Immensely humbled! This will be exactly how you feel, as you make your way through this book. We can become complacent and smug, as we assess our lives before God. It can be easy thinking that we’re doing all we can for Him. Until, that is, you read a book like this.
Mr. Wilson was raised in a godly home, saved at the age of 16 through Isaiah 53:5, then baptized, and received into assembly fellowship at Donegal Road, Belfast. All his life he had embraced the desire to become a missionary to Africa. Mr. Fred Lane, an assembly missionary to Angola, had given a number of report meetings in Belfast when Mr. Wilson was 18. These meetings made a huge impression on his soul. After three years of prayer and letters shared with Mr. Lane, he left the comforts and conveniences of home and ventured out. He was 21 when he sailed; the year was 1923. He left his work in the shipyards, on a vessel he had helped to build. At his farewell assembly meeting, an older preacher named George Gould was there, and he told young Ernest, “I will go with you to Angola.” Mr. Wilson asked him what he meant, and he told him that he would pray for him every day. Years later, at a conference, he met Mr. Gould again, who told him that for the past 23 years, he had prayed for the Wilsons and the work in Angola, three times every day!
His dependence upon and trust in His Lord was simple, certain, and sure. The book is full of amazing encounters and interventions, which could only be explained by the providence of God.
As Angola was under the flag of Portugal, he first had to learn Portuguese. Then, he had to learn the Umbundu and Chokwe languages, the languages of the peoples among whom he would spend the rest of his life. This process was painstaking, and took years to master. In many of the mission outposts, the missionaries were privileged to teach the natives English, and their textbook of choice was the Bible. Thousands of native Angolans were taught the truth of God’s salvation, as they taught each other their native tongues.
He met a single woman from Connecticut, Elisabeth Smyth, who was serving the Lord in another part of the country. They struck up a friendship, and he summoned the courage to ask her to marry him and serve the Lord together. To speak with her personally, Mr. Wilson had to walk 300 miles each way, through dangerous territory. After they were married, they walked for 13 days, to get to the little honeymoon house he was building. They slept in a tent for another six months, until the thatched-roof hut was finished.
Absolutely nothing came easy, mail was monthly at best; often, gifts of fellowship were stolen, trunks were rifled through; parcel posts were emptied; goods and donations from home never made it to their home. They had to walk 200 miles for medical attention. Mr. Wilson estimates that he contracted malaria at least nine times. Mrs. Wilson nearly died from blackwater fever. They were often robbed, and their lives were threatened on more than one occasion. They lived among the darkest of witchcraft, human sacrifice, and ritual killings. All the while, showing great respect to a lifestyle they did not understand, they lived the love of God before these darkened souls, and saw an amazing number of souls saved for the kingdom.
One of Mr. Wilson’s great burdens was the planting of assemblies. He faithfully discipled the converts he had seen delivered, and took a great deal of care in training elders and spiritual leaders for the many small native NT churches. One of the great joys of his life was seeing companies of Angolan natives, saved by God’s grace, often baptized in crocodile-infested waters, simply but majestically gathering to sing hymns of praise and remember the Lord on a Sunday morning. He tells of conferences where upwards of 2,000 natives had walked many miles to spend several days hearing the truths of the Word of God. He tells of one Angolan brother named Vongula. This man had calluses on his feet, thicker than any he had ever seen. When he first heard Vongula preach, his knowledge of Scripture and gift of oratory were incredible to Mr. Wilson. When he asked another missionary about him, he was told “those are honorable calluses; that man has literally walked thousands of miles backwards and forwards across central Africa preaching the gospel.” Under Mr. Wilson’s mentoring, many more men like Vongula eventually carried the message of the cross to their fellow-Angolans, and saw assemblies started.
The establishment of mission posts was critical. At each one, a school for the native children, as well as the children of the missionaries, was started. The Wilsons had no formal medical training; yet they provided these services to the native Angolans for years. They truly befriended these people; little wonder they saw so many of them saved.
They had to leave Angola in 1961, when the civil war started, and the fight for independence ensued. It was a terrible time; there were massacres, and reprisals, and thousands were slaughtered. Hundreds were arrested, beaten, had their Bibles ripped from them, and were sentenced to terrible prisons, where they died. Many of the godly assembly elders mentored by Mr. Wilson were executed. In one case, eight of them were ordered to dig their own graves, then lined up for their executions. One young man, as the executions began, started singing softly in his native tongue:
Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Under His sheltering wings abide,
God will take care of you.
The rebel leaders spared his life, and told him to go home and tell others what he had witnessed.
Has the work of God been defeated? To this day NT assemblies are springing up, and continuing, as godly native preachers continue to carry these truths to their own people. This book proves, with thrilling reality, that the work of God, so prominent in the NT, is still being carried on today through humble believers who yield their lives to the Savior Who gave them His life.