Building A Nest Chapter 7

Tom Olson was another Gospel preacher from Chicago whom Mr. Gilbert had known as a boy. In 1924 he was given a car but had never learned to drive. Mr. Gilbert asked him why he took it. He said, “I’ll take anything for the Lord. If I can’t use it, someone else can.” Later he gave it to Oliver Smith of Waterloo, Iowa, another evangelist. Olson and Gilbert decided to make a Gospel trip in the car. In addition to preaching and handing out tracts they also painted the car with bold Gospel texts. If a crowd was available they would stop and have a street meeting. Behind them they left a trail of Gospel tracts. Their’s was the exuberance of men rejoicing in the Lord and His salvation. Tom Olson had a tremendous concern to write and distribute tracts and was used of God in this work. While they were gone several men from Chicago helped the work in Indiana.

Early in 1924 Mr. Gilbert felt burdened to go to Houston, Texas. An elder from Chicago had moved to Houston and wrote urging him to come to Houston for meetings. As he prayed about this he felt he should go.

It was a 1,200 mile trip by train, the farthest he had been from home. As he stepped off the train in Houston he was met by Mr. P. C. Doehring, who also entertained him. Mrs. Doehring had died when their daughter Elma was twelve. Now Elma had grown and become a charming young lady. When Mr. Gilbert needed transportation around the city she would graciously offer to drive. When he was invited out for dinner Elma was also invited so he would have transportation.

T. B. had never been very interested in girls. Business and the Lord’s work had consumed his time. Marriage seemed far away. But as he spent time with Elma he began to see her with different eyes. She was gracious, devout, a real lady. As they talked together he felt his heart being knit with hers. He began to find excuses to spend more time with her. Finally he had to admit it; he was in love.

He opened his heart to her and shared his love for her and his dreams for the future. He loved God first and felt called to be an evangelist. Would she share his life and his work? She came from a prosperous home. Would she share the life of a poor evangelist? Her heart responded in love. Both felt the Lord had brought them together.

Never one to waste time, that same day Mr. Gilbert asked her father for her hand. Mr. Doehring said, “I would rather give her to you as a servant of the Lord than to the president of Swift and Company.” He knew he had worked in the meat packing industry. The wedding date was set for September after his summer tent campaigns. Mr. Gilbert then left for Dallas for meetings.

The summer was spent in tent meetings. His last series was in Calumet City, Illinois. The last night of the meetings a man came up to him who had driven down from Chicago. As he shook hands with Mr. Gilbert he pressed two twenty dollar bills into his palm and said, “You know, brother, when you went out in the Lord’s work I questioned that God had called you. But since then I have pointed to you as an example for younger men. You purchased your own tent and have pioneered new fields.” The forty dollars helped make up the amount needed for his fare to Houston. These words lifted his heart.

September 24, 1924, was a happy day in Houston for Bruce and Elma. Friends and relatives came from Chicago to share in the joy. James Humphrey was the best man and Myrtle Elkins the bridesmaid.The vows were solemnly repeated. They pledged their love and faithfulness, “in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.” Neither could know the dark clouds that lay ahead but they joyfully committed themselves to one another and to the Lord. They had one another and God was with them. This was enough.

Enroute to Indiana they visited friends and relatives in Texas and Illinois. Arriving in Knox, Elma took one look and said to herself, “I surely hope God does not send us here to live!” She was accustomed to the culture and vigor of a large city and Knox seemed so provincial and dull. It was a quiet, farming community of 2,000. The Lord did lead them to live there later and Elma learned to love the town. Mr. Gilbert often said, “For over fifty years I have lived in the best place on earth, the place God has wanted me.” Elma developed this same spirit.

A group of Christians in Elkhart wanted help so Mr. Gilbert and his new bride made this their home for over two years. That winter they went back to Houston for several weeks of meetings. This was followed by a tent campaign in Dallas. Winter weather was chilly but they had a stove and people came. Some came to know the Lord and the small assembly was encouraged. A. P. Gibbs came to help with the meetings. This was a big encouragement. In time property was purchased and a chapel was built in Dallas.

The Gilberts left Dallas in April to attend his father’s funeral. It was a moving time for him and impressed him afresh with the need to live for God. Life was short. He wanted to waste no time. That summer he plunged into tent meetings in Elkhart and later in the fall had meetings in a school house. His brother Jim worked with him in these. They made a good team. People were lost and their passion was to see them hear of God’s love and grace. Many turned to God during these meetings.

Elkhart brought other joys too. It was here their first child was born, a daughter, named Mary Ann. Soon Elma was up and playing the piano again for meetings with her baby beside her in a basket. She loved to share in her husband’s work.

Sharing in the work meant testing in many ways. Financially they went through lean times. One day as he went to buy groceries he discovered they only had sixteen cents, hardly enough to feed a family. Elma said, “What are we to do?” Bruce assured her, “God has promised to take care of us. Let us see what He is going to do.”

He stopped by the chapel on his way to the store. One of the Christians was there doing a little work on the building. As Bruce left, the man said, “Hey, I just remembered that you bought medicine for our baby a week ago. I owe you a dollar. Take this as from the Lord.” He shoved a roll of bills in Bruce’s hand.

With a thankful heart he went on to the store. The man had given him $16.00, enough to buy all that was needed. When he walked into the house with his load of groceries, Elma was amazed. Together they praised God for His provision. The Lord continued to provide in unexpected ways so they were never hungry. They learned to trust their God and faith gained strength. Adversity was building character.

The Christians he knew in Starke County seemed to need help badly. Mr. Gilbert wondered if the Lord was sending these lean times for a purpose. While in Chicago he talked to Harold St. John, a Bible teacher from England. Mr. St. John said, “God often guides in that way. You will remember he sent Elijah to a brook and sent ravens to feed him. When the brook dried up, he sent him to a poor widow.” The circumstances and his own conviction made Gilbert feel they should move to Knox. The work there was not going on well and they were needed. On February 7, 1927, they moved to a house in Knox and plunged into the work.