Chapter 39

The Plain Truth Revived!

From the book Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong
By Herbert W. Armstrong

Using Postal Telegraph wires, we continued on the local network, feeding the 10 a.m. Sunday morning program from kore, Eugene, Oregon, to two additional stations, kxl, Portland, and kslm, Salem.

These, like our original kore, were the smallest-powered commercial stations in operation—a mere 100 watts.

Weekly Portland Jaunts

But we stayed, at that time, with kxl for only about 10 months. On September 5, 1937, we moved up to a 500-watt station, as it then was—kwjj. The new time on kwjj was 4 p.m. Sundays. We continued on kore and the Salem station.

This not only was another increase in power, it started weekly trips to Portland that were to continue several years. Later these trips were extended on to Seattle.

At this time I put the program on kore, broadcast simultaneously by wire hookup over kqlm, Salem, at 10 each Sunday morning. Then came the 123-mile drive to Portland for the 4 p.m. broadcast.

By this time we were using a mixed quartet on the program. As the program started out, our concept had been to condense a regular church service into a half hour, using radio techniques. The program started with a fast-moving theme hymn, then two verses (never more) of a lively hymn, followed by prayer during which the singers usually hummed—or followed it with a threefold “Amen”—then announcements about the program, the Plain Truth or other free literature. Then followed a sermon of about 22 minutes, then sign-off with a closing theme hymn.

In using this type of programming, in those early days, I was merely following the custom of religious programs generally. Nearly all other religious programs on radio have continued that format to this date. But later, as we branched out onto larger stations in larger areas, we began to learn that this style of program is all wrong.

It is based on the assumption that a regular Sunday church service is being brought to people in their homes. It assumes one of two fallacies: either, 1) that all radio listeners are church-going people who want to sit in a church service—which is true of not more than 2 percent of radio listeners, or 2) that radio is the proper medium for holding a church service with our own particular church members.

We discovered later that such type of programming causes about 98 percent of radio listeners to tune to some other station, or tune out. The minute the average person hears a hymn, he says: “Oh-oh! There’s another one of those sentimental, pestering religious broadcasts!”—and he flips the dial.

It was some years later, but eventually we learned. Then we began programming for the other 98 percent—the people who are not religious—the unchurched—instead of what radio men call “the religious audience.” Years ago we dropped off hymns and singing altogether.

But in those days, and for some years to come, we did use singing. Our mixed quartet was hardly of Metropolitan Opera quality—yet, as religious programs went, it was very creditable. Some of the time we used eight voices in a double mixed quartet.

Customarily, however, we used the four singers, which included my wife and eldest daughter. The quartet, a pianist and I drove directly from the studios of kore to Portland, usually taking lunch along to eat in the car en route.

Portland Tabernacle Offer

Shortly after going over to kwjj, opportunity came to purchase a tabernacle in Portland. This brought us to the crossroads decision for the entire future of the Work.

I had to learn, here, that all that glitters is not gold. This offer glittered. It flattered. It was tempting.

A Portland radio evangelist, Willard Pope, had built this tabernacle a few years earlier. He had now built a new and slightly larger tabernacle and vacated his former one. He was conducting one of these local religious broadcasts, holding nightly evangelistic services in his tabernacle and regular Sunday service for his church members which this program brought him.

The idea of having what then appeared to me as such a nice large auditorium of our own in Portland was enticing. This tabernacle seated 800 people.

But soon I began to realize that, although this tabernacle was offered on terms that amounted virtually to rent, with no down payment for about a year or so, it would change the entire direction and future course of our Work.

It would mean tying me down to Portland—preaching in Portland six nights a week to those attracted by the radio program. It would mean trying to build a local church. It would have tied me down, locally, in Portland. I had from the start realized that the first and major commission to which I had been called, was not to build up a church and to bring in members, but to proclaim the true and original gospel of Christ, which the world had rejected and lost for 18½ centuries. I saw our commission in Christ’s prophecy of Matthew 24:14. The gospel was to go out, not to cram it down people’s throats—not to try to force conversion on them, but as a witness—perhaps even a witness against them!

Of course I did see that Christ had said it was to go into all the world, and as a witness to all nations; but I had no delusions of grandeur—I never thought of myself as reaching more than a segment of the whole Earth. I assumed God would raise up others to reach the rest of the world. But I did realize I was called to preach that very gospel to as many as God made possible.

This tabernacle offer, I began to realize, would mean diverting the Work from that path. I began to realize that it might prevent the radio work and the Plain Truth from expanding into wider areas. And already I envisioned a program expanding to reach the entire West Coast—and possibly even, in time, the entire United States.

For some three or four months I weighed the matter, prayed over it, sought advice and counsel from those whose judgment in such matters I respected. And finally, on the grounds it would divert us from our divinely ordained course, which I felt sure I realized at last, the tabernacle offer was turned down.

It was a wise decision. It was a test in wisdom. I think I have mentioned before that I had discovered, very early in my ministry, that I lacked natural wisdom. I had always craved understanding. I had absorbed a reasonable share of knowledge. But wisdom is ability to put both of these together and form a right decision. I had read God’s instruction in James 1. If any man lacks wisdom, he is to ask God for it; and, believing, he shall receive it. I had asked God for wisdom. God granted it. But, even though it comes as His gift, He lets it develop gradually, and through experience. This was one more experience in wisdom. I have always been sure the decision was God’s. The Work would not be where it is today, otherwise.

Atheists at a Funeral

In February 1937, I had sent out a letter to co-workers saying that the mail response indicated a radio audience of between 40,000 and 50,000 each Sunday—growing “toward our goal of 100,000.” By April the mail response indicated 60,000 listeners. By November 26 we had reached our goal—100,000 weekly listeners was announced! We set new goals—and continued to grow!

On November 30, 1937, the father of the former atheist secretary of the local Communist Party, whose conversion was recorded in a preceding chapter, died. This precipitated a nerve-testing experience.

The mother of the young lady ex-Communist had also come into the Church. But it was a fairly large family, and nearly all the other members of the family were professed atheists. There was some kind of a controversy within the family concerning who was to officiate at the funeral. The professed atheist members were violently opposed to me. They wanted a Mr. Herbert Higgombotham, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Eugene. However, in deference to their mother, they acquiesced.

“Oh, well,” they said, “we’ll sit there and endure the ignorant, superstitious, medieval mouthings of this stupid God-believing minister, and then we’ll have a good laugh picking to pieces his ridiculous ‘funnymentals’ after it’s over.”

I realized what I was facing.

I spoke on the meaning of death, and the question of life after death. I mentioned that among men there are various ideas—the immortality of the soul, which is pagan; conditioned immortality and the resurrection of the dead; and the atheist idea that death ends all. Then I pointed out that the reasonings and inventions of human imagination carry no weight of authority—they are only ideas—and other people have different ideas. Nobody has ever yet come back to tell us his experience, except the resurrected Christ whom they deny. Science can contribute nothing. We, therefore, have one of two choices: 1) accept the revelation of the Creator God—who knows—in the Bible, or 2) admit we are absolutely IGNORANT!

The pagan, I said, is ignorant—he has only his imagined and superstitious ideas. The atheist, I affirmed, is even more ignorant—he has only his prejudiced refusal to accept truth, without any proof or scientific knowledge whatsoever; he has no authority; he, like a fool, ignorantly believes what he wants to believe, because he is unwilling to believe the truth.

Then I said that I would now read to them what God says, and that we have the choice of accepting this authority or confessing that we are ignorant.

En route to the cemetery from the mortuary, I rode on the driver’s seat of the hearse, and with us was a cousin of the sons of the deceased.

“Mr. Armstrong,” he said, “you probably didn’t know it, but you had several professed atheists and scoffers before you today. They came to ridicule and scoff, but you certainly closed their mouths! They intended to go home and pick your sermon to pieces—but their home will now be as quiet as a morgue!”

Of course, I did know what I was up against. I had prayed to the God they denied for wisdom. I believe He granted the request. They fell into the pit they had dug for me—being labeled ignorant. They had no answer.

Our Car Gives Out

By December, our old secondhand, several-year-old Graham-Paige car laid down on the job, like a worn-out, tired old horse ready to lie down and die.

At this time we had one secretary—Mrs. Helen Starkey. She was working without salary. Later, I think, we managed to pay her $5 per week, but even that was only a fraction of a salary.

Without my knowledge, she sent out a letter over her own signature on December 21, 1937, asking co-workers for a special love-offering for a new secondhand car to enable us to continue the weekly broadcast trips to Portland. It was that or go off the air.

Enough came in to purchase a 1934-model used Graham—on monthly payments! It lasted until 1941.

Helen Starkey died in 1959, faithful to God’s Work to the end. But a year or two before she died—having moved to Pasadena—I learned that she and her husband were trying to purchase a small home, but lacked a few hundred dollars of being able. It was a very rewarding privilege for Mrs. Armstrong and me to be able now, at last, to pay her the few hundred dollars as back salary she had really earned, some 20 years before. She lived in the home they bought the short remainder of her life.

More Tests of Faith

There had been no issue of the Plain Truth since July 1935. The reasons have been fully explained before. During this period, I did manage to turn out, frequently—though not monthly or with regularity—printed sermons that had been broadcast.

These had been months of trial and hardship, persecution, plots by the very ministers I was working with to wreck the broadcast, and struggle to meet rising expenses and keep the Work alive.

I will mention briefly one such incident. On November 22, 1937, I had managed to afford enough paper and ink to mimeograph a printed sermon. But we lacked enough to pay for postage to send it out until November 26. Here are a few brief excerpts from the letter I sent along with it. This letter was sent only to those who had become regular co-workers: “Again, with the printed sermon, I send greetings in the Lord. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your interest in God’s truth. But this month I must take you into my confidence about some of the problems we are facing in this Work. Right now Jesus Christ is opening up the most wonderful opportunities for the expansion of the Work. And yet, instead of taking advantage of these opportunities, I am faced with having to stop what we are doing, and going off the air altogether, after next Sunday’s broadcast!

“Most of you must have thought that with our vast radio audience, so many people would be sending in money that we do not need your help. A hundred thousand listen, every Sunday, but only a very FEW of them send any money. And I have never asked for money over the air! We preach the Word of God—and the Scriptures are profitable for reproof, correction and instruction in God’s way. It is not a popular gospel. People do not pay to be told their sins—to be reproved and corrected. They would walk out of church if their pastors hit them with the Bible truth. Their pastors would lose their jobs. Yet we have found that people who would not tolerate such preaching in their churches, where their friends see them being told their sins, will listen privately, in the secrecy of their own homes by radio. For some reason, they cannot resist listening—over the radio! But they will not support it with their money.

“The cold facts which I must face are that we have not been able to send out this printed sermon earlier because there has not been enough money to pay postage—we do not at this writing even have enough money on hand for the trip to Portland for the Sunday broadcast, and must trust God to send it before Sunday morning. I do not like to tell you these things. Brethren in Christ, this is one of the discouragements I must face—the responsibilities I must carry—in order to bring you the spiritual benefits and blessings so many of you have written you are receiving from this Work.

“I wish you could sit at my desk a few days, and read the letters that come in. Some of them would tear at your heartstrings! You would come to really realize the wonderful amount of real good this great Work is doing—already on a large scale, covering most of Oregon and southwestern Washington. Thousands are hearing the true gospel and God’s warning, who never heard such things before! Conversions are actually taking place while our program is coming in over the air!

“When I look at this world and see the people hurrying here and there, absorbed altogether in their worldly cares and pleasures—yet really miserable and unhappy and lost—heedless, knowing nothing of the terrible things soon to come on those who have not put themselves under God’s protection; and when I look into my Bible, and see how real these things are, and how soon they are coming, I am appalled, and my heart burns to shout out the warning to more and more people, before it is too late!”

I felt it might be worth the space to reprint the above portions of that letter—just to show what we faced, and how we felt, at that time.

AT LAST—a Plain Truth

But, patience, faith and struggle were rewarded—as they always are.

January 1, 1938, we finally were enabled to bring the Plain Truth back to life! It was the first issue in 2½ years!

But it still had to be a hand-produced mimeographed “magazine.” A letter sent out with it said: “We cannot, yet, afford to have it printed. So we mimeographed it ourselves. This work has been done mostly by Sister Helen Starkey, Mrs. Armstrong, and myself, with a few of our good friends coming to the office for volunteer work the past few days, to help with the folding, addressing, stamping, etc.” Mrs. Starkey was still working daily without salary.

A bulletin sent to local Oregon Church members, dated January 1938, announced the Plain Truth mailing list was now 1,050.

It had outgrown Mrs. Armstrong and me. It was becoming too large to mimeograph. In February 1938, we were forced to reduce the Plain Truth down to three pages—its smallest size ever. There were two sheets of paper, and the back page was devoted to a letter!

At this time I learned that we could have the March number printed, at a local printing plant, on cheap paper, eight pages, for $30 more than the cost of mimeographing. But we didn’t have the $30!

So the March and April numbers were still mimeographed.

March 18, 1938, I sent out a letter showing that the expenses of the Work (including our family living) had risen to $300 per month. But we were running behind on part of the family living. Legal action was being instituted to foreclose and take from us our small home! In some manner I do not now remember, this trouble was met, and we managed to keep the home. But this only added to the harassing discouragements in the struggle to keep the Work going.

First PRINTED Plain Truth!

Finally, after more than four years on the air, we managed to produce the first really printed Plain Truth!

This was done by combining May-June into one number! It had to be printed on inexpensive newsprint paper. The page size was larger than the present magazine, but it contained only eight pages.

This was the first issue that carried under the masthead the slogan I had always wanted: “a magazine of understanding.”

Continue Reading: Chapter 40: First Vision of Worldwide Work