Bill Wade: One of the Saintliest Christians
R. M. Williams says he met one of the Saintliest of Christians.
The story as it goes: They met in Oodnadatta, the gateway to Australia's Dead Heart in 1924; R.M.Williams, then an eighteen year old novice bushman, and Bill Wade, the novice missionary fresh from the docks of London.
What chance that an illiterate, untrained Cockney sailor, whose Christian education was composed mainly of songs learned from the Salvation Army, to succeed in touching the isolated Stone Age people of the deserts of the Inland—a vast space in excess of a million square miles? Seventy years later Williams, by then an icon of the Australian bush wrote these words,
Wade, the sailor turned Salvation Army Christian, was probably the ideal man to meet the unfriendly tribes. He had no ideas about being a superior race, and he certainly had a kindly attitude.
This unlikely pair traversed the Great Sandy, Gibson and Great Victorian Deserts on camels studying its inhabitants, its topography, and its waters in a strange and moving odyssey that lasted three years. While Williams would never rate the plucky little Englishman a skilled bushman, he judged him genuine on other grounds.
Williams said, I was a child of the open spaces, a son of pioneers. Bill was a product of the slums of London. We had a lot of catching up to do in understanding one another. Neither he nor I spoke the Aboriginal tongue. They were stone-age, naked hunters, homeless wanderers. Seventy years have passed since we shared the camp fire. I am inclined to believe now that those who give body and soul to Christ are made over, 'saved', treat the word as you will. It was clearly defined in William Wade, the former sailor.
For the next fifty years Bill Wade conducted an extraordinary solo crusade based out of Warburton, Western Australia. Williams describes Wade as a true disciple of the Carpenter from Nazareth who preached in a walkabout fashion, away from temples and such. It seems perhaps he modelled himself on that other courageous pioneer missionary who sang songs in jail at midnight that brought the jailer and his family to faith.
Wade's songs and compassion brought life to the so called Dead Heart of Australia.
His accent was Cockney, and his voice was partly out of tune, but on every opportunity he sang those very symbols in his new life. There must be men who were boys then, who now, between corroborees, sing Rock of Ages cleft for me' or Wide Wide as the Ocean, deep as the deep blue sea' Wade's favorite hymn.
Perhaps the preacher of no cathedral or chalice saw Wade of the blue yonder as his favourite priest. I can see Wade now bending over the rotting flesh of an old woman in the last stages of the leprous yaws, praying for her.
The singing crusade that Wade kept up all his life, had a fine effect on the Aboriginal children, for it was in the words and spirit of those songs that those who did not understand his message found something unique, and having learned his songs, never forgot them. Seventy years later, I sometimes find myself singing the words and making an attempt on the tunes.
Bill Wade's story bears out the truth of the saying that people often recall the way things are said, long after they have forgotten what was said. The Apostle Paul confessed to feeling nervous and inarticulate when faced with daunting assignments such as the sophisticated pagan city of Corinth.
Nevertheless he pressed on and proved time and again that your faith should not rest upon man's cleverness, but upon the power of God. You almost feel that Paul had Bill in mind when he wrote all those years ago, Instruct and direct one another using common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail of your lives, words, actions, whatever be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way (Col. 3:16-17 The Message).
R. M. Williams should have the last word about an unheralded bush Christian. He says Wade clearly lived and died in the untutored but simple consecration to the Master he had set out to serve. I consider Wade to be one of the saintliest of Christians.1
Song in the Desert. R. M. Williams
Go to: http://www.rmwilliams.com.au
1. By Paul Roe of Cornerstone. Used by permission. Posted by Andrew Grant on Tuesday 28 February 2006 on the Cornerstone web page ... at: http://national.cornerstone.edu.au/?page=home http://interact.cornerstone.edu.au/news.php