A veteran missionary relates some of the influences used of Godto mark his life.
They are all gone now – those men who touched my life for God. But I am glad I met them. I was being molded without knowing it. There are others still living to whom I am equally indebted, but it would hardly be discreet to mention them.
After I was saved in 1951, when Harold Paisley was preaching in my home town of Magherafelt, in Northern Ireland, the first man to have a strong influence on me was the man who was to be my father-in-law. I could write so much about him, but a reference to one memory must suffice. I became interested, putting it mildly, in his youngest daughter. Each time I was in the home, before I left, I was expected to kneel with the whole family, and pray audibly. I can remember his earnest voice yet. He valued little in this world. Betty, his daughter, who is my wife, said that although he never possessed much of this world’s goods, she never heard him wishing he had more. Just a few things mattered to him – the Bible, the assembly, his family and a good testimony. His life was a lesson in priorities. When I think of “godliness with contentment is great gain”, I think of him.
The late David Craig, who saw assemblies planted in earlier days, lived just twenty miles away in Ballymena, and was in our district frequently. My outstanding memory of him is the genuine interest he had in young people. He preached to many hundreds in Ballymena Town Hall. But I have an even more vivid memory of him. One night he had ministered on the subject of “The Priesthood of The Lord Jesus.” Nearly all of the people had left, and he saw me outside the Hall. He called out, “Norrie (he usually called me that, like some other Scottish folk), I want to speak to you a wee minute.” How we loved that clear Scottish voice! Then he told me he had not had time to finish his subject, but he wanted to tell me what he would have said if there had been more time. I was deeply impressed. He could have been seeking out important or influential individuals. But although hundreds were drawn to some of his meetings, he was just as interested in one individual, a young man needing help from the Word. Likely he never thought then how long his example would be remembered. Another time, as he came down the aisle from the platform, he just touched my Bible and said, “Norrie, be a man of the book, son”. “Son” – that was a favorite word of his. He was a true father in the faith.
John Barker was not so well known, but he too was from Scotland. What a father in the faith he was! He came to Magherafelt Gospel Hall to have meetings on Philippians. His verse by verse exposition was a revelation to me. How he stimulated our interest and our resolve to probe more deeply into the Scriptures! He stayed with us in our home. Here was a man to whom we could talk about the Bible. He was so gentle and understanding, and yet so loyal to the Scriptures, a real student of the Word. His care in his setting forth of the Word and his exhaustive study of it, were an example of a different kind. Later, he and his wife were to be like a spiritual father and mother to my wife to be, when she, as a girl of eighteen, went to Belfast to take up nursing. Betty and I still remember his advice to us when we were about to be married: “Each for the other, and both for the Lord”. How many marriages would have been saved, if that standard had been observed!
Walter Norris and William Trew
In 1952 and 1953 I visited South Wales, with George McKnight and Jack Lennox. We went to assist two of the Lord’s servants there in door to door visitation as they carried on Gospel Meetings.
My most vivid memory is not so much of the preaching, but of the example of the preachers at those meetings, Walter Norris (Cardiff) and William Trew (Motherwell, Scotland). There was a special reason for visiting them on those two summers. It was through Walter Norris that my dear mother, a Roman Catholic, was brought to Christ. I wanted to see this man I had heard my mother speak of so often. See him we did, and Mr. Trew as well, when they were preaching, praying, moving among the saints, discussing arrangements and in their homes. This was true godliness, and we would never forget it. By the way, it was as the result of the teaching of brethren Norris and Trew at that time that Phil Harding came into assembly fellowship.
I must tell one example of the godliness of Walter Norris, and then move on. When we went to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1961, we began to receive fellowship, through the Lord’s Work Trust, from an anonymous South Wales believer. There were instructions to acknowledge it to W.A. When he died, those gifts stopped. Walter Norris was evidently that anonymous believer! Anyone who knew him, would not have been surprised that he wanted to be anonymous in anything he did for the Lord, if it were possible. Again, a lesson was learned: our service and stewardship should be before God.
His fellow laborer was like him. William Trew had been invited to the Easter Conference in Belfast, when perhaps 3000 people would attend. He spoke very early in the meetings. Many people were just arriving, and making considerable noise as they selected seats. He said to me afterwards, “I felt that I should speak then. It was the most difficult time to do so, and others seemed slow”. It was not for him to wait for the evening session and the glory of speaking to the biggest audience. I must confess I do not recall a single speaker at the “big” session. But I remember the man who spoke when it was most difficult!
Mr. T. E. Wilson
When Mr T. E. Wilson visited with us at Dipalata, Zambia, in 1976, he related an incident that has lived with me. He told how he was home on furlough once, and a brother gave him advice. This anonymous brother said, “Ernie, the saints do not need lion stories, they need the Word of God!” Many would have taken offence, not T.E.Wilson. He told me, “From that day, I made up my mind that the Word of God would have the first place in my life!” His real motive in telling me this, was that I might be aware that whatever demands were made on me as a missionary, the Word of God should always have priority I recall too that when he “gave a word” to five of us, in one of the missionary homes, it seemed just as important to him, as speaking to hundreds.
Mr. Rea went to Africa in 1911. We got to know him well, in later years, on furloughs. He was a Christian gentleman, but very blunt. In a Bible reading, someone asked him to explain a verse. He told me that his reply was: “This verse does not need explanation. It just needs putting into practice!” At the close of the breaking of bread, a young man began his closing prayer with: “Lord, we come into thy presence.” Poor young man! Mr. Rea asked him afterwards where he had been before he went into the Lord’s presence! A good, very knowledgeable brother was speaking on prophetic subjects. He told me that Mr. Rea said to him afterwards, “I hope it all works out the way you say.” No, you would not have been flattered by Mr Rea, but you would have learned to fear God and live your life before Him, and you would have had a very good friend. That was how I felt.
I remember him on the platform, on furlough from Venezuela – fearless, earnest, exhorting us to live before God. I remember him too as a good friend, confiding experiences to us, advising, being kind. There was no difference. He was the same man in private that he was in public. His example speaks to me today, as much as any ministry I ever heard.
There was something unique about each of these men. But thank God I met them all. I would have been poorer, much poorer, spiritually, if I had not done so.