Stories my Grandpa told me
I grew up in Doncaster, in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. My mother and father, and my sister and I lived next door to my maternal grandparents, Reg and Ruby Price. I saw Grandpa and Grandma almost every day, and as one would expect, they had a profound influence on my life. I remember struggling with my multiplication tables in Grade 3, and being coached by my grandfather (who was a bookkeeper) almost every day after school. In one term I went from the bottom of the class to the very top! Fifty-five years later, I can still hear the rhythmic chants: “Two twos are four; three twos are six; four twos are eight ….”
But what I remember most of all are the stories that my Grandpa used to tell me — stories of his early days in the Salvation Army, and then later, as a member of the fledgling Pentecostal movement in Melbourne. I remember him telling me how he was converted at an ‘open-air’ meeting conducted by the Salvation Army in Bendigo. (Years later he and I would return to the street corner where he heard the gospel proclaimed in 1919, and reflect on the ramifications of his decision to follow Christ).
I remember Grandpa telling me about his hunger for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit as described in the Book of Acts, and how, whilst visiting a friend, he happened to pick up a copy of The Bridal Call that was laying on the coffee table. (The Bridal Call was published by Pentecostal pioneer Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the Foursquare Gospel Church in the USA). The Bridal Call was an answer to the prayer that he had been praying: “Lord, are You the same today as You were then? If so, lead me to the place where You are demonstrating Your power and manifesting Your glory.”
I remember Grandpa telling me how he attended Aimee Semple McPherson’s meetings at Wirth’s Olympia in 1922, and Smith Wigglesworth’s meetings in 1928. I also remember him telling me how he heard about a Pentecostal church that had taken over an old picture theatre at 343 Bridge Road, Richmond. After attending a few meetings, Grandpa went forward for prayer and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (much to the consternation of some of his friends and colleagues in the Salvation Army).
Grandpa eventually became the head deacon at Richmond Temple, working faithfully alongside his pastor and mentor, C. L. Greenwood. I remember Grandpa telling me about some of the demonstrations of God’s power that he had witnessed over the years: how a young boy was hit by a car on busy Bridge Road, and was brought into the service with his arm dangling and broken by his side — as prayer was offered, the boy’s arm was miraculously restored before the eyes of the congregation; how that during one of Pastor Greenwood’s Sunday night sermons, a man at the very back of the church came under deep conviction and literally slid down the length of the aisle, landing in a heap at the altar, propelled as it were by some unseen hand.
As a young boy, with a hunger for God and a sense of His calling on my life, I found Grandpa’s stories irresistible. “Tell me again, Grandpa, about Wigglesworth,” I would say. “Tell me about the Sunshine revival, and A. C. Valdez.” And with a smile on his face, Grandpa would recount the works of God in days of old.
The Psalmist David understood the importance of older generations sharing life-changing truths and landmark experiences with younger generations through the art of story-telling: “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts … they shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, and shall sing of Your righteousness … they shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, and talk of Your power …” (Psalm 145:4,7,11).
Indeed, this is the raison d’etre of the Jewish Pesach or Passover meal which the Lord commanded His people to observe for all time:
“You shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’” (Exodus 12.24-27)
As every observant Jew knows, Pesach is a time of story-telling: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In David’s words, it is a night in which one generation declares God’s mighty acts and utters the memory of His great goodness to another generation. The worship leader Asaph put it this way:
“I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from our children, telling the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.” (Psalm 78:2-7)
Story-telling is a device that has been used by nations and cultures from time immemorial to pass on shared values and to forge a common identity. Consider for example, the legend of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli in 1915, and the much-touted traits of courage and mateship.
Visionary American author Kent Nerburn notes that in talking with native American elders, what impressed him most deeply was “the almost sacred value the elders placed on the importance of their stories … stories were not mere entertainment to them, nor were they simple reminiscences; they were the traditional way of handing down the values and the memories of their culture — the way they had been taught by their elders — and they approached the task with something close to reverence” (The Wolf at Twilight, New World Library, 2009).
Grandpa Price went home to be with Jesus in 1986, at the age of eighty-five — but the stories he told me continue to live on. Like seed planted in fertile ground, they continue to bear fruit from generation to generation.
Many years have come and gone. I myself am now a grandfather, charged with the responsibility of passing on the truths, values, and experiences of a spiritual ethnos and culture to the next generation. Now it’s my turn to tell the stories of God’s grace and power.