In June, 1934, the Gilberts left Chicago by train, accompanied by Mrs. Gilbert’s doctor brother and a nurse. As the hot miles sped by his heart was often heavy. What would the future hold as far as the Lord’s work was concerned? How would the churches he had helped start in Indiana go on? His heart reached out to them as their shepherd. He could only ask God to cause the elders who were left behind to be faithful in their work. And what about his wife? Would she be well again? “Oh, God, heal her!”
The desert around Tucson was hot and parched when they arrived. Summer rains had not begun yet and the heat was building up. It was hardly the time of year to move to Tucson. Mr. Gilbert hurriedly rented an apartment two blocks from the sanitarium where his wife was to stay. They received a warm welcome; it was 107°!
The Gilberts did not know anyone in Tucson. On Sunday he attended a denominational church where he heard the Gospel preached. The pastor visited him on Monday and asked him to which church he belonged. He replied,”I just gather with Christians who meet in the Name of the Lord Jesus.” The pastor had lived in Kansas City and knew C. J. Baker, the designer of the “Two Roads Chart.” Since Mr. Gilbert knew him too, there was a point of contact. Two days later the teacher of the men’s Bible class visited him, having heard about him from the pastor, and asked him to take the class for a Sunday since he had a sore throat. Mr. Gilbert was so well liked he was asked to take this permanently.
Mr. Gilbert was never one to sit around idle. In a short time he had a radio program on week day mornings. It had a special outreach to the many sickly people in the Tucson area. Hundreds had moved to Tucson for their health and this program brought God’s Word into their homes. Many were saved in this way. Mr. Gilbert was soon busy following up contacts he had through this program. Then an opportunity opened to preach the Gospel at a government prison camp some eight miles from town on Sunday mornings at 8:30. This would be followed by the Men’s Bible Class at 10:00. In the afternoon or evening he would have a short breaking of bread meeting in his home.
Later in 1934 his wife was released from the sanitarium and the family was united again. It was a time of rejoicing for all of them. Mr. Gilbert had rented a larger, furnished house. They needed a girl to help with house work since Elma was still a bed patient. He remembered Martha Bailey, a Christian girl who had stayed with them in Knox while she was going to high school. Would she come to help them? She had been working in Chicago, but wrote back immediately, “I believe God would have me come to Arizona.” Martha was surely God’s provision for their need. She was a capable cook and housekeeper and the family all loved her. Now he could feel free to travel if need be.
In 1935 Mr. Gilbert rented a school building for meetings and some were saved at this time. As a result of these meetings a Bible class was started in a home. That same year he also bought another and larger tent (60’ x 100’). This was used for two seasons in Tucson. In 1936 James Spink came to help for two weeks during the tent meetings. Souls were coming to the Lord as a result of all this activity and Gilbert started other Bible classes. By now he had four each week and was a very busy man.
During 1935 he did some of his first writing. A tract entitled “The Way of Salvation” was published. Actually it was a copy of a letter written some years before to a woman in Canada. Over 300,000 of this tract have been printed through the years. He also wrote a tract entitled “No Detours to Heaven” which has gone through many printings and been much used. He was asked to edit the Home Worker’s page in “Light and Liberty,” a very helpful, Christian magazine published by Lloyd Walterick. On this page he constantly tried to communicate his vision and concern to see new assemblies begun in North America.
While in Arizona, Mr. Gilbert became interested in the Indian work. He first visited the James Andersons, who were working among the Walapai Indians at Peach Springs. He also visited the George Baxters at Kingman. Then he spent time with Minnie Armerding, who worked among the Navajos at Winslow. A later trip was made to Immanuel Mission near Teec Nos Pos over miles of very primitive, rough roads through the Navajo reservation. He sought to arouse concern for Indian work through his page in “Light and Liberty.”
During this time Mr. Gilbert also found time to visit El Paso for meetings, having a three week series at one time. A Dr. King had moved there for his health and was attempting to start an assembly in his home. The group was small, mostly made up of godly women. But that small beginning continued to grow and developed into a New Testament assembly.
Because of the many contacts made through the radio, Bible classes and tent meetings Mr. Gilbert deemed it wise to find a central location for Sunday meetings. The DeMolay Hall was rented for Sundays in 1936. A Sunday School was started and also an evening preaching service. The hall floor was often slick from the Saturday night dance. It was great fun for the boys to skate across until called down by one of the men. The first men to arrive would set up the chairs. The work was growing both numerically and spiritually.
The Gilberts were much encouraged. Elma was able to be up more and more. They were able to make a trip to Houston to attend a conference and to commemorate her father’s birthday. Soon she was able to stay up ten hours a day and their hearts were filled with thankfulness to God.
Late in 1936 Brucie, who was now seven, came home from school and said, “Mother, tell me how to be saved.” His mother lovingly told him that we are all sinners and deserve God’s judgment. But God loves sinners and sent His Son to die on the cross that we might be saved. He paid the penalty for our sin and God will now save us if we trust Him and accept Him. After she had talked to him and showed him verses from the Bible Brucie said, “I do trust Him and will receive Him into my heart.” Both of them rejoiced over his simple faith. Now Brucie knew he was saved.
A few months later Brucie returned home from a day at school with a slight fever. It was higher the next day and became progressively worse. His father anxiously took him to a doctor and extensive tests were made. When Mr. Gilbert was ushered into his office, the doctor said with a heavy voice, “I am sorry to tell you this, but your son has a fatal kind of meningitis. He will probably be gone in three weeks.” Gone, dead, in three weeks? Mr. Gilbert walked woodenly out of the office, his mind reeling with what he had heard. His son, his only son, to die? Oh, God, is this the way you treat a man who has given his all to you?
Elma had been taking more bed rest because a shadow had appeared on her good lung and doctors were concerned. But now her mother’s heart drove her to her feet. Her son was sick, terribly sick, torn by fever, crying out for love. She stood by his bed hour after hour, patting him, assuring him of her love and crying out to God. Oh, God, you can’t let him die! Her heart was breaking within her. Why must he suffer? What had he done? His body burning with fever was hot beneath her touch. Bitterness filled her heart. They had given all to the Lord; they were serving Him with all their might. Why, Lord? Why? Why am I sick and why is my son dying?
After a week of such torment one day as she stood there, patting his feverish body, she remembered. Back in Indiana when Brucie was a baby they had just concluded their morning devotions when the Lord spoke to them about giving their son to Him. They both knelt and prayed, “Oh, Father, you have given us this child. We want to give him back to you. We ask that he may be saved and live to your glory.” The memory of that morning stilled her heart. “Oh, God, you have saved him and we have given him to you. If you want to take him home, may your will be done.” The peace of God filled her heart and she was ready to face her loss. God’s will be done…
On March 28, 1937, Brucie died and his feverish body quit its tossing and became quiet. Hearts were broken and heavy but God did give a sense of peace. Elma attended the funeral of her son and the Lord gave tremendous rest of heart. It was only when she returned home that the tears flowed. A neighbor was heard to say, “If this is Christianity, I wish I had it.” The next day she seemed composed as she said good-bye to her father and other relatives. The Lord had given her peace.
The strain and shock had been hard on Elma. She had pushed herself to stay with her son. Her mother’s heart would not allow her to stay in bed. Now she must rest. Her whole being was limp with exhaustion. But the strain had been too much and rest could not undo the damage. She rapidly lost strength and they knew she was going to die.
A week before she died she called her husband and said, “I have always heard that God gives living grace to live and dying grace to die. He has proved this to me. It is wonderful to die. Brucie has gone and I am going too.” With tears running down his face Gilbert asked, “Is the Lord with you?” She replied, “Oh, yes! I am trusting Him as I have never trusted Him before.” Then she quoted the hymn, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Lord of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.”
Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Mace were coming to Tucson to try the climate for her asthma. When they arrived in El Paso and heard Mrs. Gilbert was ill, he said, “I must hurry on to stand by our brother.” After visiting her, he said, “Our sister has already entered into the joy of His Presence. I have never seen one who did and continued to live.”
Her father hurried back from Houston. Elma said, “I just want him to see my face once more and then I am ready to go.” Shortly after a good visit with him, she passed quietly away. It was April 17, 1937, just three weeks after her son’s death. She was 31 years old, so young.
At her funeral Mr. Mace said, “Our sister has gone to the brightest spot in God’s universe—His Presence.” Hearts were heavy with a keen sense of loss, but glad that her suffering was over. She was in the presence of the Lord.
After the funeral Mr. Gilbert took Mary Ann for a short ride in the car. His heart was breaking. Three weeks ago he had buried his son and now he had stood by the graveside of his wife. He felt an anguish of loss and loneliness. His helper, his companion, the mother of his children was gone. But God did love him; God did care. Looking up through tears he said, “Lord, I don’t understand it all, but I accept Thy will.” The stillness of the desert seemed to sigh, “Amen.”