Tiyo was born in Gwali, South Africa nearly twenty years earlier. Not long after his birth, missionaries arrived in his village and began to preach the gospel. His mother, Nosuthu, accepted Christ. As Tiyo grew, Nosuthu carefully tried to teach him the truths of the Bible. When he was old enough, his mother sent him to the newly built mission school, where Tiyo developed a love for learning. He soon became the star pupil and devoured every book he could get a hold of.
In 1846, the War of the Ax engulfed the country. Many were forced to flee their homes to safety. Churches and schools were destroyed. The head professor of Tiyo’s school, William Govan, decided to return home to Scotland until the war passed over. But before he left, he spoke with Nosuthu and offered to pay for Tiyo to come with him, so he could continue to be educated in Scotland. Nosuthu was between keeping her son or allowing him to continue to grow. She prayed and fasted over it and finally decided: “My son belongs to God; wherever he goes God is with him … he is as much in God’s care in Scotland as he is here with me.”
Once in Scotland, Tiyo enrolled in school and began to attend different churches. It was in Scotland that he made his public profession of faith and was baptized. After finished his schooling, he was ordained into the ministry and decided to return to South Africa to work. Tiyo was the first black South African to be ordained into the Gospel ministry.
Back in South Africa, Tiyo set to work starting missions across his country. He also translated the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress into Xhosa. His ministry was filled with difficulty. At one time, one of his mission stations was burned to the ground by raiding rebels. Many of the other white missionaries looked down on him as inferior and tried to hinder his work. And many of the Africans distrusted him because they thought he was a pawn for the Colonial government (In fact, Tiyo refused to ever do anything politically related, even when pressured by the other missionaries to do something). The fact that he had married a white Scottish woman also made the two groups dislike him.
Despite the opposition, Tiyo never gave up! He kept preaching the Gospel and reading books so he could “learn better how to preach Christ as my known Saviour to my countrymen who know Him not.” At the time of his death, his faithfulness to the Gospel had won over many of his opponents. On his tombstone, written in English and Xhosa, was this epitaph:
Sacred to the memory of the Rev. Tiyo Soga the first ordained preacher of the Caffre race. He was a friend of God, a lover of His Son, inspired by His Spirit, a disciple of His holy Word. A zealous churchman, an ardent patriot, a large-hearted philanthropist, a dutiful son, an affectionate brother, a tender husband, a loving father, a faithful friend, a learned scholar, an eloquent orator and in manners a gentleman. A model Caffrarian for the imitation and inspiration of his countrymen.
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