Feature

The Walking Stick

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Life in the Great Forest could be brutal. Even more than the crocodile, the silent hippopotamus attacked without warning. The leopard’s razor-sharp claws could reduce a person to shreds in seconds. Deadly snakes lurked in the treetops. Columns of army ants a billion strong marched voraciously along the forest floor. The people needed help in a land so forbidding! Their terror-ruled lives were lived in subjection to the Guardian of the Great Forest.

In early 1933 the C&MA sent Don Fairley and Joe Nicholson to survey this dark realm of Gabon, then part of French Equatorial Africa. Up rivers, over scorching plains, through steep mountain passes and back again, they saw the bondage for themselves. Amazingly, the hearts of the people were already calling for God. One great chief begged them to settle there and teach his people. Another presented a piece of land and quite expected them to stop that day and begin to minister.

At Chief Akumi’s village they were ushered into a huge open meeting house. The chief, pointing his walking stick at Don, said, “We want to learn about the Great Spirit that sent you to us. We will give you land and even build you houses.” The walking stick, which he held like a scepter, was intricately carved, with bands of brass, copper and iron around it at different levels. When asked, he recounted the history of his ancestors, beginning at the carvings on the lowest level of the stick. Then, to their surprise, the chief handed them the stick, and said, “Take this to your land and tell them that Chief Akumi’s stick is calling for you to return.”

Back in the United States to raise money for this new venture, Don and his wife were told they would need at least $5,000. The United States was in the third year of the Great Depression, and the C&MA Board of Managers had cut all missionary allowances by 40 percent. But what was $5,000 to the Creator of the Universe? Did He not own the cattle on a thousand hills? Undaunted, they spoke at churches across the country, recounting the story of Chief Akumi’s walking stick hundreds of times.

With two weeks of furlough remaining, the total given for the project had come to only $2,000. At the Gospel Tabernacle in Omaha, Nebraska, Don held Chief Akumi’s stick before the congregation and appealed one last time for the people of Gabon. Then William Christie, missionary statesman and treasurer of the C&MA, followed Don’s appeal so passionately that people began to weep. When the collection plates were passed, the total came to more than $3,000!

Before returning to Gabon, Don had a jeweler add a one-inch band of silver to the top of the stick, engraved with John 3:16 in French: “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Two years from the time he had first visited Chief Akumi’s village, Don was back. When he reached into his bag and pulled out the walking stick, the chief grabbed Don’s hands and jumped up and down, laughing and shouting to his people. Then he noticed the new band. “What does it say?” he asked in surprise. When Don recited the verse in the tribal language, the chief exclaimed, “You must travel to all of our villages and teach our people about this Jesus!”

Since that extraordinary beginning, God has done an amazing work. Today, 75 years later, the Alliance in Gabon has 200 organized churches, 195 unorganized groups, 102 ordained ministers, 15,000 baptized members and 27,000 inclusive members.

—Condensed by Patty McGarvey from Beyond the Mist by David Thompson.

The story by Don Fairley himself can be found online in the January 20, 1934, issue of The Alliance Weekly at http://archives.cmalliance.org.

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