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Mission in North Uist

By Mary Peckham

To the islanders, our coming was a unique event. After all, we were ladies and we were preaching! Yet, the people came and there was an amazing openness to the gospel. They sang the hymns with relish and sat through an hour-long service in English, followed by a Gaelic address. As if that was not enough, some followed us to our lodgings and another time of informal singing and sharing the Word brought the day to a close. They were reluctant to leave and it was obvious in some at least, that the Word had taken root in their hearts. Some of these have continued in the Faith until today.

We were blessed with the visits of the late Duncan Campbell and Joshua Daniel, a powerful preacher from Madras. There was no doubt but that the Lord had come by His Spirit to visit North Uist. The meetings became the subject of conversation locally and interest in worldy pursuits dwindled among the youth.

One was very much aware of the presence of God and of the reality of eternity. The people were strangely subdued and there was an air of expectancy as they gathered in the hall night by night. Those who sought the Lord were happy to take part in prayer and often times we were reduced to tears by the sincerity with which they voiced their petitions. God had come, and the local publican knew it!

After some weeks, it was time to move on, and we were anxious to know where. The local nurse, who herself was a committed Christian, asked me to accompany her on her daily round of old folk in Sollas. She wanted them to have a share in the services and to hear me singing the Gaelic hymns. While visiting one elderly lady, I was very much aware of her being in touch with the Lord and a conviction was born within my heart that we should move on to Sollas.

The headmaster of the local school was happy for us to use the premises for the meetings, but not quite so happy when we moved the furniture around in order to accommodate the maximum number of people! His objection came as a challenge to us to pray earnestly for God to vindicate His name in the community - and before we rose from our knees the word of the Lord boosted our faith - 'who will put the thorns and the briers before Him in battle'' The mighty God had already taken up the challenge.

The schoolroom was crowded. The side rooms were filled, and again we were conscious that there was something bigger than our efforts. We came to the services conscious of the fact that at best we were unprofitable servants. It was awesome to see the people crowding into the schoolrooms with an obvious hunger for the Word of God. We felt nervous and apprehensive lest we fail the Lord and disappoint the expectation of the people. Truly, preaching is folly when we think in terms communicating to mankind the unspeakable riches of Christ. But 'it as pleased God, through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe' (1Cor 1:21).

'Do you think God can save a sinner like me?' was the inquiry that came from an elderly lady who met us on the village street. The Spirit of God was not confined to the services, but all around there was a concern that found expression in attendance and attention at the meetings. A but was hired on the west side of the island to being the people to the missio, and one night it was so full that the springs broke!

The local missionary from the Church of Scotland - a Godly man - threw his whole weight in with us and held after-meetings nightly in his home for the converts. In his own words, he gave them 'ground corn' into the small hours of the morning. Strong men yielded to the call of the Saviour and found 'peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.'

Such victories are not easily won, but the hours in prayer daily and the 'slog' of visitation in inclement weather and the preparation of material for the two services nightly are all forgotten in the joy of seeing the lost saved and seeking God for others. Who will ever forget the closing night in Sollas when the headmaster stood to his feet to thank us and gave us Matt 5:10 'Blessed are tey that are persecuted for righteousness sake' and to the congregation he gave Matt 5:6 'blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.'

Our next move was to Tigharry, and again the school was put at our disposal. Five strong men 'volunteered' (or were persuaded) to help us with the seating. The Lord laid them heavily on our hearts to pray for them daily. The team had now been reduced to three and we were happily settled in the spacious home of a very respectable bachelor in Baleloch. Prayer again took priority, followed by visitation from home to home. Our host gave us a free hand in the running of his home and every day he put out three lines in the nearby loch and delivered his catch of trout for the table. And as if that was not enough, he put out seed in his field and blasted the hungry pigeons with his shotgun. It was a new experience for us to sit at table to tackle a whole pigeon each! What happy memories.

Our host was one of the five helpers who were now very much on our hearts and our joy knew no bounds when it became evident that the Lord was at work in his heart. The publican's prayer became his as he was possessed by the Spirit of repentance. We could hear his earnest prayer for mercy as hie knelt in the kitchen when we had retired upstairs to bed. Soon, the other four were seeking God and yet another community was aware that something unusually was happening.

The media became aware of the happenings in Uist and a reported or two braved the elements in order to pick up a story. And this they did with the usual embellishment of lies and half-truths! If their reports were intended to discourage the people from attending the meetings, they failed dismally. The school in Tigharry was packed nightly. So much so that the children were taken to another room to make place for the adults and one member of the team was delegated to keep them happily occupied for two hours while the service was in progress! They sang and engaged in Bible quizzes and Daphne told them Bible stories. No doubt the experience stood her in good stead as a missionary in the Philippines and a later date.

My memory of these days is that of a deep awareness of God and a deep reverence for His Word and work. There was also a very real expectation, for God was at work. Every service was different. There was no strict pattern of events for we were very conscious that we were not in charge. Thus we were able to rejoice in the many surprises God had in store for us. He was in control.

This is not to say that we had it easy. There was opposition from unexpected places and we knew the sorrow of rejection but the Lord encouraged us and constrained us to labour on in His name. The church felt the impact of the movement and a new era dawned as the converts filled the empty pews.

Our last mission was in the community hall in Carinish. We rented an empty house and again, the same pattern - the mornings were spend in united prayer and more fuel for prayer was added daily as we got to know the people in their homoes. This, I am convinced, must always be the two major priorities for the soul winner - prayer and visitation. If we fall short on these, we will soon have no congregation to preach to. Alas, too often in the ministry these two priorities go by the board, and we settle for less than God intended for us. We must pray and we must befriend the people before we can preach effectively. Jesus did!

Carinish was a sort of 'gathering together of the loose ends.' The people came from all over the island. The main work seemed, to a large extent, to be over, although there were still signs of God's working in the meetings and in individual lives. The hunger was still there. Will I ever forget the prayer of one young man in the meeting as he prayed for the man (unknown to us) who was in the meeting for the first time and (the young man said in his prayer) for the last time.

It transpired that the man in question had come a long way from a neighbouring island and, as the young man said, he never came to another meeting. He died soon afterwards.

This young man had an amazing insight into the spiritual realm. There was an aura about him; an other-world atmosphere. God was with him in a remarkable way.

Looking back over the years, one can only thank God for the privilege of being there in Uist at a time when God's favour was shown in such a remarkable way. To a large extent one is conscious of the fact that on our part as a team we were spectators of what God was doing.