Incidents in the Life of a Modern Viking . . .
By NORMAN GRUBB
The first great turning point in Abram’s (Abraham Vereide) life had been his emigration to America. The second was the experience gained through the Christian ministry, in the practical application of the dominating passion of his life—to bring Christ to men and men to Christ. The third, yet to come, was the channeling of this redemptive stream.
After nine years as superintendent of the Good Will Industries in Seattle, Abram was invited to Boston in 1931 to be associate general superintendent of the Good Will Industries of America, as well as pastor of the English Department of the Church of All Nations, and executive secretary for Good Will Industries for New England, positions he held till 1934.
During the years of the depression, this program for stretching the dollar by turning waste into wages grew in importance. He was asked by their governors to address various conferences in the New England states, and to consult with men of industries. The idea was to relate the program of Good Will Industries to the employment policies of states; but in the discussions what one man said in the Senate Chamber of Vermont was largely representative of what he heard in each state. This man brought out that in a study of the social and economic life of the state, he had become aware of the fact that every economic depression was preceded by a period of moral and spiritual decline, and neglect by the people of the Church and the religious life, and that every spiritual awakening was followed by social stability, progress, and economic prosperity. The present social and economic conditions, in other words, were largely brought about through neglect of religious life. Abram had not been aware of this. He had gone to these conferences to sell Good Will Industries, but he found himself faced with a spiritual issue. He began to see the relationship of the political and industrial leadership of America to social and economic problems. In order to remedy the latter, it was necessary to redeem the former.
The turning point came when Franklin D. Roosevelt, then governor of New York State, invited him to a conference concerning a social relief program for that state. “He wanted me to take charge of a state program,” wrote Abram “and apply this principle of the Good Will Industries in the expenditure of a fund of eighteen million dollars for the state. This I didn’t do, as the religious phases could not be included; but he also emphasized that what the state needed more than anything else was a spiritual upsurge. He called James Farrell, president of the United States Steel Corporation, and arranged for a few men to discuss the needs of the state in the field that was then my specialty. That meeting became a turning point in my work.
Headed for Chaos
“Mr Farrell reviewed the history of America and pointed out that we have had nineteen depressions—five major ones—and that every one was caused by disobedience to divine laws, neglect of God, the Church and the spiritual life, and that what had given rise to economic prosperity and social welfare was the quickening of the religious life. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘I am a Roman Catholic and we don’t go in much for revivals and such things, but I am as sure as I am sitting here that if we don’t get a thorough revival of genuine religion, with confession of our sins and repentance toward God by high and low, and a return for prayer and the Bible, we are headed for chaos. It must come through laymen, and the leaders of industry and business must lead.’”
Entrée to Government
A further and deeply interesting insight came to him when Carl Vrooman of Bloomington, Illinois, secretary of the Department of Agriculture under President Wilson, gave him a special appointment after Franklin Roosevelt was nominated for president in those dark days of the depression. He had asked Vrooman to form a super-cabinet as the advisory body for his administration in the national policy and program. Vrooman had found that he shared with Abram a mutual concern to save America from the political and economic breakdown that then existed. He asked Abram to head the Social Service portfolio. In that capacity, Abram was introduced to the inner workings of the economic and political forces of the nation. He could see how serious was the danger of left-wing elements actually taking over the nation.
Right in the middle of these deepening concerns, God was already giving the answer through Abram’s ministry—the only answer there is—and the combination of the following two incidents taking place in the same city was a wonderful silent reminder of the fact that in the light of eternity no earthly position is significant; there is neither privileged nor underprivileged, there is neither nigh nor low, all have sinned, all are under judgment, all must accept as little children the same saving grace of God in Christ.
Abram was visiting Detroit for the Good Will Industries and social workers conference for the state of Michigan. Back in Seattle a meeting was held each morning at the Mission Chapel of the Good Will Industries. One day some years before, a bushy-haired fellow dropped in and, at the end, walked up to Abram and exclaimed, “What is this now? You talked about something I know nothing about; and then you closed your eyes and began to talk as if somebody else was present. But I didn’t see anybody. What sort of joint is this?” “It’s the kind of place fellows like you can find yourself and make a success of life,” responded Abram. “You say you couldn’t see anybody, but that Person is real and He’s here.” “Where is he?” the man asked. “Well, can you see my thoughts or emotions? God is like that. He is mind and will and emotion. He made all things,” announced Abram.
He found out subsequently that this man had been born in England, had never had a home, was kicked from pillar to post, and spent much of his time in jail. He jumped a ship to America and became part of a gang which lived by robbery and crime. He was in Seattle for the kick-off of a bank robbery to take place two days later. He had just come in to get something to get by with till the event took place.
“Would you like to meet Him?” Abram asked then. “Sure, I would.” “Well, you can.” And Abram told him the Gospel story. “As you kneel down with me and ask Him, you’ll see what will happen. Kneel, and we will talk to Him. I first, you follow.” He did so, and as they began to talk to God, the man burst out with his curse words, the only words he knew; “By God, I believe you’re here.” Then, “Damn it, if you can help me, please do so.” Then up he jumped to his feet and shouted, “He is here! And, He is real!” After subsequent instruction, taking him to a home for homeless men and getting him a job, Abram didn’t see him for several years.
“Don’t You Know Me?”
But when Abram was speaking to the social workers at the Detroit conference, he used this story as an illustration. As soon as the meeting was over, a man in Salvation Army uniform rushed up excitedly saying, “Don’t you know me?” Abram did not until he exclaimed, “I’m Jack!” Abram “hollered” out, “Here’s the man I’ve been talking about, and as the people crowded around, Jack confirmed it. Abram knew he had been talking to many who might not have seen for themselves that Christ is the answer, and here was the exceptional chance to demonstrate it. It was, as he said to them, “A liability made asset; waste turned into wages.”
At this same social workers’ conference, when Abram was addressing a women’s group, unknown to him Mrs. Henry Ford, the wife of Henry Ford I, was present. She was so impressed that she told her husband, who phoned and asked Abram to come and have dinner with him. After several further meetings at his office, he asked Abram to come and spend time with him alone in Sudbury, Massachusetts, the village which he had rebuilt. They were together two days, he unloading spiritual, intellectual, and business problems, and Abram seeking to give the answer for himself and the nation. Henry Ford was so “befuddled” with all kinds of notions he had gleaned from Hindu mysticism and theosophy and various religious and philosophical concepts that the question was, How could he be untangled? At subsequent meetings in Dearborn, Abram gave him various scriptures, taking him as far as he could. One day, after prayer and preparation, Abram left him with “the ultimate of God’s revelation of himself and what He said.” When Abram came to his office next time, Henry Ford gleefully called out, “Vereide, I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” “What have you got?” “I found the release that you spoke of. I’ve made my surrender. The only thing that matters is God’s will. I’m anchored in Jesus Christ.”