Can New Testament assemblies still be established? Is the great commission (Matt 28:18-20), still doable in modern times? It Can Be Done answers both of these questions with a resounding “Yes!”
William and Isabel Williams, commended from Toronto, arrived in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, on the 25th of April, 1910. Twenty-seven years later, he wrote, “There are now at least twenty-two … churches in this field and at least a dozen other houses or halls where a gospel testimony is carried on.”
The secular framework of the book is the dictatorship of an uneducated, but astute, self-proclaimed president, General Juan Vincente Gómez, who ruled the country with an iron hand from 1908 to 1935, and tailored his image after Simon Bolivar, the country’s independence hero.
Working with others, (Johnston, Douglas, Willis, Wells, Fairfield, Saword), Mr. and Mrs. Williams engaged in rugged pioneer work that involved dangerous treks through jungles, along sun-scorched plains, over mountains, and in rough seas, while enduring many hours of hunger and thirst, in a grueling schedule that often started at two a.m. in the morning and included fifteen-hour journeys on foot, on horses, and stubborn mules, and in wave-battered boat rides. Some examples of what was involved are cited in the book. “John Wells had been lying in bed reading for an hour, before realizing that there was a large, venomous snake coiled up under his pillow! Mr. Williams was hit in the head at 5 a.m. by a large wooden bowl knocked out of its place by rats racing along the rafters.” Chapter XV is solemnly sobering: “Isabel Williams died rather suddenly, on February 11, 1927, while her husband was away in meetings. He was able to rush home in time to see the body in the casket just before the internment.”
Sowing the Seed
“The press often precedes the preacher,” as it was hard at first to find where to preach publicly. “We had journeyed about 330 miles and given away over 5000 tracts, besides selling 51 Bibles, 166 New Testaments, 1330 gospels, and 171 miscellaneous gospel books.” Logistics were difficult, as “arrangements had to be made for the carrying of all these [books] on railways, on horses, on donkeys, on carts, in canoes, in steamers, and … in large wagons drawn by a team of ten oxen.”
The Stomach Test
The giving of thanks for a meal was often accompanied with earnest supplication. A simple meal was often a difficult test. “We now entered a new order of things and were treated like animals. We learned to drink soup over the edge of a flat plate, for want of a spoon, and to catch the thickest with our fingers.” And, while sitting in another kitchen, “We felt far from home as we awaited supper.” Again, “We sat down to a high table with two old, low chairs. The tablecloth was a white bag, or rather had been white some months previous. The small stock of knives, spoons, etc., were dirty, and only hunger and the grace of God enabled us to eat.”
Roman priests, bitter enemies of the gospel, are described with sarcasm. “We saw the priest in the afternoon – the stoutest man we have seen in Venezuela.” Of the wordy brother who tried to wax eloquent at a conference, having strips of cloth as markers for the passages he was going to speak on, we are told: “He read here and there, fingering nervously the cloth cuttings, and it was easily seen that he had lost not only the thread of his sermon, but the cloth as well.”
A Personal Link
I was born in the same country and in the same year in which Mr. Williams died. I have fond memories of Antonio Malpica, Jose del Carmen Pena, and Romulo Romero, national men who went on to prove that the assessment of them in this book was correct, and each left his mark in my young heart. Mrs. Mabel Williams (Mr. Williams’ second wife), Edith Gulston, Ruth Scott, the Sawords, and the Fairfields, also mentioned in the book, were missionaries I knew. They impressed me with their devotion to God.
It Can Still be Done!
When Mr. and Mrs. Williams stepped ashore in Puerto Cabello in 1910, they probably did not imagine that, 100 years later, there would be some 14,000 meals served at the conference in that same port, according to Samuel Rojas, a full-time worker in that country. “What hath God wrought!”
A book is presently being written by another, in Spanish, of the history of more than 160 assemblies in Venezuela. Read It Can Be Done, and maybe you too will hear a still, small voice that pleads: “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).