“A Prince Among His Brethren”
(Gen. 49:26 Margin)
Through faith in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus a man becomes a child of God, but only through spiritual maturity and deep experiences with the Lord does he merit the rare, biblical title, “a man of God.”
I first met Henry Fletcher at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, in 1923, and he impressed me then as being a man of God. Later we lived and worked together, and had the joy of beginning the assembly at Valencia. This close relationship confirmed my earlier impressions. Now after 45 years I still so regard him.
Henry was a unique combination of quietness and resoluteness, of stability and tolerance, of piety and practical Christianity. He will be remembered more by his warm sympathetic ministry rather than by some extraordinary ability or some spectacular accomplishment.
Brother Fletcher was born at Hamilton, Canada, in 1895. His mother was a devout Christian so from his earliest days he was taught the Word of God. Her work was later supplemented by that of the teachers in the McNab Street assembly Sunday School which Henry attended. There is no doubt but that his conversion to the Lord when 13 years old was in large part due to her constant intercession. Furthermore, through her motherly influence, she kindled in his heart a keen interest in the ways of the Lord. On more than one occasion we have heard Henry pay tribute to his mother, and thank God for her surveillance over his young life.
Through the reading of his Bible, Henry learned that he should obey the Lord and be baptized by immersion; having complied with this, he was received into the assembly on McNab Street, Hamilton. There he spent eight happy years: teaching a Sunday School class, distributing gospel literature in small towns and villages, participating in open-air services, and assuming what responsibilities he could as well as enjoying the many privileges of the assembly. It was in this manner that he received his early training for the years of pioneering and pastoral ministry that lay ahead.
In very forthright language Henry tells of those critical experiences through which he recognized the call of God, and of how he responded.
“From my conversion, through reading magazines and books about missionaries and their work, and through hearing some of them give accounts of the Lord’s work in regions beyond, there was quickened in my soul a strong desire to make the gospel known. Along with this came a sense of the importance of systematic giving of my income to the Lord. I soon learned to lay aside a definite percentage of my wages as the Lord’s portion. From this contributions were made to the assembly offerings, and gifts were sent to different servants of Christ as fellowship with them in their work. Through these direct contacts a deeper exercise in regard to the need of the world was stimulated in my heart.
“A point in life was eventually reached when in my bedroom before the Lord a complete surrender was made. Although I felt poor, weak and worthless in myself, I was ready for any service that He might indicate.
“Mature and experienced brethren to whom I told my exercise were most understanding and sympathetic, and encouraged me to pursue my plans before the Lord. Finally, a meeting was arranged and I presented my exercise before all the elders of the assembly. After I had explained God’s dealings with me, their unanimous decision was that if I felt so led of the Lord to leave the “nets” and go forth for His name’s sake, they would not discourage me. Ultimately, in 1916 I ventured forth in complete dependance upon the Lord to supply all my need.
“I resigned from my position in the bank at the end of the month and by the 15th of the next month accompanied Mr. and Mrs. William Williams on their return to Venezuela. I had been much interested in Venezuela for I knew of the labours of such brethren as Mitchell, Crane, Adams, Johnston, and others.”
Some four years later Miss Agnes Renwick of Galt, Ontario, Henry’s fiancée, went to Venezuela and there they were married. Together they shared the trials and the triumphs of missionary experiences; they sowed together and reaped together; together they will receive the reward given by the Master.
During the summer of 1923 I moved into the city of Valencia, Venezuela, and there sought to present the gospel publicly and from house to house. What a joy it was to learn some months later that Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher, recently returned from their first furlough, had decided to take up residence in Valencia! They came and rented a house large enough to serve as a home and a chapel. I soon moved from my small primitive quarters to live with them.
God blessed the efforts we made; souls were saved and the work in general expanded. Two episodes concerned with the development remain permanently fixed in memory; they reveal the true character of this man of God.
The young believers wanted to obey the Lord in baptism: we therefore decided that the time had come to form the assembly. This growth and the stability of the work became the topic of conversation whenever Henry, Agnes and I were together by ourselves. During these conversations we agreed that in order to avoid anything untoward at the celebration of the Lord’s supper, we ought to brief particularly the men as to form and order.
On the Saturday of the baptism, Henry came to me and said, “We believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit, don’t we? Well, to-morrow morning we shall have the opportunity to prove whether He really does. Would you agree that nothing relative to procedure be said to the converts?” It seemed incautious, but finally we agreed.
The first celebration of the Lord’s Supper in Valencia never will be forgotten; it was most orderly and worshipful. The guidance of the Holy Spirit was obvious. The only unusual feature was that at the close there was no bread and no wine left; the zealous young believers had taken the words of the Lord literally; they ate and drank; they did not take merely a crumb, nor did they only moisten their lips.
The new assembly hall was almost ready for the opening, but there were no gospel texts on display. A painter had been hired to paint verses in scrolls on the walls; the scrolls were excellent but the lettering, a complete failure. What could we do? The matter seemed urgent. One morning I told Henry that while I could not produce ornate letters like a sign-writer, I could paint texts on the scrolls in block letters of a draftsman. “Try,” said Henry. After hours of painstaking work a text was finished and won unanimous approval.
For days I stood on a ladder literally drawing each letter, then filling the outline with paint. An attack of malaria slowed the progress, and as my temperature increased, it was only with effort that the texts were finished in time for the opening, an opening I could not attend, being in bed with the fever.
Well do I remember the solicitude of brother Henry. Frequently he came to enquire as to how I felt, to express his gratitude, and to encourage me in the task. Those texts remained for many years a testimony in the gospel.
Henry Fletcher, as these anecdotes indicate, was a man with firm confidence in God and with an affectionate concern for his brethren.
Almost simultaneously with these achievements, the blessing of a baby boy filled the hearts of Henry and Agnes with delight. Their son, now Dr. Renwick Fletcher, Toronto, Canada, was born just before the hall at Valencia was finished.
After some years in Valencia during which he sought to teach the Christians and consolidate the work, brother Fletcher felt constrained to go to Puerto Rico. He with his wife and little son arrived there in 1930. Here he repeated the process of pioneering: preaching the gospel, teaching the Christians, forming a local church, raising new buildings, and engaging in all that was conducive to the establishing of a permanent testimony for God.
Because of ill health, the Fletchers in 1941 were forced to leave Puerto Rico. For a number of personal reasons they decided to take up residence in Toronto, Canada. For the last twenty-five and more years brother Fletcher has moved out from his home and ministered the Word of God throughout Canada and the United States.
In 1960 the Lord called Agnes Fletcher home to be with Himself; her work was finished; her pilgrimage ended. Her passing was a great loss to Henry, but he was given grace to fulfil his own ministry.
One evening in 1963, Henry and I unintentionally met on a train enroute to New York; Henry was going to minister at a conference of the Spanish-speaking assemblies there, and I was going to a conference in New Jersey. Henry always maintained a deep interest in Latin-American Christians. As we chatted together, he told me of his intention to remarry and that he was engaged to a lovely lady, Miss Alvina Velde, who would be a help to him in his ministry. The Lord was pleased to grant them five happy useful years together, and while Alvina mourns her great loss, she treasures sacred memories of the joyous hours spent with her husband in the service of the Master.
After several months in ill health, Henry Fletcher was promoted to higher service; he departed to be with Christ on Friday, May 17, 1968.
Many came to the memorial services in Toronto on the Monday evening following. At this service Ormer G. C. Sprunt paid tribute to our esteemed brother and reviewed his service for the Lord. Ernest B. Sprunt spoke words of comfort and inspiration in which he likened Henry Fletcher to Barnabas (Acts 11:19-26). On Tuesday morning our brother’s remains were laid to rest in the city of his birth, Hamilton, Ontario; there to await the glorious resurrection morning:
“Until we meet again before His throne,
Clothed in the spotless robe He gives His own,
Until we know even as we are known
Good night! Good night! Good night!”