The Story of Miss Esther Knight, currently living in South Wales.
I first met Esther at teacher training college. The year was 1949. We were eighteen. I remember, one warm Saturday afternoon, I had thought there was a persistent bumble bee outside my room, only to discover it was Esther, sitting on her window sill reading from her Greek NT. (Why sit on a chair when there was something she could perch on? That was Esther.)
She had believed from her early teens, maybe younger, that God had called her to be a missionary. Her aunt, for many years a missionary in China, was a great influence and example in Esther’s life, as was her mother, who had died of cancer while Esther and her twin sister Sheila were only just in their teens.
She came to college, believing a missionary should have qualifications, either in teaching or nursing. She asked to take NT Greek as her special study and had weekly lessons with the local curate. Tough and gaunt, she was the only one in the college who didn’t put on weight, in spite of the wonderful college food. Deeply intellectual as well as athletic, to me she seemed to have all the requirements for a missionary.After leaving college she had an interview to work with the Leprosy Mission, but was rejected. This must have been devastating for her, but God had other plans. Brought up as staunch members of an evangelical church, as a family they were brought into contact with the Apostolic Church. It was very hard for Esther, who was by nature strongly independent and a deep intellectual to take such a step of faith, to embrace the tenets and disciplines of the Apostolic church, but it was at an Easter convention at the little East End assembly of Barking that Esther was mightily baptised in the Holy Spirit, and she received a deep ministry of prophesy.
Esther and I taught in Hoxton for a couple of years and it was in that time, chiefly through Esther’s prayerful love and friendship that I came to assurance of salvation and also was called into the Apostolic church, but while I continued to teach there for several more years, Esther had a breakdown in health. The long journey had something to do with it but possibly it was the struggle of feeling the urgency of her call and knowing she was in a church where single missionaries were no longer accepted.
A few more years of teaching in a council home, even tougher than Hoxton, and helping to establish the little Wallington, later Hackbridge Assembly, and then God wonderfully opened a door for her to join the missionary outreach in Ilesha, Nigeria, as a teacher in the Apostolic Church Teacher training college, where a Canadian pastor, Vernon Wood was the principal. God had made a way where there was no way. Esther must have had many fears and misgivings. I remember she was worried at the prospect of having to teach mathematics. Living on a compound with several other missionary families, she soon had a newly built bungalow, but it was far from easy being the only single person on the site. Until her car arrived, and she eventually passed her test, Pastor George and May Williams were very good to her, taking her on tour with them during the school holidays. George thought it highly amusing to be congratulated on his two wives, but Esther was very thankful when she had her own transport. She could be fiercely independent.
Her burden was the children's work, and now in holiday time she would travel to various areas to hold teacher training courses and to encourage the teachers. But Nigeria had achieved independence and the church was working towards autonomy. The college was closed down and so Esther was free to accept an invitation to go and live in an area where as yet the Gospel had made little impact. Esther has told us many wonderful stories of the light shining into this deep darkness of heathendom, but sadly her letters, and now her memories are no more. But we remember her telling us of one dear Apostolic lady, Mary, who had been brought to that village through her marriage and for years had prayed fervently that there might be an Apostolic church there. Against all odds, Esther came, and with her a young evangelist, Joseph and his wife. Gradually a faithful band gathered around them and a church was started, but Esther knew that curses were pronounced against her. We may think this can have no power, but when she nearly lost her life through her toilet collapsing, she knew this was no chance.
‘Don’t you see, Mary. This was a greater miracle, that you are standing firm in your faith.’ When, eventually, Mary herself was dying, she was comforting the villagers, not to think it was because they had prayed and worked against her, but because Jesus was calling her. God did a wonderful work in that little village, not because of Esther, but because she had been willing to go there and stand in the name of Jesus, he had come and made himself known. But now the Biafran war was over. Pastor Parry and Kitty Selby had been able to return to their work in the East. The church had come through great tribulation and the young people were on fire. There was an open door for Esther to come over to teach in the college there. When she arrived, Parry and Kitty asked her if she would take this young lad to help her in the house. They had heard him crying out to God, his voice carrying above all the hubbub of prayer in a great convention. ‘Oh God, I have no father. I have no mother. If you will be my Father then I will be your son.’
Of course, Esther was happy to have an adopted son, though Joseph wasn’t a great help with the house work. More often she would find him on his knees praying, instead of doing his chores, but he went on to be a faithful servant in the church. Taking a necessary break every two years, because of the rigours of the climate, it wasn’t easy for Esther to see the increasing need of her aging parents. But now, after 22 years in Nigeria, Esther knew the need at home was greater. Tragically she had heard of her father’s illness too late, arriving home to find the funeral was already over, and because he had been cremated, no place even where she could go to mourn her beloved Dad. But what of Joseph? How could she leave him? Wonderfully, the news was spread abroad. ‘Joseph has a sister.’ It was true, and a mature Christian lady appeared who was willing to take responsibility for this special young man. Esther was comforted, even as she returned home to care for her step mother, her dear Rosie, who had been such a help to her and Sheila, in that terrible time of her mother’s illness and death, of her father’s mourning, and who eventually became a wife and step-mother, a ray of sunshine in this grief stricken family.
It was not easy for Esther to leave Africa. At first she tried to still fulfil her commitment to the church. She published a monthly leaflet– ALP – Apostolic League of Prayer, giving us a need from the mission field to pray for each day, and she visited the assemblies as she was able, but gradually her role as carer made this impossible and she resigned from her employment with the church.
But she never could resign from her commitment to the Lord. She laboured with the saints in the local assembly, now in Hackbridge, but when her dear Rosie died she knew she could no longer live in the London area and moved to South Wales, finding fellowship in the Ystradgynlais assembly. Giving up her car and buying a bungalow just up the road from my sister Mary and her husband, Pastor Les Davies, we counted her as one of our family. Still a gifted preacher, while a faithful member of Saron Apostolic church in Ystradgynlais, she gave ministry in many local chapels, and had a burden for the residents of a local care home, eventually taking responsibility for a monthly service. Now we tell her God has called her to a full time ministry there, for she was no longer able to care for herself in the little bungalow she called ‘her palace.’ She may be suffering from dementia, but she is still alive to God. She still prays with power, and may even prophesy, when taken to the local fellowship. When I visit, though conversation may at time be difficult, we will sing some of the old hymns, and the wonderful soprano voice of her youth returns and we have a little bit of glory. It has been my privilege to have had Esther as a teacher, example, encourager and dear friend. Esther wrote poems from time to time but was reluctant to have them published. However, I have selected these two, written very early and then much later in her life of deep commitment to God.
CALL TO YOUTH (Solo to Stainer’s All for Jesus)
In the quiet of the ev’ning While the shadows round us fall Dreaming of the life before us We can hear the Saviour’s call
Ye who long for life’s adventure Mighty deeds and great unknown Give your strength to fight his battles Win the Christian victor’s crown
Do you fear the life before you Feel your weakness and your sin? Plead the Saviour’s blood for cleansing Know his quiet strength within
If rebellion stirs within you ‘gainst the irksome daily round Come to Christ for in his service There is perfect freedom found
Lo! Upon the cross he suffered More than mortal agony Scourged, forsaken, thirsting, bleeding, Jesus gave his life for thee
In the quiet of the ev’ning Jesus calls us to decide Will you leave your sin and whisper ‘Saviour, enter and abide.’June 1949
ALL UNTO HIM (2Cor. 5: 13-15)
Whether I laugh or whether I cry Whether I save or whether I buy, Whether I save or whether I keep, Whether I watch or whether I sleep – All unto Him, unto Him!
Whether I stay or whether I go, Whether I reap or whether I sow, Whether I praise or whether I pray, Whether I labour by night or by day – All unto Him, unto Him!
Whether in gain or whether in loss, Whether in comfort or bearing the cross, Whether in eloquence preaching His name, Whether in silence I suffer His shame – All unto Him, unto Him!
Whether I march with the hosts of light, Whether I stumble alone in the night, Whether I labour at home or abroad, Pouring the ointment or wielding the sword – All unto Him, unto Him!
Whether I serve in peace or in strife, Glorify Jesus in death or in life, Whether I die in old age and pain Or rise from my work when He comes again – Him I love: Him I serve; Him I magnify; All unto Him, only Him!E.L.K. (1980)
Esther wrote poems from time to time but was reluctant to have them published. However, I have selected these two, written very early and then later in her life of deep commitment to God. This article is part of a bi-monthly history blog that Pastor Marcus Thomas is compiling in preparing for our Centenary Year.
Marcus will be launching his book 'The God of our Fathers' at AblazeUK 2016. This publication will portray the story of ten pioneers from our first century.