Incidents in Travel and Soul Winning – By Elmer & Julia Shelhamer

Chapter 17

West Indies and South America

During the next year, 1932, I felt led to go to the West Indies and South America. I knew but one missionary, Rev. James Hill, a Nazarene; but where he was I could not say. I had written him several times, via their Publishing House, but all in vain. Finally I decided to wait no longer. I needed about $100.00 more on my transit. While unpacking and packing my suitcase I remarked to wife, “I have too many handkerchiefs; `what shall I do with them?” She replied, “Send some of them to Brother _____. He is poor and will need them.” I agreed and, presently, to my surprise I found an envelope with money in it, and said, “See what I found? Here is an envelope under my handkerchiefs with $85.00! Where in the world did it come from? Who put it there?” But remember, I did not find it until I first began to think of another’s need. Self-forgetfulness pays!

I tried to catch a boat sailing from New York to Georgetown, South America, January 4th, but one thing and another hindered, so I decided, to sail January 18th. The second day out someone knocked at my cabin door, and when I said, “Come in,” whom did I behold but Brother Hill!

He had likewise failed to get the other boat, and now I saw anew the wonderful providence of God. “The steps (and stops) of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” — Psa. 37:23. We soon began to canvass the ground and map out the campaigns in the various islands. He was delighted, and as he was in charge of two large tents, we set in for one big revival.

The first meeting was in Georgetown, South America, with two churches — Pilgrim Holiness and Church of God. This was my first experience with the latter. In previous years they denounced me because I belonged to a “Sect,” or “Man-made organization.” Accordingly I was a little fearful at first, but soon found blessed fellowship with Brother Jeffreys, the local pastor. In fact, he wanted me to remain and pastor his large church for three months, while he went into the interior on a missionary rally. I am satisfied that if we as holiness people mingled more freely, we would understand one another better. The Pilgrim Holiness people have a nice property there and we had a profitable meeting.

Now I began my return journey, visiting the churches in Trinidad, Barbados, (“Little England”) Antigua, St. Croix, St. Thomas, Dominican Republic, etc. Our greatest campaign was on Barbados, under two large tents. Here three churches united, Nazarene, Pilgrim Holiness, and Church of God. The tents held 1,000 people, and more than this number were standing inside and out at night. The aisles and platform were so crowded that it was difficult to find space for seekers. The entire island was stirred, people coming in special bus loads from ten to twenty miles. Even the Justice of the Supreme Court came, but was unable to get in.

The heat was intense (in February) and the crowds around the tent cut oft all air from the speaker. One night thought I would faint, and said, “I was down in the center of the city today and there saw bankers, city officials and heads of steamship companies, all in their shirt sleeves, trying to be comfortable. Is it not strange that a minister or missionary, in order to maintain his dignity, must almost die in this heat?” And off came my coat! Some gasped, while others said, “Amen.” The next night they rather expected it and seemed to enjoy seeing a new precedent set. Bondage to custom is galling, especially where no principle is involved.

Americans believe in being free and easy and sometimes we go too far, while Europeans make too much of red tape and ritualism. I was preaching to large congregations in one place, but when Sunday night came I was requested to lay aside my comfortable gray suit and wear my black one, for it was custom, and then black was more reverential. I gladly complied in order to avoid offense, but thought: “O Consistency, thou art a jewel!” A black suit on Sunday and two long, black pipes in the pastor’s study on Monday. No hallelujahs in worship, but plenty of smoke, beer and wine after the benediction; a very solemn “Ah-m-e-n” at, the close of each hymn, then gambling and dancing the next day. The graveyards in former years were just outside the church, but now they are inside. The services are very orderly, but very dead. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

The West India natives are very religious, but like some of our American Negroes, more or less unstable. Their emotional nature is more highly developed than truthfulness and purity. Barbados has 166 square miles, with a population of 170,000, perhaps the most thickly peopled spot on earth. They are very poor and families of six or more live in one room. This is degrading to morals. No marvel that about seventy-eight percent of the births are illegitimates. Nevertheless, we found many fine young preachers and native Christians. I fell in love with them and they pled for our early return.

In Antigua we found a good work under Brother and Sister King, of the Pilgrim Holiness Church. They were the only holiness missionaries on the island. This is as it should be. It is unfortunate to have several denominations teaching practically the same thing in a small radius when one might do the work. The poor natives cannot understand it. This depression ought to teach Mission Boards an important lesson, viz., amalgamation and conservation. Wherever it is possible without sacrifice of principle, why not unite or give place to those who are doing the same work? Why spend a lot of time, energy and money holding down a feeble station in order to save a little property or ecclesiastical prestige? The same efforts might produce much greater returns elsewhere. But blind bigotry cannot see this.

Again, no missionary should be allowed to change over to another denomination, then use his influence to hurt the movement from which he withdrew. He should be compelled to withdraw to another island or go so far away as to sever all connections and contributions of former supporters. The real baptism of the Holy Ghost will settle a lot of littleness and underhanded crookedness. Oh, that someone, wholly saved from prejudice and narrowness, could visit each field and stay long enough to see a genuine revival! Among whom? Not the raw natives, but among the missionaries and native preachers. This is the quickest and surest way to reach the heathen.

From Antigua we sailed to Dominican Republic, which is part of the large island, Haiti. Here the Free Methodists have a fine work. Catholicism holds sway, but after these years of sowing on the part of Rev. Mills and his co-workers, the reaping time has come. We have a fine seminary at Santiago, an inland city about eighty-five miles from the main seaport, Santo Domingo. We were there for the Annual Conference and saw some of their fine teachers and young preachers drill their wells deeper. On one occasion several were at it till after midnight, when they struck oil. Immediately they were aflame for others, and out on the streets they went in open air meetings. In returning from Santo Domingo, I changed boats at Porto Rico, a United States’ possession. While here for two days, I walked the beautiful streets and groaned, sometimes aloud, for the island. Think of it! San Juan, an up-to-date city, with many Americans and English-speaking people among the natives, and yet not a single missionary or holiness church; while in some of these islands there are too many and they are in one anothers’ way. Why do Mission Boards allow this?