My father and mother were missionaries in Peru, South America, when Dad died in a car accident. I was four and my younger brother, David, was one when he died, leaving my mother a widow at the age of 27, To read the story of his short life and death go to the link below and scroll to chapter 11.
We can share our testimonies in words in a church service or with others anywhere. and we ought to do that; but ultimately, our testimonies are expressed by the way we live. In I Thessalonians 1 we have an example of “show and tell” Christianity.
Though I grew up in abnormal circumstances, by the grace of God, I had the privilege of growing up in a strong Christian environment and being surrounded by a warm, genuine, vibrant Christians as my role models.
I was born in Peru, South America in 1933. My parents, Clifford and Ruth Bicker, had just begun their missionary work there, when in 1937 my father was instantly killed in a car accident as he was traveling in the AndesMountains to preach the Gospel. He had started to feel sick and turned the driving over to a Peruvian brother in the Lord. Both were instantly killed. An elderly lady traveling with them survived the accident. A police officer investigating the scene, seeing his dead body surrounded by his Bible and Gospel literature commented, “He died as a soldier dies, while engaged in the battle, with his weapons at his side.”
Mother was now a 27 year old widow left with myself and my one year old brother. Since it was time for their first furlough, Mother returned with her two little boys to her home in Toronto. Canada. Her oldest brother, Oswald Smith, had written her a poem when he heard of Dad’s death, Later the poem, “God Understands”, was set to music and has been a comfort to many over the past seventy years.
God understands your sorrow,
He sees the falling tear,
And whispers I am with thee;
Then falter not nor fear.
He understands your longing,
Your deepest grief He shares;
Then let Him bear your burden,
He understands and cares.
God understands your heartache,
He knows the bitter pain;
O, trust Him in the darkness,
You cannot trust in vain.
God understands your weakness,
He knows the tempter’s power,
And He will walk beside you,
However dark the hour.
Life in Toronto was spent living with uncles and aunts and with our Grandfather and Grandmother Smith as Mother traveled throughout America and Canada sharing her story and her burden for Peru. On a few occasions, my brother and I went with her, singing choruses in Spanish.
My early education was in the Toronto public schools. Yes, that was plural – schools. Because we moved around, I was in a different school almost every year. By fifth grade we moved several times and I was in at least three different schools in Toronto that year.
Life for me centered in my uncle’s church. As a little boy I loved to go to church. The auditorium was crowded every Sunday morning and every Sunday night with about 2000 people. I loved to hear the wonderful music and listen to him preach the Gospel and watch people come down the aisle to receive Christ each week. I didn’t understand it at first, but I knew it moved my heart.
One day in a children’s meeting I heard the story of people in the wilderness being bitten by poisonous snakes and dying. I heard how Moses was commanded by God to make a brass snake and put it up on a high pole. All who looked at the serpent were healed of the snake bites. Then I was told how Jesus died on a cross for our sins and all who would look to Jesus by faith and trust His blood sacrifice for sin, would be saved from their guilt of sin and could go to Heaven when they died. I was nine at the time and was drawn to go forward at the invitation to be saved. It was not a difficult decision. I had been fearful and would dream at night of falling into hell. So that evening I went forward and was taken by a lady to the back of the room, where we knelt down together and she led me to trust Jesus as my Saviour.
From that hour, life was totally different for me. All fear of dying and going to Hell was gone. I was peaceful and joyful as I realized that Jesus was now my Saviour and best Friend. Shortly after that salvation experience, I wrote my first song at the age of nine.
Jesus is my Saviour,
He keeps me every day.
Jesus is my Saviour,
At home, at school, at play.
He will never leave me
So I will follow on.
Jesus is my Saviour.
I’ll praise and sing His song.
Just before my eleventh birthday Mother was advised to place my brother and me in Westervelt Home for Missionary Children located in the country, just outside Batesburg, S.C. This was during World War II and many missionaries were leaving their children in this home, led by a retired missionary couple. Though most Christians would judge it was a terrible decision for my mother to make, looking back on it I can see how it was the best decision Mother could have made for us. There I completed my elementary education and began my freshman year of high school, all taught by loving, caring, Christian teachers. I also had a piano teacher who instilled an appreciation and excitement for the piano. Through the years I have had many opportunities to use that gift in service to the Lord.
In 1946 God gave my Mother a second husband, Kenneth Harold, a bachelor missionary in Haiti. Together they served the Lord in Haiti and later in Jamaica, training nationals for the ministry. God gave them a daughter and then a son. Although God had allowed tragedy in Mother’s life, He gave them over fifty happy years together serving the Lord. Now both of them are with the Lord.
My brother and I spent the summer of 1949 in Haiti with our parents. There I saw missionaries up close and was impressed by their joy and dedication to the Lord and to the ministry to which God had called them.
Dad took me on several conventions in different locations in the southern peninsula of Haiti where hundreds of Haitians met together to sing and to hear the preaching of God’s Word. Although everything was in the Creole language and I didn’t understand a word, yet I caught the joyful spirit of these people as they sang hymns of praise to God. I watched as dozens of couples who had lived together unmarried, came forward and were married in one big ceremony. I watched as they brought their little children to be dedicated to the Lord. I observed the cleanliness and joy of the Christians in contrast with the filth and the fear and superstitions of the unsaved. It was a wonderful summer of learning and growing in the Lord.
The fall of 1949 my brother and I were sent to Prairie Bible Institute in the prairies of Alberta Canada, where we were enrolled in the high school associated with the Institute. Again, this was a time of spiritual growth for me as I soaked up L.E. Maxwell’s preaching on the crucified life based on Galatians 2:20 and Romans 6. The cold weather was awful up there and I was glad when Mother and Dad came home on furlough and we settled in Los Angeles for the year. There my brother and I attended Culter Christian Academy where I was given more solid Christian training in God’s Word.
The following year my parents returned to Jamaica and my younger brother was enrolled in a Christian boarding school in Florida. I continued my senior year at Culter and boarded with one of the school families. That year I paid my room and board and tuition at Culter by working in a cafeteria after school each day.
After graduating from Culter, at the suggestion of my mother who had been influenced by my uncle, I set off for Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. There I spent the next four years gaining a wonderful Christian education and earning my Bachelor’s degree. Dr. Bob Jones Sr. who preached in most of the daily chapel services, had a profound influence on my life as he chatted with the students each morning on how to live a practical Christian life and the importance of standing against apostasy.
I also had the opportunity to get over some of my stage fright by playing walk-on parts in some of the Shakespearean plays that are performed each year. For several weeksI had the opportunity to sing in a mixed quartet for Dr. Bob Jones Sr.’s daily radio program, as well as in the Oratorio. I also had a small part in Wine of Morning, a feature length film about Jesus and Barabbas, produced by BJU’s film department.
The Christmas of 1953 I was invited by, Allen Thompson, the son of Rev. Elmer Thompson, the director of the mission where my parents ministered, to come down to Columbia Bible College and he would take me to his home in Pennsylvania to spend Christmas with them. So I hitched-hiked down to the school and a day later found myself in his car with three C.B.C. girls, all heading back to Pennsylvania for Christmas. One of them was Pat Gumm. By the time we arrived in Pennsylvania, I determined to get to know her better.
I started writing her in January of 1954 and in May of that year I returned to Pittsburgh to play the piano in a rescue mission, work in a hospital scrubbing walls and start courting Pat. By August of that year we were engaged. A year later in August of 1955 we were married in her home church.
Graciously, God provided all the things we needed to set up housekeeping, plus the money I needed for tuition for that year through wedding gifts.
We returned to BJU for my senior year and God wonderfully provided us with a little trailer home 8 feet wide by about 30 feet long. God had spoken to a dear lady who heard we were being married and felt led of God to loan us a trailer home rent free for my senior year at BJU.
There we spent our first year together studying for classes and getting to know one another as husband and wife. I worked after school at Belk’s Department Store in the ladies’ shoe department, earning $15.00 a week. That’s what we lived on. I think $20. a month went to ground rent and about $7.00 a week for groceries. Pat was an excellent cook from the start and she learned to prepare good meals on whatever we could afford.
In the spring of 1956 Pat was pregnant with our first baby. We did not know what God had planned for us after graduation. That spring a representative of Village Missions spoke in chapel and I heard of opportunities to pastor small churches that were being opened up in rural areas. I talked with the representative after the service and let her know I was interested. Within a few weeks we learned of an opportunity to go to the Sandhills of Western Nebraska to pastor a small church. I accepted the call and by graduation time, we were ready to set out for our first church.
One small problem was that we had no car. God solved that problem through Pat’s brother who had just joined the Air Force and did not need his 48 Dodge, so generously donated it to us.
So in July of 1956 we left Pat’s home in Pittsburgh and set out on our long journey to western Nebraska. Pat was seven months pregnant. We were ready to conquer the world, though I was still wet behind the ears as a pastor.
Now over fifty-five years later we look back on the way our gracious God has led us and blessed us and met all our needs. We can only rejoice in the wisdom He has given us to raise our children and pastor churches over the years. But that’s another story.
We thank God for our three grown children who each love the Lord and for the godly mates He has given to each of them. We thank Him for eleven grandchildren who each love the Lord. Now they are married to godly mates and the great-grandchildren are coming!
What does He have for us in the future? We have no idea; but the God who has provided for us and met every need and filled our lives with joy and purpose, will continue to go with us to the end of this life and then take us to be with Himself in Heaven; not because of our works, but because of what Christ accomplished for us on Calvary.
Each of us are living out our own individual life stories; stories shaped by our decisions; but more than that, stories shaped by God’s sovereignty. We did not choose our parents nor our genes, nor our personalities with our strengths and weaknesses. We did not choose the place of our birth, nor the circumstances under which we grew up.
Though we all bear the responsibility for the choices we make, including the friends we choose and the spouse we choose; ultimately it is God who brings people and circumstances into our lives and directs the timing of each detail. I can say with the Psalmist, “My times are in Thy hand.” Psalm 31:15 As I look back on seventy-four years of God’s loving kindness and provision and upon some very difficult years in life, I can say with a rejoicing heart, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.” Psalm 16:5-6
The following are some of the people who have most influenced me. I list them somewhat in the order they came into my life. Many more, both young and old, could be added to the list. But here is the short list of those for whom I shall forever be grateful.
Clifford Bicker, my father, was a missionary to Peru, S.A. for five short years. Though I cannot remember my father for I was only four years old when he died in a car accident in Peru while traveling to a mountain village to preach the Gospel; yet hearing and reading of his Christ-like life has greatly influenced me.
Ruth, my mother, struggled as a young widow to give my younger brother, David, and me a normal home. Her parents, brothers and sisters often helped her care for us. One memory I have of her is standing at the front door with us and praying for David and me before we left for school each morning. With her limited income she did what she could to make life fun and she instilled in our hearts a desire to know God. She faithfully served the Lord as a missionary in Peru. She with my father and one year old brother, David, were preparing to return from Peru on our first furlough, when my father was suddenly taken in a car accident..
Nine years later she met and married her second missionary husband, Ken Harold. They served together in Haiti and Jamaica. There God gave them two children, Carolyn and Douglas. In her retirement years in Florida, she continued to serve the Lord teaching and participating in Bible classes until her death in 2005 at the age of 95.
My Grandfather Bicker The only thing I can remember about this old preacher is that he prayed with me in his home in Pasadena, California when I was five years old. I can’t remember what he prayed, but the memory of that time on my knees with him still wields an influence in my life. I also remember receiving letters from him just before he died. He often wrote about being homesick for Heaven.
My Grandfather and Grandmother Smith took care of me often growing up in Toronto, Canada while my mother traveled through USA and Canada speaking about missions. I remember their kindness to me.
Oswald J. Smith, my uncle, founded and pastored The People’s Church in Toronto, Canada. Though he traveled throughout the world during the 30’s, 40’s 50’s and 60’s evangelizing, promoting foreign missions, and writing many books, hymns and Gospel songs; the thing I most remember about him was his simple Gospel preaching that I could understand. It was there that I was saved at the age of nine and gave my heart to Christ to serve Him.
Perhaps the greatest thrill I experienced as a boy was was in People’s Church at the old downtown Bloor Street location. It was the vibrant, rejoicing, congregational singing of the great hymns and Gospel songs of the church. I used to sit in the side gallery right above the organ and was entranced by Frank Trenchard, the organist, as his music and the voices of over 2,000 people shook the church every Sunday morning and every Sunday evening. I wept for joy as people came down the aisle every week to receive Christ as Saviour.
Mrs. Josephine Hope Westervelt was a retired missionary who operated a home for missionary children in Batesburg, S.C. during the years of World War II when many missionaries did not take their children with them to foreign countries There were about 100 of us and it was quite an experience. I was there from age eleven to sixteen. I thank God for the character training I received. I remember my Mother leaving my younger brother, David, and me there. As a young widow, it was heart-wrenching to do it, but in retrospect, I know she did the right thing. I remember her reading to me from II Timothy before she left me. “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
Miss Vera Ethel Deardurff was my sixth through eighth grade teacher in a one room school house at Westervelt. This very big woman had a commanding presence as she sat behind her desk all day watching us with eagle eyes. Behind all her teacherly austereness, was a heart for us as big as she was. I knew she loved me. I have often said, I think I learned everything I know from her. It seemed to me then that much of high school and college was just a review of what I learned during those three years. The things I most appreciated from her was a foundation in English grammar and American history and a strong politically conservative outlook on life which she passed on to me.
Miss Violet Bohy was my piano teacher during my Westervelt years. Though I had started piano lessons in Toronto earlier, she taught me the piano skills which I have enjoyed and used for the Lord all my life. I thank God for these single women at Westervelt who sacrificed their lives for missionary children like myself. I doubt they received much money. But any reward I receive for serving the Lord, will be shared by them when we meet Christ.
Lloyd Powlison,one of the older young men at Westervelt, was like a big brother to us younger boys. He used to take us swimming in the creek and hiking in the woods. We had an old Model T without an engine that we used to take turns steering while the rest pushed.
Mark Goodger was a bicycle evangelist. Single at the time; Mark, about 30 years of age, traveled America constantly on his bicycle, eating and sleeping wherever he could find a place, and leading people to Christ wherever he went. Whenever he was in South Carolina, he always stopped to speak to us at Westervelt, sharing his adventures and challenging us to be soul winners. He was our hero and all of us admired his bicycle. Later on he was married and he and his wife continued together in evangelism. We were disappointed though when he traded his bicycle in for an ordinary car and traded his life of adventure for that of an ordinary married man.
Charles E. Fuller was theGospel radio preacher of the Old Fashioned Revival Hour who preached simple Gospel messages that were broadcast coast to coast during World War II from an auditorium in Long Beach, California. He was one of my boyhood preacher heroes. Later on in high school in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to sit in one of the services In Long Beach and watch young sailors come forward to receive Christ when the invitation was given. http://www.biblebelievers.com/OFRH/mp3_archive.html
Rudy Atwood, the incomparable pianist of the Old Fashioned Revival Hour was my piano hero. What a thrill is was to watch and hear him play “Heavenly Sunshine” in his unforgetable style! Though my fingers were never as nimble as his, and though I am not the skilled pianist he was, I learned from listening to him a little of his piano style. Here’s a sampling of his music. http://heritagemedia.org/catalog1.htm
Robert McQuilken founder and first president of Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) in Columbia S.C., was a godly influence in my life. Growing up at Westervelt, we missionary kids often rode, standing in a truck the 30 miles to CBC to hear him or missionaries and other Bible teachers, such as H.A. Ironside. LIttle did I know then that one day my future wife would be a C.B.C. student.
Kenneth Harold, a bachelor missionary, married my widowed mother. Together they served the Lord as missionaries in Haiti and Jamaica. I appreciated especially as a 16 year old, my summer with them in Haiti. He went all out to be a father to my brother and me, taking us fishing, hunting, horse back riding and teaching me to drive. How well I remember going to Convention with him out in the villages of the southern peninsula of Haiti and seeing hundreds of Haitians sitting on bamboo poles for hours and hours in large palm leaf covered “auditoriums” without walls, singing joyfully in Creole while I played the portable pump organ and listened to Ken and Haitian preachers preach the Gospel. It was an experience I will never forget.
Elmer V. Thompson, founder of the West Indies Mission ( now World Team) was one of the most godly men I ever met. He directed the mission under which my parent’s served. It was an awesome experience to just be in the presence of this man who so loved Christ and His Word. He taught that the most effective missionary effort was that of training nationals to establish their own indigenous, self-supporting, self-propagating churches. Several Bible Institutes were established by WIM. to train the future pastors. Today, over sixty years later, the Haitian evangelical church in the southern peninsula is strong and thriving under the leadership of Haitian pastors.
Recently I noted on the internet that the name West Indies Mission has been taken over by the Mormons.
L.E. Maxwell was the founder and president of Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada. I spent my sophomore year of high school in the Academy associated with the Institute. L.E. Maxwell unfolded the truth of Romans 6-8 to us, the truth of how to live the crucified life. See my article on VICTORY in my Comments on this web site.
Miss Pamela Reeves was my Bible teacher at Culter Academy, one of the first Christian high schools in Los Angeles, California. Interestingly, Miss Reeves taught in her Bible teaching the truth of the crucified life which I had first understood at Prairie. Our graduating high school class of ’52 sang as our class song, “Not I, But Christ” taken from Galatians 2:20.
Bob Jones Sr., founder of Bob Jones University, was the primary chapel speaker when I was a student there. This gentle giant of a man had a soft-spoken heavy Alabama drawl that took me awhile to fully understand. For four years I sat under his daily conversational style of preaching which centered on loving Christ and His Word and character building. It was bound to make a lasting impact on my character and on my own style of preaching. One of the truths he taught us was ” If one knows how to live, he can make a living.”
Evangelist John R. Rice I first heard him at Bible Conferences at Bob Jones University and was touched by his earnest, sound, logical preaching. I devoured his weekly paper Sword of the Lord, and a number of his books. Recently, I found his biography on this web site http://www.earnestlycontending.com/KT/bios/johnrrice.html
Since he went Home to Heaven, I have been dissapointed that the Sword of the Lord has taken a KJV Only position, a position he rejected in his book, Our God Breathed Book-The Bible.
Theodore Epp In the early years of our marriage, my wife and I often enjoyed hearing the daily Back to the Bible radio broadcast as Brother Epp taught God’s Word and as the radio choir sang of the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
I think of a deacon, Al, in the Baptist Church where Pat and I were married in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. He was a mechanic who worked on my car. He had the nerve to tell me, a young preacher who was going to set the world on fire, that I was like a young colt that needed to be broken. He told me that when I was broken God would use me. Wow! Thanks Al, for telling me what I needed to hear.
Patricia Gumm my sweet heart and wife of over fifty-seven years, has been a quiet steadying influence in my life. I thank God for this Godly woman who has loved me and been such a wonderful mother to our three children. What patience it must take for her to sit under the preaching of the same preacher for over 55 years, knowing all his faults; and, perhaps even more difficult, to live with one whose temperament is so opposite hers. I too am learning patience and selflessness as I have learned to help ease her life of back pain that has continued now for over forty years. From our courtship days, through the years we have shared a love for Christ and a basic philosophy of life, as well as a deepening love and understanding for one another.
In the years I have been in the ministry, books have been my constant companion. Though many have taught me; the authors who have influenced me most are: Oswald J. Smith, John R. Rice, L.E. Maxwell, H.A. Ironside, Donald Grey Barnhouse, G. Campbell Morgan, Alan Redpath, Martyn Lloyd Jones, J. Vernon McGee and John MacArthur. One thing in common about all of these influential people in my life is that Christ was the main focus of their lives.
To those of you who pity us and think life has been boring for us, let me assure you that life has been anything but boring. Life has been a continuous adventure and romance with God and with each other. I pity the poor soul whose life is so boring that he has to live in a fantasy world to make life bearable.
Walking with Jesus is an adventure, but this is only the preface. Life in Heaven is going to be an eternal adventure. If you are living a boring existence, admit that you have been living for yourself and sin has ruined your life. Receive Christ as your Saviour and surrender yourself to His Lordship. Get into the Word. Get involved in a church where Christ is loved and where Bible preaching is central. An adventure awaits you now in this life and in eternity.
Recently, I was thinking back to one of the most influential moments of my life.
For most of the six years I lived in Westervelt Home for Missionary Children in Batesburg, S.C. from 1944 through 1949 each morning we recited in prayer together at the breakfast tables Psalm 19:14.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Each evening at supper we recited Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”