Billy Graham Center

Collection 609 – Frederick George Ferris. T1 Transcript


This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Frederick George Ferris (CN 609, T1) 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, by Noel Collins and Robert Shuster was completed in July 2008.

Collection 609, T1 Interview of Frederick Ferris by Rosalyn S. Ferris, October 22, 1988.

R FERRIS: This is an interview of Reverend Fred G. Ferris by Rosalyn S. Ferris, his granddaughter, for the Archives Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. This interview took place at 11 am on October 22, 1988 at the Billy Graham Center. Grandpa, when were you born and where?

F. FERRIS: I was born in Detroit, Michigan, September the 13th , 1911.

R FERRIS: And what were your mother and father’s names?

F FERRIS: My father’s name was George and my mother’s name was Rose.

R FERRIS: Okay, could you tell me briefly about your childhood?

F FERRIS: Well, I was pretty young when we left Detroit. I...the war, World War I had broken out and my father’s parents lived in England, mother’s parents lived in England. So, Dad went over to Canada and enlisted in the Canadian army, the first battalion to leave Canada and he felt he owed it to his parents to do what he could to protect them. So, Mother took us on a separate ship, Dad traveled on a troop ship but we went on a separate ship, the St. Louis, and we went to London, where my mother’s parents lived and we lived in London the good part of World War I. We did finally go out in a rural area, to Inglessey Brook and that’s where we lived when I started school. We went there because of the heavy bombing around London all the time.

R FERRIS: And how did you get back to the U.S.?

F FERRIS: When the war ended [in 1918], of course, Dad wanted to come back to the States. And so we came by.... Canada, we lived in Canada a little over a year or so and then immigrated back into the United States at the close of the war, we came back home...that’s how we came back here to the States.

R FERRIS: Back to Detroit?

F FERRIS: To the Detroit area. We actually went out to Farmington area, just is a western suburb, Detroit area.

R FERRIS: Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to know Christ as your personal savior?

F FERRIS: Well, I always attribute it to answers to pray of my grandmother. My grandmother was a captain of the Salvation Army in England and I believe she always prayed for my salvation. I was sixteen...sixteen and a half when I got saved. I went to church basically because some friends I had went to church. The pastor was a good evangelical pastor, Dr. Elmer, in Farmington and right around Easter time I...the year I gave my heart to the Lord when I was about sixteen and a half years old. At the moment I was baptized, I knew God had called me for the Lord’s ministry. I knew that that night....

R FERRIS [interrupts]: Wow.

F FERRIS: And testified to it.

R FERRIS: How did you first prepare yourself for the ministry?

F FERRIS: Well, we did a lot of work when we were young people, in the church. Our pastor had us going out to juvenile detention homes and things like that. I did most of the speaking for those organizations in the youth work. So, I started preaching when I the time I was eighteen, I was preaching. some of the neighboring churches, too. And then on graduation from high school, I didn’t have money to go to further training until I worked a few years at Ford Motor Company. And then, in 1934, we got married and left for the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. And that’s where we began our formal educational program for the ministry.

R FERRIS: How long were you at Moody Bible Institute?

F FERRIS: I only stayed one year because I was already getting older, I’d lost some five years from high school till I got in school, and learned that I could complete my collegiate work at Northern Seminary [Northern Baptist Seminary] as well as get my seminary training. So, after one year at Moody, I transferred to Northern Seminary and completed.... I took two years of collegiate work there plus four years of seminary. And then after graduation from seminary, I completed my collegiate work at the University of Aurora, Illinois.

R FERRIS: Did Moody’s emphasis on missions have any influence on your later work?

F FERRIS: Well, I think it’s bound to have influence on you, you never forget training at Moody and the men that surrounded you there. But, I was also very grateful for a deacon that was in our church when I got saved. He took me under his wing and I remember he...he had a good library of the lives of missionaries. And as soon as I’d finish one book on missions, he’d hand me another. And ask me...and then he’d want me to sit down and relate the book to him to make sure I had read it. And I think that had a big influence on my life for missions.

R FERRIS: What influence did your studies at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary have on your ministry?

F FERRIS: Well, I think it was very helpful. After all, I was there six years and I’m sure that the training that I got there in pastoral ministry and in the study of the Word, in methods and everything else all attributes to that. You are yourself when you’re out their preaching, that’s for sure. But, the training and the background and sound biblical training (and it was very solid at the time), I’m sure that all contributed to it.

R FERRIS: I understand you had several pastorates before going to Afa...Africa, could you briefly describe those?

F FERRIS: When I was...When I made the transfer from Moody to Northern in 1937, I took a...rather than taking a practical training around the city in some kind of Christian work, I was asked to become the pastor of the First Baptist church of Somonauk, Illinois, sixty miles west of Chicago. And I went out there...that church had been closed for a number of years. But there were a group of good hearted Christians that wanted the work going. And we went out and we reopened that work and got it started. It became a good, thriving church and I stayed with them for almost seven years. And then in 1944, upon graduation from the fact the night I graduated from seminary, I received a call to the First Baptist church of Lorraine, Kansas. While I was shaking hands with the president, he conveyed word to me that he had gotten that letter from the school...or from the church and that I shouldn’t go home until he talked it over with me. First Baptist Church, Lorraine, Kansas, was in the German Baptist Association, the North American Baptists, they called themselves, was a good solid church called the Church of the Pioneers, beautiful plant, a beautiful plant. And...a good hearted group of believers and we saw a good ministry there, had a good ministry in Kansas. I also served as southwestern conference missions secretary for the denomination which took care of the entire southwestern United States. So, I had to make trips around all the southwestern states to promote missions in the churches. And our own church at the time was practically paying half of the denominational expenses at...the mission board expense at the time. It was a very wealthy church. And...then I was also elected to become vice chairman of the denominational mission board which gave me direct contact with a lot of missionaries and interests in the country itself, especially of Africa. And, I’d always had Africa on my mind and my heart and I think that’s a way that God led into it. I because vice chairman of the mission board and my first contact then with Africa, if you want it at this time, was when the denomination at the close of World War II asked me to go to Africa and survey the Cameroon field (because the Germans were then ousted from the land) and to see what the potential was for a good mission field out there. So, I went out and made the survey for the Cameroon field for them at them. Although they did have some work going there because they were German Baptists and it was a German country at the time, but, made a lot of changes when the war ended. So, I went out and surveyed it and that was my first real contact with the mission field in that sense.

R FERRIS: And where did you go after Kansas?

F FERRIS: I knew that the Lord had called me to missions but he hadn’t open the door and I didn’t want to run ahead of the Lord on that one. So, I...after I left Lorraine, Kansas, I had received a call to a...a large church, one of the larger churches of the state of Iowa in Muscatine, Iowa. I accepted the call on the condition that I knew I was called and had already presented ourselves to the mission board for African service but I didn’t know how it was all going to end up. We just left that with the Lord. So, I went to the Lorraine church, I mean the Iowa church, Muscatine, Iowa in fifty one and served there till 1953 when we left for Liberia. And all the time I was in the pastorate there, it was a happy ministry but all the time I was there, I wanted the board to remember that I had come under the condition that when God opened the door in Africa, I was going to go.

R FERRIS: So, how did God open that door?

F FERRIS: Well, it was very interesting. I was sitting at my desk one day and I’m reading the Moody Monthly, a portion...looking at the latest Moody Monthly that came in and there was just a brief article. I always felt God was going to send me to initiate a new work, I don’t know why but I felt that. And I was reading a very brief article, only a few lines long, announcing that the LeTourneau Foundation was launching a mission project in Liberia, West Africa. And that they were just announcing it at that time, personnel was not lined up or anything. But, I went from my desk right home and told Inez [his wife], “This is it.” And we prayed about it right there. That afternoon I got a phone call from the Michigan City area, from the pastor who said, “Fred, I want you to get ready, I think they’re goign to ask you to go to Africa.” And that was with the German Baptists, of course, the North American Baptists., that was with LeTourneau rather, LeTourneau Foundation. But, anyway, we got a call about it. So, then, a day later, I got a call from R.G. himself...R.G. LeTourneau asking me if I could come down and meet them in Texas that they had some things they wanted to talk to me about. And I.... In my heart, I knew what it was and so I said, “I’ll do it on one condition.” I was kind of crazy, I think. I said, “I’m putting out the fleece, the Lord’s got to get me to Texas and home again so I sleep in my own bed that night and I’ll know that God is in it.” And, well, essentially, that’s what happened. Marvelous experiences how God opened the way to get there, there were no plane’s seat available. And I waited at the airport wondering what to do in Iowa. And a businessman didn’t show up for his seat on a special business plane that was to fly to Chicago, so they took me. And I made the flight and got home that night. Coming back from the LeTourneau interview, Mr. LeTourneau took me to the airport. I walked up, the desk,the girl said, “Where are you going?” I said, “I want a plane to go back to Iowa, to Moline, Iowa. Gotta go Chicago, Moline.” She said, “Well, all these fellas want planes to Chicago, too.” And there were about ten people waiting on standby. I don’t know what happened, I really don’t , Rosalyn, because I said, “Well, I’ve...I’ve got to get home tonight.” And she said, “Wait a minute, let me see that ticket you’re holding.” And, of course, the LeTourneau company had bought it. “Let me see that ticket you’re holding” and she took it and she said, “Go over there, the plane is loaded right now but they haven’t shut the door. Go out and let the girl see your ticket.” So, I went over and the girl said, “I’m sorry, sir, we’re full.” Then she said, “Oh, show me that ticket.” She looked at it, said just a minute, she walked up into the first class section, tapped a man on the shoulder. He took out his ticket and showed it to her. I don’t know what she asked him. And he got up out of his seat and took his baggage out from over head and his briefcase and walked off the plane and I got the seat.

R FERRIS: So, while you were with Mr. LeTourneau, did he share his vision with...?

F FERRIS: Many times, many times. He was a real man of God.

R FERRIS: And what was his vision for Liberia?

F FERRIS: He...his first...his initial purpose in going to Liberia of course, he wanted to evangelize, to plant the church. But, at the same time, he wanted to help the people to bring them out of their impoverished condition. They were rainforest dwellers, most of them. And we weren’t going to be located in Monrovia, we were down a hundred and fifty miles south of Monrovia, in the rainforest. But, his.... For the country at large, he wanted to evangelize, he wanted to educate and he wanted to develop the country with roads and agricultural development. This is basically what he wanted to do, that was his vision for the whole thing. And, of course, that’s what we worked on as much as we could. We never.... We didn’t get very far with opening up the country with roads and the agricultural aspects of it. We showed them a lot of things to do to modernize and to grow rice crops and things like that which was part of the mission project. But I was chairman of the evangelizing aspect, the mission aspect, the planting of churches. That was my job there.

R FERRIS: Now, where was your base in Liberia?

F FERRIS: We were in what you call, Baffu Bay, hundred and fifty miles south of Monrovia. And, we were right on the coast. And of course, LeTourneau.... “The Ark” as they called the boat, could ram right up on the beach and unload there, which we did, unloaded things on the beach. And we built our base right there but there was a little native village of Baffu. And the bay was called “Baffu Bay” from the Portuguese which means “beautiful bay”. And this is where we set up camp, permanent camp, we put up permanent buildings. We built a church and we built a school because we were determined we were going to start in with the people right where we lived and operate a school and do our evangelizing right there. From there, we would go trekking through the rainforest and evangelize to other villages and plant churches. But that was the evan...his...his dream.

R FERRIS: So, you mentioned trekking out other villages, could you describe what a trek would be like?

F FERRIS: [laughs] It was rough, it was the rainforest. And, we just trekked the native paths through the jungle and get into.... I developed a program that I think helped us a lot and when we saw converts and then the church growing and begin to develop then, even though they were very young Christians we said to them, “Now, we want to go inland to the next village and we want your women and your men to help us, you who know the Lord.” And we would ask if the...after I would go in and I’d start evangelizing and we’d get a little nucleus. Then these people would have a day or we’d set a week apart when they would come over from this church into that next village and stay there. And the women would work with the women and the men would work with the men, as simple as they were. And we would have meetings everyday for the men and, because the women worked in the fields. They didn’t have fields but there what they called a little farm, where they grew their food. And they would be working out there and then in the evening...every evening, we had what we called a village gathering where we were sharing the gospel with them. In every village where we saw a church come in to being and we saw twenty six of them.... When a church would come in to being, in that same village we would plant a school and provide a schoolteacher for them which we could get from Monrovia who would come down and work.

R FERRIS: Now you mentioned that when you had a few believers, you would start worship service. What would a worship service have been like?

F FERRIS: Very simple. Lots of repetition to really get the Word to them. You had to learn to do that, I would encourage those who were working with me to do it. Don’t be afraid to repeat because it’s new and this will help them to grasp it. And so there’s a lot of repetition in your teaching ministry but it was very simple. The people themselves were animists. They believed in spirits, spirits to the ancestor, spirits in everything–trees, water, everything. We could start with that basis and help them to know that we know the good spirit, the holy spirit of God. And help them to see how God loved them and God sent his spirit work with them and help them in their hearts and their lives and so.... The women were usually the first ones that...because they were the beasts of burden. And, the women would usually be the first ones to make the decisions and the men would come along a little bit later. They were a little more slow in doing it but we saw them coming. And, we just preached a very simple gospel but basic and helped them to understand...spend time with them. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat on the little porch of their little huts one by one, one by one, working with these people so that we could get a testimony in them. And then when they could go out, they were really helping us when they’d travel with us, you see, to the next village. We never asked them to go much farther than the next village but that really helped. And always was a thrilling service at the end of our week or ten days of ministry in a village or two weeks that we would take with them...always a thrilling service to come to the closing service.... These people, when the babies are born, the old men of the village put a country curse on them, they call it a country law. That is if they would eat a certain kind of swamp fish, their eyes would break, they’d go blind, if they eat a meat from a deer, their throat would break. There’s always some spirit gonna kill them, you know. And that was engrained in them, they were very fearful of the spirits. So, in our closing service, what we would do is have those who had found victory in Christ.... We would have the brown eggs there or the fish there or the meat there, the things that they were not supposed to eat because of this curse that was on them. And these young Christians that stand in front of that whole church and say, “Christ has set me free from the burden on my load...on my back” or “he has cleared the path for me to walk” and he said, “I am showing you how much I trust Christ, now he has set me free.” They’d eat that forbidden fruit...that forbidden food. And I’ve seen people get up and run out of that church, scared stiff that some horrible thing was going to happen. And then when they see that nothing happened, that bore its testimony, too. And these people were just as radiant happy as they were when they did it and the people couldn’t understand it, that God hadn’t smitten them you know, that the spirits hadn’t done something. And so, we...we...we had a good ministry among them, a very happy ministry. It was hard work but we lived with them, stayed right with them, in their houses and just let them know that we love them and God loved them and that we cared about them. And they were people who needed to be set free so it was a good witness that way.

R FERRIS: What language did you carry out your ministry in?

F FERRIS: We had eight dialects in the area we were trying to cover. And, so I used an interpreter, I spoke through an interpreter. And I had acquired from a former mission who could help me with the Kru lan...the Kru is the main dialect on the sea coast, largest independent tribe on the coast. But, as we moved inland, and we went a hundred miles inland and we covered a mile area fifty miles wide from the beach, inland a hundred miles trekking and.... But.... While it was hard, it was very fruitful. And I did use an interpreter and I would work with him very very much to be sure, he understood what I was saying, you know? And then when we would have the service, he’d know what we meant know...he’d.... So, I’d use the interpreter. We did learn some of the Kru dialect but we were on the coast and the minute we got a little bit inland was a different dialect, altogether. So, we...we decided the simplest thing to do was use the interpreters that we could use. [unclear]

R FERRIS: As far as the worship service went, was it set up on the pattern of a Western service or did...were there attempts to try to fit it into their culture as far as the singing went...?

F FERRIS: [interrupts] No, we had to fit in as much as we could. They...they loved to sing and we used the sing.... You know, we’d sing the little choruses. They started out with little Christian choruses that we taught them to sing. They loved to sing, got good voices. And we would...we’d always have our singing and then we’d go to the Bible study. We didn’t go through a lot of the formalism that we, in the average church here was...just didn’t have it. But, it was basic teaching views...yeah.

R FERRIS: Could you sing one of those choruses for me?

F FERRIS: Sing it now?


F FERRIS: Oh heavens, come on now. Not with my voice. I’ll say the words maybe. [says a few words in Kru language] That is your Kru dialect meaning basically, “If you walk the path with God, God will walk with you”.

R FERRIS: That’s beautiful. You talked also about trying to train indigenous leaders for the church, how specifically did you do that? Was there a school they went to or was it...?

F FERRIS: Only our own. There was nothing in the area, for miles nothing. And so we had our own school and I had oh, as many as eleven and twelve young men at the time that we were training for the be a pastor. The men that seemed to be advancing in the life and were serious about it and had made their breaks with the tribal customs of the spirit life, you know...and...of things. So, I...I had to do most of the training myself. We brought them into our base, we had a place there, a training center for them, accommodations for them and we trained them right there as much as we could.

R FERRIS: Could you describe a little bit what village life was like at that time? The authority structure, kinship....

F FERRIS: The tribes all were...everybody belonged to tribes, many tribes. They belonged to tribes and in each area there would be the paramount chief who was the main chief and he was over all the rest of them; he was paramount. Under him would be lesser chiefs and then there’d be the village chiefs so they...their own structure. We...we didn’t try to destroy the structure of the community. That would’ve been too radical for them. But until we were able to have a good school going and a good schoolmaster living in the midst, he was a Christian man and the children under his teaching and had the church going. It was difficult. So, the villages themselves were basically animist villages and steeped in fear. Fear was could almost feel it. And...and demons, demon power. I’m telling you there were times when I’d almost feel like hair was standing up on my back, you know. The devil...the devil was very real. I’ve seen demonstrations that there’s just no way you can explain it, Rosalind, except demon power, that’s all it is. And, of course, the villages were steeped in it, you see. And there was a great deal of fear. Every village had its weenesswa [?] house which was the god house. And, I don’t know if you’ve got time for me to explain that or not but they had their god house. And they would bring eggshells, monkey claws, all sort of things that they would offer to the little god that was in this god house and that god was supposed to protect them, not only from roars...wars, but diseases as well. There was a lot of sickness. And they would bring their offerings to this little 009 and they were constantly challenging us as to whose god was the strongest: their god or our god. And I recall one time when I was way back inland in the Kulu area and eighty five miles inland and they challenged me. A group of them came to me when I was sitting in the village late one afternoon and they said...the men said, “The men want to talk to you”. And so they told me they were...they thought their god was much stronger than our god and we shouldn’t deceive their people with the gods that we bring to them. And I tried...I told the men not to argue with them and I talked with them. And I said, “No, we know that our god is the eternal God, the god that made the world.” They wouldn’t listen, they weren’t going to be challenged. And I told the men not to have anything to do with them. They brought a little baby to me, about a year old, and they said, “We are going to offer this baby to the weenesswa [?], as a sacrifice, proving we’re going to please our god. Now, if your God is stronger, He’s gotta stop us from doing it.” I told the men, “Stay out of it, don’t go. Don’t go into the village and do it.” We was in the neighboring village about quarter of a mile away and I told them not to go. Later I said to them, “You go but stand at the outer edge of the village so you can see what is going to happen because I want to know what they’re doing.” And so, pretty soon I heard such a noise that I thought it was the die cry going up in the village, that panic.... [Tape apparently turned off and on again]

[tape resumes at 30:08]

F FERRIS: When the die cry sounded, which I thought it was in the village because I heard this awful noise going up from the village, I couldn’t make out at first if they were dancing some of their weird dances, incantations or what it was, so.... But, my two men came running back into the village and they said, “We won, Pa, we won.” And I said, “What have we won?” And then I found what had happened. When the witch doctor, who lived in the village, carried the little boy over to the weenesswa [?] house, just as they were going to put it inside the weenesswa house, the baby died in his hands, right there. And, of course, that panicked everybody. And, well, I don’t know, we just have to figure God knew what he was doing. I just.... But, that’s what happened. And it gave us a real entree to start talking to the people. We eventually saw a fine church come into being there, a good, strong church.

R FERRIS: So, in general, did the people receive you when you came into a new village?

F FERRIS: Generally, the word had gotten among the people, of course. And if I was trekking or they...people were moving from village to village. And the villages weren’t really a lot of them all close together, you know? But they’d get the word out that I was coming. I don’t think I ever surprised anybody walking into a village, they knew it ahead of time. I always wondered how they knew. But, they...they had the word and they got it. They generally were very respectful. And while I never knew where I was going to stay until we established a work in a village then I’d build a hut that I could use, I just stayed in a native hut whoever came to me, tapped me on the shoulder and they’d say, “The water is warm.” That meant I could stay in their house and they’d have a bucket of warm water if I wanted a bath. So...but it was...they knew...they...I think they felt after a while, they could trust us.

R FERRIS: How would you characterize the church as a whole, in Liberia?

F FERRIS: The church as a whole?

R FERRIS: At the time you were there.

F FERRIS: The original Liberians...I mean the Afro-Liberian that had been...come from slavery in the United States and under President Monroe’s administration, they were freed and sent back to Liberia [in 1822]. Our gunboats stayed there until they had established a beach head and were accepted and so forth by the tribal people. The people, strangely enough, that went back from the United States over there were...many of them carried with them a strong accent on Catholicism, which surprised me. But, they did. And, there were some, of course, Protestants, especially from the deep South. And...but the religion as a whole, the native religion as a whole was very powerful, the paganism. But, we found that the people were...of course, we weren’t there in the first days, you know, when it was first starting in Monrovia. But, the...on the whole, they were open. And while they didn’t just flock to accept Christ, those who did knew what, really what peace God was giving them and the Word spread, the Gospel spread through them. And so there was a work going in Liberia when we were there but jungle areas all over.... In fact, there was a feeling among the Afro...the American...America Liberian that he was a super stock compared to the, what he called “the bushpeople”. There’s always been that division there ever since. And the American Liberian runs the country, he has everything. The bushpeople are just bushpeople so that’s the way he looks at the rest of them. So, we had to overcome that. And...but, on the whole, the Gospel went, I don’t suppose, any more than in any other African country, but it’s been taking hold there. I.... You know....

R FERRIS: What else went on at the work of LeTourneau?

F FERRIS: Besides the mission....

R FERRIS: Besides the....

F FERRIS: Program.... Well, we had the school where we were teaching the children from neighboring villages, the village of Baffu, the village of Bambi town, Biemby [?]. They’d all send their children over to come to the school. So, we had a school for the kids, the youngsters. We had a school that we...we did have quite a number of young men that we kept living on our base, those who...and they went to school there and they lived with us. And we’d have them helping on whatever work they could. But, because he was also trying to carry out an agricultural program and, of course, the highway development never really got off the road, did some survey work but it never got off the road and off track and going. But, we did have the school for the boys and girls. And I think it was the beginning of a culture that came up with some education, that was the beginning of it there.

R FERRIS: Did you have any kind of medical station there, too?

F FERRIS: We had a clinic. We had a clinic and they carried...this was a good ministry. In fact, it’s interesting how the Liberian would talk. You’d say, “Now, they have a hospital in Monrovia”, of course, that was a hundred and fifty miles away but they’d say, “Yes, but the hands are softer here.” So, we had a clinic and they used to carry their people in. You never knew what was coming and of course, we saw many people ill unto death in the villages. It was.... They had no medical program for the country and... I mean for the bush people at all, nothing, just Monrovia. So, we did at that time. Of course, there were...there were other missions in other parts of the country and of course, they had their clinics, too. But, we had a base. Yeah, we did. We helped the mothers with their babies and the sicknesses of one kind or if anyone carried them in, we had to help them [?].

R FERRIS: So, how many missionaries were there on your base?

F FERRIS: Now, that one I hadn’t thought about. I would say [counts to himself] (two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen) fourteen, sixteen on our base. But, they weren’t all doing the Gospel work. Some of them were involved in the teaching, some were in especially the industrial part. Mr. LeTourneau was very anxious to get on to teaching these people how to dro...dry...grow dry land rice, for instance. And he cleared large areas fo the jungle so that he could have some space, some field area to plant crops and use modern machinery to show them how to.... But, of course, that never took off either because the distance was...we were a hundred and fifty miles from the capital city and the jungle people had no way of getting that kind of equipment and using it. And, so, he finally had to give up on the whole project until he could get the government itself to give him an okay to go ahead and open up a country with roads and everything, there wasn’t much that you could do.

R FERRIS: Was the government generally supportive of missionaries?

F FERRIS: Very much so. President [William] Tubman was a Christian man, Methodist and openly would speak on the air, encouraging the natives to listen to the missionary, that he had come to help them. And when we would go into the villages, every village that we went in, established any kind of foothold at all, we’d select one man from that village and we’d give him a preset battery-operated radio and we would tell him about what time to come. And the people of the village were curious and they’d all come together at this certain time and he’d call them together and they could hear President Tubman speak on the radio and encourage them or they could hear a missionary message, a gospel message from ELWA [Eternal Love Winning Africa, a missionary radio station in Monrovia] which was in Liberia. The ELWA station in Liberia, we used the radio that way to help them and so that there was a continual witness with them even if we weren’t in the middle of them at the time. We left it there and in the custody of a Christian to see that and call the people together. Usually the women were out on the farms, the men were in the village at the time. But, that way we also helped them with it, to get....

R FERRIS: So, the government had a positive effect on...?

F FERRIS [interrupts]: The government was very positive. didn’t suppress in any way that I can ever recall; they were very helpful and wanted us to help their people. Of course, they encouraged us with schooling, they’d even help us to try and get schoolteachers. And, we’d want Christian schoolteachers. They’d help us, if they could, to get schoolteachers, to locate some if we needed them. And, of course, we...we supported them through our mission. Same with the pastors, we supported the pastors and when we were first getting a church started, he had to have a living. But, the government itself was very supportive, yeah.

R FERRIS: How would you characterize President Tubman’s administration while you were there?

F FERRIS: I thought he was very good. Really did, he...[clears throat]. He was cooperative with us. We could...he was open to us. We could go and have talks with him about things, he was very cooperative.

R FERRIS: What were some of his achievements as far as goals? Developing the country or...?

F FERRIS: Well, he did, he did. He...he was well accepted by the people. He...of course, they, again this was Monrovia, a hundred and fifty miles away from us, but on the north, just north of Liberia, of Monrovia rather, the LAMCO came into being which was the Liberia American Mining Company. President Tubman and the government got that thing worked out so it could be a cooperative effort between the Americans and the Liberians. And they had iron ore was laying on top of the ground and they developed a large mining industry which brought money into the country and helped them. They granted land for the Firestone plantations, rubber plantations, that gave work to the people. Of course, up on the Monrovia area, but.... And they opened a big airport, they opened the airport, PanAm used to fly in there. This was all with help from the Americans but it came into being. So, there were this type of industry going in there. Otherwise, life itself was very simple. Commercial life was not extensive at all.

R FERRIS: So, how long were you in Liberia?

F FERRIS: We were in Liberia three...two terms, four years or so. And, we came home.... The climate itself was such that even Firestone...Firestone Plantation with all its modern equipment and buildings and everything else and its modern hospital that it had, Firestone would not allow its employees to stay more than eighteen months. The rays of the sun destroy your blood through...did somethign to your blood. And we, ourselves, were taking B12 shots all the time to keep going. I’ve seen men...I’ve seen assistants with us on the base all of a sudden just collapse and go down. We shipped one man home totally out of his mind. The sun’s, the effect of the sun at that particular area of the world effects your skin, the pigment in your skin and we always had to wear long sleeves, always wear hats, always wear dark glasses because that was a very unhealthy area of the world to live in. Not so much because of the malaria, although there was a lot of it, but the effect of the sun on your body, penetrating your skin and so, Firestone always insisted no one could stay more than eighteen months at a time. We stayed longer than that but, we were there two full terms and then when I came home at the end of my second term, fully intending to go back; we left everything we owned there. And...fully intending to go back, we loved the work. When I got home and arrived on, in Boston or New York, somewhere (Boston I think it was). I was met by somebody from the World Evangelical Fellowship, Harold Ockenga, some of his people, I don’t know who it was, met me. Harold was on the board. And, they wanted to have a meeting with me and they said they felt led to ask me to become the International Secretary for World Evangelical Fellowship. And so I had meetings with them and ultimately became the Director of the World Evangelical Fellowship. So that’s why we didn’t go back to Liberia, we felt...and yet, we felt led to go into this work, we felt God was leading in it or I wouldn’t have moved. But, we did feel God was leading and it was a fine group of men. Billy Graham was on the board, I I recall and Harold Ockenga and some other notable men. And so then I went into the work of directing the World Evangelical Fellowship.

R FERRIS: Now, I understand that took some traveling, did you...?

F FERRIS: Constant traveling.

R FERRIS: back to Africa at all?

F FERRIS: No. Ken Downing was doing a good work for us on the East...the West coast of Africa. I don’t recall goign back there for...for World Evangelical work. We were at a stage in the work of the Evangelical Fellowship. Elwin Wright, Doctor Elwin Wright had been the man who launched the program and I mean, he was asked to do it by the American board over here. And, our president lived in London, Sir Arthur Smith and so, we had people in different parts of the world. But, my...most of my work when...while I was in it, was getting World Evangelical Fellowship started especially in the Far East, India, the Far East and that part of the world basically was...although, we were working wherever we could. But, Ken was doing the job for us down in Africa at that time.

R FERRIS: And how did you see the Fellowship grow while you were...?

F FERRIS: World Evangelical Fellowship? Well, I...I felt we had some good work.... We say the.... They...they had fellowships in all through the Far East and into Europe, Australia and there Africa, basically, on the east coast. But it’s been growing a lot. But...I felt at the time, of course it was brand new and I felt at the time that we were just a few years early for missions to really accept it. They didn’t know quite what we were up to. And they were a little hesitant to know what we were doing, although, we would explain our work and they would know what we were doing. And they could meet with their missionaries and help them see we were trying to help them get a voice before government, we were trying to help them so avoid duplication of effort. We weren’t trying to pull them into an ecumenical movement, there wasn’t a unity in which they all had to be alike but it was basically Evangelical missions. I felt that when I first was in it, we were just ahead of missions, as far as mission being tied together doing a cooperative, in a sense, a cooperative work, you know. But, it grew and it’s still going, got into education, got into all kinds of things that we were...where we would help them to get established. Printing presses to serve the evangelical church in a country and establishing a seminary, helped to establish [unclear] Seminary, for instance, things like this. I got a Bible college started in Liber...Lebanon. I went in to Lebanon and I said, “How many missions are here?” “Eight.” “How many Bible schools do you have?” “Eight.” “How many graduated from your Bible school?” “None.” The Bible school was a group that met around the table with a missionary in his home. And I said, “Why don’t the eight of you get together and make a board of teachers, a solid group of teachers and have one and you can all work in it with special doctrinal emphasis if you have something pertaining to your denomination. You can take a period of time when you meet with your own people on that, but we can work together.” And we saw things like that come into being, a nice Bible school start in Lebanon and things like this. We did all sorts of work, that type of thing.

R FERRIS: It’s been almost thirty years since you left Liberia, have you had any further with the work there?

F FERRIS: The last, most recent contact I’ve had with Liberia was from a young man that was in the church I served in Detroit who is now with Wycliffe at their staging area in Georgia, I believe it is. And he had gone over there with a group who were asked to go over and help build a church. He didn’t know, really know where he was going in Liberia although it was Liberia. They went to the very spot where we started work, Baffu Bay. And they were building a large church there, the work is still growing; they were building a large church, they assisted in building a large church that was needed there. And he was asking, he asked one of the men, “How did this work ever get started in here anyway?” And it turned out to be the pastor was James Koomah [?], who was a man I had trained for the ministry. And, James told him that “Pop Ferris came over and started this work”. And, so, he felt they had something in common they shared together. But, yes, the work is...the, you mean the church work or what, you mean the WAF or the mission work?

R FERRIS: The mission work.

F FERRIS: It’s still going, oh yes, it’s...the churches are growing.

R FERRIS: Is the LeTourneau Foundation itself still in existence there?

F FERRIS: No. The LeTourneau Foundation withdrew from the whole project.

R FERRIS: When was that?

F FERRIS: Oh, I don’t remember the year now. We had....

R FERRIS: Approximately?

F FERRIS: I don’t know when LeTourneau gave up that work. We...I really don’t know. I’d have to guess, it’s somewhere around maybe ‘59 or ‘60, something like that because there was no way they could get that land development program going....

R FERRIS: Uh-huh.

F FERRIS: ...With the tribal set-up and the jungle area that it was there.

R FERRIS: Uh-huh.

F FERRIS: And just didn’t go. And so...even the roads that he had surveyed for from the capital to the southern tip of Liberia they had surveyed but never did get the project going. So, he just withdrew from the whole project and the only thing that was left was the mission work that carried on.

R FERRIS: Let’s see.

[tape recorder turned off and on]

F FERRIS: ...other work, too but I can’t think of what it....

[tape recorder turned off and on]

R FERRIS: The work [tape recorder turned off and on]... kind of.... LeTourneau’s work was undid because the technical aspect just wasn’t developing but the mission aspect seemed to go on?

F FERRIS: Yeah, was just a very, I think in some way, very impractical to try and go into a rainforest and try and develop an agricultural program. Lumbering might’ve been more in order. But...and.... The road system that he had envisioned building from the Northern...from the capital to the southern end, Cape Palmas area, just was impractical. They didn’t have the money to put into it and to develop it. The country wasn’t that enthus.... Well, there wasn’t any traffic in the business, there’s enterprise. And so LeTourneau withdrew from the project and said it just wasn’t practical at this stage of the game to try to develop an industry, that type of thing. But, the mission work continued and while I was in World Evangelical Fellowship, I heard of...learned of another mission that was going in shortly...and I had already agreed to work with evangelical...World Evangelical Fellowship. And, the...another mission board called me and said they were going to be taking over the area that I had evangelized and would I...the pastors wanted to know if they would be bring me back to work with them. So, they approached me on it. But, at that time, I felt I was where God wanted me now and I was serving in International Director for World Evangelical Fellowship. I don’t remember the mission now but I presume there are...well, I know that Wycliffe is working with...with them down there right where we were on our base. I’m sure other missions are working with them there.

R FERRIS: So, the work’s primarily been carried on by other missions or is it more indigenous than that?

F FERRIS: It’s...of course, I don’t know a lot about that end of it. The work is going on, I presume a lot of it is indigenous, from the churches within. Although I do know there are missions working in the area now because of the churches and they wanted to put in and help. So....

R FERRIS: Did the churches feel a lot of responsibility for other villages around them?

F FERRIS: Of course, that’s the way we worked and we tried to help them to see they could do more than we could to help reach these other villages. This is why we’d always ask a group of Christians from one village to go over to the next village and help us. And maybe in the third village and fourth village, we used the Christians in that way to help us evangelize. The women went out into the little gardens and they called their farms, and worked with the women witnessing, sharing a testimony. And I met with the men in the villages, during the days and what men would come, would help us. So, the church was involved in it, too, that way, in evangelizing the area.

R FERRIS: A thought just occurred to me: how important or how prevalent was literacy? Were you...was the Bible only through what you could hear or did they read it or...?

F FERRIS: No, they did not have it and that’s why I’m glad that Wycliffe is in to do a lot of the translating work. But, we...they learned a pidgin English, coastal people especially would learn pigeon english. But, no, there wasn’t.... I mean, to actually sit down and read their Bibles, they just didn’t actually have it in their language, they just didn’t have it. We were trying to reduce their language to writing while we were there and to try to help them to understand it. Our...our schoolteachers, that was part of their job, you know, to teach them how to read and we.... The growing generation, the one that’s there now, is the one that can do it, see? And some...many of those will be able to read now. But, I...I haven’t really been keeping in touch with Liberia to know just what it’s doing now.

R FERRIS: So, did the pastors at the time...the pastors you trained, did they memorize scripture and that’s how they knew it or was it just from learning from you and they passed it on?

F FERRIS: [interrupts] Most of them...most of the pastors that I would work with, that we worked with, native pastors, yes. But we would also teach them to the pigeon english also so that they could you know, we could talk together. I wasn’t fluent in a...and too many dialects. And then we’d get a pastor who could speak the next dialect and he’d help them with the dialect. But, when it came to actually reading, we hadn’t gotten to that while I was there. It was a very young work. But, people...we did see people saved. We saw, as I say, twenty six churches come in to being. And.... But it was a largely indigenous work among the natives...

R FERRIS: Uh-huh.

F FERRIS: ...themselves as we would encourage and help.

R FERRIS: So, how would you summarize your years in Liberia and your work there?

F FERRIS: Well, I feel for the period of time that we went, and that God blessed the work and they were very pleased to.... There was a hunger among the natives themselves so that we were always welcome and received. We saw many of them come to Christ, I don’t know how many altogether. But, and then we’d always follow up with the native pastors going in, following up the work, pastoring until we could put a pastor in the village which we tried to do as soon as we could. So, it was.... And the last reports I got from when Wycliffe was over there, it’s going good. The church on the coast, of course, is grown to be a big church...large church. I was amazed to see a picture of the church they built.

R FERRIS: Really?

F FERRIS: Big cement block church.


F FERRIS: I don’t know how they got the cement block down there. I think they said they made the block right on the base. They hauled a boat load of cement and stuff and made the block, built the I understand it now. Brick....

R FERRIS: Well, Grandpa, thank you for doing this interview with me today. I learned a lot and I certainly hope a lot of other people will, too.

F FERRIS: Well, I appreciate doing it. I hope it can be a blessing to somebody. We...we feel there’s a work there now in Liberia that’s got a testimony for Christ and we were able to penetrate almost the full hundred miles that we had set for ourselves. And, the rainforest and fifty miles wide. And we saw churches in a chain almost all the way through. So, God blessed and we’re very happy with it.


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Last Revised: 2/28/07
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© 2016 Wheaton College. All rights reserved. This transcript may be reused with the following publication credit: Used by permission of the Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.2007