A man who said yes and stayed true
A faithful servant of the Church, that sounds like the perfect caption for the life of Johann Rissik Kitching, who was responsible for the fate of the New Apostolic Church in Southern Africa for many years. Who was this man? Let us take a look back in honour of his 100th birthday.
Johann Rissik Kitching was born in Knysna, South Africa on 29 November 1920. The city of his birth is located on the Garden Route in Western Cape province. Yet as tranquil and as popular with tourists as the region may be, the living conditions can also be difficult when the bare necessities are lacking. In any case, young Rissik came from a rather poor background. His father worked as a plantation labourer, and the demands of his five other siblings were all the family could handle. Not that the later District Apostle would have complained about this. Quite the contrary, it was in his childhood that he learned some things that would come to distinguish him throughout his entire life, namely understanding for the concerns and worries of his neighbour, and the sense of well-being that derives from being part of a larger community. Thinking for a family is also something that can be easily applied to community life in the Church.
Johann Rissik Kitching was fourteen years of age when he and his family joined the New Apostolic Church. The then Apostle Heinrich Franz Schlaphoff sealed him in the year 1934. This divine service must have been a dramatic event for the family, because it was on the self-same occasion that his father was ordained a Priest. This meant that, in addition to his professional and family obligations, he would from then on also work in the Church. It was a good thing the distances would not be too taxing at least! This was because the divine services in the small congregation of Malmesbury, a city north of Cape Town to which the family had moved in the meantime, would from then on take place in the home of the Family Kitching.
Responsibility comes knocking
Like father, like son. Eventually, responsibility also came to knock on the door of the 22-year-old Rissik. In 1942, the son followed in the footsteps of his father and likewise received the Priest ministry. This led to the emergence of a kind of New Apostolic “line of blessing” that has both a before and an after: before him the father, after him his son. It was in that same year that the young Rissik married his wife Aletta. Their son—likewise baptised with the name Johann Rissik—also came to succeed his father in leading the Church 38 years later, namely as District Apostle in the District Church of South East Africa, which was based in Johannesburg.
Sunday, 16 August 1964 was a day set aside for higher ordinations: in Dortmund, Bishop Johann Rissik Kitching received the Apostle ministry at the hands of Chief Apostle Walter Schmidt. And this would not be his only trip to Dortmund. Ten years later, on 13 October 1974, the Apostle was ordained a District Apostle for the District Church of the Transvaal, as it was known at the time. This incorporated both pastoral and administrative responsibility over the countries and homelands then known as Bophuthatswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Transkei, and Venda. The region was home to many different ethnic groups, with just as many languages, cultures, and traditions. He was able to serve in this capacity for 14 years—until 2 October 1988. His retirement, which was performed on Thanksgiving Sunday by Chief Apostle Richard Fehr, took place in Rembrandt Hall in the South African capital of Pretoria.
A man who served faithfully and led the Church securely
As a senior he was granted only six years of retirement: six months before his 74th birthday, on 18 July 1994, District Apostle J. R. Kitching suffered a stroke which led to his death. Four days later, the then District Apostle Klaus Saur conducted his funeral in the Dinwiddie church in the presence of District Apostles Ernst H. Graf and Duncan B. Mfune, along with several other South African Apostles. The Bible text from 2 Timothy 4: 7–8, which he used on this occasion, was a fitting epitaph for the life of the departed District Apostle: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Richard Fehr, the incumbent Chief Apostle at the time, described him in his obituary as a man who was closely connected with the Chief Apostle. He wrote that the District Apostle had served faithfully, given his best, and diligently preserved the purity of the doctrine of Jesus. “He was a striking personage of faith, who radiated calm and security, whose service not only brought happiness to the souls entrusted to his care but also provided them with sure leadership.”
In his last sermon in 1988, District Apostle Kitching stated: “What a great and unique reward awaits us for the little that we do here! And it is quite consciously that I say: ‘the little’. After all, what are 17 years in the district of the Transvaal? What are 50 or 60 years on this earth in comparison with eternity? … I want to be worthy on the day of the Lord, and it is also my wish that you may be worthy too, so that we can then dwell forever in the Father’s house.”
It was in a youth service in July 1981 that he uttered a sentence that has been passed down to this day: “Dear young people, how does a fruit ripen out? From the inside out, not from the outside in.”
Photo: NAC International