Grace Triumphant - Chapter 5 - Call to the Mission Field

Call to the Mission Field

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psa. 32:8)

During the months prior to returning home I faced up to the need of a change in my lifestyle.  Getting out of the army and away from army life seemed like a good time to get right with the Lord.  Anyway I was tired of the way I had been living, tired of treating the Lord so despicably in spite of all His wonderful grace in keeping me safe through years of combat.  After the armistice I had given up cigarettes and had switched to a pipe.  Even then, long before warning about lung cancer, cigarettes were called “coffin nails.”  Crossing the Atlantic I tossed pipe and tobacco into the ocean.  I had cleaned up my life but was not yet getting into the Word.

Soon after arriving home I was invited by Brother Fisher to spend some time with him at Deep Bay.  He was a brother of one of the pioneer missionaries to what is now Zambia.  Mr. Fisher had a few acres of land on the waterfront where he grew asparagus and black currants to augment his retirement pay.  Working in the garden and going fishing was a restful change from war experiences.  He gave me a Scofield Bible, which was a help as I started the habit of daily reading of the Scriptures.

Also, soon after my return it was announced that C.A. Swan would have three meetings at Victoria Hall in downtown Victoria.  As one of the pioneers in Central Africa he had thrilling tales to tell.  He first went to Africa in 1887.  In 1904, for health reasons he went to Portugal and during the war had worked with Portuguese troops in France.  This was of interest to me because for some time we had had some Portuguese attached to our battery in France.  In boyhood days I had been keenly interested in hearing missionaries, especially those from Africa; but at this time I was going more out of curiosity, little dreaming the impact those meetings would have on my own life.

I remember very well where I was sitting at the third meeting.  Before giving his address, Mr. Swan prayed.  He prayed for those who had been bereaved during the war—for those women whose men would not be returning.  More than 60,000 Canadians died in World War I.  Then he thanked God for those who were returning and said, “Lord, show them what they have been spared for!”  I have not the slightest idea what else he prayed for or how long he prayed.  His request was instantly answered in my case.  The Lord spoke to me.  It was not an audible voice; no one else heard it.  But it was as real to me as the voice of the preacher.  “I have spared you to go to the mission field!”  Foolishly I tried to argue with the Lord—that is always a wasted effort.  “But, Lord, I have just arrived home after being away three years.  I don’t want to leave again right away.  I have a widowed mother and I need to stay here, build a home, and provide for her.”  Again I heard His voice, “You left home for king and country, are you not willing to leave home for Me?  Don’t you believe I can take care of your mother?”  What is the use of trying to argue with the One who has all the answers?  Before Mr. Swan finished his prayer I also had prayed, “All right, Lord, if that is what you want, I am willing.”

God is a God of infinite variety and He uses different methods to call His servants.  It is not often that He speaks so directly, but I am thankful to Him for that definite call.  During our first furlough, I met Brother Swan again in Victoria and related to him how God had instantly answered his prayer that night.

One of the first priorities before going to the mission field was to build a home for my Mother and sister Florrie.  We were able to buy two lots, L-shaped around my sister Ethel’s home.  One of the jobs I had was working for a brother who was a builder.  In my spare time I dismantled a small house on the lots we bought.  With the help of our builder friend, plans were drawn and a start made on building a house.  Good progress was made during the summer of 1919.  Many evenings young fellows from the assembly would come and help build.

I had found a new joy in walking with the Lord and feeding upon His word and in realizing His grace in calling me to be a missionary.  Often I was singing while I was working.  One day up on the roof laying shingles, I was singing and suddenly realized I had just sung, “Some day this earthly house will fall.”  The humor of it struck me.  As far as I know that earthly house is still standing after over sixty years.  After Mother passed away, Ethel and Richard sold their house and moved into that house, and after Ethel’s home call it was sold.

The Canadian government was offering educational opportunities to veterans, especially for those who, like myself, had enlisted in their teens.  I submitted an application for the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, but it was turned down because it was not in Canada.  At that time I didn’t know of any Bible school in Canada though there was one in Vancouver.  So I applied for a commercial course in a business college in Victoria.

Through the fall and early winter I was working hard, studying days and working on the house at night, unless it was a meeting night.  Dr. Harris Gregg held a series of Bible lectures, which I attended at noon and in the evenings.  These were a great blessing in my spiritual life, but the pace was beginning to take its toll.

Early in January 1920, we had a very cold spell.  I was getting dressed one morning and saw flames reflected in the mirror.  I dashed out to see a neighbor’s house on fire and rushed over to see if I could help.  The owner was coming out of the basement and said no one was in the house.  While I was about to see if any of his belongings could be saved, the roof caved in and nothing more could be done.

Shortly after that, I had bronchitis, which developed into pneumonia and pleurisy.  When I was admitted to the Jubilee Hospital I didn’t realize how serious the condition was.  All I could think of was the stabbing pains in my rib cage with every breath I took.  About eleven that night the veteran’s chaplain came in to pray with me.  I wondered why he came at such an hour.  I appreciated his concern though I don’t think he was a saved man.

That evening a businessman from India was booked to give a Bible study at the Oaklands Chapel.  Just before he spoke it was announced that I was seriously ill in the hospital and that the doctor didn’t think I would last until morning.  I didn’t know that until later.  The guest speaker suggested that instead of a Bible study they give themselves to prayer.  “But prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” (Acts 12:5).  “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick” (Jas. 5:15).  That doesn’t require instantaneous healing—in my case it was a long process.

The doctor tried to draw off the fluid in the pleural cavity by inserting a needle.  This was unsuccessful because the fluid had turned into pus.  That called for an operation, cutting between the ribs to insert a drainage tube.  Mother came to see me before going into the operating room and said, “If anything happens, it is all right, isn’t it?”  “Of course,” I replied, “but nothing is going to happen.  I am going to the mission field and this must be part of the training.”  Dr. Wace, one of the best surgeons in Canada operated, but my confidence was not in him but in the Lord.

Coming out of ether (what a retched smell!) I was greeted cheerily by the head nurse on the ward, Miss Harman.  She was a keen Christian and later was a missionary in the Congo and was martyred in the rebellion there.  The Matron of the hospital was a very different type.  The nurses were terrified of her as they heard her storming down the hospital corridors.  Mother had brought me a few violets, the only flowers in the garden.  They were too small for any available vase so the nurse had put them in a small dish.  Miss McKenzie came into the room, spotted the violets and with an indignant swoop carried off my violets, saying, “Violets in my salt cellar!”  Weak as I was, I just had to laugh, though the nurse saw no humor in the situation.

My roommate was Mr. Enoch from Ladysmith.  He was not like his Biblical namesake for he was not a believer.  My visitors and I had many opportunities to witness to him about the Savior.  He seemed to be near the point of decision but one day said, “I don’t have the kind of faith you have.”  I replied, “What do you think faith is, something that comes in 57 varieties?”  It is not the kind of faith or the quantity of your faith that counts—what is vital is the object of our faith.  When he left the hospital he had not put his faith in Christ.

Two or three months later pus accumulated again and so another operation was scheduled.  This was done by Dr. Russell Robertson, who was also a very fine surgeon.  He was a tall, dignified man with penetrating eyes.  He would stand at the foot of a patient’s bed, read the chart, and look at the patient.  Some of them said he didn’t need an X-ray for he could look right through you.  The physician in charge of my case was Dr. Baillie with whom I developed a fine rapport.

That summer I was transferred to the military hospital in Esquimalt, overlooking the harbor.  The surroundings there were much nicer but it was a long way for my visitors to come.  The Matron there was very different.  She maintained strict discipline but never raised her voice and never corrected a nurse in front of the patients.  She was a lady who won their respect by her fairness.

There it was discovered that my kidneys had been affected and I had nephritis.  That meant seat baths and a restricted diet.  It was strawberry season and I didn’t object to a dish of strawberries every meal.  The doctor prescribed a bottle of Guinness Stout as a tonic every day.  I didn’t object on conscientious grounds since it was prescribed as medicine, but I didn’t like the stuff.  All the other patients wanted the same prescription!

One of the orderlies there was a short, stocky man with long arms.  The guys called him Tarzan.  He wrecked more than one bedside table which did not easily adjust.  The nurse at that time was an unusually large girl, almost six foot and well proportioned.  One evening Tarzan brought in the supper trays without the dessert which was stewed apricots.  The nurse ordered him to take out the trays and add the dessert in the ward kitchen.  To Tarzan it was simpler to bring in the large bowl of apricots and ladle them out on the trays.  It was a battle of wills.  She ordered him to take out the trays.  He threatened to throw the apricots at her.  She had the authority but he had the power!  He hurled the bowlful of apricots, right on target.  She was apricots from her cap all down her uniform.  She ran out in tears to change.  Tarzan hastily departed amid the indignant shouts of the patients.  He didn’t return!

In October the Matron kindly arranged for an ambulance to take me for a day with my family.  It was an act of kindness that was greatly appreciated.  Towards the end of November I was discharged from the hospital—almost the entire year spent there.  My application for a new course was turned down because the Board said my illness was not service related.  If only I had gone on sick call when I got that whiff of gas in France!

The first Lord’s day back at the Lord’s Supper after all those months of absence was a precious occasion.  Someone gave out the hymn “Awake, my soul, in joyful lays.”  I asked them to repeat one verse:
“When trouble, like a gloomy cloud,
has gathered thick and thundered loud,
He near my soul has always stood
His loving-kindness, oh how good!”

A few months after my release from the hospital I was offered a job which afforded a wonderful opportunity for recuperation.  Our friends, the McGees, were in charge of a small leper colony on D’Arcy Island, a few miles from Victoria.  Mrs. McGee was going to England for a few months and her husband needed companionship and assistance.  It was really like a vacation for the work was minimal.  Besides five lepers, all Chinese, there were just the two of us.  We lived on Big D’Arcy and we could walk all around it in half an hour.  Nearby was Little D’Arcy, which was uninhabited.  It had a cove, which was an ideal spot for bootleggers to hide.  Those were Prohibition days in the U.S. and we were only a few miles from the border.  Since we had no means of communication or protection, it was prudent to ignore what was going on around us.  There was time to think about the future and pray about being a missionary.  One day the Lord showed me very clearly that wherever He sent me, I would have to learn to love the people, even if they seemed unlovable in some ways.  Then I had no idea where He wanted me to go.  I had some thoughts of Africa and also of Portugal to help brother Swan.

During those years of waiting for the Lord to open the door, I received great help from Brother Duncan McKerracher.  He taught a class of young fellows and we drew upon his knowledge of the Scriptures.  Sometimes after prayer meeting we would stand under a street lamp with our Bibles looking for answers to our questions.  He introduced me to good books and helpful writers, like Sir Robert Anderson, Dr. A. T. Pierson, and others.

One evening we called on Mr. Cecil Hoyle, then an old man, who had been a missionary in Spain from 1876 to 1907.

Sometimes I thought about the elders at Oaklands.  Some of them were still in their thirties, but ten years or so older than I.  In ten years would I have the ability in preaching, teaching, and leading an assembly?  It was another challenge to apply myself more diligently to the study of the Word of God.

One of the older men, Billy James, a bachelor, was a bit eccentric.  But he really loved the Lord and was exuberant with the joy of the Lord.  He was a chimney sweep and never seemed to get all the soot off his face.  But at the worship service his grimy face would just beam with his simple-hearted love for Christ.  Mother would often invite him home for lunch on Sunday, in spite of her feeling that he could do with a good bath!

Saturday evenings there was an open-air meeting on Government Street outside a mission called “Stranger’s Rest.”  Billy would come straight from his work, his face black with soot, and declared to whoever was in earshot, “My face is black but my heart is white, cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.”  One day he said to me, “Did you notice the Greek owner of the candy store across the street?  He sat in his upstairs window listening all evening.  Let’s pray for his conversion.”  On our first furlough we were visiting in a home in Long Beach, California.  Our hostess had a Christian lady help with her laundry.  As the latter was ironing I learned that she was from Victoria.  It turned out that her husband, Mr. Phillips, was the Greek owner of the candy store.  He had been saved, had given up his business to go into full-time work among Greeks in the U.S.

Billy James would often eat a simple noon lunch at the Stranger’s Rest.  He invited me to join him there and spend some time in prayer together which I was happy to do.  I learned that previously John Lamb had met with him for prayer and went to Venezuela where he served the Lord from 1920 to 1932.  He was followed by Dan Baillie.  Dan was from Ladysmith, up the Island, but was living in Victoria.  He spent five years (1921-1926) in Manchuria as a missionary.  It was my privilege to follow and to kneel in prayer in a corner of the mission with this dear brother.  He never went to the foreign field himself but helped pray others out.