Tribute: James Walmsley

Of all the events in a 92-year life­span, the most important for Jim Walmsley took place the evening of May 16, 1947, around 9:30 when he knelt before God and told Him he had read in Romans 10:13 that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” and as a lost sinner he was taking Him at His Word. From a loyalist Protestant family in Belfast where an unopened Bible was carefully preserved, he first heard of salvation through Sally, a workmate whose honesty at the workplace impressed him. She had something that he didn’t have. Later, with four lines on a sheet of paper she explained what the Lord Jesus taught about the broad road to hell and the narrow road to heaven. Asked where he stood, he finally said, “If what you say is true, I’m on the broad road going down to hell.” But there was no if in his heart – he was convicted. Soon after, meetings by Harold Paisley in Cregagh Street Gospel Hall, a three-minute walk from his home, were used by God to bring him the knowledge of sins forgiven. Telling the family wasn’t easy. His mother responded, “Those people in the gospel hall are serious people and you’re of a happy disposition,” and gave him at most two weeks of “endurance.” This eventually stretched to 75 years!

At the close of a conference on a Sunday afternoon, Mr. Walmsley would often ask for Havergal’s hymn “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.” We can blithely sing such hymns with little heart impact, but consecration marked this man’s life from the start, and the joy it brought was something he wished for us all. Taking the Lord’s claims seriously, he was baptized and gathered to the Lord’s name in September 1947. Four years later Mr. E.  Fairfield, on a visit from Venezuela, left him with these words: “Pray, and perhaps someday we will meet in Venezuela.” However, the trying of faith worketh patience, which must have its perfect work. He married Sally in 1958 with a view to travel to Venezuela that year, but a new government indefinitely closed all immigration. The Lord sustained them with this verse, “And it came to pass at the end of two full years” (Gen 41:1), and news of a visa granted to enter Venezuela reached them shortly after Easter 1960, two full years after hearing that immigration was closed to all. With joy and thanksgiving, Jim and Sally Walmsley stepped on Venezuelan soil on June 30, 1960.

The first years of service were closely linked with Los Altos, a small town in eastern Venezuela where an assembly was planted in 1957. The only family home ever bought for their own use was a small mud and wattle, tin-roofed, rat-infested structure in the town center of which locals afterwards testified that it became a true “love nest.” Jim’s only daughter, Ramona (now Ramona Gratton of London, Ontario), was brought up here in Los Altos. Mr. Fairfield soon conscripted Jim for the building trade, and new halls were built in Los Altos (1963), Puerto La Cruz (1964) and Ciudad Bolivar (1965).

The joy of service was to continue unabated for 62 years, though tempered with sorrow in God’s love and wisdom. Abraham’s long pilgrimage in the land of promise is linked with one burial, but Jim endured three. Sally succumbed to cancer in 1970, and Sadie McIlwaine, whom he married a year later, was also taken home the same way in 1994. Both were laid to rest in their native Ireland. In 2002 he married my mother, Ruth Turkington, and made his home in the family residence in San Carlos. Genuine affection was seen by all who passed through that home, and Mother’s declining strength and final illness saw him tirelessly and patiently dedicated to her care until she was called home in May 2016.

Jim loved the gospel and the souls of men and encouraged us to reach out where the glad tidings had never been heard. In Donald Alves’ book Una Obra en Progreso, Jim is linked with pioneer work in thirteen locations in eastern Venezuela, three of which an assembly now meets in a gospel hall he built. After Sadie’s passing, he accepted our invitation to join us in Guanarito on the western plains. The house was small and hot, and he shared a crowded storeroom with one of our boys without complaints. He helped build the hall in 1997 and joined us in the first visits to Guasdualito in 2001. In 2019 he spent six months with William and Veronica Turkington in Tucupita, Delta Amacuro, the only state which has had no assembly. Thank God, on Sunday, December 11, 2022, believers there met to remember the Lord for the first time.

We also thank God for a man who “kept the faith” and had an unusual capacity to open up the deep truths of God, making our hearts burn so often. He was editor of La Sana Doctrina magazine from 1976 to 1993 and continued contributing articles to the magazine for years after, leaving us a written treasury of sound ministry.

Mr. Walmsley was a loyal British subject, keeping a picture of the Queen in his bedroom and continually praying for God-given authorities. At some point he also became Venezuelan and chose to remain in this country, living his last three years in the Christian nursing home in Puerto Cabello and enjoying reasonable health until some months before his passing. Fellow worker Delfín Rodríguez finished his course in the same home in 1991, and Jim often recalled his upbeat greeting, “We’re on the last lap!” He lived expecting the Lord’s return and his counsel was, “If you’re thinking of doing something, you better do it quick!” In his last difficult days he was longing to depart and be with Christ, and one of his last statements was, “When this moment comes, the Lord doesn’t leave us alone.” And so it was, on October 21, 2022, shortly after midnight.

The funeral was held in the large Calle Sucre Gospel Hall in Puerto Cabello, which Jim helped build in 1994. Despite travel limitations, many believers came with genuine sorrow at the absence of a dear brother and laborer. Sixteen fellow workers and elders shared the Scriptures, calling to mind the faithfulness and diligence of our brother in his service and bringing us comfort with the certainty and proximity of the moment when we shall be “caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air!”