BIOGRAPHICAL EXCERPTS OF OSWALD CHAMBERS -- July 24, 1874 – November 15, 2017
By David McCasland
Rev. Clarence Chambers and his wife Hannah were the parents of Oswald Chambers and eight more children. Oswald was the eight of nine children.
In the 1850’s Hannah Accepted Christ as her Saviour, under the preaching of the great London Baptist minister, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Both Rev. Clarence and Hannah were also baptized by the Rev. Spurgeon, with the event confirming their mutual resolved to serve Christ completely. Rev. Clarence abandoned his plans to be a hairdresser and became one of the first students at Spurgeon’s Pastor’s College at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. Following his ordination, Rev. Clarence served a church in Romsey for two years, then came to Aberdeen, Scotland in 1866 to be the pastor of Crown Terrace Baptist.
On July 24, 1874 Hannah Chambers awaken her husband in the early darkness, “It’s time,” she said with a note of urgency in her voice. Rev. Clarence sent the house girl to summon the midwife while he remained by Hanna’s side. At 2:30 a.m., not long before the first signs of the far northern dawn appeared in the sky, Oswald Chambers was born. Oswald was the 8th of 9 children of Rev. Clarence and Hannah Chambers.
Oswald, like many children reared in Christian home, learned to pray at a young age. But because his earnest faith in God, his prayers used to go beyond mere form. Franklin - his brother three years older – said of Oswald in later years, “After setting his heart on having two guinea pigs, Oswald prayed each night for them and inspected the chicken run the next morning to see if they had arrived. He believed they would come because he had asked God. When the morning came that they were there, he never wondered if a family member had provided them. He simply thanked God. This faith in God enlarged and enriched in wonderful ways. It had the same essence and simplicity whether he asked for guinea pigs, or rail-way fairs, or passage money to Japan.“
On 1877, Rev. Clarence Chambers accepted the invitation to become a pastor of a church in the city of Fenton. On 1981, when Oswald was seven, his father accepted a call to the Baptist Chapel in Perth, and the Family returned to Scotland. There, along the banks of the beautiful River Tay, Oswald spent his formative boyhood years. Friends and family members described ten-year Oswald, as a boy of “characteristic quietness combined with rollicking fun” In his childhood he showed little trace of the intense mental concentration that distinguished his character in later life. If there was a childhood trait that foreshadowed his gift and passion as a young man, it appeared in the realm of art.
On June 1889, Rev. Clarence was appointed Traveling Secretary of the Baptist Total Abstinence Association. Oswald was elated when he learned that they were moving to London. The thought of life in that great city stirred him with excitement. More than anything he wanted to pursue his training in art. As he thought of the museums and galleries and stunning architecture in London, the possibilities for learning seemed endless. The family had never had any surplus to speak of, and Oswald’s father felt that a healthy fifteen-year-old boy with a good education should go to work and contribute to the family’s support. As soon as they could move to London, Rev. Clarence wanted his youngest son to look for a job. Oswald respected his father so much, but he could not accept his ever-practical, ever-economizing approach to life. Money meant nothing to the aspiring artist whose dream had nothing to do with monetary success. In September of 1889, Oswald took a long, final walk beside the River Tay and said good-bye to his boyhood. He looked forward to his next walks along the banks of the mighty Thames.
From 1889-1895. In September 1889, the Chambers family settled into a two story, Victorian row house in Peckham, four miles southeast of the heart of London. Hannah (mother) used their limited financial resources to create a home where gracious hospitality welcomed all who came. Her diligence, ingenuity, and happy disposition produced an environment in which no one felt any lack. These were days of growing spiritual awareness and commitment towards God for Oswald. Not long after the family arrived in London, he accompanied his father to hear the Rev. Spurgeon preach at the great Metropolitan Tabernacle. On the way home Oswald remarked that if there had been an opportunity to give himself to the Lord during that service, he would have done so. His father was quick to respond “you can do it now, my boy.” There in the street, the young man gave himself to God. In later years Oswald would speak of “being born again as a lad” and his brother Arthur would identify this night as the time when Oswald “quietly, but decidedly, surrendered to Jesus Christ as his Saviour.” In the days that followed, Oswald’s life confirmed the authenticity of his spiritual birth.
One of his closest friends was George Oxer who recalled their comradeship in these words: “I was Oswald Chambers’ chum, as far as his somewhat unique soul could have a chum. The fact that he espied angels where I saw only a fence did not militate against a real friendship.”
While Oswald’s spiritual development was accelerating at Rye Lane Chapel, his artistic nature was experiencing a great deal of frustration. Although he was clearly gifted in music and art, his practical father could not conceive of his youngest son finding a life-work in either endeavor. Art, his father thought, was a luxury, and earning a living was a necessity. Music was an enhancement of life and a pleasure, but not a secure source of income for a man. The pragmatic approach of the Rev. Rev. Clarence Chamber, no doubt, led to Oswald’s being apprenticed to an engraver; Oswald could earn a small wage and become certified as a journeyman in the trade. The course of Oswald’s life might have been much different had he not stepped off a tram one day and injured himself to such extent that the newly begun apprenticeship had to be canceled. Oswald longed for further art training, but his father expressed a serious moral objection in addition to his practical concerns. Oswald loved his father but didn’t agree with his view of art. To him art was God’s gift to make life on earth bearable. Poetry and music were nut luxuries, but necessities.
It is uncertain whether reason or Hannah eventually prevailed. Whatever the reason, Rev. Clarence eventually relented, and Oswald enthusiastically seized the opportunity to continue his studies. He performed particularly well in “black and white,” showing rare ability with pencil sketches. A large portrait of Beethoven done by him at the age of 19, portrays the deaf composer with a piercing eye and determined set of jaw suffused with a kindness rarely seen in other depictions of him. Oswald received his Art Master’s Certificate early in 1895 and was awarded a two-year scholarship to study in the great art centers of Europe. However, he startled the art faculty and his friends by turning the scholarship down. The decision entirely was his own, based on his observations of those who had suffered moral and spiritual ruin during similar courses of study. Soon after Oswald felt grip by a sense of calling. He wrote to Chrissie, his girlfriend, on April 22, 1895: “Pray for me. I do not know how this is to be done – but is something wrong somewhere, else Christians and art, music and poetry would not in their training be so oppose to Christ, mark you. It is the training that is wrong, not the visible works of music and art and poetry.”
Six years had passed since the boy of fifteen had come with his family from Perth to the city of London, so filled with illusions and dreams. His heart, always tender toward God, had unreservedly embraced Christ as Savior, Master, and Lord. Now, after years of uncertainty, the way ahead seemed cleared. The young man sped northward by train, alone, following what he felt was the unmistakably call from God. Mixed with that sense of calling was his longing to accomplish something great, something profoundly important for God. 1895-1897. He treasure Scotland, the land of his birth, and was always careful to list his nationality as Scottish, never British or English. During Chambers’ first year in Edinburgh, undoubtedly the greatest influence on his life was Dr. Alexander Whyte, pastor of Free Street George’s Church. Whyte focused in the “Mystics”. Oswald’s diligent study during his first year paid off. He was named Third Price man in fine arts by Baldwin Brown and received a First Class Certificate along with high commendation for his essays. His competence in Painting and sketching as well as his intellectual achievement seemed to verify God’s calling to influence the world of art.
Chambers pray aloud, alternately thanking God and pleading with Him to make His way plain. He wanted to serve Him in art, to go where others could not or would not take the gospel of Jesus Christ. But the way seemed blocked, and now perhaps forbidden. “Oh God,” he pleaded, “Make Thy way plain to me.” As the hours wore on, his soul cried out in anguished silence. Sometime during the night, according to Chambers’ account, he heard a voice that actually spoke these words, “I want you in My service – but I can do without you.” Was that the guidance he sought? Was this the answer to his struggle? Suddenly the call to the ministry seemed so clear. He was ready to obey, but how? What should he do? It was a call with no more guidance that he possessed before. Near the end of November 1896, God’s call was becoming progressively more sure.
In October 1896 Oswald wrote to Chrissie, in which he related an unnerving event during a visit with Franklin in Perth: “I went to see John MacDonald’s father he is a singular man of deep religious experience, the Holy Spirit being his constant theme off meditation and conversation. He astounded me by telling me that I was to be a minister. He said as soon as I came in with my brother he felt impressed in him that I was destined to be a minister, and on leaving he prayed for me most earnestly that God would open my way.” Oswald had no idea what lay ahead as he boarded a train bound to Glasgow to catch a steamer to Dunoon. He knew only that his aim had once been art for God. Now it was only God. Month’s before he had told Chrissie, “I feel I shall be buried for a time, hidden away in obscurity; then suddenly I shall flame out, do my work, and be gone.”
1897.- He was abandoning world-renowned professors and placing himself under the tutelage of Rev. Duncan MacGregor. Oswald, to his critics, was leaving the ocean and entering a mud puddle. In spite of the twenty five year age difference between Oswald Chambers and Duncan MacGregor, a deep friendship quickly developed between them. He wrote to a friend “Grand old ‘Mac’, I look upon him as a re-incarnation of Jesus Christ by His Spirit, so like is he to his Master.” During the next five and a half years at Dunoon, Chambers developed into a powerful and much sought to become a preacher. To his gift of unique and forceful expression he added tact and compassion.
November 1906 Oswald went to the United States and spent six months teaching at God’s Bible School in Cincinnati, Ohio. From there he went to Japan, visiting the Tokyo Bible School, founded by Charles and Lettie Cowman. This journey around the world marked his transition from Dunoon College to full-time work with the London-based Pentecostal League of Prayer. He wrote on a letter “The goodness of God strikes me. People don’t know Him, but it is not a wicked ignoring, it is ignorance. The full compassionate love of the Holy Ghost for the crowd is a precious, though intolerable, compassion. But to the ones who have tasted God, how nothing on earth again can satisfy. Once we think with God, all the rest is far and sinks to a relative place.”
1907.- Chambers’ article titled “Missionary Ignorance” appeared in June 13, 1907, issue of God’s Revivalist. In it he spoke his mind on the tragedy of sending young missionaries into difficult foreign assignments without adequate preparation. “Our training for both home and foreign work is all too slight, Three hours’ training for thirty years’ work is far more of the modern stamp, that thirty years’ preparation for three years’ service.”
1908 – On May 28, he was due to sail to the United States, this time however he would not be alone. Mrs. Amelia Hobbs had written saying that her daughter Gertrude, whom he knew from his Brother Arthur’s church in Eltham, would be traveling to America on the same ship as he. She hopped it wouldn’t be imposing to ask if He’s look out for her and give her a hand, especially when they arrived in New York. Gertrude was on her way to New York to visit a friend who told her that secretarial jobs were plentiful. Her family called her Gertie or Truda but he needed a nickname of his own. For reasons unknown, he decided on Biddy a friendly name with none of its current connotations. During walks on deck each day, he learned more about this intriguing young lady. When she was a child winter spells with bronchitis kept her out of school every year for two months at a time. She eventually left school to help her mother at home and allow the family resources to be used for educating her older sister, Dais, and her brother, Herbert.
While other children might have languished in self-pity young Gertrude was not deterred by her winter confinement and lack of formal education. She had a single ambition – to become a secretary of the Prime Minister of England. So she set herself to studying Pitman’s shorthand at home and learning to type. Knowing that many young men and women could take short hand she therefore decided to outdistance the field in speed and accuracy. Along with the speed and accuracy, she sought understanding as well. Two weeks before Gertrude’s fifteenth birthday, her father died at the age of fifty, leaving the family in financial difficulty. By that time Gertrude was old enough to work full time. She could take shorthand dictation at the phenomenal rate of two hundred fifty words per minute – faster than anyone was likely to talk. When the voyage ended they parted company, but a steady correspondence quickly developed between the two.
With the consent and approval from both families, on November 13, he took her to St Paul’s Cathedral, a favorite place for both of them. Then, standing in front of Holman Hunt’s famous painting, “The light of the World,” they pledged their love to each other and became engaged. A ring set with three diamonds sealed their promise. Biddy loved him dearly and shared his vision. They let St. Paul’s ablaze with hope, unmindful of the cold or the night.
On December 6, Oswald wrote “I feel as if I must go out and see the sea once more. This great power and groan of the mighty sea seems to awaken that longing loneliness of the prophet about me for God. I am filled with Joy always but a tremendous sorrow seems to be interwoven with it all.”
Major John Skidmore the League’s Secretary in Manchester shared such a close relationship with Oswald Chambers. When Skidmore found himself in a mental cul de sac; emptied by his role of continually giving the truth out to others he shared his dilemma with Chambers. “What do you read?” Oswald asked. “Only the Bible and books directly associated with it,” Skidmore told him. “That is the trouble,” Chambers replied. “You have allowed part of your brain to stagnate for want of use.” Within a few minutes, Oswald has scribbled out a list of more than fifty books – Philosophical, psychological, and theological, dealing with every phase of current thought. “My strong advice to you is to soak in philosophy, and psychology, until you know more of these subjects than ever you need consciously to think. It is ignorance of these subjects on the part of ministers and workers that has brought our evangelical theology to such a sorry plight. When people refers to a man as ‘a man of one book’ meaning the Bible, he is generally found to be a man of multitudinous books, which simply isolates the one Book to its proper grandeur. The man who reads only the Bible does not, as a rule, know it, or human life.”
Writing had long been an avenue of communication that interested Oswald. From his teenage poetry in London to his newspaper articles in Dunoon, he expressed his thoughts with a unique and stirring vocabulary. With his love for books and their impact on his thinking, he saw the printed page as a powerful means of influencing others.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, decades before magnetic recording, Sunday sermons and messages for Christian gatherings were routinely taken down in shorthand by appointed stenographers and later transcribed for publications. The Sunday evening sermons of Alexander Whyte, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and other notable preachers appeared regularlyin major newspapers and were often published later in book form.
Among the dreams of ministry dancing though Oswald’s mind in 1909 was a partnership in which he and Biddy would combine their gifts to produce written material. “it will be such a meager home we will have” he wrote to her, “you and myself going heart and soul into literary and itinerating work for Him. It will be hard and glorious and arduous. I want us to write and preach; If I could talk to you and you shorthand it down and then type it, what ground we could get over! I wonder if it kindles you as it does to me!”
By the end of December, two things had apparently been settled. First, the possibility of beginning a residential Bible School in London under the auspices of the League of Prayer had been delayed for lack of suitable house and adequate finances. Instead of a residential college, the League would offer a six month correspondence course under Chamber’s direction. Second, Oswald and Biddy planned to be married near the end of May 2010 and spend the summer in America, as he had done the previous two years. On Wednesday, May 25th 2010, the skies cleared. After an eighteen month engagement, he and Biddy will pledge their love to each other and become husband and wife that afternoon. They sailed to America.
On September 29, 2010 they set foot on British soil, it felt good to be home. It appeared that Oswald’s dream of a Bible Training College – BTC was going to be limited to regional classes and correspondence courses. If that was the only door God opened , He and Biddy would gladly step through it. He told each class at the first meeting “All of you have intelligence; you have a marvelous, God-given capacity to reason and think. All of you have intelligence and you must use it for God.” Biddy was there and took shorthand notes of Oswald’s lectures. If they used Biblical Psychology as a topic for the correspondence course, she could type explanatory pages and lesson outlines from his material. Apart from that, it kept her stenographic skilled sharp and helped focus her attention on what he said.
Chambers stressed that an active mind was essential to vital spiritual experience. In many of his lectures, he sounded a constant warning to people who said, “Thank God I am saved and sanctified, now it’s all right.” The result of resting on experience according to Oswald was fixed ideas, moral deterioration and utter ignorance of God’s book. Always beware of the danger of finality.”
On May 24, 1913, the most Beloved member of the B.T.C. staff arrived. Kathleen Chambers was born at the college and immediately began her reign as queen over all. Oswald was ecstatic. His previous love for children offered no preparation for the feelings he had for this small person who was a miraculous combination of himself and the woman he loved.
1914-1915 The war caught most Britons by surprise. Suddenly, Oswald, Biddy, and the Bible Training College students were citizens of a country mobilizing for all-out war. Recruiting posters appeared everywhere, street meetings inspired patriotic response, and a month after Britain’sdeclaration of war, men were joining the armed forces at the rate of thirty thousand a day. Many thought that war would end quickly and they will be home victorious by Christmas. In the September 1914 issue ofTongues of Fire, Chambers addressed the perplexities felt by many: “This question is on the lips of people today: is war of the devil or of God? It is of neither. It is of men, though God and the devil are both behind it. War is a conflict of wills either in individuals or in nations and just now there is a terrific conflict of wills in nations.
“Our Lord insists on the inevitability of peril. Right through His talks with His disciples, without panic and without passion and without fear He says, You must lay your account with this sort of thing, with war, with spite, with hatred, with jealousy, with despising, with banishment, and with death. Now remember that I have told you these things that when they happen you may not be scared. We are not only hearing of words and commotions, they are here right enough. It is not imagination, it is not newspaper reports, the thing is here at our door. There is no getting away from it. War, such as the history of the world has never known, has now began. Jesus Christ did not say: You will understand why the war has come—but: Do not be scared, do not be put in a panic. Are the terrors that are abroad producing panic? You never saw anybody in a panic who did not grab for themselves whether it was sugar or butter or nations. Jesus would never allow His disciples to be in a panic. The one great crime on the part of a disciple, according to Jesus Christ, is worry. Whenever we began to calculate without God we commit sin.”
On December 31, 1914, Oswald and Biddy observed their usual tradition of seeking God together for the New Year. They wrestle with the many possibilities. Should they satay at the college to continue the work of which he had dreamed for so long? If Oswald left, who would carry it on? What was his responsibility to the League of Prayer? What responsibility did he have to his country? Should he volunteer for military service? The call was out for man from nineteen to forty. In a few months he would be forty-one. And what about Biddy and Kathleen? Would it be right to leave them in God’s keeping? How could he best love and care for them? From his prayer journal “Lord, I praise Thee for this place I am in; but the wonder has begun to stir in me – is this Thy place for me? Hold me steady doing Thy will. It may be only restlessness; if so, calm me to strength that I sin not against Thee by doubting.”
Oswald’s own intercession led him to a momentous choice: “Lord, I have decided before Thee to offer to work with the Forces; undertake and guide me in each particular.“ On May 24, 1915, Oswald wrote to his parents, “I want to let you know of my decision to offer for the front as a chaplain, for ‘first aid’ spirituality. I wanted you to know as soon as I did myself.”
A few days later, his answer came and was recorded in his prayer journal “Lord, yesterday the Y.M.C.A. accepted me for their work in the Desert Camps in Egypt, and Thy word came this morning with great emphasis – ‘Sent before His face into every city and place whither He himself was about to come.”
The work of the B.T.C. had a broader sphere of influence. During its four year of existence, 106 resident students studied, prayed, and lived under the powerful influence of Oswald and Biddy’s example. By July 1915, forty of them were serving as missionaries; sixteen were serving at home and twenty-four serving abroad. From 1911 to 1915, students who attended lectures wrote essays, and benefited from Oswald’s instruction numbered more than 3,000. Hundreds of others had come to hear a single talk or a series without being enrolled.
1915 .- On September 25, 1915 Oswald wrote to his mother: “I have sailing orders for October 9th I go first to prepare the way for Biddy and the students, this seems to me the best anyway.”
October 26, 1915 - In Cairo, Egypt - Officer Barling studied the photo and glanced at the particulars on the Y.M.C.A. form, “41 years old. Six feet tall, brown hair, blue eyes. Principal of a Bible College in London. Married, one daughter, two-and-a-half years old. Permission granted for family to accompany him”. Officer Barling studied the photo. There was something unique about the face, especially the eyes. A rather penetrating gaze, he thought, even at a studio camera. That afternoon, over tea on the terrace of Shepheard’s Hotel William Jessop gave Chambers a summary of the situation. There were at least sixty thousand soldiers from every part of the British Empire in camps, hospitals, and convalescent centers around Cairo. In the first week after the invasion of the Dardanelles began in April 1915, sixteen thousand sick and wounded men were brought to Egypt.
The Young Men’s Christian Association Y.M.C.A. firmly held a two-fold purpose: “To unite those young man who regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour according to the Holy Scripture, desire to be His disciples in their doctrine and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of His kingdom among young men” (Y.M.C.A) Paris Resolution, 1855).
Watching the men write letters home that evening was especially moving for Chambers. It drove him to intercessory prayer. He wrote: “the unbearably pathetic side is never absent for long. These men go to Gallipoli on Monday and certainly half will never return, and they know it. I never get used to the going-off scenes and do not hope I ever shall.”
On December 10, Biddy, Kathleen, and Mary Riley sailed from England.
December 25 - “Christmas morning, Hallelujah! The morning is simply exquisite. At two this morning, a most superb moonlight night, the military band played Christmas Hymns and Carols, and it is not in my power to describe the solemn and inspiring and moving beauty of the music in this atmosphere of war and death and desert, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”
On December 26, Oswald traveled by train to Port Said to stay overnight and meet Biddy’s boat in the morning.
1916 – As a Y.M.C.A. Secretary, Chambers ha a basic pattern to follow in meetings the physical needs of the soldiers, but great latitude in addressing the recreational and spiritual dimension of the work. When he told a group of fellow secretaries that he had decided to forego concerts and motion pictures at Zeitoun in favor of Bible classes, they predicted an immediate exodus of men from his huts. What the skeptics had not considered was Chamber’s unusual personal appeal, his gift in speaking, and his genuine concern for the man. To keep from disturbing the soldiers who used the Y.M.C.A. hut for relaxing and writing letters in the evening, Oswald erected a tent nearby in which he held nightly classes on Biblical Psychology. Soon, the men attending the Bible Studies outnumbered those at the writing tables in the larger hut.
Reports began filtering in to Y.M.C.A. Headquarters that soldiers whom no one could accuse of being religious, turned out night after night to study the Bible. The missionaries and Y.M.C.A. Secretaries who dropped by Zeitoun for an evening visit were astounded to find it was true. Several times a week Oswald traveled to hospitals and convalescent homes around Cairo, where he brought a message from the Bible and talked with individual men. The plight of a sick or a wounded soldier in Egyptwas far different from that of a man who fell in Europe. Some trenches of the Western Front were little more than a hundred fifty miles from London, so a soldier wounded in a morning battle in France, could sometimes be in a hospital in England by evening of the same day. A sick or wounded trooper in the Mediterranean theater of war stayed there for treatment and convalescence until he was return to his unit.
“I refuse to worry.” Used to say Oswald, and without anxiety, he welcomed each day and its developments under the sovereign hand of God. His advice to others facing uncertainty had always been, “Trust God and do the next thing.” The hymn “Oh Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” became Chambers’ favorite.
1916 – Oswald said of the city of Ismailia, “This little town fascinates me with its unique beauty” It attracted British military commanders and tens of thousands of troops because of its strategic position near the midpoint of the Suez Canal. Oswald’s first job in the sweltering summer heat of Ismailia was to build a Y.M.C.A. hut. As foreman of the project, he located and purchased materials, hired Egyptian workers, and supervised their efforts. In two weeks it was finished.
By late June the relentless sun turned the desert sand into a daily inferno. Mid-day temperatures inside a bell tent reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Outside there was little or no shade. The allotted one gallon of water per man, per day, fell far short of human craving to slake the intense thirst. Flies that hatched in the waste of thousands of horses and other animals drove some men to near insanity with the annoying presence on everyone and everything. A man in camp was considered unarmed without a fly whisk. At night hordes of insatiable mosquitoes emerged to feed and spread malaria.
Oswald wrote: “There is much exhaustion amongst the secretaries in the work along the Canal, and I realize how certainly God keeps us well for His own purpose. It is not an effort to be well, we are all well really and it is a cause for profound thanksgiving.”
Each day Oswald hoped the military would issue the permits for Biddy and the others to come. There was no reason for them to delay. But each day he was greeted with official silence. For nearly a month he labored without his family in Ismailia until finally, on July 1, he received a cable from Barling: “Cheers meet the 9:20 train.” On the crowded railway platform, Kathleen walked cautiously until she saw her father, then she was off in a headlong dash into his waiting arms. How she had missed him!
After a demanding three months in the Canal Zone, word came from Jessop that the camp at Zeitoun was being reopened as a military school of instruction. Chambers should make plans to return within the next two weeks. Oswald, Biddy and Kathleen returned to Zeitoun in October 1916, to find the situation much different from the one they left four months before. Every six to eight weeks a new contingent of several thousand men arrived for military training classes as those completing the course returned to their units. Oswald quickly assessed the situation and adapted to meet the changing needs. He built a large, mat-walled Study Hut for evening Bible classes and erected a huge sign boldly announcing a series of talks and discussions on “Religious Problems Raised by the War.” It was a new venture, but he felt confident that God would open the way with the men as He had in the past. By day the men drilled in the desert, fired machine guns, and plotted artillery trajectories. At night and on Sundays they were free to visit the Y.M.C.A. huts. The soldiers’ brief stay at the school presented Chambers with a more transient audience than before, but it expanded the number of man he touched from hundreds to Thousands.
Oswald knew the weekly round-trip journey from Zeitoun to Alexandria would be physically as well as emotionally taxing. After getting to Cairo and fighting the inevitable chaos in the main railway station, it was still at least a three hour journey to Sidi Gaber, just outside Alexandria. In the face of increasing demands on his time and energy Chambers stringently maintained his early mornings alone with God. A double-fly bell tent pitched outside the bungalow gave him an open air study for daily Bible reading and prayer. By 6 a.m. he was in the tent, waiting the sunrise, which he described as “a daily poem of eternal worship, a ritual of aesthetic beauty indulged in before God.” Oswald’s autumn reading centered on the book of Job.
Oswald and Biddy felt the pangs of grief each time a man they had come to know fell on the field of battle. On November 6, Chambers noted: “We have a letter from New Zealand friend telling us the Ted Strack has been killed. And so Ted Strack has ‘gone to be with Jesus’”. Chambers opened his prayer notebook and wrote beside the young man’s name as he had by so many others, “With Christ.”
The Sunday free teas he started in Ismailia had proven so popular, that Oswald inaugurated them also in Zeitoun. Soon a weekly crowd of five hundred to seven hundred men thronged the hut, consuming fried eggs, sandwiches, and cakes that provided a delicious taste of home. Biddy insisted that every table have a clean, white tablecloth and a vase of freshly-cut flowers. It was her special touch and a way of welcoming the men to this giant desert dining room in her home. Contributions from League members and other friends in England funded the enterprise so that it was offered free of charge to the troops. Too many times, soldiers had found free cakes and tea were the bait in a “gospel trap.” Chambers did not believe in that approach and he said, “They came to eat, not to hear a sermon. There is a meeting later tonight if they want to stay and hear someone preach.”
October 17, 1917, Oswald returned from his Wednesday night meeting at Ezbekieh feeling ill and spent a sleepless night suffering from intense abdominal pain. He assumed it was some kind of stomach bug, but it kept him in bed all the next day. His only mentioned of any difficulty was “lack of opportunity to write.” For three days he had no appetite and was unable to sleep except doe fitful minutes of sheer exhaustion. His face was drawn in pain and frequently he could not suppress his audible groans.
On Monday, October 29, the pain returned with such searing intensity that he allowed himself to be taken to Gizeh Red Cross Hospital. A resident surgeon immediately performed an emergency appendectomy, which was termed “successful” Biddy made plans to stay in the hospital and give Oswald round-the-clock care. Word from the Hospital reached the camp at Zeitoun in time for the evening class, where scores of men knelt in the sand to pray for God’s hand of healing on their spiritual “officer in charge,” O.C.
For a week, Oswald gained strength and appear to be recovering well. On November 4th he suffered a serious relapse from a blood clot in his lung. He rallied from it only to be hit with another more serious attack the next day, and he drifted in and out of consciousness. The attending nurse tried to deal honestly with Biddy about the gravity of the situation. “There is no way he can recover,’ she said gently. “It is best to face it and be prepared for the worst.”
On Tuesday November 13, without warning he began to hemorrhage from the lungs. The next day he improved slightly but the attacks resume during the night. At Seven O’clock on the morning of November 15, he died.
Biddy’s telegram to family and friends in Britain said simply, “Oswald in His Presence.” The next afternoon, Chambers was buried with full military honors in the British Military Cemetery in Old Cairo.
By his faithfulness in the circumstances of each unfolding day, Oswald Chambers demonstrated the significance and power of giving our utmost for God’s highest.