"Those were the last words he ever spoke," he said simply as he finished. "Go back and tell Sister I'll be there."
He turned to me, with the tears still streaming down his face, and his hands half outstretched, as much as to say: "And now I've told you!"
He had. And he told the audience, too.
It is doubtful that there was a dry eye in the Temple or a throat without a catch in it. Without knowing it, the sailor stirred every heart in that huge assembly.
As I looked around the building, unable for the moment to control my own voice, it was evident that his simple recounting of that incident from real life moved the people more than a sermon could do. Anything that might be added to what he said would only take from it.
White handkerchiefs were aflutter all over the Temple, wiping away tears, as the sailor returned to his seat on the steps leading to the platform. It was difficult to go on in that moment.
How could one at such a time make the announcements or ask for the offering? Once more the sailor stepped up to the platform and asked if he could sing a chorus.
His clear, unaffected baritone voice rang out over the audience almost as though it were the voice of the boy who had perished:
"Tell Mother I'll be there/ heaven's joy with her to share/ Oh, tell my darling mother I'll be there."
Then he asked the congregation to join him in that chorus. They tried, but never have I heard singing like that.
The song was not sung, it was sobbed out of hearts melted by that simple story. It was sobbed out by mother hearts, still burdened for a boy who was out in the world, or by the softened heart of many a boy who remembered how his mother prayed for him before she was called home.
While they repeated the song once more, softly, to the accompaniment of the muffled organ, I gave the altar call. There was no raising of hands or bowed heads and closed eyes. That sincere, straightforward tale took the entire distance at a bound.
"Come on," I said. "Let's all be there-come on!" Ah, how they came! In an instant, the aisles were overflowing, and the altar space was jammed.
In that one evening, at that one service, that young sailor did the work of a lifetime. And the one who died, by his coming, brought hundreds more.
Seldom have I seen an entire audience moved as those thousands of people were moved that evening. Throughout a lifetime loaded with big moments, I never saw or heard of a night into which more drama was crowded than that night when the sailor boy turned evangelist.
Aimee Semple McPherson
Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944) ranks as one of the most influential church leaders and evangelists in history. She is best-known as the founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (ICFG) and senior pastor of Angelus Temple in Los Angeles.
Born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy, she grew up near Ingersoll, Ontario, and was converted at 17 under the preaching of evangelist Robert Semple, who became her husband. The Semples served as missionaries in Hong Kong, until Robert's death in 1910.
Aimee left China for the United States with her infant daughter, Roberta Star. A second marriage to businessman Harold McPherson produced a son, Rolf. Although she attempted to settle into the role of homemaker, her calling to ministry would not abate. Even before her marriage ended in divorce, Aimee began an itinerant evangelistic ministry that would first take her up and down the Atlantic coast of the United States, then nationwide.
She established her base in Los Angeles in 1918. Then in 1922, she received a vision, based on Ezekiel 1, that became the foundation for the Foursquare Gospel movement. Angelus Temple, with its 5,300 seats, was officially dedicated in 1923.
Aimee Semple McPherson, "Sister Aimee," as she was known, was a defender of a woman's right to preach. She was also considered a forerunner in religious broadcasting because of her effective use of radio. Today, the movement she started has grown to include millions of members worldwide. The Foursquare Church continues to carry out the vision on which it was founded.
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