Chapter 29 Second Visit To South Africa (1931-1933)

For some years Mr. McClure had a strong desire to make a return visit to South Africa, and also to see other foreign lands with the object of imparting to the Lord’s people what he had gleaned from the fields of Holy Scripture. Although he kept busy with nightly meetings, yet since the attack of “shingles” his health was not very good and the doctor advised a long sea journey as a means of recuperating. Such a voyage was no affliction to brother McClure for he loved ocean trips and he felt that this would be an opportune time to have a complete rest, and that the Lord might use this means to restore his health and fit him for future work.

During the fall of 1931 our brother had labored in the eastern states, ministering to the assemblies, and when he decided to leave for Africa, the assembly in 125th Street, New York had a farewell meeting for him December 30. Several brethren gave helpful messages and Mr. McClure took up Psalm 133 speaking to the heart and conscience of all present on that precious outstanding truth of “brethren dwelling together in unity.” He dwelt upon the power for God such a testimony becomes, contrasting this with the weakness and defeat when such unity is lacking.

He then left for California and sailed from San Francisco to Capetown, South Africa, January 31, 1932 on board the S. S. Chincha. The vessel carried much cargo and was rather slow in travel, but this feature was one he desired as it meant a longer voyage.

An extract from a letter to me written just before he landed in Africa will give the reader an idea of the deep heart exercise through which this aged servant of Christ was passing, and of how much he felt his dependence on God in entering alone upon this large and needy field:

“We have just had the first glimpse of Africa and we hope to anchor at Capetown about midnight.

We have been two or three days longer on this trip than usual owing to rough weather. But I was quite satisfied that it should be so. I have been entirely free from sea sickness, headache, or indigestion, and have had the best opportunity in years to catch up on some articles for the magazines and have got a little ahead. As it comes nearer the time of landing, I begin to wonder at my coming here at my time of life. It seems tackling a big thing and I feel very much my weakness and could wish someone were along.

It is twenty-five years since I was there, and I am wondering if I shall get the same ear for the old truths which I got then. It will be a new generation now, and we do not usually find that they have the same taste for plain things that those who have gone before had.

Well, sink or swim, we will give what we believe the dear souls need, not what they want.

Away back twenty-five years ago we had to stand up against what was coming in then, that which would in time bring assemblies to the level of missions. It may be harder now, but God is able and the battle is His.”

From later communication his fears in some cases were sustained, but he received a very hearty welcome from the assemblies.

His meetings in Capetown were large and fruitful. One night five precious souls passed from death into life and afterwards proved that they were truly new born souls. The Lord’s people were enriched by the ministry of the Word and were greatly encouraged.

He made his home with Mr. and Mrs. Kerr. Before leaving Capetown he became ill with the flu, and in writing of this experience he said, “Mr. and Mrs. Kerr nursed me like a baby.” Also he made mention frequently of Mr. and Mrs. Fish whose labors for the Lord in Africa among the lepers are well known.

When Mr. McClure left Capetown he sailed on the U. S. C. Carnarvon Castle for Durban, but stopped of! at Port Elizabeth for two weeks. During this time he conducted nightly meetings which were well attended and he felt sorry he had to leave so soon.

The services were held in the “show yard dining hall” and the numbers so increased that the platform had to be used to get the people seated.

Writing to some young friends in Oakland about conditions in Port Elizabeth, Mr. McClure gave a graphic description of some primitive practices. “Every time you look out, you will see a woman with a baby down low on her back in a shawl, a most uncomfortable position for the child, more especially in hot weather. But they are born to that, and I never heard one of them cry. In addition to the child, the woman may have on her head a bundle, some article of household furniture or a bundle of washing, small or large. I have seen one with a bed-mattress on her head, walking like a queen as straight as you please and hardly ever putting her hands to it.”

In describing the tender coming along to the side of the ship to take off passengers, he wrote, “They had a large wicker basket about six feet deep that could hold about eight people. When the basket is full the crane hoists it up into the air, over the side of the ship, and down onto the deck of the little tender. So Paul was not the only preacher let down in a basket.”

Arriving in Durban May 22, our brother was met at the dock by a young man whose father had entertained him in Sydney many years before.

Mr. McClure remained in Durban for some time ministering the Word and then left for Johannesburg. But in those gold mining towns he found it very hard to stir up an interest. He met Mr. W. J. Scott for the first time and a very close bond of fellowship sprang up between them.

During that time Mr. Scott was going on a business trip that would take him to the Belgian Congo, and he invited Mr. McClure to join him as he was going by automobile. To Mr. McClure this was a golden opportunity of getting his heart’s desire to see some of the wild parts of Africa.

The letters and pictures he sent to many friends in the United States and Canada, fully describing that eventful trip, told how much he enjoyed it, even though difficulties in car trouble mounted up so much that most people would have lost heart and given up the journey. Yet he went on and saw the great Victoria Falls and many other places of interest in Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. He gave a very colorful description of a night spent in the wilds. His palace was a straw thatched cabin without windows or door to keep out invaders. Yet he said, “I slept for hours and when I awoke in the morning I could not get my mind off the open door and the possibility of a night visit from lions or snakes.”

The two brethren returned safely and had some wonderful experiences to relate. Many were the pressing invitations our brother McClure received to remain in South Africa permanently and give his time to ministering the Word among the assemblies, and offers were made by some brethren so that he would have no anxious care as to temporal things. But while our brother valued the love and thoughtfulness of his brethren, yet he felt that he should return to the United States, and, as of old, when the brethren who sought to persuade the Apostle Paul as to his course and found it impossible, they “ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done’” (Acts 21:14). But just as in 1906 when our brother bade farewell to the saints in South Africa, so once more although the weight of years was now upon him, yet they insisted on his return.

It was early in 1933 when Mr. McClure arranged to sail from Durban for San Francisco by way of Japan. This proved to be a most interesting and helpful voyage, for when he returned to the States he told us of conditions in Japan at that time and of the Lord’s work being carried on by a few lonely workers. The visit of our brother was a great cheer to those servants of Christ who were holding up the banner of the Cross in the midst of darkness and idolatry.

One Saturday morning the ship drew nigh to the land for its first stop. They were a day late, but they docked before noon, and were not to leave until Lord’s Day afternoon. This made him feel thankful as there might be an opportunity of finding some believers and of attending a meeting.

This hope was made stronger when he learned they were in Singapore, but he had no address of Christians or of meetings with him as he did not expect the ship to call there. However, he set out to look for an assembly—walking quite a distance. The weather was hot and humid, which made walking very difficult and unpleasant and eventually he hired a rickshaw. He was rewarded for his diligent search by finding the Bethesda Gospel Hall and also one of the brethren who lived there.

This brother took Mr. McClure around that afternoon to many places of interest among which was the Temple of Buddha with its two great idols.

Brother McClure went back to the ship for the night and was at the Hall next morning for the breaking of bread at 9 o’clock.

There were about 150 believers present, many of them Chinese, but as the meeting was conducted in English, he was able to take part and he later said, “It was a treat to me.” After the meeting he much enjoyed conversing with these Christians ere he left for the ship. At noon all were aboard and the ship was on its way. They had a brief stop at Moji, Japan, then after twenty-four hours sailing they docked at Kobe, a city of seventy-five thousand people.

Our brother found himself in difficulty again. He expected to be in Kobe for some time and had written brother Wright of his coming but had not received his reply before leaving Africa.

Starting off in that big city to look him up he was again rewarded as he found his place of business. Of this young Irishman living in Japan, Mr. McClure said, “I found him a very godly lad, who came out to a position in a drug store, so as to acquire the language with a view to giving himself to the work in Japan.

He also mentioned meeting Mr. and Mrs. Hay from England who were busy studying Japanese so they also could labor for the Lord in that land, and they were a help to Mr. McClure during his brief visit. Sunday morning five of them sat down together to remember the Lord and it was a precious session to all. In the afternoon they had a Bible reading and a number of Christians who were connected with denominations were present. Mr. McClure took up the last clause of Acts 11:26: “…and the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch,” and the Lord gave His servant help to bring before them some foundation truths.

Mr. McClure had a very unique experience in the evening. He attended a gospel meeting conducted by dentist brother from another part of the city. The meeting was held in a dwelling house, and as it is the custom in Japan that no one can enter a home with shoes on, he left his at the door. They would have supplied him with a pair of slippers, but none could be found large enough. Even later in Tokio, a city of five million people, he went from store to store but could not purchase a pair of slippers to fit.

They gathered in a large room without seats or furniture. All round were cushions on the floor and our brother squatted down with the rest, minus his shoes. It was bitterly cold and a little stove with half dead embers was the only means of heating. To make his seat more comfortable Mr. McClure took his cushion to the partition wall, sat upon it and was about to lean back against the wall, when as he put it, “Brother Hay saved me from being in two rooms at one time.” The walls were merely paper. Mr. McClure said, “I thought what a scene of wreck and ruin it would be if some families we have known lived for a week in such houses.”

As brother McClure wanted to see rural Japan the S. S. Co. gave him a ticket to go by train to Tokio about ten hours ride. Mr. Hay accompanied him part of the way.

After seeing some wonderful sights in the land of the Rising Sun, Mr. Hay went back and Mr. McClure decided to wait over until the next morning and resume his journey in daylight.

He described the trip as much like going through the Rockies in Canada. Brother Hay gave Mr. McClure a card to present to a taxi driver and he delivered him at the Y.M.C.A. Also he had the address of a doctor who had a little meeting in his home. Arriving there, he said, “I could not speak a word of Japanese nor they one word of English, but knowing Mr. Hay they made me welcome.” Off went his shoes at the door again. The meeting room was a large one with a single piece of furniture in it, a large table nine inches high. About 20 were present, all squatting on cushions and one brother evidently gave them all the contents of the card from Mr. Hay as all looked at Mr. McClure and bowed. The meeting lasted two hours.

About March 1, 1933, Brother McClure somewhat improved in health, arrived back safely in Oakland feeling that he had been guided by the Lord in his travels to many countries and in his ministry to so many nationalities. Soon he was on his way again preaching and teaching, and in October he was in Toronto, Canada. One address he gave in Central Hall is still remembered by some who were young believers at that time and is cherished by them to this day. He spoke on “the River of God” and traced that river from Genesis to Revelation. He said the river is a figure in which Christ is introduced and brought out as the embodiment of the grace of God. “You can measure the ocean, with its hundreds of thousands of square miles, but there is this thought as to a river—it cannot be measured, for like the Niagara Falls, hundreds of tons of water are going over every minute of every day, and that away back to the beginning of the Creation.”

He dwelt upon the river in Ezekiel 47. “The waters issued out from under the threshold of the house” (Christ’s lowly birth), “at the south side of the altar” (His death), “going out into the desert,” getting wider and deeper and giving life and healing wherever they go (Pentecost). “But the miry places thereof and the marshes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt” (v. 11). Concerning this he said, “A miry place or marsh was a place where the water flowed in, but did not flow out again, so the water evaporated and left the salt. There are many miry Christians today. They receive all and give out nothing, with the result that they are barren and unfruitful. The only way to be a happy and fruitful Christian is to let the living water flow out to others as in John 7:38.”

He finished up with the river in Revelation 22, flowing out of the throne of God and of the Lamb—“the fixed eternal state.” “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”