Letter from America
J.B. Nicholson Jnr., Grand Rapids, MI, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
If l can, on behalf of North American assemblies, I would like to thank the believers in similar gatherings in the UK for your enrichment of our assembly life here in Canada and the US. As assemblies all across the Roman Empire were indebted to the Jerusalem assembly through its being scattered by persecution, so we have been the beneficiaries of your investments and, in some cases, impoverishment!
Of course the situation is different, but the facts are these: we in North America are debtors to the believers in the UK, not only for past blessings, but continue to be indebted for your ministry in our lives.
You and your predecessors have been a source of great encourage-ment to us, and if we could, we would desire to send some encouragement back across the Atlantic, that in some little way there might be a step toward equality of contribution.
There are at least four basic channels through which the blessing of the Lord has flowed through assemblies in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to us in North America. We have greatly benefited from your evangelists, bible teachers, your Christian literature, your inspiring missionaries, and your waves of emigrants.
EVANGELISTS AND TEACHERS
Donald Ross, who had previously worked among the slum dwellers of Edinburgh and coal miners in Lanarkshire, resigned as super-intendent of the North-East Coast Mission in 1870. Between 1871 and 1880, he and several fellow Scottish evangelists came to North America to pioneer in the gospel. Among them were John Smith, Alexander Marshall and also Donald Munro, through whose preaching William Faulkner, (missionary to the Garanganze), T. D. W. Muir and H. A. Ironside were saved. These three converts alone had an abiding and far-reaching impact on the church worldwide.
The ranks grew with an influx of evangelists from all across the UK; John Knox McEwen (who was instrumental in leading my great-grandparents to the Lord in Footdee, Scotland), William Matthews, W. J. McClure, John Greer, Richard Irving, J. Norman Case, Robert Telfer and David Rea, to name a few. Early on, funds were provided by believers in Great Britain to buy two gospel tents, one for Canada and one for the US. Soon gospel tents were springing up across our landscape, and within a few decades there was a loosely-connected network of several hundred assemblies right across the continent. Since those days, hundreds of evangelists and Bible teachers have come from the UK to help and encourage the work in North America.
Almost two centuries of printed ministry from the UK has been an invaluable aid to the people of God in North America. The fledgling assemblies in the early 1800s not only were blessed by Donald Ross' North American magazine, The Barley Cake, (later renamed Our Record), but by the well-known Witness magazine which he had begun before leaving Scotland.
Through the years we have been helped by your other assembly magazines, like Precious Seed, Assembly Testimony, and Echoes of Service. As well, our shelves are stocked by volumes from your writers such as, Vine, Hogg, Watson, Hoste, Rogers, St. John, and the earlier writers such as Bellett, Wolston, Kelly, Darby, Wigram, and hundreds of others. Assembly publishing houses like John Ritchie, Ltd. and Pickering and Inglis published many of these, and how poor we would be without our rich heritage of hymns in the Believers Hymnbook and Hymns for the Little Flock? All these have served us well over the years.
INSPIRING MISSIONARY VISION
How often, we in North America, have been provoked unto love and to good works by the missionary zeal of our UK brethren! Many of us grew up on stories of Muller's orphanages and his substantial investment in the work of God worldwide. We heard of Darby's exploits in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere. I recall our brethren talking about the pivotal journey of Anthony Norris Groves, blazing a trail into the heart of Islam without the backing of any mission society , looking to the Lord alone to provide his needs. Then there were the Beers and Bowdens in India; Radstock, Baedeker, Broadbent and Lees in Eastern Europe and Russia; F. S. Arnot and Dan Crawford in Africa. We were stirred deeply when your men and women with hearts of love for the lost visited our homes and assemblies.
The Echoes series, That the World May Know, (1986), recording some of the labours of more than 5,000 assembly missionaries from the UK and other sending countries, tells the amazing story of the many raised up of God to bear the light to every dark heart around the world.
Although much of the growth of New Testament assemblies in North America was due to vigorous evangelism, some was the result of transplanting sturdy stock from your lands to ours. Thousands cam
e after World War I, bringing Bibles and Believers Hymnbooks and more of the word, and a passion for worship. Hundreds more came at the time of Irish Home Rule in 1921. Shipbuilders from Clydebank and Belfast came to the New World bringing added blessing to assemblies here. There were mill workers that moved to New England and New Jersey, coal miners that settled in Southern Iowa, Colorado, and Western Canada. If they moved for employment to an area devoid of a gathering to the Lord's name alone, most of them wouldn't think of settling into a denominational church pew. They went to work in the gospel each evening while plying their trade during the day, and laid down their lives for the cause of Christ.
Today there are approximately 1,200 assemblies in North America. There is much to encourage. While certain areas of the continent seem to have been caught in the doldrums, many assemblies are enjoying fresh vigour. Souls are being saved and new assemblies have sprung up in the last decade. Some assemblies that seemed to be dying out are springing back to life, many of them in the midwestern states, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and in northern Ontario. Most of that number would be recognisable by their loyalty to the New Testament pattern, by gospel outreach, by love for one another, by solid Bible teaching and by a good mix of various ages.
You can see something of this new life at the biennial Uplook conference. Half of the 1,200 attendees will be under 25 years of age. There is standing-room-only at the early morning prayer meetings. The singing is a foretaste of heaven, the ministry is solidly bible-based. The saints who attend think it is possible to see Philadelphian assemblies today. They believe the Lord designed the local church right the first time, and no improvements are necessary or possible. We have come to realize that it is not enough to have New Testament form without New Testament life. We do not want merely to be bible-believing Christians; we want to be bible-practising Christians.
Our prayer for you dear believers across the sea is borrowed from the apostle's heart for the Colossian saints, 'For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual
understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work’. We would also go so far as to pray on your behalf his prayer for the Ephesians, ‘That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God’, Eph 3. 19. And thank you once again!
AUTHOR PROFILE: J. B. Nicholson, Jnr. is a full time worker and fellowships with the assembly in Grand Rapids, MI. He is editor of the Uplook magazine and travels throughout N. America and internationally as a conference speaker. He is also the author of numerous boooks.