THE WANDERER’S RETURN (2)
My introduction to Evangelical Religion.
“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice;
and there shall be one fold and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10.14-18).
Having been persuaded to join with these Evangelical Christians on a Sunday afternoon when they attended a mission service at Polemidhia, a nearby army camp, I went along, more for the jaunt than the religion. My first attendance at these Sunday afternoon services in the Mission to Mediterranean Garrisons, produced in me the same initial reaction as at Episkopi. The revulsion could be seen even in my face as I endured listening again to ‘Golden Bells’ Hymns.
Yet, as I spoke afterwards to these Evangelical believers there was something about them which disarmed some of my prejudices. Perhaps it was the romantic streak in my nature which was attracted to these Greek and Armenian Christians. As I spoke to old Mr. Christo, who ran a tiny Evangelical bookshop in Nicosia, or to Barnabas, the colporteur from the Bible Society, my attitude was
gradually changed from proud contempt to a desire to be one of them. Week by week I attended that place to listen more attentively to the message of the cross as an atonement for sin. Like Mahatma Gandhi I could accept Christianity without the cross, but I stumbled at the blood religion. My heart however, was being prepared to receive this very message. My childhood faith in the dignity of man had received many a blow in the previous twelve months. The old wounds of a guilty conscience which had been so lightly healed by the plaster of good works and mysticism, began to fester again. The depravity of the human heart, and the cross of Christ were the themes to which my attention was being constantly directed. I was also given at this time a copy of the memoir of Robert Murray M’Cheyne which did much to draw my affections towards these despised followers of the Saviour. Later I was to find, in Mr. Cristo’s ‘Bread of Life’ bookshop, a paperback, “Life of Robert Bruce”, the successor to John Knox as minister of St. Giles, Edinburgh. In both these men I saw the same evangelical religion. Both were sinners, who had come to put their faith in a crucified Saviour.
God does many of His mighty works in the wilderness, and I was given solitude. My work with the Cypriot Boundary Commission involved spending my days out in the ‘Bondou’ (wild moorland), taking telurometer readings. How I revelled in the freedom after the confinment of the Top Security Intelligence Section, hemmed in by a ten-foot barbed wire fence and closeted in a dark room. When my task in Episkopi was completed, I and my fellow National Service man were transferred to the Eastern end of the Island. We took up our residence at a lonely Air Force camp at Pergamos, to the west of Famagusta. It was at this time I took my first spell of leave in Israel; I had planned to go alone, armed with my Scottish Visa (kilt). Only those who have lived in such a dry and desolate place as Cyprus – bound in the chains of ancient peasant traditions can fully appreciate the contrast the State of Israel presents. The greenery of the orange groves and bustle of a great industrial city thriving in every branch of human activity. It is like emerging suddenly from the stagnant waters of a mediaeval moat into the myriad currents of a mighty river. Activity, noise, bustle, enterprise were my first impressions of this melting pot of world Jewry.
Apart from brief visits to Megiddo and Capernaum my interest lay not in the past but in the present.
As recounted at the beginning of these reminiscences, I had a great desire to visit, and if possible to work on a kibbutz, and after hat day at Dagania, my Scottish Visa took me to the very place I had longed to go. I was able to live and work at Kibbutz Amiad, very near to Safet, the city set upon an hill. There I had a taste of the reality of Tolstoy’s ideal society. When I paid a brief visit a year
later, that way of life had lost its attractions for me, as I had found a Society where my real needs were met. After this first trip to Israel, I returned to Pergamos. In that camp I began to study the Scriptures in earnest, and to be convinced that they were in reality the Word of God by the power that attended the very reading of them. There in Pergamos I began to enjoy the delights of communion with God, going in the evenings to the lonely hillside beneath the beautiful Mediterranean sky. At this time I had my first stay with a Christian family, in Larnaca, a nearby town. A stay that was to have a lasting influence. I saw there the beauty of true Christianity. Husband and wife living together in a beautiful loving relationship. So different from the worldly homes I had lived in. This same man, who was an Army Scripture Reader, introduced me to the story of David and Mephibosheth. A story, which seemed to portray my own spiritual pilgrimage. I felt myself very much to be Mephibosheth, whom the Saviour had sought and found and taken to be at His table continually. It was in this home that Christians from all over Cyprus gathered once a month to pray together. There I learned the power and value of true prayer.
After this short interlude at Pergamos my work with the Boundary Commission was finished. I returned to the photographic unit at Episkopi. As I identified myself with the Evangelicals, I soon had to face the scorn of the Service Chaplains, who had been my companions in infidelity. My former drinking friends mockingly addressed me as ‘Christian’ when they saw me reading, not the Sunday newspapers, but the sermons of Whitefield. However, the Lord had very different friends in store for me. I found a spiritual companion in the very Air Force Corporal with whom I had disputed the first evening we met at that evangelical meeting in January 1961. With him I returned to Israel to spend Christmas at the Edinburgh Medical Mission Hospital in Nazareth. This spiritual bond has endured for over 23 years, despite our great differences in nature, upbringing, nationality, outlook and taste. Surely our Shepherd is the God of the impossible. We have now shared the same home for fifteen years.
All too soon my time in that spiritual nursery came to an end as my two years National Service were drawing to a close. Once more I had the opportunity to go to Israel to renew old acquaintances and to make many new ones. What a wonderful family I had been brought into, of every nation, tribe, and tongue. From the hospitable Palestinian brethren at Kafrr Yosef near Nazareth, to Madga Pesht and her adopted son Solomon in Elait, an old Jewess from Hungary, and a Jewish boy from India united as one in Christ. So I had to bid farewell to the warmth of these Mediterranean lands, and like Legion, go back to my people; to Scotland, where I did not
know a single person with whom I could enjoy fellowship in my new-found Saviour, nor any Church where I could hear the Gospel I now loved. Yet I did have that wonderful promise – “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”.
1. Long did I toil and knew no earthly rest,
Far did I rove, and found no certain home;
At last I sought them in His sheltering breast,
Who opens His arms, and bids the weary come:
With Him I found a home, a rest divine,
And since then am His, and He is mine.
2. The good I have is from His stores supplied,
The ill is only what He deems the best;
He for my friend, I’m rich with nought besides,
And poor without Him, though of all possest:
Changes may come -I take, or I resign,
Content, while I am His and He is mine.
3. Whate’er may change, in Him no change is seen;
A glorious Sun that wanes not nor declines,
Above the clouds and storms He walks serene,
And on His people’s inward darkness shines:
All may depart -I fret not, nor repine,
While I my Saviour’s am and He is mine.
4. While here, alas, I know but half His love,
But half discern Him, and but half adore;
But, when I meet Him in the realms above,
I hope to love Him better, praise Him more,
And feel and tell, amid the choir divine,
How fully I am His and He is mine.
John Quarles 1624-65; and
Henry Lyte 1793-1847.