Take the Highway of Faith

We had $25 in our pocket when we arrived in New Orleans in February of 1942. We found a cheap hotel downtown while we searched for a place to rent. On the third day, we discovered a small trailer that was discounted for a quick sale because of a rip in the side. It could easily be fixed, and this would be adequate for us. Brother Lacey had lived in trailers before and agreed that this was a very good buy. We prayed about it, certain that if this was what the Lord wanted us to have, no one else would buy it.

Back at the hotel, brother Lacey chatted with the hotel manager, while our family went to pray. He didn’t know anything about our financial status, probably assuming we had money to pay for the trailer.

We prayed earnestly. Here we were in a strange city to serve the Lord with practically nothing. I recounted all we had left in faith, simply trusting Him now to provide a place to live, and that if He were willing, we would like to have the trailer. It seemed to be just what we needed at the time. We couldn’t remain in the hotel indefinitely, and surely the Lord wouldn’t have us sleep in the car, or in the park. Gladys had told me once that anything the Lord provided would suit her and she has proved through the years that she could live without a great many comforts.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lacey was relating to the hotel manager how our family had come to New Orleans to do missionary work, to preach the gospel, and to build New Testament assemblies. The manager was a genuine believer, and although we had never met before, he was extremely friendly to us. Lacey told the whole story about the trailer.

The manager responded, “Wait a minute, I want to have a part in the Schlief’s missionary work.” He went behind the counter and opened a safe, took out $755 in cash, and put it in an envelope. Then he asked brother Lacey to take it up to us—the exact amount to pay for the trailer!

The three of us were on our knees when the knock sounded at the door. When we opened it, there stood Mr. Lacy with the envelope of money. The Lord had answered our prayers already! God is able, no matter what the emergency, nor how limited the time. You can believe that there were tears of joy, with thanksgiving and praise to our great God, with whom nothing is impossible.

We counted this marvelous provision of the trailer as the Lord’s approval of our stepping out in faith, and also as an indication of how He would supply for us in the future. After fifty years in His service here in the South, we have proven Him to be “the same yesterday, today and forever.” He has provided for us wondrously. We are constantly amazed at the greatness of the God who made the heavens and the earth by the Word of His mouth. This is our God! He is able!

Another test for us came on the heels of this victory. Brother Lacey received a message from his wife that she was critically ill and he had to catch the train the next morning back to Michigan. This left our little family alone in a strange city. We had expected to work with this older brother, and were comfortable in knowing that we could draw from his valuable experience. Suddenly, there was no man to council with, or to depend on. Now we were all alone with God, cast completely on Him. We kept repeating, “He is able!”

We had our car and the trailer, but still no money. We became acutely aware of our utter dependence on the Lord. He demonstrated that we were not dependent on people for our support, but rather on Him—and He will not fail.

Just as brother Lacey stepped up to the train, he slipped a ten dollar bill into my pocket. He meant it to pay for a small dent he put in our car on the trip down but in those days we could buy a loaf of bread and quart of milk for a dime so that money supplied our food for quite a while. Little did he know that this was all that we had to buy food with.

A few days later, a lady heard me preaching on the street. We were down to our last dime. Sally Lee Bell, who later became a famous Christian youth fiction writer, searched us out and somehow managed to find our trailer. She gave us twenty-five dollars because she was so happy that someone was preaching the gospel in New Orleans. This brought us to our knees again to give thanks to our God.

We enjoyed wonderful fellowship with the hotel manager and found him to be an exceptional man of faith. He was in his eighties, a widower, and well-versed in the Word of God. He became part of our first little assembly in New Orleans.

After our busy schedule of meetings, Gladys, our son, and I would go downtown to Canal Street and give out tracts from about eleven at night until one in the morning. After this, we would go over to the hotel and visit and pray with that godly brother for another hour or so. He always treated us with a glass of milk and crackers.

One night, after we visited with him, he was sitting in the lobby. A young man came in with a gun pointed at him. He demanded that he get up, go back behind the counter where the safe was, open it, and give him all the money in it.

He got up, and cautiously walked behind the counter. On the way to the safe, a scripture verse came to him: Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” When he got behind the counter, he turned around and put his arm on the counter. Leaning against it, he said to the robber, “This money is not mine to give to just anybody that asks for it. I don’t think God wants me to give it to you, so I’m not going to open the safe for you.”

The burglar threatened to shoot. When the Christian stood defiantly, he pointed the gun at the old man’s chest, at point blank range, and fired. Since he was only about eighteen inches away, you would think he could hardly have missed. When that godly old man didn’t fall to the floor, the gunman became hysterical, and ran screaming out of the hotel.

The incident was featured on the front page of the newspaper the next morning with pictures, and the police were baffled as to how the bullet could have missed him. They guessed that it must have passed between his arm and his body, since the bullet hole was found in the file cabinet right behind where he was standing. The hole was directly behind his heart when he was leaning against the counter. None of us were convinced by the explanation—the old man’s coat was several sizes too big for him and if the bullet had passed between his arm and his body, there would have been a hole in his coat. When I asked him what he thought had happened, he replied, “Oh, the bullet just detoured around my body. This isn’t hard for our God!” And so it isn’t!

We were not immune to the crime in the area. We had our car stolen, and when we informed the police, they told us we would probably never see it again. So we prayed. We needed that car for transportation, so we placed our need and concern before our Lord. I walked the streets, believing the Lord would lead me to it. After three days of searching and praying, I was passing a store when I heard someone crying. I looked to find it was a young black girl. I asked her why she was weeping, and she replied that her sister had been kidnaped by three young men in a black car. As she went on to describe the car as it sped away, it became clear that it was our stolen car she was describing! The three teen-aged boys were arrested and our car was returned to us.

The boys were held for grand larceny, and faced a ten-year sentence. God used this experience to remind us that He was in control, and it occurred to me that this would be a perfect object lesson for them, too. When the time came for them to appear in court, I went to court and pleaded with the judge on their behalf, explaining to him that I wanted to show them God’s grace. The judge insisted that they each pay me for the loss, and since they had no money, we agreed to a monthly payment plan of ten dollars a month. I was delighted since it afforded me a constant opportunity to preach to them.

I had numerous meetings with them and their families. I was able to illustrate that they were guilty, deserving of jail, and this was the eternal plight of their souls. I believe they were touched with the gospel, and may have been saved. People laughed, saying that we would never see the money, but every one of them paid us back in full. We praised the Lord, not only for getting our car back, but for the opportunity to change the lives of those three boys.

Living in that trailer must have been difficult for Gladys. The bedroom had to double for a dining room during the day, and became the office after meals. Nearly everything had multiple uses, and had to be rearranged constantly. It was scorching hot in summer, and offered very little insulation against the cold in winter. It was heated with a single kerosene burner which had to be constantly filled.

The Lord saved our lives one night, when I accidentally filled the heater with gasoline. The heater roared terribly, and turned red hot. As soon as we realized what had happened, we raced outside. As we stood shivering in our night clothes a good distance away, we asked the Lord to keep it from exploding. No one could understand why the heater had not exploded immediately when it was lit, but we thanked God for another miracle.

The first assembly in New Orleans met in a tiny room that had been a one man barber shop about ten blocks from Canal Street. In only a few weeks, we moved to the end of Magazine Street where we took over a small shoe repair shop, renovating it into a chapel, and called it the “Good News Chapel.”

We painted it, bought some chairs, and distributed hundreds of flyers advertising our children’s meetings. Up until this time, I had enjoyed good success with children’s meetings, filling chapels with children. It came as quite a shock that after all the advertising, personally inviting children door to door, and offering prizes, only one little boy showed up. Then his mother came and took him home. Not one child showed up for our meetings for the rest of the week.

It was evident that there was opposition to our being there. A religious leader walked past quite often, as if he was checking on who would come in. What was even more baffling was that while going door to door most parents had said they would send their children, expressing delight that we were having the meetings. We had even borrowed more chairs, expecting a full house. When none showed up, we concluded that honesty was not one of the virtues of this neighborhood. This was our introduction to the ferocious opposition toward the gospel in New Orleans.

We plugged along anyway, and won several to the assembly. We were thrilled to have eight people attending the meeting. It was Gladys and I, our son, dear brother Arens from the hotel, and two young couples. We felt that now we were on the road to some success in building an assembly. However, discouragement soon struck. The elderly brother decided that he was led of the Lord to move to California; one of the couples bought a farm, moving to Mississippi; and the last couple fell into sin, and we had to put them out of fellowship. That left just three of us again. We knew that if we were doing God’s will, we had to keep plugging away in spite of discouragement. I often think of David, of whom Scripture says, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.”

When some Christian friends visited us and saw how difficult it was, they urged us to move. They reminded me that my gift would be welcome in any large assembly. Our answer was always the same: we didn’t have any leading of the Lord to move away. We knew that He had directed us here and He had a purpose in mind for us. There could be no move until the Lord so directed.

One of our first visitors at the chapel came dressed in a black suit, with his collar on backward. He was the well-known preacher of a large church. He came to gospel meetings again and again, and impressed all of us with his unusual concern with the realities of eternity. Although he preached to a large audience every Sunday morning, he met with us Sunday nights, and came to Bible studies on week nights.

After several weeks, he traveled to New York. As he was walking in Central Park, he overheard an open-air evangelist preaching “that same gospel as I had heard in New Orleans.” He finally accepted the free offer of salvation.

From then on, our Doctor (he had a PhD) attended every evening meeting. He spent many nights in our home, reading the Scriptures with Gladys and me. He didn’t give up his pastorate, but he now began to preach salvation by grace, both in his pulpit, and on his weekly radio program. He told how he learned about the grace of God in a little old alley street mission. He stopped praying for the dead, and began to exhibit other signs that he was growing in God’s Word.

Besides his own preaching responsibilities, there was another reason he couldn’t yet join us for the Lord’s Supper, if we were to remain obedient to 1 Corinthians 5:11. In all other respects, he was a model Christian except that he was a practicing alcoholic. He never drank in a bar or in public but it seemed he just could not gain victory over this addiction. Many nights he would cry like a baby, begging me to pray with him that something could be done about this sin.

His own church members didn’t seem to mind his drinking. He even kept a glass of whiskey on the shelf of the pulpit so that he could take a swallow or two during his sermon. He was an important man in New Orleans. His was one of the largest Protestant churches in the city, and boasted about two thousand members. He belonged to many social clubs, including the exclusive Rotary Club. As the pastor, he was provided with a large house and since he had never married, they also provided a housekeeper, too.

Over the next year, I showed him from Scripture that he was making himself “Reverend,” when only Christ could assume that title. He was denying the priesthood of all believers, as we read about in Peter’s epistle. By accepting a contractual agreement with his denomination, he was being accountable to them first, instead of to God. He agreed with all of these biblical truths, but did not have the courage to leave.

His church secretary was the wife of a seaman. He would often come home drunk and beat her, sometimes almost killing her. One day, she tearfully called the pastor, and asked him to come over right away. Her husband was in town, drunk, and he had threatened to kill her.

The pastor got on his knees, and prayed for help. He put his revolver in his pocket, took a swig of whiskey, and went to her house. As he was going in the front door, the husband was coming in through the back door. He ran at him with a knife, and began stabbing him in the stomach repeatedly. The pastor shot at the man five times, until he finally fell over dead. Panic stricken, he rushed home and called a brother in our assembly, exclaiming that he had just killed a man and he was about to take poison. The brother told him to do nothing until he got there. They prayed together, and agreed that the best thing to do now was to call the police.

The next day the New Orleans newspaper had most of the front page covered with the pastor’s picture, and the story. I had a long session with him, and he confided that the Lord had been convicting him to do the scriptural thing and leave his pulpit. He believed this incident would help him to see the path the Lord would want him to take.

The church leaders did not take action against him, even while the police investigated the crime and even continued his salary. Since he wasn’t preaching, he came to our assembly for about a year, soon embracing all the wonderful truths regarding the New Testament pattern for an assembly. When the police finally exonerated him of any wrongdoing, he was finally able to put his alcohol problem behind him. He then resigned from his church, and moved to California. As far as I know, he met up with the older brother that had helped him, and both of them attended an assembly there faithfully for the rest of their lives.

In spite of the difficulty we were having in building the assembly, there was still a great opportunity for preaching in the streets. We were beginning to hold home children’s meetings regularly, and we were also able to get into a number of children’s institutions weekly with the gospel. It was gratifying to see some trust the Lord.

We also continued with daily tract distribution. The three of us gave out over a million tracts on the streets of New Orleans during our first two years in the city.