This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Sadie Custer in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript was made by Noel Collins Pfeifer and Timothy Gulsvig and was completed in March 2010.
CUSTER: ...on furlough that we were praying for. They would come for the week. I take them to all these prayer groups, one on Sunday afternoon, one on Monday morning, one on Monday night, one on Tuesday...Tuesday night is questionable because I try to keep that open for the Bible College. [chuckles] (I had them in the bible college, too. We have Grand Rapids School of the Bible, and [unclear], the Baptist College, Calvin College, Reformed Bible Institute, Hope College. [laughs] All great colleges. All right there. And then, at...on Wednesday night, we might go further afield, the more distant ones in Ann Arbor and McBain and these.... We had...we had ten prayer groups going in Michigan, and we got our....
SHUSTER: [interrupts] Ten prayer groups in the Grand Rapids area?
CUSTER: Yeah. General area, including one in McBain and one in...in Ann Arbor, that the Saunders [?] started. But they...they would come, and they'd have meeting. We'd work them to death. [laughs] The...the...the thing is that we....
SHUSTER: You worked the visiting missionaries to death?.
CUSTER: Yes. We wouldn't lose any gasoline or travel miles. We'd get 'em all in order. And then let them sleep for a week afterward.
SHUSTER: How did you...how did you organize a prayer group? Who did you...who did you recruit for a prayer group?
CUSTER: We prayed that the Lord would send us people who are called to pray. I'm a firm believer in being called to pray. I think there are people who really have a call to pray. And I tell you one of these. When I went out in '36, Isaac Page went to Akron, Ohio, and a little Scottish lady went up to him. And he was calling for people to pray for us new workers who'd gone out. She went up to him. She said, "Dr. Page, I was just saved. I don't know how pray. Give me a name, I get someone to help me with the praying." And she got nine of her friends. And they had a covenant with the Lord. They didn't even meet together. But whenever anyone got a letter from me, they would call around and they'd give time to pray. After forty years, I came home, and that little Scottish lady, Mrs. Nichol [?] was in the hospital with a heart condition (not allowed to see anybody, but the doctor let me go in). She sat me down, and she said, "Do you remember such and such a date in 1938, when the Lord woke me up at night to pray for you, and that's when you met the bandits in the mountains?" Well, I'd forgotten that one. "Do you remember May 7th, 1940? The Lord woke me up to pray for you, and that's when the Japanese bombed your home." She could tell me the date the Communists walked into my home.
CUSTER: The Lord caused twelve hours difference. And....
SHUSTER: And she had found out after she had prayed for you what has been happening each day....
CUSTER: Yeah. But here's forty years, and the fact is, she died the next day. Forty years later, she could tell me every date and everything she'd prayed for, and the Lord's answer. And that's why...I...I've, and I've got a group in Zion, Illinois that they pray from 9 to 12 every Monday morning. They write the request down in pencil, and they won't take a request off until they get the answer.
CUSTER: And that's why the Lord's blessed my ministry. It's not that I've done anything different than anybody else. But it's because people have prayed. And...so I'm a firm believer in prayer. So, in Michigan, our goal was to...the only praying...we only prayed our own missionaries in Michigan. We concentrated...
CUSTER: ...and we asked the Lord to bring us people that were called to pray.
SHUSTER: Did you just pray for CIM missionaries from Michigan or OMF...?
CUSTER: [interrupts] All these people were missionaries from Michigan. But we pray in detail. And we wrote to those missionaries. We get their letters. One group...place...a lady called me. She said, "Sadie, my mother used to get your letters, but she died, and I got the first letter when I came home." I asked for people to pray for people called to pray. And she said, "The Holy Spirit has called me to pray. And we would like to get a group started, so will you come and get us organized." So, each one takes a missionary. "Start with one missionary to pray for. You write to them. You pray every day. You pray until you get the answer. Don't stop praying till you get the answer. And it wasn't long and most of them had two or three missionaries. And when we meet together, we don't have a sermon, we don't have music, we don't have eats. We just...you read your letter and you pray for your missionary, because you know it the best. But we've all got notepads. Where there's urgent requests, we all make a note, and we all pray together until we get the request."
SHUSTER: And they pray continually.
CUSTER: Yeah. Except that they're getting older, and some of...are dying out. They're going to heaven.
SHUSTER: The missionaries or the prayer group leaders?
CUSTER: Prayer group leaders. And we've had some sad experiences of missionaries not going back to the field. But they have been faithful.
SHUSTER: Why aren't the groups...prayer groups recruiting younger people to continue?
CUSTER: Well, I shouldn't say they don't, because we...we got...there's a new one started in East Lansing of young people. It's really a different group. You've got the older people...you can't have night meetings. They don't go out at night. Young people have to have night meetings, 'cause they're working...
CUSTER: ...and they've got the children...it's...well, it's just like one of those things. But our meetings, nearly all of them, were an hour and a half, two hours long, all entire of prayer. And we prayed out Bob and Bertie Cunningham working with alcoholics in Japan. These are our missionary book now. Carol Finley working with nurses in Korea. The Merits [?] with [unclear] [?] work in Manila. Carlene Wendyssyoung [?] with tribal work, but now teaching in Faith Academy in [unclear] in Manila. Dorothy Maidenhood is a linguist in Thailand. She's responsible for all the new workers and their language. We had Bill and Joy....
SHUSTER: Now she...we have an interview with her, too, at the archives.
CUSTER: Yes. Uh huh. Bill and Jan Harris were working with the Indians in Singapore. Cindy Ray is a born teacher, and I thought she was going to be a teacher in a theological seminary in Taipei, but she came home and got married. Debbie Derrick, from Detroit, Michigan, was a died in the wool hippie. Wonderfully converted. Went to Columbia Bible College. Went back to Detroit, got a job. The fact is she was a buyer in this computer factory for the whole outfit. And then the Lord said, "Now, I want you to go to Taiwan and work with factory girls." She gave it all up. She's gone not only to factory girls, but she and her fellow worker are working with prostitutes. They live right in the red light district in Taipei, and they work there. These are all of the...can you see the picture of the missionaries the Lord has called out, and what that does for your prayer group? Every one is different, with different requests, and they all write. They come home, and we have a meal together, and we can just ask them all the questions we want. That's the prayer ministry.
SHUSTER: Are there networks like that in other states?
CUSTER: I don't know. That's what the Lord did for me.
SHUSTER: And then you came...when did you come to Lancaster?
CUSTER: I came here in February '87. And I knew nobody and had nothing. In Michigan, I was booked always a year ahead of time for deputation work and what not. And I had nothing here. And then the Lord opened it up. I spoke for a...a ladies' retreat in [sic] Lancaster Bible College, and...on the Saturday, and on Monday, a Methodist minister called, from New Holland. He said, "I understand you go around and have prayer workshops." I said, "Oh man, no. I'm an old retired missionary. I talk missions." "Oh, but," he said, "you had one on Saturday, 'cause one of my members was there." And I s... [phone rings, tape recorder turned off and on] Well, you asked about.... [phone rings] I really do view [unclear].
SHUSTER: That's okay. Go ahead.
CUSTER: "Well," he said, "You won't believe this." But he said, "A friend of mine went to Europe, and he was traveling across Europe through Austria, and he found a group of people that were fasting and praying for a revival for Lancaster County [Pennsylvania, USA]. He came home and told me, and I said, 'If they're praying there, we must do something.'" So he said, "We've started. We have a couple prayer cells going. We'd like you to come, and get it...." He said, "Have you ever done this?" I said, "Well, I have to be honest." I said, "In Michigan, at some missionary conferences, they did ask me to give three messages on prayer, consecutive ones. The first one I take on personal prayer. Then, prayer for your missionaries and prayer for your church."
CUSTER: And he said, "That's exactly what we want." So I went and did that, three Wednesday night sermons. And [unclear]. But now I've...let's see, I've got so many physical problems I can't get out anymore. But then when I came here, the Lord gave me the verse, "Go back to Bethel and dwell there and raise an altar now ." [quote from Genesis 35:1] I had read that verse hundreds of times. I never saw that "build an altar". And to me, that was a prayer altar. That's something I can do now. And so I pray just for urgent requests. I don't pray for missionaries forever and ever and ever. You've got an urgent request, you send me a card. But I have to know the answer. And so the Lord has developed this. I try to give my mornings to prayer. And when I arrived here, the first letter I opened was waiting for me was a pastor in Michigan. His daughter had gone to California and was involved in a Satan Youth...Movement. Would I please pray for her? She's back home, married, and going to church with her two kids. [laughs] The next one was a missionary friend that went out to China with me. He's...her husband has cancer of the spine. And then in hospital, and she said, "Sadie, I'm at the hospital every day, and my house is filthy, my garden is so overgrown, and I'm so tired, I don't know what to do. Pray for me." Her husband's back at home. Still got his cancer, still getting around a little bit. The third one was a couple...a lady from Germany who...when I was in Grand Rapids on holidays, the students in Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music, on Thanksgiving Day, I would have, perhaps, all those from China and Japan...Asia...Orientals. Then, on Christmas, I would have all those from Europe, those that couldn't go home. And this was one of those couples. [coughs] So, she wrote to me. She said, "We've come back home." And she had a tumor on her brain. They thought it might be malignant. She said, "I don't know anybody here I can call on to pray." Those three letters were waiting for me, for the Lord to confirm my urgent prayer request ministry. And that's what I'm doing now.
SHUSTER: It continues to grow?
SHUSTER: Well, I...I know you usually give your mornings to prayer, so I appreciate your giving this morning for this interview which I think will be helpful to may people for many years to come.
SHUSTER: Let me ask just one final question. Thinking about when you went out as a missionary in 19...the early 1930s and mission work today, how is it the same, how is it different?
CUSTER: I...the thing that bothers me about today's missionaries, there are so few long-termers. There's not that dedication: "Lord, I belong to you. Do what you like." They don't accept the Lordship of Christ. That's to me...my way of thinking. "I'll go for three years and try it." As I said to one student...he said...he asked me if we had short term. I said, "Yes, but tell me, why do you want to go on short term?" He said, "I want to go and try it." "Oh," I said, "You want to be the sheep that likes to go out into the pasture and taste the grass and the water and decide whether you'll go back or not." And he said, "I guess that's it." But I...that sold out-to-God,ready for anything, that's the kind of worker I'm praying for.
SHUSTER: And you don't see those often today?
CUSTER: No. They're...they're...I don't...don't say that short term is wrong. I don't say that. And often times, the Lord leads them out on short term, and they come for a longer term, but even then, how many go out one term and give up. The Lord never promised it'd be easy. He never had an easy way himself.
SHUSTER: Part of....
CUSTER: If you choose an easy job, and you do it and get it done, what have you got? What have you accomplished? You tackle a good hard job, and then it's finished and it's well done. You know, to me, I just marvel at what the Lord has done. I've got all these young people that are pastors and preachers and going to Bible school and they're writing me and they're working in their own church. And, you know, I've got fruit.
SHUSTER: "Rise up to call you blessed." [Proverbs 31:28]
SHUSTER: What about similarities? Do you see any similarities between the state of mission work over the years?
CUSTER: Well, in one sense, it's the same. It's going out and winning lost souls. I mean, that's always been one of.... And building churches. I mean, that's the same. And that's all it is. The Lord's church. And the Lord doesn't have a one track mind. He's got lots of different ways of doing things. [chuckles]
SHUSTER: Do you have anything else you'd want to add or any other comments you wanted to make in conclusion?
CUSTER: No, I just pray for God's blessing on your work, and Billy Graham's work. I love to listen to him speak when he's on.
SHUSTER: Thank you and thank you for....
CUSTER: I have been...I have been to the Archives place.
SHUSTER: Oh yeah. When were...when were you there?
CUSTER: A couple years ago. I was in Chicago.
SHUSTER: Saw the museum?
CUSTER: Uh huh. I guess it was before I left here now. Time goes so quickly. Just before I left left Michigan I went there.
SHUSTER: Well, again, I thank you for your willingness to interview this morning and your sharing with us.
CUSTER: You're welcome. Thank you. I hope it'll be helpful to somebody. I can't quite imagine that it will.
SHUSTER: Well, I know it will.
END OF TAPE