Tribute: John Albert Joyce

Sixty-seven years ago, Mr. John Albert Joyce (Bert Joyce) went to Corner Brook, Newfoundland to assist Mr. Herb Harris with a new work in that city. He was 23 years old, and had a strong desire to be used of his Lord. He was saved by God’s grace at the age of 12, while sitting in the observer’s seat in the Brock Ave. Gospel Hall in Toronto. As he heard the believers sing, “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died,” He wondered why the Christians were so moved by those words. Opening his Bible to Isaiah 53:6, he realized he was the sheep who had gone astray, but that the Lord had laid on Jesus all of his iniquities and sins.  Awakened by those words, Bert put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and was born again that morning.

In the late spring of 1950, Mr. Harris, who was visiting Toronto, asked Bert to come and assist him in gospel work in Corner Brook. Bert agreed, and he and another young man arrived in Corner Brook and began preaching in the open air and in a portable hall. Like every true Christian, Bert longed to see others saved from sin and hell, and saved for heaven. That desire had been nurtured by believing parents and by a well-known uncle, Mr. A. W. Joyce, but it flourished as Bert read his Bible, prayed and attended gospel meetings, where he learned the inestimable value of a soul.

Bert was commended to the work of the Lord in 1951, and in 1952, he married Miss Emily Gould of Kenora, ON. She had been considering going to Venezuela as a missionary with Miss Edith Gulston, Bert’s aunt, who was laboring in the work of the Lord there. The Lord of the harvest, however, had other plans for the couple, and together, they arrived to labor for the Lord in Corner Brook, NL. Gospel work was difficult there, so after two years, they relocated to Sydney, NS for a few months, and then to Prince Edward Island, where Bert preached with Albert Ramsay and Robert McIlwaine. They had the joy of seeing many souls saved in those places.

While the Joyces were living on PEI, Mr. Herb Harris expressed interest in purchasing a boat, for the purpose of bringing the gospel to the out-ports along the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. Mr. Harris needed a man who could navigate such a vessel, so he contacted Bert, who was also the pilot of a small plane. Bert willingly left his wife and family on PEI for a few months, and traveled to St. John’s, Newfoundland to join the boat work in the summer of 1956. He guided that boat from St. John’s to many ports around the northern half of Newfoundland – to places he had never been – all with just a book called The Newfoundland and Labrador Pilot, and a compass. “The Book [Bible] and The Compass” always characterized the preaching and ministry of Bert Joyce.

In 1958, the Joyces felt compelled by the Lord to move to Red Bay, Labrador, as Bert’s heart was with the people there. He had found the place where he could settle down with his family and serve the Lord, using the airplane, and seeking to see an assembly planted. For 16 years, Bert faithfully labored for God on the Labrador coast, only occasionally traveling to Newfoundland, or further abroad.

In 1974 the Joyce family moved back to Corner Brook following a 20-year absence. Bert’s sphere of influence had become greater, and his growing family needed access to further educational opportunities. Occasionally he would leave NL for gospel meetings. We shared meetings in Iowa and Washington as well as in Newfoundland and Labrador, and he had gospel meetings in BC and across the Maritime provinces. However, Red Bay and the Labrador coast continued to hold a special place in his exercise for teaching and preaching.

Bert Joyce was a man of dignity, integrity, and calmness of spirit. He could sooth troubled waters, because he knew both when to be quiet and when to speak. His balance was evident in his teaching and preaching as well as in his personal life. The cost of a new work is so high, yet he never implied in any way that God was not meeting his needs. Faith was involved in practical ways, as well, in his spiritual life. He was a brother who was eminently easy to trust with important matters. His counsel and guidance was sensible and spiritual, to new assemblies and individuals alike. He had a sense of humor, but at the same time, his words carried much weight. Those who came to him for advice knew that he didn’t rush to make judgments, and that what he said was worthy to be heeded. He was a man to be trusted.

When a worker who has served the Lord in new places where the gospel has not been preached is taken away, there are inevitably few who rush to fill the gap; few who are motivated to reach regions beyond their comfort zones. One man said of Bert Joyce’s passing to heaven, “It is like the captain is gone, and the mates and deckhands have to run the ship.”  Bert Joyce has accomplished the work his Lord gave him to do, and he and Emily have moved on to their next assignment in the administration of the kingdom of God. No one can really take another person’s place, but we can commit ourselves to the work to which we have each been called with similar enthusiasm and vigor. Perhaps this servant’s passing will motivate others to take a fresh look at their own lives through God’s eyes, and to practice what we were so ably taught by Bert Joyce.