of ministry benefits hugely from firsthand accounts taken from contemporary issues of Free Church magazines (The Record & Instructor). Through these letters home, the reader today feels present with these historical figures, seeing through their eyes the joys and challenges they faced. In the first few chapters, this book offers a fascinating insight into the effects of the changes in Scottish church structure (most notably the formation of the United Free Church of Scotland) had on the international churches affiliated with the pre-1900 Free Church. They had had no part to say in the decisions being made ‘back home’, and yet, in South Africa at least, it impacted their ability to meet, their role in providing education and even the financial viability of their ministers and churches. Thankfully, however, these challenges did not prove insurmountable. As the book goes on to explain, time and again the Free Church in South Africa flourished despite difficulties, and their desire to work with the Scottish church is insistent and encouraging.

The growth, development, and eventual independence of the Free Church in South Africa is documented with great care, and the detail of all those involved is such a profound statement of the impact of God’s work on so many lives. In the latter part of the book, much of the narrative is taken up with the work of what will become known as ‘Dumisani Theological Institute’; a work which has been revisited recently in the Institute’s own book, ‘Voices of Thanksgiving’.

The humility and absolute commitment to God’s work shown by all those involved, not least the authors themselves, makes 'The Ochre & The Blue' an outstanding historical record of spiritual growth in one corner of God's Kingdom. What’s more, I was particularly struck by the ‘On Reflection’ section at the end of each chapter; a place where difficult questions are asked of past decisions and honest self-reflection is provided. This book is more than just an account of one specific place in one specific time; it is an encouragement to all Christians of how to faithfully serve our Lord.

This book is available to purchase from Amazon.

Miriam Montgomery, Free Church Books