Grace Triumphant - Chapter 7 - Guidance Regarding the Field

Guidance Regarding the Field

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psa. 25:4)

During the year at school we were much in prayer for guidance as to the sphere of service the Lord planned for us.  Anna’s thoughts had been towards South America while mine were toward either Africa or Portugal.  One morning in December, the student body was in prayer together as was the daily custom.  It seemed as if the Lord said to me, “Go to the Philippines!”  I didn’t even know where the Philippines were but I guessed they were somewhere off in the Pacific like Hawaii.  To my best recollection I had only once heard of those Islands.  Just previous to that in a letter from John Thomson, one of the elders at Oaklands Chapel, he had told about the visit there of Mr. and Mrs. George Wightman.  They had formerly been serving the Lord in Mexico and were then on their way to the Philippines.  When I stopped by a second-hand bookstore in Brooklyn a few days later I found a book on the Philippines.  Usually I haunted such stores to look for Biblical books but that time I was looking for something different.

That Christmas I had been invited to visit an old Victorian friend who was farming in New England.  It was a mild winter so I really enjoyed the opportunity to get away from the city and from studying.  There wasn’t much I could do to help on the farm so I went for long walks. One afternoon I arrived at a sandy beach and walked up and down beside the sea.  It was my prayer that the Lord would bring the Philippines before me again if that was the place He had chosen for us.  That evening sitting before the crackling fire, Joe and I chatted together.  He mentioned John Lamb in Venezuela, remarking that they spoke Spanish there.  Then he said one of his neighbors spoke Spanish, having picked it up in the Philippines when he was in the army.  Joe knew nothing of my exercise about that country.  However, the mention was so casual that I asked the Lord for further confirmation.

Back in Brooklyn, I was at the watchnight service held at the school.  The next morning, I went to the 13th Avenue Gospel Hall for the Lord’s Supper.  On the table were several copies of a new issue of “Voices from the Vineyard.”  Glancing through this missionary magazine, I noticed a letter from George Wightman.  But what caught my eye was the editor’s note in bold type right above the letter.  It stated that for almost a quarter of a century the Philippine Islands had been under United States rule and yet so far there was no missionary serving the Lord there, commended from a U.S. assembly (Wightmans were from Scotland).  That was the answer to my prayer for guidance.  Further confirmation was that the same issue told of A. G. Ingleby going to Portugal to help Mr. Swan.  It was as if the Lord was telling me He had someone else picked out for Portugal.

On my first furlough I related this incident to Richard Maclachlan, editor of Voices.  He remembered that editorial note and said he could not recall doing such on any other occasion.

There was no doubt in my mind that we were to go to the Philippines but Anna wanted her own assurance as to the Lord’s will.  She was not satisfied with my argument—if it was the Lord’s will for us to be married, then He wouldn’t send us to different fields.  Basically she was fearful of the criticism that she changed the choice of field of service for my sake.  There was one student who had signed an autograph book “Yours for India” but at a later date another entry said “Yours for China.”  Eventually she went to Central America!  One night Miss May Van Dine stayed with Anna and Irene as an overnight guest.  While having her devotions next morning, she turned to Anna and said, “Anna, have you ever thought how sometimes we allow what people may say to divert us from what God wants us to do?”  She too was unaware of what Anna had been thinking.  That convinced Anna that she could accept going to the Philippines as the Lord’s will for her too.

Many times through the years we have been most thankful for the conviction we had that the Lord sent us to the Philippines.  Our first term was particularly difficult with unforeseen discouragements and repeated financial trials.  Once it was suggested to us by a fellow missionary that we were in the wrong place and should seek another field of service.  It would have been easy to become a missionary dropout!  But we had this assurance that the Lord sent us there with clear and definite guidance.  Therefore, we would need equally clear guidance if He should want us to leave.

As our first year at school drew to a close the question arose whether we should return for another year.  We were not altogether happy with the situation there so questioned the advisability of returning.  Another question was whether we should be married before going to the field.  There were some very strong views about this.  Responsible brethren in Great Britain and America were insisting that engaged couples should spend a year or two at least on the field before getting married.  This would give time for cultural adjustment and language study before assuming marital responsibilities.  The one exception would be when the missionary on the field recommended marriage first.

In our correspondence with Mr. Wightman, he suggested we should go as soon as feasible and that we should be married first.  Since they were the only missionaries of our group there, it would be difficult to arrange suitable housing for singles.  Naturally we were happy with his advice and the elders in Buffalo agreed to this.  The next question was what to do in that summer of 1922 in further preparation for missionary work.

A good friend arranged for Anna to take a course in midwifery in Buffalo, believing that this would be of service on the mission field.  So her summer was spent with medical studies and assisting a Christian doctor who lived across the street.  Thus, she was able to get the required number of delivery cases, along with the lessons.  Actually she rarely used this training in the Philippines. It was not needed since there are medical facilities available to most of the people.

Leaving the school in Brooklyn we traveled to Buffalo where I was introduced to her family.  I don’t think they were greatly impressed until I preached one Sunday evening at Assembly Hall.  That was an ordeal for me and I really worked hard on preparation.  The Lord graciously helped.  Whether the hearers reaped spiritual benefits I don’t know, but I do know there were favorable reactions in the family.  During the three weeks there I also helped in open-air meetings, visits to the City Mission, and in tract distribution.

Then I headed for northern Ontario.  On the way I stopped at a Dominion Day conference in Hamilton where my old friend Tom Baird was one of the speakers.  He kindly introduced me as an out-going missionary.  After an overnight stop in Peterborough I went on to Haileybury.  There I found my way to the home of Mr. Sam Taylor, an evangelist working for the Lord in that area, who was heading up a special campaign there.  He was a hard worker who disciplined himself and expected others to do the same.  As he opened the door I introduced myself and he greeted me, “Welcome, if you have come to do the work of an evangelist.”  The emphasis on work did not escape me and I found there was indeed work to be done.

Other members of the team arrived a little later: Tom Baird spent part of the summer there.  His messages and Bible studies and private conversations were a real help; Arthur Smith was a beloved member of the team with his winsome ways.  He was one of the outstanding violinists in Canada and had played in some top-rate orchestras.  It was always a thrill to listen to his playing though he never played just to entertain.  Going into a small village for an open-air meeting, a man would look out of the saloon and shout, “Is Smitty there with his fiddle?”  The saloon and pool hall would empty to listen to Smitty and his fiddle and also his attractive way of presenting the Gospel.  Without “Smitty” we preached to unseen audiences—if there were any!

Then there was a young schoolteacher with his bride, Mr. and Mrs. Horace Lockett.  It may have been there that he got some ideas which lead in later years to the summer Bible school in Guelph.  Miss Hartshorn came from Peterborough as a pianist and soloist.  To our surprise a romance started between her and Sam Taylor.  We thought he was a confirmed bachelor!  Sam was no singer!  One day at lunch he said to Muriel Hartshorn, “When I get to heaven, I’ll have one more joy than you—for the first time I shall really be able to sing.”  Among our group also were Horace Davey who had been at Brooklyn with us and Alvin Sauer of Buffalo.

The mornings were devoted to Bible study.  In the afternoons we went out in tract distribution covering the whole town of Haileybury and also in open-air meetings in isolated villages.  Usually these would consist of a saloon and pool hall, a general store with a post office, and a dozen houses.  It was not easy to preach when we didn’t know if anyone was listening.  Saturday evening we helped in an open-air meeting in Cobalt, noted then for its cobalt mines.  Sundays we would visit New Liskeard and help with the Sunday school and assembly meetings there.  Haileybury is on the shore of Lake Temiskaming, a good place for swimming until some of us got sick from algae on the water.

Early in September I returned to Buffalo, but some of the workers carried on.  Less than a month after the summer campaign ended a disastrous fire swept through that area.  Haileybury was practically destroyed and there was a great loss of life.  That no doubt included many who had heard the Gospel in that summer effort. The workers lost their possessions but were able to get out after helping others to evacuate.

On September 20th there was a quiet wedding in the Carson home with a reception afterwards in the Gibson apartment up stairs.  None of my relatives were able to attend, and I was really too excited to remember much of what took place.  We were married by Mr. Hugh Kame from Erie, Pennsylvania.  He had formerly been a Baptist minister but had left the denomination to serve the Lord with the assemblies.  Some of the young folks planned to chase us when we made our getaway.  However, we climbed out a bedroom window and got in a waiting taxi and so eluded our pursuers.  After a night at the Statler Hotel, we had a one-day honeymoon at Niagara Falls.  We couldn’t afford a longer stay!

The day we left Buffalo, October 4th, was a hectic time, especially for Anna.  She needed one more delivery to make up the required quota and Dora Murset had her baby early that morning, very conveniently.  Her board examination for midwives was that afternoon while I was home finishing up the packing.  She got home in time to change and leave for Assembly Hall for our farewell supper and meeting.  From the Hall, we were escorted to the station by many friends to leave on the night train for Chicago.  Reservations had been booked two weeks before, but to my dismay the conductor said the berth was already occupied.  The ticket agent had put the date of sale instead of date of departure on the ticket.  While I was discussing this with the agents, one man noticed my Canadian veteran button.  He too was a Canadian veteran and persuaded the conductor to put us in a better berth that was vacant.  It was the Lord’s provision when Anna was so tired.

On arrival next morning in Chicago our hostess, Mrs. William Trotter, noticed how tired Anna was and sent her off to bed to sleep until time for dinner.  We had dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Tom Bendelow and there learned about the fire in Haileybury . I spoke in the Austin Street Hall that evening and the next two nights we had meetings in Minneapolis and Duluth through arrangements made by Tom Baird.  After a couple of more stops we arrived in Victoria.

It was not an easy situation for Anna, having just said goodbye to her family and then to meet my Mother and sisters for the first time.  They gave her a royal welcome and received her as a sister.  However Florrie, I think, had not quite forgiven Anna for taking away her brother.  Florrie had an unhappy experience with a fellow who claimed to be a Christian.  They broke up when it was discovered that he was only pretending to be a believer in order to woo her.  After that Florrie and I had been very close, often walking to work together each morning.  However, Florrie never let her feelings interfere with her support of us in her prayers and by her gifts.

We spent six weeks there visiting the assemblies in Victoria (two at that time) and some up Vancouver Island.  Through the years these assemblies have been loyal in their support through their gifts and prayers.   Naturally there have been many changes.  Of those who signed my letter of commendation, all are now at home with the Lord, the last of these, Mr. John Thomson, passing away in November 1980.  Yet the succeeding generations have been faithful in maintaining the interest in us and the Lord’s work in which we are engaged.

We were booked to sail from Victoria on the “S.S. Empress of Asia” on November 30th.  It was hard on my Mother because the next morning was the 15th anniversary of Father’s home call.  It was a chilly evening as friends gathered on the pier to see us off.  As the ship began to move away from the pier, I called out, “Cease not to cry unto our God for us” (1 Sam. 7:8).  Our cabin was full of flowers and boxes of chocolates and candies, some from friends in Vancouver where the ship began its journey.  Dinner was being served but we preferred to go to bed.

The chief steward was surprised to see us at breakfast; he thought we had been left behind in Vancouver.  An old lady there had been looking for us.  There was a group of Scandinavian Alliance missionaries on board bound for China, so we enjoyed their fellowship even though their knowledge of English was limited.  One afternoon another missionary told us she heard an elderly lady of that group crying in her cabin.  Anna went to see if she could offer some help, but as she listened she realized the dear sister was on her knees pleading for lost souls in China.

Skirting the Aleutians it was bitterly cold and stormy.  Some times the deck was covered with ice and passengers were not allowed out.  In Yokohama some of us went for a day of sightseeing in Tokyo.  On our return we got off the train at a station marked Yokohama but soon realized it was not where we had entrained that morning.  We made an effort to find our own way, walking back to the ship.  Soon we were lost, wandering narrow streets and being eyed curiously by Japanese preparing their evening meal.  Even then there was some anti-American hostility so they didn’t appear too friendly and we were unable to find one who could speak English.  Finally we came back to the station where we started our walk, evidently having gone in a circle.  In the station were other passengers with a similar experience.  Together we found someone who could give us directions in English.  Less than a year later most of Tokyo and Yokohama were destroyed by a great earthquake and fire.

Stops were also made in Kobe and Nagasaki; the latter was a coaling stop.  As the ship anchored in the bay, barges loaded with coal pulled alongside.  A bamboo scaffolding was quickly erected on the barges and on the side of the ship, which was soon swarming with men and women who passed baskets of coal from one to another to be dumped down the chute.  By afternoon the job was done and the crew was busy removing the layer of coal dust from the decks and sides of the ship.

The next call was Shanghai where the ship anchored at the mouth of the Whangpoo River.  The passengers were taken up river to the city in launches—a bitterly cold ride in the middle of December.  We had the address of Dr. Parrott and his wife and were thankful to see her turn on the heater.  No wonder Chinese wear padded garments in winter!  We enjoyed the fellowship with them that Sunday and also with Mr. Eldridge of the British and Foreign Bible Society who had formerly been the agent in Manila.

The ship left Shanghai Sunday evening and arrived in Manila on Wednesday morning.  A quick jump from the cold of winter to the heat of the tropics.  We made frequent trips to our cabin to change to cooler garb.  We were up early Wednesday morning to catch our first glimpse of the Philippine Islands, the land of the Lord’s choice for us.  It was just over a year since the Lord said, “Go to the Philippines.”  We praised Him for the way He had been leading us forth.