I was always involved in the Holy Convocations, because I was usually there when Bakht Singh proposed to have a Holy Convocation. We took Jehovah Shammah in June 1941, and Bakht Singh proposed a convocation in December, which is usually a rainy month. That was the first Holy Convocation. Bakht Singh always preferred biblical words for Christian events. In Leviticus chapter 23, we read about the seven convocations when Israel as a nation came up to Jerusalem for special events.
So ‘convocation’ was the word instead of ‘convention’ or ‘conference’, which was chosen for special meetings—to which people came from all parts of India. They even came from far away places for that first convocation in December 1941, because Bakht Singh was already very well-known in Northern areas as well as in the South. For that first time, about four hundred and fifty people came and the convocation went on for nineteen days. Of course nineteen days was a long period, but it gave us a wonderful opportunity to give good, basic teaching to these early converts. Many of them were from nominal Christian life, or experience, but their new birth made all the difference and they were hungry for the Lord. We did, I believe, develop a thought, a partnership or fellowship in the service of worship of God. The people were free in their worship and prayer. The sisters were very often stronger in prayer than the men; sometimes they took a long time in prayer and occasionally we had to check them so that the brothers could have an opportunity.
I had the opportunity at that time of conducting Bible study every morning, for nineteen days. I tackled the story of ‘the tabernacle in the wilderness’ among God’s people; a very good series of lessons from that incident, or part of Israel’s history. In it we are shown the way to salvation through the outer court, and the purpose of salvation by the holy and most holy place.
During that occasion I had the opportunity to really deal with the subject of the tabernacle. And my first book on the tabernacle ´According to the Pattern´ was the result of the ministry of those days. I went into a fair bit of detail and when there was a question of republishing I eliminated some of the interpretations on figures, because I felt it would make reading the book easier. I didn’t want too many types and figures and the like matters.
We had a wonderful time with God’s Word. People had come from long distances. One brother travelled two thousand miles to Madras, without a train ticket. Well, we told him that was not the thing to do, but in India it was not uncommon. If you wore a saffron garment, you were looked upon as a holy man and they would not charge you for travelling by train. Anyway, many people did come long distances at their own expense. After the Holy Convocations the believers all returned to their own places; I don’t know if at times they were helped to buy their fare to go home. They all came at their own expense.
No charges at all were taken. All people had three free meals daily. They could give some money if they wanted to, but there was only one occasion for giving each week: every Sunday morning at the Lord’s Table, when they could make an offering in the box which was at the front of the pandal. (A pandal is a temporary structure to create extra space.)
During Holy Convocations things were quite different from the normal times of ministry. There were crowds of people and naturally our program was fairly stiff. After we got up at six in the morning, there was a period that was regarded as private, for personal quiet time with the Lord. This was usually maintained although at times it was a bit difficult. After this quiet time we would have what we called ‘family prayer’ together. It was sometimes more than family prayer. It often proved to be a preaching session. Because some of the younger men got a chance then to lead or to speak, it developed more into a meeting. This was unfortunate, I thought.
Next we would have breakfast and then came the morning meeting. After the morning meeting there would be food together with everybody. People sat together on the floor to take their food. Mostly, early in the afternoon we would go out for a preaching procession in the city. We usually came back in time for a cup of tea and the evening meeting.
These Holy Convocations were good times because people came from small companies into a large company and saw more easily the church in its life together and its service to the Lord. The messages on the Holy Convocations were ‘a little above average’, so the believer got some extra understanding of the word of God. Whenever Bakht Singh preached he spoke in English and so did I. So we always spoke with interpretation. Bakht Singh’s native language was Punjabi and most people among whom he laboured spoke a different Indian language. During the Convocations Moses Dawn was the principal interpreter and he put many messages to songs.
Nobody was presented with any bill. I suppose Bakht Singh had all the bills. The Lord did graciously undertake in the war days. It was quite a question whether we could get enough rice allowed and to get permission. Of course then there was rationing, but it never curtailed or hindered the Holy Convocations however big they were. Commonly, many believers worked together very nicely and many were helping as they could.
The ministry of the word at the Holy Convocations rested mainly upon Bakht Singh and myself. Of course, over the years others began to be involved in that ministry.
During these Holy Convocations I was also responsible for practical work. Sometimes I would dig the latrines. In some places, particularly Hyderabad, there were not sufficient latrines for so many people. So we dug a long trench and built something around. In Guntur we were able to rent a very large compound from a Hindu. He saw me working like a man of ´low degree´ and that really surprised him.
After some time I became responsible for the meals. Ron Bissel started that. His wife was a daughter of Mr Crowe, who was a missionary in the North. He was a man who preached very well, but he also sang. One day he sang according to his message, which was ´His eye is on the sparrow`. So people were rather amused, here was a crow singing about a sparrow. Ron and his wife Evelyn worked with us. They came from London and although they were not thoroughly invested in Honor Oak, they were in sympathy with the same message. He was an engineer and had worked in Calcutta, where he had a company in order to employ Indian brothers. He called it Dorkas. He also had a van by that name. His object was to train Indian brothers, not only in the Lord and in the Bible, but also in their practical skills.