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A Shout From The Attic: Being A Missionary - 4

...All my shirts went all pink, except for the one that had started out as pale blue, and that one turned an interesting shade of heliotrope. Not only were my shirts pink, but so was my underwear, and my light coloured hose had taken on a decidedly pinkish hue overlaid on whatever colour they had originally been...

Ronnie Bray continues his engaging life story.

Bristol in Gloucestershire, England first saw my pink shirts in the summer of 1956. All my shirts went all pink, except for the one that had started out as pale blue, and that one turned an interesting shade of heliotrope. Not only were my shirts pink, but so was my underwear, and my light coloured hose had taken on a decidedly pinkish hue overlaid on whatever colour they had originally been. It could have happened to anyone, but it did happen to me, and thereby hangs a tale.

My missionary companion was Elder Neil McEwen from Nottingham, not long out of the Royal Air Force, where he had been engaged in monitoring radio transmissions in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. I can’t blame Neil for what happened to my clothing, but all the missionaries that enjoyed basketball, and he was one of them, are indirectly, if only slightly, responsible, but I readily admit that my own desire to be part of the missionary in-crowd must bear the major part of the blame.

I admired the shiny silky basketball uniforms the Americans wore to play their second national sport, but I knew that I would never own one. However, I could dye one of my own vests a bright red and that would have to do. I bought a packet of brilliant carmine dye, and on the oven top in the cellar under the chapel at 176 Cheltenham Road, Montpelier, Bristol where we missionaries lodged, I boiled water in the biggest pan the kitchen boasted and popped my vest into the steaming bucket of blood to impregnate it with brilliant colour.

When the directed time had passed, I picked my vest out of the brew, rinsed it under cold running water as commanded on the packaging, and, when the last streak of scarlet had traced its way down the plughole, I hung it out to dry. It dried to a brilliant and striking red. I felt deeply satisfied, because now I could dress a little more appropriately for the next basketball game. I did so, and felt less of a sore thumb, except in the skills department, where I fumbled and stumbled but thoroughly enjoyed myself.

During a basketball game against the Brylcreem Boys at an RAF base, the Royal Air Force held the twenty-one gun salute for us, but they did supply refreshments at half time. Elder Brockbank, an American – I say this in his defence - helped himself to an interesting looking bottle of pop; Worthington’s Green Label, and he felt decidedly wobbly afterwards. Those who had stuck to the lemonade had no such feelings. Ale can have a funny effect on a teetotaller!

Next washing day, Neil and I walked down Cheltenham Road to the Launderette, picked a washer each, and threw our clothes into it. Round and round went the washer, slush-slush-slush, sang the washer, then Whirr-whirr-whirr, until the cycle was over that the door catch released and let us rescue our clean laundry. Only, it wasn’t my laundry! I didn’t have pink shirts, pink underwear, and pink everything! “Ho ho ho,” laughed the fates, “You do now!” And, I did. I sure did!

That day I learned something vital about laundry that has stood me in good stead all these years. I really didn’t mind wearing pink shirts, because missionary rules were not that strict then, although we wore white shirts out of a sense of proper missionary decorum. The pink was evenly distributed, as if it was dyed in the yarn, so it was not a complete failure. However, I learned about something cryptic that Isaiah the prophet had written, so perhaps my venture into the pink was not altogether a disaster. Isaiah wrote:

“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

I used to wonder what he meant, even though superficially it made sense about repenting and being forgiven. What I didn’t know then, was that the most penetrating colour of dye was red, and it was the most difficult to remove from fabric. I guess Isaiah is saying when it came to cleaning up our lives, nothing is too hard for the Lord in a way that those used to dealing with wool and dyes would understand, but which is a little too enigmatic for non textile types.

Others of us need a help to widen our understanding, and mine was so widened in the little Launderette at Montpelier, Bristol, when I was as green as my vest was red.

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