Preparing for the Mission Field
“The LORD will perfect that which
concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the
works of thine own hands.” (Psa. 138:8)
In the early months of 1921, Mr. Tom Baird visited Victoria. He
had formerly been a missionary in Malaya (1893-1906) and was a forceful
speaker, much addicted to alliteration. One of his sayings
(quoted from memory):
The willing will that wills God’s will, within God’s will will dwell.”
Through him I learned about the Missionary Training School in Brooklyn,
New York, under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hill.
(The daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Baird was married to Rowland Hill, a
brother of Richard.) The Richard Hills had been missionaries in
Persia and Turkestan from 1908-1918, and had started the school to help
It was very naïve for me to pray that the elders at Oaklands Chapel
would be unanimous in their willingness to commend me for missionary
work, and primarily to spend some time at the Missionary Training
School. Now that I am wiser in the ways of elders I would not
have the faith to pray such a prayer. But very graciously they
did commend me, and if there were any dissenters I was not
informed. The counsel of Duncan McKerracher was a great help and
blessing in those days. In August I finally received a reply from Mr.
Hill welcoming me to the School. After receiving his letter I
read Psalm 138 with great blessing, assured that the Lord would fulfill
His purpose in me. Still I had no guidance on the field of
service though my thoughts turned toward Africa or possibly to
Portugal, realizing that Mr. Swan needed help there.
On my way from Victoria to New York, I stopped for a day in Port Hope,
Ontario, to visit my Aunt Millie and two cousins. She was my
Mother’s youngest sister and had married a retired army man. He
was a professing Christian who regularly attended a Baptist
church. The members there were probably not aware of how shabbily
he treated his family. Shortly before my visit he had been
working on the railroad and had been in an accident. It was
really a relief for my aunt to be spared his meanness.
Approaching New York on the train from Montreal, I was getting
shaved. In the mirror of the washroom, I saw a passenger open his
case and lying on the top was a Bible. Supposing he was a
Christian I was wondering how I could strike up a conversation.
He was evidently a traveling salesman acquainted with another passenger
in the washroom. The latter remarked, “What’s that—a Bible?
I didn’t know you believed in that stuff!” The man replied, “I
don’t, but it helps getting through customs!”
Landing in Grand Central in New York and trying to find the way to
Brooklyn is quite an experience for a stranger. As I grabbed my
suitcase, a fellow offered his help which I declined for I suspected
ulterior motives. I found a subway train marked “Brooklyn” but
got off too soon, still in downtown Manhattan. Up on the surface
in the square at City Hall, I asked a man how to get to Seventh Avenue,
Brooklyn. He replied, “See that tall building? That’s the
Woolworth Towers, the tallest building in the world (at that
time).” I wasn’t interested in a tourist spiel; I wanted to get
to Brooklyn. He continued, “Go over there and below that building
you will find a subway for Flatbush, Brooklyn. Seventh Avenue runs off
So before noon I located the school but the only people there were a
family of missionaries home on furlough, Mr. and Mrs. Asa Moore.
She was a sister of Richard Hill. They shared their lunch with me
and told me that everyone was at the conference at Sea Cliff, Long
Island. So by mid-afternoon I had found my way to the conference
at Sea Cliff. A meeting was in progress, a question and answer
meeting with C.F. Hogg and Harold St. John on the panel. One
questioner wanted to know why believers from various assemblies could
fellowship together there but when they went home, there was no
fellowship between some of their assemblies. Mr. Hogg raised his
hands and replied, “The inconsistencies of brethren!” Another
question was that old perennial about baptism for the dead. Both
Mr. Hogg and Mr. St. John said they had seen many interpretations, none
of which satisfied them. They didn’t know the meaning. After the
meeting I approached a group around a brother who seemed to think he
had the answer!
After the evening service I located a cot on the upper floor of the
chapel, the regular meeting place of the assembly in Sea Cliff.
The young men billeted there were rather noisy and boisterous. No
one seemed to be in charge. I was tired after a long exciting day
full of new scenes. After eleven o’clock I thought it was a poor
testimony for the assembly among the neighbors. So I went to the
head of the stairs and over the din demanded they quiet down.
Next morning I noticed furtive glances in my direction. None of
them, of course, could identify the stranger—and I didn’t enlighten
Since I was handy at carpentry and had some of my tools with me, after
the conference I was asked to help with repairs at the Sea Cliff Yacht
Club. This building, facing on the shores of Long Island Sound,
had been purchased by the conference committee. After work on
Saturday afternoon I went down to the pier for a swim with George
Fraser who was preparing to go to Venezuela. He dove in with his
glasses on and lost them. Repeated dives failed to locate them,
and he was sorely handicapped. Next morning early, after praying
about this need, he went down to the shore as the tide was out.
There he found his glasses intact without a scratch in spite of the
tossing of the water on the pebbly beach.
There was also work to be done on the school building in Brooklyn as we
were settling in. The fellows were on the top floor and I roomed
with Leonard Bewick from Kansas City. Horace Davey from Ottawa
and Tom Mornan from Buffalo were in another room. Also on that
top floor was the only married couple in our class, William and
Margaret McKellin from Paterson, New Jersey. On the floor below
were the girls, Carrie Saunders from Peterborough, who in later years
married Horace, Margaret (Peg) Fleming, later married to Mr. Kramer of
Guatemala, Margaret (Meg) Dryden of Seattle, later married to James
Buckley, and Irene Stedman, Len’s fiancée, and Anna Carson from
Buffalo, who roomed together.
Soon after classes started in September there was a Saturday conference
at the Richmond Hill assembly on Long Island. Several
students planned to go but one by one dropped out so that only Anna
Carson and I went. In the meeting, Scott Aspinall, an elder from
Brooklyn, was sitting a couple of rows ahead of us. His head was
nodding but not in agreement with the longwinded preacher! Gently
I nudged Anna’s elbow to call her attention to his vain effort to stay
awake. There was no platonic interest in that nudge.
Actually then I thought she had a boyfriend in Buffalo. Back at
the school, I happened to mention the incident to the fellows, and it
was their subsequent teasing that did arouse my interest. Later
they told a joke about a black man who was buying a cigar, but wasn’t
sure what brand to buy. He was also uncertain which girl to
marry. The salesman suggested “Havana,” to which the customer
replied eagerly, “That’s what I’ll do—I’ll have Anna.” However, I
wasn’t seeking that kind of guidance! But before telling how the
Lord guided, let me digress to tell about Anna Carson’s background.
Early in the 1890’s a young carpenter, Samuel Carson left Ballymena in
Ulster, N. Ireland, for Buffalo, New York. He was disappointed to
find only one assembly there since he was aquatinted with Belfast where
there were many. In Buffalo he met an Irish lass, Rose
Logan, who came from a village about twenty miles from Ballymena.
They were married and had two children in the U.S. before returning to
Belfast. In fact they crossed the ocean more than once. Of
their nine children, the two eldest and the two youngest were born in
Buffalo, the rest in Belfast. The middle one of the nine was Anna
who had two bothers and two sisters, both older and younger than
When Anna was four or five, they left Belfast to return to Buffalo and Mother Carson refused to make the trip again.
Anna was a bit of a tomboy who would eagerly leave her dolls at the
chance to play baseball with the boys. A visiting friend asked
her how long it took her to walk to school. She didn’t know, as
she never walked to school. “I can make it in three minutes when
I jump the back fence and go through the vacant lots.”
Brought up in a Christian home and attending Sunday school regularly,
Anna knew the way of salvation. Her Sunday school teacher was
Jeannie Mowat and one Sunday she asked the girls if they were
saved. Anna replied, “Yes—I think so.” Later on, Gavin
Mowat, Jean’s husband, was the speaker at the Sunday evening
service. On the way home he asked Anna, “Anna, are you
saved?” This time she was able to answer with confidence, “Yes, I
know I am now.” She had believed before but had lacked the
assurance of salvation.
So Anna spent her school days, elementary and high school, in
Buffalo. Her interest in missions was stimulated by her
friendship with Gavin and Jeannie Mowat. Jean’s brother George
Gibson marred Sarah, Anna’s eldest sister. The Mowats went to
Central Africa (1911-1927) and then to South Africa (1928-1950).
No one could attend Assembly Hall in Buffalo for long and not be made
aware of missions. Edward Fairbairn, a leading brother, was a
dynamic missionary enthusiast even though he was a businessman in
When Anna expressed her desire to be a missionary, Mother Carson could
not bring herself to be willing to part with her daughter. She
was a very dear Christian but found it hard to face such a
sacrifice. Meanwhile, Anna was teaching a Sunday school class of
little boys, among whom were Lyndon and Laurence Hess and William
Oglesby, who all went into the Lord’s service in later years.
Anna refused to go against her Mother’s wishes, confident that if the
Lord wanted her to be a missionary, He would incline her Mother to give
her consent. The delay of a year or two was a testing time, part
of God’s preparation. Finally in 1921 Mother gave her
consent and Anna went to Brooklyn. She has often commented since
that if she had had her own way and gone earlier, we probably would not
As interest in Anna deepened into love, I realized the need to be very
sure of the Lord’s will in this matter of a life partner. When I
first arrived at the school someone gave me a leaflet on “The Will of
God.” What impressed me in this leaflet was the truth that God
had a plan and purpose for the life of every believer. I
determined to study what the New Testament taught about the will of
God. With the help of a concordance I looked up every
reference. Not an easy task because often “will” is used as an
auxiliary verb. One of the great lessons I learned was concerning
our Lord Jesus Christ. In the four Gospels, only about three
times did He mention His own will and each time it was for the blessing
So I began to pray earnestly that the Lord would show me His will
regarding Anna Carson. Naturally the more I prayed and thought
about her, the more intense became my desire for her. But there
was no green light from the Lord, no assurance that this was His will
for me. Weeks passed by—times of spiritual struggle. Once I
decided to try something that I knew was not right. I would let
my Bible fall open and see what verse came up. Naturally the
Bible fell open near the middle, at the book of Job. Before my
eyes were these words, “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then
should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1). That was not
what I wanted! It was even more discouraging as I read on, “If
mine heart have been deceived by a woman” (v.9). However, as I
prayed about this, I was convicted of the error of handling God’s Word
in such a way. The guidance I then received was not about a life
partner but on how to apply the Scriptures to my present circumstances.
Several weeks went by in this heart-searching, seeking to know the
Lord’s will. Then in our class one morning as we studied the life
of Christ, there was a sentence at the bottom of the outline. “They
forsook all and followed him” (Luke 5:11). It challenged
me! Four fishermen had just made the biggest catch of fish in
their career—what a price they would fetch in the market! But
they forsook all, fish,
friends, fortune, and family to follow Him. Then I realized I had
not forsaken all, even in my earnest desire to know His will.
Deep down in my heart was the unexpressed wish, “Lord, I want your will
but please let it be what I want.” I was not fully yielded; I had
not forsaken all. As the class closed with prayer, I prayed my
own prayer, “Lord, if You want me to go to the mission field alone, I
am willing to do Your will.”
It was not an easy lesson to learn. There has to be complete
surrender to His will without any mental reservations. “If any man will
do His will, he shall know…” (John 7:17). We must be willing to
do God’s will before we know
what His will is. (To know God’s will we must be prepared to do
the very opposite to what we desire.) Then I learned how
wonderfully gracious is our God! It seemed almost immediately
after I reached that point of full surrender (and really meant it) that
the Lord granted me my desire. The assurance came to me that it
was the Lord’s will for me to ask Anna to share my life.
For appearance’s sake in the neighborhood, students of the opposite sex
were not allowed to go out in pairs. We were not circumventing
that law when we met later. So on December 3, 1921, Anna and I
went out and rendezvoused. Then I told her for the first time
that I loved her and found it was reciprocal. Sixty years later
we are still telling each other of our love! We went through
Prospect Park (it would probably be unsafe now) where I told her how
the Lord had been leading and that I wanted her to have first place in
my life after the Lord.
Miss Annie Hill had asked Anna to get some argyrel for her but in our
excitement we asked for arsenic! The look on the face of the
drugstore clerk made us realize our mistake. Miss Hill never
learned how our romance had endangered her!
Our class did a lot of things together, and there was a good spirit of
fellowship. We often went together to conferences, to farewells
for other missionaries, and to our weekly medical lectures by Dr.
Baldwin. Most afternoons were spent helping in a hospital
outpatient department. The mornings were devoted to Bible
lectures. John Hill was a favorite instructor with most.
Formerly a businessman he had a methodical mind and his outlines were a
help in our studies. He was interested in the students and
arranged trips to such places as museums or the 42nd Street Library
where we were shown some rare Biblical manuscripts. Richard Hill
was different than his brother in that he was more of a devotional
speaker. Everyone had a great respect for George Aldrich because
his rich spiritual teaching was backed by a godly life. His
reading of part of I Corinthians 15 was unforgettable—this was at the
funeral of Mr. Faulkner, father of Mrs. Richard Hill. Brother
Aldrich had formerly been an Anglican clergyman and his diction was
A Wall Street businessman, Charles Bellinger, came in one evening each
week to teach Galatians. He asked questions which forced us to
think for ourselves. Even if our answers were correct he would
sometimes oppose them to see if we would hold our ground. Some of
the students were awed if not terrified! But he was a real friend
of the students and keenly interested in missions. We also
benefited by the visits of other preachers and missionaries. We
shall not soon forget the visit of Charles Kramer from Guatemala.
He spoke little English but would lustily sing in Spanish, until one
day the police informed us the neighbors were complaining.
School life was not without its lighter sides. There were some
who seriously doubted our fitness as prospective missionaries.
But I pity the missionary without a sense of humor. Harriet the
cook was a sister from the Black assembly in New York. Her room
was immediately below our bathroom on the top floor. Coming in
one evening, Anna and I discovered water dripping in her room.
Harriet was away for the weekend. I ran upstairs and saw the
bathtub was overflowing so I turned off the water. In Tom’s room
a discussion was in progress as usual, on election or
predestination. Casually I inquired who intended to take a
bath. Tom raised his hands in horror—he had completely forgotten
he had left the water running. Not long after that we repainted
the rooms upstairs. Len Bewick did the bathroom. Since it
was hard to get behind the tub he moved one end slightly and broke the
waste connection. Again Harriet’s room got an unwanted shower.
In some ways the conditions at the school were not ideal. We were
made to realize that we were “only students” and learned to accomplish
the lowly task. However, there were benefits in the teaching we
received and also in the many contacts with people and assemblies,
particularly in the New Jersey area.
Another advantage was getting to know many of the Lord’s people in the
assemblies in that area, especially over in New Jersey. It was
our privilege to get to know some of the leading men of God, and we
still treasure the memories of those men, most of whom are now at home
with the Lord.
Usually we fellows would pair off to visit some assembly on Lord’s Day,
very often by invitation. It was our mutual arrangement that one
fellow would pay both fares going and the other would pay coming
home. One Sunday Len Bewick and I set out for New Jersey.
As I was short of cash I let him pay the way going there. What
money I did have went into the offering. Quite often someone
would slip some money into our hands on such occasions. But that
day I had received nothing and I doubted that Len had enough to pay our
homeward fare. Secretly I was praying about this—not even Len
knew about my predicament. One of the brethren drove us to the
train station, but how would we buy tickets without money? Then
as we got out of the car I felt a bill left in my hand as I parted with
the brother—more than enough to pay our fares. We learned many
lessons of faith and of what it meant to trust God in those days.