My First Fifty Years – By Gerald Bustin

Chapter 7

Wedding Bells and the Way of the Cross

During the previous late summer I had met and won to the Lord the one who was to become Mrs. G. T. The first time I saw this young lady in a home in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where she was staying with a friend, she ran to keep from being introduced to the “boy preacher.” (I was twenty-two). Within a little less than a year she stood as a bride at the altar with the one from whom she had fled at first sight. This young school-mistress was destined to play a large part in the life of a young holiness preacher. Little did either of us know the rugged paths which lay ahead. Leaving the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. B. H. Cox, well known and highly respected citizens of northeastern Arkansas, the young wife went with her husband to Columbus, Mississippi. Here we at first shared the small and humble quarters of a poor family in our congregation. Our next move was to a one room apartment where we did our cooking on a gas lantern which the writer had specially arranged for that purpose. All of this was no little trial to my companion, but the Lord saw that both of us needed some training for future service.

I shall ever be indebted to my companion who stuck with me through the exceedingly hard places during those early years of our ministry. She was never really a preacher, but she prayed for her husband, endured hardships with him, served competently as teacher, devoted mother, and eventually became an untiring laborer for her Lord in regions beyond.

Literally scores of pages could be packed with incidents of our pioneering years, but time and space will permit only a few of these. During the twenty-two and one half years we lived together we had a salary only three years. During the remaining years we never knew how the Lord would provide for us. Perhaps our first great test concerning material needs came to us while in Meridian, Mississippi where we were called to pastor a congregation which was newly organized. Upon our arrival there we were greeted by some of the congregation who met at our humble quarters rented from a crabbed old lady. One of the number had in his hand a nice sample of yellow butter from his Jersey. He also handed me some money, told me about the good job he had, and that we could count on him to stand by us. (He was the main support). Within one week, and with a single blow from the Gospel gun, I had shot this promising prop from under me. We paid dear rent which was always taken care of first, then we lived on such as was provided. We made it a rule to keep out of debt, and never beg, nor borrow anything of merit.

We saw the end of everything approaching, and then the arrival: no money and no food for another meal. This was specially hard on my young wife who had been accustomed to making her own way in teaching. Having gone through some of these pinches in school I was persuaded to believe that God would make the way at the right time, yet I cannot say it was easy, for I shared something of my companion’s concern. We knew the Lord had led us, so He would surely provide according to His promise. My full time was given in His service, so these material things must be added. On this particular occasion we had just launched a tent campaign near where we were living, but as yet the crowd was small and the people were poor. We had partaken of a scanty lunch for the noon meal and had no natural prospects for supper of any kind. As the afternoon shadows lengthened my good wife was sorely tried and eventually gave vent to her surcharged emotions by the release of copious tears. This caused the writer some inward pain and doubtless unshed tears arose to the surface, yet somehow there was a conviction that God would provide. About this time we were both looking through the back door of our quarters when we noticed some neighbors and their children about to turn in at our back entrance. Arms were full, and one of the children was tugging at a red wagon piled high with good things to eat. Within a matter of seconds these burdens began to be laid on our back porch. By this time the tears were flowing freely from two sets of eyes — tears of sorrow mingled with joy. Sorry that we had doubted our Father’s faithfulness, and joyful to behold His great care in providing in a most unusual way. Not one of these new neighbors knew anything of what we had or didn’t have in the house. The everliving God of Elijah was proving His eternal faithfulness to His tested children. This was a mighty boost to the faith of my companion and she became an apt student in our Father’s school.

Among the many other incidents of those days I feel constrained to relate only one more. One morning a black boy came to our back door and began to give me his story about a dead sister at Newton. He had nothing but rags to wear, and he so much wanted to go. He said, “One lady has told me she would give me a shirt if I could find some trousers. Dewy tears rolled out of those big eyes until my own became moist. I said to him, “Go get your shirt and I will have some trousers ready for you.” As I went in to get a pair of trousers I felt that God would have me give one of my suits. I had two, but both were well worn. As my wife saw what I was about to do she wept a little and said, “That is your best suit, and I don’t feel it is right to give it to this strange boy who may not be telling the truth.” It hurt me to go against my wife’s wishes, but obeying my conscience, I disposed of the suit My companion could have said, “I told you so,” for the next day I caught the deceiver cutting weeds while wearing my suit which was then horribly soiled. If he had a sister he had not been anywhere to see her. He had lied. The old devil then had his go at me for being such a sucker, but I quickly committed the matter to the Lord, for He knew that I had meant well. Within two or three days a railroad man sent his son down to the house to ask me if I would come up to his place. I went to his house at once. The man asked me if I could go up town with him. He took me into one of the fine clothing stores and asked a clerk to fit me up with a good suit. A half an hour later I walked out with the best suit I had ever owned and a pair of expensive shoes. (This man knew absolutely nothing of my having given the suit to the Negro boy). When my good wife saw what the Lord had done a great change was wrought in her own life. After this experience I used to say I was afraid to leave her with my belongings lest she give away everything I had, for she had learned that we cannot outgive God.

Clashing With Ecclesiasticism

“Brother _____ was afraid of his meat and bread,” said a cowardly preacher who was aspiring to become a D.D. These words were addressed to me because I had decided to conduct a meeting independent of organized religion in a city where church trouble had developed. In this move I was certainly not ecclesiastically justified, but God graciously honored my ministry and gave me the greatest revival I had ever witnessed until that time. This, of course, resulted in a change in my life which at the time cut deeply into my heart, but worked for my good and for the good of others as well In the face of everything, my spirit was kept from bitterness and the blessing of the Lord was upon my soul.

For the next three years our labors centered in and around Jonesboro, Arkansas where God gave us a fine group of people and a growing work. We were not without our problems, but in this place we had it comparatively easy even though I was constantly engaged in revival work as well as pastoral responsibilities. God gave us many precious and lifelong friends at this place. My father lived near us, then we were only a few miles from my wife’s people. Here we began raising our family. Two children were born here. Thinking that perhaps this would for many years be our home, we took upon us the big burden of purchasing a home on the installment plan. In this we missed the plan of God, for within little more than a year He was leading us to other parts.

Going Out Like Abraham

“I would never do it. The depression is coming on and your family will suffer.” This was the advice of a certain preacher who had settled down to an easy life and eventually almost lost his soul. To this advice I could not give heed, for I knew God had said to move on. This was settled one night about one o’clock when another preacher and two laymen knelt with me at an altar of prayer as I was seeking clear leadings. It was not the wish of the large majority of my people, for many were pleading that I stay in Jonesboro. It was not my natural wish, for I well knew that it would be harder to swing out into unknown parts. On this particular night the Lord made it clear that I should go into the State of Louisiana and to the city of Alexandria, even though none of us was acquainted with a living soul in those parts. My wife had the same conviction that I had concerning this move.

About this time that prince among preachers, Seth Cook Reese, the father of Paul Reese, arrived on the scene for the purpose of organizing us into the Arkansas and Louisiana District. The Louisiana part of it was by faith, for at that time we had no work in Louisiana. Your writer was elected as the Superintendent of the new District which was more of a vision than a reality.

After it was decided that the Bustins should go into Louisiana for the purpose of doing home missionary work, the question arose as to how we could go, for the old model T Ford had seen its days. It was planned that we should take a large tent, camping equipment, etc., etc. Some of our friends volunteered to work on a trailer which I had partially designed. As the work on the trailer went forward people began to inquire, “What on earth are you going to pull that with?” They knew as much about this as I did. We all knew that the old model T was out, but there was nothing else in sight. Providentially, and in answer to prayer, here was the way out. A man came to me one day saying he knew where we could get an A model Ford in good condition for about twenty-five dollars difference between the T. and it. This didn’t seem possible, but it was so. We sold the A for a good price, then someone came and informed me of an old Nash in good condition which could be bought for $60. This gave us transportation, al so a bit of money to use for the trip.

Some weeks after the conviction became clear where we should go we found ourselves rolling into the city of Alexandria, 1Louisiana, on about two flats plus our pocketbook which was flatter than the tires. This was no little trial to us to be far from friends and home with no money to speak of and not one person we were acquainted with for scores of miles around. We lifted up our hearts to the Lord in prayer for His guidance as to where we should locate. We were directed to inquire at a certain house as to where we could find living quarters. This was certainly of God, for immediately we had a friend even though the party contacted was far from being a Christian. Immediately this friend found living quarters at a reasonable price, helped us to secure land for pitching the tent, and befriended us in many ways. We were told then and there that all we needed to do when we got in a tight place was just to let “me know what you need, for my husband has a good job and we have plenty of credit at the corner grocery.” We settled it in our own minds then, however, that we would never tell this person of our personal needs which would involve gifts. This decision was adhered to under all circumstances.

It was dead winter when we arrived in Alexandria, but the grass was green and flowers blooming. Just after the tent was pitched and seated a cold wave hit us which kept the people away, and of course funds were not forthcoming. We came to our last penny. We had brought along some canned fruit and vegetables, but ere long these were gone. We had quite a few black-eyed peas which stood us in good stead. We had peas for dinner, peas for supper, then those that were left over were mashed up and mixed with flour and salt and made into little cakes, thus affording us pea-sausage for breakfast. These were testing times, but good days, for we knew that God had led us. Candy and ice cream for the children were out of the question. One day we were faced with the question of bread. This led me to the special place of prayer out in the garage. Here I reminded the Lord that we had forsaken family, friends, and salary in order to follow His leadings, and that He knew all about our needs, and especially the needs of the children. While out there my wife called. I went to the house and met a poor man who said, “The Lord told me to come over and see you and give you fifty cents.” How we praised God for His faithfulness. On one occasion since then, and many years later, I received a gift of six thousand dollars for the work, but this fifty cent piece brought as much joy if not more than the great gift, for our Father had signally answered prayer for bread and a little extra.

The following five years were destined to be times of great testing, but we were in God’s great school. We saw many souls turn to the Lord, several small churches were organized, and some buildings erected when it seemed utterly impossible. We were out for about six months on this first out-swing of faith. God gave us a fine group of precious people who had found God under our ministry and had been led into the light of holiness. A church had been established and a pastor secured. These folk were as precious to us as any we had ever known. Here we had proven the great faithfulness of God among a people whom we had never known before, and in the midst of the great economic depression. Back at our Assembly in Jonesboro, Arkansas we had great news to tell. Almost a year had passed since we had had a salary from any source m the world, yet God had provided for us and we had kept free of debt. Until this time we had been keeping up the payments on the house — “our little nest.” At this point we felt that the Lord would have us free from debt, so the previous owner kindly consented to take it back. (This was twenty-one years ago, and we have never had another, yet we have never once doubted the will of God in slipping out from under this load).

After having visited the work in the northern part of the district we set out again for Louisiana to dig out some new works. Naturally the way was becoming more difficult, for at this time tens of thousands were in the bread-line made possible by the Government. We too were advised to go and get our share, but not once did we do so. There are many stories of trial and triumph during these years of testing, but time forbids our relating many of them. We do feel, however, that our Father will be glorified by our relating a few of these incidents.

In the winter of 1932 we were conducting services in Pineville, Louisiana and renting small quarters from a maiden lady who was a nurse. She was very kind to us, also profited from the weekly rent which we prayed in and turned to her. While we were there she received a sudden call to take care of a case some distance from her home. She said to me, “Brother Bustin, I would like for you to go to a certain grocery store every other day and get a piece of beef for my dog “Old Major.” I have arranged for this, and have also asked Sister Bustin to boil the meat for him.” These orders the writer carried out to the letter. It was good beef and its pleasant odors while boiling served to whet our appetites. “Old Major” seemed to enjoy the meat immensely, but would not thank us for the rich broth, so my wife didn’t feel that she would be robbing the dog by taking the beef broth and making dumplings for the Bustins. While Major ate his meat we enjoyed the dumplings made with the broth from his meat. (While relating this incident one time, a friend of the writer said, “If it had been me I would have snitched a bit of Major’s meat.”)

The pastor in Alexandria felt that he was having hard sledding on his small weekly salary, therefore decided that he could not carry on. This was a grief to us, for we could not afford to see the work go down. We earnestly sought God’s directions in the matter, then felt led to go back and take charge, also to erect a parsonage and church building. Upon passing on this information to our friends the answer came, ‘Brother Bustin, we don’t want you to come. Don’t misunderstand us, but we can’t stand to see you and your wife and children suffer. Conditions are such that we cannot promise you anything.” We knew what God wanted, so we went knowing that it would be hard, but with the conviction that the Lord would see us through. I literally told the devil that we were serving notice on him that by the grace of God we were going to carry on in Alexandria if we bleached our bones from starvation. Maybe it is not best to challenge the devil, but by the grace of God we stuck by the battle. Again and again we didn’t know what we would eat the next day, and at times we didn’t know what we would eat for the next meal which time was not an hour off.

The great test came when I said to our people, “We are going to build a tabernacle and parsonage.” “It cannot be done” came from all quarters. We began to pray and seek out a place suitable for such buildings. A lot was offered to us for a very small price, and only twenty dollars down. This was in a good location situated in a new residential section and only about one hundred feet from a large paved street. With the consent of my folk this was purchased. Then came the question, “Well, we have the lot, but how can we build with no money?” Prayer was made again for God to make a way in the wilderness. Someone came to the writer saying, “There are quite a number of good brick in the city park which the authorities would like to be rid of. Some of these will have to be digged out of the ground, but they can be had for digging them out and transporting them away. This meant hours of hard work, but at last the task was accomplished, the services of a truck secured, and these good brick were laid on our lot. One of our men secured the aid of a colored brick mason to put down the foundation. No building material was in sight, but prayer was continually going up. One day a party came to me saying, “Brother Bustin, I know where there is a house for sale for twenty-five dollars. It is located at a mill site about twenty miles from here. I will take you there if you want to see it.” We went and promised to take this place which contained much good timber. In fact practically everything in the house was good. The money came, then the wrecking began. Day after day some of us worked, then hauled lumber on a trailer, behind our worn-out Chrysler, early and late. Much of this timber was exceedingly black from soot.

Some of our neighbors, including one old man by the name of Berlin, felt that they were disgraced by what we were going to build near their nice houses. Poor old Mr. Berlin cursed and raved at first. After the timber was on the ground I began washing it piece by piece. Never will I forget the last day I spent washing this lumber. The rain had been falling in torrents, so there was a large depression filled with water near us. As the evening wore away a cold wave struck our part of the country. Bare-legged from my knees down, and barefooted, I worked unrelentingly in order to finish the task. Even though I was working hard I shivered in the cold and my legs were so red until it seemed the blood would almost break through the pores. The devil was right on hand with what seemed to be a whole regiment of his imps. He said, “What a fool you are. Here you are penniless, threadbare, the soles off your feet, your family in need, and your poor wife expecting an addition any day.” I couldn’t argue, for this time he was telling the truth in part. My heart was heavy, but all the time I was reminding the Lord of His leadings and at the same time renewing my covenant to follow Him all the way. That evening I went home shivering in the cold. Just as I was about to enter the house from the back way a large nail passed through my practically soleless shoe and went about half way through my foot. Before day the temperature was such that the block of my old Chrysler froze up and burst. God alone knows the testing of these times, and yet we never told one person on earth what our needs were. He made the way.

It would be next to impossible to relate the many ways in which the Lord worked. Suffice to say that within sixty days we were living in our commodious parsonage quarters, and within sixty days more we were worshipping in a lovely tabernacle 36 x 50 and our total indebtedness did not exceed $600 including the two lots. God had worked wonders. We moved into the new quarters when my oldest son was one month old. Soon after we were in the new tabernacle Mr. and Mrs. Berlin came and sought the Lord and found peace. Their oldest granddaughter also found Christ as her Saviour and lived a beautiful Christian life until she went to be with the Lord at an early age. The change in Mr. Berlin was indeed radical. The lion was transformed into a lamb. He too lived a devoted life until the Lord called him home. The testings were not over, for the very heart of the depression was upon us. On one occasion I preached on Missions one Sunday morning. Satan said, “You are foolish to talk on foreign missions and take an offering, for the few dimes which will be given will come from what you and your family would have to live on this week.” I preached the best I could on missions, then took an offering. I didn’t take another offering, for naturally I knew there would be no use. There was a box at the back of the tabernacle for the pastor’s support. Great was my surprise that day to find that God had given us more than I ordinarily got in two weeks. Praise God!