Copyright © Philadelphia Church of God
Now that the broadcast had started in Seattle, the Work began rapidly to take on new life.
Up until this time, it certainly bore no resemblance to what would be expected by most people to be the very Work of God. How could anything have had such humble and crude beginnings? Did anything ever start smaller? Looking back on those years now, I am, myself, astonished! It surely couldn’t have happened. Yet, it did!
What man could start out, without money, without support or backing, without any car and having to walk or hitchhike, on his own, with an unpopular message to which people were hostile, and expect to get that message preached and published to the millions on all continents around the world?
With man, it certainly is impossible!
But I was not looking to people for support—I was relying on God! There is a scripture that says, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible!”
And that is the answer!
Through the years I have encountered a few individuals who thought they had a vision to “preach Christ” and started out on their own, without backing, to do it. Some have gotten out some kind of mimeographed literature, or even managed to have a “tract” or two printed. But none I knew of ever grew. All soon gave up. Their work lacked the inspiration, the “spark,” the vital “something” to make it tick—and grow! The answer, of course, is that the power of God was lacking. They were, in true fact, on their own! Christ had never called or sent them. They were not speaking His Word faithfully! Without His guidance and the dynamic power of His Spirit, their work soon came to naught.
The only reason this Work survived—and grew—is that I was not, after all, “on my own.”
Pitifully small as this effort was during those first few years—still it was, though assuredly not then apparent, the very Work of the living God. The divinely imparted dynamic spark was in it. People have asked, in recent years, what makes this now great Work “tick.” The vital energy and life that the living Christ has imparted is what makes it tick!
The things God does through man must always start small—usually the very smallest—but they grow big, until they become the biggest. Jesus compared this to the proverbial mustard seed.
Today, for example [as this second volume goes to press], there are [nearly 5] billion people populating the Earth. God started this with one man, out of whom he made one woman. The nations of Israel, Judah, the numerous Arabs, all started with one man—Abraham. The only true religion started with one man—Jesus Christ! Ultimately those born of God through Him will fill the Earth.
This Work certainly had no professional appearance in those days, although there must have been power in the broadcasts—they had the ring of sincerity and the truth the listeners had not heard before. And the Plain Truth, though crude in appearance, nevertheless reflected the years of professional writing experience. Mistakes were made. This was due to the human element. It was the guidance and power of God injected into it that gave it its real impetus—but God was using a mighty imperfect human instrument, and so human limitations entered into the picture too. These caused some of the setbacks, and God allowed others to test and refine and help perfect the instrument He was using.
I know of evangelists who have been skyrocketed suddenly to fame before vast audiences. They started out big and quickly became celebrities acclaimed by millions. But they were started out by organizations of men. It was organized religion which pumped into their great stadiums, coliseums, supertents or vast auditoriums the multi-thousand crowds. And all such world-famous evangelists must preach only what is allowed by the denominations or churches who back them, and must refrain from preaching anything contrary to their doctrines.
Suppose, for example, such an evangelist backed by
the conservative fundamentalist-evangelical denominations should tell his audience the Bible commands them to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. Suppose a “big-time” evangelist with so-called Pentecostal backing in his giant circus tent should shout to his thousands that “speaking in tongues” is not the “Bible evidence” of “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Immediately they would be branded heretics. Immediately they would lose their organized backing; they would be plunged into “disgrace.”
But such men come and they go. Their work is foredoomed to die. If they are backed by men, supported by organized men, they must become the willing tool of such organizations. But when one is truly called and chosen of God, he must become wholly yielded to God as God’s servant, and he must speak God’s Word faithfully, else God’s support is withdrawn. What a difference!
Jesus Christ said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13). Again, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). But, David was inspired to say (Moffatt translation): “Though I must pass through the thick of trouble, thou wilt preserve me: … The Eternal intervenes on my behalf; … thou wilt not drop the work thou hast begun” (Psalm 138:7-8). That promise of God has sustained me through the years of opposition, persecution and trouble. God is still keeping that promise, and He will perpetually!
Looking back, now, over the actual physical circumstances, conditions and happenings of those years, it seems utterly incredible that a Work started in such a humble, crude manner without any visible backing could have survived, let alone continued to grow at the pace of 30 percent a year.
Of course this Work did not double in size every day, every week, or even every year. But doubling in number of people reached, in number of precious lives converted, in radio power and in scope of operation, every 2 years and 7½ months is, after all, a very rapid and almost unheard-of rate of growth. And that rate of redoubling continued nearly 30 years!
If this Work had the appearance, those first seven struggling years, of the pitifully insignificant and hopeless effort of an individual striving desperately “on his own,” it began now rapidly to take on the appearance of a more substantial operation. Those with spiritual discernment began to recognize it for what it was—the true Work of God.
A limited fund had been raised to start the broadcast on krsc, in Seattle.
In preparation for this, a part of this special fund had been used to have the Plain Truth issue for August-September 1940 printed! This was the first printed number since the May-June 1938 number.
But at last, with this August-September 1940 number, the Plain Truth graduated permanently from the handmade mimeographed class! Along with the other phases of the Work, the Plain Truth was growing up!
It “grew up” only to a most humble start as a printed magazine, however. This issue and the few to follow were printed on a very low-cost yellow paper we had used for years for the mimeographed editions. It was only eight pages. And it was issued only bimonthly. On page 4, under the masthead box, appeared this notice: “This is the first issue of the Plain Truth since May. There was no June or July number this year. For the immediate future we hope to be able, the Lord willing, to publish one number each two months. Later we hope to be able to send you an issue every month, and to enlarge the Plain Truth to 16 pages, just double the present size. Constant improvement is our goal.”
That improvement came slowly through the years—but the effort was never relinquished, and gradually the improvement did come.
Many months later, it did double to 16 pages. Circulation doubled and redoubled. After years as a 16-page magazine, it went to 24 and then to 32 pages. In publishing that first regular printed issue of the Plain Truth, an additional 500 copies were printed in anticipation of the first two months’ response from the new Seattle broadcast.
The broadcast had started on krsc, in Seattle, September 15,
1940. By November 1, the receipt of mail from listeners was mounting rapidly. More than 500 requests for copies came from the first four or five broadcasts. The co-workers’ Bulletin dated November 1 reported the subscription list of the Plain Truth had reached 3,000. We still had to keep the mailing list by handwriting or typing, and in this manner personally address every copy. This required volunteer labor and several days’ time. Mail response now indicated a listening audience of 150,000 with the three radio stations.
Although requests for the Plain Truth exceeded 500 the first five weeks from the Seattle station, there were, of course, very few contributions—especially when none were in any way solicited. Nevertheless, for the encouragement of older co-workers, this November 1 Bulletin stated: “Offerings are just beginning, now, to come from listeners to krsc, our Seattle station. First, $1. Then, later, another dollar; then $6 the next week—$8 so far.” It was now costing nearly $100 per issue to publish and mail out the Plain Truth.
In this issue of the co-workers’ Bulletin (sent only to those who had become voluntary regular contributors), excerpts from several letters from listeners were reproduced—17 of those from the Seattle station, and nine from the Portland station.
Portions of some of those letters are illuminating. Here are just a few:
“From Seattle: ‘Am enclosing $1 to help a little in your God-given Work. How I wish it could be more, but when I can possibly, will send more. Received the copy of the Plain Truth a few days ago. … I have wondered many times when these scriptures would be revealed, and by whom; but God knew, and He has given the wisdom to one He can trust. You have my prayers.’” This letter accompanied the second dollar received from the program on the Seattle station. Jesus Christ said His sheep hear His voice. They recognize His message. They catch the difference instantly. Some of these letters came from people who discerned that this, indeed, was Christ’s own gospel—very different from that the world had heard.
“From Bingen, Washington: ‘Will you please send a copy of the Plain Truth. I thank God for men who tell the truth about His plan of salvation. There are only too few in this time of great need.’”
“From Deep River, Washington: ‘We listen to your broadcast every Sunday, and would like to receive the magazine. … I realize you do not ask for money, but I am enclosing $1 to help in God’s Work.’”
“From Indianola, Washington: ‘The portion of your sermon, delivered over the radio yesterday, that I heard was most enlightening and constructive, and I should appreciate having you send me the Plain Truth. These certainly are the kind of biblical explanations that the world needs today.’”
Yes, some who hear the World Tomorrow program do recognize it as God’s very own message, and it has been the generally unpreached truth of God’s Word, and the power of His Spirit that has given this Work life and vitality, and caused it to grow from smallest beginnings!
Now just two or three portions of letters from listeners over kwjj, Portland. These, too, are significant:
“From Oregon City: ‘I received your message today and with tears streaming from my eyes, thanked our heavenly Father that the way had been opened for your Seattle broadcast.’”
“From La Center, Washington: ‘I enjoy your broadcast so much, and regret when I have to miss one. I feel lifted, and see more light after listening. God is certainly with you in every word that you say—one can just feel His presence. I would appreciate a copy of the Plain Truth, please.’”
“From Portland: ‘In your last broadcast you mentioned that the public might not approve your words. From your own teachings, your concern is to preach the truth, just as you have been doing. … The Lord approves. That is enough. The Plain Truth is most excellent. … This old world is now in the critical time when we need a pilot to show us whither we are headed. You are doing a great job. I know you are giving the truth to those who never heard it, and probably never would, who will not go to the present-day church and who hold the church to be a hypocritical racket. But they listen to you. Keep up the good work.’”
This Bulletin carried a subhead on page 5: “Even Atheists Being Converted.” It said: “Yes, even atheists—those who have convinced themselves there is no God. … Seldom, if ever, have you heard of atheists being converted. Yet I know definitely of at least two who have been changed from death to life, through this Work of which you are a vital part. Both are active co-workers now.”
One was a young mother, prominent in the Communist Party. The facts in her case have been covered previously in the Autobiography. The second was a young man in Vancouver, Washington. I reported, in this Bulletin: “Last February 16, we received this letter—the first we had ever heard of this young man:
“‘Dear Mr. Armstrong: I started listening to your broadcasts in September 1938, and since that time I have been coming to my senses. In other words, you have been the medium through which God has acted to blast away my atheistic ideas, false conceptions and idiotic philosophies. This, to me, is a modern miracle, for I have long considered myself impregnable to what seemed to be the greatest myth of all time—God and the Bible. … I’ve been listening for a long time to various pastors, ministers and preachers, if only for the malicious pleasure of finding fault with what they say. The first time I tuned on you, I was stuck. Then I started thinking—probably for the first time in years. Then I started regretting. I didn’t deserve it, but found the door open when I knocked. It’s marvelous how much different one’s attitude is when it is taken from a spiritual angle. All things seem different. It’s something God only can do for a person. I wish you could reach a much larger audience, and I’m praying for the time when you can.’”
This man, sometime after writing this letter—yet this was prior to going on the air in Seattle—attended meetings I was holding in Vancouver (Washington), and was baptized shortly after this Bulletin went out November 1, 1940. His prayer for the expansion of the Work—along with many other prayers—was answered, and he became a valuable instrument of God, collaborating with me in God’s Work. He was a nationally known artist. For many years Plain Truth readers read his Bible Story, which rendered the story-thread of the Bible in plain, simple, dynamically interesting language. This man was Basil Wolverton. The letter quoted above was the first I ever heard from him. It gives evidence of some of the “fruit” God was producing through this Work, even in those pioneer days.
This November 1, 1940, Bulletin ended with these words: “On to Los Angeles is our slogan now!” Yes, the Work was growing up!
But immediately we encountered another obstacle threatening the Work. The Christmas shopping season was upon us. Always December had been our toughest month to weather through. So many co-workers became so occupied with Christmas shopping, trading gifts back and forth among friends and relatives, many forgot and neglected any gift for Christ, whose birthday they supposed they were celebrating. I was forced to remind our co-workers of this in the next Bulletin, dated December 6, or see the entire Work stop. It explained:
“The Seattle broadcast has had to start just as we come to the Christmas shopping season. Each year it seems that two thirds or more of all our co-workers forget the Lord’s Work entirely through December. Brethren, the tithe is the Lord’s for His Work! Here we are, in the most serious hours of all Earth’s history! We are told in the Scriptures to preach the gospel, to keep at it, in season and out of season! This is the end time, when Jesus said this gospel of the Kingdom must go to all the world for a witness, just before the end comes! … This message must not stop! Surely proclaiming God’s message and the salvation of souls must come first—material gifts second!”
It seems that with the results of that letter we did struggle through. Meanwhile the listening audience, and the Plain Truth circulation, continued to enlarge.
By mid-February 1941, circulation of the Plain Truth had climbed to 4,000 copies. Mail response now indicated a weekly listening audience of 150,000 or more. Letters were coming from all classes of people—women, laboring men, farmers, office workers and also from business and professional men.
In early February 1941, we received a letter from a man who said he was on the point of committing suicide in his discouragement, when by accident—or, as he himself suggested, intervention of God—he heard the broadcast of February 9. He wrote that this message got through to him—made him realize that what he needed was not suicide, but Christ! He wrote a heart-touching appeal to help him find his Savior and salvation. He was, of course, given personal help.
More and more, evidence piled up demonstrating the power of God working and energizing His Work through us.
In the Bulletin of February 14, 1941, the following appeared:
“Mrs. Armstrong and I announce that our daughter Beverly is to be married to Mr. James A. Gott of Eugene, on Friday morning, February 28, at 10 o’clock, in the little church at the end of West Eighth Avenue, in Eugene.
“Beverly is the soprano in the Radio Church quartet, whose beautiful singing is so familiar to our radio audiences.”
During this week of February 23, an exciting event had happened. We had purchased our first “almost new” car, taking delivery the night before the wedding.
Somewhere around November 1940, station krsc in Seattle had switched our time from 4 p.m., which was the same time we aired on kwjj, Portland, to 8:30 Sunday mornings. At first I suffered keen disappointment, feeling it would mean a smaller audience. But it proved a blessing in disguise. The listening audience picked up faster than ever.
Best of all, it made possible for me to drive to Seattle to put the program on live, instead of sending transcriptions. In those days our transcriptions had to be recorded in almost amateur manner on inferior equipment in Eugene. The “live” broadcasts made possible news reporting and analysis of the very latest news, hot off the radio station teletypes, explaining the prophetic meaning with the Bible.
We were still limping along every Saturday afternoon and night the entire 320-mile drive from Eugene to Seattle in our old 1934 Graham. Constantly we had connecting-rod trouble.
For many months this arduous routine was continued. I usually arrived in Seattle about 1 a.m., Sunday. I remember well tuning in Seattle’s powerful 50,000-watt station kiro, which I could hear on the car radio the entire distance from Portland to Seattle. How I wished we might broadcast over such a powerful station! But we couldn’t afford it—then. God later allowed us not only to afford it, but opened time for us on that splendid station twice daily.
The grueling routine of those weekend trips lasted, I believe, until the spring of 1942. Arriving at my hotel—one of the newer but smaller ones—a service was provided whereby the garage, a block down the street, came after my car upon arrival. After a very few hours’ sleep I was awakened at 5 a.m.—showered, shaved, dressed, and down to the all-night fountain in the corner drugstore, where I bought the morning paper and hurriedly checked through it for prophetic news while drinking a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee.
Then I hurried back to my briefcase and portable typewriter, and started rapping out script for the broadcast. In those days, even before the United States entered the war, security precautions required that every word be presented in script form—one copy for the station announcer, one from which I was to speak. I did not dare deviate from the script.
I had to have the half-hour script completed promptly at 8 a.m., when I dashed down, checked out of the hotel, and found my car waiting for me at the hotel entrance. Arriving at krsc at 8:15, I had 15 minutes in which to hand over the station copy of the script to the announcer, scan quickly the news teletape for any last-minute bulletins of significance I had not found in the morning paper, and clip it and write out any comment on my portable typewriter. At exactly 8:30, the familiar “Greetings, friends!” was going out on the air. At 9 o’clock I leaped into my car, stopped off at the old Half-Way House midway to Tacoma, for breakfast, then continued the tiresome jaunt, with a state 50-mile-per-hour speed limit, on the old horse-and-buggy winding highway to Portland. Stopping off at Chehalis for lunch, I usually arrived in Portland about 3 p.m., with one hour to again check teletapes for last-minute news. Then, on the air over kwjj at 4. Off at 4:30. Arriving in Eugene at 7:30 I would find the little church filled with a Sunday night audience. Then an evangelistic sermon and, usually, preaching every night through the week, working daytimes in the office answering letters, writing the Plain Truth, or out making calls on people needing help, people interested, holding private Bible studies, etc. It was a grind.
From the time I started driving to Seattle, I had to put the old Graham in the repair garage regularly every week. Finally, by February 1941, it was costing me $18 per week on the average for repairs, and then, on Monday, February 24, the garage owner told me: “Mr. Armstrong, this car is not going to hold together for another single trip to Seattle. You’ve got a connecting rod and a bearing situation that won’t get you there and back. It will cost $110 to fix it. The blue-book value of your car, even after you spend that $110, is now only $105—so your car is now worth $5 less than nothing, actually. If ever you intend to trade this old hulk in, it’s a matter of right now—or never!”
But I could not afford a new car!
Anyway, I went over to the DeSoto dealer, to see what could be done. The dealer himself showed me a car—the most beautiful car, I thought, I had ever seen!
“We’ve had this car in here six weeks,” he said. “My wife has used it six weeks as her personal car. It’s just barely broken in—has 1,700 miles.”
“But I can’t afford such a car,” I said.
“You can afford this one,” he replied confidently. “Because my wife drove it that 1,700 miles, I can make you a deal you can afford. Come, take a ride in it.”
With assurance I was not obligated, I got in. It certainly was different from the old Graham! We drove out to our house, and I persuaded Mrs. Armstrong to get in for a short ride. She was very skeptical. She knew it was beyond our reach.
While we were gone, another man had appraised the old Graham. On our return, he handed a slip of paper to the dealer. He offered several hundred dollars for the old car—which I had just learned was worth $5 less than nothing. Anyway, it came to within $50 of making the down payment, and he offered me the car on $40 per month payments. That was much less than I was now having to spend on repairs. But I could not meet the $50 cash payment.
“Look, Mr. Armstrong—I want you to have this car. Can you get me $10 cash before the end of the week, and the other $40 before the end of the month? I’ll let the regular $40 monthly payments begin May 1. Now can you meet that? I simply insist on having some cash before you take the car—if only $10.”
Yes, I could do that. Actually, it was not going to increase expenses, but reduce them. It was providential!
And so, as it worked out, I got the $10 in to him on Thursday evening and took delivery of the car. And that car turned out to be, actually, the best car I have ever owned, even to this day. Those 1941 DeSotos were great cars.
The next morning, I married my own daughter—to Mr. James A. Gott. After the wedding, they rode with Mrs. Armstrong and me in the new car to Seattle. There was just one way Mrs. Armstrong and I figured we could give them a honeymoon. The nicest short trip we knew for such an event was the boat trip from Seattle to Victoria, B.C. In those days they were running the very fine ships, the Princess Marguerite and the Princess Kathleen—later, I believe, destroyed in the war.
We regretted having to intrude ourselves into their honeymoon as far as Seattle, but it was the only way we could afford it at all. I had to be in Seattle by Sunday morning for the broadcast. Jimmy was able to get off from work only the two days, Friday and Monday. By going with us to Seattle, they had their transportation for that distance without cost.
We stopped overnight at Chehalis, arriving early next morning at the boat docks in Seattle. They arrived back Sunday night. We drove back to Eugene Monday. Having that almost-new car made it a wonderful trip. That was one time a slightly used car was everything the dealer claimed!Continue Reading: Chapter 42: On the Air in Los Angeles