Two years of combat duty in France in World War I – deliverance in moments of danger. In hospital with pneumonia and pleurisy – the doctor’s verdict, “He won’t live through the night!” Years of missionary service in the Philippines including facing starvation during Japanese occupation and internment camp. Dramatic rescue shortly before planned assassination by the Japanese. Experiences like these have made up a full life, a life full of God’s goodness and grace.
Folks often have said, “You should write a book!” The stock reply was, “When I have nothing more important to do!” Now as an octogenarian, my strength and ability for some of the important tasks is limited and it seems there is time to record this testimony to God’s faithfulness.
If possible, I would like to avoid the frequent use of first person pronouns as I don’t want to be that kind of an “I specialist.” But to write in the third person seems a bit devious. If there is any value in this testimony, the honor and glory belongs entirely to God. Like Paul, I can only say, “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” Had I only been more submissive to the Lord’s leading and power, His grace could have done greater things in and through me. Oh, the wonder of His patience and longsuffering in displaying His love and grace to one so undeserving of it! Like Jacob of old, I say, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant” (Gen. 32:10).
Many years ago, it was my privilege to spend a day with two godly servants of the Lord, Mr. and Mrs. Jansen, at the Culion Leper Colony. When I thanked Mrs. Jansen for her kindness and hospitality, she remarked, “Don’t rob God of His glory by thanking me.” So to any who may read this story I want to say, “Please don’t rob God of any glory by attributing any credit at all to us.”
Where It All Began
“The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.…Her children arise up, and call her blessed.” (Prov. 20:7; 31:28)
Lingfield is a pleasant Surrey village with quaint, old timbered cottages. It lies about 25 miles southeast of London, England; its only attraction to the world being a race course. But the activities there did not interfere with the placid life in the village as both race track and railroad station were outside the village. In the center of the village was a pond and as a young boy I thought that it was there the saying originated, “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” Across the street was the blacksmith’s shop where we watched with fascination the horses being shod. In later years when I had to memorize Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith,” I would think of Mr. Huggett, the burly blacksmith. I also knew him as the Sunday school superintendent at the Mission Room.
This chapel was just behind the day school and had been opened for services on June 9, 1875. On Sunday mornings after the children were dismissed from Sunday school, the older folks would gather and quietly take their seats around the table on which had been placed the bread and the cup for the Lord’s Supper. The benches had been made for adults and the backrest was just a bit high for a small boy. He either had to sit up very straight or was in danger of sliding out the back of the seat. Across the fields was the Anglican church. It still has one of the few extant chained Bibles. When Bibles were first printed some were chained to the pulpit so they could not be borrowed by eager parishioners! When the church bell stopped pealing at eleven o’clock a brother would rise to announce the opening hymn. The reverence and devotion in those meetings left a lasting impression.
During the summer months an open-air meeting was held beside the pond. At one end of this pool stood an old stone building under the shade of a large tree. This small building was called “The Cage” and had once been a prison. It was there the Gospel was preached and on a quiet summer evening the preacher’s voice would ring out over the whole village. There was little need for a sound system when there was no noise of traffic or radio. Among those active in the local church meeting in the Mission Room were Harry and Ellen Brooks.
Harry was 25 and Ellen 23 when they were married on December 20, 1886. At the turn of the century they lived on a large estate called Felcourt some three miles from the village. Harry was head gardener and their home was part of an ivy-covered house that was round in shape. They had four children. Ethel Annie, who after she married Richard Weller in 1911, lived in Western Canada; Florence Lillian who never married but also went to Canada and for 25 years worked in the Dept. of Agriculture of the government of British Columbia; George Arthur Stanley remained in England where he took up horticulture and was for several years in charge of a large seed growing company. He was named after two of his uncles, George and Arthur, but the third name was taken from a great pioneer missionary in Central Africa, Frederick Stanley Arnot. There was a gap of seven years before their fourth child was born on December 11, 1898, and named Cyril Harry. The second name, of course, was after my father but the first name was from Cyril Bird, a missionary who died from fever in Angola in 1896. Many years later I became well acquainted with his widow and her second husband, Dr. Andrews.
Naming their sons after missionaries would indicate that Harry and Ellen Brooks were very missionary minded. At one time they had a desire to be missionaries themselves in Spain but the Lord did not open the way. Instead they did missionary work in Surrey. For some years in Lingfield, baptisms were held in an iron tank in a field beside the Mission Room. In 1901 the brethren worked together to install a baptistry inside the Mission Room. Harry Brooks was one who helped in that project.
Looking through his small diary for 1905, his last year here on earth, it seems that quite often he was away preaching on Sundays in small assemblies that he could reach on his bicycle. It was in that missionary spirit that they offered their youngest son to the Lord for missionary service even before he was born. I only learned of this after I had personally responded to the Lord’s call.
Naturally my memories of those early years in Lingfield are vague. Walking through the garden with Father and being given a small ripe tomato, popping it in my mouth to get the entire delicious flavor as it broke open! Lying down to rest after lunch but sneaking out the front door with my sisters in hot pursuit. One day when Mother was baking I sat on a loaf of bread; it had to be reshaped before it could be baked! There is still a scar on my knee, the result of a fall…. Seeing an automobile for the first time. Evidently it was in the fall because I was amused to see the leaves chasing the car in its excessive speed – probably 20 miles an hour!
A tree near our house had been cut down, and a cross-section of this placed beside the kitchen stove was my favorite seat, especially for family devotions each morning. Even before I learned to read I had my own Bible, like the big folks. Such daily family devotions have been maintained all through life. At the Mission Room they had Sunday school both in the morning and in the afternoon. However, in the afternoon I stayed home with Mother to hear Bible stories and learn Bible verses. It was easy to learn Isaiah 53:6 for all around were flocks of sheep. I knew how they would go astray in their own way. So at a young age I learned that Jesus bore the iniquity of us all. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe that.
Many Bible teachers and missionaries visited Lingfield and were entertained for a meal in our home. I soon learned that little boys are to be seen but not heard! Most of these men had beards and, to me, seemed such good men. I was sure that old people had no difficulty living a good life and staying out of mischief. They seemed to be very strict when they frowned on any misbehavior on my part. To my childish mind God the Father was like those men and I was scared to pray to Him. But Jesus was my Friend who loved me and had died for me, so it wasn’t hard to pray to Him. On one occasion, so I was told, I was seen riding on a wooden sawhorse and lustily singing the chorus of a missionary hymn, “Speed away, speed away on your mission of light.”
The last entry in Father’s 1905 diary was for October 24, but for the next day Mother had written, “His 44th birthday. Annual tea at Staffords Wood, good time, his last meeting.” It was no doubt fitting for he had often preached there. Right after that he was not well and Dr. Austin was sent for. The good doctor was a leader in the assembly and a close personal friend. I still have a book that he gave to Father. A specialist was called in from London and an operation performed. I really don’t know what the trouble was. Possibly his life might have been prolonged had modern medical knowledge been available.
Thursday evening, November 30, I went in to kiss Father goodnight. The next morning when Mother awakened me, she said, “Jesus has taken Daddy to heaven.”
During his illness someone sent a card with this simple message, “Your Father knoweth.” It was a great comfort to Mother in her sorrow. She wrote in the diary, “Dearest H. fell asleep in Jesus. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Mother told someone that in almost twenty years of married life there had never been an angry word between them. They loved each other but even more they loved the Lord Jesus Christ.
I heard some older folks say, “He’s too young to understand.” I don’t recall shedding any tears. In childlike faith I believed he was indeed with Jesus in heaven. Yet I did miss my Father for I knew he loved me. Looking back over my life, I realize I missed a great deal by not having a father during my formative years. He was laid to rest in the cemetery near the Anglican church on December 6, just a few days before my seventh birthday. It was a double funeral for a close relative was buried close by at the same time.