Even in 1928, the lean years were to continue quite a while longer.
But if these were the lean years financially, they were the fat years spiritually—years of coming into the true riches. Yet I still had many lessons to learn. Jesus had said, regarding economic prosperity, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these [physical] things shall be added unto you”! But God doesn’t always add the material prosperity until after humans have been tried, tested and proved faithful.
Not only was there much more truth to be discovered and dug out of God’s spiritual gold mine—the Holy Bible—but there was much character to be developed through hard, cruel experience, the dearest teacher of all.
I should not have thought so at the time—but God knew that I needed much more humbling—much more chastening at the hands of God!
I had been humbled! O yes! And still, I know now that had God allowed me to have prospered financially at that stage of spiritual experience, self-pride once more would have seized me and the humility would have fled! The lessons so far received by all this chastening would have been lost! I was to have to suffer much more—and my family to suffer it with me! The material blessings were withheld 28 years!
But do not infer from this that the material riches were my goal. No such idea even entered my mind. I had given up all idea and expectation of material prosperity.
At this time, during 1928, we were living on Klickitat Street in Portland, Oregon. We were falling dangerously behind in paying the rent. The real estate agent who collected the rent came very frequently to the front door. To others he was probably a kind and pleasant-looking man. He taught a Sunday-school class. But to us, he was a dark, foreboding, frightening, almost devilish-appearing man, when, of evenings, he so frequently stood at our front door, demanding in a deep, bass, stern tone: “Can I have the rent?”
We simply didn’t have the rent! Whenever he came, we knew just how a whipped dog feels when his tail is between his legs. Actually, this man, who appeared to us almost as an enemy, was kind enough to pay our rent a number of times out of his own pocket.
At one time we were in darkness nights of involuntary necessity. The electricity was shut off because we were delinquent. My wife did her cooking on a small gas plate, and our gas was shut off. Only the water was left running. We were out of food, and out of fuel. Our heating stove was one my father had made, shaped something like an old covered wagon—with rounded top.
The children were crying with hunger. My stomach gnawed with pain. Like old Mother Hubbard’s, our cupboard was bare, save for a little macaroni. But there was no cheese or any of the ingredients used in baking macaroni. There was not even a grain of salt. And there was no money to buy any.
I decided to try to cook some macaroni, even without the accompanying ingredients. Without gas there was no oven to bake it in; so I boiled it. Patiently I tore up and crumpled pages of magazines, so I could set a fire in the rounded-top heating stove for heat. I balanced a pan of water and macaroni on top of the stove, and kept throwing in more crumpled magazine pages to keep the fire going.
I offered this “delicacy” to my wife and daughters. We all tried it.
That is all we did. We did not swallow it. We tried, but the slick, slithery, tasteless mess simply would not go down! You may laugh. I don’t know why some Hollywood scenario writer never thought of this as a comedy idea. People love to laugh at the discomfiture of others in the movies. Movie actors pretend to suffer things like this to give audiences big amusement.
But to us it was not a bit funny!
It was about this time, while still living on Klickitat Street, that I learned what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians of how God “also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
The Spirit of the Law
Most people, I had noticed, thought that the “letter” was done away, and that the ministration of the spirit did away with the law and all obligation for obedience to God.
I have told this many times in sermons, and on the air. But this experience occurred at this time, and I believe it belongs in this account.
Our eldest daughter, Beverly, then 10, had been in the habit of bringing books home from the school library. I had noticed they were always fiction. She was an inveterate “bookworm,” and a rapid reader. We had noticed that she was beginning to have a little trouble with her eyes, and we attributed it, at least in part, to excessive reading habits. Besides, I had noticed that the constant reading of these fictitious, ready-made daydreams—which is precisely what fiction is—was causing her mind to drift and wander, rather than to think actively.
“Beverly,” I said one day after my wife and I had discussed it, “Mother and I want you to stop taking these fiction books out of the library. You are injuring your eyes with too much reading.”
Two days later, I observed Beverly in her usual slumped-over position in a chair, with a book opened near the middle.
“Let me see that book, Beverly,” I demanded. “Isn’t this another fiction story?”
“Yes, Daddy,” she replied, handing it to me. Already she had read it half through.
“Beverly,” I said sternly, “didn’t I tell you to stop bringing these books home and rest your eyes?”
“Well, yes, Daddy,” came the innocent reply, “but I didn’t get this book at the library. I borrowed it from Helen.”
Beverly actually obeyed the literal letter of the law, but she completely disobeyed the spirit of what I had told her! The spirit of the law goes much further than the mere letter. It includes the letter, but also its obvious meaning, or intent.
That is the way we must obey God—not only the “letter,” but the spirit or intended meaning of the law as well! Jesus explained this in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17-28—especially verses 21-22 and 27-28).
My First Personal Healing
It was also while living here, during 1928, that I had perhaps my first experience in applying God’s miraculous power of healing, as a personal experience in my own body.
For fuel we burned wood—when we were able to have it. One day in chopping wood, the ax slipped, and struck my left thumb in midair. It cut clear to the bone. I had to pull the sharpened ax out of the bone. It had cut quite a deep gash.
Instantly I prayed, asking God to prevent pain and to heal it over rapidly, as I ran into the house to wrap and bandage it. At first such a cut often benumbs the nerves, as it did this time—but normally the pain soon follows. This time I felt no pain at all.
I made one slight mistake later, else I am convinced I should never have had so much as a scar. I left the bandage on for some three days. But I became overanxious to look at it. When we trust God for healing, we need to keep our eyes and our minds on Christ—not on the physical part. I unwrapped it too soon. I experienced the only pain at any time from that severe cut in removing the wrapping to look at it, and pulling off a scab that had formed.
The result was that there is, to this day, just the slightest trace of a scar across the length of my left thumb. But, even so, it is so slight that one would never notice it unless pointed out. The cut was directly across the knuckle. I believe it could have robbed me of the use of the thumb. As it is, there is no impairment whatsoever.
It must also have been during this year of 1928 that another advertising job was offered me.
I mentioned, in connection with the advertising service for laundries, the soap builder used by laundries manufactured by the Cowles Detergent Co., of Cleveland, Ohio. This company was a subsidiary of the Aluminum Corp. of America. They manufactured an unusual product, unique and exclusive, so far as I know, in the laundry industry. I understood that this company was the largest operation in the laundry industry.
The Cowles Detergent Co. had become familiar with the advertising I was writing and designing for laundry clients. Also they were familiar with the astonishing results. These ads had been building the volume of business of my clients in unprecedented fashion.
And so it was that, about this time, the sales manager of the Cowles company, a Mr. Fellows, came to Portland to interview me and offer the post of advertising manager of their company. Actually the job was to organize and establish a new advertising department! Up to that time, they had delegated all advertising preparation and placing to their advertising agency.
Bear in mind, I was not yet a minister. Although I had given a few talks that might by a stretch of the imagination have been called preaching, and had been speaking almost every Sabbath before the little group in Oregon City, I most assuredly did not think of myself as a minister. Nor did I expect, at this time, ever to be.
The laundries of the nation, through their national association, had gone into their $5 million national campaign. This had been pulled right out from under me—like a rug being jerked out from beneath one’s feet—all my laundry clients, save one. I still had the account of the National Laundry, second largest in Portland. But, as I have mentioned before, this required only about 30 minutes a week of my time. It was our sole income—$50 per month. It was not enough to pay house rent, and keep us fed and alive.
If you will remember, in 1924 I was offered the job of advertising manager of the Des Moines Register—rated by many as one of the 10 great newspapers of the United States. I had turned it down because I believed that I was not an executive. I believed I could not direct and supervise the work of others. I found it so distasteful to make out reports and keep records—which would have been a regular routine on such a job—that I felt I was simply not fitted for such an office.
I explained all this to Mr. Fellows. I told him frankly that one of my faults was that I worked in spurts. I felt I was moderately talented in certain directions, but this was offset by serious faults I had not yet been able to master and overcome. At times my performance would be brilliant. Results would be outstanding. But then I might go into a slump for a week or a month, during which I would accomplish little or nothing. What I did not tell him was that my wife and I had talked it over, and decided that in order to obey God and keep His Sabbath, I must reject the offer.
Lest any suspect that I went into the ministry to make money (and I suppose most could not realize one could have any other motive), I was rejecting a very flattering offer.
Mr. Fellows thanked me sincerely for my honesty in telling him of these shortcomings. He returned to Cleveland. I never heard whether he found the man he needed to start his new advertising department.
Actually there may have been some providential guidance in my supposition that I could not become an executive. Had I accepted this job, which, as I remember, would have paid a salary of $8,000 a year in 1928 to start—the equivalent of a much larger figure in today’s dollar value—and about $12,000 if I made good, I would have been snatched away from the calling God was drawing me into. I would probably be back in the world today.
Actually I was mistaken about not being able to become an executive. When God later began to build His Work around me, and the Work began to grow steadily and continuously at the rate of about a 30 percent increase each year over the year before—which rate of growth continued for 35 years—I had to become an executive! And with God’s help and power, it was achieved, and the working in spurts was long ago overcome. For many years now, I have had to work at the same steady pace day in and day out.
Cash Position Desperate!
Also it was about this time, late in 1928, that our position was so desperate that I prayed earnestly and asked God to open a door for some income that very day.
Having asked in faith, in the morning, I took the streetcar to downtown Portland, seeking the “open door” to a job, or something with some cash in it. All the circumstances have dimmed somewhat in my memory, but I believe that we had to have a certain amount of money by 5:30 that evening, or be evicted from our home. But I knew that if I did my part God would provide the need.
All day long I sought open doors—but every door was closed and apparently locked tight. My faith was being tried. Then 5 p.m. came. Time had almost run out.
But I still relied on God.
At that moment it came to my mind to stop at the office of a Mr. Davidson, manager of the merchandising service department of the Portland Oregonian.
“Say,” he exclaimed, “you’re just the man I’ve been looking for. The advertising agency for the Bissell carpet sweeper people want a survey made in Portland on the relative opinions of women between the carpet sweeper and the vacuum cleaner. You are the only man I know with the experience to conduct such a survey. Can you take time to do it?”
I most certainly could!
It was going to pay just the exact amount I needed by 5:30 that evening to prevent being evicted. But the check would not be forthcoming until about 30 days, after the survey was completed.
With brisk step, after having been briefed on what the Bissell company wanted in the survey, I walked rapidly over to the offices of the mortgage company where the house payment had to be made, arriving right on the deadline, 5:30 p.m.!
I explained about the survey to be made immediately. I offered to simply endorse the check and hand it over for our house rent when it came, if the company would accept it some 30 days later. My word was good with them. Since it was definitely sure, they agreed to accept this check 30 days later, on my promise to endorse it over.
1928 ended. It had been a year of great progress in my life. Spiritually, that is—certainly not financially.
It had been a year of outstanding world events. Trotsky, Zinoviev and other Communists were exiled from Russia January 16 that year. The first all-talking motion picture was shown in New York that year on July 6. This was preparing the way for our filming The World Tomorrow for television, beginning 1955. October 13 of that year God had blessed us with the birth of our first son, Richard David.
In the spring of 1929 we moved to a house on 75th Street, north of Sandy Boulevard. 1929 was to be a year of struggle, spiritual growth and miraculous answers to prayer.
In world events, too, 1929 was an epochal year! The notorious “St. Valentine’s Day massacre” in Chicago occurred February 14. On June 7 that year, the Papal State, extinct since 1870, was revived as a state, or nation. The Kellogg Peace Treaty, known also as the Pact of Paris, outlawing war, was signed July 24. Albert B. Fall, secretary of the interior, came to his terrific fall November 1, when he was sentenced for accepting a $100,000 bribe. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd made the first flight over the South Pole November 28. And, biggest event of all, the New York stock market crash occurred October 29. Sixteen million shares changed hands. The decline in value of stocks was estimated at $15 billion by end of 1929. And stock losses, by 1931, were estimated at $50 billion, affecting directly 25 million people. It plunged America into its worst depression. It prevented me from making a million dollars!
Incident of the Mystery Woman
1929 not only ended as a depression year for us—as it did for millions of others—it began as just another of the lean years! For us, it was another year of desperation to keep ourselves alive.
Very shortly after moving into the house on 75th Street, we had reached another crisis of hunger and desperate need. Again I prayed earnestly for God to either send us some money or provide a way for me to earn it.
An hour or two later, a strange woman knocked on our front door. Mrs. Armstrong opened the door. There was something mysterious about the woman’s appearance.
Who was she? She did not introduce herself. She gave no inkling of her identity.
“If your husband isn’t too proud to do it,” she said in a low, quiet voice, “there are two truckloads of wood he can throw in at this address. Jot it down.” My wife jotted down the street and number.
The mysterious woman walked quickly away and disappeared.
People in Portland used wood for fuel. Portland is in the heart of the Oregon-Washington lumber country. Throwing wood into the woodshed, garage or basement was an odd job customarily reserved for the bums who came along. Very few men in Portland threw in their own wood. To be seen doing it was to appear as a down-and-out bum.
We were totally perplexed as to the identity of this strange woman. How did she know we were in such desperate need? Who was she? We never knew.
But I did know I had just asked God to provide. And at once I recognized one fact. This woman was like the mischievous boys playing a trick on a poor widow. Her window had been open. She was praying aloud, asking God to send her some bread for her children. The little boys, playing just outside the window, overheard her prayer.
“Let’s play a trick on her,” said one of the boys. “Let’s toss a loaf of bread through her window.”
When they did, she knelt again and gave God thanks.
“Ah-ya-ya!” jeered the boys. “God didn’t throw in that bread—we boys did.”
“Well,” answered the grateful widow, smiling, “Maybe the devil brought it, but just the same Godsent it!”
No matter who this mysterious woman was, I knew God sent her! And I realized instantly that God was answering my prayer His way, and not mine. I knew He was giving me a test to see whether I would accept a humiliating job. I realized I had not yet been freed completely from ego and pride. I knew that God was giving me a lesson in humility at the same time He answered my prayer.
I walked immediately to the address the woman gave. It was about a mile from our house. There was a large pile of wood in front. I went to the door, asked for and got the job of throwing the wood in the basement.
Realizing God was teaching me a lesson, I resolved to do it His way, which was to do the best job I could. A thing worth doing is worth doing right! Now that God allows me to be the employer of many men, I insist that they do their work in the right manner—or else tear it out and do it over.
I stacked the wood up as neatly and orderly as I could. I worked rapidly, and did it as quickly as I could. Several people walked past the house. Every time one saw me, I winced. I knew they thought I was a down-and-out bum. Each passerby knocked off a little more of that vanity. But I just prayed silently to God about it, and thanked Him for the lesson, and asked Him to help me to be humble and industrious.
When the job was finished, the woman inspected the piled wood in her basement.
“Why, you’ve done that so neatly and so fast, I’m going to pay you double,” she said.
The satisfaction and inspiration this gave was a far bigger reward than the extra money.
Clay Mine a GOLD Mine?
About this time a clay mine was brought to my attention. It promised to become a million-dollar “gold mine.”
My former associate on the Vancouver Evening Columbian, who had been its business manager, Samuel T. Hopkins, brought it to me. He had encountered an elderly man who owned a farm on which a mysterious kind of clay was mined. It was located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, in Skamania County, Washington.
One day this farmer had cut a bad gash on the back of his hand on a rusty barbed wire fence. He had been digging rather deeply in the vicinity and had dug into a semisoft, grayish, blue-green clay. Without thinking much about why he did it, he reached down, scooped up a handful of the soft clay and slapped it over the back of the hand to cover the cut. Then he proceeded with his day’s work. The clay dried in some 20 or 30 minutes.
That evening on removing the now dried and hardened clay, he was surprised to discover that it had coagulated the blood, drawn the skin together from the wide gash, and virtually healed it over!
The farmer became curious. A member of his family was plagued with eczema. He experimented. This clay was placed over the portion of skin affected, and allowed to dry. There was noticeable improvement. A second and third application was applied. Soon the skin disease disappeared.
The farmer knew Sam Hopkins, and told him about it. Mr. Hopkins made a few experiments on cases of acne and eczema. Results were astonishing.
This clay contained a certain amount of fine sand and grit which proved somewhat harsh on women’s skin. So he experimented with rubbing the clay through a very fine copper-wire screen, removing most of the sand and grit.
Astonishing the Doctors
About this time he came to me with his discovery. He thought it contained great possibilities, but didn’t know how to market it. He offered me a 50 percent partnership in whatever we might do with it. I was considerably intrigued. I took a sample to a well-known doctor in Portland who specialized in skin diseases.
“It is certainly a coincidence,” said the doctor, “that you came at this psychological time. I have a stubborn skin disease case which has persisted six months. I’m not making any headway with it. I couldn’t tell my patient, but I don’t mind admitting to you that I am desperate enough to try this clay. Under other circumstances I’d be very reluctant to experiment with anything new.”
I returned a week later. The doctor was very excited.
“There’s something very mysterious about that clay,” he said. “Why! A few applications cured that skin disease completely!”
We had noticed that it was 50 percent heavier than water. A pound-size jar of this clay weighed 24 ounces. He felt it might contain radium or other radioactive substance. He suggested I take it to another Portland physician, then president of the Oregon-Washington Medical Association, who specialized in cancer and radium treatment. He called this doctor on the telephone and set up the conference for me.
I found this physician maintained a large suite of offices, or treating rooms, like a private hospital, with eight registered nurses in constant attendance.
He made a number of experiments, and became quite excited. It cured acne, eczema, psoriasis. One day he contacted me, requesting a large supply of the clay. He had a patient almost completely covered and his whole body swollen with poison oak—the most severe case he had ever seen—and the patient was in critical condition. After the first application of the clay, the painful itching was greatly relieved; and after the second it was stopped. This patient was kept in his private hospital quarters, and after several days the poison was completely gone!
This physician made a photographic test for radium—not a completely reliable or conclusive test, but he felt it would give some indication. The film, left overnight inside a metal case placed next to a jar of clay, had been exposed to light when developed. This indicated radium! But the doctor would not accept it as final, saying this was not a completely conclusive test.
Some four or five rooms down the hall his X-ray apparatus was located. He said it was barely possible that the film had been exposed by this machine, instead of by the clay. If this were true, I reasoned, then why were not all his X-ray films exposed by that apparatus, so he could never use any of them? But I was not a scientist, I discarded my reasoning as worthless.
Option on the Mine
This physician acquainted a friend of his, a leading corporation attorney, with the facts about this clay. This attorney had connections in the east with wealthy men and interests who had large sums to invest.
He advised us to tie up the clay mine at once on an option to buy.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said the lawyer. “You men cannot afford to pay me the fee I would charge to handle this for you. But the doctor has told me enough to give me confidence in this thing. I’ll make you this proposition: I’ll handle the legal end of it, and give you whatever advice I can. I will do what I can to get it financed. You either have a million-dollar proposition or nothing. If it fails, you owe me nothing. If you succeed, I’ll charge you a double fee, and in that event you’ll be amply able to pay it.”
He drew up an option contract, under which we were to be given exclusive right to all of the clay for one year, at a certain price per gallon. We were given one year to exercise the option and purchase the property. The purchase price was set at about three times the value of the property as a farm. The owner signed the option contract. We had one year to make our million dollars.
It was probably August or September 1929, when we got the contract signed and were ready to start building our million-dollar fortune out of the clay mine.
With the cooperation of this doctor, I immediately sought out the leading, most aggressive and the best-informed beauty shop operator in Portland. Many inquiries in the field led to one certain woman. Since this clay seemed to quickly rid women of acne, eczema and other common skin diseases, we decided the biggest single market possibility was through the beauty shops.
This woman made experiments. The results were the same. It cleared up splotched faces after a reasonable number of applications. But, she discovered, it had a drawing power too severe for many women. Applied as a face mask, or a “mudpack,” it seemed to hold the face in a stiff vise. Its drawing power was exceedingly strong.
“For use as a mudpack facial,” this beauty shop owner advised, “I recommend cutting down the severe drawing power by mixing a certain facial oil in it. And it must be perfumed.”
“We’d better have the advice and cooperation of a top-flight chemist,” I said. I went to the chief chemist of the largest wholesale drug house in Portland. He agreed to help. Between him, the beauty shop expert and the physician, we worked out a formula which the beautician pronounced perfect, the doctor and chemist pronounced safe and harmless, which had the most delightful fragrance, and which, after many tests, we found to have the same powers of eradicating embarrassing face blotches—except that it required perhaps one or two more treatments than before.
But, just as we were getting everything ready to approach one of the largest cosmetics concerns on a deal to sell them our formula and the raw supply of the clay—just as we were devising various other possible uses and markets—that fateful October 29, 1929, rolled around.
The stock market crashed. The nation was plunged into the worst economic depression of its history.
It became utterly impossible to finance a new business, or sell a new product to a cosmetic firm.
Once again, as if some unseen supernatural hand were taking every business opportunity away from me, another promising business of million-dollar possibilities was swept away by powers and forces beyond my control!
I began to call myself King Midas in reverse! Everything I touched turned—well, this time—to clay! It was certainly not a gold mine. It was only a clay mine, after all.
By this time I had no means of keeping my family alive, except to try to sell this clay. I had to explain to beauty shop owners that they could not sell these facial masks as a means of healing or curing a facial disease. They could be prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license if they did. But they could recommend these treatments to customers as the finest of all facials, and suggest that if, incidentally, they found that the acne disappeared, that would be very nice!
I also worked out a formula for poison oak. I called it P.O.P.—Poison Oak Paste. A certain amount of distribution for this was developed through local Portland drugstores. All who bought it reported astonishing results.
The facial mask, or clay-pack, I named Marvé. This I began to sell in “booth-size” pound jars to beauty shops. But each jar actually weighed 1½ pounds! Before long, many of the Portland shops were using it, and gradually resales increased.
I found a way to dilute the clay until it became a soupy liquid. All the sand and grit would sink to the bottom. Then I siphoned off the top. Straining it through fine copper-wire screens did not remove all the fine grit. My new way left it soft and utterly smooth. Our kitchen on 75th Street became virtually a clay factory. After the siphoning process, I boiled the clay down to the consistency I wanted it. This boiling did no harm to its curative powers, and made it more sanitary.
‘Here’s Your Breakfast!’
Shortly after we moved into the house on 75th Street, a Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Beck moved into the corner house next door. Helen Beck was one of the most cheerful women we ever knew. She seemed full of sunshine and good cheer within and without. She was quite religiously inclined, even emotionally so. She learned and accepted quite a little biblical truth through us, but seemed unable to see quite all of the truth. Nevertheless she appeared to walk in all the truth she really grasped—and if I ministered to some extent to her in spiritual matters, she ministered to us in a material way.
She learned that we often did not have enough to eat. When we did get in a little money, we went to the markets and loaded up on beans and food that “went the farthest and cost the leastest.”
But often when we were out of food, she would come to our back door with her cheery “Good morning, folks, here’s your breakfast,” carrying a tray full of steaming hot breakfast. Prior to the bust of 1920 it would have cut my pride unbearably to have received this kind of “charity” from a next-door neighbor. But hers was the kind spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13, where it says that though you may speak with the tongues of angels, understand all knowledge, have all faith, “and have not charity,” you are nothing!
Actually this cheerful “good morning” act of charity profited both ourselves and Helen Beck. It is more blessed to give than to receive. She reaped that greater blessing. But I reaped the spiritual blessing of being humbled a little further—having to swallow more pride, and see the hand of God in it!
And so the year 1929 had come and gone. 1930 was to be another of the “lean years”—as indeed were several others to follow. We were at rock bottom financially. We had learned what it is to go hungry. But these were, nevertheless, years of spiritual growth.
These were the years in which Jesus Christ, the living Head of His Church, was instructing me in His Word, preparing me for His ministry, humbling me, rooting out the self-confidence, the cocky conceit, the vanity and egotism.
But He was replacing these self-trusting attributes with reliance and dependence on God. Instead of self-confidence, He was giving me painful but valuable lessons in faith. He was granting us a few miraculous answers to prayer. Some far more astonishing answers to prayer were to follow in the year 1930.