During the Founders Conference last Sunday morning, Harry Bollback spoke about the legacy of Jack Wyrtzen, the founder of Word of Life. Starting with a series of youth rallies in New York City during World War II, the ministry today reaches youth around the world through Bible clubs, camps, Bible institutes, and over 1000 missionaries, 700 of whom are from countries other than the USA. Harry pointed out that Jack led a dance band before his conversion and had no formal Bible training. Yet God used him to lead street meetings in New York that later became youth rallies that eventually filled Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and even Yankee Stadium. He told story after story of God's miraculous provision in the early days, as Jack and Harry and a handful of others, all of them in their 20s or early 30s, stepped out in faith to do things that seemed humanly impossible. You might say they didn't know better, no one told them they couldn't, so they went ahead and did it anyway.
Harry told the familiar story of the purchase of Word of Life Island in 1946 from a godly woman named Mrs. Clark who wanted to sell it for $125,000. Jack made a "bona fide" offer of $25,000, which the woman instantly accepted. To call it "bona fide" was stretching the point, since at the time Word of Life had almost no money in the bank. When Jack called for a meeting with Harry and Fred Scharmann, the Word of Life business manager, he said, "What are we going to do?" Harry and Fred said, "What do we mean, 'What are we going to do?' You're the one who made the offer. What are you going to do?" I said the story is familiar, and it is because I've heard Harry tell it many times. But this time seemed special because of the setting, and because Harry was preaching with deep fervor, and because he is now 81 and in the nature of things, won't be around forever. Using Deuteronomy 8 as his text, Harry told us that we need to remember what the Lord has done for us in the past. A good memory of a great past is the key to a great future.
In later years, after Word of Life had become a worldwide ministry, people often asked Jack, "Did you have a vision of what God was going to do? Did you have a plan in your mind?" The answer was always the same. Jack would say no, he didn't have a plan, didn't really have a clue in the early days of all God wanted to do through Word of Life. He and the others set out to believe God, win the lost, reach young people, and disciple them for Christ. Harry said Jack often used this phrase to describe how things happened in the early days: "I being in the way, the Lord led me." That's from the King James translation of Genesis 24:27 where Abraham's servant explains how the Lord led him across the desert to the home of Rebekah who would become the bride of Isaac. It's a verse that speaks of God's providential leading as we journey through life. When we are "in the way," that is, in the path of God's blessing, he leads us from where we are to where he wants us to be.
The promise was true for Abraham's servant, it was true for Jack Wyrtzen, and it is still true for everyone who follows the Lord today.
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