INTERVIEW with novelist Olea Nel who writes on life and works of Andrew Murray

Tell us about yourself and the how you were inspired to write about Andrew Murray.

I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. And it was there as a young teenager that I grew to love Andrew Murray’s devotional works. My grandfather used to purchase them from market stalls on the parade that adjoins the old castle. He would then give them to me to read.

By the time I finished high school, Andrew Murray had become my hero of the faith. So it was no surprise to family and friends that I should choose to attend the teachers’ college he had established in Wellington in the Western Cape in 1874. And although it was a government institution by then, it was still run along the same Christian lines as during his day.

After teaching for a few years in South Africa, followed by a short stint in Scotland, I relocated to Australia to further my education. It was while I was still writing my PhD dissertation in Melbourne that I met and married my pastor husband, Peter Nelson.

Fast forward to the present . . . I’m now happily retired, and am able to pursue my passion for research in church history and biography. And again, it comes as no surprise that I have chosen to explore the life and works of Andrew Murray.

Tell us a little more about Andrew Murray.

He is known today as an author, par excellence, of devotional works. In my opinion, few other authors plumb the depth of prayer, holiness, humility, and the fullness of the Spirit in their writings like he has done. When you read his works, you know that you are encountering an author who has walked along the high road of holiness before you.

But besides his books, he was also a giant on the church stage in South Africa. He was not only the moderator of the Dutch Reformed Synod over a period of 30 years, but also one of the prime movers in establishing its mission thrust into Africa. And when the Synod was too slow to meet a particular need, Andrew Murray, together with his congregation in Wellington, would try to do so.

Why should Christians be reading Andrew Murray’s books?

What stands out in Murray’s writings is the how of the spiritual journey:

  • The how of abiding in Christ, and where we fail The how of prayer The how of growing in humility and mortifying self
  • The how of waiting upon God in silent adoration
  • The how of reading Scripture so that the Holy Spirit accompanies our reading and is there to convict and encourage
  • The how of being filled with the Spirit
In 2010 you wrote a book on the wonderful revival the Cape experienced in 1860/61 that you titled: South Africa’s Forgotten Revival. Tell us more about that revival and Andrew Murray’s role in it.

The 1860/61 revival was one of the great spiritual awakenings of the nineteenth century.

Between May 1860 and December 1861, the Holy Spirit swept through most of the towns in the Cape Colony, as well as a few beyond its borders. And what was so amazing about this visitation was that the ensuing revival was a distinct departure from the norm.

During most revivals, God’s people (church goers) are awakened first. But in Worcester, where Andrew Murray had just begun to serve as their pastor, revival broke out among Coloured farm workers who were receiving religious instructions from a young niece of the farmer.

About six months into the revival, Murray decided to go on an extensive preaching tour that helped to deepen the faith of those who had just given their lives to the Lord. As a result, his name became closely associated with this great awakening.

Why did you decide to tell Murray’s story in fictional form?

One of the main reasons is that several biographies on his life already existed. Another is that their authors hardly touch upon his spiritual journey and the struggles he experienced as a young pastor. Yet another reason is that I wanted to reach a new readership who preferred novels.

In addition to the above, his family and friends speak of a definite “before” and “after” period in his spiritual pilgrimage that I was keen to explore. And there is no better way to describe it than through the eyes of Andrew Murray himself.

And that can only be done via a novel. That said, however, I’d just like to add that although my books fall under biographical fiction, they can also be regarded as dramatised non-fiction because they are factual and based on solid research.

What are the titles of your ‘Destined Series’ novels, and which number in the series are you writing at present?

Two have already been published, and the third is due out early next year. To give you a flavor of their themes, I’ll list them below together with a short summary.

Book 1. Andrew Murray: Destined to Serve For lovers of historical fiction about Christian heroes of the faith

A boyish and fun-loving Andrew Murray arrives back in South Africa after being ordained at The Hague on his twentieth birthday in 1848. But not long after his appointment as pastor to the Dutch emigrants beyond the borders of the Cape, he feels overwhelmed by the task, and starts to doubt his calling. It does not take him long to realise that he has to either man-up or bow out.

Book 2. Andrew Murray: Destined to Win A true story of battles, blessings, betrayal, and breakthrough

Twenty-two year old Andrew Murray has just completed his first year of ministry to over 20 000 Boers beyond the borders of the Cape. After a heartbreaking betrayal, he realizes that he is in need of a wife — someone who is able to partner with him in the ministry. But where to find such a girl? And when found, will his bloated ego and self-focus get in the way of winning her hand?

Book 3. Andrew Murray: Destined to Wait (due out early in 2019) A true story about facing the challenges of Christian leadership in an volatile environment

Twenty-eight year old Andrew Murray has just married Emma Rutherfoord, the girl of his dreams, and is looking forward to resuming his ministry in Bloemfontein with her at his side. But he is barely back in town, when trouble strikes. The small, land-locked Orange Free State throws up a series of nail-biting situations in which Andrew is called upon to play a central role. There’s the attempted take-over by the Transvaal, a devastating war with the Basutos, Psalm-singing (Dopper) members within his own congregation who decide to secede, antagonism towards his bilingual education program at Grey College, not to speak of him having to navigate marriage with an educated and talented young wife who knows her own mind. Added to this is his growing desire to start again in a new congregation. But although he hankers to go, there are responsibilities forcing him to stay—that is, until God has finished with his training.

Book 4. Andrew Murray: Destined to Lead This will be the final novel in the series and will cover the great revival that spread through the Cape in 1860/61 plus the wonderful results in education and missions that flowed from this visitation of the Holy Spirit. It will also deal with the counter movement that was orchestrated by liberal pastors who opposed revival, but which was destined to fail due to awakened hearts and minds.

Olea Nel’s books can be ordered online:
South Africa’s Forgotten Revival
Andrew Murray Destined to Serve
Andrew Murray: Destined to Win

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