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A Bulwark Never Failing

Lisa Barry: I wonder how many of you listening to me sing hymns on a regular basis? For Elisabeth Elliot it's a regular occurrence. She believes that hymns teach deep theology in away that regular songs can't. Well, one of those hymns is one we're all familiar with--"A Mighty Fortress is Our God." Most of us sang that song long before we knew what a bulwark was. In fact some might still not know. Nevertheless, it's a hymn worth taking a closer look at because at your time of need, you may find comfort in the words. And that's exactly what a young missionary did in the 1930's. We'll learn more about her in just a minute but for now, this Monday edition of Gateway To Joy. Let's get started. Here's Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That?s what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, with what I think is quite a fascinating treat for you for this week. I'm entitling it "A Mighty Fortress." And I'm sure many of you know that great tremendous hymn by Martin Luther. "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing." Now what prevailing mortal ills, what troubles may be bothering you today?

I can't tell you what this hymn has meant in my own life. And I have a book here that tells a little bit about the hymn. The great English author Carlisle said "There is something in it," speaking of this hymn, "like the sound of alpine avalanches or the first murmur of earthquakes." And then a German writer said, "This hymn thunders at the very gate of heaven in its magnificent affirmation of beliefs that were expressed in a clearest possible language, bring profound biblical truth home to the hearts of the common people."

This hymn spread like wildfire over Germany, being sung by both Protestants and even some who were still loyal to the Roman Catholic faith. It has been translated into 300 languages. And its most spectacular use--I was very interested to find this out--in 1869 it was sung in Boston. (And I live just 30 miles from Boston). It was sung by a chorus of 10,000 voices, accompanied by a 1,000-piece orchestra, led by the famous Irish-American bandmaster Patrick Gilmore. And you know that, of course, in those days there were no amplifiers, so just imagine 10,000 voices and a 1,000-piece orchestra singing this tremendous hymn. It must have been spine chilling.

Now, what I'm going to do is read to you from a mother's diary. This woman was a missionary in French Indochina in 1932 to 1953. It just so happens, in the providence of God, that two of her sons went to the boarding school that I attended in Florida. They were Bernie and Albert Jackson.

And Bernie sent me these diary notes from his mother. And this is a keen glimpse into a missionary mother's everyday experience, beginning in 1932.

She says, "I received a message from God." Now remember she was in what is now called Vietnam, but she was a missionary in what was then called French Indochina. The 5th of February, 1932, her diary records, "Message from God. 'Fear not, be glad and rejoice. The Lord will do great things.' Thank you, Jesus."

Then the next day, February 6, 1932, "God sent me a pretty new dress today. How I praise Him, for I felt I should not spend money on clothes except bare necessities."

January 10, 1933: "My darling boys left me on the 2:00 a.m. train today. I took them to the station. Came home to see the empty beds and old playsuits and toys. Only God knows what I'm suffering today." And only you mothers, and perhaps you fathers, would understand when a child leaves home--especially these young boys who left home in order to go to school. "The car broke down on my way home from the station. I had it pushed to the garage. Got home at 3:00 a.m., weary and heart broken over the departure of my precious boys for so long a time."

Thirteenth of February, 1933: "38-years old today. Bernie cut out paper designs as my birthday gift. Sold books and witnessed all morning. Caught cold somehow, causing rheumatic pains in my limbs."

The 24th of February: "Bernie has no school to attend here, but he is so good and happy singing all day. Plays with the little son of the official next door. They bought him a nice beret." So it was the two older boys that had left. Bernie was the younger.

Next thing is in May, she's having to give Bernie worm medicine--"boiling sheets and diapers for a new baby." Then in July, "Victor Louis was born at 1:30 a.m. Beginning of a week of suffering. Mastitis, great pain! Crying to God for deliverance."

July 11: "Rich brought hymnbooks to the hospital and encouraged me to sing songs of praise to God in the midst of pain. God gives grace to say, 'Thy will be done.'"

Now bear with me because probably some of you are thinking, "Who in the world wants to hear a woman's diary from Indochina from the 1930's?" Well, sometimes it's not always clear which diary entries refer to which country, but these were so far--I think--we're still in Vietnam or still in Indochina.

Christmas Day, 1933: "Special meetings." Now here's a poignant line. "Gave our three boys a ten-cent knife and some handkerchiefs. They we're pleased. No tree this year." When I think of what American children receive for Christmas nowadays, it seems pretty exiguous, doesn't it? "I gave our boys our three boys a ten-cent knife and some handkerchiefs, and they were pleased."

Then the 1st of January, 1934: "Ray, Alba and Bernie left for Da Lat on the night train. Our hearts are broken. All is so quiet now and nothing gets out of order."

January 2: "Rich and I cry most of the day."

Then we skip to December of 1934, Christmas: "Bought small gifts downtown for the boys. They always ask us not to get any, saying they know we can't afford it."

February 8, 1938, so we're really skipping years here. "Richmond's watch stopped during the evening meeting, and he preached two hours on the revival of the Roman Empire from Oswald Smith's book World Problems. Though all were tired and bored, he didn't notice. Later we had a long, hardy laugh over it. He was so surprised and grieved when he realized what had happened."

10th of March, 1938. I think you can begin to recognize that World War Two was eminent. "On the way to Lang Son, we saw and heard the wails of a lone mother as she ran behind the coffin-bearers of her child on the road. No one to share her grief. What a sad sight it was."

September 19: "Praying for the boys tonight. Adjusting to schools in Massachusetts." So apparently the boys had had to leave their parents in Indochina and go to school in Massachusetts. "Also praying for a washing machine, if God saw that we needed one. After getting up from prayer, the telephone rang and Mr. Moffit told me of an auction tomorrow where I might buy a machine. Surely this was God's answer--and so soon! Went to the auction, bought a good washing machine for $1.75. Being an old model, nobody wanted it, but it works fine. We praise God. They say the motor and copper can later be sold for three or four dollars. This is how God provides for His own."

September 29: "Alice sent me her nice winter coat. God knows how to match my outfit alright. Praise God! The coat is brown tweed. She said she has a nice brown hat for me." Missionary life.

October 28, 1938: "The boys didn't like the cereal we had this morning. Ray ate his without complaint. Bernie ate his after some delay and grumbling. But Alba declared that he wouldn't touch it even if he starved. It was a stormy time while it lasted, but we finally got a great victory, and at 8:00--time to leave for school--he ate his cereal and even kissed me goodbye. Knowing it would be waiting for him for supper, he decided he had better do it and be finished."

And some of you have heard the story of my husband, Lars Gren, when he was a little boy when he refused to eat his fish soup. You children will remember that story. He found at the breakfast table that the fish soup was still at his place. He still wouldn't eat it, he went off to school and when he came home at lunch and there was the fish soup. Well that time he was famished so he ate it.

3rd of November, 1938: "Victor," this is 5-year old boy, "asks the milkman and others 'Are you a Christian?' and insists that they give him an answer. He told Bernie one day, 'You know, Bernie, if you tell Jesus about your troubles everything will be alright.'"

Then 1939: Glued in front of mom's dairy, "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle."

I'm going to proceed reading about this and hope that you're going to see why I wanted to mention "A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing." You mothers will appreciate the burdens, the temptation to fear, the perplexities of raising children for God. Remember that is was God who gave them to you, and it is God who will be your mighty fortress.

Lisa Barry: And with that, it's time to bring today's program to a close. But before we go, here are a couple of things that you may be interested in. First of all, I wonder how many of you have ever done a hymn study? All you need to do is take a hymn like the one Elisabeth is highlighting this week and pour over it, dig deep into the meaning and look up the historical significance of words. Give it a try.

I'd also like to tell you about Elisabeth's new line of greeting cards. You'll love giving these notes to people because you can be confident that the words are timely and not overdone. They are tasteful and yet they speak biblical truths with carefully chosen words. For more information on those, you can call us toll free at 1 800-759-4JOY. That's 1-800-759-4569. Or you can write to us at:

Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE, 68501. Gateway To Joy is a listener-supported production of Back to the Bible. Elisabeth and the entire staff of Gateway to Joy are grateful to our listeners who make this program possible by praying, giving, and letting others know about it. You may not know this but it's your faithful support that keep us on this station. We're praying that everyone does their part. Tomorrow Elisabeth talks more about the hymn "A Mighty Fortress" so join us then for another Gateway to Joy.

 
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