There is a new vacancy today. We buried Walter Burrell, port missionary in Cork.
Whoever fills Walter’s shoes will be a giant of spiritual vitality in the 21st century. He will pray in the car at the drop of a hat. He will talk about Jesus to casual acquaintances without batting an eyelid. He will spend his time (like Jesus did) in the company of prostitutes in desperate need of help. He will spend himself for people unlikely to ever appear in the annals of history. He himself will be well known in Heaven, his real home. He will be known in Hell because his prevention work has stopped so many people going there. When he has any extra money he will give it to encourage others in the same line of business. He will literally walk tall, no matter what height he is, because he feels royal blood coursing through his veins. There is no door he will fear to knock since he is licensed by all authority on heaven and on earth. He will harvest souls. That’s the vacancy – that’s what Walter did in the 20th century in Ireland.
One of the best ways to learn a skill like harvesting souls is to spend time with friends who are good at it. For Pam and me, Walter Burrell was that kind of friend.
Like one of his letters said, [and this is how he actually typed] “A CATTLE SHIP HAS BEEN IN FOR FIVE MONTHS waiting for the cattle market to start again. I board most mornings at 7.15am…THE MEN ARE WAITING FOR ME to give then a few verses and a prayer…before they start the days work. TWO FRIED EGGS AND TOAST AND A MUG OF TEA AS I EAT WITH THEM…I become part of their daily life.
“Another cattle ship was in for EIGHT MONTHS its all Moslem crew coming to many meetings..reading the ARABIC scriptures. It’s back in Cork after trading in the Middle East…one of the crew who became a Christian is now serving in the SYRIAN ARMY. “IT’S MIDNIGHT…tired in body I come out from the casualty dept of a hospital. LISA HAS ONCE AGAIN TAKEN AN OVERDOSE…sitting holding her hand I PRAY… “HOW WONDERFUL walking through town two of the former GIRLS FROM DOCKLAND grab my hand…GOD HAS GIVEN VICTORY OVER PROSTITUTION DRUGS DRINK Its still a battle.”
One summer Pam and I were going to be in Cork and rather late in the scheduling process we phoned Walter. The only way we could see each other was to join him between 3-4:30pm aboard a Panamanian vessel which was off-loading coconut fibre. The crew were all Ukrainian (no problem to Walter who selected Ukrainian literature from the super-filing system which was the boot of his Ford Escort).
We spent the next hour and a half watching Walter pour out his heart to the captain and crew, watching their home-movies video, and then Pam and I explained the gospel to the first officer while Walter concentrated on the engineer. The video was of the ship’s voyage around the Cape of Good Hope (the owners find the Suez Canal more expensive than paying cheap wages to Ukrainians to go round the hard way). Then suddenly, that was it.
What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! But then his letter to us had ended, “last weekend my family had a surprise 70th birthday for me. But I realise the years are passing. But what I have left I pray God to use. I AM GOING DOWN DOCKLAND TO MY FLOATING MISSION.”
Now, there’s a vacancy. No sense in sending an application form to me. Nor to the Seamen’s Christian Friend Society (who have already successfully filled Walter’s role). Apply to the Lord of the Harvest directly – that’s who Walter actually worked for.