When Frank Buchman was asked what was the secret of his life, he replied: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the strength of my own discipline’. Asked what he prayed for most, he said: ‘A love for people and a sense of humour’.
When I first met him he was 71 and I was 21. He was and remains for me the most alive person I ever met. I remember going with him into a hotel in Madras. He was tired after a long journey. By the time he reached his room twenty minutes later he had spoken to what seemed like most of the staff in the hotel. His impact on people was remarkable considering he had no natural advantages; he was not especially good-looking, and his voice was a little high-pitched.
His team was the next person. Arriving in Japan, he was asked by a pressman, ‘How many people in Japan are working with you?’ He replied, ‘90 million. There is a bit of MRA in every person, and our task is to up the level.’
I arrived at Oxford University in 1949 to study history and education, and to play rugby and cricket. Then came one of life’s big surprises. While at university, I was challenged to give God my life. I encountered Buchman’s message: ‘Sin is the disease, Christ is the cure, the result is a miracle.’ And I ended up working with MRA, the movement that Buchman initiated.
The great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, wrote: ‘Every moment and every age, every day and every night, He comes, comes, forever comes.’ Buchman believed that. He thought that the Holy Spirit was in every human heart, and a choice could be made to follow it. There were no labels.
‘Frank’, as we always called him, once asked me to lead a meeting – with a variety of speakers. I was very nervous. A wordy Indian professor spoke for an hour about nothing at all, and no one else had a chance. Frank said to me, ‘That was the worst meeting I have ever been to. What were you thinking about?’ Next day, Frank said, ‘I’d like you to lead another meeting.’ This time, I was better prepared and it went quite well.
He said to me, ‘If you really love a person, you must sail into him.’ I qualify that by saying that if you really love a person, you must tell him the truth. It was Buchman’s genius to do that. But it was also his danger – because other people wanted to copy the way he did it. He could say what he said, because of the tremendous love behind it. If you don’t have love, people resent it. If there is no affection behind it, it can cause untold damage.
A person came to tea. When the tea was over, Buchman said to me, ‘What did you think of him?’ I hummed and harred, and said I didn’t know, and didn’t think in those terms. Frank said, ‘If you can’t size up a person when you first meet him, you’ll never be able to save a nation.’ There again, taken the wrong way that can be a dangerous philosophy. He had a philosophy, ‘If you’re not winning , you’re sinning.’ The danger of that is that you have a critical eye on everyone.
I was on an MRA tour of India and Pakistan in 1952/53. Once when we were preparing a conference in Lahore (Pakistan), Frank asked me to lay flowers on the grave of Howard Walter, a close friend and colleague, who had died in 1918 soon after writing Soul Surgery, a book much influenced by Frank’s methods. On all public occasions at that time, Frank asked somebody to read the lines of Walter’s famous prayer:
I would be true, for there are those who trust me
I would be pure, for there are those who care
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer
I would be brave, for there is much to dare
I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless
I would be giving and forget the gift
I would be humble, for I know my weakness
I would look up and love and laugh and lift.
I think of the ‘allness’ of Buchman. Many of the phrases he loved to quote contained the word ‘all’:
‘All I have I give to Jesus.’
‘I surrender all.’
‘All the past we leave behind; we take up the task eternal.’
‘Love so amazing so divine/ demands my soul, my life, my all.’
‘Behold a Man who told me all that I ever did.’ (John 4)
Another of his favourites was a verse from Charles Wesley:
‘Plenteous grace with thee is found
Grace to cover my soul from sin.
Let the healing streams abound.
Make and keep me pure within.’
‘Jesus I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be
Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought or hoped or known
Yet how rich is my condition, God and heaven are still my own.
Joe Scott, who nominated Herbert Hoover for President in 1932, and who was called the leading Catholic layman of America, said of Buchman: ‘That man gets up at 5.00 am to listen to God. That man cannot lose.’
Somebody asked him, ‘What do you do?’ he replied, ‘I do guidance. If I don’t get guidance, I go to sleep or play golf.’ He had an incredible sense of humour. He took a meeting on the subject of love under the title, ‘In the spring a young man’s fancy, lightly turns to thoughts of love.’
He took purity so seriously that he said, ‘Doubtful linen is dirty linen.’
Frank’s aim was leadership without human control, spanning the world. And he had a vision for Islam: that it would be a girder. Who else had such a vision….
His philosophy: get up early; listen to God; gather people around you who live the same way. That way you build a team – not necessary a like-minded group, but a group of people who work the same way. It was all so natural. Someone who became an MP asked him what he was meant to do. He replied, ‘Have guidance, live the life, and be natural.’ And he had such a light touch with people.