First published in 2003.
The Bible asserts that, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen.2:18) and God has built that same consciousness into the very fibre of man’s being. While some, no doubt, are sovereignly chosen to live the single life, the normal way is the married way, and happy, indeed, is the man who finds and follows that way. And, praise God, I am one of them!
My dear wife and I were married on the mission field nearly sixty years ago, and we want to testify that our life together has been sheer joy. We both declare that, next to Christ, the partner God gave us was His greatest gift ever.
It is with some reluctance that we now tell our inner story, but we do so under constraint, and with the hope of helping some who appear quite lost as far as these vital matters are concerned. While they claim to be part of a new enlightened generation, they seem to be in utter darkness as regards this elementary matter of the marriage plan and the marriage bond. The miseries that follow this are crying out to us everywhere, and, indeed, few are the homes that can be called really happy homes.
At the end of this testimony we shall tell what we believe to be the essential secret of this ‘better way’, but for the present, we shall simply tell the historical and true facts of our own experience; very personal, perhaps, but prayerfully shared for the purposes we have mentioned.
I myself am now nearing my 88th birthday, and my dear Joyce is not far behind. We came from opposite sides of the world, and also from very different family backgrounds. Joyce had the great advantage of being born into a well-known family of Christian evangelicals, while in my case, not much attention was paid to religion of any kind. The main interests were quite worldly, but judged by normal standards we were, I suppose, fairly happy and content. But, as I said, our families were very different. In God’s own mercy, however, I was converted to Christ in my early years, and by the same mercy, I lost no time in ‘getting into the Bible’ and letting the Bible ‘get into me’. Also, I obeyed the Lord in baptism, and began to enjoy the gains and benefits of real church-fellowship.
I finally went to India as a missionary in 1937 (from England), and it was during the following year that I met Joyce White for the first time. She had gone to India, being from Australia, as a missionary schoolteacher and we were both stationed in the beautiful Nilgiri Hills of South India. Both of us could testify of God’s gracious leading up to that point, and we were finding great joy in the work that God had given us; being more than content to leave all personal matters in the Lord’s good hands. As far as life-partners were concerned, that was something that seldom, if ever, entered our thinking.
Most of the evangelicals working in those Hills usually met at the Union Church for Sunday worship together, and could count on a sound and solid message from God’s Word. Also, some of the keenest of them would be at the Friday prayer meeting whenever possible, and this included Joyce and a few of her fellow-teachers. We also joined in, and the meeting was fully open to anyone to take part as they were led. No doubt, it was at those meetings that we got some more impressions of each other. As far as Joyce was concerned, I’m sure she hardly noticed me, but I do admit that, even then, I did feel she was an exceptionally nice young lady; certainly nothing beyond that, except perhaps: “My, she does know how to pray”.
There were also a few times when the Union Church people had an extra ‘get-together’ somewhere out on the mountain side, usually in connection with the Annual Missionary (Keswick) Conventions, and giving people an opportunity to meet, and hear, the overseas visiting speaker. These, of course, were less formal times, usually in a distinctly jungle setting, and even the ‘locals’ were able to get to know each other a little better. But, even then, I never spoke to Joyce alone; just ‘group and group’ as they say, and did not even dream of personal friendship.
Then there were special occasions when the good and motherly principal of Joyce’s school, a very earnest believer, would invite a few of us to the school for an afternoon of tennis on the school tennis court; afternoon tea provided! Such occasions invariably served to increase my admiration of Joyce, while, in her case though she greatly enjoyed the tennis, her only impression of me was probably regarding my inferior performance on the court. (Excuse: they had always had their own family tennis court back in Australia, while I had known nothing of such luxuries). Happy times, just the same!
I must admit, however, that all such occasions did have something of an unsettling effect on me personally, and I found my mind wandering in Joyce’s direction more often than I wished, and it truly worried me. I felt it was becoming something of an inward distraction, and tended to threaten my concentration on the work God had called me to. I can truly say that I had no ambition for such friendships, and thoughts of life-partnerships were far from me. This fact of a wandering mind therefore, did greatly trouble me, and I felt I was giving way to some weakness, and needed to be delivered!
It was just at that time that quite a remarkable, and memorable incident took place in quite a different part of India. It happened that, at that time, I was touring and having Bible meetings, in North-Eastern India, including Kalimpong and Darjeeling, just alongside the majestic Himalaya Mountains. After the meetings, an opportunity arose for me to visit the famous tourist spot known as Tiger Hill, just outside Darjeeling, and from which it was possible to see the shining summit of Mount Everest jutting up behind the nearer snow-capped giants like Mount Kanchenjunga. Like the other awed visitors around me, I was positively spellbound at the sight, and could only say: “What a Mighty Maker of it all, and He is My Father!”
After a while, I went to the nearby kiosk to browse through the visitors’ book, and note the many strange names and comments, of Hindus and Muslims and others from all over the world. Then, to my complete surprise, my eye fell on a portion written by Joyce, bearing her copperplate signature and bearing the comment:
“Beauty everywhere, in earth and sky and sea,
But beautiful beyond compare is Jesus Christ to me”.
I found out later that Joyce had been in that same area just a few days earlier, all unbeknown to me! Again and again I read those words she had written in that visitors’ book, and I confess that some deep emotions welled up within me: “What a beautiful Christ-centred mind that dear girl has! My impressions down in the South were certainly well founded; she is quite unusual!” And then, as an afterthought: “If God ever gave me a wife (quite unlikely though), I would be so happy if she had a mind like that, and if Christ Himself were to her, the altogether lovely One”. Little did I know at that point, what was coming! What a gracious Lord we have!
It was not long after that, again, that another remarkably God-ordereds event took place, and again, strange to say, at a place called Tiger Hill. These are the only two ‘Tiger Hills’ that I have heard of, separated geographically by hundreds of miles, but very much connected in my personal history!
I was at that time staying at the large Brooklands Missionary Home, just across the valley from Joyce’s school, and often, the very sight of those school buildings made something stir within me. It certainly was disturbing, and I finally realised that I had to get a clear Word from the Lord regarding it. It was unsettling me, and I felt that even a clear ‘no’ from the Lord would be better than all this draining drift in my imaginations.
With all that working in my mind, I took my Bible early one morning to a quiet spot on ‘our’ Tiger Hill road, where I could have my ‘quiet time’ and hear God speak to me about this matter. The question in my heart was: Is God calling me to a ‘new way’, or not? “O Lord, speak to me this morning.” It was just a small jungle road and I quickly reached the spot that I had chosen and I sat on a rock, fully expecting to hear the voice of the Lord. It was a lovely sunny morning, and everything was perfectly quiet all around. I think you will imagine the intense earnestness with which I prayed and opened my Bible. I had finished 1 Thessalonians 4 the previous morning, so now it would be 1 Thessalonians 5; and what would the Lord say? Was He calling me, or was all this just a matter of my own undisciplined emotions?
As I read quietly through, nothing seemed to have any bearing on my question, but finally I came to verse 24, and read “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it”! I could hardly believe what I had read, but it seemed the words stood out and I could not mistake it. God was calling me, and He would do it! Right there in that lonely place, with not a living soul around me for miles, God had spoken to me, and He had deigned to answer my question! I clearly remember closing the Book that was in my trembling hands, then bowing my head and closing my eyes just to thank Him for His grace and mercy in dealing thus with His unworthy servant. Behind my back was the steep wooded slope of Tiger Hill itself, while just before me was the great base of the mountain, stretching right down to the plains 6000 feet below. From where I had sat I could see over the nearby treetops to the roads and rivers far below and also the little villages and the familiar railway track leading out towards the city of Coimbitore. It was all like a great sunlit carpet spread out below me. The God who had made it all had spoken to me; He was “calling me!” and He “would do it!”
What now follows you may find hard to believe, but I bear solemn witness that it is the truth, and to God be the praise and glory!
I had just begun to bring my thanks to the Lord when I heard a rustle from the bushes about 20 yards below me, and a human figure emerged; none other than my own dear Joyce! Altogether unbeknown to me, she, too, had decided to have her ‘quiet time’ out there on Tiger Hill. She had gone to a special spot reached by a little path that led down from the Tiger Hill road itself. It, too, was a beautiful spot, an open rock-ledge looking out on the same magnificent view, and there she had had her precious time with the Lord. She, too, was much surprised to see me sitting on my rock by the roadside. As far as I know, Joyce had made no mention of me in her prayers, but, as I have explained, I had certainly made mention of her! It was with some awe that I nervously stretched out my hand to help her scramble back onto the road, wish her a polite “good morning” and offer to carry her pillow for her as we walked back in the direction of her school. Thus ended that remarkable, but true, story. I now knew, deep in my own heart, that very much more was to follow in God’s good time. How good and merciful God is!
The time had clearly come when I would have to speak openly about all this to my close colleague in God’s work, Fred Flack. We had come to India as a partnership for the Lord, and I realised that any developing friendships of this kind would necessarily have a very important bearing on the primal partnership. Realising this, I took the first possible opportunity to tell him what had been going on in my heart, and I believe he got a full and true picture. It was indeed a deep joy to me that he showed such a deep understanding, and, in fact, took quite a favourable attitude towards it! He told me he would pray with me about it, and assured me that if I felt I should take any further steps about it, I could count on his fellowship. God knows how greatly I appreciated that word of encouragement.
The result of all this is that one day I did pluck up courage to write a brief letter to the dear lady in question, exposing to her something of what had been going on, and simply asking if she had had any comparable thoughts in her mind, or any similar feelings. If not, I would gladly accept it, and the matter could be amicably closed; and with my sincere apologies!
I remember dropping that letter into a small red posting box at a place called Darlington Bridge on my way to the nearby Union Church, and also the silent prayer I prayed for a ‘successful outcome’, if it could please the Lord. Also I well remember the anxious wait that followed!
After a few days a reply did come quite brief and here I share the gist of it: “Thank you, Mr. Golsworthy, for your kind and frank enquiry. I have never thought of any special friendships, but I will willingly pray over the matter. But please do not write to me, or talk to me for three months, so that I can be fully free to listen for God’s voice in connection with this matter”. That, I do assure you, was the true substance of the letter.
Needless to say, the three months idea was a bit hard to take, but somehow I felt reassured that it might prove a good thing and provide a salutary ‘break’ for both of us. The Lord would somehow enable for this, too.
The wait, of course, was long and difficult, but at last a further letter did reach me and again I give the gist of it. Joyce had prayed, and now felt the matter could be further tested, and we should, perhaps, seek some opportunities to get to know each other a little better and thus be in a better position to make a judgment about it. This prospect, I need hardly say, brought to me a great sense of joy, and I thanked the Lord greatly for it. I certainly saw to it that the needed opportunities did arise, heralding for me a period of intense relief and inward peace and happiness.
A detail which remains very strongly in my memory is a visit we made to Ootacamund. This was the main ‘Hill Station’ on the Nilgiri Hills, about ten miles further up the mountain road from where we were, and it required some careful planning. I should point out here that Indian culture did not look favourably on unmarried couples being seen out together, and this was always especially important in view of our status as Christian missionaries. Certainly, our work would be seriously discredited if we were found breaking the ‘rules’! This meant we always had to show great care in the time and place of our short walks together, and in other matters also.
As for the time in Ootacamund, we planned to take separate buses up from Coonoor, and then rendezvous somewhere near the ‘Ooty’ bus station! In the Lord’s goodness, all worked well, and we made our way to the well-known ‘Davis’ Tea Shop’. We chose the least discoverable table, and sat for our first afternoon tea together. I sat opposite to Joyce, and right till this day, I remember how moved I was when I saw the expertise she manifested in handling the teapot and milk jug and filling our cups with tea; all so very naturally and so simply! Today’s young people will laugh at the very mention of such a detail, but I am very sure that they are the real losers, and they are the ones who are ‘missing out’ in the finer elements of true romance. You can deny this if you wish, but time will tell.
What I have just described was, I believe, the holy and happy foundation of our totally happy and thoroughly fulfilling married life together. I’m sure we both remember the moment when we first held hands while threading our way through the low green tea-bushes towards some quiet mountain viewpoint which we had ‘discovered together’, and where we could look out over God’s glorious handiwork, and perhaps share together something from God’s Word.
I should point out that the opportunities for these delights were, in fact, few and far between. The great spiritual revival taking place in the city of Madras was just then at its height, with overcrowded morning and evening meetings both at ‘Jehovah Shammah’, the main centre, and in various other parts of the city. My colleague and I were made responsible for quite a large portion of those gatherings, and really private minutes were hard to come by. How I ever found time to write my thrice-weekly (at least!) letters to Coonoor is hard to tell, or even to read and reread those shorter gems that came back. But love somehow found a way! Our much-loved Indian (I should say, ‘Zion-born’!) leaders were very understanding, and sometimes released me for a few days in the Nilgiris. There I could give some much-needed help to a group of believers already gathering for worship in a small house near the Lower Coonoor Town centre and also to some others at the Engledene Meeting Hall further up the mountainside, just above Hebron School. For me, those were memorable missions, indeed, and no doubt the very rarity of the occasions served to make those times even more delightful. I am forever grateful to those who made those times possible. God bless them!
I may mention, too, that some of those mountain visits were concluded by brief train rides together! Occasionally Joyce had to go to the nearby University town of Coimbitore in connection with her work, and Coimbitore was the first main railway junction en route to Madras. Joyce and I could therefore arrange to meet ‘accidentally’ at the Coonoor railway station, and do that small section of my Madras-ward journey together. It would start with the 10 to 12 mile descent down the mountainside in the famous Nilgiri ‘rack-railway’, always extremely beautiful, and with innumerable monkeys playing noisily in the trees close alongside. Marvellous views would unfold as the ‘toy train’ trundled its way between the magnificent tea estates, then the coffee plantations, and finally the shady cashew nut estates as we neared the plains. At Mettapalayam, we had to change trains and join the Madras Express for that final twenty miles or so to Coimbitore. Travelling with Joyce has always been an entertainment in itself. As a small child she had been trained to be observant, and her wise schoolteacher invariably expected all the class to be ready to report to the class something unusual they had seen while coming to school that morning. Perhaps you can imagine how much she had to say to me during those earliest train rides together! At Coimbitore, her missionary friend would meet her at the railway station, while I reluctantly continued my onward journey to Madras; somewhat lonesome, perhaps, but grateful to the Lord for more happy memories and for those dear colleagues who had helped.
Joyce’s situation at that time could only be described as idyllic. There was the beautiful school in the most beautiful part of those beautiful Nilgiri Mountains. Joyce loved her work, surrounded by dedicated Christian teachers, and a motherly principal equally devoted to the Lord. Added to this were those regular letters from Australia with all the home news. In every sense, the sun was shining on her way.
It was at that time that a choice Christian pamphlet fell into Joyce’s hands. It was entitled ‘The Story of the Bamboo’ (see appendix 1). In allegorical style it records the thoughts and feelings of a beautiful bamboo tree, when it was told by its owner that it was needed for higher service further up the mountain, and that the process would be costly. There would be the initial falling into the dust, and then the stripping off of all the superfluous foliage. Then would come the necessary dividing of the whole bamboo from top to bottom in order to form two separate ducts essential to the task. These would be carried up into the mountain where the necessary conduit was needed, and then carefully fitted end to end, for the performing of their task. The owner was faithful in explaining that it would cost the beautiful bamboo everything, but there was the promise of becoming the vital link between the supplies above and the need below. The answer at each point was simple and unquestioning: “Master, I am Your property; You have purchased me. Do with me as You will. That will be my fullest joy.”
On reading that pamphlet, Joyce got the message, and readily gave her reply to her Owner: “Have Thine own way, Lord.” Perhaps it may explain also why, for some years to come, our letters often terminated with the unusual phrase ‘Your loving fellow-bamboo’!
I think you will realise how much Joyce was beginning to mean to me. As a result, there were occasions when, reporting my safe arrival back in Madras, I would insert a sentence somewhat as follows: “One of these days, Joycie dear, I may be asking you a very important question, so please try and be ready”. I think Joyce must have guessed what I had in mind, and, in due time, the day arrived. Here is the story!
It was on one of those occasions when I had been given leave to visit Coonoor, and I was staying at ‘Silverdale’, Lady Ogle’s beautiful home adjoining Hebron School. (Lady Ogle was a dear sister from Honor Oak, London, England, where, at that time, brother T. Austin-Sparks ministered. She supported several missionaries and also the ministry of brother Sparks.) Between Silverdale and the School was a high-level area, which had once been the Silverdale tennis court. It was surrounded by lovely gum trees, and, at one end was what we knew as the Summer House,—a beautiful setting, I would say, for asking important questions! On a certain quiet evening, when we had finished our respective tasks, I met Joyce in the Summer House. After some commonplace preliminaries, and somewhat nervously, I asked her my question: would she be willing to be my wife. I will not go into details, but after what seemed to be an eternal pause, she smiled and said she would. That was on 14th August 1941. No one will ever know the happiness that was ours as I later took Joyce’s hand and led her back to the little gate that led into Hebron, and turned to walk back to Silverdale house, and prepare myself for dinner! Also I remember the smile on Lady Ogle’s face when I told her what had just happened, and when she assured me that, from then on, ‘Silverdale’ would always be open for any private chats I needed to have with dear Joyce! She, too, had recognised a rare jewel!
My mountain visit was to be only a short one, but, during the few days that remained, we were able to meet more frequently, and began a prayerful planning of ‘when’ and ‘where’. The day finally agreed on was 29th November of that same year, 1941; the place, the Engledene Meeting Hall. This was in the interests of the indigenous population, and of the work that we were both to be engaged in, and so that it could be conducted in their style. We carefully explained this to our good friends at the Union Church and they, perhaps reluctantly, saw the values of it. A kind Baptist minister who held the necessary licence, agreed to look after the legal side of things. A tea-planter friend and his wife offered to loan us their comfortable ‘bungalow’ for the first few days after the wedding. After that, Joyce and I would move to Madras, and seek some suitable accommodation somewhere near ‘Jehovah Shammah’. Needless to say, I returned to the work in Madras as a very happy man!
I feel that I should now briefly outline what I believe was a wholly satanic reaction to all this. You may be surprised to read that the great joy I have been describing was quickly followed by a period of deep suffering, especially for Joyce. Here is the story.
Not long after I got back to Madras, I began to detect a strange element of sadness in some of Joyce’s letters, and then, slowly, the truth came out. Joyce had been very seriously warned by some in high places that she was now walking into real danger, and that on two accounts!
Some were telling her that, by embracing a style of missionary work which was outside the normal Missionary Society way, that is, by my being just an honorary helper in an indigenous movement, she was heading for serious financial problems, and, sooner or later, she would lack adequate support, and her family would be the ones who had to suffer! I now write this nearly sixty years later, and testify that we have been well looked after.
More serious than that, however, there were some, claiming to be especially ‘in the know’, who alleged that there were deep doctrinal flaws in the position of my home-church at Honor Oak in London. I shall not go into details, but simply say that such rumours were by no means new to me, and it has again and again been proved that they sprang from complete misinformation, a much used tool of Satan. I only trouble to mention it here to explain the deep sadness that came over Joyce at this time. It was not that she was at all unsettled in herself, for we had often talked over these things before, and Joyce knew exactly what she was doing. It was only that she could not bear to see so many of her friends drawing back from her, and yet doing so, supposedly, in her interests!
A little later, by God’s grace, she was enabled to rise above the trial, and we give Him praise. Perhaps it was an early lesson on the deeper realities of the Calvary way we were now taking together. And I believe it yielded great increase (Job 5:15; Rom. 8:28).
To complete the record here, I am glad we can report a very happy ending to this episode, for, years afterwards, when we were visiting a missionary colleague in a home for elderly people in England, we accidentally ran across the dear lady who had been our main critic. She was truly delighted that at last she had her chance to apologise sincerely for the ill-founded stand she had earlier taken against us, and ‘at such a time’. With real maturity, she asked her dear Joyce to forgive her. Hugs and kisses followed, and so ended that story! All praise to our living Lord!
I think that quite a brief account of the wedding itself will here suffice, for this is intended to be our inner love story and not really a biography. In God’s goodness, all went to plan, and the Engledene Meeting Hall was filled to overflowing. Chairs were provided for those that needed them, but most were happy to sit, as usual, on the matted floor, and with their shoes, as per custom, left at the door. Many had to stand outside in the sunshine, but all doors and windows were left open, so that all felt very much included. Formalities were at a minimum, and it just seemed like an extra time for special praise and prayer. Bakht Singh himself was able to be present, and we shall never forget the power and anointing with which he poured out his heart for our future happiness. A choice of refreshments was available afterwards, either at the Hall itself, or back at Joyce’s school, for those not so used to hot Indian curry! Of course, our joy was full. Joyce’s principal did her part well, and the children, too, were all excited and happy.
As the sun was setting, we were finally driven out to the lovely Hallashana bungalow for our few days of, let us call it, rest and recuperation. I shall not attempt any further descriptions, but simply say that, again, God had given us His best. Our halcyon happiness was further intensified on the second morning, by an unexpected visit from four of our very special friends: our sister Lady Ogle, her close colleague Claire Sinclair, my own colleague Fred Flack, and dear old ‘Bumble Bee’! The latter was Lady Ogle’s Indian car-driver; greatly overweight, but shining ebony face, and a true lover of the Lord. Joyce and I were strolling between the tea-bushes at the time, and we saw this spread-out band of four advancing towards us. I can’t remember whether they were hand-in-hand or not, but they were happy in heart, and told us, unconvincingly, that their visit was necessitated by an important message that had come to hand concerning our expected travel plans. Anyway, all had a good time, and I could not help thinking what a happy and representative family we were!
After our few special days at Hallashana, we returned to Hebron school, picked up our baggage, and headed off on the night train to Madras, where we could spend just a few days among the brothers and sisters at ‘Jehovah Shammah’. It is good we were travelling third class, as usual, because quite a few of the ‘more monied’ Hebron parents were travelling on the same train with young offspring! They were in the upper classes of the train so we were more or less oblivious of them until the train steamed into Madras Central Station early the next morning. There, right on the crowded platform a great surprise was awaiting us. There must have been 80 or 100 of our Madras brothers and sisters waiting eagerly for us, singing out their loved Tamil songs and choruses, to give us a proper Christian welcome. Especially their new little sister from Australia! They almost dragged us from the train, plus baggage, knelt down on the platform, with us right in their midst. They thanked the Lord for a good journey, and for the wonderful fellowship we were destined to enjoy together. I was quite familiar with such procedures, and heartily entered in. However, Joyce, I fear, had never knelt down on a railway platform before; especially in the midst of such a crowd, not to mention the well-dressed parents and children standing on the periphery and looking on with not a little amazement! That was Joyce’s memorable entrance into the ‘family’ at Madras!
Shortly after, we were whisked off to the beautiful ‘Jehovah Shammah’ compound, where, again, many were waiting in the hall for a further time of praise and thanksgiving, all happily seated on the floor, and clapping their hands joyfully to give extra lilt to their songs. In consideration of the long and sleepless journey we had had, the celebrations were comparatively brief. Then we all went to the back to have what was our first Indian breakfast together; tasty ‘dosais’ and chutney, or, ‘iddalies’ and chutney, and also a fried egg for the little Australian sister who might find that a little more palatable and according to taste. All of us, of course, were seated on the matted floor; a joyful entrance into ‘family life’ at ‘Jehovah Shammah’! Perhaps it was all somewhat new for her, but she took it well and gained full credits; bless her! Many gave Joyce nicely written Bible promises, among them a masterpiece from a very zealous North Indian brother, who had recently arrived among us. Not to be outdone by anybody in the South, he had painstakingly written out Genesis 24:60: “Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.” All in the family!
Looking back, now, after nearly sixty years, we can only say that we believe that the marriage we have just described was a marriage ‘made in Heaven’, and friends who have watched on have often said the same. Needless to say we give the Lord all the glory. How good it is indeed when it can be said of anything, what Laban said of the upcoming marriage of his sister Rebekah: “The thing proceedeth from the Lord” (Gen. 24:50).
And we could add the word of wise Gamaliel: “If this … be of men, it will come to nought, but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it” (Acts 5:38,39). And Gamaliel was speaking there of the evident emerging of another bride, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ!
We, ourselves, are forever thankful to the Lord that we can say of our marriage: “This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working” (Isaiah 28:29). And we are greatly humbled at the thought of His amazing grace, even to us!
For good reasons, known only to the Lord, our own marriage did not lead on to the birth of a family, but this too, we have confidently left in His hands. It was something of a surprise to us, but we have never felt we had any reason to be offended, or even to raise questions. Indeed, we have clearly seen that God had His own good reasons, for He had planned for us what we have often called a ‘gypsy life’, constantly travelling together from place to place and from country to country, to give out His message and to encourage His people. And we may add that, times without number, we have found ourselves lovingly integrated, as guests, into choice Christian homes worldwide, and able to enjoy other people’s children, who were being raised and educated at other people’s expense! Again, “how unsearchable is His wisdom, and His ways past finding out!” Looking back over those many years, we can only say that God, in His matchless grace, has again fulfilled His promise to Abraham, and to those who are Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:7-9). He has truly blessed us, and even made us a blessing, and, we are told, there are many families in all parts of the world who have been blessed (Gen. 12:2,3). All praise and glory to the Lord!
What I have already written could, no doubt, be regarded as a complete love story in itself, beginning in London and Australia respectively, and finishing, as we have shown, on the tea-clad slopes of the Nilgiri Hills in South India. ‘Nilgiri’, incidentally, means ‘Blue Mountains’ (Nil=blue; Giri =mountains), so named because of the dark blue colour that comes over them when the sun reflects the blueness of the sky on to them, especially in the early mornings. They were certainly ‘Blue Mountains’ to us; ever-to-be-remembered scene of our solemn and sacred tryst! All glory to the Lord!
In actual fact, however, all that was but a preparation for a fuller and deeper love story which has now gone on for more than half a century; one that has not finished yet, by any means!
I am not planning to tell very much about that later and longer love story, but rather just to say something about its wholly unexpected beginnings, and then, finally, to give some details about the present situation.
As for those strange beginnings, you may be as surprised as we were, to know that their setting was not in India, after all, but rather in Japan, and in a prisoner of war camp at that! Let us try to explain!
Japan, as we know, entered into World War Two on the 8th December 1941, and launched that horrifying assault on Pearl Harbour. That was a week or so after our wedding in India, and Joyce and I were already happily on our way from Madras to Singapore, and then to Australia. We had steamed out of Madras harbour on 6th December, with no thought of Japanese involvement in the war. Some weeks before, God had spoken to us very clearly about going to Australia, and had given remarkable evidence that this was to be His way for us. But, we never dreamed all that God had planned! Even when our little ship’s radio-room picked up the news of Pearl Harbour, we had no fears, for we knew we were in God’s will, and we believed He had already ‘charged His angels’ concerning us and that they would “keep us in all our ways” (See psalm 91:11,12).
To cut a very long story short, we did eventually reach Australia safely, and I had the great joy of being welcomed into the family of my new Queensland relatives and enjoying very precious fellowship. We had to wait longer than we had expected to get a return passage to India, but, at last the Lord opened a way for us, again speaking to us very clearly from His Word. Joyce’s verse particularly, was a great strength to us: “We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go” (2 Chron. 14:11). What then ensued has been told in another writing (Report from Australia about the POW camp in Japan), and I shall not repeat it here. In short, we were captured by a German warship, between Fremantle and Colombo on May 12th 1942 and taken up to Japan, to be held there for nearly three and a half years in the POW Camp at Fukushima.
Not many people can say that their extended honeymoon lasted that long and all at the expense of the Japanese Government, but so it was with us! What I wish to stress, however, in this present story, is that even those years were part of God’s glorious plan to put an even greater depth and dimension into our already very precious relationship, and into our devotion to each other. This was in spite of the fact that, for most of that period, we were separated from each other by iron doors, and only allowed to meet for five minutes on birthdays, and, later, on wedding anniversaries; an unusual honeymoon, indeed! I have always believed that it was because of that, that our love grew, and something was ‘put into us’ which otherwise we never would have known. Certainly, we have never doubted that it was all in God’s perfect plan. Surely, surely, “the ways of the Lord are right” (Hos. 14:9).
As we previously said, the fuller story of those years in Japan has been told elsewhere, so we shall now limit ourselves to mentioning just a few incidents that relate, particularly, to our present theme, our personal love story, and the wonderful way by which God perfected our relationship.
Going back, for a moment, to the time of our capture at sea by the Germans, God knows how much I admired Joyce for the calm spiritual poise, which she manifested throughout the attack. Even when the shells were falling all around us, and we were all herded together in a downstairs corridor, she showed no fear at all, and just held my hand and encouraged me! She was one of the first to climb down the rope-ladder into the badly damaged lifeboat, and even smiled with merriment as we made our sinking way to the advancing German warship. I remember how we climbed together up the proffered gangway to the waiting German officers, and then the big ache in my own heart as men and women were separated; the women going one way to their quarters, and we to ours; and only possessing the clothes we stood up in.
The next four days were spent below decks in our separate and very unhygienic dungeons battened down by iron doors in the ceilings, and with no natural daylight.
Even there, however, God had some spiritual daylight for us, and for the women particularly. Joyce’s Bible ‘accidentally’ fell open at Psalm 9, and she read: “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (verse 9). Then she saw a slip of paper fall from the Bible of a missionary friend standing by. Picking it up, she read:
“He chose this path for thee,
No feeble chance, nor hard relentless fate
But love, His love, hath placed thy footsteps here.
He knew the way was rough and desolate,
Knew how the heart would often sink with fear
But tenderly He whispers: Child, I see
This path is best for thee.”
I think you will realise the cheer which these words brought to us all, a little later, when Joyce was able to share them with us. Her ‘prison ministry’ had begun, and we were again the ones being blessed and encouraged!
Not long after this, the women were allowed to go back to our captured ship, to gather up a few personal things, again using rubber boats and rope ladders. That, too, turned out to be a remarkable episode, but the great joy to me was that Joyce was also able to retrieve my beautiful big wide-margin Bible which had been left in our cabin. Most of the margins were already well filled with notes and outlines which the Lord had earlier given me, and I was able to ‘roster it out’ to others during our long stay in Japan, especially those who were just entering into His salvation, and to whom it became an invaluable source of spiritual food. But thanks again to my dear Joyce!
After our capture, we spent seven very adventurous weeks at sea with the Germans, before being handed over to the Japanese authorities in Yokohama Harbour. Then, of course, were those memorable three and a half years in Japan itself. It is not in our purpose now to tell that full story, only a few selected incidents that bear directly on our present specific theme. Hot fires are used for welding, and that is what God was doing!
Fukushima is a somewhat mountainous area about 200 miles north of Tokyo, and we were taken there, under guard, by train. We were housed in a vacated Roman Catholic Convent. The women were lodged at one end and the men at the other, separated, as we said, by iron doors, but, at least, under one roof! Also there were separated areas outside where we could exercise when it pleased our captors to allow it, and if we had been behaving!
Because of the surrounding mountains, Fukushima was a place extremely hot in summer, and extremely cold in winter, because of the winds blowing off the snow, and this greatly aggravated Joyce’s asthma problem. The Lord, however, was very gracious to us in this matter also, and showed us His sovereignty. When Joyce’s attacks were severe, the camp commandant very uncharacteristically provided her with a small charcoal brazier to take the chill from the air in the small cubicle that had earlier been allotted to her, designed and used previously as a ‘lead-in’ medical storage cupboard! Joyce was the only one who could enjoy the warmer air, but most of the women and children had access to the cups of hot water that were constantly being heated on the brazier, and they were more than grateful!
Regarding the children, it was a great joy to Joyce, when she was feeling up to it, to spend an hour or so each day giving them their school lessons. And, better still, they were able to have their Sunday School at least once a week. It is very blessed to think that the very first songs these little ones, most of them Chinese and Malays, ever learned were our much-loved CSSM choruses, learned in Japan and sung in English! The singing would often be overheard on the men’s side, and many of their hearts would have been gladdened, and challenged! God surely has many ways of spreading His gospel! Reverting, for a moment, to that matter of Joyce’s ‘cubicle’, there is a special story we can tell regarding God’s sovereign mercy. Those who know the real Japan will realise that there were no beds in the camp; only the traditional ‘tatamis’, completely covering all the floor-space. These are just straw mats, about 1½ inches thick and approximately 6 ft by 5 ft in size. Each internee was allocated one ‘tatami space’, and that itself was our bed! I have never doubted that, in the allocating of those floor-spacings there was evidence of God’s own gracious sovereignty. Let me try to explain.
The building in which we were housed was in something of an L-shape; the men occupying the longer arm and the women the shorter, with, of course, the 90 degree angle in between. There were also smallish windows in each section, and on each of the two floors, and this made it possible for us to get some brief glimpses of each other on carefully guarded occasions; but of course, only head and shoulders would be visible, and none of the actual floor-space could be seen. I need to point out that, because of her severe asthma problem, Joyce was unable to move from her tatami for weeks, and even months, on end, and, had she been allocated any other space than her little cubicle it would have been quite impossible for me to see her for those long periods. As it was, she was able to slide back a small door, look up through a nearby window, and see me waiting behind a half-lifted bathroom window, and all ready to communicate! And that was the only floor-space that could be seen from our side.
I use the word ‘communicate’ because we were able to develop our own version of the deaf and dumb language which most children pick up at school, not to mention numerous personal signs we devised to convey information of various kinds. All this required the positioning of our own faithful guards who would, by coughs relayed from point to point, warn us if any Japanese guards were approaching! In this way, I was able to find out from Joyce herself how she was feeling, and how she was holding on! We were even able to share with each other what the Lord was giving to us in our quiet times, and any fresh thoughts that were reaching us from God’s Word. Believe it or not, there were often quite illuminating Bible-studies flowing through our fingers!
In this way, too, we could pass on messages from other fellow prisoners, who would gladly show their appreciation by sharing the needed guard-duties! How true it is that love will find a way!
I remember telling Joyce, by this same method, that we were hoping to start a little communion service among the converted men. The bread would not be a problem for we could use part of our daily ration, but what about the wine? Would she pray? The answer came back that, somewhere in her baggage, was a sizeable pot of grape jam, given her from her mother when we were setting out for India! Later she sent it over to us, and our problem was solved. By diluting the jam with water, the supply lasted for many months, and we were sure the Lord understood. And when that supply ran out, a few Red Cross parcels began to arrive, including, among other things some tins of grape jam—no other variety! All thanks to our wonderful Lord!
We earlier mentioned the extreme winter cold in Fukushima, and it brings a particularly precious memory back to me. I have, in my own special treasure chest, a special handkerchief, which Joyce made for me during one of those long winters. She had salvaged the material from some well-worn garment, and, with blue silk thread, had herself embroidered on it some lovely words which I shall always remember. She sent the handkerchief across to me as a birthday present, and with her apologies for “far from perfect embroidery” because her fingers were “rather fat and chilblained”, because of the extreme cold. The words she had beautifully embroidered, read:
“Thou shalt have words; but at this cost—
That thou must first be burned;
Burned by red embers from a secret fire,
Scorched by fierce heats and withering flames
That pierce through all thy being,
Carrying thee afar from old delights.
Not otherwise, and by no lighter cost
Are fire words wrought.” (See Isaiah chapter six)
My dear one was evidently realising that God had a positive plan in the way He was leading us. It was, indeed a fire, but it could lead on to fire words for the Lord in coming days; wherever He might send us! That little handkerchief is still with me, and it never ceases to challenge me.
One more incident must now suffice to complete this particular phase of our love story. It was during our final winter in Japan; and I learned that Joyce’s condition was deteriorating. Messages were reaching me, slipped under the iron door in this case, that I must prepare myself for some sad and difficult news; Joyce’s strength seemed, at last, to have run out. According to an elderly missionary nurse who was trying to look after her—I now pay deep tribute to her—Joyce’s heart was now affected, and the end might be near! The Japanese officials, incidentally, did not tell me a single word about it; I was completely dependent on those secret communications.
I cannot here describe my feelings of brokenness as I took the scribbled note, and my Bible, up to the little attic staircase where we had so often met the Lord, and there begged Him for some word of comfort and direction. I could hardly believe that our dear Father would take her from me after so many of His gracious undertakings; though, admittedly, His ways are sometimes strange. Could this be the final hot flame in that cleansing fire? “O Lord, speak for Thy servant heareth” (1 Sam. 3:10).
When I had returned to some degree of composure, I opened the Bible at my chapter for the day, Proverbs 19, and prayed for that opened ear and heart, for whatever the Lord might say. I came to verse 23, and that surely was His word to my heart. The words seemed to glow before my eyes as I read: “The fear of the Lord tendeth to life: and he that hath it shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil.”
I knew well that the verse was referring to those who truly revere and honour their Lord, and the words assured me that such an attitude leads to life in one form or another! And that most certainly was a great comfort to me. But the words that really gripped me were the final words of the verse and they brought fresh light to me, and new challenges. The verse, we note, concludes with the words, “he shall not be visited with evil” and it was that phrase that carried me, at that moment, to something much deeper. The thought was that those who truly revere the Lord cannot possibly be overtaken by anything which is essentially, and ultimately, an ‘evil’ thing! It will, on the contrary, eventually prove to have been a good thing; it will be something that has brought with it a fuller measure of God’s own blessing.
Applying that to my own situation at that time, I can say that I did not read the verse as a promise that Joyce would come through, and be healed. Rather, was it an assurance to me that, even if the Lord took my dear one, I could rest assured that it would not really be an ‘evil’ thing; it would somehow, somewhere, lead to blessing. In other words, it was a challenge to my trust. Would I, could I, believe even if…? At that very moment, I realised that, deep in my spirit, was the only answer I could give: “Lord, I believe even that; help Thou mine unbelief”. I am sure that the word itself had actually created a new deep trust in my weak and trembling heart, and I was able to say: “Yes, Lord, even if You do take her, it will not be an ‘evil’ thing. Blessing will, in the end, come from it.” I did, however, dare to add, also: “If it could please Thee, would You kindly add an overweight of mercy, and give my dear one back to me again. Thine own perfect will be done!” It was not long afterwards that I descended those ‘sacred stairs’ as a happy man, and believing that, whatever comes, “the ways of the Lord are right” (Hos. 14:9).
Do forgive me, dear reader, if I have spent too long describing that particular experience, but I do believe that the verse discussed and the principle involved, is a most important one, and it could be a help to many, as it was, and continues to be with me. And how I thank God that He did raise her up and restore her to me! Yes, indeed, an overweight of divine mercy!
I can now bear testimony for His glory, that the closing weeks of that winter, were some of the best weeks that Joyce had! She was able to get up, and even minister to the increasing needs of the others around her. Surely, “He hath done all things well” (Mark 7:37). All praise to His Name!
Before closing this section of our story, it comes to me that I ought, perhaps, to say a little more about those many love-letters we wrote to each other, which regularly passed under the door during that time. Incidentally, I wonder what has happened to the ‘dear old-fashioned love-letter’ these days! Has it been entirely killed by computers, faxes, e-mails, and busy mobile telephones, etcetera? That, surely, would be a great loss!
The reason I refrained from mentioning our letters (a sample of such a secret note is shown in appendix 2) was that, for the most part, they had to be written on our very meagre ration of third-rate toilet paper, issued to us by the Japanese; and always written, too, in microscopic writing. The reason for this was so that we could economise with the paper and also to make it impossible for the guards to decipher the contents, if perchance they did manage to intercept a letter at any time! I might say that, nearer the end of our time, when Red Cross parcels were beginning to filter through, the earlier type of ‘stationery’ was replaced by paper covers of cigarette packets. These, of course, originated in America and such places, and were of a distinctly higher quality, and also contained their own, to some, alluring perfume!
I must confess, too, that Joyce kept her sizeable collection of letters in a feather pillow on which she was able, not only to rest her head, but also keep her eye! In God’s goodness, she was able to bring this pillow and contents with her when we left Japan, and a little later we were able to sort through the feathers and extract the hidden treasure! Unfortunately, the folded and flimsy letters were also ‘feathery’ by that time, and could hardly be separated because of the furry down that was all over them. We gave up after a while, but one day we shall try again; or shall we? Perhaps those pencilled masterpieces will have to be reserved, for God’s own archives, and never to be scrutinized again by human eyes! Strange treasures, no doubt, for heaven’s vaults; Japanese bathroom paper and American cigarette packets bearing names like ‘Camel’ or ‘Philip Morris’; all covered with microscopic mysteries and all bound together with thin blue ribbon!
Kindly pardon this frank disclosure of events, but all in good humour, and in the interests of truth!
In God’s goodness, we were finally released from Japan, and that, of course is a great story in itself. Here, however, our subject is our relationship rather than our release, so I must resist any temptation to digress; certainly as to details. Neither of us will ever forget God’s amazing goodness to us. Truly, our captivity had turned, and we felt like them that dream! We recall:
– The undreamed of supplies of food parachuted on to our camp from the giant ‘Super-Fortresses’ of the American Air Force.
– The cheery welcome by friendly ‘GI’s’ when our ‘release train’ reached the east-coast city of Sendai.
– The landing-barges that propelled us out to the waiting USA Hospital ship. There we were deloused and fitted with basic American uniforms, ready for our return to the home country.
– The time on the Australian Destroyer as it raced down the east coast to rendezvous with the great Allied Armada that was anchored there. The great ship ‘USS Missouri’ was there and, no doubt, General McArthur somewhere among the ship’s company. I think our little Destroyer must have been blushing a little as it throbbed its way through such exalted company!
– After formalities at a ‘POW Reception Base’ on the quayside, we were finally put on to a British Aircraft-Carrier bound for Sydney, via Manus Island, where we would be able to send more telegrams!
– After l5 days on board the Carrier, the flag-fluttering welcome into our Sydney Harbour, where we were told we were the first batch of POWs to arrive!
– I must not forget the £50 Free Voucher, so that we could buy some more normal clothing items at ‘David Jones’! We were home again!
– Finally, of course, an old-time rail journey up to Brisbane on the Kyogle Express and the wonderful few days again with Joyce’s family.
I should explain that we had been offered repatriation passages on to England, including a short stay in Bombay en route, but no fixed starting date available as yet. This, of course, suited us admirably, and we decided to accept it, with the hope and prayer of a quick return to India soon after England. How graciously the Lord undertook in all these things also! And, returning to the real point of our present story, how marvellous was the multiplied happiness that came to our own relationship as we, so to speak, ‘floated on that cloud’. This was further accentuated when we finally reached England together, and when Joyce, for the first time, met my waiting family. And then, not long after, the wonderful reunion with my loved church at Honor Oak. Their faithful prayers, I know, had been responsible for many of those resurrection-miracles I have already described. Moreover, how lovingly they adopted Joyce and brought her right into everything. And it was no surprise to me to see her ‘entering in’, so easily and naturally, and even telling me that, at last, she had found the kind of church-fellowship her inmost heart had always craved for! And how hungrily she devoured the continuing and deepening Bible ministry, the prayers, the praises and the solemn awe-inspired worship of our saving and keeping God. Again I am reminded of:
“Beauty everywhere, in earth and sky and sea,
But beautiful beyond compare is Jesus Christ to me”.
We have done our best to share as briefly as possible the admittedly unusual story of our early years together, but we must now do a big leap over the next more than fifty years! Coming out of Japan we were already entering our thirties, approaching the prime, as they say, and the best was still ahead! We have no intention, now, of going into any details of that half-century, for we must reserve sufficient time to tell of our present years when we are well into our eighties! A brief summary, therefore must suffice.
The whole period was probably summed up best in a statement we made earlier about being called to a ‘gypsy life’, for that it certainly proved to be. For more than fifty years it has been our lot to travel from place to place, and from country to country, sharing God’s Word, and pressing on in our own quest to know the Lord ourselves. (Heb. 8:11; Phil. 3:8-10). Not least, it was another, and a longer, opportunity to get to know each other and to experience the further wonders of our partnership together; our happy marriage surely ‘made in heaven’. It was a half-century of walking hand-in- hand together, and trying to serve out our gratitude to the Lord. In God’s mercy, it took us to some ‘high places’, even in this world, but also to some lowlier spots more in keeping with our own humble beginnings. (Read Joyce’s remarks on the spiritual school in appendix 3 as a sample these ‘high places’.)
Sometimes we have to laugh when we consider the extremes we have experienced in connection with accommodation, etc. In the normal pursuit of our work we have frequently been cared for in some of the loveliest country mansions of rural England, and the like; welcomed as family members and enjoying all the comforts to the full. Sometimes we have been accommodated, for days on end, in some of the plush hotels of the Middle East. On the other side of the equation, and with equal acceptance, we have been lovingly cared for in the single-room homes of some of our dearest Indian, Pakistani and Filipino brothers and sisters. In some cases a suspended blanket would be the only screen between us and the rest of the family. As for ‘ablutions’ they often needed to be performed under the cover of darkness, somewhere in the back garden amidst the prayerfully planted vegetables. But, to be sure, some ‘dark figure’ would already have anticipated our furtive movements and each of us would have been supplied with a good bucket (deckshie) of hot water; heated and prepared we know not how, but certainly serving to make the whole exercise more pleasant! Not long afterwards, the sun would rise and we would join the family for the best of all breakfasts, like Indian chapattis or iddalies, or dossais, all with the appropriate ground chutneys. Which was the better of the two extremes it is hard to tell, but I think we would opt for the latter, though Joyce might possibly differ. Oh how privileged we have been to taste both worlds. It is a fact that God has mainly chosen the poor of this world, who are, nevertheless, rich in faith (Jas. 2:5), and heirs of a kingdom promised to them that love Him. That surely is the universal secret. Even so, we have seen for ourselves that He has also, in His overall strategy, laid His apprehending hand on some who are undeniably rich in earthly possessions and also, we find, in their faith! Such have not regarded what they have as theirs, but rather as a trust from God to be shared for the happiness of all the born-again family and for the reaching of a poor and needy world. While we well know that most gold is found in low and hidden places, there are surely some nuggets retrieved from the higher levels. Joyce and I have been able to learn some of these lessons in all these ‘classrooms’ in God’s school and it has all served to bring us ever closer together.
That is just one glimpse of the whole half-century we have referred to. We refrain from telling more, and we must maintain our close concentration on our present specific theme, the inner heart-story of a missionary couple. I do believe, however, that those five action-filled decades did yield their full quota of blessing and helpfulness in every way. We were ‘holding hands’ throughout, and going ‘deeper and deeper’ with each other and, we trust, with the One who was leading us all the way.
In the space that remains to us, we shall try to tell about our present situation, which we believe is proving to be the most productive of them all, particularly in the matter of our deepening fellowship together. To some, it may sound as an anticlimax, but we do believe the exact opposite is the case. May the Lord help us to share it all as we should.
This part of our story could be said to have commenced in the early months of 1993 when Joyce and I were travelling and ministering in different parts of Europe. The Lord was greatly and graciously blessing us. More and more were praying for us, and we were being led “in the train of His triumph” (2 Cor. 2:14; Conybeare) and celebrating His victory from place to place. We foresaw no problems; we were only happy to be His captives.
We had crossed over to England and were spending some days with my sister down in Somerset and looking forward to Joyce’s birthday on 7th April. It was at that point that my ‘lover’s eye’ detected something ‘a little strange’ in Joyce’s movements, and behaviour. To cut a long story short, it soon eventuated that these were the early signs of oncoming Alzheimer’s disease; though we were not able to give it a name at that stage. The little tell-tale evidences were only showing themselves very gradually and slowly, and we did not even need to talk about it, but rather just quietly get on with our task. For years, Joyce had known the difficulties of asthma, but now there was this other load for her; and did she, perhaps, also have some Parkinson’s disease?
We were wonderfully enabled to continue with that tour quite normally, but with briefer stays in India and the Philippines, and it was only those who were very close to us, or who had a trained eye, that detected any difference in Joyce. To all others she was just the same ‘Sister Joyce’, happy as ever in the Lord and, God be praised, always emanating Christ. Probably she was in no way conscious of the little differences that were appearing. And those who were ‘in the know’ assured us of their prayers, as we continued on to Australia.
Some may be surprised when I say that the main effect on me was that I found myself positively plunged into an altogether new measure of love and devotion to my dear one. It is hard to describe, but it seemed as if new capacities for loving and caring, shall we say, new ‘areas’, were opened up within me; I was somehow swimming in a wider and deeper sea! Please remember that this is designedly a true and factual account of my own profound relationship and I want to tell as much of the whole mystery as I possibly can. I can say that Joyce’s new and evident neediness was waking me up, inwardly, to something I never knew before. And I believe that Joyce could feel it and was knowing a similar enlarging in her heart!
Arriving back in Australia from Manila, we were, in God’s grace, able to secure our own comfortable home not far from Joyce’s home area, where some of her own family members had their homes, and this made possible a regular family-contact with others whom she loved. By all working together, we were able to supply that extra help which Joyce needed, and we all found it a joy. I myself was able to carry quite a load of local Bible ministry, and we were even able to have some of our own friends ‘come along and stay with us’, often for days on end. Joyce was always a kind and capable hostess.
I would like to add, too, that we were able to do everything in close oneness with our nearby church-fellowship, and we discovered again what a boon the real church family can be. While there were still areas of care and concern that had to remain our own (Gal. 6:5), there were also areas that could be, and should be, shared together (Gal. 6:2) under Him who is Father of us all. How good it is to dwell together in unity (Psalm 133)!
The time also came when we were glad of the help of people like ‘Meals on Wheels’, and later the ‘Blue Nurses Association’, always ready to help us with essential tasks. We often felt that all such were among God’s angels “sent forth to minister to the heirs of God’s salvation” (Heb. 1:14). It was all quite a new situation for us, but we had the precious and deep assurance that God was graciously leading us on in His own wise way, and we were coming to mean more and more to each other. How wonderful are God’s ways of working!
This all reminds me of something I had written a little earlier, during that final stay in England to which I have already made reference. Actually, it was the evening before Joyce’s eightieth birthday. For some reason, I had been unable to purchase a present for her. The thought came that perhaps I could write a little birthday poem and give that to her instead! I am no poet by any means, but in a few minutes the following words came together and certainly expressed what was in my heart at that time.
Today is her eightieth birthday.
O, what can I do, think, or say?
What gift can I set down before her
To show her my love on this day?
Fine words cannot tell out the story,
Nor actions that secret display,
No gift can the mystery betoken,
Nor jewel my great debt repay.
My gift must be more than a purchase,
And more than a tangible thing,
And more than a visible token,
Yes, more than that old golden ring.
So, I’ll give her today my whole future.
And holding that warm tiny hand,
We’ll look to the sunrise before us,
We’ll head for Emmanuel’s land.
God knows what awaits us tomorrow.
God knows all the path we must tread.
Our lives shall be one for His purpose,
In Christ we are raised from the dead.
Our life is now hidden in Jesus;
His Spirit abides deep within.
Thank God for this eightieth birthday,
A new year with God we’ll begin.
May I add that the apologetic presentation was made the following morning, 7th April 1993, and I think Joyce enjoyed those simple verses more than the box of chocolates, that followed later!
Returning now to that later story, telling of our resettlement in Australia, and to the help that came to us from every side, we can only say that the Lord continued to be very gracious to us. We were told that entrance into Nursing Homes was very hard to come by, and involved very long waiting lists, particularly if two vacancies were required at the same time. News did reach us, however, of a possible way, but we would have to give an answer, and move in within 3 days! We shared the possibility with Joyce’s relatives, and also asked for the prayers and advice of the elders of the church. All the responses were quite positive, and the upshot was that, on 5th October 1995 we locked up our furnished home at Capalaba and moved into our present home at ‘Salvin Park’. Shortly afterwards I wrote a circular letter to many of our concerned friends, explaining what had eventuated, and asking for their continued prayers. I informed them that I now had my own room in the hostel section of the complex, and that this meant we would still be able to spend much time together, and that I could have most of my meals with Joyce in the Nursing Home dining-room. I also added: “It has meant settling in to a new institutionalised lifestyle, but the Lord has helped us. We find ourselves surrounded by very many needy souls, and this promises to be our new mission field. We are seeking to “sow beside all waters” (Isa. 32:20), residents, visitors, and staff, and the Lord is helping us. We are making full use of the public rooms, and also the beautiful grounds, and are trusting the Lord for His blessing.”
That, I may say, continues to be the general picture of our situation right up to the present. It is nearly five years since we came here and not one moment have we regretted. As for Joyce, she has been magnificent, and I plan now to tell more about that inner ‘growing together’ which has been our subject throughout these pages, and which is still a continuing story.
I said earlier, when discussing our first recognition of the advancing Alzheimer’s, that the first real effect on me was the discovery within myself, of ‘a new measure of love and devotion to my dear one’. In fact, I said: “I found myself swimming in a wider and deeper sea.” Seven more years have now passed, and that continues to be the story. And here in Salvin Park it is finding its fulness, something beyond all words.
Perhaps what I am trying to say now will best be conveyed if I take the time to quote, word for word, a testimony which I shared with my praying friends almost four years ago. If you are patient, I believe you will see that deeper picture. This is how the testimony reads:
“For some months now, my dear Joyce has lacked the power of normal speech and can only utter very short sentences, and that very infrequently. She can, however, still comprehend and follow all details when things are being said to her, or stories are being told or read to her. This we have tested and established, and it is a real mercy.”
There have been some welcome exceptions to these limitations and we do thank the Lord for them. Just a few weeks ago, ‘we’ were singing the praises of the Lord in our little room, and we felt the Lord Himself was very much with us. Deep in our spirits, we were ‘seeing His glory’ and our hearts were glad. We were actually singing the chorus ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life’, and I could see that Joyce was enjoying every word, even though no words were coming from her lips. I started to sing it once again, and then, to my joy, Joyce joined in. Summoning up what I feel was Special Strength, she began to sing, in a loud clear voice the beautiful words of the whole chorus. It was the first time I had heard that voice for several months, and I think you will understand my special joy when Joyce reached the final words, ‘and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, and I shall feast at the table spread for me!’ All of it came through loud and clear and to the proper tune as written. I felt it was nothing less than an inspired and anointed testimony, given in God’s strength and to His glory.”
The other happy incident was just two days ago, and perhaps very similar. We had just gone through our regular reading of God’s Word, and were both enjoying a special ‘song-session’ together; just one voice, mine, but two happy hearts and spirits. The song, this time, was ‘I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, confused at the grace which so freely He proffers me, …’. We were specially enjoying the refrain which goes: “O it is wonderful, that he should care for me, enough to die for me, for me; O it is wonderful, wonderful to me.” I (we) had sung it all through a couple of times, and I can say our joy was mounting. Then, to my surprise and joy, as I came to the final words, Joyce suddenly joined in. She just came out with a specially big smile and visibly bracing her shoulders— so it seemed to me—and, that is the only way I can describe it, she sang out in her own clear voice, the final words of the chorus: “O it is wonderful, wonderful to me.”
Again, it was that same voice which I know so well, and love so much, just a little muffled now, perhaps, but certainly according to tune, and altogether from the heart: “O it is wonderful, wonderful to me.”
I now put those two experiences on record, for, to me, they were unusual and outstanding, and I shall never forget them. Hallelujah! Indeed, it is wonderful that He should care for me, enough to die for me. Yes, it is wonderful, wonderful to me! I might add that we have no desire to repeat these experiences. God gave the special enabling when it pleased Him, and that is true of all His gracious gifts. We just continue to concentrate on ‘knowing Him’, but we do so greatly encouraged.”
Those two episodes, I can truly say, were definitely a part of our ongoing love story, and that is why I have had to share them with you. Salvin Park has done much to take us deeper and deeper and to bring us closer and closer.
And while we are on that subject of singing, I think I have to say that, during our whole stay here, we have found ourselves singing away, audibly, day after day, to a degree far in excess of anything that we have ever known before. We know our limitations in that area, but our heart-joy together has been so much that we could hardly do anything else. People who visit us by surprise have usually found us thus occupied. Be it in our rooms, or somewhere out in the garden, singing half-volume or so, has been our usual occupation. We have just had to follow the advice of James: “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms” (Jas. 5:13). There was nothing else we could do! Truly, God Himself has filled our mouth with laughter and our tongue with singing (Psalm 126:2) and we say it to His praise. Joyce’s audible participation is now minimal but her inner heart still sings with me.
I could say much more about this, but I hesitate for fear of sounding overenthusiastic. For God’s glory, however, and as plain and simple fact, I can declare that our joy has long stood at ‘boiling point’, and I believe it is the logical result of letting God have His way as far as our marriage and life-partnership is concerned. It has all led on to “joy unspeakable”! I myself can hardly believe it, but I have already filled a sizable notebook with fresh songs that have come to me, extemporaneously, nearly every day; words and tunes, and all about Christ! I can say that He Himself has been the single theme; His coming to earth; His life and death; His resurrection and, thank God, His sure coming again! The Holy Spirit has caused us to be enraptured with Christ, and I tell you the joy has often seemed unbearable! And may I add that this joyful singing is also proving to be an extra way for preaching the gospel! Even when wheeling Joyce’s luxurious wheelchair up and down the corridors, the unrestrainable ‘ministry’ goes on. We have been led to use some of the better known favourites like ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘Tell me the old, old story’, etc., and ‘the prisoners have heard us’ (Acts 16:25). Till now, there have been no objections or complaints, so we expect the ‘ministry’ to go on, and to touch these many needy hearts. Joyce’s voice cannot now be heard, but everybody knows her heart is with me in this. And I know that all who have had any recent dealings with her have come to love her, and have been touched by her deep peace and her quiet disarming smile! Different ones have told us this, and not a few have added that they wished their ‘partnerships’ were like ours! But, let me say again, it is all God’s grace and mercy. To Him be the praise!
There is no doubt that Salvin Park has become our new mission field and not long ago, I found myself writing:
Lord, it is good for us to be
In Salvin Park, dear Lord, for Thee.
We see the grief; we feel the pain,
In souls to whom few years remain.
And it is good that we can pray,
And share their burdens day by day.
And tell them of that precious blood,
That brings us, sinners, back to God.
Lord, keep us faithful day by day,
Help us our debt of love to pay.
And may we true examples be
Of guilty men, transformed by Thee.
Light up these souls, ease their distress,
Put forth Thy power to save and bless.
Let songs abound; O, let us see
Signs of that power that lies in Thee.
We ourselves shall continue to ‘sow the seed’ in these various ways, and we are looking to the Lord to ‘give the increase’.
This is our love story right up till this present moment. These deep personal things are not easy to write about, but I trust these paragraphs will be a blessing. I am convinced that the love-bond that exists between Joyce and me has always been a vital part of the ministry and witness entrusted to us. In fact, I have always believed that there is some extra power and authority released when two servants of the Lord are moving and working together in a God-made oneness of heart and spirit. I am sure there are good Scriptural grounds for saying so.
It may be well, now, to conclude our story by passing on to you a little poem which the Lord recently gave me. It was written for Joyce only, but later came to be shared with a few of her close friends. I am now able to share it with a wider circle; trusting my readers to respect the confidence. It is all about Joyce, ‘My Lovely Rose’, and briefly traces her biography from early childhood right up until today!
Happy little rosebud,
dancing in the breeze
Playing with her sister-buds,
in among the trees.
Thrilled by Bible-stories,
learned at mother’s knees.
Loud and long the gospel songs,
O what harmonies!
Quickly growing rosebud,
Changes clearly seen.
Streaks of gold and crimson
Folded in the green.
Learning needed lessons,
Hastening to obey.
Both at work and play.
Then the full-formed rose-bloom,
Daily much admired,
Giving out secret fragrance,
Chosen as God’s servant,
Sent across the seas,
Telling out the gospel truth,
Conquering on her knees.
Lovely sun-drenched rose-bloom
Freshened by the dew,
God’s own risen Jesus
Ever shining through.
Thoughts of self forgotten,
Earthly gains but loss,
Living for the Saviour,
Glorying in the cross.
Long has been the story,
Stretched across the years,
Often merry laughter,
Sometimes troubled tears.
All who’ve seen my rose-bloom
Know just what I mean.
Never fairer rose-bloom
Eye hath ever seen.
Now men see a rose-bloom
Limp, and marked with brown.
Gone, they say, its beauty,
Petals falling down.
Yet a greater beauty
God-trained eyes can see,
More and more I see
Inward though they be.
Never once complaining,
Even wilted petals
Cast at Jesus’ feet.
Soon may be the moment
When the Bridegroom comes.
Gently cuts His rose-bloom,
Takes her to His home.
His will be that beauty,
His that fragrance rare;
Hers that love excelling,
Hers that constant care.
<Those of you who have now read the fuller story will be able to fill in the blank spaces. We repeat that not one scrap of credit can be ours. It has all been “the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23).
There, then, is our love story, and it goes out with the prayer that it may be a blessing; especially to ‘beginners’! I repeat that I feel sure the present generation is missing out on something very wonderful which they have every right to know and to enjoy. Perhaps, after all, it is they who are the truly ‘lost generation’, and need our prayers.
You may remember that, when I began to tell our story, I said that, at the end, I would give what I believe to be God’s basic secret in all these things. I shall now fulfil that promise; so “notebooks ready, please!” Your teacher is nearly 89 years old, and my voice now has a tremble; so listen carefully, please, and prayerfully!
I believe that the basic Bible-verse in this matter is Genesis chapter two, verse twenty-two. (That is a reference easy to remember, for the digits themselves, two, two, two, seem to want to say something to us on this subject of ‘partnerships’ and ‘togetherness’; happy accident!) The verse reads: “And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man”.
If your Bible has marginal renderings to it, you will notice that the word ‘made’ should, more literally, be rendered ‘builded’. (The note is well justified, because the Hebrew word here used is not usually translated in that way. Far more regularly, it has to do with actual building or construction.) Bearing that in mind, we could rightly say that God built Eve, and then brought her to Adam. That, we believe is God’s ordained ‘way’; first He ‘builds’ (characterwise), and then He ‘brings’. And He is behind it all! It is His working.
We should, of course, expect some important principles to be found in that verse, for it is the first mention of marriage in the Bible and it tells of the first coming together of a human bride and a human bridegroom; and God wants us to know His way! Our marriages, too, are to be His ‘workmanship’ (Eph. 2:10).
The important thing is that three persons are here involved: the Builder, the bridegroom and the bride. Any marriage which is just a two-person arrangement is sadly ‘missing the way’, to say the very least! The Bible begins with: “In the beginning God”, and therein is a principle that applies to all situations: God must be included, and God must be supreme!
And how very willing God is to ‘build’ His chosen brides and then to ‘bring’ them! This is what He was doing in connection with Rebekah, for instance, when she was doing active service in the house of Bethuel, and carrying water for the camels of her brother Laban and even for others who needed her services! Something essential to Isaac was being ‘built’ into her character and Isaac saw it and loved her for it! And, after the ‘building’, was the ‘bringing’; in her case, the long camel-ride across the desert, listening to all that Eliezer, representative of the Holy Spirit, was able to tell en route about Abraham’s beloved son (See Rom. 8:14; John 14:26; John 16:14).
And it would have been the same with Ruth, the Gentile-bride of Boaz. In her case, the building work would have begun in her own country of Moab, long before she met those refugees from Bethlehem. And what costly building work during those three tragic bereavements: her father-in-law, her brother-in-law and finally her own husband. Then came the Zion-ward journey when she was being brought to Bethlehem and to the barley-fields of a wealthy Boaz. She was even brought into his threshing floor. Boaz quickly recognised the ‘strong structure’ that was emerging, and Ruth became his bride! Indeed, indeed, God builds and brings His brides!
I have always believed that God was building my own dear Joyce for me long before I met her in those lovely Nilgiri Hills of South India. Even in her childhood, playing among her sisters in that ‘orchard by the sea’, God was “forming Christ” (Gal. 4:19) in His dear child. And, how I thank God that, in ways that I have now described to you, He brought her to me.
My advice to you, then, young people, is let God build, and then let God bring. We may so easily make mistakes, but God never will. As the old chorus puts it: “He knows, He loves, He cares; nothing this truth can dim. He gives the very best to those who leave the choice to Him.”
Or, still better, as the precious Word of God itself says:“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5, 6).
We ourselves as a ‘partnership’ have now proved the truth of that promise for wellnigh sixty years; sixty wonderful years. And we are now singing together (one voice; two hearts!) the words of Fanny Crosby:
All the way my Saviour leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell,
For I know whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
All the way my Saviour leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo! a spring of joy I see.
All the way my Saviour leads me.
Oh, the fulness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed, immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day,
This, my song through endless ages,
Jesus led me all the way.