In 1934 Mr. McClure passed through a very trying experience—cataracts had formed in both eyes and after consulting a number of doctors, some of whom were his brethren in Christ and took a deep interest in his case, he was advised by all to have an operation performed. This was arranged for and the operation was partly successful. To him the time he was kept in darkness seemed long. However, he sought grace to be subject to the will of God. Usually he loved to pore over the Word of God taking in for his own spiritual nourishment that which was opened up to his heart of the unsearchable riches of Christ. He would then get busy with his typewriter and put in order some of the precious truths freshly gleaned from the holy Scripture and prepare his papers for some magazine for help and profit of the Lord’s people. This had been his practice for years and to be suddenly deprived of his usual routine when he otherwise felt very well, was a great trial.
When discharged from the hospital he was welcomed in the home of his old friends Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Trimble of New York, where he was tenderly cared for and everything possible was done to hasten his recovery.
The first Old Orchard Conference in Maine was commencing in August and Mr. McClure was anxious to be present. It was a great cheer to those who convened the conference to see him accompanied by a number of friends from New York arrive in time for the beginning of the meetings.
There was a large gathering of Christians from New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Canada, some thirty-five assemblies being represented
Many believers from the different denominations attended most of the meetings and Mr. McClure felt very much at home giving very helpful ministry, and all through that week a spirit of love and fellowship prevailed. The Gospel was proclaimed especially in the evening meetings and hundreds listened to the message of grace resulting in the salvation of souls.
After a very profitable season at the conference, Mr. McClure seemed to be gaining in health and could see very well. At the beginning of September he attended the Boston Conference and again ministered the Word profitably. He then paid us a short visit to Rhode Island. We had the joy of entertaining him and some of the friends from New York. One morning he proposed that we all visit the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, which was about fifty miles distance. The weather was beautiful and the cities, towns, and rural districts we passed through were all very interesting. At last the town of Plymouth on the Atlantic Coast came into view. It derived its name from the city of Plymouth, England, and is of great historical fame because it was the place where the Pilgrim Fathers landed from the renowned sailing ship “The Mayflower” in 1620.
The Pilgrims were a godly people in England who were suffering religious persecution which they sought to escape by setting out for the new world beyond the sea. When all the passengers from “The Mayflower” had landed that day, they kneeled down on the shore and prayed, giving thanks to God for a safe voyage across the ocean, and commending their future to Him who rules in the kingdom of men.
The large, flat stone on which they stepped as they left the ship is now carefully fenced not far from its original place. On the hill overlooking the bay and ocean is a large statue of Massasoit, an Indian Chief, who made peace with the white man and gave them privileges as strangers in his country. These evidences of days long past when the country was in a very primitive condition were very interesting to Mr. McClure who loved history. He had known it all in theory and this visit made it all the more valuable to him.
In the museum there were many relics. Even the chairs and furniture of “The Mayflower” could be seen, but the sight that overshadowed all else to Mr. McClure was the large, ancient, well-marked Bible as it lay open in a glass case.
Governor Bradford, who was among those early settlers and was made Governor of the new colony, was the owner of this Bible and carefully read it. To Mr. McClure this was a silent yet powerful proof of the integrity and godly sincerity of the men who had laid the foundation of the new country now known as the United States of America.
When Mr. McClure returned to New York, he was much exercised about paying a third visit to So. Africa and taking in the long cherished hope of seeing the land of Palestine. Many friends tried hard to persuade him otherwise, but he seemed to show the spirit and energy of Caleb of long ago, and still felt able for the battle. The necessary preparations were accordingly made and a large number of the Lord’s people from New York and vicinity were at the ship to see him off as he set sail.
The morning of his arrival in Belfast Lough was cold and dreary but some brethren had come to meet him and he received a hearty welcome. He remained in Ireland a few months ministering the Word and writing articles for publication. The time was well used in the Lord’s service.
Mr. McClure learned that Mr. Bunting, a young Irish evangelist, was exercised about going to South Africa, and this purpose of his was very suitable to Mr. McClure who looked upon it as the Lord’s provision for him on the long journey. Brother Bunting proved a good companion and was very helpful to his aged brother in the many months that followed.
Mr. Bunting’s article giving an account of their travels together with letters written by Mr. McClure will give the reader a detailed account of the journey and how he was impressed by the different places that were visited.
By W. Bunting
Although he was in his 77th year, and felt that with advancing old age his physical abilities were on the decline, Mr. McClure in 1934 undertook an extensive preaching trip, such as would have daunted the courage of many a younger man. In the fall of that year he crossed to Ireland on what proved to be his last visit to his native land, and, as on former occasions, he was the welcome guest of Mr. and Mrs. W. McCracken, Belfast, and of Mr. and Mrs. T. H. McCabe, Banbridge. Here for a number of months he found many open doors for his rich, Christ-exalting ministry. As always, his teaching was lucid, forceful, and with such a depth of conviction that his hearers could not easily forget it, and not a few to this day speak of the profound and permanent impression his messages at that time made upon their hearts.
But more distant fields of service filled the vision of the veteran servant of Christ. For a long season it had been his cherished hope to visit the Bible Lands, not merely to see for himself sites and customs of sacred association, of which he had so often read and spoken, but that he might be a blessing to the Assemblies of the Lord’s people in those parts where, in Apostolic days such gatherings first had their inception. This in the will of the Lord he now planned to undertake; and moreover from Palestine he purposed to revisit the scenes of earlier labors in South Africa. It was in vain, therefore, that Irish freinds besought him to spend the remaining years of his life in their midst. With so much upon his heart he was impatient to be on his way. Accordingly, the necessary arrangements were made, and on the 18th of February, 1935, he took his final leave of the country of his birth; and three days later embarked at Tilbury Docks, London, upon the “Llandaff Castle,” en route for Egypt, accompanied by the present writer.
Mr. McClure was an experienced sailor. He seemed to know the name of almost every part of the ship and to be well acquainted with the rules of navigation, so that it was a great pleasure to be his fellow-passenger and companion. Above all, one enjoyed his fellowship in the things of God. Whether ashore or afloat the Bible was his constant companion, and from that mine of spiritual wealth what golden nuggets of truth he turned up! He also had a great heart for the souls of men, and was soon busy with the distribution of well-chosen gospel booklets. By this means he made personal contact with many of the other passengers and found opportunities for speaking about the Saviour.
After a delightful, and uneventful voyage, during which we called at a few Mediterranean ports, the Egyptian coast line arose above the horizon on the morning of March 7th, and that afternoon we disembarked at Port Said where we took the train for Cairo. Traveling through the land of Goshen, it was interesting to see file after file of camels moving across the fertile plains.
On arriving at Cairo we were welcomed to the hospitable home of Mr. and Mrs. N. Aboud. Mr. Aboud who is engaged in whole-time Gospel work, and has seen many souls saved and a number of assemblies planted along the Nile Valley in Upper Egypt, resides in Heliopolis, a city adjoining Cairo. He lost no time in arranging special meetings, and in both the Cairo and Heliopolis Assembly Halls, Mr. McClure was heard by appreciative and growing audiences of God’s people.
Our stay in Cairo continued until March 22, when we boarded the evening train to begin our journey to Jerusalem. It could not be said of our exodus, as was said of Israel’s of old, “Egypt was glad when they departed,” for the friends who saw us off showed visible signs of sorrow that we were leaving them. About midnight we reached Kantara, one of the ancient entrances to the land of the Pharaohs, crossed the Canal by ferry and took our seats in the Palestinian train on the opposite side. As we sped northwards that morning we witnessed for the first time the beauty of an Eastern sunrise. Slowly the light grew in the east, and then the great orb of day appeared from behind the distant hills of Moab and mounted into the sky, bathing all nature in its warmth and glory. At length, after passing many stations, which included Gaza, Ashdod, and Lydda, and gaining a transient view of the Plain of Sharon, our train steamed into Jerusalem in time for late breakfast.
There we were kindly entertained by Mr. and Mrs. F. E. Cooper, who for years have been serving the Lord in Palestine. Their home is over the Gospel Hall, and its roof commands an excellent view of the city. It was with obvious emotion that Mr. McClure, on the morning of our arrival, gazed from this point of vantage upon the objects of interest which lay before us. There was the gorgeous “Dome of the Rock,” commonly called The Mosque of Omar. Behind it arose a mount which was easily recognized as Olivet, over the summit of which a narrow path, once hallowed by the footsteps of Christ, ran directly to Bethany. To the north was Mount Scopus, where the Roman General pitched his tent on the occasion of the fatal siege of the Jewish capital, and where the Hebrew University now stands; while in the more immediate prospect could be seen the most sacred spot of all—the “green hill far away” which, we believe, witnessed the closing scenes of our Saviour’s Passion.
During the two weeks spent in Jerusalem Mr. McClure was a busy man. Daily we explored the narrow streets, the sites and ancient monuments of the Holy City, and its environs, and made excursions into the country to such places as Hebron, Bethlehem, Bethany, Jericho, the Jordan, and the Dead Sea; while almost every evening he conducted a meeting. For it was his ambition, above all else, to stimulate the saints to a closer walk with God.
On our first Lord’s Day we broke bread with the assembly in Jerusalem, in what proved to be one of the most blessed meetings at which we had ever been present. From the beginning a deep solemnity and sense of our Saviour’s presence filled our hearts, as we sat there, almost beneath the shadow of Golgotha and not far from where Christ Himself had instituted the Feast. We sang Sir Edward Denny’s hymn, “To Calvary, Lord,” and then “with sweetest sadness” partook of the emblems of His death. It was a most impressive occasion.
Our next Lord’s Day was spent in Jaffa, where we were the guests of Mr. and Mrs. S. Ostrovisky, a worthy pair of Jewish birth. By profession our brother had been a teacher but he now devotes all his time to the Lord’s work. At Jaffa, as elsewhere, Mr. McClure was not idle. He ministered in both the Russian and Armenian assemblies, speaking by interpretation, as he usually had to do in Palestine. From Jaffa we visited the neighboring city of Tell-Aviv, which is said to be the only all-Jewish city in the world, and then returned to Jerusalem.
It was of the Lord, that the time of our visit to Palestine coincided with the season of the two annual Assembly Conferences convened in that land. The first of these was to be held at Haifa, a modern city situated at the foot of Mount Carmel and the other at Beyrout which is the capital of Syria and over one hundred miles farther north. Since Mr. McClure was feeling much fatigued as the result of his exertions, the Haifa brethren kindly arranged suitable accommodations for us to spend a quiet week there before the Conference began. So on the morning of April 9 we looked for the last time upon Jerusalem’s temples and towers glistening in the sun, and traveled by bus to Haifa, a journey that gave us an excellent view of the country, which at this season of the year is seen at its best.
The Conferences at Haifa and Beyrout, each of which lasted four days, were, I feel certain, the most cosmopolitan at which Mr. McClure in all his long experience had ever been present. For those attending them were drawn, not, only from all the Near East, but from other more distant parts as well. Here, too, he had the great joy of meeting a number of servants of Christ. Brethren J. W. Clapham, F. E. Cooper, G. Knowles, A. L. Goold, N. Aboud, S. Ostrovisky, all of them laborers in the Bible Lands; J. Newton, an English preacher who had spent the winter evangelizing in Upper Egypt, G. Menzies from New Zealand, and Dr. Martzinkovisky, author of With Christ in Soviet Russia, were also present. Most, if not all of these shared in the ministry of the Word, but throughout both Conferences Mr. McClure was the principal speaker. An interesting feature at many of the meetings was that the addresses, to be intelligible to all present, had to be interpreted in three languages. Two interpreters stood upon the platform and translated (one after the other) each sentence as the speaker uttered it; while the third sat among his own nationals in a corner of the building and in an undertone made his translation. Thus simultaneously the English, the Armenian, the Arabic, and the Russian Christian, heard in his own tongue the message of God. It was a unique experience for Mr. McClure; and when his age is considered, and his partial deafness, it will be appreciated that he labored under a great disadvantage. Yet it was remarkable how he overcame this and adapted himself to the new circumstances, so that his addresses retained their characteristic orderliness, clarity of expression, and spiritual vigor.
When we were at Haifa Mr. McClure expressed a desire to visit Galilee, which we accordingly did by car after the Conference there had concluded. This was one of our most interesting trips. It led us through Nazareth, where our Saviour was “brought up,” Cana, where “the modest water saw its God and blushed,” Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene and as far as the ruins of Capernaum, “His own city.”
The Sea of Galilee, nestling in the bosom of the surrounding hills, its sparkling water reflecting the azure of heaven, is one of nature’s most beautiful sights. When, as the tourist travels along the Tiberias road from Nazareth, it first suddenly bursts upon his view, a thousand feet below, it presents a charming picture, and one that makes an ineffaceable imprint upon his heart.
With mingled feelings of wonder and joy Mr. McClure walked along the shores of Gennesaret, sailed upon the tranquil waters of the Lake, and heard the Arab boys sing, in the best English they could muster,
“O Galilee, sweet Galilee,
Where Jesus loved so much to be.”
Having spent almost two months in the Bible Lands, we joined the “Llandonery Castle” at Port Said on May 2, our port of destination now being Beira, in Portuguese East Africa. During this voyage Mr. McClure suffered much from bodily weakness, caused probably by the intense equatorial heat through which we passed. We landed at Beira on May 21 and next day arrived by train in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia where our friends, Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Bothwell, extended to us a hearty welcome.
Mr. McClure needed no introduction to the assemblies in South Africa. It was not long, therefore, before the old warrior was again in active service. For three weeks he conducted a series of meetings on prophetic subjects in Salisbury. Then for a time he carried on Bible Readings, and ministered the Word on many Assembly platforms, in and around Johannesburg.
Mr. McClure always evinced a great care for younger servants of Christ, especially those who had left the beaten track to labor on virgin soil. It was not surprising, therefore, that when, early in 1936, he decided to return to America, he should arrange to travel by the circuitous route of China and Japan, in order to visit isolated brethren serving the Lord in those lands. It seemed, however, a hazardous undertaking for one so aged and infirm as he, particularly since it meant traveling unaccompanied, but no remonstrance was of any avail. He was a strong believer in the maxim of Whitefield, who said, “We are immortal till our work is done.” In this confidence he again set forth, followed by the prayers of many who owed him much, and God honored His beloved servant by enabling him to accomplish that which had long been upon his heart.
Mr. McClure’s Itinerary
Port Said, Egypt, March 8th, 1935
Beloved Brother in the Lord:
We arrived here yesterday after a good voyage, and both brother Bunting and I were kept in the best of health. When we anchored in the harbor, the water just swarmed with red turbaned men skimming about in small boats, making a clamor in their native tongue. I need not tell you that we felt a bit strange. Here we were, sent by no one (save God) and sent for by no one. How were we to get through this babel, and the excessive red tape connected with custom and entry into the country, the exchange of money and so forth? Well, God had seen to all that. A Christian Greek, who because of the difficulty of his name, we call, “Brother John,” sought us out on the deck telling us that Mr. Clapham had asked him to meet us. From that moment we had no concern, as to language, difference of money, getting our baggage through the customs, and finding a place for the night. The Custom’s officer who examined our baggage, was also a Christian Greek, and he used his authority as to examination. Then our other Greek friend had them carted off to this place where we stay.
There is no assembly in Port Said, but there are a few nice Christians, mostly Greeks, and “John” told us that he had announced a meeting for that night. We went—there was a dozen present; they sang in Greek. Brother B—— went first, speaking a few sentences, which our brother, the Custom’s officer, interpreted. I followed and spoke on Nicodemus. It was a very happy time; bad as the ship company was, this repaid us. Leaving they shook hands again and again, wishing we could stay a few days. A letter from a brother in Cairo asked us to stay with him there as long as we wish. “He is faithful.”
“So I wandered on not knowing,
And I would not if I might,
I’d rather walk in the dark with God,
Than go alone in the light.
I’d rather walk with Him by faith,
Than go alone by sight.”
After the Easter meetings in Jerusalem, we’ll resume our journey to Southern Rhodesia, via the Red Sea and Persian Gulf to Indian Ocean, on to Beira.
Pray for us, and ask prayer, for we need it, at past seventy-seven as in my case. But I feel as if there are a few more years of service ahead of me. But whether or not, it is my desire that Christ be magnified.
Haifa, Palestine, April 13, 1935
We have been over a month in this part of the world, two weeks of which were spent m Egypt. Most of that time in Cairo. There are two meetings close together there, one in Cairo proper, and the other in Heliopolis, a new suburb about seven miles out. It is the smaller and they speak Arabic, while in Cairo they speak Turkish. Between the two we had meetings every night and four on Sundays. We went to Jaffa (Joppa) while there and had three or four days with the little meeting there. We visited the house of Simon the Tanner, and went on the roof. In, every place the evidence of the Jew’s awakening is too plain not to be seen. Great things I am persuaded are in the near future. Adjoining Jaffa is Tel Aviv, the youngest and largest Jewish city in the world. If one were dropped into it, he would think that he was in an American city because of its broad streets, up-to-date motor coach service, apartment buildings, stores which would do credit to Los Angeles. All names, posters, signs, etc., are in Hebrew. Jaffa is old and ramshackle, as so often noticed in the old cities here. I could give you a very amusing contrast to Tel Aviv. We went on a Sabbath to see the Jew’s wailing place on the wall in Jerusalem. We had to go along King David street for six or seven blocks. We measured the width, it was 14 feet. The throng was so dense, that all the way we had to elbow through. There were stores on each side of the street with their wares lying out on the sidewalk—butchers, bakers, clothiers and all sorts jumbled together. Yet pushing stolidly through the mass comes a donkey with a big load on its back, and again, a man with a whole sheep across his shoulders, but, it was only the skin of the sheep, he was a water carrier. I must confess it was a comical preparation for the wailing place. When we got there we found it crowded, and all who could, were close to the wall, their faces up against it. They and the crowd were reading, in a sing-song way, out of the law. Once in a while, some voice was heard above the rest, and then the response was so like the sound of the crowd cheering at a game, that I really would not be able to distinguish between the two. No doubt in the case of some there is real sorrow, but nothing to what is before them.
Another suggestive thing struck us. We went to the Jordan and the Dead Sea, I dipped my hand in the sea and just licked it; my, I thought I would never be able to get rid of the taste! You know what sea-water is. Well, in the Atlantic there is only three and one-half per cent of salt, while in the Dead Sea there is twenty-five per cent. For thousands of years the Jordan has been pouring six million tons of water daily into it, with no known outlet. The water evaporates, and the solids remain, so that in the Dead Sea the Jews have a mine of wealth far beyond that of all the mines of the Transvaal. A very small beginning has been made to recover these salts; a company is working 350 men at it now.
Two places stand out in our memories which we visited in Jerusalem. First, the Garden Tomb where we went in and sat on one of the seats upon which the angels sat. I judge it is a little altered since the Lord lay in it. The door is larger, as I had no trouble going in.
The other place to which I refer is the Dungeon under Jerusalem. I shall never again read Jeremiah 38:7-13 and Lamentations 3:55 without my mind calling up that Dungeon in Jerusalem. The room on a level with the street was not at all bad, as such places go. In the center of the floor we saw a hole large enough to admit a man’s body. We were each given lighted tapers and then guided down a very narrow stone stairway, to a room hewn out of solid rock, with not a single thing in for human comfort or convenience, In the roof we saw the hole we saw above. Down to a second room and down again to a third, but they were all alike. We blew out our tapers to realize the darkness. It was awful, and we felt that the mind of the poor prisoner would soon crack when shut up down there. His only chance of escape, if he ever did escape, was up by that hole. We could better understand the R. V. of Lamentations 3:55. And also why Ebed Meleck took the “old cast clouts and rotten rags,” as it was a long pull for Jeremiah, from the lowest dungeon, and the rope would have cut into his flesh. We did not come sight seeing, but we take advantage of these places now that we are here.
The most conspicuous thing at present on the Mount of Olives is a great palace built by the German Emperor for himself. He intended to have some “say” as to what was done around there, but it is rather significant that its great high tower was cracked by an earthquake and has now to be held together to keep it from falling. When Christ rode into Jerusalem, He entered by one of the gates, but to admit the Kaiser, part of the wall had to be broken down. Alas, human greatness is something like the tower of this palace; it won’t last.
We leave today for Joppa, where we shall spend a little while with the small gathering there. With a few more places, we shall find our time taken up till May 1 when we take the “Llandonery Castle,” for Beira on our way to Rhodesia. We will be quite glad of the almost three weeks when we shall be on the water. While we are both well, we sometimes feel a bit tired.
Haifa, Galilee, Palestine, April 22, 1935
Our Haifa conference of 1935 has just closed with a very precious forenoon meeting. During the past 50 years I have attended many conferences in different parts, but I am free to confess none just like the one which closed here today. At such meetings I have seen many nationalities in the U.S.A., but that country is known as “the melting pot,” and the different people soon get a smattering of English, which enables them to follow the speakers. Here it is different. We had at least five languages represented, Arabic, Armenian, Russian, German, and English. Only some of these knew any English, and for the others it must be interpreted into their own tongue. We have seen an interpreter on each side of the speaker, an Arab on one side and an Armenian on the other. As a rule in the conference, to save time, just an Arab interpreter was used, as the majority were Arabs. But in order that the others might get what was said they sat in groups, and someone in a quiet tone repeated in their language what was said. This did not cause the slightest confusion. Ordinarily to see one whispering would annoy the speaker, not so in this case. We saw a German, who knew no English, sitting where no one was near to translate for him, and we did not feel easy till we found someone to do that.
The Believers’ Hymn Book is in general use in Egypt and Palestine, and the greater number of hymns were from it. The number of the hymn in the other books would be given, and as in most cases the melody was the same, one would hardly notice that different languages were being used. Some might possibly regard this as discord, we thought it heavenly harmony. The assembly in Haifa is a very orderly assembly.
The Russian group on one or two occasions during the conference sang an hymn in Russian, led by a Russian ex-professor (Prof. Martzinkovski), who has suffered much for Christ in Russian prisons. One piece they sang was to me very touching—there was a plaintiveness about it, suggestive of suffering.
I have been surprised at the wonderful progress this land has made in a very short time. For instance, in Haifa, in backward Galilee, the port, which a little while ago was nothing better than a place for fishing boats, can now accommodate a 52,000 ton liner. We have seen the most up-to-date steamers going and coming since we have been here. The building exceeds anything we have seen elsewhere for years. Jewish towns are springing up in a few months all over, which is doubtless a fulfillment of Jeremiah 16:16; God taking this way of bringing the Jews back to Palestine, where He will deal with them in a soon coming day.
But of all the wonderful things we have seen since we came to this land, we regard as still more wonderful the spectacle which we witnessed here—150 dear souls gathered to our Lord Jesus Christ, and sitting under the Word of God for three days, with evident enjoyment.
There are many, little known but earnest workers in these parts, but under God the men principally responsible for the increase are Clapham, Cooper, Knowles, and Aboud. Palestine does not owe much to the tourist preachers, but these dear brethren and others are put ting their lives into the work and enduring hardship, which all pioneers must do.
Beirut, Syria, April 27, 1935
We left Haifa Wednesday morning. After five hours in a bus, along the Mediterranean, never more than a pistol shot from it, we got to Beirut, a city of about 300,000. It is under the French, and you would imagine by the signs, the police, etc., that you were in Paris. It is situated in the midst of orange and olive groves, and all fruit is plentiful, but it must be very hot in summer, judging by the present, which is hot enough for comfort.
28th. Yesterday Brother Bunting baptized two men and six women in the sea. No doubt others will follow, and a good sized testimony will be seen in Beirut, if the Lord tarries.
We leave Port Said, May 1st, by the “Llandonery Castle” for East Africa. We will value prayer that the Lord may be pleased to bless His Word through us in South Africa, to saints and sinners.
Salisbury, So. Rhodesia, June 3, 1935
I do not think we shall ever regret the time spent in Egypt, Palestine and Syria, as some things became much more real to us there, which may prove helpful to us in our service. Of the three countries and of all the places we visited in each, Palestine and Jerusalem, as you would expect, were the most interesting, even though to us saddening, as we thought of its palmy days, when David and Solomon were on the throne, and of its future glory, when our Lord Jesus will reign as the Messiah.
The Jews are there in increasing numbers, but they do not control things, and the reminders of this fact are many. The outstanding reminder is the Mosque of Omar standing on Mount Moriah, where the temple once stood, and from its tower we have heard the “faithful” (Moslems) called to prayer, and have seen the Arab drop his work and prostrate himself on the earth, touching it with his forehead several times. We could not but think how many believers are ashamed to bow their heads and give thanks for their food in a hotel or restaurant, and yet these poor creatures were quite indifferent to our looking on at their devotions.
The assembly in Beirut is very young and small, and nearly all are Armenians, of whom there are about 60,000 in that city. There is some ear for the Gospel among these people, more than among the other races, and the conference was really an attempt to get among them. I look to hear a good work done in Beirut. It is a key place; from there other places can be reached.
We thank God for being permitted to visit the land in which the Son of God lived and loved and died, and from which He went up to the glory. But we have no desire to visit it again, till that blessed day when “His feet shall stand upon the mount of Olives.” It will be our joy and glory to stand with Him then.
Transvaal, So. Africa, July 9, 1935
I am thankful that I feel fit for meetings, and they are anxious here that I should take a series of Sunday and Wednesday night meetings, to which I am inclined to agree. The reason I do not have nightly meetings is that the evenings are too cool to expect people to come every night as there are no means of heating the Halls. Sunday night the women sat wrapped in furs and it is real suffering to sit through a night meeting. I am told that the same is true in regard to the big churches with just a sprinkling of people, or here and there.
On my last visit, in a Sunday night meeting in Ca Town five young men professed. It was such an unusual haul of fish that I was afraid to speak about it, but I have heard several times since of how well they have gone on, so that I feel more thankful now than I did at the time.
Transvaal, S. A., August, 1935
You see I am still in this big ungodly city, where all that is of God, has a hard time to exist, for godliness here is like a tropical plant, which one might seek to raise in a frigid country. The illustration is not in the least extreme.
In the thirty years which I have passed since my first visit, most of the meetings have become smaller, and in some cases have ceased. As I see the need in connection with these little meetings, I regret that I am almost seventy-eight. I am quite satisfied that work put in among them would be owned of God in freshening up believers.
This month here is like our March, and we have had the coldest spell in ten years. We have been without water some mornings, and when the native servant has gone to the neighbors to get some, he has found that they were in the same fix as ourselves, the pipes all frozen up. In addition to its being unusually cold, Johannesburg is six thousand feet above sea level. I believe I can truthfully say, I have felt the cold here as much as in Canada or in the eastern States, and for the reason that ample provision is made there against the cold, but it is not so here, for as the days as a rule are bright and sunny, they don’t want to admit that they need fires. And none of the Halls have any heating arrangement, and for this reason people do not care to come and sit through a meeting. Owing to the cold and the prevalence of the flu, I have not tried nightly meetings, but have taken the Sunday and Wednesday meetings through August in Jeppestown, the second largest meeting in Johannesburg. The average attendance at the Wednesday evening meeting was about a dozen, but now we get fifty, and the Sunday meeting has also much increased.
A little company in a place called Benoni, about twenty-five miles out, wants me to occupy Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays during September. I have consented, and will put up the chart of the Seven Feasts of Jehovah. It is just as well for me to leave some nights out, and if I feel like it, I can put in odd meetings. No need to be idle.
I feel now that it was hardly the best thing for me to have left Africa three years ago. At that time one felt the pull of the fellowship of the believers in the United States and Canada, and the barrenness of Africa, but this does not quite satisfy my mind. The greater need is what should have appealed to me, for nothing can help conditions here but the patient ministry of the Word.
This is my third visit. One of them was a very extended one, and I have never been left without all my needs being supplied. I have traveled in the country many hundreds of miles, and, as one once put it, been treated like an angel, who having wings does not need money for transportation. Very likely we were regarded as gentlemen touring the country, but though this seemed to be the attitude of the meetings, we were not allowed to suffer, and we could act as if we were independent gentlemen. Many and many a time I thank God for the privilege I had fifty years ago of being associated with dear Donald Ross, James Campbell and Donald Munro and others, men who as to money were souls of honor, scorning the making of a poor mouth, grateful to believers for their fellowship, but above trying to cultivate it to their own advantage. Wherever we may be, God is there. “Say not my soul, ‘From whence can God relieve thy care?’ Remember that Omnipotence hath servants everywhere.”
Because of a recurrence of my dizzy spells, I consulted a specialist here who gave me a very thorough examination. Like some doctors in the United States he told me that my vital organs were in fine condition and informed me that I was good for ten or fifteen years yet. I said that if he had said months, not years, I would have been more elated, for, after fifty years as a traveling preacher, having no certain dwelling place, at almost seventy-eight, and having never felt free to make any provision for old age, you cannot wonder at my not being elated at the prospect of fifteen years more. But I think I can truthfully say “The will of the Lord be done.” It is now three weeks since I had any attacks of dizziness, and I can now read and write without any discomfort such as I used to have. You may be sure I am glad and thankful, and I trust that I have at last got rid of these unpleasant symptoms.
S. S. Roggeveen enroute to Shanghai Feb. 8, 1936
I think some of my friends will say, when they see where I am now bound for, that my lust for travel is sadly out of control. Well at seventy-eight I am more than satisfied with seeing places. And though the route I am now taking is one of the most scenic to be found anywhere — through the Netherlands Indies, among coral islands, etc., yet, if I could, I would have them pass all these up, and give me a little longer with the brethren I wish to visit.
I expect to go to Shangai (D.V.) and from there to Peiping to meet Donald Hunter (son of his esteemed fellowlaborer, W. H. Hunter). Then back again to Shanghai to get a boat for Yokohama to see R. J. Wright, after which it is my desire to cross to Honolulu and visit some who were in the meeting in Oakland. This may look very pleasing, but jogging in and out, back and forth, with a lot of baggage is labor. These young brethren are anxious that I visit them on my way back to the States. To visit them from Europe or the U.S.A. would be next to-impossible, but a little expense more enables me to do so in this way.
At the last I was sorry to leave South Africa, and many of the believers were, I believe, sorry also. My last meetings in the different places were well attended.
Just a little about a very poor subject, myself. I am sure that this trip will be good for regathering energy. I have a large room, with lots of ventilation, and though just now in the hot zone, we have every comfort that can be had. It is a Netherlands ship, belonging to the Netherlands Indies, adapted to the hot weather. As to diet, my three meals are pretty much the same—brown toast, beef tea and chocolate. This agrees with me, and I feel better than I have felt for more than a year. I never have any dizzy spells and hardly know what stomach trouble is any more. For some time before I left Africa I felt fit for the meetings, as I do now.
We have a small passenger list. I have spoken to some of them, to the captain, and some other of the officers, but got no response from any of them. They are very kind and considerate, which. I wonder at, as I do not mingle in any of their pastimes or games.
Peiping, China, March 13, 1936
Having got to the end of my outward journey, I will send you a line before I start my eastward journey to California via Yokohama and Honolulu.
We left Durban on the Roggeveen, a Netherland-Indian ship on January 31, getting to Shanghai March 9th. For four weeks the sea was as smooth as glass, and the heat was tropical, so that at night I could not bear even a cotton sheet over me in bed. But the last week it turned very cold, so that I was compelled to have three blankets over me, and that was not too much.
I sought to get conversations with the captain and others of the officers and passengers, but did not discover any ear for the gospel. I need not tell you that this was very discouraging to me. I am thankful that I had grace to walk apart from them, but I feel that that is a negative thing; I won no triumphs for Christ.
An American M.D. and his wife joined our vessel on the way. I felt somewhat drawn to them, and as soon as convenient I spoke to him. I asked if I was a Christian? You can imagine my disappointment when he told me that he was a Pantheist. Any talk with him was fruitless! “In the beginning God create the heaven and the earth.” This only excited his contempt. He was full of Evolution, and by a diagram he outlined for me the various stages in man’s development from the one-cell beginning up till what we see now. There was no room in his teaching for man as a moral and spiritual being, which is the great distinction of man over the nearest approach to him of the animal creation. We see in the grand, majestic account God has given us in Genesis of His work in creation how He prepared the earth interminable ages before man, and then when He had the kingdom ready, He brought man upon the scene, to be its head and lord. And man was perfectly fit for that exalted position; mentally and physically he was like one in his prime. How dignified and God-like that is, as compared with the nonsense called Evolution.
Brother Hunter is my host here; he has a little place of his own and I live with him. Two nights ago I took a Chinese meeting, and a very intelligent Chinese brother interpreted. If Donald had known the language he would have suited me better, as he knows my habits of thought and expression. But we got on nicely, and at the close this man announced that I would speak again Sunday afternoon. Donald and I were the only ones who were not Chinese and there must have been all of two hundred present.
On Tuesday, the 17th I start for Japan through Korea via Mukden to Kobe, my time will not allow me to go by sea, and at that I shall only have a week with the Christians in Kobe and Yokohama. From Yokohama I get the Japanese boat, Chichibu Maru for Honolulu, where I shall break my trip to visit some believers who used to live in Oakland, and then resume my journey to California by a Matson Liner.
Monday, March 16
We shall not soon forget yesterday, our only Lord’s day in China. As we looked forward to the day it caused us to wait a good deal on God, and that more especially in regard to remembering the Lord, and now it is to that meeting we look back most thankfully. Eleven in all were gathered together. I trust that it will result in a desire to have this meeting every Lord’s day. With most, work seems more important than worship; you would think that they grudged the time given to the Lord Himself.
At 10:30 we had a Chinese meeting! the brother who interpreted conducts it every Lord’s day. He is very loath to ask the missionaries to take it, as so many tend towards Modernism, to which he is opposed. We had about 400 present, about 100 sitting out in the court in the open air. It was somewhat cool, but none of them moved. That was the second time this brother acted as interpreter for me, and his help was very fine. His grasp of the truth helps him in the interpretation. One bright young woman came up to me at the close to tell me that she had trusted Christ during the meeting. Of course I could not say a great deal, but she certainly looked happy. They are not so Gospel hardened as in the homelands.
At 3:00 o’clock we had another meeting for Chinese in another part of the city. The interpreter was a school teacher, not so quick to grasp my thought as the other, but the folk seemed to enjoy it.
Our next meeting was at 5:00 o’clock. It was in English, and a great relief it was to be able to go right ahead without waiting for interpretation. The meeting was held in the home of the Chancellor of the Netherlands Legation, in two large rooms which once belonged to the Australian Legation.
Peiping is a large city with a population between 900,000 and 1,000,000. If all the missionaries were preaching the Gospel in the power of the Spirit, they would be but a drop in the bucket, but many are dealing out the theories of Modernism. Our host told me after the meeting, that there were forty missionaries present. Forty missionaries and twelve nationalities. You do not often meet that combination. Without having made any purpose beforehand, my subject was calculated to deliver from Modernism.
God willing, I leave tomorrow for Kobe, likely brother Donald Hunter will go as far as Mukden with me, and then come back. I appreciate the company of a brother who knows something of the language and ways of the country, and the more so as I am coming closer to the eightieth milestone.
Yokohama, Japan, March 25, 1936
I arrived here Sunday morning after a journey of four nights and days through China, Korea and Japan. Lack of time led me to travel that way. I could not get away from Africa sooner, or I would have used the water route, which is, at least to me, the more comfortable way, but I am thankful that my health has not suffered, for although I have been through such different climates I am real well.
Saturday night I begin a series of seven Lectures on Genesis Chapter 1 in Tokio. There is a little Japanese meeting in Tokio. We hope to be of some help to the assembly and possibly get in some outsiders. We shall have the opportunity of bringing out the truth of the New Birth and other foundation things, as well as combating errors that are very rife.
On the 9th of April we hope to sail on the Chichibu Maru for Honolulu, and we have arranged to break our journey there for about one week and continue on the President Lincoln to San Francisco.
I shall be glad to get back to California, after so much wandering, though I may not be long there. It seems I am bound to keep going. When I look at my “Baptism Lines,” which I must shew to folk who are concerned in letting me in or keeping me out of the U.S.A., I almost feel that 1857 must be a mistake, but please do not suggest that I am an old man.