Sometime last year I read with great interest NY Times columnist David Pogue’s article on productivity secrets.
As someone who has been given a very specific commission from the Lord that often overwhelms me, I’m always seeking ways to save time and be more productive.
When I was in my 20s, and God was preparing me for what was ahead, I remember reading a quote by Watchman Nee’s wife where she said, “My husband doesn’t waste a minute.”
Those words stuck, and they’ve been with me ever since.
The part of Progue’s article that arrested me was the line, “I know where everything is.”
My inward response was, “I have no idea where everything is!”
So recently, I began a project of sorting through and organizing all of my files, stacks of papers, bins (filled with articles, letters, interviews, book excerpts, reviews, etc.) as well as my computer PDFs, emails, webpage clips, Internet articles, important blog posts, etc. The above is dated from 1986 to the present.
The task has been monumental. I’ve been at it for about a month now, and I can detect a ray of light breaking through at the end of the tunnel.
During the process, I found stacks of personal letters written to me, some typed and some handwritten. Some of them have a copy of the letter I had written initially, then the response stapled to it. These correspondences go way back to the 80s. I had forgotten so many of them, so it was neat to go back and review some of them.
I told one of my close friends about the letters, and he suggested that I blog about it. He felt that some of you would find them of interest.
Hence this post.
As a preface to what follows, ever since I stepped out of the organized church in 1988, I was driven to find out who else was meeting outside the religious system. And I wanted to discover what they had learned along the way. I also desired to get more personally in touch with those who blazed the way for people like myself.
Here is a sampling of the letters I found in my study:
- A large stack of correspondences with Stephen Kaung dating back to the early 90s. Kaung was a disciple of and coworker with Watchman Nee. Nee profoundly influenced me as a young man. These letters are all hand-written by Stephen. They are unique in that they are written in English, but they look Chinese!
- A stack of letters from DeVern Fromke. DeVern used to work with T. Austin-Sparks. Fromke wrote the groundbreaking book, Ultimate Intention A classic on God’s eternal purpose. I’m still in touch with Kaung and Fromke, though they are in their 90s and 80s respectively. I thank God for the deposit they’ve given me over the years.
- A folder called T. Austin-Sparks. Since Sparks passed away well before I began my spiritual journey, this file contains correspondences with some of the people who knew him personally. One in particular is from John Patterson whose father (George Patterson) worked closely with Sparks. In one of his long letters to me, John writes this about Watchman Nee’s visit to Honor Oak (the place where Sparks’ ministered most of his life):
“Watchman Nee first came into our lives in, I think, 1934. I know because as a small boy, it was I who first opened the door at Honor Oak to this unknown Chinaman! . . . He returned for a much longer visit in 1938-9, and ministered frequently at Honor Oak. His best-known book, The Normal Christian Life, was compiled from sermon notes and articles of Nee’s by T. Austin-Sparks’ son-in-law Angus Kinnear, and I can actually remember Nee preaching some parts of the book at Honor Oack.”
Is that not incredible?! This lengthy letter is one of my most precious.
My friend Len Sweet says, “One of the worst things that can be said of anyone is that greatness passed them by, and they did not recognize it.” In my own journey through life, I’ve observed this to be true. And as is the case in the life of Jesus, greatness is not only often unrecognized, but it’s sometimes mistreated. John Patterson knew he was in the presence of greatness even before it was evidenced that God’s favor was on Nee’s life in a special way.
I would have given my teeth to hear Nee live. What a treasure I have in these letters.
- I also had correspondence with Angus Kinnear who wrote Nee’s biography The Story of Watchman Nee: Against the Tide. Kinnear also translated many of Nee’s books into English.
- I found a stack of letters from George Moreshead. George was a friend of mine. A choice vessel of the Lord. As a young man, he sat under the ministry of Mary McDonough who worked with A. B. Simpson. McDonough influenced both Watchman Nee and T. Austin-Sparks. Mary’s God’s plan of redemption: A comprehensive outline of Bible studies topically arranged is an incredible work. Later, George and two other men who personally benefited from McDonough’s profound ministry as young men created a publishing house that released rare books by Sparks and others. I had the honor of not only meeting George before he passed away, but God gave me the privilege of spending time with Scotty in his home before he went to be with Jesus. Heavenly treasures in earthen vessels.
- I found a stack of letters from two of T. Austin-Sparks’ biographers. One of them is a man who knew him well.
- I found a letter from George Warnock, a hidden vessel used by God dating back to the revival of 1948 and beyond. (George was born in 1917; I believe he is still alive.)
- I found letters from Richard Akeroyd who was a son-in-law of T. Austin-Sparks. In the late 90s, I met Spark’s daughter, the wife of Akeroyd in Kentucky.
- I found one of the first letters I ever received from Jon Zens back in the 90s, before we became good friends and coworkers. Zens, of course, is a pioneer of the house church movement in the United States.
- I found personal correspondences with Robert Banks, who I regard as one of the best scholars of our time on church and church issues. Banks wrote the seminal book Paul’s Idea of Community. It’s one of my “must have” book selections.
- I found personal letters dated in the 90s from people who were very involved in the house church movement (a la, the “Jesus Movement”) during its first wave in the United States in the 1970s as well as others from influencers of the second wave in the early 90s, many of whom are friends that I’m still in touch with today. I also had the rare privilege of meeting the man who is often credited with founding the Jesus Movement, Hubert Lindsay (a.k.a. “Holy Hubert”) shortly before his death. And I found an old letter from one of his coworkers telling me where I could find him.
- Personal letters from David Wilkerson, David Wilkerson’s mother, Melody Green (Keith Green’s wife), and others.
I think all of the above reflects the early influences that have shaped my life and ministry. And it underscores my desire to learn from those who have gone before me.
As I have often said, we cannot understand the present unless we learn from the past.
Someday I’ll share the archive system I’m creating. And I’d love to get your input on it as I can tweak it as needed.
My goal? I want to be able to say with Progue, “I know where everything is.”