Joe Wilcox reflects on how he found God’s path after a tough start in life.
My mother passed away when I was two. Five years later my father remarried and life became a rocky road. We were often on the move across two states, operating wine saloons, milk bars, hotels, dairy farms, domestic services for ice and milk, boarding houses or post office and convenience stores.
We moved to Broadford (Vic.), in 1944 with our 35 milking cows and bought a domestic milk and ice delivery business. A year later, circumstances made me leave home, and I began work as a truck driver, shop assistant and slaughterman with Bunty Sutherland, the local butcher.
With my new-found freedom I discovered the local Friday night dance at the Mechanics’ Institute. The music was piano, drums and sax, but as they used to have a cornet, Bunty suggested I could learn to play one to improve the band.
I bought a Salvation Army pocket cornet for 35 shillings ($3.50) and one night I knocked on the door of the Salvo officers’ house and asked Captain Alf Pilley to help me learn to play it.
The first tune I learned was ’Who’ll Be the Next to Follow Jesus?’ Who would have thought that those few words would dominate my life’s mission for more than 70 years?
Across the road from my boarding house was Stimson’s bakery. Baking bread was a night activity and a good warm place to share the company of the teenage workers Len and George, so I began to be a helper. This link led me to become a member of the Stimson family who belonged to The Salvation Army in Broadford where ‘Pop’ Stimson was the treasurer.
I met Lieutenant Denis Gudgeon who encouraged me to attend meetings with my teenage friends. One night they urged me to make a decision to accept Jesus as my Saviour and I knelt at the holiness altar. I heard for the first time the words from John chapter 3, verse 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Lieutenant Gudgeon told me the words from John chapter 6 verse 37: “He that comes to me I will never turn away.”
And that’s how my journey of faith began. Pop Stimson presented me with my first Bible and the next Saturday night I joined the open-air meeting held outside Shearan’s Milk Bar and all my picture-going friends and my father spotted me. A military overcoat with a big collar failed to hide my identity.
One night as I knelt beside my bed to pray and read my Bible, God spoke to me through the words “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John chapter 3, verse 30), meaning God must become more important while I become less important.
I knew God wanted me for officer service so I was sworn in as a soldier on 23 June 1946. On 17 March 1948, Mum and Pop Stimson took me to the doors of the Salvation Army training college with all my possessions in a small tin trunk and a leather briefcase to continue my journey of faith.
Who in their wildest dreams could have thought that a two-year-old boy bereft of his mother would, 19 years later, become a servant of Jesus in Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and China?
God specialises in things thought impossible and people need the Lord.
I gratefully acknowledge the ‘warriors of the faith’ at Broadford Corps, who nurtured my fledgling faith, especially my Stimson family who have supported me over the years as a son and brother.
Song 179 in The Salvation Army Song Book says, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner condemned unclean. How marvellous, how wonderful is my Saviour’s love for me.”