Wm. F. P. Burton
Queen of the Night
One sometimes sees, growing in South African gardens, one of the most ugly, repulsive plants it is possible to imagine. Straight up, about as thick as the calf of my leg, and thickly bristling with fearsome spikes. But wait until a dark, stormy afternoon, or go to look at it in the night. It puts out the most marvellously beautiful flowers imaginable. Long, delicate, with petals in graceful tassels, shading off to the palest green in the heart of the flower. They call it "Queen of the Night."
It bears such wonderful testimony to the fact that God is able to produce His loveliest trophies in the most unpromising surroundings.
Could one find a more sordid neighbourhood than a certain blind street in Lancashire town, nearly sixty years ago. Rubbish lay about the sidewalk, among which furtive cats sniffed and scratched for food. The paint was off the windows and doors. Patches of plaster were off the walls. Many window panes were either cracked or missing altogether.
At the time, I was choir-master in a little mission hall. We could not preach much but we could pray and sing, so we often visited the place.
Our reception was not of the best. Some tore up the gospel tracts that we offered them but others accepted them. Some would laugh, swear or caterwaul as we gave our testimony.
One old fellow worked in a foundry. His hands were black and horny and the first joint of his index finger was bent and broken. I shall not easily forget it for, in his drunken rage, he would point it at us as he cursed. His wife went upstairs and threw a bucket of slops over us from the bedroom window, so after that we always stood in the middle of the street, but we still got an occasional rotten tomato.
His house was a wreck. His wife and he had broken the furniture on each other and the windows were blocked with cardboard and rags. The children were afraid of them, and got out of the way when either of them came down the street.
Her hair was straggly. He had a few discoloured teeth which generally held a pipe. Their clothes were filthy and their bodies not much better. Could there be any more unpromising sight. They and their dwelling were the superlative of every ugly feature in the neighbourhood.
One day, as we commenced singing with "Happy day that fixed my choice," the doors and windows opened, heads looked out, but nobody was prepared for what followed. The old foundry-hand suddenly lurched forward into the middle of our ring of songsters, and falling on his knees, cried and howled to God to forgive him and deliver him for Jesus' sake.
His wife did not believe it was real, but next pay day, instead of going to the pub, he carried his wages to her and told her to get herself a new dress. In a surprisingly short time, they were both tidied up. New furniture appeared in the home, new glass in the windows, even table cloth and curtain, new plates and dishes. She responded eagerly.
Then they asked if we would come and hold cottage meetings in their home, while both of them ventured to give their testimony in the open air. He always called for the hymn, "Oh, happy day," until the children took it up as a nick-name, and soon everyone knew him as "Old Happy Day."
All the neighbourhood was moved. The cottage meetings were crowded and before long others were saved and asked for cottage meetings in their homes too. The children loved Old Happy Day and would run to meet him on his way back from work, singing his favourite hymn as they conducted him along the street to his home. He would stop and beat time for their singing, with his crooked finger.
Relatives who had shunned them in their drunken, brawling days, now begged them to move to a more respectable neighbourhood, but the old lady said, "No! This is where Jesus saved us, and so long as there's a poor devil's slave in the street, we're going to remain to shine for God." Many in that street professed faith in Christ before I left. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
That dirty slum has long ago been replaced by nice modern homes, and Old Happy and his wife have gone to be with Christ, but when I reach that blessed shore, it will be all the sweeter because of those whom I shall meet, who were won to Christ down in that disreputable quarter.
The Church at Gun Hill is an Elim Pentecostal Church