William Skates ~ Wisconsin, USA

My conversion and call to evangelism service.

Edenderry Village near Belfast, Northern Ireland, was the place where I was brought up. It comprised a linen weaving factory, a small grocery store and a Gospel Hall, along with almost 100 row houses. With no through traffic, the village had a rural character and it is a special place in the world which will always be dear to me. Father and mother were both saved and in a local assembly of Christians from their teenage years, so the home in which I was raised was marked by a godly atmosphere and the assembly was central to family activities. Morning meeting, Sunday School and gospel meeting were standard on Lord's Day and between meetings we were permitted to go for a walk through the fields or along the banks of the river Lagan on which the village was built.

Eternal things were impressed upon our minds from earliest days and our need for salvation was brought before us with sincerity and weight, both at home and in the meetings we attended. Consequently, I cannot remember a time when I did not want to be saved, to a greater or lesser degree. The imminent rapture of the church was a truth from Scripture that troubled me, but thoughts such as these did not stay long and life continued. Although not saved, my brother, sister and I would often sing ourselves to sleep with hymns and choruses or we might have been found after "lights out" reading a Sunday school prize book under the bed clothes using a flashlight.

Preachers would regularly come to our house for some lunch after gospel meetings and mother's shortbread and pavlova cake would be accompanied with discussion of the Scriptures and hymn singing. "We're marching to Zion," was my favorite, although I was not saved. The reality of death was learned when my two grandmothers were called home in 1968, I was then just 8 years old. However, it was not until the first day of October 1973 when my sister Elizabeth was saved that I became stirred in my soul and longed to be saved also.

On Lord's Day October 7,1973 the late Mr. Eddie Fairfield came to Edenderry at the start of a week of ministry meetings. That first Sunday night was a solemn gospel meeting. Weight and power characterized our late, esteemed brother's message. I went home convicted and sobered. "Righteous judgment from God was what I deserved and should receive," was my honest confession of heart. Getting alone upstairs, it came to me like this: "William you are a sinner who deserves to be in hell," and then I thought of Christ, "He came to save sinners," then very simply I understood, "He was punished for me so I don't have to be punished - that means I'm saved!"

I did not tell anyone for a week but when my friend Graham Maze professed the following Lord's Day, I had to tell it too. There was much joy that night in Edenderry. Soon we were baptized and came into the assembly. School and college years came and passed by. When my wife Ethna and I were married in 1984, we made our home in Bangor, Northern Ireland and were in fellowship in the Ebenezer Assembly. As the years were passing, invariably Lord's Day evenings would find me going with older brethren to the various halls around the Province to preach the gospel. My father, and others, often took me with them and gave encouragement when appropriate.

During the summer of 1988 my wife and I visited Vancouver, British Columbia, in western Canada for a holiday. I took the opportunity to go and talk with some property valuers/appraisers in the city (the profession I was in). Although we were not determined to emigrate, our minds were open and a job offer was necessary for such a move. The last interview. was with an expatriate Englishman. Being early for the interview, I sat down beside a fountain in a plaza to commit issue to the Lord. Opening my eyes I watched the water cascading down and with freshness Psalm1:3 flooded into my mind. "And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water ... and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Reinforced with this assurance from the Word, I sat the interview. After some time, with this verse before me, I inquired about work and to my surprise Mr. Nilsen offered me a job if I could get through immigration.

After returning to Northern Ireland we submitted an application to the Canadian authorities and in due course the way opened up. We found at each stage of the process an increasing willingness to go to Canada, but at this time my father's health was deteriorating. He had heart surgery six years previously and now the old problem was flaring up. The waiting list was a year long and we could see he would not last another year. How could I leave for Canada with father in such a state and mother in the middle of renovating their house? Before the Lord one December night, grace was given to resolve to do what seemed to us to be His will, to go, and leave the consequences with Him. Amazingly, next day the visas arrived, although they were not expected until February. Father also had his operation early January, and made a good recovery, being spared to us for five and a half more years.

Selling our home proved to be a slow process in a difficult market. However, with suitable encouragement from the Scriptures, we were assured again of the leading hand of God upon us. We arrived in Vancouver with our two year old son in May 1989. We came into fellowship in the Woodland Drive assembly and I started work with the man who offered the job. In the fall of that year, Mr. Tom Bentley was in the city and one day at lunch, he asked me if I had any aspirations for the Lord's work. I replied that I saw my work to be a help in the assemblies in Vancouver and to gain the confidence of my brethren. However, a seed was planted.

In the fall of 1991, Mr. Ward (Wisconsin) visited the city. Again, at lunch we talked about an exercise I had for some gospel meetings in Vancouver, when he said "you know, you should think of Wisconsin." Impossible to emigrate again, I thought, and tried to dismiss it from my mind, but another seed was planted. Wesley Barr (a solid brother) and I, had a couple of series in the gospel in 1992 and 1993, and although we were encouraged, openings for such work were few and far between in Vancouver. Meanwhile, correspondence with Mr. Ward told of blessing, opportunity and a great shortage of workers in the American Mid West. My interest in Wisconsin began to deepen to an exercise to try to help. Just at this time (March 1993) a letter from an esteemed servant of the Lord, Mr. Tom Bentley, set out in clear language his belief it was "time to get at it while you are young!" Little did he know the tremendous impact that had on my exercise of heart. The major obstacle before us was "impossible" immigration procedures to the States. But God is able.

A few days later I saw a newspaper advertisement for an immigration program to the States, so I made inquiry and applied. It was an abbreviated process for immigrants from certain countries, N. Ireland included. The documents indicated that if we had not heard anything from them by the end of June, we were not selected. June came and went. Nothing! Burden of heart and confusion of face was mine. So once more I left it with God in prayer. Before turning out the light that night I read Psalm143. Here was the burden of my heart reflected in the word. Verse 8 fairly stood out, "cause me to hear Thy loving kindness in the morning." Friday July 9, came and went, nothing! Early next week a letter arrived from Mr. Ward, post marked July 9th! "A great need still exists in Wisconsin, where are the workers?" So it seemed to us that the Lord was leading still. But what about immigration? It wasn't until October that the big white envelope arrived confirming we had been selected and we should get our papers in order. I visited Wisconsin early 1994 and after that spoke to the brethren in our home assembly (Woodland Drive, Vancouver) about our exercise. In due course our visas came through and we were commended by the Woodland assembly, with endorsement from the Fairview assembly. The Lord has since been pleased to confirm the work in these parts with His blessing. We are at best "unprofitable servants" but we look up and on to the coming day, when we may hear that "well done" from the Master. MARANATHA.