Grace Triumphant - Chapter 18 - Home at Last

CHAPTER 18
Home at Last

“Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.” (Psa. 107:30)

Back in the 1920’s two brothers, Fred and John Murset, with their families, moved from Buffalo to Los Angeles.  Leaving a missionary-minded assembly like Assembly Hall, they were disappointed at the lack of missionary interest in southern California.  The wives, Hattie and Dora, missed the monthly sisters’ missionary meetings they had enjoyed in Buffalo.  With a few others who were like minded, they endeavored to start a monthly ladies’ missionary meeting.  They encountered opposition.  Some of the older brethren thought such an activity was unscriptural.  In fact, in one elders’ meeting, a brother had a fatal heart attack while speaking against such sisters’ meetings.  Eventually a monthly meeting was commenced and for several years Hattie Murset was one of the most active.  It is safe to say that the awakening of missionary interest in southern California was largely due to the untiring enthusiasm of a number of sisters.

Late in the evening of May 2, 1945, the phone rang in the Murset home; the Red Cross was calling.  Immediately, Hattie guessed it was the Brooks for she had heard a report of internees arriving.  It didn’t take them long to get downtown to the Elks Club.  Len was standing near the information desk when he heard a lady ask where she could locate the Brooks family.  He introduced himself, and it wasn’t long before we were in the hospitable home of the Mursets.  The two brothers lived next door to each other and they had room for the five of us.

The next day was the monthly meeting of the ladies’ missionary group so Hattie was delighted to take Anna as her special guest.  The ladies, of course, were delighted to see one for whom they had been praying so much.  That meeting was the beginning of an outpouring of love gifts.

The rest of us went downtown window shopping; but, unfortunately for Rose, the menfolks rushed by the things she wanted to look at.  Passersby soon recognized us as returned internees by the shabby way we were dressed, but this was to our good in the stores.  Rare items like white shirts were brought out of the back room, so we got priority on things which were in short supply because of the war.  When I explained that I would need my suit by Saturday because I was to preach on Sunday, the order was marked RUSH.

While in the Los Banos internment camp, I broke the crystal on my watch.  Dr. Widdowes, a United Brethren missionary, had set up a watch repair shop there and he made a new crystal from discarded eyeglasses.  It was a good fit but wouldn’t stay in place because we had no glue.  For months I had been carrying it around in a matchbox.  When I went to a watch repairer, he was curious to know why I was carrying the watch in a matchbox.  When he heard my story, he had the watch cleaned and the new crystal installed in a few days and refused payment.  Apparently he was not a Christian but thought we had suffered enough!

Since several of the servicemen we knew in Manila were connected with the Navigators, Dawson Trotman invited us to his home in Pasadena on Friday evening.  Suspecting there would be young ladies present, Len announced he was not going since he had nothing decent to wear.  However, we prevailed upon him because all would know the circumstances.  The Western Assemblies Home was then right across the street from the Trotman home, so we visited there first.  This Navigator home had been built by a lumber merchant with beautiful woodwork and the bedroom closets were all of cedar.  After dinner Daws took us upstairs, threw open a closet, and told us to help ourselves to what would fit us.  Many fellows going overseas had left their civilian clothes with Daws.  Some of them would never return.  So we came away with a load of clothes and shoes.  Len was glad he went!

We still had our British passport and would have been provided transportation to Britain, but we had no desire to go there.  VE day came while we were in Los Angeles.  I lost my Canadian citizenship by being gone too long during our first term.  Even though I had been four years in the Canadian army during World War I, the Canadian consul wouldn’t allow us to go to Canada unless we had a re-entry permit to the U.S.  This we couldn’t obtain because we were visitors in the U.S.  We tackled the consul in San Francisco to no avail and finally went to the one in Seattle.  All the way we were praying about this because naturally we wanted to visit our relatives and friends in Victoria.  It turned out that the Seattle consul was Irish from Belfast, and he noted that Anna was born there.  He then called the Commissioner in Vancouver and got permission for a visit to Victoria.

Heading north we stopped a couple of days in the San Francisco Bay area.  There we met Eldon Durant who had been in our home in Manila.  He had been wonderfully preserved by the Lord through the Pacific war, serving on a submarine which sank a number of Japanese ships.  He tried hard to get airline reservations for Anna and Rose north to Portland, but even internment didn’t confer any priority in that.  After an evening meeting at Bethany Chapel we traveled north by bus and had seats most of the way.  We stayed overnight for a meeting in Portland and then went on to Seattle where my sisters were waiting for us.

Three weeks were spent in Victoria trying to get some rest between visiting with friends and having meetings.  Naturally everyone wanted to hear our story of God’s goodness and preserving care.  Then it was back to Seattle to take a train across country to Buffalo.  In Chicago, we had to change trains and found a vast crowd waiting for the train east.  “Servicemen and dependents first” was the call as the gate was opened.  A sailor standing beside Anna said, “I’m going to get on that train; I haven’t seen my Mother for three years.”  Anna replied, “I haven’t seen mine for almost eight years.”  Learning the reason for this, he said, “You come with me as my dependent.  You come on as my wife.”  He acquired not only an instant “wife” but also her husband and three children for the few moments it took to board that train.  We never saw him again!  Amazingly we also got seats with Rose sitting between us.  As the train left Chicago, a dining car stewards came through— “Someone left his teeth in the dining care!”  That, of course, was greeted with a roar of laughter—did someone take out his teeth to eat?  Shortly after he returned with a sheepish-looking G.I. in tow.

What a great welcome we had in Buffalo, first at the station and then by Anna’s parents at home.  Those years had been an anxious time for them, harder on them perhaps that on us.  The Christmas package they sent in 1941 had been returned months later and put in a cupboard to await our return.  While we were celebrating Christmas 1941 in June 1945, a newsman and photographer arrived for an interview.  The picture taken on the front steps was so clear that people recognized us on the street.

Shortly after our arrival in Buffalo, there was a special Sunday afternoon rally where we gave our testimony in the Statler Hotel Ballroom.  Some friends took us to lunch there before the rally.  Our host told the waitress to take good care of us since we had just been released from a Japanese internment camp.  “Oh, I bet you said your prayers there,” she said.  I replied, “No, we didn’t say our prayers—we prayed.  Do you know the difference?”  People thought we were very thin, not realizing that we had regained a lot of lost weight even before we left the Philippines.  From not having enough to eat, our problem was the reverse – too much rich food!

After the hassle about getting into Canada, Anna decided to reclaim her American citizenship lost when she married me.  The law was changed two days after we married and she would not have needed to lose her citizenship, but we didn’t know that then.  At the same time she was getting her papers together, I established residence so I could acquire American citizenship.  There would be some advantages in this when we returned to the Philippines.  However, all this took rather longer than we had anticipated, so it was four years before we returned to the Philippines.

This was probably of the Lord because of the needs of our family.  Leonard was drafted into the army in spite of the internment experiences.  When we were released from internment, Gen. MacArthur authorized all civilian internees to wear the Pacific War Ribbon.  So Len wore a campaign ribbon while in basic training, calling forth more than one question from officers.  He was sent to Germany as part of the Occupation Forces.  On Decoration Day, 1946, at a conference in Chicago, I learned about an army order authorizing release of ex-internees.  When I sent this information to Len, I thought that with the ways of bureaucracy, he might be home for Christmas.  He found a copy of the order in the office where he was working and arrived home on July 4, in time to accompany us to the Guelph Summer Bible School.

Kenneth was busy in high school when he received draft board orders.  One of his instructors took a personal interest and argued with the draft board that Ken needed to complete his much-delayed high school, so he got exemption.  Rose was finishing up elementary school and was in high school when we left for the Philippines.

Those were busy years as invitations for meetings and conferences came from many parts of the country.  Thanksgiving Day 1945 I spoke at the one-day conference at Assembly Hall in Buffalo, then took the night train to be at the longer conference in Chicago.  There I had a reminder that the years had taken a toll physically for I came down with a very bad cold.  By resting in between, I was able to keep up with speaking engagements, which included giving a devotional message over WMBI radio each morning for a week.

Friends took me into their homes instead of staying in the missionary home where I would have had to fend for myself, and I was most grateful for their consideration.  After the conference meeting one night, Mr. and Mrs. Bill McCartney graciously took me home and put me to bed in their own double bed.  In the early hours of the morning I became aware of a child beside the bed.  I threw back the covers for a moment while a little girl crawled in beside me without a word, not even realizing it wasn’t her Daddy and Mommy.  When I woke after daylight, she was still sleeping so I lay quietly until she would wake up.  When she did, I greeted her with a cheery “Good Morning!”  She contemplated me for a few moments and then without a word ran out of the room.  Then it was back to Buffalo for Christmas, the first in eight years with the family there.

The next spring, Anna was speaking at a ladies’ conference in Flint, Michigan.  Some of the sisters from Detroit rented a bus to go.  The Flint brethren who took care of the meals at the conference talked with the bus driver and learned that he was one of the paratroopers who made the jump at Los Banos.  It was an interesting opportunity to thank him personally for his help in our rescue.  I bought two 16 mm black and white news films of the bombing of Manila by the Japanese in 1941 and the liberation by the Americans in 1945.  While purchasing a projector I also learned the possibility of purchasing a film from the military.  We got a film of the rescue, and for a few fleeting moments there we were in a group waiting to be evacuated from Los Banos.  These, of course, added interest to the accounts given about our experiences.

For three summers we had some most enjoyable times of fellowship and ministry at the Guelph Summer Bible Camp.  It was indeed a privilege to meet with many men of God there.  Some of them have since gone home to be with the Lord: Dr. H. G. Lockett, Alfred P. Gibbs, and my fellow-Victorian, John Smart.  On Lord’s Days we went out to nearby assemblies to minister the Word.  One of my responsibilities was to organize groups of students to canvass the town of Guelph with literature.

During the 1948 session, I had to make a trip to Buffalo in connection with my application for naturalization; so I became the butt of the Friday evening skit that week.  Spearheaded by Ernie Woodhouse, I was charged with treason by a mock court, noted more for hilarity than sobriety.  Found guilty, I was “shot” and then laid out for burial on the pingpong table.  Then a large trunk was hauled off to the garbage dump with my “corpse” supposedly in it.  One little boy observing the proceedings had seen that I was not actually in the trunk and hastened to reassure my wife of that fact!

We used to go swimming in the pool at Fergus.  On another visit to Guelph, I accompanied A. P. Gibbs to that town.  He wanted to take a picture of a grave in the cemetery beside the Presbyterian Church there.  We found the grave marked with the name Clephane.  He was the ne’er-do-well brother of Elizabeth Clephane who wrote the hymn:

“There were ninety and nine that safely lay,
In the shelter of the fold
But one was out on the hills away
Far off from the gates of gold.”

Because of his dissolute character, the brother had been sent by the family to Canada and no doubt Elizabeth had him in mind when she wrote the hymn.  Mr. Gibbs and I wondered if his burial in the churchyard indicated that he had at last been brought back to the fold.

As our stay at home was longer than we had anticipated, we were glad to help in the Lord’s work at home.  For three months in the spring of 1948, I took a series of meetings in the Buffalo area, four nights each week in four different assemblies and rotating the Sundays between these places.  Some of this was combined with afternoon visitation in the neighborhood.  Feeling there was a lack of teaching about the church and why we meet as we do, I endeavored to present the New Testament teaching on this important subject.

It was a great joy to us when Leonard and Kenneth decided to attend Emmaus Bible School in Toronto.  At first, Len intended to go for the one year course, but soon decided to stay on for three years.  It was there that he met Esther Christiansen and they were engaged shortly before we returned to the Philippines.  Kenneth and Elaine Petersen were engaged and both attended Emmaus.  They were married in Buffalo in September 1948.  Len and Esther were married the following August, but by that time we were back in Manila.  Rose was in high school in Buffalo, and it seemed best to leave her there to stay with Anna’s sister and her husband, George Gibson.  After finishing high school, she took a nursing course at the Deaconess Hospital in Buffalo.

We left Buffalo in the spring of 1949.  I had acquired my American naturalization a few months before.  We were all together for the last weekend, and it was not easy to say goodbye to Len, Esther, Ken and Elaine as they returned to Emmaus on Sunday afternoon.  It was still harder to leave Rose and Anna’s relatives a couple of days later.  They were all standing on the porch waving as we drove away and turned the corner.  There came to my mind the words of Christ, “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matt. 19:29).  Anna said later that she recalled the same verse.  As we left three children behind, I dared to ask the Lord (though with feeble faith) to grant us 300 spiritual children.

Our first stop was with friends at Cleveland who had a special meeting for us that evening.  The Hough Bakery, managed by the Pile brothers, had a beautiful large book cake for us.  As they had plenty of other goodies, they kindly offered to send the cake back to Anna’s folks in Buffalo.  They were so fond of showing it off that it risked getting stale before they ate it!

After visits to Victoria, we made our way to San Francisco.  Shortly before boarding the ship there, we had a call from Kenneth to announce the birth of our first grandchild, Dale, born on July 17, 1949.  So in the midst of parting from loved ones, there was the joy of knowing that another generation had begun.  We constantly praise the Lord for all His great goodness to us as a family.  In His wonderful grace we have ten grandchildren, all of them know the Lord and are going on for Him.  As of May 1982, we had 14 great-grandchildren.  We praise the Lord that the grandchildren who are married all have fine Christian partners.  We take no credit for all this, though we feel we owe a great deal to our Christian parents.  When we see the tragedy in many Christian families, we just wonder why the Lord should have been so good and gracious to us.  Like Jacob of old, we say, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant” (Gen. 32:10).

Crossing the Pacific, we had time to contemplate what lay ahead of us.  Finding a home to live in; back to the work with all its needs and challenges; to recoup the losses and regather those who had been scattered; to plan for expansion of the work and pray about the future.  A great challenge lay ahead of us.  After the havoc of the war years, things would not be the same.  Well we knew that we were not sufficient for these things, but we also knew that our sufficiency is of God and His grace is always sufficient.