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Jimmy Hanson: Oswald Chambers’ Missionary Friend

Jimmy Hanson was one of the people I recognized as a Bible Training College regular during my writing of Mrs. Oswald Chambers.

On the last Tuesday of the month for the next five months, I’ll be telling stories of those “BTC regulars.”Jimmy Hanson, Oswald Chambers, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, BTC regular, YMCA, WWI, Old Mahogany Bar, missionary

Why?

Because I spent so much time following their fascinating rabbit trails to missionary works around the globe.

Modern Christians often forget the sacrifices so many made on behalf of the Gospel. The stories are worth telling and hearing.

Jimmy Hanson–the Denby Dale mechanic

Jimmy Hanson, Oswald Chambers, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, BTC regular, YMCA, WWI, Old Mahogany Bar, missionary

Photo courtesy Hanson family

Born in Denby Dale in northern England, Jimmy met Oswald Chambers during OC’s work with the League of Prayer in the area. Jimmy wrote of that meeting years later:

“I was young in years then and younger still in spiritual matters, but I was arrested at that first meeting more than I knew at the time. Looking back, I see it was the beginning of a real spiritual awakening.”

They formed a fast friendship of physical contrast: the short rotund Jimmy and the tall lanky OC.

Their passion for the word of God bound them together for the rest of their lives.

After finishing school, he worked as a mechanic until 1911 when, at the age of 26, he traveled to New Zealand.

He stopped in London to receive a blessing from OC–who spoke to him on the railroad platform– before sailing to New Zealand where he found work as a fitter. As Jimmy recalled:

“I was a raw country youth, and how I treasured the help and advice he gave me, and what a tremendous encouragement it was!”

Jimmy returned to England to enroll as a BTC student in fall 1913. Of his time at the BTC, Jimmy wrote

“There are many today scattered throughout the world who thank God for having been under the training of such a servant of God.”

During his two years at the school, he met a comely woman, Florence Gudgin.

World War I

Jimmy Hanson fell into the “eligible to be conscripted” age group at the start of WWI.

He finished his education at the BTC and like OC and several other students, contemplated joining the British Expeditionary Forces.

But OC was too old to join up as a soldier and far more interested in serving as a chaplain–to ensure men facing death on the battlefield understood who God is.

Jimmy and his fellow student Philip Hancock decided, like Oswald, to apply to the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) as chaplains overseas.

All three men were accepted and in fall 1915 headed to Egypt.

Jimmy Hanson, Oswald Chambers, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, BTC regular, YMCA, WWI, Old Mahogany Bar, missionary

Florence Gudgin (Wheaton)

Oswald’s story is well known–his wife Biddy and daughter Kathleen joined him in Egypt three months later, along with another BTC regular, Mary Riley.

Jimmy and Philip, however, had fallen in love with fellow students.

The two men set aside marriage dreams in 1915 when they climbed aboard a troop transport ship and sailed through U-boat infested waters to Egypt.

Jimmy Hanson in Egypt

Jimmy Hanson, Oswald Chambers, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, BTC regular, YMCA, WWI, Old Mahogany Bar, missionary

William Jessop (left), and Jimmy. (Photo from Cadbury Library)

The “BTC Expeditionary Force” began at the YMCA Zeitoun camp, seven miles northeast of Cairo. Within a few months, the YMCA transferred Jimmy and Philip to other  stations to begin their ministries.

The YMCA located Jimmy near Zeitoun and OC stopped by from time to time to preach.

Like all YMCA secretaries, Jimmy oversaw morale-boosting activities and taught Bible study. He also prayed with the men as requested.

A jovial, happy man, Jimmy was a great favorite with Kathleen Chambers. Whenever the three year-old had two pieces of candy, she saved one for Jimmy.

Initiative

Oswald Chambers recounted a story about Jimmy’s cheerful initiative while they both served in the Suez Canal district in June 1915:

Lord Radstock [Senior YMCA-UK member in Egypt] told us a rather characteristic thing about Jimmy Hanson.

“The party with Lord Radstock were at Port Tewfik and had to get to Suez, it was a long fierce tramp in the sun, so Jimmy promptly went ahead and commandeered an Army Service Corp car; as they drew near Suez they saw the officers waiting and discovered they were the Rev. Barclay Buxton’s two sons, so it was quite a delightful meeting, which might not have taken place but for Jimmy’s initiative.”

(Buxton was a missionary to Japan and friend of Oswald and Jimmy).

Radstock later described the secretary’s work as “often single-handed, overworked, not too well-nourished, very long hours, intense heat, sand, dirt and flies.”

Whenever they had a chance, Jimmy and Philip Hancock stopped in to visit the Chambers family at Zeitoun. Jimmy also was on hand when three other BTC regulars arrived in Egypt: Gladys Ingram, Kathleen Ballinger and Eva Spink.

Oswald Chambers’ death and Jimmy Hanson

Jimmy Hanson, Oswald Chambers, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, BTC regular, YMCA, WWI, Old Mahogany Bar, missionary

With Biddy, OC, Kathleen and Miss Ashe at Giza (Wheaton)

In summer 1917, Jimmy traveled to England to marry Florence Gudgin.

Unfortunately, authorities did not give permission for the new Mrs. Hanson to travel back to Egypt with Jimmy and he returned alone nine weeks after the wedding.

Jimmy arrived at Zeitoun in late November, 1917 to the shocking news his long-time friend and mentor Oswald Chambers’ death.

“I heard the news when I reached Port Said on my return, and shall never forget the blow it was to me personally. I recalled with gratitude the last words he had said as the train steamed out of Cairo station–

“‘It’s all right about your going, Jimmy. I got the word from the Psalms this morning, Psalm 91, the last three verses.’

“Previous to this he had been exercised in his mind as to whether I was doing right to go, and how glad I was to have had that last reassuring message from him.”

The director of the YMCA in the Middle East, Anglo-American William Jessop asked Jimmy to remain at Zeitoun to help Biddy Chambers run the camp.

Jimmy wanted to see Biddy first and discuss the idea with her. Of that meeting, Jimmy wrote:

“One’s first thoughts for her [Biddy] to whom he [Oswald] had meant everything were of deep sympathy and prayer. These were needed, but also one had to offer praise to God to see the marvelous calm and quiet fortitude, no rebellion, no questioning, but a real living testimony of Christ’s own words, ‘Believe also on Me.”

The two agreed to split the duties: Jimmy took charge of the camp administration, Biddy taught classes using Oswald’s Biblical Psychology as a text book, as well as stepping into the Sunday teaching rotation.

The work of “the books” begins at Jimmy’s suggestion

Biddy, however, soon received a mountain of condolence letters. She wanted to respond to each one, but the task would devour all her time. Jimmy suggested she print one of Oswald’s messages and send it to her correspondents, as well as to all the soldiers who had participated in OC’s ministry.

They chose The Place of Help, and it became the forerunner of many Chambers messages printed and distributed without cost to the recipients.

In this way, Jimmy pointed Biddy to her future preparing the Oswald Chambers books. Biddy spent the rest of the war providing one talk per month to anyone interested.

By June 1918, the YMCA took over the printing and mailing to 10,000 people a month.

Mrs. Florence Hanson, by the way, finally arrived at Zeitoun in December 1918.

Following the war

Jimmy Hanson, Oswald Chambers, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, BTC regular, YMCA, WWI, Old Mahogany Bar, missionary

Two boys called them to remain in England. The younger son died in WWII. (Hanson family photo)

Jimmy and Florence sailed back to England with Biddy and Kathleen Chambers, as well as friend Mary Riley in June 1919.

The Hanson sons were born in 1919 and 1922.

Jimmy and Flo gave serious thought to mission work in Egypt, but two little boys changed their minds.

Instead, they moved to London’s East End to work at the Old Mahogany Bar Mission. Jimmy served as pastor. The family lived in a top floor flat.

Within the squalid living conditions and extreme poverty of the East End, the Methodist-sponsored mission served a free breakfast for undernourished children during the winter months.

Jimmy Hanson, Oswald Chambers, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, BTC regular, YMCA, WWI, Old Mahogany Bar, missionary

Later ministry (Chris Hanson photo)

The Hansons worked in the Old Mahogany Bar mission for fifteen years. They took Sunday morning services, open air services on Sunday nights, and children’s nights on Monday–which up to 300 children attended.

Jimmy and Flo also led youth groups, women’s meetings, Bible studies and provided for the spiritual needs of the neighborhood.

They retired to Olney in 1941 to live near the Gudgin family.

Oswald Chambers Publication Association

In July 1936, Jimmy joined the Oswald Chambers Publication Association, a group of friends who rallied around Biddy to help her publish Oswald’s books.

He served on the association for 20 years, often as chairman. Ten years later, he welcomed his old chum Kathleen Chambers as a member of the same association!

Jimmy’s affection and reverence for his old teacher made the task a joy. As he wrote in the introduction to the publication of The Place of Help in 1935:

“To all who knew Oswald Chambers, his life was the interpretation of his teaching; to those to whom it comes now in another form the meaning opens in the hidden individual ways of God.

“The writer [Jimmy] believes that the Spirit of God is using this teaching in many lands to very many lives as a corrective to the wave of shallow thinking, and of shallower religious values that has swept across a section of the Christian communities everywhere.

“By Oswald Chambers, men’s minds are thrown back upon the deep fundamental things that govern human life in its threefold aspect of spirit, soul, and body: Divine Redemption is brought down to the very shores of our daily living: the Cross of Calvary is shown to men as being the very heart and centre of the Revelation of God in the Person of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Conclusion

Jimmy’s friendship with Oswald Chambers and education at the Bible Training College changed the course of his life.

From a mechanic’s job in New Zealand, Jimmy Hanson became a fisher of men in WWI and in the East End mission.

Jimmy Hanson, Oswald Chambers, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, BTC regular, YMCA, WWI, Old Mahogany Bar, missionary

In England at the time of their wedding. (Hanson family photo)

And of course, he took his fellow BTC regular Florence Gudgin with him into the world.

How many men, women and children led different lives because of knowing Jimmy Hanson?

We’ll find out in heaven.

Jimmy himself died at Olney on November 11, 1956–thirty-eight years to the day following the World War I armistice.

He was one of my favorites when I wrote Mrs. Oswald Chambers.

Tweetables

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing these fascinating stories! It’s amazing how God directed those who were part of the training at the BTC.

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  February 7, 2018

      We’re 100 years out from Oswald’s death, yet I think it’s fascinating to see some of the fruit of his ministry. I was so encouraged to hear the stories of what happened to the students I came to know in the writing of Mrs. OC.

      Missionary stories can serve to encourage, remind us of the cost of following Christ but also of the good that can come to so many because people chose to be obedient to God’s call. It was a joy to interact with the relatives and to hear the stories.

      Reply

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