Call to the Mission Field
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psa. 32:8)
During the months prior to returning home I faced up to the need of a
change in my lifestyle. Getting out of the army and away from
army life seemed like a good time to get right with the Lord.
Anyway I was tired of the way I had been living, tired of treating the
Lord so despicably in spite of all His wonderful grace in keeping me
safe through years of combat. After the armistice I had given up
cigarettes and had switched to a pipe. Even then, long before
warning about lung cancer, cigarettes were called “coffin nails.”
Crossing the Atlantic I tossed pipe and tobacco into the ocean. I
had cleaned up my life but was not yet getting into the Word.
Soon after arriving home I was invited by Brother Fisher to spend some
time with him at Deep Bay. He was a brother of one of the pioneer
missionaries to what is now Zambia. Mr. Fisher had a few acres of
land on the waterfront where he grew asparagus and black currants to
augment his retirement pay. Working in the garden and going
fishing was a restful change from war experiences. He gave me a
Scofield Bible, which was a help as I started the habit of daily
reading of the Scriptures.
Also, soon after my return it was announced that C.A. Swan would have
three meetings at Victoria Hall in downtown Victoria. As one of
the pioneers in Central Africa he had thrilling tales to tell. He
first went to Africa in 1887. In 1904, for health reasons he went
to Portugal and during the war had worked with Portuguese troops in
France. This was of interest to me because for some time we had
had some Portuguese attached to our battery in France. In boyhood
days I had been keenly interested in hearing missionaries, especially
those from Africa; but at this time I was going more out of curiosity,
little dreaming the impact those meetings would have on my own life.
I remember very well where I was sitting at the third meeting.
Before giving his address, Mr. Swan prayed. He prayed for those
who had been bereaved during the war—for those women whose men would
not be returning. More than 60,000 Canadians died in World War
I. Then he thanked God for those who were returning and said,
“Lord, show them what they have been spared for!” I have not the
slightest idea what else he prayed for or how long he prayed. His
request was instantly answered in my case. The Lord spoke to
me. It was not an audible voice; no one else heard it. But
it was as real to me as the voice of the preacher. “I have spared
you to go to the mission field!” Foolishly I tried to argue with
the Lord—that is always a wasted effort. “But, Lord, I have just
arrived home after being away three years. I don’t want to leave
again right away. I have a widowed mother and I need to stay
here, build a home, and provide for her.” Again I heard His
voice, “You left home for king and country, are you not willing to
leave home for Me? Don’t you believe I can take care of your
mother?” What is the use of trying to argue with the One who has
all the answers? Before Mr. Swan finished his prayer I also had
prayed, “All right, Lord, if that is what you want, I am willing.”
God is a God of infinite variety and He uses different methods to call
His servants. It is not often that He speaks so directly, but I
am thankful to Him for that definite call. During our first
furlough, I met Brother Swan again in Victoria and related to him how
God had instantly answered his prayer that night.
One of the first priorities before going to the mission field was to
build a home for my Mother and sister Florrie. We were able to
buy two lots, L-shaped around my sister Ethel’s home. One of the
jobs I had was working for a brother who was a builder. In my
spare time I dismantled a small house on the lots we bought. With
the help of our builder friend, plans were drawn and a start made on
building a house. Good progress was made during the summer of
1919. Many evenings young fellows from the assembly would come
and help build.
I had found a new joy in walking with the Lord and feeding upon His
word and in realizing His grace in calling me to be a missionary.
Often I was singing while I was working. One day up on the roof
laying shingles, I was singing and suddenly realized I had just sung,
“Some day this earthly house will fall.” The humor of it struck
me. As far as I know that earthly house is still standing after
over sixty years. After Mother passed away, Ethel and Richard
sold their house and moved into that house, and after Ethel’s home call
it was sold.
The Canadian government was offering educational opportunities to
veterans, especially for those who, like myself, had enlisted in their
teens. I submitted an application for the Bible Institute of Los
Angeles, but it was turned down because it was not in Canada. At
that time I didn’t know of any Bible school in Canada though there was
one in Vancouver. So I applied for a commercial course in a
business college in Victoria.
Through the fall and early winter I was working hard, studying days and
working on the house at night, unless it was a meeting night. Dr.
Harris Gregg held a series of Bible lectures, which I attended at noon
and in the evenings. These were a great blessing in my spiritual
life, but the pace was beginning to take its toll.
Early in January 1920, we had a very cold spell. I was getting
dressed one morning and saw flames reflected in the mirror. I
dashed out to see a neighbor’s house on fire and rushed over to see if
I could help. The owner was coming out of the basement and said
no one was in the house. While I was about to see if any of his
belongings could be saved, the roof caved in and nothing more could be
Shortly after that, I had bronchitis, which developed into pneumonia
and pleurisy. When I was admitted to the Jubilee Hospital I
didn’t realize how serious the condition was. All I could think
of was the stabbing pains in my rib cage with every breath I
took. About eleven that night the veteran’s chaplain came in to
pray with me. I wondered why he came at such an hour. I
appreciated his concern though I don’t think he was a saved man.
That evening a businessman from India was booked to give a Bible study
at the Oaklands Chapel. Just before he spoke it was announced
that I was seriously ill in the hospital and that the doctor didn’t
think I would last until morning. I didn’t know that until
later. The guest speaker suggested that instead of a Bible study
they give themselves to prayer. “But prayer was made without
ceasing of the church unto God for him.” (Acts 12:5). “And the
prayer of faith shall save the sick” (Jas. 5:15). That doesn’t
require instantaneous healing—in my case it was a long process.
The doctor tried to draw off the fluid in the pleural cavity by
inserting a needle. This was unsuccessful because the fluid had
turned into pus. That called for an operation, cutting between
the ribs to insert a drainage tube. Mother came to see me before
going into the operating room and said, “If anything happens, it is all
right, isn’t it?” “Of course,” I replied, “but nothing is going
to happen. I am going to the mission field and this must be part
of the training.” Dr. Wace, one of the best surgeons in Canada
operated, but my confidence was not in him but in the Lord.
Coming out of ether (what a retched smell!) I was greeted cheerily by
the head nurse on the ward, Miss Harman. She was a keen Christian
and later was a missionary in the Congo and was martyred in the
rebellion there. The Matron of the hospital was a very different
type. The nurses were terrified of her as they heard her storming
down the hospital corridors. Mother had brought me a few violets,
the only flowers in the garden. They were too small for any
available vase so the nurse had put them in a small dish. Miss
McKenzie came into the room, spotted the violets and with an indignant
swoop carried off my violets, saying, “Violets in my salt
cellar!” Weak as I was, I just had to laugh, though the nurse saw
no humor in the situation.
My roommate was Mr. Enoch from Ladysmith. He was not like his
Biblical namesake for he was not a believer. My visitors and I
had many opportunities to witness to him about the Savior. He
seemed to be near the point of decision but one day said, “I don’t have
the kind of faith you have.” I replied, “What do you think faith
is, something that comes in 57 varieties?” It is not the kind of
faith or the quantity of your faith that counts—what is vital is the
object of our faith. When he left the hospital he had not put his
faith in Christ.
Two or three months later pus accumulated again and so another
operation was scheduled. This was done by Dr. Russell Robertson,
who was also a very fine surgeon. He was a tall, dignified man
with penetrating eyes. He would stand at the foot of a patient’s
bed, read the chart, and look at the patient. Some of them said
he didn’t need an X-ray for he could look right through you. The
physician in charge of my case was Dr. Baillie with whom I developed a
That summer I was transferred to the military hospital in Esquimalt,
overlooking the harbor. The surroundings there were much nicer
but it was a long way for my visitors to come. The Matron there
was very different. She maintained strict discipline but never
raised her voice and never corrected a nurse in front of the
patients. She was a lady who won their respect by her fairness.
There it was discovered that my kidneys had been affected and I had
nephritis. That meant seat baths and a restricted diet. It
was strawberry season and I didn’t object to a dish of strawberries
every meal. The doctor prescribed a bottle of Guinness Stout as a
tonic every day. I didn’t object on conscientious grounds since
it was prescribed as medicine, but I didn’t like the stuff. All
the other patients wanted the same prescription!
One of the orderlies there was a short, stocky man with long
arms. The guys called him Tarzan. He wrecked more than one
bedside table which did not easily adjust. The nurse at that time
was an unusually large girl, almost six foot and well
proportioned. One evening Tarzan brought in the supper trays
without the dessert which was stewed apricots. The nurse ordered
him to take out the trays and add the dessert in the ward
kitchen. To Tarzan it was simpler to bring in the large bowl of
apricots and ladle them out on the trays. It was a battle of
wills. She ordered him to take out the trays. He threatened
to throw the apricots at her. She had the authority but he had
the power! He hurled the bowlful of apricots, right on
target. She was apricots from her cap all down her uniform.
She ran out in tears to change. Tarzan hastily departed amid the
indignant shouts of the patients. He didn’t return!
In October the Matron kindly arranged for an ambulance to take me for a
day with my family. It was an act of kindness that was greatly
appreciated. Towards the end of November I was discharged from
the hospital—almost the entire year spent there. My application
for a new course was turned down because the Board said my illness was
not service related. If only I had gone on sick call when I got
that whiff of gas in France!
The first Lord’s day back at the Lord’s Supper after all those months
of absence was a precious occasion. Someone gave out the hymn
“Awake, my soul, in joyful lays.” I asked them to repeat one
has gathered thick and thundered loud,
He near my soul has always stood
His loving-kindness, oh how good!”
A few months after my release from the hospital I was offered a job
which afforded a wonderful opportunity for recuperation. Our
friends, the McGees, were in charge of a small leper colony on D’Arcy
Island, a few miles from Victoria. Mrs. McGee was going to
England for a few months and her husband needed companionship and
assistance. It was really like a vacation for the work was
minimal. Besides five lepers, all Chinese, there were just the
two of us. We lived on Big D’Arcy and we could walk all around it
in half an hour. Nearby was Little D’Arcy, which was
uninhabited. It had a cove, which was an ideal spot for
bootleggers to hide. Those were Prohibition days in the U.S. and
we were only a few miles from the border. Since we had no means
of communication or protection, it was prudent to ignore what was going
on around us. There was time to think about the future and pray
about being a missionary. One day the Lord showed me very clearly
that wherever He sent me, I would have to learn to love the people,
even if they seemed unlovable in some ways. Then I had no idea
where He wanted me to go. I had some thoughts of Africa and also
of Portugal to help brother Swan.
During those years of waiting for the Lord to open the door, I received
great help from Brother Duncan McKerracher. He taught a class of
young fellows and we drew upon his knowledge of the Scriptures.
Sometimes after prayer meeting we would stand under a street lamp with
our Bibles looking for answers to our questions. He introduced me
to good books and helpful writers, like Sir Robert Anderson, Dr. A. T.
Pierson, and others.
One evening we called on Mr. Cecil Hoyle, then an old man, who had been a missionary in Spain from 1876 to 1907.
Sometimes I thought about the elders at Oaklands. Some of them
were still in their thirties, but ten years or so older than I.
In ten years would I have the ability in preaching, teaching, and
leading an assembly? It was another challenge to apply myself
more diligently to the study of the Word of God.
One of the older men, Billy James, a bachelor, was a bit
eccentric. But he really loved the Lord and was exuberant with
the joy of the Lord. He was a chimney sweep and never seemed to
get all the soot off his face. But at the worship service his
grimy face would just beam with his simple-hearted love for
Christ. Mother would often invite him home for lunch on Sunday,
in spite of her feeling that he could do with a good bath!
Saturday evenings there was an open-air meeting on Government Street
outside a mission called “Stranger’s Rest.” Billy would come
straight from his work, his face black with soot, and declared to
whoever was in earshot, “My face is black but my heart is white,
cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.” One day he said to me, “Did
you notice the Greek owner of the candy store across the street?
He sat in his upstairs window listening all evening. Let’s pray
for his conversion.” On our first furlough we were visiting in a
home in Long Beach, California. Our hostess had a Christian lady
help with her laundry. As the latter was ironing I learned that
she was from Victoria. It turned out that her husband, Mr.
Phillips, was the Greek owner of the candy store. He had been
saved, had given up his business to go into full-time work among Greeks
in the U.S.
Billy James would often eat a simple noon lunch at the Stranger’s
Rest. He invited me to join him there and spend some time in
prayer together which I was happy to do. I learned that
previously John Lamb had met with him for prayer and went to Venezuela
where he served the Lord from 1920 to 1932. He was followed by
Dan Baillie. Dan was from Ladysmith, up the Island, but was
living in Victoria. He spent five years (1921-1926) in Manchuria
as a missionary. It was my privilege to follow and to kneel in
prayer in a corner of the mission with this dear brother. He
never went to the foreign field himself but helped pray others out.