My First Religious Work in France
My first assignment took me to a large Quartermasters Headquarters Camp at Gievres lying between Tours and Blois. It was what was known as an Intermediate Camp — between the base camps and the front line camp. The engineers had done a wonderful piece of construction here, and it was in this vicinity they were constructing the biggest ice plant in Europe.
The YMCA hut here was in charge of Rev. Walter Murray, a Presbyterian preacher from Philadelphia. I continued here about two months. We slept in a tent during those winter months, but had a stove in it, and the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning we had a good fire going. Every morning we would rise at Reveille, before daylight, have mess with the engineers, then come back to the hut, get around the stove and have the Bible read, and pray together. Mr. Murray later joined a fighting division and met his death. One day in July he got under shell fire, two shells falling close to him and he was killed. They buried his body near where he fell. His wife and children lived in East Orange, N. J.
In one of my first Sunday services held in the hut here I preached from the text, Hebrew 4:12: “For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” In this message to the soldiers I endeavored to show that if the word of God be so and the Bible be true certain things must inevitably follow.
1. If the Bible is true, sin cannot go unpunished. Be sure your sin will find you out. This is true of men and of nations. Germany for her high crimes against law and humanity and against God cannot go unpunished. The sins of Bismarck of 1870 against the French nation are bringing a terrible fruitage.
2. If the Bible is true man needs a Savior. He cannot save himself or take one sin away. He needs a mighty Savior and he must come to him in the terms of the hymn:
“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.”
3. If the Bible is true God answers prayer. There are times in the life of every man when he feels he must pray. No human power can help him. The promise is that God is a rewarder of all them that diligently seek Him.
I set myself to emphasize the religious idea as soon as I got to work in France. I had: been a preacher for twenty-five years and I felt that while many YMCA men did not care for that aspect of the work, yet some of us must hold fast to it. I found among some Secretaries a very cold disposition towards religious work, but some of us never wearied, and all through my fifteen months’ service I took advantage of every opportunity to put in religious work and service.
Apart from preaching and public meetings I did some Bible class work. In our Bible class work we sometimes find some splendid fellows. I met a young man from Philadelphia who said that until their company got broken up and separated, a number of them used to get together out in the woods and have prayer meetings. Another fine young fellow from Michigan in my tent Monday night had a rich time in his soul as he found out our little meeting place, and two nights after I went with him about two miles up to his barracks where I met about forty other fellows.
In my Friday night tent Bible class and prayer meeting a young fellow from Philadelphia gave an interesting testimony. He had been going through a trial and was feeling quite dejected and discouraged all day. Toward evening the mail arrived and brought him, from some good friend, a beautiful Bible with this inscription upon it: “Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” He said it seemed like a direct message to him. He got blessed. It was another proof of God’s faithfulness that in the hour of trouble and trial He would remember us in great mercies. Isa. 54:7.
We went the other night to barracks of Company ____ of ____ to hold a Bible class with them. When we reached there I witnessed a most interesting scene. The mail had arrived and it had brought letters that had been looked for, for four weeks. Shall I describe the scene? The barracks was lighted only by candles and up against a wall elevated on some boards was the fellow who had the mail and another holding the candle over him so he could see to read out the names — what a shower of letters some boys from Michigan received! Well suffice it to say I had no Bible class that night, and no one could blame the boys. They wanted to read letters from mother and father, sisters and brothers and sweethearts.