Tribute: Gilbert Stewart

Richard Gilbert Stewart was born on February 21, 1933, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA into a godly, Christian home. His parents had both emigrated from Ireland and met in America. The Stewart family home in Philadelphia was Christ-honoring, with daily prayer and Bible reading. As a young boy of 10½, he understood his need of salvation and found peace with God by faith in the finished work of Christ. That set the course for a life of love for Christ and service for Him. He started preaching early, and was concerned about others who were not saved. He spoke to his own brother, Harold, about his need to be saved, and he became his first convert – a very scriptural pattern for a believer to bring his brother to the Lord Jesus.

Gilbert’s godly influence was evident beyond his family as he encouraged other young people in spiritual ways. He printed a large banner that read, “What think ye of Christ?” which was put in the basement of the church building they attended. He met weekly with other teenagers in different homes for spiritual encouragement, and at the conclusion of the gathering, they stood on the steps of the home and sang:

We’re saved, saved to tell others of the man of Galilee,
Saved, saved to live daily for the Christ of Calvary;
Saved, saved to invite you to His salvation free;
We’re saved, saved, saved by His grace for all eternity.

Although he completed a degree in engineering and commerce, and was employed, his interest in preaching the gospel continued to grow. After hearing of reports of gospel work in Ireland, he was exercised to work for God in the land of his parents’ nativity. Earlier, his family had become acquainted with believers from the Bryn Mawr assembly, and Gilbert was the first of the family to come into fellowship there. In 1957, he took his mother, who had never been back to Ireland, home on a visit, where he met many of his relatives and spent a month helping in outreach work in southern Ireland. He returned to USA in anticipation of returning to the Emerald isle. This chorus stirred his heart:

Ireland needs the Saviour,
That land so green and fair
Is burdened with sin and with broken lives,
And few there are who care.
Souls are drifting downwards
Precious souls for whom Christ died.
O carry the message to Irish hearts,
Of Jesus the crucified.

In the intervening period, another significant event occurred. He met Miss Esther Deyermond, from Belfast, who had gone to teach in Canada for a year, and over the 1957 Christmas holidays she went down to the States to visit relatives in the Philadelphia area. They met at the Pennsauken conference. Their relationship developed through letter writing until he came to Ireland in 1960. As we look back, it is abundantly clear that this was of the Lord, for he could not have had a better help-meet in a wife, whose love, companionship, support and encouragement in the work of the Lord could not have been greater.

In June 1960, at age 27, he left secular employment and was commended by the Bryn Mawr assembly to the grace of God for gospel work in the south of Ireland. He arrived in Cobh, County Cork. Over the years, millions of Irish people had travelled from that port to make a new life in America. Gilbert was one of very few who made the journey in the opposite direction, to bring the message of new life in Christ to the people of Ireland. He was met at the boat by several local believers, and their first activity was to have an open-air meeting, even before they went to get lunch. He lived initially with Bert and Wendy Gray in Cork City.

Gilbert and Esther were married on July 7, 1961, and set up their home in Cork city; they were in happy fellowship with the believers in Cork. The Lord blessed them with two daughters, Priscilla and Caroline, and their home was always open for the Lord’s people, the needy and the lost. They were involved in Sunday school work, Postal Sunday school, many children’s meetings, and distribution of calendars every new year, along with open-air street preaching, distribution of Bibles and gospel literature, gospel meetings in tents, portable halls, mobile halls, community halls, individual homes and many gospel halls. Their work continued for over 50 years.

Gilbert preached in many remote areas of Ireland. He was often away from home for long periods, and wrote Esther hundreds of letters before the days of phones, mobiles, and modern communication. They both rejoiced to see their own daughters saved, and warmly welcomed their two sons-in-law into the family; Gilbert enjoyed sharing with them in preaching on many occasions.

He labored consistently, usually in areas that had seen little gospel activity, and only eternity will reveal all that was accomplished in his life of faithful service. His warm preaching of the gospel and his radiant smile commended the gospel and its blessings to all. He laboured with a number of brethren, several of whom have gone to glory. He was glad, in later years, to share in the gospel with younger men, including Gary Woods, Stephen Gilfillan, and John Fleck who participated in his funeral services in Lisburn and in Donegal.

But the fellow worker with whom his name is most associated is Sam Patterson, and the county where, as far as we can tell, his work had the most impact is County Donegal. He and Sam labored faithfully for decades, and God blessed their efforts in the salvation of souls and the upbuilding of the assemblies in this county.

The home-call of Esther in January 2009 changed his life greatly; it was a huge loss, about which he said little, but which took a great toll on him. Over the past 5 years, his health declined. He was devotedly cared for at home by his two daughters, who were helped and supported by the family circle, caretakers, medical professionals and fellow Christians.

On September 9, 1938, Gilbert entered the educational system of Philadelphia. Exactly 80 years later, on September 9, 2018, he entered abundantly into the presence of his Savior Whom he loved and served. He fought a good fight; he finished his course; he kept the faith.

Written by David and Priscilla McAllister, and Noel and Caroline Brown; edited by Harold Stewart.