2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:”
The apostle Paul was at the end of his earthly race, “I have finished my course.” Paul knew that his time was short here in this world but there was joy in his heart; “He had fought a good fight, he had finished his course and he had kept the faith!” Paul’s concern was not for himself but for Timothy, his son in the faith, that he too would run well. In this story I would like to share some details about my beginning to “run the race”.
I remember growing up in what was called the Westchester Independent Baptist Church. It wasn’t far to go to church, church was held in our own living room! From what I was told from members that made up the small country church in Central New Annan, Nova Scotia, this church had been founded around 1936. There were two things that I never understood about the church; why it was called, Westchester Independent Baptist church when it was 30 miles from the village of Westchester; the other thing was why they never built a church building but just met in homes around the community. The pastor, Rev. Terry (Terrence) Meister, known as, T. A. Meister, came to our home every two weeks to hold the Sunday morning services. Neighbors and relatives filled up our small living room and we children often sat wherever we could find a space, sometimes on the stairs going up to the second level, or in the summertime, on the couch in the sunporch.
There was no Sunday School for us kids, just the one service that seemed to go on for hours! Like in a typical church, everyone had their place where they sat, mom at the piano, Lloyd Bonnyman at one side of the piano and Edward Blanchard on other side. T. A. Meister used a chair turned backwards for a pulpit and handed out his sermons all typed out on sheets of paper. From what I remember from my early days in the church, T. A. spoke on the book of Revelation for about five years. It was easy for a child’s mind to wander but looking back we did learn respect for God’s Word and the importance of meeting together for worship.
My conversion wasn’t so much through the ministry of the Westchester Ind. Baptist Church but by being challenged through the radio ministry of Dr. M.R. DeHaan. I remember every Sunday morning my parents called us children to the kitchen at about 8 o’clock to listen to the Radio Bible Class. We sat around the kitchen on chairs and on the couch listening to the old tube radio on the countertop. I still remember the gravelly voice of Dr. DeHaan and he always ended the program something like this, “If Christ were to come back this week, would you be ready?” That used to scare me. It wasn’t that I was concerned about my sin. I didn’t want to go to heaven just yet. I wanted to grow up and do all the fun things that adults do, like driving a gravel truck, a road grader, or a snowplow! A couple of years later I understood that I was lost and in the need of a Savior. One summer evening when I was about seven years old my father led me to the Lord.
I’m not sure how old T.A. Meister was when he retired from the ministry, but to me he seemed to be a very old man. Years later we had a new pastor, David McDonald, who drove down from New Glasgow on Sunday afternoons. It was during this time in my life that I began to grow more in the Lord and be challenged to serve Him. When Pastor MacDonald was with us we went from having church in our home to a small one room schoolhouse down the road. We began having evangelistic meetings every summer with speakers such as Pastor McDonald, Pastor Barry Beebe and Evangelist Lynn Croxton. In 1981 the Lord challenged my heart about preparing for the ministry and I went out to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, for Bible school. It was at Bible school that I met Jane, the daughter of Pastor Raymond and Tena Dell, and in 1984 we were married.
When returning home to Nova Scotia for summer breaks I was able to continue the services held in the little schoolhouse and also have Sunday afternoon services in the Willow Lodge, a nursing home in nearby Tatamagouche. During the following summers we had good services in the nursing home with some of the folks making decisions for salvation.
One of the recollections that I have of the nursing home ministry, was a little old lady, possibly with dementia, coming out to the services. She would kind of sit there with one of those thousand-mile looks on her face, but all of a sudden when mom began playing the piano, she would rise from her chair, start dancing and whirling around the room gliding in and out among the residents sitting in their chairs and wheel chairs! When the music stopped, she sat down with the same look on her face as before. We found out later that she used to be a dancer on the television program, Don Messer’s Jubilee.
Another person in the Willow Lodge that impacted our lives was a young man named Bill McKay. Bill McKay was in his early 30’s and had suffered a disease that left him in a wheelchair. He too attended our services but always disappeared quickly at the end, going back to his room and closing his door. We tried to witness to him and to give him gospel tracts but with little success. In the fall I returned to Bible school for my third year. In the following spring, Jane and I were married and returned to Nova Scotia for the summer. I had been praying for a way to be able to reach out to Bill McKay. I decided to make a visit to the Willow Lodge unannounced with Jane. We would make the call, I would introduce Jane and show Bill our wedding pictures as an icebreaker. We knocked on his door and we heard a voice in the other side, “Come in.” We walked into his room and Bill was so excited to see us. I introduced Jane and then began to get our pictures out to show him but he interrupted me with a loud exclamation, “I want to get saved!” Bill McKay had been waiting for months for me to come home! What a change in his life from that day on. The nurses and staff at the Willow Lodge noticed the difference and one of the nurses commented to us afterwards about Bill’s conversion.
On my third summer home from Bible school, now married, I suggested to the church which was back to meeting in my mother and father’s living room again that for the work to progress we should move the church to the village of Tatamagouche. We rented the local firehall for church, sent out fliers and begin holding morning and evening services. Jane and I made up a questionnaire for the means of reaching out to people, filled our pockets with gospel tracts and began to knock on doors throughout Tatamagouche and the rural areas. It was an exciting summer. The church grew and by August we were running about 40 in the services. A number of decisions were made for salvation from the surrounding areas. One of the newcomers to church was Viola McBurney. Whenever we saw her and asked her how she was she always responded, “Everything is joy, joy, joy. God is so good!”
That fall I had one more term of Bible school to finish so we requested help for the work in Tatamagouche from the Bible Baptist Church in Halifax. Pastor Victor Burrill was the pastor of Bible Baptist Church and had started a small Bible school a few years before. Students from the school traveled to Tatamagouche every weekend to fill the pulpit and to make visits. One of the students, Ian Kurylyk, later pastored the church for a couple of years. The work continued to grow and the group eventually bought property on the edge of Tatamagouche, built a building and called it the Sunrise Baptist Church. The work continues and the last time we were able to visit, my cousin Barry Beebe was the pastor.
We praise the Lord for leading Jane and I to Brazil for 34 years of ministry before calling us back to Canada. We’re forever grateful for the blessings of being raised in Christian homes and for how the Lord prepared us and gave us opportunities of ministry at home before leading us to minister to people in a different country and culture. Our prayer is to continue to faithfully run the race that is before us.