Better start packing up, for we will soon be going places," I remarked to my wife when news of the Pearl Harbor disaster was first received over the radio. As an officer in the Medical Corps of the United States Naval Reserves, I expected orders to active duty as soon as the nation should become involved in war.
One month from Pearl Harbor found me in Parris Island, S. C., a place I had never heard of until my orders came through. It is a Marine recruit depot on the Atlantic coast. Parris Island and the surrounding country are historic, for here the Huguenots established a settlement in 1562 under their intrepid leader Jean Ribault. This colony, about the earliest to be established in this country, was not altogether successful, the French having been finally annihilated by the Spaniards, who came up from Fort Augustine to wipe out the "heretics." At Port Royal, a short distance from the hospital at which I am employed, are the remains of the old Spanish fort. A few miles away, at the tip of Parris Island, is the Huguenot monument commemorating the heroic explorers, who "for the glory of God and king" made their abortive attempt to plant the seeds of Protestantism in this country only seventy-five years after Columbus found his way to this hemisphere. Other historic scenes nearby are the old Sheldon church destroyed by Sherman in his march to the sea at the close of the Civil War ; a house in Beaufort from the porch of which Lafayette delivered an address during the Revolution; and many another house of colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War days.
But I was not thinking of historic shrines when first I saw Parris Island. The thought uppermost in my mind was just what was in store for me. I expected some medical assignment, of course, but would it be at the hospital in direct care of the sick, or at the recruit depot, passing on the eligibility of recruits ? What problems would I have to face regarding the Sabbath? In the care of the sick I could serve without violation of conscience, but certain other duties might present a problem, cause much embarrassment, and possibly arouse prejudice. Realizing this, I gave myself up to much earnest prayer.
On the way through Washington, D. C., I stopped over Sabbath, enjoyed the fellowship of some of our leading brethren, and had them pray with me for direction and guidance. The sudden uprooting from home, leaving my medical practice and research, and a church building project, had been a great ordeal after I had spent twenty-two years striking my roots into the great city of New York. But I had a calm confidence that God's hand was in it all, and I was confident that He would prepare the way and provide the wisdom to meet every problem.
Problem of Church Attendance
A United States Naval Hospital of four hundred beds at this base provides for the care of the Marines. About fifty medical officers arrived at or about the time I did. I was gratified when I was told that I was to be the chief of medicine. This would mean having control of medical affairs and would permit a certain degree of latitude in planning my duties. Since my duties were the direct supervision of the sick, the Sabbath problem was largely cared for at the start, but not altogether. Hours from 8:30 A. M. to 4 P. M. left no opportunity to attend services at Savannah or Charleston, where the nearest Adventist churches were located. Furthermore, I found that the hospital service required my presence every forenoon, including Sabbath and Sunday. Services in our churches were held Sabbath forenoon; so there seemed little likelihood of my seeing the inside of an Adventist church for a long time.
After my family arrived, we had private devotions on Sabbath afternoons, liberty for which was graciously granted me by the executive officer. During our first Sabbaths, we took trips to historic and beautiful spots nearby, and felt the presence of God's blessing in many ways. But a deep longing for fellowship with "those of like precious faith" came over us. Furthermore, to be thus immobilized from teaching and preaching the Word, as I had been doing for so many years, seemed intolerable.
It was with a somewhat heavy heart, therefore, that I set out one day on an official trip with some patients to Washington. But the cloud was lifted when I met old friends in the truth again. Only one who has been deprived of Christian fellowship and association can thoroughly appreciate their value and inspiration. No wonder we are exhorted not to forsake "the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is." In addition to the joy of meeting Adventist brethren once more, I received good counsel and encouragement which did much to lighten my depressed spirits.
Among other things I learned that there were Adventists in the vicinity of Parris Island. I then got in touch with the president of the Carolina Conference. A prompt reply to my inquiry put me in touch with Brother Samuel Thomas—"Uncle Sam," as he is affectionately called by all who know him—faithful Adventist, sage, philosopher, and for fifteen years mayor of Yemassee, South Carolina. I have a strong suspicion that "Uncle Sam" was responsible for my being sent to Parris Island—but I am getting ahead of my story.
Yemassee is a small town of less than a thousand people, but an important railroad junction. It was recently featured in Life magazine. I found there a small group of about twelve to fifteen Adventists, members of the Charleston church. Sabbath school was held in a private home. These good people, instead of standing aloof from the other members of the community, were co-operating as far as possible with all activities of a proper nature.
I was asked to take charge of the Sabbath services, and at our first meeting the local Methodist minister, with whom Brother Thomas was very friendly, joined us. Something I said evidently impressed him, for he invited me to speak at his Methodist prayer meeting the following Friday evening. More than this, he offered our people the use of his church for our Sabbath services without any charge whatsoever.
For several months this arrangement has been continued. For the most part, prophetic studies have been presented, though at times these have been interspersed with devotional topics. The attendance was between twenty and thirty for many weeks, though after warm weather arrived, it diminished. Many interested and enthusiastic comments were made upon the subjects presented. At all meetings, including our own, we could count on the pastor and his family, which included his wife, her mother, three daughters, and a small son. At no time have we detected the least prejudice against Adventists or our teachings.
A warm friendship and Christian fellowship sprang up at once between the pastor's family and my own. Many private discussions on Bible topics resulted. One evening while visiting at our home, the minister asked, "Don't you reckon we will have to get down to a thorough study of this Sabbath question one of these days ?" Having heard that he had given it considerable study and settled it to his own satisfaction, I felt that he was hoping to convince me of my error. I replied that I should be delighted to study with him.
Later at his home our two families assembled for a study of the Sabbath question. It was agreed that on this occasion he might present his objections to the Sabbath without interruption. It was with some surprise, therefore, that we heard him introduce the subject by confessing that the seventh day is the Sabbath. "I haven't a leg to stand on for any other day, according to the Bible," was his candid statement. Then he launched into a long discourse, with many quotations from various authors, but chiefly from Romans and Galatians, on the familiar subject of the law and grace. He refused to take an antinomian position, but seemed to feel that the law was for the sinner, not for the Christian. Before the study was over, I gave him just a hint of our position, stressing the thought that Adventists believe in justification by faith only, and hold that "by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified." Light began to dawn, for he remarked before we left, "I begin to see your viewpoint. I guess I have just been showing myself up."
At our next meeting I was primed with many quotations from John Wesley and others on the subject of the law. But my efforts were unnecessary. He also had been studying, he said, and Wesley's arguments had convinced him that the law must be observed.
The first fruit of our labors was the delightful elderly mother of the pastor's wife. She read our literature so assiduously that the minister, complained that he couldn't get a chance at it. She told us that many lifelong questions in her mind had been cleared up by our literature. Somewhat deaf, she had not been able to take part in our numerous discussions ; so it came as a complete surprise when she announced, with determination, her conviction of the truth of our position and her decision to keep the Sabbath. A more enthusiastic and happy convert to the faith it would be impossible to find.
Keeping in Touch by Correspondence
Early in June of this year, while still studying with us, the pastor received orders from the War Department which removed him to an Army camp in Massachusetts, where he is now serving in the Chaplains' Corps, and his family moved to another South Carolina town. We keep in constant touch by correspondence, and have just received a letter from the pastor's wife, from which I quote:
"You can't know how I need to get my mind and heart perfectly settled on all these things. Oh, I've been so dissatisfied in all of the church services I've attended. They just leave me cold and hungry. . . I have felt as if I were in an alien, foreign land.
People have been lovely, . . . but they just don't know what it's all about, and seem so shallow in their ili-o-dencs- and conversations when my mind is revolving around such momentous questions and truths.... Please never cease to pray that God will thoroughly convince me of what I should do and will open the way or show me a plain path. Somehow I can't lose the feeling that James and I have a step to take which will be out of the ordinary, or some definite work to do here for our Lord. Since our things came, I've been studying "the books," especially on the Sabbath, and feel I shall have to start keeping the Sabbath !"
Regarding one of her daughters who refused to go to the dentist on Sabbath, she writes :
"She wants to keep the Sabbath, and God forbid that I should be guilty of leading her astray. We must keep it, too. . . . I'm trying to get all these truths into the girls' minds, for I want our family united in our Sabbathkeeping and convicted of the necessity of it. I shall, for the present, keep on working on Sundays in the church, for there are so many blind and ignorant, and perhaps I can reach more that way. But I feel that whenever they won't accept or respect my Sabbathkeeping, then I have the right to step out. Our minister, an old man, is far from what I believe is needed in the pulpit today. How deluded we've all been! You should have heard him tell the church it was all right to smoke tobacco. He handles all sin that might affect his membership with kid gloves. I get nothing out of his sermons, but feel I want to preach a sermon to him. I'm praying hard—but not enough, I know—for God to lead me out and teach me and prepare me. I need your prayers, for I do so believe in you folks. It may be God put you right where you are to touch a few young ministers. . . .
"I believe my husband will have unusual daring. once he is convicted. He cares not where it will lead him. . . . You opened up a new, a real, world to me, and it seems it is the thing I've been searching and starving for."
The pastor's present position is that he can find nothing against our doctrines, but wants more time for study before taking a stand. He has stated his conviction several times that God may be calling him to service in our ranks, and when thoroughly convinced, he will not hesitate.
After his departure we wondered just what would become of the interest among the Methodists of Yemassee. It seemed too much to expect that the next pastor would be so unprejudiced and friendly. But God had evidently prepared the way. When we called at the parsonage, we were given a hearty greeting by the new minister and his wife, and immediately ushered into the dining room for dinner. He said he had heard all about us, and urged us to continue our meetings for the Methodists. So at the time of writing we are still carrying on. The new minister and his wife also attend our meetings on "the Sabbath," as he himself calls it.
This gives opportunity twice weekly to bring in something for his special benefit. On our invitation he recently preached to us and gave an excellent study on prayer.
Still other doors are opening. Another Methodist minister from a neighboring town has attended one of our meetings and visited us on several occasions. He has not committed himself. A Baptist congregation near Yemassee has twice invited me to speak at Wednesday night prayer meetings, and has shown great interest in the news of our Lord's soon coming. A Methodist Sunday school class at Beaufort has also invited me to speak to them.
"'God works in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform,'" Brother Thomas said recently. "Here I was praying for help, and you, strangers a thousand miles away, were sent to help me." It makes one feel somewhat awestruck to think that he might be selected and dispatched at a certain time for a special work. Perhaps Brother Thomas is right. Who knows? It is with deep gratitude and humility that we respond to God's opening providences. We earnestly ask the prayers of God's people everywhere that we may have the grace and wisdom to fulfill successfully whatever mission He may assign us.