The war was on and England was preparing to fight. It was 1939 and soldiers were being trained by the thousands in the town of Colchester to be sent to the front to fight the Germans. Many did not return home. I am sure it seemed at times as if the town was being overrun by young men getting ready for battle. Each day as she went to the market, shopped in the town or simply looked out the window, Bessie Adams saw this mass of humanity and she was burdened. Just like Jesus, she had compassion on them and wanted to make a difference in their lives.
Bessie was my grandmother and a tremendous evangelist in her own right. She and my grandfather, Ken had established a small book room – too small to be a bookstore – right in the heart of Colchester. Despite the active work of literature distribution that they were already involved in, the “soldiers work”, now became a priority as well. As the old saying goes, “where there is a will, there is a way”. The two of them quickly devised a plan to hold meetings on the second floor of a local Quaker meeting hall and to invite as many of these men as possible each weekend.
Applying their entrepreneurial skills and enlisting the help of their friends, they had a network of young people stationed at street corners near to the meeting house inviting people in. All they had to do was to mention free food, good singing and some friendly faces and lots of men responded. Each weekend, dozens upon dozens come out to eat, sing and hear the gospel. My grandfather Ken would preach a convicting message and often made some books free for the taking at the end of his sermon. He quickly realized that the men taking the books were often the ones that were serious about pursuing a relationship with God. Many conversations led to decisions for Christ and it was not unusual to see people on their knees praying all over the room at the end of one of these sessions. Who knows how many men made professions of faith and went on to die in the next few weeks meeting their savior far sooner than they had expected.
Just a few years ago, I was opening the mail and got a letter from a very old woman in Florida. She was writing to thank me for what my grandparents had done many years ago. Her husband had lived a long and fruitful life, but had recently died. He was one of the soldiers training in Colchester who had gone to a meeting and given his life to Christ. Fortunately, he had not died on the battle field and instead he lived for many decades afterward as a committed Christian and a dynamic witness to the power of the gospel to change a life. As Ken and Bessie’s grandson, I treasured that letter, but more importantly I treasured the knowledge of their boldness in the middle of a war. They knew that two battles were taking place simultaneously and they were committed not to sit on the side lines and watch it all happen.
Today, I realize that the urgency of war is not an immediate reality for many people in the west. Battles are now fought with drones and armies of highly trained volunteer soldiers in places so far away that we don’t even know where they are. Despite this, the second war continues on apace and is devouring lives on a daily basis. Our enemy uses many tactics, but they all have one aim – death and destruction. With suburban homes set far apart in wide yards that are immaculately cared for, things often look pretty good on the outside. Not too many bomb craters are visible that tell the truth of the story going on inside. Many people living lives of desolation, loneliness, depravity and hopelessness all hidden under a false veneer of self-sufficiency and success.
We need new tactics as well to make the truth of the gospel as relevant and attractive as it was to soldiers in World War II. The message is the same; the power to save is the same and need for a Savior is just as great. The challenge is to help people see the certain death and destruction that they are headed for when bombs are not falling all around them and their physical mortality is not a daily question. It is left to my generation to see the urgency of our moment and boldly seize it, just as those who gone on before us did so faithfully. May the Lord open our eyes to the real battle going on all around us and give us the compassion and wisdom we need to reach a lost a dying world.