Grace Triumphant - Chapter 27 - The Progress of the Gospel

CHAPTER 27
The Progress of the Gospel

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.” (2 Thess. 3:1)

No doubt most will be aware that the more literal translation is “that the word of the Lord may run.” In making this prayer request, Paul remembered how the Gospel spread so quickly in Thessalonica, as he had written in the first epistle, “The Lord’s message rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.” It was a remarkable example of the rapid spread of the Gospel. In that early Apostolic age the message of the Lord has indeed spread rapidly and widely. In these last days we need to be reminded that the Word of the Lord can only run as we give it legs and feet. When the Prophet Habakkuk was looking to see what the Lord would say to him, he was told, “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that whoever reads it may run with it” (Hab. 2:2, NIV marg.) God’s message is so urgent that, having read it, the herald must run to proclaim it. So the head cannot say to the feet, “I have no need of you.” Our Head needs us, His feet, to run His message.

Some years ago my brother-in-law, George Gibson, in Buffalo had to have both legs amputated. To get to the meetings he was dependent upon others to take him in their cars. One day, explaining to me why he was not at a certain meeting he said, “Cyril, if I had my legs, I would have been there.” After nearly two thousand years there are still people who have not heard the Lord’s message. Is our Lord saying, “If I had the use of my people’s legs, I would have been?” Is it any wonder then, that Paul quotes Isaiah in saying, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Praise the Lord for all those who yield themselves to Him to be heralds carrying the glad, good news of salvation. In recent years some of these have been young people serving in the mission field for short periods of time. Some have gone as a team, at their own expense, giving a few weeks of summer vacation to help as they may in some mission field. This has given them opportunity to see the mission field firsthand, to know what the conditions are, to be challenged by the need, and to fellowship with those of another race. In former times this was not possible because most of their time would have been spent in traveling by ship. However, I do think that this type of short-term effort needs to be re-evaluated. Are the results commensurate with the expense involved?

Others have served for two or three years on some mission field but not with any specific commitment to a longer stay. There has been much discussion about the pros and cons of short-term service. Years ago missionary service in a foreign country was thought of as a lifetime commitment, unless it was interrupted by health or family concern. Some have a tendency to think short-termers are not quite so fully committed. Undoubtedly there is room today for both short-termers and those who can stay for a longer period. Modern travel means that almost any part of the mission field can be reached in a matter of hours, whereas it used to take days if not weeks. In general terms we might say that the short-termers can supplement what is being done by those who are more permanent. With a firsthand knowledge of the work, they are better able to discern the will of the Lord and their own suitability for longer terms of service. They will have learned some lessons of acculturation and gained some knowledge of another language.

In 1965 a team from International Crusades (then Literature Crusades) came to the Philippines. They placed a heavy emphasis on distribution of literature and much of this was done in markets and around schools and colleges. Seeing that so much English is spoken here, especially in cities like Manila, it seemed unnecessary to spend time in language school as was the case with later teams. After about a year some of this team moved on to Korea, namely Warren and Flo Dunham, Stuart Mitchell, and William Roller. Later they returned there for a longer period of time. After two years here James and Gerrie LeValley and Steve and Dot St. Clair returned on a more permanent basis, the latter couple being involved with Faith Academy.

The Australian and New Zealand counterpart of International Crusades is known as Gospel Literature Outreach (GLO). This group has sent two teams at different times. These teams concentrated on house-to-house distribution of literature, following this up with home Bible studies wherever there was an interest. This was done in areas near to existing assemblies so the follow-up work could be channeled into those assemblies. The methods of the first IC team resulted in a greater distribution of literature but follow-up was more difficult because contacts were more scattered. Some of the follow-up work in all of these efforts has been done through the courses offered by the Bible School of the Air. Unfortunately, some of the single ladies on these teams had to return home early because of health or emotional problems. After two years here the two couples in the first team returned to Australia. Of the two couples in the second team, one came back again. Len and Mary Savill were commended by their home assemblies in New Zealand and have been working in the province of Pangasinan. Two of the three assemblies in that province were fruit of the first team. Both teams spent some time Baguio and were a great help to the assembly there.

In 1980, a second team of six came here from International Crusades. After a few months in language study they moved to the town of Morong in the province of Rizal. (There is another Morong in Bataan where there is a refugee camp for boat people escaping from Vietnam. They remain there until they can be processed to proceed to some other receiving country. Some relief workers are helping there.)

Another team of four from IC came in 1982 and after their language study moved to Morong to help and take over when the first team left in 1983. Whereas the GLO teams worked around existing assemblies, these later teams decided to move into a place where there was no assembly and endeavor to establish one during their stay in this country. Through house-to-house visitation, home Bible studies, film showings, and use of puppets, they have had the joy of seeing some saved and baptized. With the help of some from the assembly in Binangonan and other missionaries, regular meetings were begun and in a little over a year the new believers along with the team were meeting for the observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Since the Lord called Rose to serve him in Pakistan in 1966, it has been our privilege to visit there three times. The first visit was in 1969 when we stopped off for a week. Heading home for furlough, we had earlier decided to go by way of Europe. At that time we spent a week in Multan where Rose was working in a Women’s Christian Hospital. Multan is a very old city. Supposedly Alexander the Great, going through the Khyber Pass, extended his conquests as far as that city. Though on the edge of the Sind Desert, the country around is quite fertile because of the irrigation canal system that was developed by the British in Punjab. Our visit was in May, which was the beginning of the hot season, and the daytime temperature was up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit or above 40 degrees Celsius. One evening as we sat at supper with the hospital foreign staff, everyone suddenly left the table, leaving us sitting there to imagine what the emergency was. Soon it was evident that it was a dust storm and every door and window needed to be closed. Even so, some dust penetrated. I remarked to the lady doctor in charge that when I left I would not shake the dust off my feet, I would still be spitting it out from my throat. She replied, “Oh, you won’t get rid of it that easily. You’ll be shaking it out from your suitcases for weeks.”

Bethel, the Brethren chapel, was a short walking distance from the hospital. So we enjoyed the fellowship of the believers there, though hardly any spoke English. Everyone sat on carpets spread on the floor, leaving their shoes at the door. For my wife and I they kindly provided chairs. On one occasion I was glad to yield my chair to an aged Pakistani brother who was not at all well. Baba Hashim had given himself to serving the Lord, and his ministry was well received, even though he was illiterate. He had members of his family read the Bible to him and became well versed in the Scriptures. We were told that there were occasions when someone reading from the Bible would make a mistake and be corrected by Baba Hashim. One afternoon we visited the Brethren workers who carried on a clinic for women and children at Mumtazabad, a suburb about four miles out.

After a week there, we flew from Karachi to Beirut where we stayed overnight. Since it was not possible to fly from Beirut to Tel Aviv, we had to fly to Cyprus and from there to Tel Aviv. Our stay in Jerusalem was limited to two days, but we shall not easily forget those memorable scenes—Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, the Wailing Wall and the Temple site with the Dome of the Rock. The Via Dolorosa and David’s Tomb. Vivid in our memories remains Gordon’s Golgotha and the Garden Tomb, as well as a visit to Bethany, Jericho, and the Dead Sea. Leaving Jerusalem we spent a night in Rome and then on to Britain. After a long weekend in London, we had a nice visit with my niece, Rue Hatton, and her family who lived just north of London. From there we traveled north, visiting in Yorkshire with Miss Jennie Coxon who had been with us during Japanese occupation days. Then to our old friend David Shepherd in Paisley, Scotland, and to Miss Lois Stephen in Aberdeen.  Her parents were missions in north China and she had been born in Lingfield on one of their furloughs. Not aware of our link with Lingfield, she had started corresponding with Anna some years before. A couple of nights were spent with friends in Edinburgh before driving south through the Lake District to Lingfield. In a meeting in the Mission Room, there I was introduced by a brother whose father had been a close friend of my father’s. Next morning we stopped to see the house where I had spent the first seven years of my life. Then on to Dorking to visit the two sisters of my late brother-in-law, Richard Weller. They had lived in the same house since childhood, and it didn’t seem to change much since I visited there as a little boy. Later on we drove down to Devon for a few days with my other niece, Beryl Heggadon and her family. When we first planned this trip we had hoped to see my brother George after a lapse of fifty years but in the Lord’s will he was called home to be with the Lord before we went that May.

Our second visit to Pakistan was in the latter part of 1973. Ken and his family were on furlough so we decided to spend Christmas with Rose. October to January is the cooler time of the year. Arriving at Multan airport in the evening, there was no one to meet us. Our letter about our arrival time had not reached Rose. Seeing our predicament, a Roman Catholic priest very kindly offered to take us out to Mumtazabad where Rose was then living. She had by then been commended to serve with the workers there. During their prayer meeting the doorbell rang. Supposing it was a call for one of the midwives to go for a home delivery, she was surprised to learn she had visitors from Manila!

Rose wanted us to see more of Pakistan than just dusty Multan, so she planned an itinerary including a couple of days of Lahore and Rawalpindi, which are more advanced cities than Multan. Then a drive up to Murree in the mountains at the western end of the Himalayan range. The hotel at which we had reservations neglected to inform Rose they would then be closed for the season, so we had to find a second-class hotel. There was little heat provided so we spent a cold night. However, there was compensation in the wonderful views of the mountains. The next day we visited the school for missionary children at Murree and had lunch there. They were sending some pupils to the dentist in Rawalpindi that afternoon and there would be room for us in the van. Our hotel reservations in Pindi were for the following night, but we anticipated no difficulty. On the way down the Pakistani driver of the school van was traveling rather fast for a narrow, winding mountain highway, so rounding a curve he collided with an army jeep. There was not too much damage though some of our party were badly shook up. As always in the Orient, a crowd quickly gathered and, seeing foreigners, was not exactly friendly. One man averred that one of the foreigners was driving, which of course was not true. Since most of us did not know what was being said, we could only sit quietly and pray. It was a relief to finally get a car which would take us the rest of the way.

At the hotel we were informed they had no vacancy that night and calls to other hotels were all negative. There was some kind of convention ending that night. We were all discouraged as well as weary, especially dear Anna who still had some shock from the accident and the ensuing unpleasantness. The desk clerk went out of his way to find some accommodations for us and finally announced he had found a vacancy at the New Comrade Hotel. With the Soviet influence in that part of the world, I had some misgivings about a hotel with that name. Just as we were making our way to a taxi, the clerk approached me. He said he didn’t like to see us going to that hotel. If we were willing he would put up cots in a room downstairs, but we would have to get up early as the waiters would need to get in there to set tables for breakfast. We accepted this gratefully and though inconvenient it was worth a good tip.

We got into a room next morning for a weekend stay but were not able to look up the assembly there because I had a stomach upset. On the Monday we were able to fly to Peshawar where we had nice accommodations. In the late afternoon we went out for a walk and to our surprise saw Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Clark, missionary friends, just leaving their home. Rose hadn’t been sure they were in Peshawar then. We had dinner with them the following evening. We engaged a car to take us the next morning to the famous Khyber Pass, the road that leads into Afghanistan. We could not visit Kabul because we had a single-entry visa to Pakistan. That was very rugged mountainous country. Huge cement blocks beside the road showed how quickly a road barrier could be set up. Standing by the gate on the road leading into Afghanistan, the guard permitted me to take some pictures there. It seemed that every man in the area carried a gun and looked quite warlike. Means of travel for many of them was in old sedans from which the roof and trunk lid had been removed. Every available spot was occupied by men standing with the bumpers almost dragging on the ground. It didn’t seem possible that tires and springs could stand such a weight of humanity.

The city of Peshawar was quite old and interesting with high wooden houses jammed close to each other. In the stores at street level, various trades were being carried on. In one “chapattis” were being made, the flat pancake type of wheat bread so widely eaten there; in another, a tailor squatting on the floor was operating his sewing machine by hand; then there were those making items of brass. For less than two dollars we bought a brass calendar good for forty years by turning a center part. Peshawar has a long history in its relation to the Khyber Pass. There was modernity too as we saw American young people, fellows and girls alike with long hair, shabby clothes, and a backpack, wandering like gypsies and many with a drug problem.

It was a pleasure to get to know Robbie Orr and his wife Dr. Jean in Multan. Robbie had pioneered missionary work in Multan, often mobbed by angry Moslems as he proclaimed the Gospel. He is a fluent speaker and able writer in Urdu and a student of Scriptures. During the Christmas season that year, his brother Willie from Winnipeg was visiting Multan. The two brothers have a keen sense of humor so there was many a hearty laugh in our time together.

During that time we made a trip with Robbie and his brother to the mountains east from Multan to the area of Baluchistan, which borders on Iran. This involved crossing part of the desert and the Indus River. Since the river was low at that time of the year, we traveled for two or three kilometers across the dry sandy riverbed until we reached the river itself. This was crossed by the Bridge of Boats. The number of boats used was determined by the width of the river at any time. From there we climbed up the narrow mountain road to Ft. Monroe where there had been an old British outpost. In the old graveyard were gravestones dated in the 19th century. We could only speculate about women and children who died from illness or of soldiers killed in battle—all of them lying in lonely graves so far from the land of their birth in Britain. In one of the old buildings there was a rest house where we spent the night, shivering with the cold. How glad we were for a fire in the fireplace as we cooked some food we had brought with us. Anna was reluctant to leave the warmth of the fire to go out in the cold night air, but we finally persuaded her that she must not miss the unusual sight of the sky. It was a clear night, not a cloud in sight and no moon. With clear mountain air, far removed from the smog and glare of any city, there was a view of the stars that will stand out in our memory. It seems incredible that those dots of light, which shone so brightly, could be millions or billions of miles away! It seemed as if we could have reached up and touched them if only our reach was a bit longer! God’s words to Abram seemed more meaningful then—“Look at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.”

Travel on some of the Pakistani highways was a hair-raising experience. Many of them are only asphalted in the center, the width of one vehicle. There was no such thing as a white center line! Naturally everyone drives in the center until passing an oncoming vehicle. It was an awesome sight to see a multicolored, highly decorated bus or truck barreling down the highway towards us. Then just at the last moment each driver would yield half of the pavement and pass with two wheels on the unpaved section.

Traffic in Multan is not noted for its speed so much as its variety. Besides buses and trucks, there are three-wheeled vehicles for taxis and horse drawn carts for hire. Strings of camels laden with large bundles of cotton lumber along at a leisurely pace. Beside these are bull carts, donkey carts, and bicycles darting about amid the stray sheep and goats plus pedestrians who expect the drivers to avoid hitting them. Oh well, one thing we could be sure of—there were no stray pigs!

Our third visit to Pakistan was in 1977, and by that time the assembly, the clinic, and the missionary residence were newly built on their own property in Mumtazabad. It was time for their annual convention at which I had been asked to speak, of course, by interpretation. Large tents had been erected beside the new chapel and mats spread on the ground. When the space seemed filled the chairman would call on everyone to stand and move forward into a closer formation. Thus, there was no difficulty in providing space at the back for latecomers. The singing is all in Urdu with local tunes and accompanied by lively music—a small type of organ which is played by the right hand while the left hand operates the bellows at the back; a drum, castanets, and a clapper keep up the rhythm. A number of hymns are translated psalms.

Another speaker at the convention was Alex Smythe, a missionary who has been in India for many years. He understands Urdu, but didn’t feel sufficiently fluent to preach in it so spoke in English. One illustration he used proved embarrassing for him but quite amusing to other missionaries. Speaking of the evil of gossip he told of the gossipy woman who was told to shake the feathers from a pillow abroad and then pick up all the feathers. In Pakistan they don’t have feather pillows for their pillows are filled with kapok. Also there didn’t seem to be any definite word for feathers. The interpreter seemed to have the right idea and was substituting something else for feathers. It would have been wise to let it go at that. But Brother Smythe knew what he was saying and insisted it must be feathers. The poor interpreter spoke about a pillowcase full of chickens and then of chicken wings but still no feathers. Oh, the hazards of speaking through an interpreter!

After the convention the missionaries went for a few days retreat at which I again shared the ministry with Brother Smythe. Here we were on firmer ground so far as the language was concerned for we could speak directly in English. This retreat was held on the grounds of a Roman Catholic training institute. We took our meals along with the staff of priests and nuns in a very friendly atmosphere despite our theological difference.

Our return to Manila was an ordeal rather than a pleasure. Unknowingly we had made reservations for the time when Moslem pilgrims were returning from their annual pilgrimage to Mecca. In addition to many Philippine pilgrims, were Filipino workers returning from the Middle East. Flush with money they were loaded with radios, stereos, and gifts for their families. The plane was late leaving Karachi so we had a weary wait in the airport there and then some eight hours of flying in a plane where every seat was occupied. How thankful we were to be greeted by Ken at the Manila airport.

Some years ago missionaries of different groups used to meet for prayer breakfast one Monday morning a month. One Monday our good friend Dr. Edwin Spahr was to be the speaker and it seemed like a bigger crowd than usual. We thought it was due to Dr. Spahr being loved by so many and being called “The missionaries’ pastor.” To our surprise we discovered that we were being honored on our 40th wedding anniversary! The fulsome praise in Ed’s talk prompted one lady to remark afterwards that she would want him to speak at her funeral!

Ten years later our fellow missionaries arranged for a banquet to celebrate our 50th and again Dr. Spahr was invited to be the main speaker. Another celebration then was at the San Juan Chapel as our Filipino friends gathered to express their affection. At that time, Mr. Hahn Browne of the Far East Broadcasting Company arranged an interview for us with President Ferdinand Marcos in his office at Malacanang. We had a pleasant 15-minute chat with him only a few days before he declared martial law.

Another ten years sped by and another banquet celebrated our 60th anniversary. At the head table we were flanked by our family, Leonard and Esther, Ken and Elaine, and also Rose, along with Leonard’s son, Dave and his wife Lois as representative of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who could not be there. It was also a pleasure to have my great-niece Miss Ruth Shannon from Taiwan with us for that happy occasion, when some two hundred friends gathered with us to thank the Lord for His faithfulness and goodness. These celebrations have had a double significance because our arrival in the Philippines was just three months after our wedding. We are especially grateful to the Lord for His goodness to our family. The immediate family are all engaged in the Lord’s service and all the grandchildren in the family of faith with those who are married bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

The prophet Isaiah depicted some one calling to him from Seir, “Watchman, what is left of the night?” In his urgency the caller repeats his question. The prophet as a watchman replies, “Morning is coming, but also the night” (Isa. 21: 11-12). The question is appropriate for us to ask in these days. Scientists, statesmen, and men of the world say we are almost at the midnight hour, the hour of doom. Yes, indeed, for the world the darkest hours are ahead—“but the night is coming.” For us who know the Lord, it is time to lift up our heads in expectancy. “Morning is coming.” Surely soon the Bright and Morning Star will appear. There is a verse in Anne Cousin’s hymn based on writings of the saintly Samuel Rutherford which is not found in most hymnals:

            “I have wrestled on towards Heaven,
               ‘Gainst storm and wind and tide:
            Now, like a weary traveler,
               That leaneth on his guide.
             Amid the shades of evening,
               While sinks life’s lingering sand
            I hail the glory dawning
               From Immanuel’s land.”

But waiting time is not to be wasted time! While the doors are open and there is still liberty for the spread of the gospel, we need to press on in our service for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

And all the way it has been for us “Grace Triumphant.”