Anew Helper Chapter 11

One day in 1945 Mr. Gilbert was back in Tucson and standing on a street corner waiting for a bus. A car pulled up to the curb and a gracious voice said, “Brother Gilbert, would you like a ride?” Indeed he would! He recognized the driver as a lovely widow that he had known for some years. Her name was Lena Waller Spessard. Years earlier she and her husband had come to Tucson for his health. They had responded to his radio program and Mr. Gilbert had visited them both. Now Mr. Spessard was dead and she was alone. Mrs. Spessard was very interested in visiting the sick and had spent time with Mrs. Gilbert during her illness. So it had been a long friendship. But today as they rode along Mr. Gilbert felt very attracted to her. Perhaps he had been a widower long enough. He was tired of the lonely life and living out of suitcases.

He began to seek excuses to see her. One day friends suggested that a number meet to sing hymns out of the new hymn book and Mrs. Spessard invited the group to her home. He was delighted to come! She had a charming home on a hill overlooking the desert with the Santa Catalina Mountains towering in back. Increasingly he began seeing her. She was a devout Christian and a gracious lady. As they talked and prayed together, both became convinced that it was the will of God for them to marry. Yes, she was willing to marry this preacher from Chicago. With real peace they announced their engagement.

The Gilbert family had always been quite close and the relatives were really concerned. Who was this woman their brother was marrying? Mary Ann had not even met her. Donald Parker, his brother-in-law, was taking a business trip to the coast and would stop in Tucson and look over the situation. He was delighted and charmed with his prospective sister-in-law and wrote back a glowing report to the family which allayed their fears. When he arrived home he visited Mary Ann at Wheaton College and told her about her new “mother.” Mary Ann went west to meet her and came to love her. A very happy relationship developed. Lena loved Mary Ann and the grandchildren that came when she married Obie Snider. In later years Mary Ann said to her father, “I want to thank you for giving my children such a wonderful grandmother.”

He himself often paid tribute to her. He used to say, “Most men are fortunate to get one good wife. The Lord has blessed me with two wonderful wives.” She made a delightful home for him and tried to encourage and help him in every way. She united with him in his desire to spread the Word and see new assemblies begun. She was willing to go with him wherever he felt the Lord would have them. “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also and he praiseth her…” (Proverbs 31:28).

Mrs. Gilbert was quickly initiated into her new way of life as soon as the marriage ceremony was over. They took their honeymoon in northern Arizona and visited the Indian work. Stopping at Peach Springs they gathered some of the Christian Walapai Indians together and had a hymn sing, using the new Choice Hymns. The next morning was Sunday morning and they drove fifty miles to Kingman for their meetings. A small group had gathered to remember the Lord in the Lord’s Supper and were delighted to see the Gilberts. Together they worshipped the Lord Jesus who had poured out His life on the cross for them. Mr. Gilbert and his new bride began their lives together worshipping Christ, determined to live for Him.

After some time of travelling and visiting areas where he had helped before, the Gilberts felt it was time to return to Tucson to strengthen the work there. The assembly had grown and was now ready to build a chapel. In 1947 the chapel was finished and the assembly moved out of rented quarters. The architecture was Spanish with massive adobe walls and a red tile roof, blending beautifully into the mood of Tucson. To the north, across a sea of desert, the mountains stood tall and strong, stood tall and strong.

Mr. Gilbert came in to work with the elders, not as the pastor. He felt very strongly about this; he was only a fellow-elder (1 Peter 5:1, 2). He helped in the preaching, had a radio program and was constantly visiting. People were being saved and the assembly was growing. In later years two additions were made to the chapel. There were times too when he would travel and help other areas.

By the end of 1952 the other elders and Mr. Gilbert agreed the work was well able to stand on its own and he would move elsewhere. His concern was primarily that of an evangelist and assembly planter. It was time to start again. But it was with real sorrow that they left Tucson. It had been home to them both for years. They had come to love the desert and the mountains with their striking contrasts. Both had gone through some of the most searing experiences of life in Tucson. Both had stood by the graveside of a mate and had known the excruciating sorrow of that amputation. And his only son lay buried here. Here too were his spiritual children and the assembly he had seen begin and grow. Their roots had gone deep. But it was time to leave. They must be swayed by the Lord’s will rather than their own emotional attachment. Although they often came for special meetings and visits they never returned to live in Tucson. The Lord had a new chapter for their lives.