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Sons of Strangers Shall Build Up Thy Wall

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Archives / 1955 / May



Sons of Strangers Shall Build Up Thy Wall

J. Lee Neil

J. Lee Neil, Potomac Conference


Intense emotions stirred within us as re­ports at the last General Conference session repeatedly revealed the rewards of sacri­fice and faith. It was in San Francisco during the forty-first General Conference session in 1930 that our labors in this cause began. It is there that are rooted some of our experiences in the work that have helped us most.

It was during depression days in the Palace Hotel on Market Street that Granville Savage, a retired merchant and charter member of the San Francisco Rotary Club, who made no pro­fession of religion, gave us the first one-thousand dollar gift* we received from "the sons of strangers" for the cause. He helped us secure a choice church site for half price in beautiful Burlingame, a suburb of San Francisco. It was in the Crocker Building, in the office of the president of the Santa Cruz, Portland Ce­ment Company, that this man spent two hours telling a Rotary brother about the work of Seventh-day Adventists. He said that, so far as he knew, they were doing more practical good for human kind than any church in the world. The result of this interview was a gift of five hundred sacks of cement—more than twice the amount we had dared hope for. Notice that the "sons of strangers" were pro­voking one another to good works in fulfill­ment of Bible prophecy.

During those dark days of depression, when many manufacturers were struggling for bare survival, another Ro­tarian, Bob O'Hea, sec­retary of the Paraffin Company, sought and found a proper way around the NRA regu­lations that would have prohibited the com­pany's gift of asphalt and felt for our church roof and stucco jobs. There were many other business houses where our friend solicited with us, and he would not give up until as one of the "sons of strangers," he, and others, had helped "build" our "walls."

Just why was Granville Savage willing to face his fellow Rotarians, many of them pre­judiced, as we went around soliciting labor, materials, and money in behalf of the church? He had been a patient at the St. Helena San­itarium and had had other contacts that had influenced him. But it was what happened at the little Fuller cottage that most deeply im­pressed him, for there he saw a demonstration of "pure religion" (James 1:27) as the church visited the fa­therless and a widow "in their affliction." The Fullers, an aged mother and middle-aged daughter, were found during the In-gathering cam­paign. They were poor, sick, and discouraged, barely existing in a once nice suburban cot­tage to which they had been reduced by un­scrupulous agents after the father's death. They were suspicious of anyone who offered assistance. The well had been dry for some time, the orchard had gone wild, and the last traces of paint on the house were difficult to define. Weeds were all that flour­ished. Starvation was staved off only by the sick daughter's taking a chicken or two under her arm from time to time to trade for food. Water came only when the daughter was able to take a jug to a neighbor a quarter of a mile away. The mother, unable to walk, tried to raise chickens and canary birds in the house. They were afraid, suspicious of everyone, in­cluding even the county hospital.

When we finally gained their confidence and access to the home, we actually cleaned house with a hoe! Nurses gave treatments. On Sun­days, the Lord's day for missionary work (Tes­timonies, vol. 9, p. 233), thirty-five volunteer workers from our church transformed the prem­ises inside and out. City water was piped for two blocks, and neighbors subscribed for the water bill. Granville Savage, with his chauf­feur and garden tools, participated, and wit­nessed the change in the Fullers—in body, mind, and spirit.

This is why he had plenty to tell his Rotary brothers, and why several years later he died "safe in the arms of Jesus." The "waves of influence" from that experience are still being felt.

God Needs Men More Than Money

Money is not God's problem in finishing His work in the earth today; it is men—"men who will not be bought or sold" (Education, p. 57)—men who will not bring buying and selling into the church as a substitute for rais­ing funds that tithes and offerings alone should supply. And God has given us ample instruc­tion and many promises that sufficient funds can be raised by methods He can bless.

"We are not to imitate the churches by instituting bazaars and various God-forbidden expedients to bring in a little means. We see no direction in the Word for fancy fairs, concerts, and other objection­able practices for raising funds to advance His work. The curse of God is upon all this kind of work."—ELLEN G. WHITE, Living by Principle (1898), p. 16.

"Love is the fulfilling of the law." Before we ever qualify as commandment keepers we must love as God loves. God could find no better way to reveal His love than by sacrifice —giving. He can find no better way for us to reveal our love for Him. Giving money alone, however, is not the test.

Lately we read of a strapping "six-footer" from a wealthy family who came to be known among his fraternity friends as "the poor little rich boy." As vacation time approached and others were making ready for the joys of family fellowship, this lad received a liberal sum of money with an invitation to spend his summer away from home, for the parents would be busily engaged with a round of social activites. The boy felt it keenly.

So it is with God. How many there are who seek to satisfy the claims of divine love with dollars, and sometimes certainly not very liber­ally either.

God's plan for building up His cause whether in character monuments or in church monuments, must appeal to the same saving, godlike motives that will abide. "And now abideth faith, hope, charity" (1 Cor. 13:13). His plan involves an interchange of experi­ence with potential heirs of salvation—those who need faith, hope, charity. That is why the poor and the cast out are to be brought to our homes, the hungry fed and the naked clothed. This kind of experience, which is every­where available, furnishes a training facility for godlikeness that is unparalleled. It primes pure motive, developing faith, hope, and char­ity. It stirs the godlike impulse of benevolence in us and appeals to that which is noblest and best in those we look to for help. It avoids appealing to the creature, the carnal, the com­mercial. It starves covetousness, our "great­est sin" (Isa. 57:17; Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 194), "which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5).

Money, like time, reveals and develops char­acter by the use one makes of it. If it were not for the fact that the "character crop" God is trying to harvest might be retarded, He could grow money in the back yard of every saint. Fishes' mouths could be so full of money that it would be as plentiful as seaweed. But that would not "draw out thy soul to the hun­gry, and satisfy the afflicted soul." It would not cure covetousness. The "remedy" for this cancerous malady is benevolent deeds.

"Constant, self-denying benevolence is God's remedy for the cankering sins of selfishness and covetousness. . . . He has ordained that giving should become a habit, that it may counteract the dangerous and deceitful sin of covetousness. Continual giving starves covetousness to death."--Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 548.

When we are willing to take the cure co­piously we may see our "light rise in obscurity" (Isa. 58:10).

"I was shown that should professed Christians cultivate more affection and kind regard in caring for others, they would be repaid fourfold. God marks. He knows for what object we live, and whether our living is put to the very best account for poor, fallen humanity, or whether our eyes are eclipsed to everything but our own interest, and to every one but our own poor selves."Testimo­nies, vol. 2, pp. 329, 330. (Italics supplied.)

The return on an investment in benevolent deeds as prescribed in Isaiah 58 will make it unnecessary to appeal to the spirit of com­petition, to the appetite, or to any other sub­stitute motive in raising funds for the church in its legitimate uses.

The Plan Also Worked in the South

In New Orleans, where need was very great and visible resources were very small, there was a huge challenge. As the conference president introduced us to the situation he said: "The work here is looking up; it is flat on its back, looking up. It is a field of great opportunity for what has never been done." Here again the Isaiah 58 to 60 formula revealed its effec­tiveness. The kindly volunteer influence of the devoted doctor and nurses who had accom­panied us from California opened doors on the right hand and on the left. The plan of doing good to others before we should expect others to do good to us, as promised in Isaiah, was promoted not only by the skilled medical missionary workers but by a large part of the church membership. Such is the church's charter. It was not long before their light be­gan to "rise in obscurity" (Isa. 58:10).

It was most heartening the way experiences came to increase our faith, so that plans for a church on St. Charles Avenue (a very-choice location) and a three-teacher school in a lovely suburban setting were approved. Only the management of the Master Builder could have made the "walls of difficulty" give way to "walls" so largely built from the "forces of the Gentiles," by "sons of strangers."

Unspeakable joy thrilled us as answers to heart-searching prayers brought providences to view, often plainly prepared even before the prayers were offered. The first carload of lum­ber pledged made us so happy that we were hardly able to sleep. About the time a second carload of lumber was pledged, we were all further cheered by a letter from the Honor­able Robert S. Maestri, mayor of New Orleans, who not only pledged assistance in several ways but also placed in our hands a roll of bills totaling five hundred dollars. His subsequent assistance in several ways proved to be of con­siderably more value than the money. Other car­loads and truckloads of materials followed, un­til the church and school were completed for one fourth of the normal cost.

The Prayer-and-Perspiration Plan

Among businessmen requests for money are most frequent and most resisted, but requests for materials and labor are unusual and much more appealing. This is especially true when energy and devotion are seen in applying the following counsel:

"When a church is raised up, let the members arise and build. Under the direction of a minister, . . . let the newly converted ones work with their own hands, saying, 'We need a meetinghouse, and we must have it.' God calls upon His people to make cheerful, united efforts in His cause."—Gospel Workers, p. 432.

Such witness impresses businessmen. As one expressed it, "Your people are more closely knit." These men love to see pastor and people working together. Giving materials and services often not only costs less for the value given but also offers greater tax relief for the con­tributors. The closer one gets to the source of a product, the cheaper it is.

"Let no one conclude that, because the end is near, there is no need of special effort to bui;d. . . . When the Lord shall bid us make no further effort to build meetinghouses and establish schools,

. . it will be time for us to fold our hands. . but now is our opportunity to show our zeal for God and our love for humanity."—Testirnonies, vol. 6, p. 440 (Italics supplied.)

Example as well as precept characterized the experience of God's servant, Sister White. Hers was a "birdlike" faith. The Lord promises to feed the birds and other creatures, but they are out early to scratch for it. "That thou givest them they gather" (Ps. 104:28).

Note the prayer-and-perspiration prescrip­tion given by inspiration when a church school was needed to protect from worldly, contamina­ting influences at Crystal Springs (Sanitarium), California.

"Some may ask, 'How are such schools to be established?' We are not a rich people, but if we pray in faith and let the Lord work in our behalf, He will open ways before us to establish small schools in retired places for the education of our youth, not only in the Scriptures and in book learning, but in many lines of manual labor. . . . Will you not take an interest in the erection of this school building in which the Word of God is to be taught? One man, when asked how much he was willing to give to the school in labor, said that if we would give him three dollars a day and his board and lodging, he would help us. But we do not want offers of this kind. Help will come to us. . . . Let those who have spare time give a few days in helping to build this school­house. . . . Let everyone do something. Some may have to get up as early as four o'clock in the morning in order to help. Usually I begin my work before that time. As soon as it is daylight, some could begin work on the building, putting in an hour or two before breakfast. Others could not do this perhaps, but all can do something. . . . Let us catch the spirit of the work, saying, We will arise and build."—Child Guidance, pp. 314, 317.

However, material and economic benefits are among the least of the values in the prayer­and-perspiration plan of building for God. Under the resulting enemy fire and resistance, the value of money and material alone is not sufficient to keep one encouraged as he uses such a plan. But when in all our building of churches, schools, et cetera, we do it in such a way as to cultivate "faith, hope, and charity" in ourselves and others, then our work will abide as "precious stones," and not as "wood, hay, stubble" (1 Cor. 3:12). Then we build be­cause He

. . . And the Plan Works in the East!

The story of "hot bricks" from Bordentown, New Jersey, may help to illustrate one way in which material and spiritual building pro­grams can contribute one to another. It oc­curred at the close of World War II, in 1946, when the building of the Trenton, New Jersey, church was begun.

A rather profane man, whom we will call Mr. Blank, had a brickyard at Bordentown, a few miles away. A respected local elder who knew the man, was willing to introduce us, but he held out little hope of results. When we asked him for a carload of bricks as a contribution, the man actually threw up his hands, saying he couldn't even sell a load to his brother. Unforseen labor troubles after the war had so crippled his production that he was frantic over his unfulfilled promises to old customers and their resulting threats. Every telephone ring gave him the jitters, he said. As we recognized his need, we extended our sympathy and frankly told him that we worked for a "company" that could help him. We told him simply but earnestly of a man with a harder assignment than we had, where there was a famine for bread instead of bricks. That preacher asked a starving widow woman for her last morsel, but promised she would gain by it. Mr. Blank thought he might believe that, but doubted that "these . . . people" who were pressing him would. We appealed to him to put our great Provider to test, and he pledged, in writing, a carload of bricks.

Several weeks had passed when we went for the first bricks. We found him in the worst trouble of his history. He had made twelve kilns (a quarter million bricks to the kiln) of bad bricks, hand running. He had done everything he knew to change the condition, with no improvement in sight. Since his pledge was made in the hope of help from above, we told him we would take his problem to prayer meeting immediately if he would show his faith by giving us five hundred bricks that day for preliminary use. Because of the shortage we got bricks so hot out of the kiln that we could hardly handle them. The church prayed ear­nestly for his bricks.

On a later visit, enroute to the yard, his secretary told us they were still having trouble with the bricks. Our hearts sank, but we pro­ceeded to the yard.

The superintendent greeted us with anima­tion saying, "Say, do you remember that kiln of bricks you prayed for?"

"Yes," we answered.

"They were perfect."

"That's strange," we exclaimed. "Your secre­tary in the office said your bricks were still bad."

"They are," he replied. "We haven't had a good kiln since."

"We don't understand that," we puzzled.

"But I think I do!" was his reply. "I think we ought to do a little praying for ourselves around here. And furthermore," he added, "I lie too much. I sit up here at this phone and lie to our customers all day long. And I don't feel good about it."

After encouraging him we promised to pray for him and the bricks again if he would pledge to tell the truth. He did.

When we came again, before ever entering the office, we heard from a colored laborer with beaming countenance that every kiln of bricks had been good since then. No one could make that superintendent believe that the Lord did not know the brick business better than he. They gave us our carload and went six thou­sand bricks beyond their pledge before we fin­ished our building.

The Trenton, New Jersey, church, pictured on the front cover of this issue of THE MINISTRY, is another evidence of promises fulfilled and encourages us to know that much greater gifts, both material and spiritual, await our demand and reception by faith. The "wealth of the Gentiles" (Isa. 60:5, margin) will flow more freely Godward when His channels on earth will begin to flow more freely toward their fel­low men.

"My God shall supply all your need" (Phil. 4:19). Substituting God-forbidden expedients for divine methods in fund raising is a very effective means of actually clogging the springs of benevolence and liberality. There is nothing equal to the effects of the heart-touching ex­periences met with in ministry to the poor as these springs are opened in the hearts of church members and "sons of strangers" alike. For us and for others at home and abroad tangible ex­periences have served to cheer our hearts and strengthen our feeble faith. It has proven a workable formula in the West, in the South, and in the East.

(Continued next month)

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* Since that initial gift of one thousand dollars, under the blessing of God, Elder Neil has secured many hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause of God by this unique plan. In fact, a conservative estimate of the present-day replace­ment value of the various churches and schools thus built through the intervening years by our writer places the figure just under a half million dollars.—EDITORS.

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