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

Chapter 7

God Opens Doors

Of late years, God has been pleased to give me a new commission; namely, to visit the various mission fields and irrespective of denomination, help missionaries and Christian workers drill their wells deeper and strike fresh oil. If we can only see these get the real baptism of the Spirit, this is the quickest and surest way to reach the heathen. Sad but true, few are in a first class condition themselves.

In Johannesburg a missionary confessed to me that she had been on the field for forty years and yet had never received the clear witness of the Spirit. Think of it! Void of the all-essential thing! Another fine missionary got a revelation of her carnality and fasted two meals a day for a week, then came through clear. The very next Sunday her interpreter and some of her leaders began to seek. Oh, it is catching! Like begets like!

In Acts, twelfth chapter, we read of a mighty miracle, when prison doors “opened of their own accord” and Peter the prisoner walked out. Well, in this particular instance certain doors were opened and we walked in. It is inspiring to see God outwit the plans of men.

“I love to see Thee bring to naught

The plans of wily men;

When simple hearts outwit the wise,

Oh, Thou art lovely then.”

While in a good meeting in the Y. W. C. A. in Capetown, a new experience came to me. Two fine men, members of the committee of the Keswick Convention at Wellington, came to see me. Two of their principal speakers were suddenly taken ill and could not be present. It was now too late to secure other workers, and what could be done? This is a big affair patterned after the international one in England. At the last moment some one suggested my name.

But, was I safe and sound in doctrine? Hence the interview. If I came I must not use the term “eradication”, nor say too much about “cleansing from all sin”, nor “bring in the subject of Divine Healing.” I listened submissively, then said in substance: “Well, brethren, I fear I am not the right man, for I do not know how to be out spoken in one place and put the soft pedal on in another. Let us pray!”

After we arose, they thought I was the right one, and so I promised to go. As it was, I had an open date on their date. Or, at least, wife and daughter could carry on and let me go. But two men had to get sick in order that a third man might enter an open door. All of this looked Providential. Oh, it is grand to let God become our Advance Agent!

I remember on one occasion at a camp meeting, an evangelist was not recalled for the same camp for the next year. How he took on about it! “What have they against me?” “Are not my services in demand?” We told him not to look at it thus, but if he was God’s man and delivered God’s message in the right spirit, perhaps God would open another door next year where he could do more good than here.

And now methinks I hear a loyal churchman or extremist say, Brother Shelhamer are you a compromiser? How could you go to a popular convention? I have never been invited to preach outside our own ranks. I am too hot!” Hold there. Brother! Perhaps you ought to say you are too sectarian and harsh, having “zeal without knowledge”. Do you charge St. Paul with compromise? No, he was a genuine Jew and loyal to Christ beyond all doubt. Yet he declared he was called to “open the eyes of the Gentiles.” if he could do this, why cannot we open the eyes of those who are not of our little crowd? Good Lord, save us from mistaking bigotry for loyalty, churchanity for Christianity.

Yes, I went to the Wellington Convention, and what a time we did have! We spoke twice a day for a week — in the morning to ministers, missionaries and Christian workers, and at night in a larger auditorium to about one thousand eager hearers. This was my first experience laboring with the Dutch Reformed people, They are strong Calvinists, very serious and sturdy in character. It was good to be with them. What a great pity that Arminians and Calvinists have not endeavored to work with and understand each other better. We need each other, if we only knew it and were big enough to acknowledge it. Why? Because in some respects we are both right and both wrong. We should balance each other up in a right way.

I rather like Rev. Bud Robinson’s idea of election. He said there were three that decreed that he should be damned — the world, the flesh, and the devil. Then there were three that voted that he should be saved — God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But this was a tie, and God said, “Buddie, we can’t do a thing, there are three against three. It is up to you as a free moral agent to cast the deciding vote: “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.'” So I voted with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and we won out.” Exactly! Our choice determines our destiny.

Yes, a wonderful Convention! Many of these dear people had never heard a red-hot Methodist preacher stress the importance of the new birth and instantaneous conversion. They had been catechised and confirmed, but knew nothing about time witness of the Spirit, and the joy that should follow. It was all so new to hear a preacher urge them to decide then and there for Christ, to urge them to choose for themselves and press their way to God. “The kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” — Luke 16:16.

John Wesley urged his preachers to preach frequently on the witness of the Spirit, declaring it is the utmost important theme one could preach upon. Now, for a stranger, and an American at that — for they say. “Some very queer things come from America,” to burst in upon them with such excitement, was shocking! But they are simple-hearted, and though cautious, yet are easily led when the leader is tender and kind.

One night the power of God fell upon the large audience and they gasped to see a new thing: About 200 came down the aisles and tried in vain to get into the vestry for an “after service”. When this was impossible we had them return to the auditorium, and now for the first time in the lives of some of the leaders did they behold seekers “sobbing aloud.” In fact, one came rushing to me and said excitedly, “Come quick, some are weeping aloud!” They were astonished while I was delighted. It reminded me of revivals in America. However, I must say, I could wish that some of the sensational methods at home could be abandoned, for more serious reflection. If South Africa had some of our zeal and we had some of their reverence it would be a good exchange.

* * *

Another Door Opened

For years I had heard of “Hope Hall” in Johannesburg. This religious center, under the wise management of Rev. Frank Huskisson, stands for Holiness as a distinct work of grace, or as Wesley put it, “The second blessing, properly so called.” The work has a large constituency and is interdenominational in character. I had secretly hoped to be invited sometime to one of their annual conventions. But perhaps I was “too emotional,” or perhaps a silent shake of the head or shrug of the shoulders had closed this door. For some reason I did not have much prestige, and hence — no invitation. It was while in a blessed revival with Pastor Buchler in the heart of the city that I became better acquainted with the good man in charge of “Hope Hall.” He came several times and took part, to our delight. What a blessing it would be if we could meet and mingle together more freely. After this fuller acquaintance I received a nice letter inviting wife, Esther and myself to come (four months later) to the annual convention. I called it another miracle in opening an “effectual door.” Here we were associated for nine days with several fine ministers, Revs. Malan, Scheepers, Ward, and others. Many godly people from far and near attended and received great blessing.

Brother Huskisson is a fine organizer and great general. He had a very tight rule that no speaker should go beyond a certain limit, twenty-five minutes for the first, and thirty for the second and last speaker — both inside of one hour. This did me a lot of good as it compelled me to boil my message down and be very explicit and dynamic. Oh, that I could have had such discipline in early life! I believe many a rambling preacher could have been well trained had his superiors taken him in hand while young. But when one gets old and well established in a rut it is hard to get him out. What a pity!

After the closing service Monday night we three were rushed off to take the through train for the Cape, about one thousand miles. We did not know we had so many friends in the great gold mining city, until now. We found a large crowd waiting to sing and shout us off. Different churches and missions were represented, Brother Buchler’s “Zion Church” being the largest. This mighty man of prayer for the sick had never met us, yet had the courage to invite us four months previous for a “mission” as they call it. He was not suspicious, but let us conduct public altar services as we chose, like in the States. He said afterwards that had he listened to others he would have been afraid of the “wild American,” but he was now satisfied it was the deepest and broadest revival ever held in his church.

Now when these new converts and friends came to sing us off and loaded us down with presents and fruit, we could not keep back the tears. It proved afresh that God had sent us to South Africa.

I must tell you a bit about one of these converts, Mr. McFarland. He has been manager for years of the large Stuttaford Department Store in the heart of the city. He and his wife are trained singers and were to sing us a “special” one night in the Buchler revival. But both were brought under deep conviction, hence decided it would not be fitting. He is a cool Scotchman, and told me in a frank way that he and his wife sat up till one o’clock the previous night counting the cost, and had decided to come out publicly and give themselves to God. When they did, he prayed audibly and it sounded like a strict business man entering into a contract with another. There was no flood of tears, or beating the bench; but with deliberation he entered into a covenant with God that should never be revoked.

I confess I wondered at it, but found it was genuine, for he gave up his tobacco and other sins of thirty-five years’ standing. I was still better satisfied when he and his wife came, to the train, and there, before his business friends and sinners, led the singing and was not ashamed to let it be known that he endorsed and stood by an unpopular holiness preacher. Yes, there were other mighty miracles wrought in and around Johannesburg. Wife and Esther held a second revival for Pastor Buchler. To God be all the praise!