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A Shout From The Attic: Being A Missionary - 8

Ronnie Bray tells of a chance encounter and a sad ending.

God be with you till we meet again;
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

Written by Jeremiah Rankin in 1880 on what Rankin describes as “the etymology of ‘good-bye,’ the hymn has become a traditional favourite with Christian congregations of all denominations. Although intended as a dismissal hymn, it has become the standard ‘departure anthem,’ and is often sung at farewells, even when it is doubtful if those departing and their friends will ever meet again in mortality.

God be with you till we meet again;
‘Neath His wings protecting hide you;
Daily manna still provide you;
God be with you till we meet again.

When I was a Latter-day Saint Missionary in 1956, I had word that my father was dangerously ill. The mission president, Clifton GM Kerr of the British Mission, said I should go home and see him. I entrained at Cheltenham, and had to change trains at Sheffield. As I waited on the station platform for the train to Leeds, I was approached by a young man who was with a large group on the adjoining platform, evidently seeing some friends off.

God be with you till we meet again;
With the oil of joy anoint you;
Sacred ministries appoint you;
God be with you till we meet again.

“Are you an American?” he asked. I understood his question because I was wearing a dark blue American ROTC Air Force raincoat that had been gifted to my by a fellow missionary, and, of course, I wore the requisite missionary hat, a homburg. This was in the days before missionaries wore identification badges, and it was this combination that had identified me as, potentially, an American.

God be with you till we meet again;
When life’s perils thick confound you;
Put His arms unfailing round you;
God be with you till we meet again.

“No,” I said. He smiled and turned to walk back to his friends. As he had recognised something in me, so I had recognised something in him.

“But, I am a Mormon Missionary!” He swivelled on his heels smiling wider and said, “So am I!” We fastened our hands together like long lost brothers.

He explained that a family of Mormons from the Sheffield Branch were emigrating to Salt Lake City – Zion – and that he and his missionary companion and some local members were seeing them off on their way to Southampton where they were to take the Queen Elizabeth and steam to New York, before completing their journey on the train.

God be with you till we meet again;
Of His promises remind you;
For life’s upper garner bind you;
God be with you till we meet again.

At his invitation I joined the crowd on the platform in time to sing the Anthem. I did not tell them I was travelling to my ailing father’s bedside. Why spoil their happy-sad occasion with my own sadness?

God be with you till we meet again;
Sicknesses and sorrows taking,
Never leaving or forsaking;
God be with you till we meet again.

It was an emotional experience, singing farewell and Godspeed to people I did not know, but whose hearts and faith I understood, as well as I understood the forces that impelled them to gather to Zion to live among the Saints.

God be with you till we meet again;
Keep love’s banner floating o’er you,
Strike death’s threatening wave before you;
God be with you till we meet again.

The Holy Spirit was poured out in abundance on our little groups of friends and well wishers, and hearts were touched by a profound pathos as beloved friends quit the place where they had not only come to, but had also grown in their vibrant faith, and were now responding to the compulsion they felt in their breasts for the Spirit of the Gathering of Israel. Tears freely flowed. Eyes reddened, hearts pounded and heaved with the pain of farewell. It was almost too much to bear.

God be with you till we meet again;
Ended when for you earth’s story,
Israel’s chariot sweep to glory;
God be with you till we meet again.

Emitting great billows of swirling steam that enveloped itself and the platform party, the train hissed, skidded its wheels, and pulled out into the night and adventure. The train passed out of sight, and we began to dissolve and make our separate ways to wherever our needs required us to be. I shook the hands of my new found brothers and sisters, and then as they abandoned the platform I turned to wait alone in the quiet dark for the train that would take me home to where my Dad, Tommy Scott, lay dying.

It was a sad journey. Dad and I had not been close since he married my mother when I was three or four years old, but time smoothes the wrinkles from our past if we are wise enough to let them, and I had learned that while he could not be a father to me, he had been a good husband to my mother, and for that reason alone I respected him.

The train came and I boarded. We journeyed through the dark and wet of a Yorkshire winter’s night, rumbling northwards in a dimly lit train that reeked of steam, burning coal, and old times. Conscious of my errand I was about to give way to sadness and grief, when the words of the hymn, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” came into my mind like a mighty choir and lifted my soul. It was a slow and impatient journey, and by the time I walked through the door, Dad was gone.

I missed saying “Goodbye” to him; yet in that sweetness that rounds the sharp edges of our lives, I felt that our goodbye had been taken care of on Sheffield railway station when I stood among strangers who were not strangers, and sang with strangled throat to all who leave and travel into the darkness, leaving us to journey on alone.

“God be with you till we meet again.”
Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,

God be with you till we meet again.

Thank you, Lord!

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