My First Fifty Years – By Gerald Bustin

Chapter 5

Bible School Days

I was sick in bed most of the month after my conversion, but as soon as I was able to walk I made my way to town for the express purpose of spending the only dollar I had in the world for a Bible. I walked and walked within the town looking for a Bible at this price. Finally my efforts were rewarded. What a joy when I hugged this priceless treasure to my heart. My first Bible! This eight mile walk for a Bible seemed nothing. It was a Revised Version, but it mattered little to me since it was God’s book.

Following a trip to see my father in Mississippi specially to witness of the wonderful works of God, a very great blow came into my life. I had hoped against hope and had prayed many hours that my fair-faced girl friend who was unspeakably dear to me would be moved to give her heart to God. This was not to be, for the human will clashed with the divine. She would not yield to my Greater Lover, so there was nothing to do but say farewell. Only Our Father knows the hurt of the heart in that hour. I have since had reason to thank God a thousand times that my prayer was not answered, in my way.

Young reader, will you allow me to speak from experience and admonish you to prayerfully and seriously seek the will of God in the matter of a life companion. How I thank God today that I said, “Lord, let only thy will be done in my life regardless of the cost.” God has a plan for your life. Will you with an open mind clearly seek His will in regard to a companion? Some very close to me failed in this regard, and that to their eternal regrets. Go slow and be safe. Take time to pray over this vitally important subject.

At this point in my life the way was opened for me to go north in order to secure work which would make possible my going to Bible School. Here again our Lord allowed some severe testings to come which were to serve in weaning my soul from things visible and tangible until I learned to lean upon Him alone. A siege of illness consumed every cent I had saved to turn in the direction of school. For a nineteen year old boy hundreds of miles from home this was no small trial. At times it seemed that Satan would kill me. I could almost see him as he jeered and told me what a fool I was to be away from home and sick in body because of my plan to preach the Gospel. How I praise God that He gave me grace to stick through this special trial. He then did for me far more than I asked. The way was opened for me to go to Trevecca College in Nashville, Tennessee where I was privileged to work half my way in school.

There are quite a few interesting experiences in connection with my Bible School work, but time prohibits my relating many of these.

My First Trial In School

From somewhere I had gotten the impression that in Bible School all my testings would be over, and that it would not be necessary to pray so much, for there everybody would be going with the Lord and the devil would be forced off the grounds. I was soon to learn a different lesson.

Upon entering school I paid down all the money I had except five dollars. I held that back for some special emergency need. I was engaged in practical Christian work over the week ends, but nothing would induce me to spend this precious five dollars. I walked many miles each Sunday and would do without my dinner on Sunday, but this money must not be spent. One would have thought me a Scotchman instead of an Irishman. All was going well until a certain preacher came along with an incorrigible son to place in Bible School. The authorities agreed to accept him in school on condition that one of the older students would agree to accept him as a roommate. No one seemed to want him. I was approached on the question of permitting him in my room. I hoped to help the poor boy who had never been taught obedience, so I consented to accept him. Such a decision! He was truly demon possessed. No time here to let up in prayer. He was my thorn in the flesh. The climax came when he stole my suitcase containing my precious five dollars. Thanks to the poor boy for the release he gave me! My only prop was gone, so the Lord could prove Himself. I had no more walking to do and my needs were met in a marvelous way. (The poor lad eventually died in a hospital from car injuries, but died with victory in Christ.)

My Mother’s Death

I had been in school only about two months when another great blow came into my life. Word reached me that my dear mother, with whom I had spent so little of my life, was in the hospital at Memphis, Tennessee.

A week before I had had a peculiar experience. I had come down to my last penny, the rain was falling on Saturday so that I was unable to get out to make some sales of literature and to talk to people about Christ, as was my custom. Satan made a special attack on my faith, but this drove me to the place of prayer. That night as I left the dining hall one of God’s children handed me a dollar saying, “Sister Cooksie said the Lord told her to give this to you.” What a joy! Another small offering was handed to me, then on Sunday morning another beloved brother in Christ gave me a piece of money. The same afternoon two of us were praying in a small mission in Nashville when a poor crippled sufferer walked into the building. We dealt with him about his soul and led him to the altar of prayer. While I was praying for him the Lord told me to give him my two dollars. I hesitated for I was obligated to the school and also had some personal needs. The Lord made it clear to me that, what I had was really his own and that He has a right to tell me what to do. With joy I relinquished my claim upon my two dollars. I had enough change left to pay my carfare back to the school that night. My pockets were empty, but my heart was full. I knew nothing of the ordeal coming up for the week.

Toward the middle of the week I received a letter from mother that she was leaving for the hospital and was confident that God had a plan in it all. She expressed her desire to see me, but knew naturally it was out of the question. I wanted to go but I had fixed it in my mind I would not borrow or beg, and I sought to shun a public expression of desire to go lest it appear as a hint for someone to assist me. I kept the matter before the Lord. The one who was my roommate at the time would come in and ask me if I were going to see my mother. At first I told him that I didn’t know, but later I had a conviction that I would go and told him so. About twenty-five dollars were needed to make the trip, and I didn’t have the slightest idea of where one dollar would come from.

Tuesday at noon of the following week some of the students and one or two of the godly teachers were in the prayer room as usual, for Tuesday noon was the hour of fastings. While we were praying a young man came up and touched me on the shoulder saying, “The business manager says for you to hurry and throw a few things in your suitcase and catch the next train.” This was all a mystery to me how the Lord provided, but within an hour’s time I was aboard the Memphis train moving out of Nashville.

At the hospital in Memphis I asked if I might see mother. The young nurse to whom I had spoken turned away with tears in her eyes but an elderly nurse said, “My boy, your mother has just gone to heaven. She left this world shouting.”

Mother had chosen for a funeral song “When I Have Gone the Last Mile of the Way.” The preacher used for his text, “She hath done what she could.” The funeral rites were held in the little delta town of Lepanto, Arkansas. Alone with God on this occasion I pledged my life and service anew to go where He wanted me and to serve Him with all my soul. My last earthly support had slipped away, but I had a feeling that mother’s God would see me through.

My Great Sermon (?)

Back in school I was constantly occupied in religious service over the weekends, but as vacation season was approaching it became my constant prayer to know the will of God for these months. Some advised one thing and some another, but I had to know the will of my Lord. Other students had returned to their homes, but your writer, found lodging in a humble suburban home where he temporarily labored hard in digging a basement. While thus employed my continual prayer was, “Lord, let me go out for part of the summer to preach thy word if it can be thy will.” One day someone came and called me and asked if I could go out for the rest of the summer to assist a man and his wife in some tent meetings. What a joy!

Among the hills of Tennessee in the town of Red Boiling Springs we pitched our first battle. God gave us some precious victories in this place. Most of the preaching was done by the evangelists. I was simply a helper and had charge of a few services. At the close of this campaign the evangelists had to return to Nashville due to illness. They cast the responsibility of the tent upon my shoulders and informed me that I would have full charge of the next campaign across the mountains in a place known as Salt Lick. They had written for a man to come for us and the tent on a certain day but had not told him they were returning to Nashville.

On the appointed day the “Old timer” arrived in his topless “Lizzie” — about a 1915 model Ford. The poor man was obviously disappointed when he beheld their only “excuse” for a preacher. I too felt for him, but my orders were to go so I could do nothing else on condition that he would take me. That day over the ups and downs of the rugged trail I was frequently reminded of the fellow’s discontent with the evangelists’ substitute. I could do nothing more than grin and endure the remarks and silently pray that by a miracle of God I might not prove too great a disappointment.

Upon our arrival at Salt Lick, which had already been vociferously announced by the knocks, rattles, coughing and spitting of the approaching Ford, the old-timers were already coming out the front door of the weather-beaten country store in order to greet the evangelists. Try to imagine the withering disdain upon the faces of these old rugged men of the hills when they were informed that “this boy” is the substitute for their cherished evangelists. “Poor Me!”, yet who could blame them? It was to be expected that they turned away in deep disgust with low mutterings… . “There will be no meeting.” Behold what I had prayed myself into! Here I was among people who did not want me, no friends, no funds and naturally no formula for my predicament. Being left alone my poor heart was lifted to God in prayer that He would see me through this place of darkness. How hard to stay in a place where I was not wanted, as was overwhelmingly evident!

The poor old sinner who had gone for me appeared to be my only friend. He fed me a scanty meal, then we hitched his team to the wagon and went in search of tent poles, stakes, and rocks to use in seating the tent. We worked hard, for it was then well into the afternoon and the mountain folk had been told that their evangelists would “commence meeting” that night. Perhaps a few may turn up before the counteracting news reaches their ears.

Finally the nail-keg gossipers were annoyingly prevailed upon to come out of the little store where they were arduously occupied in chewing, spitting and discussing the “kid” which had been sent to tell them how to live. It was time to lift the tent. Half-heartedly they drove the tent stakes in the soft ground, helped tie the ropes, and raise the tent. This was enough so they again filed inside the store to resume their critical conversation. There, under the tent alone, I knelt to pray for courage and grace to do God’s will. Hardly had I begun to pray when a gust of wind struck the tent and brought it down with a thud. Fortunately I was not struck by a pole, so crawled out unhurt to go for the unambitious chatterboxes to come and help repair and raise the tent again. They lazily dragged themselves out and helped put the stakes a bit deeper. After pleading with them they were persuaded to assist in arranging a few boards on the rocks to serve as seats. I sought to have them put in more, but their caustic reply was, “These are all that will be needed.” Such encouragement for the “kid” preacher.

Tired in body and under mental pressure I arose to speak that night after having also directed the song service. It was immensely encouraging to note that both the attendance and the speaker exceeded the expectation of the tobacco-chewing prattlers. The attendance noticeably increased every night and the blessing of God was upon the services. In this place, for the first and only time in my life, the unknowing crowd groundlessly accused me of being a “great singer.” Such a charge!

The climax of accusations came about one Sunday night just before the close of the series of services. I was soon to return to take up my studies again, so the folk felt that something should be done to help the “boy preacher.” It was unitedly agreed upon that the most prominent figure in that section should take a fair-sized slice off the service that night to give an eulogy in behalf of the student preacher and lift a “big offering” to help him in school. What a speech! Fortunately for the “accused” that he had his head in his hands imploring the help of heaven. Never had I even dreamed that such commendation and exaltation should one day be mine. I was in some way obsessed with the sensation that I was being carried immeasurably beyond my realm and that some ill omen was about to befall me. Onward went the wind-jammer with his high praise and culminated this memorable speech with, “Now friends, this young man merits our whole hearted support, and for one, I am prepared to do something for him. His sermon this morning was the greatest I ever listened to in my life and I am sure another great message awaits us tonight. I’ll tell you what, I got fifty cents worth out of the message this morning and I believe I will get that much tonight. I am going to start this offering at one dollar. My head was still in my hands and I suddenly realized I had been jolted back to earth. The revival offering amounted to about sixteen dollars. I must have had about five dollars to begin my new school year.

Incidentally I received another jolt after returning to school, which landed me in the basement of personal esteem. I had not meant to boast in the least while relating some of my experiences to a senior preacher student. I told him of how the Lord had so anointed me on one occasion until I had spoken one full hour. The preacher ironically replied, “The man who talks the longest says the least.” Bang! I hit the bottom without an argument and slipped silently into speechless seclusion.

My First Real Leap of Faith

At Thanksgiving time after the above experience I had a real conviction that I should go to Jonesboro, Arkansas, and bring my fifteen year old half-sister back to school with me. I asked the Lord to make the way for me to go if He would have me to do so. The need was marvelously supplied and I went, but little did I imagine the test which awaited me.

Upon my arrival in Lepanto, Arkansas, I had expected to see my brother at the station. He was not there, but his father-in-law greeted me with, “We are sorry that you came. Robert and wife are not at home, but they are both at our place piled up in bed with the mumps.” Wow! The grinning old devil seemed to spring himself straddle of my neck and jeeringly laughed in my ear, “Ha, I have one on you now. You thought you did something by making the trip down here. I will see to it that you get the mumps, then you will be compelled to work to get money for your fare back to your Bible school. You will be so far behind in your studies you will never catch up. Your stepfather will not permit his daughter to return to school so you will drag in late with shame.”

This was one of the times when the old liar seemed to have stumbled upon the truth for I was without a dollar to pay lodging elsewhere, go on to Jonesboro, or go back to school. In the name of our blessed conquering Christ I made my way out to the house, shook hands with my brother and his wife and prepared to make the best of the worst.

One party handed me the price of the fare to Jonesboro, so I was soon on my way to let my sister know that I had come for her. Her father informed me that she could not go, for he had no money to pay her fare and to pay her expenses in school. “Aha, I told you so,” said my old tormenter.

“May my sister go back with me next week if the Lord provides both her fare and my fare?”, said I to her father. He thought he was sure of his ground in saying yes, so he gave me his promise. This was Saturday morning, so turning to my sister I said, “Be packed up and ready.”

Saturday afternoon I was back in Lepanto with a conviction that I should conduct a street service. A wicked man insisted that the service be held in front of his store. His desire was granted. God graciously moved upon that crowd. Many hands were raised for prayer and a general conviction seemed to take hold of the crowd. About the time we dismissed the meeting some unconverted man took off his hat and voluntarily went among the group insisting that they put something in it for “the boy.” It seemed that the devil was clear out of town by this time. The presence of God was so real, and in my hand was placed a good offering. Service was conducted in a country home that night with another offering given to me.

Sunday noon I was in church at Jonesboro. Everything needed was in my possession with exception of nine dollars. I was determined not to tell anyone of the need. I was asked to preach at the Nazarene church that night. It had been my purpose to leave Monday morning for Nashville, but my sister was not packed up, so the trip had to be postponed until Tuesday. I had been asked to speak at the church on Monday night. After service an offering was taken which amounted to nine dollars. No one knew the amount we needed for our fares, but the Lord knew and provided. Upon arriving at school in Nashville I discovered that I had ten cents left.

Now I had the responsibility of my sister’s school expense as well as my own. It was marvelous how our Lord provided. One day the school’s business manager was approached by a city school teacher and asked if Brother Bustin and his sister could come to her place that night and have supper. We went and enjoyed a well prepared meal and the fellowship of this woman of God. As we were about to leave she slipped a bit of paper into my hand. I didn’t look at it until later, but my heart was truly grateful for this “five,” or possibly a “ten” dollar check. Try to conceive my joy when I discovered that the check was for $91.00! In various ways the Lord supplied the needs for our school work. My sister is now a missionary in Haiti.