|From the Winter 2011 issue of Knowing & Doing|
by Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D.
With the help of a friend, she dyed her wedding dress black, the color of mourning, to wear that afternoon at her young husband’s funeral. The date was July 4, 1925, and their baby son, Charles, was only seven weeks old.
Just over a year earlier, Edith was radiant as a bride in her stunning, white wedding dress. Her adoring sweetheart, V. Raymond Edman, had eagerly awaited the wedding at mission headquarters in Quito, Ecuador. But then Ray, whom Edith affectionately called “Friend Prexy,” had contracted typhus fever. Dr. Herbert Parker, an expert in tropical diseases, had to break the hard news to her that Ray’s feet were already cold; he wasn’t long for this earth. A friend, Will Reed, ordered a native coffin made of wood, covered in black cloth, to be ready for the burial. The climate of the tropics demands a quick interment. The funeral service was planned and scheduled for 3:00 p.m.
Ray and Edith met at Park Street Church in Boston through a mutual friend and mentor, E. Joseph Evans, otherwise known as “Uncle Joe.” Prior to meeting they had each heard God’s still small voice calling them to serve in missions, specifically in South America. As they grew in love for each other, “They prayed together and agreed to separate for a time to test the sincerity of their love and to determine the will of God fully. By spring 1923, they were convinced it was God’s will for them to become engaged, to get married later and finally to serve together in South America.”1
Their mutual calling led them to the Quechua Indians in Ecuador. They were married, welcomed their first child, and things were looking bright. God was blessing their work, and they were developing good relationships with the Indians. Then suddenly, death was lurking on their doorstep.
Ray knew that he was dying, though he was unaware that people were busy preparing for his funeral. He recalled what his mother had told him as a child—that often when people are about to die, their life plays out before their eyes; they remember the people and events that shaped them. This happened to Ray as he thought of his childhood home in Illinois, his grade school teachers, friends from school, his days serving in the army in World War I. Ray wrote, “It was something like the unfolding of a newsreel, and with it there came the clear consciousness, ‘Now I have come to die.’”2
At this point Ray became aware of what he described as a “Presence” that slowly entered the room, rising from the ground up to the level of his bed; soon it completely filled the room. At first Ray wondered what this surrounding influence or “Presence” might be. He wrote, “Then I knew what it was, for in those moments I experienced a sweet sense of the love of God in Christ such as I had never known before in all the years of my life… It is sufficient to say that I have no fear of dying. Heaven is home to the believer, to that one who has become a child of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”3
Ray, like Lazarus in John 11, had faced death. But unlike Lazarus, Ray was never buried in that black coffin. Edith didn’t have to wear her blackened wedding dress that day. About a week later, Ray was able to recognize his wife and was gradually restored to health, a testimony of Jesus’ resurrection power.
And now the rest of the story. Weeks later Ray learned that on the very day of his “personal hand to hand conflict with death”4 on July 4, 1925, “Uncle Joe” was at a Bible Conference at the Alliance Camp Hebron in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Suddenly Uncle Joe was burdened to intercede on behalf of Ray. He pleaded with the congregation of about two hundred to stop what they were doing and pray for V. Raymond Edman in Ecuador. He discerned by the Holy Spirit’s prompting that Ray was facing some kind of crisis and needed to be delivered. What followed were some fiercely intense hours of prayer. Years later those present still remembered the fervency of their intercessions. They prayed and fasted through midday, and then in the midafternoon they felt a release of spirit, suddenly assured “that their prayers for the desperate need thirty-five hundred miles away had been answered.”5
Evangelical scholar Walter Elwell writes, “From that moment on, although often called upon to suffer physically and emotionally, Edman’s life was characterized by a sense of God’s presence and never failing good cheer. He had seen beyond the veil, and what had greeted him was the unfathomable love of God.”6
The Early Years
Edman the Soldier
At that moment, for the first time in his life, Edman became aware of a “Presence” beside him. He knew immediately that it was Jesus. He couldn’t see or touch him, but he heard Jesus say, “I will go with you.” He arose from that encounter with the living Christ with a renewed strength and peace. He then led his group through the deep snow and trudged throughout the afternoon, eventually arriving at a home in Boden—C Company headquarters. The woman of the house, noticing that Ray was not well, gave him a hot meal and a warm feather bed in the attic with her brother rather than bunking him in the unheated room with the other soldiers. This experience of the the Spirit’s presence had a profound effect on the young Edman as he was learning to trust the Lord in the midst of difficulties.
Edman’s Education and Mentor
When Rader became the president of the Missionary Training Institute in Nyack, New York, Edman decided to take a one-year break from his studies at Illinois and teach Spanish and take courses at Nyack. During this time Edman met “Uncle Joe” and his own future wife, Edith Olson, on a trip to Boston.
Uncle Joe saw great potential in Ray, and out of that developed a lifelong Paul–Timothy-type relationship. Sensing that Ray was somewhat restless, Uncle Joe invited him to move to Boston and live with him as he explored what God had in store. On one eventful night, the mentor told his young disciple, “Ray, God has a plan for your life. When you abandon yourself, God will reveal it.” Almost immediately, Ray fell on his knees and prayed that he would “abandon himself to God and await his will.”9 He realized that his love for adventure and “busy holiness” had hindered him from discerning God’s direction in his life.
For the next two years, as Edman completed a bachelor’s degree in Spanish at Boston University, his relationship with Edith grew. Soon after his graduation, Edman traveled to Ecuador for mission work, with the plan that Edith would soon join him.
He was startled by the answer to this prayer, as he heard the Holy Spirit say, “Are you willing to go anywhere for Me?”
Fourth President of Wheaton College
While praying one cold morning in January 1936, Edman heard the Lord say, “Wheaton College.” That seemed strange. The idea of teaching at Wheaton had never crossed his mind. Yet two months later, this word from the Lord was confirmed when Edman was invited to join the faculty of Wheaton College, in Illinois. Teaching history, Edman soon became one of the most popular professors on campus. He also gained respect among the faculty for his sharp mind, clear thoughts on education, and ability to communicate well in public settings. So in January 1940, when the board of trustees came to a point of irreconcilable differences with the college’s president, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., the name of V. Raymond Edman was proposed as an “acting president.” Thus began Edman’s twenty-five years of service to Wheaton College and to the greater Christian community as the institution’s president. During his tenure, the college expanded its financial endowments, its enrollment rose by 50 percent, and the campus added fourteen buildings. He established the Office of Chaplain, witnessed a campus revival in 1950, and had a lasting impact on the lives of faculty, staff, and students such as Billy Graham.
Mentor to Billy Graham
Just as young Edman had once been mentored, encouraged, challenged, and held up in prayer throughout his life by his mentor in the faith, Uncle Joe, so Edman became that kind of spiritual father and friend to Billy Graham.
Dr. Edman would have a lifelong impact on Graham’s life and ministry. Prexy encouraged Billy’s budding relationship with Ruth, commenting one day, “Bill, Ruth’s one in a million.” He also recommended that Billy succeed him as a preaching pastor at the local Tabernacle Church, while Graham was still a student. To make Billy’s preaching assignment easier, Edman would provide him with sermon outlines that he could adapt since he knew Billy had a full academic load and didn’t have time to prepare.
In the years to come, whenever Billy had a major decision to make, he would call Prexy. Edman would give no direct advice but would tell Billy, “Do what the Lord tells you to do.” Then they would pray about it. When Graham found himself in the midst of controversy, Edman stayed by his side and encouraged him with the words, “Billy, pay no attention. You have only one Person to please, and that’s the Lord.” Edman became one of the charter board members of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and brought wisdom and good counsel to the board. Edman always adjourned the board meetings early saying with a smile, “You cannot accomplish anything after nine o’clock.” That was in part because he was an early riser who met the Lord in prayer in the wee hours of the morning.
Billy Graham has noted that as he traveled the world he would meet people who told him how they had been positively influenced by Raymond Edman. He writes, “We will never know the full evaluation of his life and ministry until we stand at the judgment seat of Christ, but still I have to say that he was the most unforgettable Christian I ever met.”13
In the Presence of the King
On September 22, 1967, Chancellor Edman stood before the Wheaton College faculty and students to give a chapel message titled “In the Presence of the King.” The 1960s were turbulent times, as the Vietnam War raged. Students on the Wheaton campus were struggling with how to make sense of it all. Edman knew that what Christians in Wheaton and elsewhere needed was a return to seeking a daily audience with the King of kings.
In Edman’s commitment to follow God anywhere, he had developed relationships with world leaders such as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, President Richard Nixon, and His Majesty Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. He began his chapel message by telling of an invitation he received to enter the throne room of King Selassie. He described the protocol and respect required to enter into the king’s presence. Then Edman stated,
Those were V. Raymond Edman’s last words on earth as he turned, collapsed on stage and entered the presence of the King of kings whom he had served so long and well.
Victor Raymond Edman found the secret. And so can we.
|Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D., Vice President of Discipleship & Outreach, has worked in education, “tent-making,” nonprofit administration, and pastoral ministry in Alaska, Israel, Hungary, France, and Virginia. He served as a Dean and professor at European Bible Institute, and worked for Oakwood Services International before coming to CSLI. He has a B.A from Wheaton College, M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University.|
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