As our Santa Fe train was pulling out of the station at Kansas City, I was interested in noticing that eight Roman Catholic nuns, evidently Dominican sisters, judging from their costumes, had berths in the same Pullman car in which I was located. Sub-consciously I thought, “I may have an opportunity to become acquainted with them as we journey toward the West, and perhaps find out whether they know the Lord, and if not, to give them a gospel message.”
But as they began to talk among themselves, I was disappointed to notice that they were speaking German, and as I knew but few words in that language, I concluded that it would be hopeless to try to talk with them.
However, the next morning after most of us had breakfasted, a young man in the farther end of the sleeper took out a violin and began to play feelingly some plaintive airs, while the passengers listened with enjoyment. Suddenly he struck up a German melody which was familiar to me because I had heard it used a great deal on the Hopi Indian mission field in northern Arizona. A group of German Mennonite missionaries had opened up the work in Oraibi, Moen-copi, and other stations, and they had translated a number of hymns into the Hopi tongue. Among them was one set to this particular air, and I had often been greatly stirred as I listened to the Hopi Christians singing it fervently in their gatherings for worship and testimony.
In a moment or two, seven of the nuns—all of them quite young—began to sing in German to the accompaniment of the violin, while the other passengers listened with delight to their beautiful, clear voices.
My own face must have expressed the pleasure that I felt, for as I looked across the aisle to the seat where the older nun was sitting, her face lit up in answer to my own, and she leaned forward and said in excellent English, “These dear children! They enjoy this so much. You see, we are German nuns on our way to California. Our convent at home was destroyed during the war, and we are going out to an altogether new country. I am the Mother Superior, and so I think of all these young sisters as my children. They have been so homesick! Everything is so different here from what we have been accustomed to in Germany, and that melody has stirred them because it is one we often sing in the old land. These sisters were part of the convent church choir, and so this hymn is very familiar to them.” She seemed to wait for my response.
I replied eagerly, glad to have an opportunity to become acquainted, and hopeful now that I might be of some little service to the Lord in their case, “I too am familiar with that air, although I do not know the German words, nor do I know any English words that are ordinarily sung to it. But I have been out among the Hopi Indian villages in northern Arizona, and there are a number of groups of native Christians who sing a hymn in their own language set to this tune, so I too am greatly pleased to hear it today.”
She inquired wistfully, “Do you mean that there are some of these dark people, the American Indians, with whom you are acquainted, who really know and love our Lord Jesus Christ?”
Her question thrilled me. She spoke as one who knew Him herself. I told her that there were indeed many such among the different tribes, and she expressed her great delight to hear it. Then she said, as the music ceased, “Would you mind telling us all something about them? I will call the sisters together, and if you tell me in English I will interpret it into German, for I know that they would be greatly interested.”
I gladly agreed to do this, and soon we were sitting as close together as possible while I told what I could of the scenes I had witnessed in Hopi-land, and also among the Navajos, the Lagunas, the Walapais, and other tribes. I gave them a number of instances of remarkable conversions, which seemed to stir them greatly. I felt that it was God’s own opportunity for me to set forth the gospel of His grace without any contention or fault-finding with views that they might hold which differed from my own.
Finally, the Mother Superior exclaimed, “We are so glad to know of these things! Are you, then, a missionary yourself?”
I informed them that I was one who gave all his time to the preaching of the gospel, and that for a number of years I had visited the different Indian tribes to help in the mission work during certain months.
“I do hope,” she said, “that you are a good Catholic!”
“I can assure you,” I replied, “that I am a member of the holy catholic church, purchased with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, though I cannot claim any goodness of my own.”
This led to many questions as to what I meant by the catholic church, and as to how unrighteous sinners obtained righteousness by faith, whereby they were made fit for the presence of God. Remembering the words of the Apostle Paul, “I am made all things to all men if by any means I might save some,” I quoted frequently from various Roman Catholic sources, such as the fine testimony of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who exclaimed as he was dying, “Holy, holy Jesus, Thy wounds are my merits!”
At that the Mother Superior declared, “You surprise me! You seem to know all the saints. I did not have any idea that one who was not a Roman Catholic would be so familiar with the writings and the lives of the saints.”
“Oh, but you see,” I answered, “I try to familiarize myself with them all, for all the saints belong to me, and I belong to all the saints. More than that— through the infinite grace of the Lord Jesus Christ— I am a saint myself!”
“A saint!” she cried with amazement, and then turning to the other sisters, she said something in German which I was reasonably certain meant, “Children, he says that he himself is a saint!”
They turned to me at once with new interest, for I suppose they thought that they had never seen a real live saint before. All the saints that they knew of were dead, but here was a man in their very presence who claimed to be a saint in his fleshly body.
I noticed that some of them looked amused. Probably they thought that I was a bit “touched in the head,” or else that I was self-deceived; but it gave me an opportunity to open my Bible and turn from passage to passage in order to show them that a saint is one who has been separated unto God through the infinite value of the precious atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that everyone who truly believes in Him, all who have trusted Him as Saviour, are called saints.
The very opportunity I longed for had come to me in a remarkable way, and all through that day, and until we separated at Albuquerque, New Mexico— where I had to leave the train—they plied me with questions which it was a joy to answer, and it seemed to me that their hearts were most receptive to the truth of God. I could not discern the least evidence of prejudice as they listened to one whom perhaps they should have considered a heretic.
As I bade them good-bye, I was thankful to remember that God has promised that His Word shall not return unto Him void; and I dare to hope that I shall meet them some day in the presence of God and of the Lamb to rejoice together in the grace that makes saints out of poor lost sinners.