"Light in Darkness"
“The people that dwelt in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Isaiah 9:2. Mr and Mrs ANDREW JOHNSTON A photogragh taken on the occasion of their 55th Wedding Anniversary, 11th June, 1975. Light in Darkness. By John S. Thomson. © 1975, John S. Thomson. This PDF Edition: © 2012. 2 Table of Contents Foreword.................................................................................4 Waikaka Valley..........................................................................5 Revival.........................................................................................7 Conversion and Assurance..........................................................9 Encircling Gloom......................................................................12 Darkness....................................................................................14 Romance in Scotland.................................................................16 St Dunstan’s..............................................................................19 Returned Soldier........................................................................22 The “Knowtop” Years..............................................................25 Dawning of a Ministry..............................................................28 Altar of Sacrifice.......................................................................30 Light in Darkness......................................................................32 “Not Ashamed”.........................................................................35 Hidden Factors..........................................................................37 Trail of Testimony.....................................................................40 Still Pressing On........................................................................43 3 Foreword... I first heard of Andrew Johnston as a young lad of 13, and the occasion is still as vivid in the memory as if it were yesterday. The Nelson School of Music - then the largest auditorium in that city - was filled to capacity. Chairs had to he placed in the aisles. I can still sense the hush of expectancy as the “Blind Evangelist” was led onto the platform by his gracious wife. His theme that night: “The Reins or the Whip - Which?” Almost two decades have gone by since then, and little did the boy sitting in the congregation that evening realise that one day the great preacher would become his confident, counselor and friend. For several years many have felt that some permanent record of Andrew Johnston’s life should be published for posterity. The approach of his eightieth birthday has given that incentive. Much of the credit for the contents of this booklet must be given to my good friend, Mr J. Bruce Harper, now living in South Africa. While on furlough in 1956, he spent many hours researching much of the material contained herein, and his unpublished notes have proved invaluable. My special thanks also to Mr and Mrs Alan Kerr in obtaining information of which I would otherwise have been ignorant. And last, but by no means least, my gratitude to a diaconate who have given every encouragement to present this simple testimony to one whose ministry has been a source of inspiration to thousands. May this story therefore demonstrate once more, what God can do “through one man who is wholly dedicated to Him.” John S. Thomson. Baptist Manse, Gore, July, 1975. 4 Waikaka Valley An exceptionally heavy snowstorm was one of the notable events at Waikaka Valley in July of 1895. Before the first white flakes had stopped falling, a foot of snow covered the countryside. And a foot of snow is a lot for Waikaka Valley. While it lay on the ground so deep, so spectacular, and providing the general topic of conversation, it was the setting for another event, less spectacular perhaps, but certainly of more enduring significance. The date was July 22, and the event, the birth of a baby to the Johnston family of “Comely Bank” farm. In a few days the snow had disappeared: but Andrew Marchbanks Johnston, the baby born during the snowstorm lived on to be a boy, then a man, a most remarkable man. Waikaka Valley is a farming district, the centre of which is about eight miles from the town of Gore in New Zealand’s South Island. It’s clean, rolling country, sloping upwards on each side of the Waikaka River, forms a scene of striking rural beauty. Although there are no special scenic attractions such as waterfalls, mountains, lakes, or even native bush, nevertheless its beauty lies in the undulating farmlands, green and fertile, whose pattern of smaller hills and valleys, ranged around the main valley itself, presents to the eye a scene that is typical of Southland countryside. Waggoners of a hundred years ago, carting stores to the gold diggings in the regions beyond, stopped and admired the picturesque scene, with the hope that they may settle there one day. Shearers, fulfilling contracts on the large runs, were impressed by the high standards of the pasture land and the fine quality of the sheep. One way and another, Waikaka Valley gradually gained favourable notice from enterprising young men who rated the valleys economic possibilities, and keenly supported moves that were underway to secure its subdivision. 5 Three compulsory land sales that were held in 1874, 1875, and 1876 gave aspiring settlers their opportunity. Two hundred acre blocks, allocated by ballot and purchased on easy terms at 25/- an acre, were secured for closer settlement. A feature of the district is the large number of splendid situations for farmhouses. Soon the homesteads took shape, with the outbuildings and the belts of trees. Well-cultivated, well-stocked farms replaced the expanse of silver tussock, and life and prosperity enhanced the natural beauty of the scene There were others who came to Waikaka Valley however, whose operations defaced the pleasant countryside. In 1889, the gold dredges entered the district, and a gold boom began which brought population and bustle and noise. A large number of dredges obtained good results for many years, but inevitably the returns declined and the gold boom days came to an end. Within forty years, all the dredges were gone, leaving a wide trail of devastation where once had been the valley’s clear-running, flax-lined stream. Restoration of beauty and fruitfulness to the valley floor extended over another thirty years. But Waikaka Valley is distinguished by more than its natural beauty, its fertility, and the alluvial gold it produced. 6 Revival On New Years Day, 1881, James Dickie, a young Waikaka Valley farmer and a good churchman, was reading his Bible in his farm cottage at “Tannahill.” The passage was John’s Gospel, chapter three, and the third verse was occupying his attention. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Puzzled by this statement, he knelt in prayer, asking God to reveal to him what those words meant. In answer to that prayer, God showed to him that, received by faith, Christ puts new life into a soul that previously was dead. A birth takes place, just as real as physical birth, The person has received physical life - he has been born once. Now he receives an inward, spiritual life, imparted by Christ in whom he trusts - and he is born again. James Dickie saw this for the first time. This event, occurring fourteen years before Andrew Johnston was born, was destined to powerfully influence his life as well as the lives of many others. James Dickie had been a man of good character, living up to a code of ethics. Honesty, sobriety, helpfulness to others, church attendance and even regular family worship - these things had constituted his religion. But there was nothing in this that corresponded with the concept of being born again. Man can make a robot to walk, sit down, speak, and even drink a cup of tea. It is wonderful: but how far it falls short of the man it seeks to imitate. It lacks the desire to do its actions. There is no affection, no emotion, no impulse, no will. These things are the prerogatives of life. And these signs of life suddenly appeared - and vigorously - in the life of James Dickie. To him, the Christian life was no longer a code of conduct, but the outward expression of a living inward principle. Along with the revelation came an endument of power to describe the experience to others, He could witness to the reality of the new life he had received, and as an ambassador of Christ he could warmly recommend it. This he did, and Waikaka Valley was the centre of his operations. All the district knew James Dickie, and many from other districts knew him 7 too, for his house was at the crossroads and was open house to travelers. His upright character had impressed them all. Now however, he was transformed, and the community, unable to deny the miracle, was startled. Was he not then a Christian before? And if he was not, are we? These were logical questions which arose. As he went from farm to farm telling others what had happened, his words brought great conviction and the fire spread. It is said that successful evangelism wins souls, but revival changes the life of a district. This was revival. A new spirit ran through church life. Ministers and laymen alike were awakened, and preaching was with a new power and acceptance. Church services, Bible classes, prayer meetings, Sunday Schools - all felt the spiritual vitality of the transformed men and women who participated in them. The Waikaka revival was not just a wave of emotionalism, for the true Christian life makes men conscientious and practical. These men and women on fire for Jesus Christ believed in hard work and practised it. They taught their young people that a Christian who could not hold his own in the harvest field, the woolshed, or the gravel pit was letting Christ down. They were skilled farmers who applied themselves seriously to their calling. And the standard of their farms was one of the facets of their bright Christian testimony. A community rejoicing in the possession of eternal life, cultivating it, praying for those who did not have it, pleading with them to receive it - this was the Waikaka Valley when Andrew Johnston was born, and so it continued until he became a man. 8 Conversion and Assurance The Johnston home was always closely linked with the evangelical life of Waikaka Valley. The leading figures in the revival were frequent visitors at “Comely Bank,” and the family entered wholeheartedly into the corporate church life of Sunday services, prayer meetings, young peoples work and so on. Eight children made up the family: John, the eldest, then May, Alex, Albert and Andrew. Three more children -Jean, Eric and Howard - were yet to be welcomed into the home before the family was complete. Mrs Johnston was a woman of conspicuous character and capacity whose firm and fair dealings with her children gave them a sense of security and an early appreciation of moral values. It is not surprising therefore that Andrew, at an early age, faced up to the decision about his own personal faith in Christ. The strongest influence in his life, as he has consistently stated in later years, was his mother’s teaching at the fireside. It was evangelical religion that she taught, broken small, and made palatable to her children by the sweetness of her own Christian character. The Bible stories; the facts of creation; the truths of salvation and of our Lord’s return - a little every evening, and more on Sundays - so the Johnston children were brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. No doubt was ever cast on the truth and dependability of the scripture. And the truths which concerned the salvation of the individual soul were those emphasised as being of most importance. From childhood Andrew thus knew his need of a Saviour, and the way to make the offered salvation his own. But there was still the need of a definite acceptance and a public confession. Therefore, at the age of nine, it was a real experience to him to respond to an invitation during a campaign conducted by a visiting evangelist. Many earnest Christians - especially young people - enter a desolate, doubting period soon after their acceptance of Christ, and its intensity is in proportion to their earnestness. This was the case with Andrew. More 9 exercise of heart came to him after his open confession of Christ than had done so before. Am I really right with God? Am I really born again? He lacked assurance of salvation, and although so young, it worried him greatly. Over a period of several months Andrew had been listening to a number of stirring addresses on the subject of the Lord’s Second Coming and the solemn results of this event for the unsaved. During this time of doubt, he had an experience which brought these things home to him in a vivid way. It was winter, and he was bringing in the cows, in the darkness, about 6.30 in the morning. Suddenly, from just over the hill, there came a loud trumpet sound. What could it be? In a moment, an explanation flashed into his mind, This must be the trump of God. The Lord has returned. The Christians have been caught up, and I am left behind. Quickly he put the cows into the yard, and tore to the house. Opening the door, he found his mother quietly sitting at the table reading her Bible. Relief came immediately. Obviously, the Christians had not been caught up if Mother was still on earth, because she would be one of the first ones to go! The sound he had heard was the whistle of a new dredge which had moved onto an adjoining property, without Andrew’s knowledge, the previous day. The dredge whistle was a signal to its workers. To young Andrew, in his state of mind however, it was a stirring signal that his salvation in Christ was not yet a settled fact in his own heart. It is indeed remarkable that in one so young eternal issues were a matter of life and death. Fortunately, he was not left in doubt for long, and the assurance came in a convincing manner. Christian men and women of the district frequently visited the Johnston home, and the conversation was mainly on spiritual things. Andrew liked to listen to these conversations. And one evening, during a cottage meeting at “Comely Bank,” he realised how he loved Christian folk who came to pray, and how he relished their talk. The scripture came to his mind, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” His young heart accepted the scriptural test and its conclusion. Assurance came, and to abide. There were many 10 testings ahead in his Christian life so lately entered upon, but never again did Andrew Johnston doubt whether he had passed from death unto life. The matter had been raised, and it was settled upon the authority of the Word of God. No occasion to reopen the question would ever occur again. Andrew’s life both mental and spiritual, progressed steadily. At school he was not brilliant, but characterised rather by all-round ability. Outside school hours there was farm work to be done, and time for some recreation as well. He loved riding horses, and jumped them over gates and hedges on the farm, gaining the reputation of an intrepid horseman. In due time he gained his Proficiency at Maitland School, after which he attended Gore High School for a year. He was then fifteen years of age, and, in the usual sense of the term his schooldays were finished. But hard lessons in another school lay ahead. 11 Encircling Gloom During the later part of Andrew’s schooling, most of the regular work at “Comely Bank” farm had been done by his brothers John, Alex and Albert. John and Alex however, had recently purchased a property at Longridge, Balfour, and so it was on account of this that Andrew left school. Work on the home farm now fell to Albert and him. Young, strong, very farm-minded, and with a special affinity for working with Clydesdale horses, Andrew bent to his task with heart and soul. So the years sped by. Suddenly, in August, 1914, came the declaration of war. Andrew was nineteen years of age at the time and it was not expected that a lad of two years below drafting age would participate in the fighting. Alex Johnston joined tip in 1915, Albert in 1916, and as the war kept going, Andrew knew that his turn was coming. The shadow of war was now darker, and many homes in the district had suffered bereavement. As Andrew shook hands with Albert at the railway station, and waved him goodbye, he returned home wondering if it was the last time he would see Albert. It was. Andrew was called up in April, 1917, and went into camp at Milton and thence to Trentham. In October came the devastating news that Albert Johnston had been killed in action at Passchendaele. In November, Andrew was on final leave, and the recent word of Albert’s death gave an added solemnity to the farewells to Andrew and Adam Johnston, his second cousin, at Waikaka Valley. “I’ll say goodbye to you here at the Post Office,” Andrew’s mother said to him in Gore the day he left, “and when your train goes out, I’ll be at Hugh Smith’s at McNab, waving a white towel.” As the train came near the spot, Andrew went out onto the platform linking the carriages, and the waving handkerchief and the waving towel said, “Goodbye Mother;” - “Goodbye, Andrew.” 12 How typical of thousands of wartime farewells. To Andrew, the inevitable question presented itself. Is that my last sight of Mother? And of the Valley? And suddenly there came upon him a strong presentiment that a radical change was to occur in his life. What the nature of that change would be he did not know. No doubt, God was forewarning him, and being forewarned, he was subconsciously being forearmed. Andrew was in the 33rd Reinforcements which sailed on the “Athenic” from Wellington at the end of December, 1917. They called at Panama and Halifax en route to Glasgow where the troops disembarked. After a short stay at Larkhill on the Salisbury Plain, Andrew went with a Rifle Brigade draft to Brockton Camp, near Staffordshire. After several weeks hard training they landed in France. Little time was wasted in moving the troops up to the front line. It was 11 p.m. when they reached their destination, and at midnight it seemed that every gun in the district spoke up. It was a fitting climax to a day of introduction to war. 13 Darkness Fateful events highlight the details that surround them. Shortly after landing in France, Andrew had learned to his great delight that he had been posted to 1st Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade, A Company, under the command of Lieutenant J. A. Roy, M.C., an old family friend. The two had not had opportunity to meet the night before, and it was about mid-day the following day before they did so. When Mr Roy arrived upon the scene, Andrew and his companions were preparing to put up a wire in front of their trench. While they chatted, a piece of shrapnel cut a furrow in Mr Roy’s steel helmet. The enemy bombing was heavy and accurate. They decided to take cover until the shelling eased up, and Mr Roy invited Andrew into his dugout. There they remained until about 4.30 p.m., when it was necessary for Mr Roy to return to Headquarters about half a mile away. Andrew returned to the trench where preparations were underway for the evening meal. Enemy shelling intensified. The ground shook to the thudding of bombs. “I’m getting out of this,” yelled one of the men as soon as the meal was over, and with that he was gone. Andrew caught himself praying aloud. “Thy will be done.” He walked out into an open trench. Beyond the line of trenches, and a few hundred yards away, was a farmhouse beside tall trees and a Hawthorne hedge. He strolled along the open trench a short distance, and noticed that the scene was a particularly pretty one. The sun was just setting. Yes, it was a pleasant sight - a farmhouse . . . trees . . . a Hawthorne hedge . . . and the setting sun. Machine-gun bullets ripped the ground at his feet. “You’d better come in here, or you’ll get hit.” The speaker, Jim Coombs, was in a deep trench leading off the one 14 on which Andrew was walking. Andrew stepped in alongside and took a square look at him. As they were standing together, a ‘whiz-bang’ shell struck the parapet of the trench at Andrew’s right. It exploded across his face to expend it’s full force on Jim Coombs, killing him instantly. Andrew knew immediately that his left eye had gone. It was as if he had been struck across the face with a heavy wooden post. He was down on his knees now in the trench. I’m going . . . I’m going . . . No, I’m not. I’m coming round . . . Where am I? Two soldiers rushed into the trench and saw the casualties. “Poor Jim has gone!” They helped Andrew to his feet, and put on a first aid dressing. The news reached Lieutenant Roy and he came running to Andrew’s side. With a hand on Andrew’s shoulder, he spoke a few words of manly sympathy and encouragement. Red Cross men led Andrew to an ambulance and he was taken back to the casualty clearing station, thence to Rouen Hospital. Shock, pain, and sickness had brought a great weariness on him. Lying on a bench, and bordering on unconsciousness, he was aware that two doctors were examining his brow. He felt his eyelids raised and lowered. The doctors spoke a few words to each other, and in low voices: but one phrase registered in Andrew’s weary brain. “Poor chap! He’ll never see again.” It was the 4th May, 1918. For Andrew Johnston, the rest of life would be lived in darkness . . . physical darkness. 15 Romance in Scotland The twelve days spent in Rouen Hospital were fraught with mental conflict. Questions were sweeping his mind. Darkness became blackness, and yet, although perplexed and bewildered, he felt no bitterness. As a Christian, Andrew realised that God had nothing to do with war; that war is the result of man’s rebellion against God, and it suddenly came to him that the tragedy that had come must all be part of God’s permissive will through which he would yet reveal his purpose. Before that purpose could be revealed however, re-adjustment and preparation for life in the dark had to be faced. This adjustment began in the South of England at Brockenhurst Hospital, to whence in the meantime he had been transferred After an operation had been performed to remove his remaining eye which had been damaged beyond repair, and preparation had been made to fit artificial ones, Andrew received a little tuition in Braille, and some instruction in the making of string bags. Taking advantage of the Braille he had acquired, he commenced to read a copy of John’s gospel. Two months after surgery, and having fully recovered, he was ready to be discharged from hospital and to commence a rehabilitation course at St Dunstan’s, the school for blinded servicemen in London. But St Dunstan’s was going into recess for six weeks for the summer vacation. What would he do in the meantime? It so happened that near the town of Fordoun in Kinchardinshire, Scotland, Andrew had relations on his mother’s side, and a pressing invitation had been made to visit them. He decided to spend the six weeks that way, little realising at the time how significant this visit would be in the years that lay ahead. His cousin Adam Johnston accompanied him, and they duly arrived at “Goukmuir” farm to receive a warm Scottish welcome. The bond between the blinded New Zealand soldier and his Scottish relations was strengthened by their common sacrifice in war. Three sons of this household were at the front, and one a prisoner of war in Germany. 16 Andrew was conscious of their ministry of love and hospitality to him, and he resolved to play his part in cheerfulness and appreciation. While at “Goukmuir” he pressed on with his reading of John’s Gospel. Fingertip reading by the Braille method calls for high concentration and the beginner can only keep it up for a short period of time. So a reading session for a quarter of an hour, then a rest; then another short period of reading followed by another rest. Thus, perseveringly, the chapters of St John were read and reflected on. One afternoon a cycling party arrived at “Goukmuir” on their way to a Red Cross fete. In this party were two sisters, Helen and Frances Henderson, who were holidaying with their grandparents who lived nearby. After some conversation, it was suggested that Helen might sing some Scottish songs. Andrew listened with much appreciation. He liked the sound of Helen’s voice whether in conversation or song. In fact, he realised that he liked Helen. She made his heart beat faster: and an inward conviction told him that any effort he could make to cultivate Helen’s acquaintance would be a move in the right direction. But what could he do? He gave the matter keen and rapid thought. As the girls were leaving, Andrew said, “You know, Helen, I believe I could ride your bicycle.” “Oh, Andrew, I think it might be too risky for you to do that.” “I won’t hurt myself. Let me try.” So Andrew rode it a short distance along the path and fell off. But everything was going according to plan. “Then I can push it,” said Andrew, not without guile. It was then necessary for Helen to take Andrew’s arm and guide him as he pushed her bicycle out to the road. And, considering the circumstances, it was a move not only in the right direction, but quite a way forward as well. Andrew possessed (and still possesses) a writing frame which, by 17 means of taut elastic strings, keeps in a straight line handwriting which might otherwise go askew. This was now brought into play for the follow up work. Not long after, Andrew had to leave for St Dunstan’s, but, by the well proved means of letters, the friendship ripened. Several months later, at Christmas, Andrew was back at “Goukmuir” and found evidence that his ardour was reciprocated. Before his return to St Dunstan’s the second time, Helen was taught the Braille form of writing, and from then on, on mail days, Andrew received his most important messages firsthand. St Dunstan’s had another break at Easter, and Andrew returned to “Goukmuir.” Both were now sure that it was God’s will for them to unite in marriage. The proposal was made and accepted. Andrew approached Helen’s parents, and Mr Henderson’s reply was a worthy one. “You’ve had one big disappointment in life, Andrew: we don’t want you to have another.” And so the engagement was announced. 18 St Dunstan’s The sudden, complete loss of sight makes necessary many radical adjustments in a man’s manner of living. It is likely that he cannot continue in the occupation which he followed previously, and in that case a new one must be learned. He must read and write by new methods. He must intensify the use of his other senses, and quicken latent powers to life and vigour. In addition to these things, he must learn to accept the loss of some degree of independence. Under the direction of Sir Arthur Pearson, himself blind, a school where blinded servicemen could be guided through this period of adjustment was opened in London during World War 1. Its main centre was situated at the spacious London residence of Mr Otto Kahn, an American who generously made the property available for the purpose. By a very happy circumstance, the name of the property was St Dunstan’s, called after the one-time Archbishop of Canterbury who is remembered for the fact that he commanded his priests to learn some simple trade which they could then teach to the handicapped members of their flocks. In a sense, St Dunstan’s was a technical college, where all the students lived in. And it was to this St Dunstan’s that Andrew Johnston went at the close of his first visit to “Goukmuir.” Braille reading and writing, and typing, were taken by every student. Apart from these, it was decided that Andrew should take the short-hand typist course, and poultry farming. Poultry farming was akin to Andrew’s previous occupation, and it was a logical choice for him to take. The days spent at St Dunstan’s were busy ones: days that demanded intense concentration and great patience. But they were also happy days; days that on numerous occasions produced laughter and hilarity. To take but one example, many visitors came to the school, and on the law of averages, there had to be some really tiresome folk amongst them. A woman was visiting the poultry department one day and questioned the students about their work. One of the men had exactly the right technique to handle the situation. 19 “Isn’t it wonderful that you can fill the water-tins,” the woman exclaimed. “Oh, it’s not all that wonderful, madam. We know where the tap is, and where the water tin is. So really, it’s only a simple matter for us to fill it!” “Well, I think it’s wonderful. And how wonderful that you blind men can get the right amount of meal and measure out the right quantities!” “Oh, that’s also quite simple, lady. Although we cannot see these things, it’s just a matter of remembering where they are.” “And how do you know when a hen is sick?” “Well, Madam, it’s like this. We just call the hens, and then come to the front of the hen coop and they stick their feet through the wire netting. Then all we have to do is to go along and feel their pulses!” While at St Dunstan’s, Armistice Day, 11th November, 1918, occurred. When the whistles blew and the celebrations began, all the students were in class. The war was over! It was a day of great rejoicing and jubilation. Sirens sounded, bells rang, bands played. People thronged onto the streets laughing, talking, singing, dancing. Among other hastily arranged festivities, a company of St Dunstaners were asked to take part in a parade through London. Andrew was not asked to join that contingent however, and looking back it is obvious that Armistice Day was the day God chose to begin that process that would reveal to him light for the future. What was that revelation? Alone in his room God gave to Andrew a glimpse of difficult days ahead, Since the day the shell had burst at his shoulder in France, he had been looked after by people who gave him great sympathy and the utmost consideration. This could not and would not, go on indefinitely. The war was over, and the men would soon be returning. In the natural course of events, he would soon be back in New Zealand. He saw 20 the emotion of sympathy arise at the welcome home to his own district, and the impulse in the hearts of people to do what they could to assist him. But beyond that, there was a life to be lived, to a big extent independent of human help. And what was the necessary preparation to meet that future? “Watch ye: stand fast in the faith; quit you like men, be strong.” It was as if the Lord put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder and said, “Andrew, testing days lie before you, head winds and hard going. Be a man. Meet the difficulties with grit and determination. I will strengthen you.” It was an experience Andrew was never to forget. Unknown to him at the time, God was preparing him for a unique ministry, and one assignment of his life was to bear the affliction of blindness. In all, Andrew spent ten months at St Dunstan’s, and graduated as a Braille reader and writer, a stenographer, and a poultry farmer. All these accomplishments were to be put to good use later. When he left, Sir Arthur Pearson personally congratulated him on his achievements. He sailed for New Zealand in July, 1919, Adam Johnston again being his companion. 21 Returned Soldier The principle - “whether one member suffers, all members suffer with it; or if one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” - is true of a family. When Andrew arrived back in New Zealand, he had been blind for more than a year, and he was well on the way to victory over his handicap. But the members of the family were now, for the first time, to see him blind. The reunion at Dunedin with his parents was a very joyful one: and soon they were all on their way south, counting their blessings, and thanking God for preservation and safe return. It was early Saturday evening when they reached “Comely Bank.” Andrew got out and opened the road gate, and Eric ran down the drive to meet him. Soon they were all at the house, and Andrew was heartily recognising them all - John and his wife, Alex, May, Jean, Eric and Howard. Shaking hands, smiling, running his hands over heads and faces, looking so fit and happy, Andrew’s cheerful homecoming dried all their tears, and took away lumps in their throats. Andrew gave an enthusiastic report of his fiancee in Scotland. “I suppose I’ll be given the job of reading your mail,” said Father. “I suppose you won’t,” replied Andrew, with an inward grateful salute to Louis Braille. Andrew was home, and the Johnston household was very happy. Next day, Sunday, the men were welcomed back at the church services. A few days after Andrew’s return home, and being up early, he walked over to the stable where the horses were feeding while Eric and Howard had breakfast. He was not aware that any particular temptation or test would be involved in doing this. But as he walked over enjoying the clear frosty air, crossing the creek bridge, following the gravel path around to the stable, little did he realise the experience into which he was walking. 22 Before he left the farm, Andrew was teamster. Farm work may mean different things to different men, but to Andrew it meant a team of six horses which were his responsibility. To stable, feed and groom them was the first task of the morning: they were his co-workers throughout the day: at the end of the day, they were stabled and fed: later, their covers were buckled on and they were turned out for the night. Andrew commanded his team, cared for them conscientiously, understood them and loved them. He walks in the door. The pungent smell of a clean stable is a good smell, and it is freighted with great reminiscent power. He goes into the stall beside the horses, talking to them and handling them - for this is his own team. Their coats are clean and smooth, freshly groomed, and he thinks of the years during which his day’s work commenced in this stable, with the lantern on the wire, the currycomb and brush, the horsecovers, the harness - and the horses. After some time he moves to the door and, hearing his brothers coming, walks a few yards away so that they do not notice him in the darkness. He hears the harness going on, and Eric and Howard speaking in low voices to the horses. Then the horses come out, and Eric leads them away. Suddenly, the storm breaks on him. Not all shocks are lessened by anticipation. He has known for more than a year that he cannot be a teamster again. But until this moment he has been separated from his old occupation by circumstances. Now he is home, he is even at the stable, and with the horses. And there is only one reason why he cannot take the team out again - one reason - blindness. Acute disappointment shook him to the very depths. The intense desire for his old, healthy, happy occupation was surely not a wrong one. Why should it be denied him? Anyone with a major affliction will enter sympathetically into the battle Andrew fought that morning. It was a crisis necessary to his future development and usefulness for God. And it was really a choice. True, he had no choice about the affliction. It was not within his power to forsake a life of blindness, and return to his team of horses. The choice did not lie there. It lay between resignation and rebellion on the one hand, and willing acceptance on the other. And the issues were never clearer than they were that morning at the stable door. 23 Slowly the storm abated, and Andrew bowed his bead and said, “Thy will be done Lord. Thy will is best.” God’s will for his life was now his choice. In November of that year, Andrew accepted a position as shorthand typist in Wright, Stephenson and Co. Ltd, Gore. For the first few months he continued to make “Comely Bank” his home, and he traveled to and from work daily by train. In May of the following year, 1920, Andrew, again accompanied by Adam Johnston went to Auckland to meet Helen arriving by ship from Scotland. They were married in the East Gore Presbyterian Church on the 11th June, 1920, the Rev. Alexander Gow, the Waikaka Valley minister, conducting the service. In the years that followed, Andrew and Mrs Johnston became well- known residents of Gore, and as he moved independently about the town, he created a favourable impression with his confident bearing and firm walk. After three years as a shorthand typist, Andrew decided to take up poultry farming. He had been used to an active, outdoor life, and the office work was affecting his health. A suitable property for the purpose came on the market in Gore, and he purchased it. A baby had arrived in the household by this time - George Henderson Johnston, their only son. So it was a household of three who started the new venture together. 24 The “Knowtop” Years Five happy years in the congenial occupation of poultry farming formed the next phase of Andrew Johnston’s life. It was a period of recovery and preparation: for harrowing experiences lay behind him, and although as yet unknown to him, a lifework of exacting public ministry lay ahead. He purchased a property of two and a half acres, situated on a hill on the north- west boundary of Gore, overlooking the main part of the town and on the river below. The property was given the name of “Knowtop” -named after the school his wife had attended in Scotland. It is sometimes alleged that all hens die in debt. Andrew Johnston, a master judge of poultry and poultry methods, made sure that his did not do so. With his capacity for discipline, thoroughness and hard work, the handicap of blindness was reduced to a minimum, and the poultry farm became a sound business enterprise. He soon got to know every inch of his property, and folk marveled at the confident and independent way he went about his work. On one occasion, the admiration of a neighbour deepened into mystification. He noticed Mr Johnston going over to the fowl houses at night with a lighted lantern. Why would a blind man carry a light in the dark? No reason could be adduced, so he took the unsolved mystery home for family discussion. But no illumination could be shed there on the mystery of the lighted lantern. Eventually, they decided to ask for an explanation of the mystery. The solution was a simple one. The young pullets were being fed at night to encourage their winter growth. The light was not for the blind man, but to induce the birds to wake up and feed. During the “Knowtop” years, active and faithful co-operation in the work and witness of the local church was a prominent feature. Mr and Mrs Johnston were members of the Gore Baptist Church where the emphasis and spirit were similar to those of the church at Waikaka Valley. Except when Mr Johnston was preaching elsewhere, regular attendance at the Sunday Services and the mid-week prayer meeting were a responsibility 25 conscientiously and gladly fulfilled. In addition to these responsibilities, Mr and Mrs Johnston along with others, conducted a regular, afternoon Sunday School at Croydon Bush, a small country district in the vicinity of Gore. During these years, the home at “Knowtop” which knew the joy of family life, was experiencing also the joys of hospitality. Cottage meetings, Christian Endeavour Society meetings and the like, were frequently held in the Johnston home. Visiting missionaries, preachers, and Christian workers were entertained and refreshed by the fellowship of their hosts, little knowing that during this period Mrs Johnston was experiencing indifferent health. These were indirect ways in which, during the happy years at “Knowtop,” Andrew Johnston was unconsciously being prepared for the ministry God had in store for him. Besides preparation of an indirect nature, the “Knowtop” years provided training along two important lines. One was Bible study. Ever since his first elementary instruction in reading Braille, Andrew had been putting it to use reading the scriptures, for more than ever they were a comfort and a challenge to him in the early days of his affliction. To a large extent he was cut off from commentaries on account of his blindness. As a result, the art of meditation was the more developed. There can be no doubt that this faculty of meditation, highly developed in his case, was a major factor in the making of the extraordinary ministry to which he was soon to be called. Day by day, steadfastly and sympathetically, the word of God was read, reflected upon, and rejoiced in. The other line upon which Andrew Johnston was making direct, though unconscious preparation for his lifework was that of experience in public preaching. Up to the time of his return from the war he had done no preaching at all. When asked to take services, he was somewhat hesitant at first because of his blindness, but as a grateful bondservant of Jesus Christ he was willing for every possible avenue of serving Him, preaching included. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Necessity was 26 laid upon him to preach the gospel - the moral necessity of great indebtedness, the necessity of one who knows the transforming power of the gospel of Christ, and is awake to his responsibility to impart its good news to others. When he commenced to take services, it became quite obvious that he had preaching gifts. Congregations found that the man who could not see their faces could reach to their hearts. He preached in a logical and convincing manner, with liberty and with fire. With his handicap, both preparation and preaching were major tasks, and for a year or two this limited the number of preaching appointments he could accept. But as he grew in experience, he was able to preach more frequently. So the happy “Knowtop” years went by. With congenial daily work, contented home life, and active Christian service’ they were years of level going. These were the circumstances when at Christmas, 1927, Andrew Johnston set out for the Pounawea Keswick Convention, little realising the events that were shortly to befall him. 27 Dawning of a Ministry Andrew Johnston arrived at the Convention full of anticipation of good ministry. He fully expected of course, to be on the receiving end of that ministry. And for the most part he was. One day, while walking up and down the beach between meetings however, he was approached by the secretary of the Convention, Mr James Kinnear, who asked him to take the main meeting the following day. The request was a shock to Andrew. He felt that his preaching, while acceptable for occasional services in and around his home town, would not reach the standard expected at a main meeting of a Keswick Convention. Furthermore, there was little time to prepare. So his first reaction was to decline. But Mr Kinnear had assured him that the committee had made this a special matter of prayer, and their approach was made with the conviction that Andrew Johnston was the right man for the task. With trembling heart therefore, he agreed to preach the next day as requested. That night there was deep exercise of soul as Andrew made preparation for the responsibilities of the next morning. The materials for rapid preparation are not available to a blind man, so he cried to the Lord to supply grace for which he felt so great a need. He decided to preach from John, chapter six, a passage he knew well, and he directed his meditation accordingly. As Andrew walked up to the platform the following morning, one of the committee members, John Grey, spoke to him. “Don’t worry lad, we’ll pray you through today.” The meeting was characterised with power, and Andrew enjoyed great liberty. The congregation knew that the Lord had spoken to them through a chosen vessel that morning. It was as though light had shone out of darkness. The committee’s decision of the previous day was well vindicated. And Andrew on his part, had proved God in a new way. His 28 experience of God in such a contingency led him to make the firm promise that, henceforth, whatever the Lord asked him to do, he would do. And a man making such a promise is bound to meet it again. Within ten days of the Convention, the Rev. Adam Clarke, then minister of the Baptist Church at Oamaru, called on Mr Johnston in Gore to ask him to conduct a mission in his church during March of that year. Again, the first impulse was to decline and do so emphatically. Andrew felt he knew his limitations, and an evangelistic mission seemed well beyond them. But the Lord who had enabled him in one extremity could surely enable him in another. He told Mr Clarke he would accept. For any man with the small amount of preaching experience which Andrew Johnston had had, the responsibility of conducting a fortnight’s evangelistic campaign would weigh heavily and occasion much preparation. This was accentuated in Mr Johnston’s case through his handicap of blindness. The time of preparing for this first evangelistic mission therefore, was one of great mental pressure as Andrew and his wife worked together to assemble the material and equip the preacher for the serious task which lay ahead. Circumstances led to the postponing of the mission until May, but from the moment of it’s commencement it was obvious that the Lord was in it. Good numbers attended. Andrew was enabled to preach with great liberty and power, and men and women were brought to the point of accepting Christ as Saviour, and committing their lives to Him. It was the early rain, the dawning of a remarkable ministry. 29 Altar of Sacrifice Following the Oamaru mission, events followed one another in quick succession. A few weeks later in June of that same year of 1928, Andrew was digging in his garden when the postman delivered the mail. Mrs Johnston came out to the garden with a letter from the Rev. Joseph W. Kemp, founder and principal of the New Zealand Bible Training Institute in Auckland. It was a letter inviting Mr Johnston to accept the position of official evangelist in the Extension Department of the Institute. He was flabbergasted. Suddenly, there flashed into his mind the words, “No man having put his hand to the plough and turning back is fit for the kingdom of God.” After some time, he went indoors and telephoned his uncle, William Johnston, to share with him the contents of the letter. William Johnston came up right away and they read the letter over. “It looks like a call, Andrew,” his uncle said. “Let’s have some prayer.” So kneeling together in the sitting-room, they committed this new issue to God, earnestly praying that the right decision would be made. While they were in prayer, another passage from the scriptures came to Andrew - “This is the way, walk ye in it.” Before many hours had elapsed, the question of God’s will in the matter had been settled. It remained now to count the cost. That night, Mr and Mrs Johnston sat at the fireside and weighed the whole question thoughtfully. Subconsciously there was a sense of incompetence, the natural shrinking from a life in the public eye, and the ever present realisation of the severe handicap imposed by blindness. But something else was uppermost in their minds. Young George was seven years of age. And who can measure the bond of affection which united these parents to their only son? If they responded to the call, a life of traveling was inevitable, and certainly they could not take George with them. But how could they leave him? It was natural that they should think of Abraham and Isaac. Were they willing to give up their Isaac? Mrs Johnston said, “If we are not prepared to give George up, God 30 could take him.” The pleasant life at “Knowtop;” the congenial occupation of poultry farming; the happy home with George aged 7, so bright, so bonny and so useful - these made up the cost of obedience. But they knew they must obey. To the disciple of Christ, contemplating His sacrifice for them and for all mankind, there was a promise to be kept - a promise made the previous year at Pounawea. “Henceforth, what God wants me to do, I will do.” They saw the path clearly before them. And in due course Mr Johnston wrote to the Bible Training Institute accepting the invitation. Shortly after this, Andrew was chatting with his brother Alex who, by this time, had taken over “Comely Bank” farm. “What are you going to do about George?” Alex asked. “We would be happy to have him.” The offer was gladly accepted, and George was warmly received by Mr and Mrs Alex Johnston into their household in Waikaka Valley. Here he grew up in the environment of his fathers boyhood, rejoicing as his father had done, in the farm life, and attending the same Maitland School. In September of 1928, the evangelical community of Gore and its district gathered in the Gore Baptist Church to commend Mr Johnston to the grace of God as they entered upon their ministry. Andrew Johnston was now well known as a preacher in Southland, and interest in his future had been intensified by reports of the campaign at Oamaru. It was an enthusiastic gathering which now bade farewell and gave its blessing to their new venture. 31 Light in Darkness Arriving at the Bible Training Institute (now the Bible College of N.Z.), Mr and Mrs Johnston took lectures along with the other students. In February 1929, Andrew Johnston preached his first campaign as official evangelist of the Institute. It was a three week tent mission in Auckland City, in which Joseph Kemp preached for the first week, Andrew Johnston for the second, and Lionel B. Fletcher for the third. Mr Kemp and Mr Fletcher were seasoned evangelists and it was a privilege for Andrew to have the opportunity of preaching alongside them. Commenting later on this debut, Mr Johnston said, “It was a sandwich. Mr Kemp was one slice of bread; Mr Fletcher was the other; I was the piece of meat in the middle.” So began the busy years of preaching the gospel of Christ throughout New Zealand ... a ministry that was destined to touch the lives of thousands. Mr and Mrs Johnston undertook campaigns only by invitation. Throughout the course of their ministry, the programme was usually fully a year ahead. Although some of their most successful missions were held in cities, the large centres were not their main field. Himself a country man, Mr Johnston was called to evangelise the country districts of New Zealand. There were several practical reasons that led to invitations to country churches. The smallest of churches knew that they could invite Mr Johnston. It would probably be a year before he could be with them: but, as soon as he could arrange it, he would come. No church would be declined on account of its size. And, although the early years of their ministry were years of economic depression. there were no financial difficulties about inviting Mr and Mrs Johnston for a campaign. Due to his war injury, Mr Johnston received a pension and free rail travel for Mrs Johnston and himself. During the opening years of his ministry, spiritual life in many churches was at a low ebb. The light of the gospel had all but been extinguished in many pulpits. Liberalism was at its zenith, but just as peace and prosperity had given the illusion that man could get along without God, the years of economic depression and a second world war exploded it. And 32 the failure of liberalism to match the transforming power of the gospel shook the confidence of its exponents and their congregations. It was during these days that “the Blind Evangelist” as Andrew was now affectionately called, proved to be a “burning and a shining light.” In his physical darkness he demonstrated that the Gospel of Christ, simply proclaimed, could bring light to the soul, and his one passion was to share that light with others. It was usual for each new congregation to meet Mr Johnston first, not at the opening meeting of the campaign, but in their homes during the preceding week. As a rule, he arrived a week before the mission began, and did intensive visiting in the district with the minister. This established a bond between the evangelist and the people. He had been in their homes, they had been favourably impressed with him, and the conversation had probably included an assurance by the people that they would be along to the mission. Most campaigns ran for a fortnight, some for three weeks. As a rule, the first evening was devoted to the evangelist’s life story. The second evening featured his call to the work. For the first week, the messages were to Christians. And the second week, it was to those who were not Christians, the preacher endeavouring to bring them to the point where they would accept the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour. To the evangelist, as he faced his congregations, every life before him was a field - a field that Christ had bought and paid for - a field that should be producing for Him. But many fields were barren; many were full of weeds. What could be done for them? In the greatness of His love and power, Christ could transform them. With the consent and co-operation of the person concerned, Christ could redeem those wasted fields and make them abundant and fruitful. No one in the audience could doubt the sincerity of the preacher. It was not ranting. It was preaching that disturbed the heart like a plough disturbs the soil. Though delivered with fire, all that was spoken was the result of cool, mature thinking. There was a reason to the mind as well as appeal to the heart. And nothing said would fail to stand the test of sober afterthought. 33 As the people later made their way homeward, it could be said of not a few, “the people that dwelt in darkness had seen a great light, and they that had dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them had the light shined.” 34 “Not Ashamed” The secret of the ministry of Andrew Johnston could well be summed up in the words of Paul: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” Throughout his powerful thirty-eight years of public ministry, he never wavered in preaching Christ - a Person. A Person he knew. The One who had met his need and transformed his life. The One who loved him, and who died for him. The One now living in resurrection power -a present Saviour and Friend. He preached a Person and a book. His own Christian life was not conceivable apart from the Bible. He had learned to love it and trust it at his mother’s knee. He knew it to be the word of God. He loved it through his sighted days. In the years of physical darkness, it was “a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path.” Those embossed sheets of Braille that made up his Bible - what had they meant to him since the stroke of blindness fell? It was to that Bible that he went for comfort and strength. And it did not fail him. He had not originally studied the Bible to become a preacher. He had studied it because it was meat and drink to his soul. And as time went on, it became more precious - its facts and promises, its guidance and inspiration. It was the link between Christ and his own life. Through days of great testing he had proved its worth. Could he help recommending it to others? So his preaching while evangelistic, was expository. It was doctrinal, not topical. He dealt with Bible truth not critically, but as a simple truth to be believed and obeyed. With a gift for clear description and explanation, he sowed the good seed in the hearts he had ploughed. He knew no other form of evangelism than this, and it was in this style that his gifts lay. He kept clear of controversy. This was outside his purpose and calling. 35 The minister and congregation of an inviting church knew that he would preach the gospel without compromise. They knew too that the preacher would observe every propriety. Ministers felt his brotherliness. Although he preached with a sense of urgency, it was done in a spirit that was gentlemanly, courteous and circumspect. Himself an inspiration to thousands over the course of the years, Andrew has been enriched by many people: but supremely, by his gracious wife, Helen, whom he has never seen. At most of the meetings, Mrs Johnston was the soloist. Equipped with a clear, sweet voice, she sang the gospel with much appeal. It was not easy for her to do this. At the start of the regular evangelistic work, Mrs Johnston could not overcome her shyness sufficiently to sing in public. But, in one of the early missions, the pastor of the church persuaded her to sing. Her gift for gospel singing was immediately recognised and from that time she was the regular soloist. With a simplicity that matched her husband’s preaching, Mrs Johnston sang the gospel message clearly and with much acceptance. Then, when the appeal was given, Mrs Johnston was with her husband in the pulpit. As he asked those willing to accept Christ to raise their hands, or stand, Mrs Johnston was his eye so that the responses could be acknowledged. There were no stunts in the appeal. Sometimes a word of explanation during the appeal removed the last barrier. “You are not saved by putting up your hand. But the response clinches the decision you have made. ‘Here I am. I have decided. Now I confess it’.” Those who responded were invited to remain behind at the close of the meeting. Evangelistic work is hard work, and in this case, blindness made it harder still. No man went to bed at the end of the day more weary than did Andrew Johnston when the preaching was over. The intensity, the concentration, the physical and mental effort of preaching used up the days ration of strength completely. But at night he could rest as a workman “not ashamed,” re-gaining strength in sleep for another day’s work on the morrow. 36 Hidden Factors At one North Island town, the campaign was halfway through when Mr Johnston, the pastor, and one or two others met to consider the situation. There was something lacking. The attendance’s were good, the meetings were hearty and the preaching forceful. But there was no grip and no response. The vital element of conviction was not there. Christ was being preached, but folk were not accepting Him. What was the reason? No prayer meetings had been held to prepare for the mission. It was decided to call a special prayer meeting for the Saturday night. A small group - those really concerned about the lack of response - joined in earnest prayer that Saturday evening and continued well into the next morning. Finally, a conviction came to their hearts that the barrier was broken and that results would follow in the remaining days of the mission. The break came that very day. Several young couples responded to the invitation. As the mission proceeded, there was a new spirit and many more were brought into the Kingdom of God. At another place, similar conditions prevailed. Mr and Mrs Johnston were holding a campaign in a country town in Southland, and staying with the Methodist minister. One afternoon, Mr Johnston and his host went for a walk. As they came out of the parsonage gate, the minister noticed his neighbour, a farmer, waiting for the bus along the road. “I’ll introduce you to my neighbour,” the minister said to Mr Johnston. “If you ask him to come to the mission, he might come.” Accordingly, Mr Johnston was introduced and they had some conversation. After a time, Mr Johnston asked the man if he would like to come to the mission. “Yes, I’d be glad to,” the man replied. 37 So the evangelist and his companion carried on with their walk. The man did come to the mission. After he had attended one or two meetings, he stayed behind and talked to Mr Johnston. “I’ve got something to clear up with you,” he said. “The other afternoon you asked me to come to the mission and I said I’d be glad to come. That was a lie. I didn’t want to come at all. But because you were a blinded soldier, I thought I ought to come.” Mr Johnston began to encourage him to accept Christ. “Wait,” said the man, “doesn't the Bible say that we must forgive others if we want God to forgive us?” “It does,” replied the evangelist. “Then I must see a man at once.” He hurried away to see a man against whom he had held a grudge for years. Addressing him by name he said, “I want you to know that I frankly forgive you.” He then told him why he had come and invited him to the meetings. Returning to the Church, he accepted Christ in what proved to be a wonderful conversion. These two cases are typical in Mr Johnston’s preaching career - and in that of most evangelists. For evangelism there must be a preacher and people. For soul winning evangelism there must also be the factors, the hidden factors of prayer and honesty and unity. Besides preaching from the pulpit, Andrew gave much time to individual counsel. The following incident is typical. One wet afternoon, while at home between missions, he was riding along a country road on his white horse. An expert in the saddle, riding was his favourite means of recreation, and the people of the Gore district looked upon their blind horseman with pride and affection. Unknown to him, a thin bearded young man of 17 was walking along the roadside coming towards him. Some weeks previously, this 38 young man had been converted at the Central Methodist Mission in Invercargill. But after his mountain top experience, he had begun to question it’s validity. Doubts had begun to form in his mind and he had begun to rationalise the personality of Christ. Just how could God become man? He had heard of the blind evangelist and he longed to be able to talk with him. Seeing the white horse coming in his direction, and because of what he had been told, the young man guessed that the rider must be none other than the evangelist himself. But how could he make contact with the blind man without giving him fright? So he began to sing, “When we walk with the Lord, in the light of His Word . . .” As Andrew Johnston drew nearer he began to sing with him. Soon the two began discussing the Christian life and the young man shared with Mr Johnston his indecision about the reality of Christ. Still the evangelist rode along with him. Eventually, they came to Mr Johnston’s nephew’s farm and the young man was conducted into the barn. Tying up his horse, the “blind evangelist” then took out from his saddle-bag a copy of the First Epistle of John which he was carrying with him. He asked the young man to read the first verse: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life.” Suddenly with these words, there came to this young man the realisation of the physical Jesus - the Jesus who walked the dusty roads, who was hungry, who was a man and sweated like other men. He was also God. A youth walked home that dark evening in the stillness of a cold, Southland frost, grateful that God had not left Himself without a witness. This was behind-the-scenes work, but to Andrew Johnston it was just as important as the public preaching. Some of those thus counselled became ministers and missionaries themselves. And their first lesson on the value of a soul was learnt when Andrew Johnston dealt with them about the matter of their own salvation. 39 Trail of Testimony A senior minister recently wrote: “In the past fifty years few men of God have been so beloved and have made such an impact for Christ on the New Zealand scene, as has Andrew Johnston. Though time passes by, and the younger generation may not be familiar with his name, yet in the life to come there will be hundreds on the Great Day of Judgement who will rise up and call him ‘blessed’.” Throughout the years Mr and Mrs Johnston were engaged in evangelistic work, reports of their missions were regularly published in the “Reaper,” official magazine of the Bible Training Institute. Although it is impossible to print all, let the following bear witness. On one occasion the evangelist was invited to conduct a mission in his own home church. The minister at the time was the late Rev. C. D. Gardiner. Writing of that mission he said, “Some may have thought it a presumptuous step, on the part of Mr Andrew Johnston to return to his home town and enter into the church in which he had been a regular worshipper to conduct a three weeks’ mission. But those who had invited him believed that it would be well because of the very high esteem in which he was held in his own district, and they were not disappointed. “For most of the mission, the building was filled night after night. Especially were the Sunday evening congregations large, and the last was the largest of all. Never has the writer seen the Gore Baptist Church so full. After all available space in the church was occupied, many were accommodated in the vestries. When Mr Johnston had his sight, often did he drive the plough through the land on his farm, and now that he is an evangelist he believes in driving the plough of conviction into the hearts of the unconverted. This mission has been most worthwhile. “This blind evangelist is most ably assisted by his wife. She is eyes to him in a very wonderful sense. He preaches with great power and she sings in a most appealing manner, and in a multitude of ways helps her husband in this great and noble work of preaching the gospel. May these two long be spared, to add to the Church of the Dominion.” 40 From Timaru, came a report from the Rev. J. Russell was no doubt of the support the evangelist would receive. Grave: “Right from the commencement of the mission there Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterian's, and large numbers from Hebron Hall were in attendance. On Sunday evenings, as on young people’s nights, it was difficult to accommodate the crowds. Mr Johnston’s messages can be aptly illustrated, I think, by three statements he often made in his addresses. The first was, “Difficulties can be stepping stones to blessing.” He himself is an illustration of this. His second declaration that “Christ does not save you in your sins: He saves you from your sins,” he applied to both unconverted and Christians. In his third reiterated statement, Mr Johnston described man without Christ as “helpless, hopeless, and destitute.” There were encouraging responses to the appeals for decision, and the majority of those dealt with were definitely convicted of need.” Writing from Otautau, Methodist Home Missioner H. J. Malcolm commented: “The outstanding feature of the Johnston mission has not been the crowds only, but conviction of sin. As one remarked to me, ‘Otautau has gone mad,’ for the power of the Holy Spirit was in evidence in every meeting. Men were so convicted they were afraid to go back again. Truly the town and district has been turned upside down as never before. Homes have been made happy. The township purer.” Recalling those wonderful days of the Otautau Revival, the “Blind Evangelist” who has always had a keen sense of humour, tells how the Mayor, in grateful appreciation for his ministry to the community presented him with free tickets to the pictures! Nevertheless, the gesture was a sincere expression of gratitude. From Fairfield, Hamilton, came a typical testimony: “The simple, straightforward gospel, as expounded by Mr Johnston, the sympathetic rendering of appropriate solos by Mrs Johnston, and the radiant personality of both, endeared these two friends to the hearts of those who came to listen, with the result that many, both old and young, took their stand on the side of their Saviour and Master, and many reconsecrated themselves to Christ.” One of the most fully documented reports made to the “Reaper” 41 came from the Rev. C. J. Tocker, late minister of St Paul’s Church, Invercargill. “. . . the church which seats 750 was packed. Becoming concerned about seating accommodation, I had a loud speaker installed in the hall and wired up to the Church, in case of an over-flow. Some of my office bearers smiled, feeling I was too optimistic. However, optimism was more than justified. The following Sunday a tide of humanity swept into the church, filling every nook and corner; till folk were seated among the choir and on the choir platform, on the pulpit steps on both sides; the vestries on both sides were full, with doors open, so that the occupants might hear even if they could not see; the large vestibule at the Church entrance was crowded with people, those who could look in through open doors. They overflowed into the Sunday School Hall and filled it, while many, unable to find a seat in either building had to go away. There must have been over a 1000 people in our buildings that night. It was not just a curious crowd, but a deeply reverent congregation and the service was full of power. “The evangelist was very quiet, very simple. A more humble, modest sincere man never breathed. ‘God help us to get low enough,’ was a prayer often on his lips. It was utterly genuine, and he lived his prayer. He was himself so manifestly the living embodiment of the Gospel he preached. Andrew Johnston speaks with an authority that silences every criticism. Moreover, he is such a radiant, joyful personality, as fresh as the morning dew. “His amazing command of the English Bible gave great weight to his preaching and teaching. I have never known anyone with a memory so richly stored with the English Bible, and the stores so readily at his command. He has no crankiness. A strong ethical note took the place so often occupied in evangelistic mission by controversial, secondary topics. Evangelism such as this is surely the first and greatest need of the Church to-day.” 42 Still Pressing On Of the life of Andrew Marshbank Johnston his work and his ministry, volumes could be written. Perhaps only eternity will fully reveal the greatness of the man. Yet from the use of such phraseology he would shrink. Humbly and sincerely, and now in retirement, his only desire is to know Christ, and continue to make Him known. Now in his eightieth year, he is still active in Church life, an inspiration and example to all. With Mrs Johnston he is always in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day. Together, they are always at the prayer meeting. For young and old there is always a friendly word and a warm welcome to their home in the street fittingly named in their honour. Recently, in recognition of his service to the cause of Christ throughout New Zealand, the Baptist Church at Gore made him it’s Pastor Emeritus. No man is more greatly beloved. Behind him lie the years of youth when the thrill of rising strength and the satisfaction of farm life filled his present, and apparently, his future. Behind him lies the shadow of his war years and the agony of the shattering blow they dealt him. Behind him lies the uphill climb of rehabilitation, the slow, discouraging work of reconstructing a life with one of its main pillars taken away. Behind him also lies a remarkable ministry that has brought peace and joy and inspiration to thousands, a life of singular usefulness in the highest calling on earth. These things lie behind him. But what counts with Andrew Johnston, is not the past, not accomplishments, not success, not the plaudits of men, but Christ. And like Paul of old, his testimony - should you ask him - would be, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the mark . . .” 43