Have Bible, will travel
An extract from Peter Anderson's biography
For many years Peter Anderson has been used by God as an evangelist. Here he tells us of his conversion while on national service in the British Army.
On arrival in Singapore I found myself in an office looking after the pay of Gurkha soldiers. Also in the office was a soldier I recognised from basic training in Devizes. I knew that he was a Christian, but as he slept in a different barrack room from me I could ‘escape’ from him out of office hours.
David was persistent and sought at work to build up a relationship through our joint love of sport. The Gurkhas were mad about hockey, and we quickly learned to play this ‘ankle bruising’ game and to make friends with these very tough soldiers.
‘Not for me’
David sought to share his faith with me on many occasions but must have been in despair at my refusals to go with him to meet some of his Christian friends at the church he attended. He challenged me to read the New Testament for myself, but I refused, though I could see how much his faith meant to him. It was not for me.
After six months in Singapore, I was due for two weeks’ leave so planned to elude Christian witness! I chose to go to the army leave centre on the Island of Penang off the North Coast of Malaysia. At this time we were fighting a war with Communist guerrillas who were hiding in the jungles of Malaysia. Our train journey from Singapore to Penang took us through this area, so we had an armed guard of Royal Marine Commandos, and we also were armed in case the train was attacked. 24 hours later we arrived at the town of Butterworth and from there across to the island.
Bible at the cinema
The army leave centre was very comfortable and provided all that we needed for rest and relaxation. While swimming one morning I bumped into ‘another soldier’ and apologised, only to find that I had actually bumped into a large turtle! There were many fascinating things to see and do. On my agenda was a visit to the snake temple! In the capital Georgetown, there were dozens of restaurants, a cinema, nightclubs and the ‘Happy World Park’. Here you could buy vouchers and hand them to one of the ‘hostesses’, who would then have to dance with you. Not a lot of fun for me as I have ‘two left feet’.
One very hot afternoon, I walked into a cinema where it was cool, without first looking to see the title of the film being shown. It was Samson and Delilah, a Bible story I knew well, which told of the disaster that will follow someone who knows the truth but ignores it. Each time I went into Georgetown, the bus went pass the Penang Gospel Hall with a gospel text on the notice board.
Two weeks later I returned to Singapore, to the office, and, of course, to David. It was the Easter weekend. On Sunday evening David found me feeling miserable. I had spent all my money while on leave. He asked me about the leave centre, and then invited me to come with him to a youth rally at his church on Easter Monday morning. He added as ‘bait’ that after the rally he would take me out to the ‘Stamford Grill,’ one of the best steak houses in the city at that time. I’d once looked at the prices on the menu and hurried past.
Because I was so fed up I said yes, thinking that I don’t have to listen to the speaker, but will enjoy the steak! I didn’t realise that David had enlisted some of his Chinese friends to pray for me. Those prayers, combined with 18 years of prayer by my mother, were about to be answered.
It was eight months since I had entered a church, and I was amazed to see that it was packed. We managed to find two seats on the back row, but I felt very conspicuous as it seemed that we were the only non-Chinese there that Monday morning. The preacher was a Dr. Benjamin Chew. In one sense he said nothing that I had not heard before, but this time it seemed different. The Holy Spirit was convicting me of my sin, and Christ was telling me to stop running away from his love. At the end of that service, during the singing of the final hymn I cried out to God in my heart to save me and to forgive my sin and rebellion.
David kept his promise to take me to the steak house and it was only on our way back to camp that I told him I’d become a Christian. He then told me how his Chinese friends had been praying for me. He helped me tremendously during those early days of my Christian life, encouraging me to read my Bible and to witness in the barrack room. They asked me where I was now going on Sunday mornings, and I was able to explain that I had become a Christian and wanted to meet with other Christians. They never gave me any aggro when they heard this, though there were occasionally some amusing incidents. One night I returned to barracks after lights out, climbed into bed only to find it was full of empty beer bottles!
Through the years I have learned that good foundations laid down early in life will stand you in good stead later. My mother laid those foundations, now David was underlining them. He also introduced me to two lovely Asian Christians who were to greatly influence me as they showed me the importance of the Bible in my life. They also taught me that, though I was a new Christian, I was called to take the gospel to others
My first Asian mentor was an Indian whose name was G.D. James, an evangelist with the Brethren. His influence stretched to many other Asian countries. Many weekends I stayed in his flat, little knowing that while I was there he and his wife slept on the floor while I slept in their bed!
I will never forget his advice to me concerning Bible reading. When you read your Bible, ask yourself three questions. What does it say? What does it mean? How does it apply to me? You can find out what it means very easily — read it. Let its message soak into your heart and life. He also told me to try and memorise verses of the Bible. Write them out on small cards and stick them in your uniform pockets.
Some parts of the Bible may be easy to understand, but others are not so easy, so you need to ask the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible to help you in this department. Don’t worry if sometimes you do not get the whole meaning at first reading, keep on, and the next time you read that verse or chapter it will be clearer.
He then underlined to me just how important it is to ask yourself, ‘How does what I have just read apply to me?’ 50 years later I still use these questions and find them so helpful.
My second mentor was a young Chinese evangelist, Robert Tan. He was only a few years older than me, and from the word go he encouraged me to get involved in evangelism. I went with him on some of his evangelistic ventures and slowly but surely I found myself involved on a personal level with preaching the gospel in a simple way. The Gospel Hall in the city had a Sunday night after-church evangelistic service and, as many servicemen would pass the hall, they could be invited to come in for tea or coffee and a mound of sandwiches. As those giving out the invitations to come into the hall were mainly very attractive Chinese young ladies, there was always a good number of servicemen that came into the hall!
I had only been a Christian for about six months when Robert told me that on the first Sunday of the next month I was to be the preacher. I nearly died of fright and spent hours praying and preparing an evangelistic message on the words of Jesus in John 3.36: ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’. Robert introduced me and I lasted all of nine minutes — and had to have three closing hymns to spin out the time! Robert was so encouraging and said that, even though I only spoke for such a short time and quoted yards of Scripture, it was the Word of God and the Holy Spirit could make that Word travel down into the hearts of those who were listening.
At this time there had been a Communist take-over in mainland China and all missionaries had to leave. Many of what was then called the China Inland Mission landed up initially in Singapore, and one of these was a fiery American missionary named Paul Contento. I loved to hear him preach the gospel in Mandarin, even if I could not understand the language. I could feel a sense that God was speaking to his hearers. One day he asked me to come with him down to Chinatown, where on a Saturday night we would give out large Chinese poster tracts in the market.
Some of the young people from the church who came out with us thought that they might be able to teach me to sing a simple gospel song in Chinese. The words were very easy: ‘Come to Jesus, come to Jesus, come to Jesus just now. Come to Jesus, come to Jesus just now. Come to Jesus just now’.
I practised over and over again, both in private and to the young people of the church, until they thought that it was just right. Down to the market we went and, as someone started to play the simple melody on the little pedal organ, my gospel singing career started. Alas, it also finished quickly. Yes, I drew a crowd of amused people, but Chinese is a tonal language and I had got it wrong. Instead of singing, ‘Come to Jesus just now’, I was singing, ‘Come to Jesus for salted vegetables’. I drew a crowd, as they wanted their share, and my singing career was at an end!
There was another occasion that I will not forget. At the start of the Korean war, many of our army units on their way to the warfront stopped off in Singapore for further training. Most of these soldiers were National Servicemen — possibly feeling very scared at what awaited them. There was a NAAFI club just across the road from the famous Raffles Hotel. Robert Tan and some of the young people told me that on Saturday night we would go near the NAFFI club and have an open air preaching of the gospel to the soldiers from the Gloucester Regiment as they came out of the club.
When the meeting got under way, Robert turned to me and said, ‘Peter, I want you to speak next, they will listen to you because you are a soldier like they are’. So it was that, with a Bible in my hand and feeling very nervous, I preached the gospel for the first time in the open air. They did listen well as Robert said they would. The regiment went on to Korea and were decimated, most of them never returned alive to the United Kingdom. I have often wondered how many of those young soldiers were hearing the gospel for the first time and many of them for the last time. It certainly impressed upon me how important it was to preach the gospel whenever the opportunity was given.
This article is an edited extract from Peter Anderson’s biography Have Bible, Will Travel, published by Ambassador International, and is used with permission.