Early Enthusiasm Chapter 5

On the first Sunday after leaving his job Mr. Gilbert visited a small group of Christians in Lowell, Indiana. He told them he had given up his employment and felt called to preach. An older brother said, “Come on down to my town. It is the most needy place in Indiana.” Wheatfield was the town. For two weeks he prayed about going. Then he heard that the Christians in Lowell were praying for his coming meetings in Wheatfield. He thought, “Why am I so stupid asking the Lord to open a door? Here He has opened one. These folks at Lowell have more faith than I have.”

On September 23, 1917, Mr. Gilbert went to Wheatfield, a town of about 800 people. He rented an old, dilapidated, opera house. Then he began knocking on doors and inviting people to come. It was slow work. For two weeks not over eleven attended. One night only three came, hardly a crowd to encourage a budding evangelist.

He discovered people were afraid of the old opera house he had rented. After Mr. Gilbert found a store room to rent attendance picked up. One night forty women and eleven men came. The women said, “We haven’t seen so many men in church in this town in years.” Fifteen of these women professed to receive Christ as their Savior.

After Mr. Gilbert had spent three months there some wished to be baptized. His uncle James Geddis from Chicago came and they baptized seven in a local creek. Husbands of two women who were baptized were furious and threatened his life. This plain Gospel preaching was more than some could take.

He was learning valuable lessons during these early days. As he was visiting homes people often asked him, “What is the name of your church?” He would reply, “I have come in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe all true Christians belong to His Church.” There were times when he wondered if he took some name whether his crowds would be larger. But he could have no peace about this. He prayed, “Lord Jesus, the world did not know you when you were here. If I take your name I need not expect them to know me. The Word says, ‘Whatsoever you do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Col. 3:17).” From that time on Mr. Gilbert refused all names or nick-names. Christ’s name was the only name he would bear.

Because he had no denominational name he feared that people might call his converts a “Gilbert Church.” As he read 1 Corinthians 1:13-15, he was impressed with Paul’s example of not baptizing converts. Paul apparently encouraged others to do this. Mr. Gilbert resolved to do the same and only baptized if no one else was available. He wanted no one to be called a “Gilbert convert” and no churches to be called “Gilbert churches.” His desire was for men’s loyalty to center in Christ (Matt. 18:20).

In January, 1918, he was invited to hold meetings in Sterling, Illinois, 110 miles west of Chicago. For two weeks he had Bible classes in homes and then rented a vacant store. A local undertaker rented him 144 chairs and Gilbert started meetings. For six weeks he had a Bible class every day and a meeting every night. A number were saved at these meetings. A Christian invited Mr. Gilbert to stay in his home rather than at the local hotel. At the end of the meetings he said, “Brother Gilbert, I notice you took no offerings. I was wondering if all of the needs were met.” He was glad to tell him that the Lord had sent in $187.00, and his expenses had been $186.00. He still had the money with which he had arrived, plus a check just received for $15.00. The Lord again had proved Himself faithful to His servant.

After four months of constant preaching, visiting, praying and study he was completely exhausted. He went home to Chicago to recuperate.

He had to learn to care for his body. The whole world’s salvation did not depend on him. While in Chicago he took over a Mission at 37th and Halsted Streets that was closing. James Humphrey and his brother James Gilbert helped in this work. Some accepted Christ and came into the local assembly. After a few months he left the mission work in the hands of these men and returned to Indiana.

While preaching at Bass Lake he was asked to speak at a Sunday School rally in Ora, four miles away. He shared the platform with three pastors from the area. Mr. Gilbert spoke on the necessity for those who teach Sunday School to be saved themselves. He stressed the fact that a person can know he is right with God. This shook the community. All began talking about this fearless, young preacher from Chicago.

A Christian family named McCannon from Chicago had moved to a farm two miles from Ora. Mr. Gilbert had known them previously. They urged him to come, stay with them and have meetings in Ora. He went there in 1918 and also in 1919. During the summer of 1919 two women, Mrs. Ar-nott and Mrs. White got permission for him to have meetings in a vacant Methodist Church at Bass Lake. This became a starting point for more intensive Gospel work in 1921. His contacts were increasing and people were gaining confidence in him. His name was to become a household word in Starke County.

Early in 1919 Mr. Gilbert felt a need for a car to use in his work. He resolved to tell no one about his desire but to pray. Within a few months he had received $700.00, and was able to buy a Model T Ford. God was able to supply his needs without solicitation. This was tremendous encouragement to young faith.

Later he was on his way from Indiana to Chicago and had 85 miles to go. He was broke and his gas tank was almost empty. As he left he prayed, “Lord, I always keep my word and I know you keep yours. I am starting out, trusting you to meet my needs.” On the road his radiator started to boil. Fortunately he was near a home where a Christian lady that he knew lived. He pulled over and she gladly gave him a kettle of water for his car. As he left she slipped five dollars into his hand saying, “Here is something from the Lord.” Praise God! Now he could buy gas.

Two months after getting the car he was preaching in Chicago. When he came out after the meeting he was shocked to see the car gone. It had been stolen. Although he notified the police the car was never recovered. It was a great loss, but he tried to have the spirit of Job. “The Lord gave; the Lord has taken away.” Without the car it was a little difficult for him to get around in Indiana.

The Lord opened doors in Missouri during 1920. He was invited to speak at the New Year’s Conference in St. Louis. Following this, the brethren there asked him to come for three months of Gospel meetings with Harold Harper. They were to be a month in each assembly. Not long before Harold Harper had said, “I hope we can work together some time.” For three months the two worked and prayed together in happy fellowship. The Lord gave rich blessing.

After these were concluded a Christian in St. Louis said he would buy a tent if they would stay on for meetings. Harold Harper had other commitments but Mr. Gilbert remained. The tent was pitched on both the north and south sides of town. Again there was spiritual blessing.

During these meetings a man named John Wallace kept urging Mr. Gilbert to go to southeastern Missouri for meetings. He had been born there and had a real concern for the area. Because of his faith and concern Mr. Gilbert decided to go to Zalma.

Upon arriving he found a small hotel where he could get room and board. He walked around the town, praying, asking God to show him where to have meetings. He found a closed Baptist Church and located the custodian, a retired preacher. When he enquired about getting the use of the building, he was asked, “Do you believe in eternal security?” Mr. Gilbert replied, “I not only believe in it; I preach it.” Upon hearing this the custodian gave permission to use the building. He voluntarily paid for its use.

The next few days were spent in cleaning the building and in visiting around the town. The church was dirty and dusty from disuse. Mr. Gilbert rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Then he began telling people of the meetings. A Baptist brother brought lamps from his store for light. Mrs. Charles Bollinger said she knew the Lord and volunteered to play the organ. Attendance was good; people seemed hungry to hear the Gospel. Some accepted the Lord. After Mr. Gilbert left, Arthur Rodgers of Omaha, Nebraska, came for follow-up meetings and strengthened the group.

In 1921 Mr. Gilbert returned to Zalma for four weeks of meetings. Mrs. Bollinger arranged for him to stay at her home. One morning as he came down stairs she met him with tears streaming down her face. “Did you hear me singing ‘Jesus Paid It All’ as I was ironing? I never really believed it before but now I know that I am saved.” The assurance of God’s love and salvation filled her heart.

Mrs. Bollinger and her daughter Minna Gene later moved to Springfield, Missouri, where they had a rest home and were fervent witnesses. At a later date a larger building was purchased at Marble Hill, Missouri, and the rest home was moved there. This work functions today as El Nathan Home, a continuation of the work begun by Mrs. Abigail Luffe in Buffalo, New York. The work of El Nathan was merged with Marble Hill in 1954, a faith work of caring for the aged and infirm. On June 19, 1971, the fiftieth anniversary of the home was celebrated with the opening of a large new addition. Mr. Gilbert spoke on this occasion. An assembly has also been started in the area. There is still lasting fruit from his work in southern Missouri.