(Joe Ames is from Scotland, Labours in Norway)
When people ask me where I am from, I’d say: “I am from Scotland, but I couldn’t help it!”
I will just mention a little of my testimony before I go over to Norway. We were brought up Presbyterians, at least my mother and father were. Father played the organ in the church and Mother was a choir singer; she loved to sing. She used to sing in concerts, and local functions, but especially in the church. There was a group of young people, my father included, who, once a week, would come together and read the Bible. They used to get into some real scriptures in the New Testament which they couldn’t explain, because they couldn’t see anyone fulfilling these scriptures. One day they asked the clergyman if he could help them. He just said it was foolishness to think along those lines, they were faithful to the church and they shouldn’t worry any more than that. “These are not things first to worry about,” he said. But they weren’t satisfied.
My father showed me one day where he prayed earnestly, alone, that the Lord would guide him and help him to understand what they were reading. Five weeks later two workers came and had meetings at the local hall. Father in the first meeting said to mother, “That’s it; that is what we were reading about.” She didn’t see it to start with; she was in a different condition to him in some ways, but after a few meetings she said, “I began to realize there is something wrong with me, then I began to listen with other ears.” They both professed the same night, and another girl did too.
My father had a sidecar at that time, and it was just the right size to take those 3 to the morning meetings 12 miles away. The other girl who professed was only 17, and her father was one of the main men in the village, a well-to-do grocer and baker. One time when they came back from the morning meeting and stopped outside her door, who should come out the door but the clergyman. He walked over to the motorbike. He looked at my father and said, “We are missing you folks in the church.” My father said, “Do you remember the conversation we had some months ago when I asked you to help us understand the scriptures?” “No, I cannot remember that,” he said.
“Well, I sought the right source, and I got the right answers.” That was the words he used. Then he looked at my mother and said, “I suppose you are of the same mind.” “Yes,” she said, “quite that.” Then he turned to the little girl, shivering on the pavement; he had just come out of her father’s house. “What goes on in those meetings anyway?” “Oh,” she said, clearing her throat a few times, and shifting from one foot to the other, “It says in my Bible you are not to cast your pearls before swine,” she said. Those three kept faithful until the end of their days.
My father went on for 17 years, after that fell ill and died suddenly from a blood clot, after an appendix operation. It took that to get me to my senses. I lost three of my best friends in one year; a school boy friend was knocked down by a lorry [truck] and killed. His mother could hardly look at me after that because every time she saw me she thought of her boy. Another was a mother of another good friend to me, also killed in a road accident, and I saw her killed. Shortly after this my own father died, suddenly. I was taking clothes to him in the hospital because he was coming home the next day, and there was an empty bed. You can picture the scene at home, my mother and four little girls weeping. Anyway I felt, I am strong enough, I can work for them but to give them that which my father could have given them, I didn’t have it.
That is when I began, and I could tell people what it means to seek the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and you will find Him. Two of the workers came; they have understood the situation, and they came and they were a good help. After nine years at home the way was free for me to do that what was in my heart for a long time, to give back my life to Him in service. It was a struggle to leave home; all the girls had found work and mother was independent. The man who had offered to take over my place, at the last minute drew back and said, “I can’t take it this year.” That meant an extra burden for mother and the girls and I was in two minds, “What shall I do?” Two men used to work for us, dependable men, and we found that they were willing to take on the heavy work, and I was free to go. Unknown to me, afterwards, my mother’s sister had said, “What a shame, him going away now and leaving them all like this.” My sister was very quick with her replies, “Ai, and if he had met a nice girl and left us to get married, would you have said anything ‘bout it?” End of story.
Later on that same year, mother had an operation; she had lifted something too heavy. And again I began to wonder if I had done the right thing. My companion and I were visiting her in hospital, “We’re getting on fine, we’ll manage fine,” she said. That meant I was not to worry, everything would be all right. We had a good year.
After nine years in the work in Scotland, and three of those years was spent with John Martin. Maybe I should mention a little bit about John Martin. John has written several of our hymns; he wrote many hymns. He wrote 14 hymns in those three years we were together. John died before our time was up. He wrote that hymn, “Oh, blessed Lord, we plead again, before Thy mercy seat.” Another one was, “Oh, don’t be led captive from Zion to roam, away from that city that God calls His own.” He wrote it down at the graveyard after one who had decided at the same time that he did, and had lost out and loved the world. Led an empty, vain life and just went down, and down. John was so moved to think of what that man could have enjoyed.
The last hymn John wrote was, “Nothing matters but salvation.” That was his final exhortation. This hymn, John was so weak in body that he couldn’t lift a pen to write the words. But every word was John’s. He used to call us through the night, “Will you sing a couple of strophes [stanzas] of that hymn?” And he would say, “Strike out those words and put in this.” Those three weeks it took, but he finally got there. He died before the last few words were written down. Nothing matters but salvation was his final exhortation. John didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. He said, “Martin,” (he always addressed himself by his surname,) “Martin, knows what he lived for, I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for Martin.” He was Irish, you know!
Maybe I should mention just a little of my first year in the work. That was in Aberdeen. A couple of weeks after I left home, I had a very, very strange experience. We were called to a funeral service of a 22 year old girl. We saw her lying in her coffin. I had never seen a dead person before. There she lay, oh just a skeleton, her mother weeping her heart out and her father with a face like a rock, stony. It transpired that the father had encouraged that girl to go out, away from meetings, and enjoy life while she was young. What happened? She met bad company, she was misusing herself and she was misused of others and the poor little soul couldn’t take it, and now here she was, lying in her coffin. It made a terrible impression on me.
Seven years later, Joe Twamley and I were called to another funeral, first to the bed of a young woman that was dying; she was just 26 years old. She was married and had given birth to a little boy five months before this. A cancer had begun to work in her spine, and now she was departing this life and she wanted to speak to us before she left. She shook hands with my companion and thanked him for all he had meant to her in life. She was very sensible and peaceful. We spoke about the step that she was taking, which we all must take one day and she was just going on ahead. She spoke so sensibly and humbly about this. Then she greeted everyone, also her husband’s sister that is in the work, then kissed her husband and then took one long look at her baby lying on the bed and fell asleep. And shortly after she was in eternity.
That morning before we came, she said to the young ones present, a boy of 18 and a girl of 16, members of the family that worked on the farm, “Children, when it comes to this, there is nothing else that has more meaning than to have the right connection, the right relationship with God. It is the only thing that matters.” When we came that morning, she quoted the words of that hymn to us, “It pays to serve Jesus, I speak from my heart. He’ll always be with us as we do our part. There’s nought in this wide world can pleasure afford. There’s peace and contentment in serving the Lord.” She quoted it very slowly, but said every word.
Now let’s go to Norway. If I had to tell you of all our experiences, we will be singing praises here at midnight. Let’s tell you a little about the Laplanders.
In 1700, it is on record that a group of nomads came from Northern Russia and inhabited the most northerly islands in Norway. They were Laplanders. They weren’t the first Laplanders to come over by any means, but this group came over in 1700. Two sister workers were working in a town about 300 – 400 kms north of the Arctic Circle; they were from the States. Their name was Sylvason. They had a mission in this place. There was an old lady interested. She received the message well. She had been waiting for it, for the gospel. She said, “I have a friend who lives on an island, a bit further north from here, and I know that she will be very glad to meet you.” The girls got on a freight boat at 9 o’clock at night, and they arrived on the island at 9 in the morning. There was nothing between them and the North Pole. The island was covered with snow, really deep, several metres deep. When they arrived at the harbour that morning, some men had cleared a path and they could walk alongside the boat.
They met a man and he asked them, “Who are you looking for?” They said, “A lady called Heldora. (Laplanders names all finish with a.) Do you know where she stays?” “I should do, that is my mother. If you wait a half hour till the tide goes out, you can walk along the strand. She stays just along there.” The girls set off and Heldora received them with open arms. She was just waiting for their coming. She decided and her 2 daughters decided, and just a few years ago those two daughters travelled 2000 kms to a convention to be baptized. It wasn’t possible to do it up there, and they had already been professing a few years. They were hearty people and Heldora was like a queen amongst them all. She was a stocky little woman.
One time I was travelling up there on a little boat to visit them. There was a terrible wind blowing. I met a man. “Where do you come from?” “Scotland.” “Where are you going?” “The island.” “Who do you know there?” “Heldora.” He was full of respect right away. Everyone knew Heldora. She lived to be nearly 100 years.
Hymn 239 was sung, “Lord, our heart o’erflows with praise to God always”