Chapter 25: Evangelistic Campaigns in Full Swing
My first full-length evangelistic campaign with Elder Robert L. Taylor in Eugene, Oregon, came to its almost fruitless end. Mr. and Mrs. Elmer E. Fisher, who lived seven miles west of Eugene, were the only ones added to the Church by this campaign. And they had been brought in by a private Bible study in my room—not in a preaching service.
Mr. Taylor had induced the Oregon Conference members to build a church building in Eugene. He felt sure he could build up a good congregation there.
It turned out that Mr. Taylor had, for some little time previous to our campaign, been in the retail lumber business in Eugene. He had apparently failed, and salvaged out of it only a small amount of lumber. This lumber, although not enough to build it, was put into the new little church building. The money for the remaining lumber, and all other expenses, was contributed by the church members. The members purchased a 50-foot lot just outside city limits on West 8th Street.
However, because of the lumber he donated, Mr. Taylor managed to have the entire property deeded in his name personally. Before leaving Eugene, I attended one service in the new church building. It was entirely unfinished. The siding had not been put on the outside. Slabs of plaster wallboard had been nailed up on inside walls, but the cracks had not been filled in, nor had it been painted. Folding chairs were brought in for seats. A small speaker’s stand substituted for a pulpit. Actually, that was as far as Mr. Taylor was to proceed in finishing the church.
The St. Helens ‘Campaign’
The officers of the conference decided to team me up with Mr. Dailey, since Mr. Taylor was staying on in Eugene to try to build up a congregation for the new church building, still to be completed. Actually, he never added a single member.
We were assigned to go to St. Helens, Oregon, 25 miles north of Portland, on the west bank of the Columbia River. In West St. Helens, sometimes called “Houlton,” lived a very zealous member of the church, Mrs. Mary Tompkins. She was filled with zeal and a spirit of love—although we were to learn that she had more love and zeal than wisdom. Mary Tompkins was a “worker.” She “witnessed for Christ” in a most active way. She had for a long time pleaded with the conference to send evangelists for a campaign in St. Helens. She assured them there was a tremendous “interest” there. So the conference sent us.
Arriving in St. Helens, we first sought out a hall for meetings and rented a second-floor hall. I do not remember whether it was the old K. P. Hall or the old Masonic Hall. Whichever lodge, it had built a new one. However this old hall was reasonably attractive, and appeared quite desirable.
Next we went directly to the newspaper and placed a half-page advertisement, ordering a few thousand reprints to be distributed as circulars.
Then while we awaited the first Sunday night service, I spent some three or four days going from house to house, inviting people personally to come, and leaving a circular. I was surprised at two things. Practically everybody I invited, except those Mary Tompkins had talked to, promised to attend. Elder Dailey and I saw visions of having to hang out the sro (Standing Room Only) sign. But I was even more surprised to find, at the many homes where Mrs. Tompkins had visited, that the people were hostile and regarded this dear, well-meaning lady as a pest.
Sunday night came. But the expected crowds did not! To our utter dismay, not a soul showed up!
We couldn’t understand it. On Monday, I went to the newspaper office to see if they had an explanation. They had.
“Of course nobody came,” the man grinned. “That hall has been condemned as a firetrap. Everybody knew that but you.”
“And you took our half-page ad and our money—and also our money for all those reprints, and didn’t tell us a word!” I exploded.
He only grinned.
I felt he really needed some of our fiery gospel preaching!
But we didn’t give up immediately. We returned to the hall on Monday night. One couple came. I then heard something I had never heard before in my life. Mr. Dailey mounted the platform, walked behind the pulpit, and preached an entire sermon. And I mean “preached!” His style had a bit of the old “preachy tone”—and he preached, full volume, just as if the hall were packed with people. And to only two people! That was a new experience for me!
“Well, we know now,” Mr. Dailey said as we went back to our room after this “meeting,” “that we are not going to have a crowd here. But I know a place where we can draw a crowd—over in Umapine. It’s in eastern Oregon, near Walla Walla, Washington. I have visited one of our members there, Bennie Preston. We can stay at his house and save room rent, and we can draw enough people there to make it worthwhile.”
Next morning, early, he started out in his car for Jefferson, Oregon, to get permission from the conference board for this switch to Umapine, and a little additional expense money.
On Tuesday night, left in St. Helens alone, I went again to the hall. Two couples of young people came. I did not preach. Instead I sat down with them and had an informal Bible study, letting them ask questions, and answering them.
On our long trek in Mr. Dailey’s car over to Umapine, we exchanged views on a lot of things. I was especially puzzled over the matter of church organization. Not yet having come to see and understand the plain and clear Bible teaching, I had gone along with the Oregon Conference in its idea of government by the lay members. In this conference the governing board was composed solely of lay members. They hired and fired the ministers.
“If we were to have the ideal organization,” opined Mr. Dailey, “all the officers would be ministers—not laymen.” This sounded strange to me at the time. But the question of church organization and government was to keep coming up in my mind for years before it was finally to become clear. Remember, I still was driven by the persistent question: “Where is the one true Church—the same one Jesus founded?” This Church of God, with national headquarters at Stanberry, Missouri, seemed to be closer to the understanding of Bible truth than any—yet I was unable to reconcile myself that such a small and, especially such a fruitless church could be that dynamic fruit-bearing spiritual organism in which, and through which, Christ was working. Surely the instrument Christ was using would be more alive—more productive! Yet I had not found it!
The Meeting at Umapine
We were welcomed by Bennie Preston and his wife, and given a room where Roy Dailey and I slept in the same bed. We quickly rented a hall on the main street, ground floor.
Here, as Mr. Dailey had promised, results were different. We certainly did not have a crowd of thousands, but attendance, as I remember, ran between 35 and 50 which, at the time, we considered satisfactory. We had no local church to swell attendance. We were unknown, locally. None of the factors that produce great crowds was present.
One little event I shall never forget. Bennie Preston raised some sheep. He decided to butcher one for us. He had impressed me as a man filled with true Christian love.
“I should hate to kill this tame, loving little sheep,” he said, “if it were not true that God created sheep to produce wool and meat for man. That is their only purpose in existence. Man has a different and far greater purpose—to become sons of God.”
Still, Mr. Preston loved that helpless little sheep, now about to give its life as food for us. He led it to a spot in his backyard. He lovingly caressed it first. Then he hit it a hard, stunning blow on top of the head with the sharp edge of a small sledge hammer, and quickly slit its throat to drain out the blood. The sheep suffered no pain. The sharp, quick blow rendered it instantly unconscious.
After about two weeks of our Umapine meetings, a letter from Mrs. Florence Curtis, secretary of the state conference, informed us that a business meeting of the board had been called for only two or three days after our receipt of the letter.
“I know what this meeting is all about,” said Mr. Dailey. “It means the conference treasury is running out of funds. They are going to have to lay off at least two of us three ministers. If we don’t go back there and protect our interests, at this meeting, they will be sure to let you and me out, and keep Elder Taylor on. We’re going to start back to the Willamette Valley at 5:30 tomorrow morning.”
“But Roy,” I protested, “we are only halfway through our meetings here!”
“Aw, we won’t accomplish anything by staying here.”
“Whatever we accomplish is in God’s hands,” I replied. “We are merely His instruments. God has sent us here to preach His gospel. We have people coming. The interest is increasing, and so is the attendance. I’m going to let God protect my personal interests at that conference board meeting, Roy; but I’m going to stay right on the job where He has put me, and continue those meetings.”
Elder Dailey was now becoming a little nettled and disgusted with me.
“I told you I’m starting for the valley at 5:30 in the morning,” he returned. “If you don’t go with me, you’ll force the conference to have to pay your bus fare to get you back home. They won’t like that.”
But I was just as firm as he.
“Regardless of what the men on the board like, I know God would not like it if I desert while I’m here on duty. To me it would be like deserting an army, and running away, in the thick of battle in a war. This is God’s battle. He put me here, and I am staying right here on the spiritual firing line until the campaign is over!”
Why must men always consider only their own personal interests—and cater to what men will like?
I know Mr. Dailey thought I was wrong. He sincerely believed I was wrong most of the time from then on. But to me it was a matter of duty, and a matter of principle, and a matter of obeying God.
At precisely 5:30 next morning, Mr. and Mrs. Preston and I bade Elder Dailey goodbye, and he started alone, giving me final warning that “the brethren” were not going to like my remaining behind and costing them extra bus fare to get home.
As it turned out, the special business meeting was called off, and Mr. Dailey had raced back to the Valley for naught. But later, just as he anticipated, both he and I were laid off and Elder Taylor kept on—but not until after I had returned from completing the campaign.
Left Alone—Fruit Borne
I continued the meetings alone.
Interest continued to pick up at the meetings in the hall. Results were not great—but there were results! Details are rather hazy in memory, now. I am not sure whether Mrs. Preston had already been converted and baptized, or whether she was converted by these meetings.
In any event, we had a total of five by the close of the meetings. There were three or four to be baptized. I learned that a son of our conference president, the elderly G. A. Hobbs, was a local elder in the Seventh-Day Adventist church. I went to this younger Mr. Hobbs, and through him arranged for the use of the baptistery in the church.
Before leaving, I organized the five members into a local Sabbath school, to meet at the home of Bennie Preston, appointing Mr. Preston as superintendent and teacher. This should have grown. But there was no minister to feed the flock and protect it from “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Bennie Preston was a substantial and upright man, but he lacked the leadership and qualifications of a minister.
This tiny flock endured for a while. But some little time later, Mrs. Preston died. I am not sure whether this was the cause of the disintegration of the little Sabbath school, but Mr. Preston was hit a demoralizing blow by her death. Some years later he moved to the Willamette Valley. He had remarried by then.
This Umapine experience was one more in which no fruit could be borne as long as I teamed with one of the ministers of this church, connected with or springing from the Stanberry, Missouri, political center.
Years later, still in my search for the one true Church, still questioning whether this could be that church, still not having found it elsewhere, I asked Mrs. Runcorn (whom Mrs. Armstrong and I looked upon as our “spiritual mother”) if she could point out a single real bona fide convert, brought in from the outside, resulting from the ministry of any of the preachers affiliated with “Stanberry.” She thought seriously for quite a while. Then she slowly shook her head. She knew of none. I asked several others who had been in the church for years. Their answers were the same.
My first evangelistic effort was conducted alone, at the end of 1930, in Harrisburg. There were conversions. In 1931 I was teamed with Elder Taylor, who had arrived from California. There were no results, except for the night it stormed the meeting out, and in a private Bible study in my room Mrs. Elmer Fisher had accepted the truth. I was teamed with Elder Roy Dailey. There were no results. He left Umapine. I continued alone, and there were conversions. Results then were small—indeed it was a small beginning, compared to the mounting worldwide harvest of today—but God was using me and producing “fruit.”
I have always noted, in my years of experience since, that if even one member of a two-man team is not a true instrument of God, there will be none of the kind of “fruit” borne which is produced only by God through human instruments. This very undeviating method of God, verified by experience, is the source of great inspiration and encouragement today. For in God’s Church today, without exception, every minister or team of ministers is used of God, and God really does things through them! “By their fruits ye shall know them,” said Jesus.
A Thrill and a Jolt
I remember distinctly the all-night bus ride back to the Valley from eastern Oregon. Arriving home, on East State Street in Salem, I learned that the State Conference Board had run low on funds and, unable to continue paying three salaries each of $20 per week in the descending depths of the Great Depression, had decided to retain Mr. Taylor and release Elder Dailey and me until funds revived.
Also, a few days after arriving home, happy over “success” in the campaign, this sense of elation was rudely jolted by a stern letter from old Mr. Hobbs. He had heard from his son. He wanted to know what a young whippersnapper like me meant, using the prestige of his name with his son, and baptizing people in Umapine without “authority,” or special consent from the board? Shortly following the first evangelistic experience at Harrisburg, Mr. Hobbs had sternly called me on the carpet, asking me what authority I had for baptizing those converted in the meetings. I had answered that I had God’s authority—that of Matthew 28:19—where those who do the “teaching” resulting in conversions are commanded to baptize those taught. This rather stumped him, at the time.
But elderly Mr. G. A. Hobbs was a stern, fiery little old man—a stickler for proper form and system, and proper “authority” for everything. He had been an Adventist since a young man—probably beginning somewhere around 1870, or perhaps earlier. Adventists during those earlier years were very strict, legalistic and exacting. Mr. Hobbs had left the Adventists rather late in life when he saw clearly, in the Bible, that the Millennium will be spent on Earth and not in heaven. But he retained his strict disciplinary teaching to his death.
But if old Mr. Hobbs was one of my strictest and sternest critics, he was also one of my staunchest supporters to the day of his death. He defended me against other critics with the same fiery zeal with which he criticized me to my face. His sharp criticism for baptizing the converts God gave me at Umapine, plus the sudden, though not unexpected loss of salary, did dull somewhat the spirit of rejoicing over the results God granted at Umapine.
But having my salary cut off caused no worry. By this time I had learned to trust God. Already we had experienced many miraculous answers to prayer. I knew God has promised to supply all our need, “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
So, in perfect faith, I prayed and told God of our need, and asked Him to supply it, and use me wherever He willed.
But I had not yet learned that everything that happens is not, necessarily, from God. I had not learned to “try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). While this scripture is speaking of spirits—angels or demons—yet we must learn also to test experiences, and happenings, whether they be of God.
It was now late November.
Back Into Advertising!
In serene confidence, I was expectantly awaiting God’s answer to supply our financial need. Not more than two or three days later, my former newspaper associate, Samuel T. Hopkins, who had been business manager of the Vancouver Evening Columbian, appeared at our door.
He had left the Columbian, and now was editor and manager of a new morning newspaper in Astoria, Oregon, The Morning Messenger. He and two Astoria associates, a physician and the superintendent of a salmon cannery, had started a new newspaper in Astoria. But they were in deep trouble. They had started a brand-new daily newspaper in the depths of the national depression, and without adequate capital.
“Herb, you’ve just got to come out to Astoria and help us,” pleaded Sam Hopkins. “You are the only man I know with the specialized advertising and selling experience who can put this thing over for us. I know you can do it. Right now I’m not even in position to guarantee you any regular cash salary. Actually I’m depending on you to get in the business to make even your own salary possible. But once we put this over, we’ll give you a large chunk of the stock in the company—anything, if only you’ll come on out to Astoria and inject the life we need into this paper. I want you to come as advertising manager. We’ll set your salary at $25 a week at the start, and hope we can pay it. But as we get the paper on its feet, the sky’s the limit. You’ll have a big salary and a large chunk of stock.”
“But Sam,” I answered, “I’m in the ministry now. I can’t go back into the newspaper business.”
He would not give up. He kept pleading. It was a matter of life and death to him. I began to think of how I had prayed for God to supply our new financial need. In my inexperience, this did seem to be the answer. I did not then realize this was not God’s answer. This was not God’s WAY of answering.
I did realize that I could not accept this job as a permanent thing. I knew I had been called to the ministry. I had been ordained. I had been successful in a small way. Everything I had ever touched in business, since age 30 in Chicago, had turned to nothing. But in the ministry, everything I did was, in the small way of a small beginning, successful. Yet this did appear to me, in my inexperience, to be God’s answer to my prayer. Since I could not go back into the advertising business, and leave the ministry, permanently, I reasoned this solution:
“Tell you what I might do,” I finally said to Mr. Hopkins. “I know I have been called to the ministry. I’ve been ordained. But my salary is temporarily cut off. It seems to me this is God’s answer as a temporary fill-in for our financial need. I’ll come on out to Astoria just for one month only. Then I’ll have to return here.”
How many times, since, have I quoted the scriptures: “Lean not unto thine own understanding,” and “There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Human reason is usually faulty. But this did seem like the right decision. I was to pay a high price over the next 15 months to learn that lesson.
I was to have to learn two basic requirements of God before He can use one for an important commission in His great master plan working out His purpose here below: 1) Not only must God’s instrument “preach the Word faithfully,” but having been plunged by Christ into God’s Work, he must never turn back (Luke 9:62). And 2) he must rely on God, and not man, for his need—in, not out of God’s Work. The REAL WORK started only after I learned these lessons!
How I found myself caught in a trap of unforeseen circumstance, forced to break all precedent in methods of selling advertising space; and how, after 15 long and almost sleepless months I finally got back into the ministry, is related in the next chapter.