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Archie McGilvary, Andy’s lifelong friend, scrawled Andy’s life story of faith in Jesus Christ on pages of spiral notebook paper.  He titled it, “A Twentieth Century Caleb” because like Caleb, when pastor and Bible teacher Andy Telford was 85 years old, in 1980,  he was  “…still wholeheartedly following the Lord.”  (Joshua 14:10 – 14)

Andy Telford was not born into a Christian home, although his parents were good people.  But that’s not enough.

Archie’s notes begin:

“On January 8, 1881,  Thomas Telford and Rose Clark were united in marriage in Ballymena, Ireland.  The wedding ceremony was one of simplicity in every detail.

Life was rough and rugged for the young couple.  Thomas felt the urge to go west and seek his fortune in the new world, in Canada.  They settled on a farm on the north shore of Lake Ontario near Bronte.

Thomas and Rose had five children; four boys and a girl.  They lived frugally.  There was little social life in the home.   Mr. Telford was a strict disciplinarian.  He wouldn’t know the meaning of the word, but he saw to it that his children obeyed his every word.   Through the years, the Telfords took in 16  orphan children from the Barnardo Home in Toronto.  Thomas never allowed anyone to smoke, drink, play cards or to participate in any of the ‘ways of the world.’  Unnecessary chores were prohibited on the farm on Sundays.  He believed that if such things were permitted in his home, that the judgment of God would fall upon them for indulging in such sins.

Of their five children, a set of twins, Hugh and Andrew, were born, in 1895.  Without the pursuit of pleasure and frivolous pastimes, the main activity on the Telford farm was work and lots of it.  The twin boys worked hard, filling many a long day behind a plough.

There were Bibles in the home, but nobody ever read them, and grace was never spoken at the table.  Rose did have her children recite the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime.  They attended the Appleby School and were taught by the same teacher.   The 10 Commandments were painted on the wall behind the teacher’s desk.   Every Friday at noon, the students would stand at attention and quote them.

Andy  started school at the age of 7 and stopped at age 13.  For six years he faithfully quoted the Decalogue.  He knew what they meant; they were instilled in his mind and heart.  He had a deep sense of guilt whenever he did something wrong.  Each night he would kneel at his bedside and say the Lord’s Prayer.  He had a comforting feeling that this was a kind of covering for his sin, but the next day he would go about his work and repeat his lying and cheating.

Although Andy had very little schooling, he had great ability in handling the various jobs on a farm.  He was hired as a foreman to direct the business of a large farm of 1,000 acres, with 50 workers.  It was his responsibility to make the assignments of the work to be done each day and then drive over that acreage to see that all the work was cared for.  He enjoyed it.

In 1917,  Andy and his twin Hughie bought a horse, and a month later, Andy went back to see the man he purchased it from.  He was not home that evening, but his wife and her mother, visiting from Toronto, were.

During the visit, Andy said something about another man; that he was no good.  The lady from Toronto said to him, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Andy Telford.”

“Don’t you know, young man, that none of us are any good?”

He said to himself,  “She doesn’t know me.  I don’t smoke, drink, play cards or run around.  I say the Lord’s Prayer every night.  I think I’m pretty good.”

He said to the lady, “Can you prove that?”

She went into her room and brought out a Bible, opening it to Romans 3:10.  Putting her finger on the verse she said, “Can you read that?”

He said, “Yes.”  And read,  “There is none righteous, no not one.”  He closed the Book and handed it back to her.

“I guess you’re right.”

As he left the home that night she said, “I’ll be praying for you.”

On Thursday night  Andy had to go to the blacksmith’s shop to get some work done.  The shop was located in Bronte about 3 miles from where he lived.  The blacksmith was a Christian man.  He told Andy he was going to the Prayer Meeting over at the Baptist church.  It was a small church seating about 60 or 70 people.  He invited Andy to go with him.  That night there was an older man visiting from Toronto.  He brought a devotional message.  During the course of his remarks he mentioned the passing of his wife.  After the meeting was over, Andy went to him and expressed his sympathy at the loss of his wife and companion.

The man said to him, “Do you attend Sunday School here?”

Andy said, “No,” and explained to him about all the work they had to do on the farm.  They had 30 grazing cattle and every Sunday morning they had to salt those cattle.  Then on another farm they had a number of horses that had to be attended to in the afternoon.

The man replied, “Well, that really isn’t important.  I want to ask you another question, Do you know that you are a sinner?”

At the age of 22,  Andy bowed his head and began to cry, at the consequences of his sin.  The Christian gentleman asked Andy if he had a Bible.

“Yes I do.”

“Then go home and read John chapter 5 verse 24 and I’ll pray for you.  What’s your address?”

Burdened with his sin and guilt, he went out behind the church and sobbed his heart out.  He was so broken up that he was ashamed to go back to the blacksmith’s shop where he had tied his horse.  He finally got control of himself.   He let the horse walk all the way home that night and sobbed from the depths of his heart, “O God, I’m bad, I want to be good.”  That’s all he knew.  No one had ever talked to him about Christ or Christianity or the Bible in all his life.  He had never heard a gospel sermon, but he knew he was not right before God.

That Saturday he received a letter from the man who had spoken to him at the Baptist church.

“Dear Andy,

I was pleased to meet you last night and the more so when I found that you wanted to settle matters with God.  In Jesus Christ alone can this be done. “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  Read John 5:24 and Romans 3:9 to the close of the chapter and ask God to show you the great meaning for yourself.

May you have the greatest possession; the pardon and promise of God.  Do not fail to confess Him before men.  Read Romans 10:17.  I have been a follower of Christ 53 years.  There is real fighting but sure victory and the promised presence of Christ.

I will never forget you and will pray for you.

Yours in the mercy of Christ,

E. Hooper”

All day Andy pondered the contents of that letter.  Sunday  morning he decided that the question must be settled once and for all.

Taking the letter and a Bible he went upstairs to his bedroom and locked the door.  Spreading the letter before him, he opened the Bible to  John 5:24.

“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life.  They will never be condemned for their sins, but have already passed from death into life.”

He turned to Romans 3, reading from verse 9 till the end of the chapter.

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous.  He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.  For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin.  People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood… he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”  (vs.23 – 26)

He knelt beside a chair and gave his heart and life to Jesus Christ.

He believed the Word of God.  The burden of his sin was gone.  Joy filled his soul.  He went downstairs and went out behind the barn and met a neighbor.  The neighbor asked, “Good morning, Andy.  How are you?”

There was his first opportunity to confess Christ.  “I’m fine.  I’ve just been saved, born again up in my bedroom.”

The neighbor said, “Well, I only hope that you’ll hold out.”

“Hold out?  I’ve just fallen in!  I’ve been born again!”

With a heart overflowing with the love of God, he began to cry tears of gratitude.

Thrilled with the certainty of his conversion, late on that same night, he got up and headed his horse and the buggy into Bronte.  He just had to tell some folks what had happened to him.

The first home he went to was the Town Magistrate.   Andy told him how the sentence of death had been lifted and how a guilty sinner had been pardoned.

The next midnight call was the blacksmith’s house.  He must have rejoiced , even at that late hour, to know that his invitation to a prayer meeting had played some part in the salvation of Andy Telford.

By now it was 1:30 a.m.  There was one more call to make.  He made his way over to the Post Office and wakened the Post Master.  As the Post Master heard the pounding on his door he must have wondered what great emergency had happened in  town.  No better news ever came in the mail than the good news of the Gospel.  It had brought another soul to the Savior.  The Post Master attended the little Methodist church.  Andy asked him if he could come to his Sunday School next Sunday afternoon and tell the boys and girls about his conversion.  This experience brought joy to his heart.

On Thursday night Andy went to the Prayer Meeting at the Baptist church and told his story.  Those early days of his new found life as a Christian were filled with the joy and blessing of witnessing for his Lord.  He faithfully attended the prayer meetings and services at the Baptist church.

He invited some of the young people at church to help him share the Gospel on a street corner in the center of town.  When he arrived at the arranged spot after the service, no one was there.   Undaunted, Andy stood alone and proclaimed the Good News to all the church members as they wended their way home from the churches.

Witnessing to strangers is one thing, but doing so in the home is another matter.   Even here, Andy wasn’t ashamed.

Later that week, a Salvation Army officer from Hamilton visited the Telford farm.   In the past, Andy’s father had given contributions to the work of the Salvation Army.  On this particular day the officer said to Thomas, “Mr. Telford, are you a Christian?”

“No, but my boy Andy is!  He reads his Bible, prays and says grace at the table.”

Archie’s story about his friend Andy, will continue … in another chapter.  (Bride and groom Andy and Erie May, seated, behind them, Thomas, sister ? and twin brother Hugh.)

 

After I read Archie’s story to my Uncle Tommy, named after his grandfather Thomas, he added the following:

 

“When I was grown up, Dad took me back to the farm where he had grown up in Bronte to visit his twin brother Hugh.  Dad wanted to share the Gospel, one more time, with Hugh, now in poor health.  It was a cordial visit, including lunch and a tour around the old farmhouse.  As we were walking down the front steps, Dad said to his brother,

“Hughie, God loves us and sent his Son to take our sin away, to forgive us and give us eternal life.  He’s given me a grand gift and I want that for you, too.”

Hugh mumbled something about not needing that.

“Well it was good to see you, Hugh,”  Dad said, with a warm handshake.  It was the last time he saw his brother.

“Thanks for showing us around,”  I said.   “Take it easy.”

Dad and I turned and walked back down the farmhouse path to the front gate.

It was the only time I saw Dad cry.”

                                                         “Oh the joy of those whose sins are forgiven.”  Psalm 32

 

 

“Most glorious Lord of Life, that on this day, didst make Thy triumph over death and sin…”   Edmund Spenser

I adore the fresh greens, pussy willow and flowers of spring.  On Easter Sunday, churches celebrate Jesus’ resurrection after his death on the cross with some of these same decorations.  But our joy is grounded in a more powerful reality than the prettiness of a new season.

We worship a Savior who conquered death.  Climbs out of his own tomb!  In his hand, the banner of a Victor.  Piero della Francesca captures these truths in his fresco of the Resurrection.  He painted what many art critics call the greatest painting of all time, in 1463, in Sansepolcro, Italy.

I usually think of angels in Resurrection art.  The sleeping soldiers are more common in medieval art, a reference to Matthew 28:13.  Notice the trees on the left look dead, in contrast to the trees on the right, filled with the green of life, just like Jesus.

Crown him the Lord of light,
Who o’er a darkened world
In robes of glory infinite
His fiery flag unfurled.
And bore it raised on high,
In heaven–in earth–beneath,
To all the sign of victory
O’er Satan, sin, and death.

Crown him the Lord of life
Who triumphed o’er the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife
For those he came to save;
His glories now we sing
Who died, and rose on high.
Who died, eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die.

– ‘Crown Him With Many Crowns’, Godfrey Thring, 1851

 

 

“Just tell him you’re Ralph Mitchell’s granddaughter,”  my dad, Allan Mitchell, urged.  Billy Graham was going to speak in chapel at Wheaton College, where I was a junior in 1976.

“Oh Dad,”  I rolled my eyes.  I didn’t think that would mean anything to ‘Uncle Billy,’ as he was lovingly called in our home.

The following day, dutiful daughter that I was, I got into the receiving line after the chapel service, to greet Billy Graham.

“I’m Ralph Mitchell’s granddaughter, Jill,”  I introduced myself.  His face exploded into a sincere smile.

“Ralph Mitchell’s granddaughter!”

Dad was right.  Billy did know my grandfather.

 

Ralph Wylie Allan Mitchell, we called him “Pawpaw,” was born September 10, 1898, at 4 Bruce Street, Dumbarton, Scotland.  He left school at 15 to work in Denny’s Shipyard on the River Leven, a few blocks away.   Herbert Wilson, a fellow shipyard worker, held a Bible class at the Railway Mission.   He heard the Gospel and was born again.

“Do you know the first thing he said after he was converted? ‘I want to win my friends.’  He asked God to give him a hundred souls…he always kept that compassion and zeal to see others brought to Christ; and within a day or two he had already won three of his close buddies to Christ.”  – Billy Graham

Ralph married Lily Sutherland Wilson, the daughter of the man who brought him to Christ.  On the Marriage Register, December 20, 1923, under ‘Profession’, is written, ‘Evangelist.’

They had two children; my father, Ralph Wilson Allan Mitchell, in 1925, and Ruth, born in 1931.  Being Scottish was something Pawpaw never let anyone forget.  Dad and his sister, look handsome in their kilts.

After graduating from Spurgeon’s College in London, Pawpaw pastored churches in London and Birmingham, England.  In 1934, Durham Road Baptist Church in Newcastle on Tyne, a large church in northern England, called him as pastor.  He said yes.  Pawpaw, in clerical collar, standing beside Sir Angus Watson, Member of Parliament for the area, and George Raw, a mining executive.  Pawpaw knew everyone.

When I was in sixth grade, my teacher Mr. McGarry called me to his desk.

“Jill, you’re aggressive,”  he said.

I looked at him, not knowing whether it was a compliment or not.  I didn’t know what “aggressive” meant.  I looked it up in the dictionary.

“Like a warrior,” it said.

That was my grandfather, too.

At  football (soccer) games in jam packed stadiums, he taught Dad a special skill: how to make your way through a crowd.

“Push with your body,”  he advised Dad, after a game, squeezed into a mob.

They both pushed.  The gentleman in front of them turned back with fury.

“Hey!  Who’s %#&@* pushing me?!?!”

Pawpaw immediately turned his head to the people behind him.

“Who’s pushing back there?!”  he cried out, then whispered to Dad, as they moved forward, “That’s how to do it.”

He was unafraid to take the actions that faith in God demands.  When Billy Graham, an unknown evangelist, came to England in 1946 scrounging for places to hold YFC crusades, Pawpaw led his church in hosting Billy at the City Auditorium in Newcastle.

“Well, until the first service he didn’t know what kind of evangelist this would be.  He didn’t know if we would stand on our heads – as he had heard American Evangelists would do, or what we would do.  But he had taken a chance because in prayer he had felt that this was of God.” – Billy Graham.

They were both eager to see God work and ready to do whatever it took to make it happen.

When Billy said, “Ralph, you should come to America,”  Pawpaw did, bringing his family with him, on the S.S. Queen Mary in April 1947.

Dad’s ‘sis Ruth’ took this picture.  She planned to go to Wheaton College, because that’s where Billy Graham went.  Dad was engaged to be married to Sheila, a girl he had met while serving in the Royal Marines during the War.  Pawpaw said that was over.  He wanted Dad to come to America.  Dad did.

What did Pawpaw  do when he came to America?

He preached at Bible conferences and churches.  He served with Pocket Testament League.  He worked on behalf of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  He and Lily attended Crusades.  My sister Wendy with them to the New York Crusade in 1957 when she was four years old.  Before the Crusades, he prayed, shared messages and planned at BGEA retreats.  At one Crusade, when he went into a bathroom in the stadium, he found it so dirty he cleaned the toilets.

Billy sent Ralph to Australia in 1960 after Billy held a crusade there in 1959.   Pawpaw directed follow up and made contacts for the BGEA to plan another crusade.  At that time, phone calling was prohibitively expensive.  The internet did not exist.  So Pawpaw wrote pages of letter reports:

He thrived on his assignment.  He met with the political and spiritual leaders of Australia.  The Governor, Eric Goodwin, attended services where Pawpaw preached.  Thinking like a publicist, he sent articles to Woody Wirt, the editor of the BGEA’s ‘Decision’ magazine.  He talked with media leaders who broadcast Billy’s “Hour of Decision” radio program, to be sure it remained up to date in  Australia.  The reports were filled with descriptions of a vast variety of activities.

“…the services at St. Stephens, I am thankful to say, are wonderfully stimulating and to be able to preach to a crowded congregation each time is a wonderful privilege…”

“…I boosted the Newsweek magazine article…”

“…in reference to Melbourne it was very profitable to me going down to meet several important brethren there…”

“…I was at the docks along with the Archbishop and others to meet Godwin and his wife.  Then I attended the service of installation in St. Andrew’s Cathedral and was amongst the guests at the reception afterwards in the Chapter house…”

“…In asking for your prayers for Nowra (Australia), I am happy to say that the Lord blessed in a very wonderful way.  Altogether, 231 went forward to make a profession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Believe me, Billy, I have never known such wonderful opportunities for the preaching of the glorious Gospel of Christ and for this year I have 10 united crusades booked… ”

Pawpaw’s letters include anything that would be of interest in advancing Billy’s present and future work in Australia.  One letter includes how he uniquely served:

“…my British background… undoubtedly helps a great deal especially with Australians who, as you know, tend to be a little sensitive regarding anything coming from America…they don’t think of me as an American  “Ralph is just one of us.”  (he had become an American citizen in 1953)…if it helps the cause of Christ by being regarded still as  British, that is alright with me.  For one thing, I still retain my Scottish accent and I don’t suppose I will ever lose it.  Amen!!”

Pawpaw received timely and encouraging brief letters in response:

Friendly and detailed, Pawpaw’s letters also remained respectful of Billy, the leader of the BGEA.  Pawpaw was nearing retirement age.

“…I am most grateful to you for allowing me to stay on here for another year and then we plan to return to the United States sometime in March, 1962…”

When Pawpaw and Nana came home from Australia, they showered us with stuffed koala bears and kangaroos, singing “Waltzing Matilda.  We were their only grandchildren.  I know they missed us.

Pawpaw wanted to continue preaching.  But the only available opening with the BGEA was in Minneapolis. Pawpaw was not interested.

What to do?  What’s left for an eager evangelist at retirement age?

A miraculous opportunity appeared.

Chicago business executives Harold Anderson and Paul Brandel, friends of Billy, had bought a hotel in Miami Beach.  The ten story Biltmore Terrace, on the northern edge of the city, was small but beautiful; designed by the same architect of the famed Fountainbleu and Eden Roc.  The new owners wanted this to be a luxury ‘Christian’ vacation experience, which meant no alcohol service in ‘The Globetrotter’ bar.   Its’ signature drink was –  ‘an exotic mixture of frozen punch, blended banana, pineapple, and orange sherbet, garnished with pineapple chunks and cherries.’

Harold and Paul wanted a chaplain for the hotel, to lead daily chapel services.  Billy recommended my grandfather.  Pawpaw was delighted with his new job.  Besides speaking each morning, he hosted and planned the family events for hotel guests and organizations like the Salvation Army and BGEA.  Contestants from Miami Beach’s “Miss Universe Pageant” even stayed there!

Both my grandfathers taught and preached at Bible conferences.  We often stayed in those ‘rustic’ cabin type accommodations.   The Biltmore Hotel combined the fun of a Bible conference with palatial surroundings.   Wendy, Jennifer and I were ‘Dr. Mitchell’s’ grandchildren;  princesses in a beautiful castle.

During the day we lived in our bathing suits by the pool and beach.  We were thrilled to swim in the built in pool, something none of us had in Abington, Pa.  We could take ourselves to The Royal Scot Grille for lunch, the red carpeted restaurant on the lower level, order whatever we wanted, and just sign our names on the check!

We zipped ourselves into Sunday dresses for dinner every night, which was held in a dining room filled with white clothed tables overlooking the pool and ocean.  Stained glass candle holders glowed at each table.  After dinner, we attended family entertainment.  Tuesday nights, a movie.  I remember seeing “Pollyana,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (Pawpaw’s favorite movie), and other films from Hollywood deemed wholesome.  On Wednesday night, the pool director put on a comedy pool show.

Thursday evening was game night.  When Jerome Hines, the Metropolitan Opera singer, was staying at the Biltmore, he gave a performance and also entertained with an evening of hypnotism.  During the day, Dennis, the Children’s Director, planned activities from a suite of cabanas beside the shuffleboard courts.

Pawpaw was the master of it all.  Here he is cheerfully greeting a guest at the front desk.

Vacations at the Biltmore gave me time with my grandfather that I had missed while he was a traveling evangelist.

Pawpaw died suddenly of a heart attack on March 25, 1966.  He was rushing along a hallway at the hotel to help a guest.  I was in the fifth grade.  This was two months before our sister Pam was born.  The sister who never met him is the one most like him.  He had been at the Biltmore Terrace only four years.

British businessman Earnest Shippam sent this letter to Nana after Pawpaw died:

 

 

Dad was a  colorful storyteller.   In digging through the manila folders of Pawpaw’s letters and memorabilia he had saved, I discovered his anecdotes were true.    I cherish my own memories, too.

I can still hear Pawpaw’s Scottish brogue, in response to anything outlandish, “Och, away with ye!”

Or the evening at the Biltmore Terrace Hotel when Tedd Smith,  accompanist with the BGEA, was playing at a piano in the lobby.  Pawpaw volunteered me, 9 years old, to sing “Gary, Indiana” from “The Music Man,” for the hotel guests gathered around the piano.  He knew I could sing.  He was proud of his family.

“I have been young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the children of the righteous forsaken, or their children begging bread.”  Psalm 37:25

 

 

 

 

Who?

Psalm 15:4 “…honor the faithful followers of the Lord…”

I could hear the awe combined with joy in her voice:

“You’re Andy Telford’s granddaughter?!”

Andrew Telford and his twin brother Huey were born on a farm in 1895. His parents Thomas and Rose had immigrated from Ballymena, Northern Ireland to Canada after their marriage in 1881.

“If you weren’t born on a farm, you need to be born again,” I often heard my grandfather, who my cousins and I called PopPop, comment.

He served in France in World War I.

His parents were not church goers. He heard his brother in law Roy speak on John 5:24 at a street meeting. “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who send me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”

Years later PopPop wrote, “After I was converted a friend said to me, knowing that I was saved, “How do you know you are saved?” I said, “Well, something happened to me.” He said, “A lot of things happen to people, and yet they are not saved.” I said, “Well, I haven’t sworn since I was saved, and that was three weeks ago.” He said, “A lot of people have not sworn for a month, and yet they are not Christians.” “Well,” I said, “I read John 5:24 and believed it.” He said. “That’s good.

Andrew Telford wanted to know God. He jumped on a train for Chicago and the Moody Bible Institute. He arrived at the school, and told them he wanted to be a student.

“I’m sorry,” the secretary at the desk responded. “You have to apply to be a student here. There are papers to fill out.”

The president of the school at the time, James M. Gray, heard about Andrew Telford. Impressed with his initiative, he said, “We’ll make an exception. Andy will be a student and can wash dishes in the dining room to pay for his room and board.”

That’s a story I heard about my grandfather from Uncle Tommy. PopPop lived to be 102, spry and eager to drive himself to preach in churches until he was 95, so I have many firsthand memories.  He was a big part of my life until I was 42.

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