OUR DAYS AT WOODGREEN
That first winter at Woodgreen was a happy one. There were quite a few young people in the congregation. Sister Whitfield insisted that we take a room there and live with her and not go to our own place until spring. In the spring we bought a house in Wardsville, three miles distant and moved there. All the Whitfield boys and girls were home that winter. Walter was going to Teacher's College and came home week ends. Hugh was working in the bank and he was home for the week ends. What jolly times we had together. Brother Whitfield had passed to his eternal reward before we came back. He had been twice married. His first wife bore him five sons and his second wife bore him three daughters. These boys teased their sisters as big brothers are ever wont to do but I never saw Sister Whitfield show any difference between these boys and her own girls that she had borne. With the passing of the years I have often marveled at the spirit she showed.
The last sermon that Brother Whitfield preached was at Sarnia, Ontario. He had gone there in September and called together a few disciples and they had begun to worship. Soon after the new year, 1926, I went to Sarnia for a meeting. I continued to hold meetings there, and at Blackwell and Forest while I lived in that part of the country. Quite a few faithful members of the church obeyed the gospel during this period. We cannot take space to speak of them severally.
Sarnia had a hard struggle in the early days. There was only one man that was a member of the church at that time. He and his wife joined the Mormons. We were elated when a man and his wife were transferred into the city. They had come from a strong congregation and we had hoped that they were the very help that we needed. Life is full of disappointments. He came for a few Sundays and quit. I do not remember that she was ever there. The church met in a building we rented from the coloured people. We paid the sum of $1.50 per week for it. The few sisters took turns carrying enough wood or fuel, from their own home to feed the smokey furnace. The collections paid the rent. Brother Fred Whitfield moved from Glencoe to Sarnia and he has been a source of strength to the congregation from that day until this.
I remember another thing that happened at Sarnia that was rather interesting. During one of my visits there a neighbour of Sister Spearman's was baptized. If I remember correctly her husband was a sort of a lay preacher. To what denomination he belonged I do not remember. He expressed a desire to be immersed also. I do not remember why I could not talk to him but I wrote him a letter and explained to him the design of baptism. He was highly indignant. He said if he were baptized for the remission of sins that would mean that he was not a Christian. I had taught him correctly even if he did not choose to obey.
I have returned at different times for meetings at Sarnia and we shall come back to Sarnia at least once more in this narrative. There is one thing that I would like to mention here. Some members of this congregation took up with the Ketcherside idea of Preacher rule so I wrote to them and suggested that as I was the one that had started the congregation I was the one that should come and take charge of the congregation. In reply they asked me if I had never heard of the autonomy of the local church. Thus I have learned in life that hobby riders are usually seeking a way to justify their hobby but will not follow it to its legitimate conclusion. I am glad to know that these foolish notions have pretty well passed and let us hope that Sarnia's best days are still in the future.
While living at Wardsville and working with the Woodgreen church I had another experience that I think should be recorded. There was an elderly woman that lived just across the corner from the Woodgreen church building. One day she sent word that she wanted to see me. My wife and I called. There were several others present, including her daughter. She told us that she wished to be baptized. She made this statement, I have believed for fifty years that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but only in the last two weeks have I known that a person should be immersed.
We obtained the use of the Christian Church baptistry in West Lorne and she was immersed. She had never seen any one immersed. She was nearly eighty years of age and she was lame. She insisted on hanging onto the side of the baptistry. I finally persuaded her that I could keep her from falling and that she came to no harm in obedience to the Lord. Some of the members of the congregation said that I had never heard her confession. I said that in the presence of witnesses she had made the only confession that I ever heard a sinner making. They were not altogether satisfied. How often we mistake, how we do a thing for the thing itself. Certainly there is no harm in a person coming down the aisle and then confessing their faith in Christ, BUT when we think that is the WAY we are making a human law. This we should avoid. We shall return later to other occasions when people made the confession in an unorthodox manner.
There is another memory of this period that is not pleasant. My wife and I became acquainted with a young couple a few years older than we were. She had a large family connection. A number in the family were showing an interest in the welfare of their souls. These people were not bad people but they were not the most progressive people in the world. Christianity can and often does change that. These people made the good confession in a very orthodox way but there was only one member of the church came to witness their baptizing. Some of the members of the church openly expressed the belief that they would soon backslide. AND THEY DID. The history of this church, much as we loved and love them, might have been written differently, if these babes in Christ had had the care and attention that they needed. Let us have faith in the gospel. It was intended by God to change people's lives. It does it. People can be converted.
On March 26, 1927, our second boy was born. Babies were born at home in those days. Sister Lillian Whitfield had insisted that the older boy should come and stay with her during my wife's confinement. Never was a child loved by other people more than Sister Whitfield and her girls loved our Norman. Was it intuition, or mere chance, that my wife insisted that Norman was not going to leave home? However, when the baby was born the nurse we had was so cranky that my wife said: I think Sister Whitfield better take Norman. She came down with the buggy and took him to her house. I was working in an orchard at the time. When I went to work on Wednesday morning my wife told me to go up and get Norman that night. How little we know what a day may bring forth. Sister Whitfield was going to wash that morning. Something seemed to tell her not to do it. Again was this intuition, or mere chance? It was almost the middle of the forenoon. Finally she decided that she would wash. She set down the bottle of dissolved lye that she used to break the water. It came to her mind that she had not let her chickens out. She forgot the bottle of lye water. She had given Norman a slice of bread and butter to eat. In a few minutes while she ran to the barn he had finished his bread and butter. This looked like water and he picked it up and drank from the open mouthed bottle. When she came into the house, Norman was on his hands and knees vomiting. He was in agony. She still could not think what had happened. She tasted what he was throwing up and she realized then with horror what had happened. That lye was so strong that when Sister Whitfield wiped up the mess from the floor it took the pattern off the linoleum. Providentially, Norman had drunk enough to cause instantaneous vomiting. The X-rays showed that none of the lye had reached the bowels. There were years of suffering ahead. There were many anxious days. None of us suffered, perhaps, as much as Sister Whitfield. Despite the fact that for months he could barely eat, and had more than sixteen operations, he has grown up to be our largest child. He is 6'3" in height and often ties with his Dad in weight. That means that he is not far at times, at least, from the 220 weight. God spared his life. I wonder if he has made the use of that life that God would have ordered?
It is easy for young people to take life in their stride. It is not that our faith weakens as we grow older. When we are young we have more confidence in OUR own ability, so June, 1927, saw us going to Western Canada for meetings. We made the trip in a Model T. Brother Roy Whitfield accompanied us. This is the Roy Whitfield that spent several years in China as a missionary. We had a baby three months old. We had another child a little more than two years old that was sick. My wife went to visit with her folks in Montana. It was that year that the meeting was held in the London school house near where the village of Minton now stands. Brother Orr and I both worked in the meeting on the start but he decided that we could hold two meetings instead of one. He went to Gladmar and held a meeting. In the meeting in the London school house there were twelve rendered obedience to the gospel. They consisted mostly of the Jacobs family. Brother and Sister Jacobs have heeded the call that all must soon hear but several of those baptized that day are among the most faithful members of the church in Western Canada.
In the meantime I had been in correspondence with the Guilds who wanted me to come to Idaho for a meeting. They had moved to Wilder, Idaho, from Buffalo, Montana. In this meeting Brother Claude Guild became obedient to the faith. During the course of my ministry I have baptized quite a few that are gospel preachers but the labours of Brother Claude have been the most fruitful as far as man is capable of judging.
In the fall when we returned to Ontario we went by my father's home. There was a boy there that needed a home. We took him. We intended only to keep him for the winter but we kept him for seven years. We had two children, one was sick. Yet, this boy needed a home. Through the years I have heard people argue how to run orphan homes. In most cases those who are the loudest in argument are the slackest in practice. What right has any man to criticize the way another brother is looking after orphans if he is not looking after them himself. To visit the fatherless is pure religion. When we know to do good and do not do it, it is sin. How can we condemn the way another does the job if we are not doing it? Some one says, we can not find the kind of a child we want. Did God tell you to visit the KIND OF A CHILD YOU WANT? If you really want to obey God in this respect I am sure that you can find the way to do so.
From the earliest days of my preaching career I had wanted to preach in Western Canada and the success of the London meeting had fired that ambition. I suggested to the Woodgreen church that I would like to terminate our labours together and go West. Woodgreen, Sarnia, Blackwell and Forest were of a different mind. They all asked us to stay. Finally we agreed that I would go West for three months and then return to the work in that part of the Lord's Vineyard. However, it was the will of the Lord otherwise. Shortly after we left my wife had a bad attack of flu. It settled on her lungs and the doctor said that she was in the first stages of TB. He said definitely that she should not return to the East. We sold our furniture back in Ontario and used the money to pay for operations for our boy. We let the house go back to the sister from whom we had bought it. During the winter of 1927- 28 1 received an invitation from the church at Portland, Maine, to come and labour with them. They offered me thirty-five dollars per week. That was good pay in those day. I told them I was not interested and they apparently misunderstood why, for they wrote back and said they would raise it to forty dollars per week. I still was not interested. Knoxville offered me sixty dollars per month and I came West. I might explain that Knoxville congregation was a country church south of Bromhead, Saskatchewan. They supported me for years. In the depth of the depression that support was down to five dollars per month.
In all of this the Lord overruled. Portland, Maine, was a hot bed of Premillennialism at that time. I never believed that doctrine but I did not have too much knowledge of the grievousness of the error at the time. There is a grave danger that I might have been carried away. I came West and I lived here for twelve years before returning to Ontario for another sojourn. More than two hundred people rendered obedience to the gospel during that time. God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.
Published in The Old Paths Archive
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