REVEREND JOHN W. BROOKS
For as long as he could remember, Reverend Brooks was surrounded by Christian influences. His father was a Pentecostal Holiness minister. His grandfather was an itinerant Methodist tent evangelist. His early childhood was marked by tragedy. When he was six, his father died, leaving a wife with few possessions, no income and seven children to support. She decided to move to Falcon, NC, which was a Pentecostal Holiness community with a school that was run by the Pentecostal Holiness church. It was in this environment that Reverend Brooks grew up and eventually received a calling from God to become a missionary in Africa.
He attended Holmes Bible and Missionary Institute in Greenville, SC, which was a Pentecostal seminary that trained students in the tenets of Christianity and prepared them for lives as missionaries. He fell in love with one of his fellow students who also had a calling from God to become a missionary in Africa. They married and crossed the Atlantic in 1924 to join a group of Pentecostal missionaries who were stationed in the gold mining region of South Africa.
This was an era when South Africa was run by the British colonial government whose principal objective was to support the gold, platinum, and diamond mining industries. This was early in the development of the class system that was later to become known as Apartheid. The seven major tribes of South African natives, each with its distinct language and culture, were gradually reduced to second class status. The white population was divided into two groups. The English speaking group and the Afrikaans speaking group. The Afrikaaners were descendants of Dutch, German and French settlers. The eastern coast had become home to settlers who had emigrated from India, to work in the sugar cane industry.
The gold mining industry had developed around the city of Johannesburg in a 60-mile long stretch of land known as the Witwatersrand. The gold mining companies required a large cheap labor force. They attracted young men from the various tribes to this region where they were contracted to spend a certain period of time and then return to their tribal lands. These laborers were housed in large compounds run by the mining companies. They were segregated from the white population and if they left the compound they needed a to carry a pass. It was in these compounds that Reverend Brooks started his ministry. After three years he was sent to the Northern Transvaal, which was the tribal land of the Venda people. While there, in response to an invitation by one of the tribal chiefs in the region, he established a mission station. After working to build a church and a missionary residence, Reverend Brooks suffered a nasty accident in which he was thrown from a horse onto rocky terrain and sustained multiple head and spinal fractures. His injuries were so severe that the local doctor gave him little hope of recovery, but miraculously he improved enough to travel. He requested that he be allowed to return the US to recuperate. He was directed to take his family to the port city of Durban to board a ship. By the time he got there he was notified that the US was experiencing an economic depression, and that the mission board could not raise enough money to pay for passage.
A group of missionaries from another faith provided lodging for him and his family until he recuperated enough to return to the Witwatersrand for reassignment. He was assigned to the gold mining town of Randfontein. Here he started a ministry among the native people who lived in the local “Location”. This was a euphemistic name for a native ghetto located a few miles from the white population. He ministered to the natives until 1935, when he returned to the US for a furlough. He was assigned to pastor his home congregation of Falcon, NC.
When he returned to South Africa in 1938 he was assigned to take over the missionary work of Reverend K. E. M. Spooner, who was an African American missionary who had just died. Reverend Spooner had spent many years building a complex of churches and schools among the Tswana people. His mission was located near the town of Rustenburg, which was a platinum-mining and farming community. Reverend Brooks served as superintendent of this ministry for two years.
In 1940 Reverend Brooks was reassigned to start a new mission work in the city of Durban, which was a resort and port city on the Indian Ocean. The population of Durban consisted of whites, Zulu natives, Indians, and descendants of multiracial marriages called Coloreds. The four ethnic groups were segregated into separate regions of the city. In the next seven years Reverend Brooks established Pentecostal Holiness congregations in all four segments of the city.
In 1947 he returned to the US where he was assigned to become superintendent of the Falcon Children’s Home, which was operated by the Pentecostal Holiness Church as a refuge for orphaned and troubled children. After a year he was assigned first to pastor a congregation in Vancouver British Columbia and then others in rural North Carolina. During one of his prayer and meditation sessions, he experienced an epiphany in which God called on him to establish a ministry and religious school for native ministers in some part of Africa. In a subsequent vision God revealed that the location of the new missionary work was to be Nigeria.
In 1955 he went to Nigeria where he spent three tours of duty and established several congregations. He also established a religious school, which he named the West African Bible College. It started with a few students in a small rented building. The missionary work and the school grew steadily. In 1967 he retired in poor health and later settled in Falcon, NC. The school continued to grow under a series of missionary successors. His dream of establishing a religious school that was housed its own building became a reality many years later. A brand new building was built with many classrooms and with accommodations to board student ministers while they studied. He was invited to Lagos, Nigeria for the dedication of the building. At age 89, a somewhat frail Reverend Brooks made the long trip to Nigeria for the dedication. He returned with the satisfaction that his vision had been fulfilled.