Brother Fred Flack will be one hundred years old in July 2007. He served for forty years in India with the indigenous church planting movement associated with Brother Bakht Singh. He and his twin brother are the oldest known twins alive in the United Kingdom today. Brother Flack is 98-years-old and still preaches without notes. The Bible he carries is typical; he is not yet in need of large print. He still travels from his home in Sidmouth in Devon (UK) to minister God’s word. He is happy that God still gives him “fresh manna” for the ministry. After hearing Brother Flack speak several times, I had the chance to interview him in February 2006.
Q. Are you excited about your 100th birthday and getting the Queen’s letter?
A. Well that is nice, but what is more important is that my name is in the lamb’s book of life. I look forward to serving the Lord to the end. Recently he reminded me how at the age of sixteen, when I turned my life over to him, I sang with great sincerity, “Jesus I have promised to serve thee to the end.” I think now I will make it. We could not serve one more worthy.
Q. How did you choose India for your mission field?
A. India was not my choice. While I was a student at the Missionary Training Colony (MTC), we were told about the Tuareg (people group) in the Sahara. A Colony man had been to them but he died there. I felt I could go to replace him. The Lord called me to his service overseas in August 1931 by Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” That call was so clear and arresting that I left my secular employment to prepare for it. At once I asked the Lord for two things. First, that he would give me a companion, because he sent his disciples two by two. And second, that he would give me a church like Antioch in Acts 13:1-3.
I was advised by some elders to go to the MTC in Upper Norwood. It was not a Bible school or seminary. It was like an army camp to train men as missionaries for the un-evangelised lands overseas. It was a two-year course in which time the mornings were devoted to Bible instruction and the afternoons to learning practical skills such as hair-cutting, shoe repairing, gardening, woodworking and cooking. The Colony did not provide any direction for the future; we had to seek that from the Lord.
I thought my future was to be in Africa among the Tuaregs of the Sahara. In preparation for that I went to Switzerland to learn French. While there, the Lord answered my prayer for a ministry companion. I received a letter from an elder in the fellowship in London (which I had begun to think was to be my “Antioch”) saying Raymond Golsworthy had spoken to them and that I would be hearing from him. Raymond and I were together in the MTC for one year and I knew him to be a very fine, gifted and spiritual man. He was expecting to go to the Eskimos in the Arctic, so I never thought we would work together. But after I received this letter I became excited. Was Raymond to become my ministry companion? After waiting for some time I replied to the elder that no letter had come from Raymond, but that in my spirit I believed he was to be the ministry companion for whom I was waiting. Two days later Raymond’s letter came saying the Lord had shut the door on his going to the Eskimos and he believed the Lord was joining him to me. I was thrilled that this should be the Lord’s answer to my prayer. I returned to London and we prayed together, thinking our future was in Africa.
We had learned the truth of the Church being the body of Christ. We understood that its members were to move together instead of independently. We therefore prayed that the Church would share our vision. However, the elders in the church at Honor Oak had no light about Africa for us. We waited and prayed. Eventually they said to us, “We believe you can find the will of God for yourselves, so go ahead and we will pray for you.” But for us this was not the church described in Acts 13:1-3. We did what we had never done before or since—we gave the Lord a deadline. We said, “Please say yes or no to Africa within eight days.” The Lord answered on the fifth morning. During one family prayer, the leader read Deuteronomy 3:26 when the Lord says to Moses, “Let it suffice you. Speak no more to me of this matter.” That was all we needed to understand the Lord had said no to Africa. We told the elders. They were not surprised.
After some time had passed, a senior member of the fellowship said, “I see you two boys in Calcutta.” I did not want to go to India, much less Calcutta. But for some reason the thought stuck. In my morning reading I read Jeremiah 37:17: “Is there any word from the Lord?” The answer was yes. A few days later I read Jeremiah 47:7: “How can it keep quiet, seeing the Lord has given it a charge?” We must tell others what we believed God was saying. When we did, the elders smiled and said, “When we were praying together two weeks ago the Lord said to us, ‘Golsworthy and Flack for India.’” We had not prayed and waited in vain. Within eight weeks we were on a boat bound for India. We reached Bombay on 1 April 1937.
Q. It must have been easier being a missionary during the British Raj.
A. No, it was easier after Independence. When missionaries were there after the Raj was gone, it meant they were not agents of the British government. But there was never a real problem because with Brother Bakht Singh we were working under the Indian leadership. It was a truly indigenous work; we were fully identified with the people and the land. Brother Bakht Singh was not forced into starting the work and planting churches. He was a man apprehended of the Lord and had been given understanding of the spiritual nature of the Church.
My best days were spent with my brothers and sisters in India. I was in India throughout World War ll. During that time I was conscripted by the British to serve in the army, which I did from June 1943 to July 1946. I refused to carry arms because I felt it was inconsistent to have a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. I was put into the Royal Army Medical Corp where I served in North India, Assam and Burma.
Q. How did you meet your wife?
A. I was demobbed from the army after the war and returned to London. It was then I met Meg Spracket. She and her friend were in charge of a meeting place connected with the fellowship in Honor Oak in Glasgow. I was asked to go there to fulfil the ministry of what might be called a house church. The ladies knew I was coming. It was a dirty, damp and foggy night when I rang the doorbell. Meg answered. When she opened the door and saw me she said, “Oh, not him, Lord” (meaning, “Not him, Lord, for my husband.”).
I was there for three months and began to believe that Meg was the one for whom I had prayed and waited for fourteen years. When the opportunity came to pop the question, there was no romantic environment. It was not a moonlit night; there were no palm trees. We were eating ice-cream and walking and I said, “I suppose you would not marry me?” Meg promptly said, “Yes, I will.” I said, “Don’t you want to pray about it?” She said, “I have.” We were both nearly forty years old. Two days before I popped the question the Lord had spoken to Meg in her morning reading. Meg had fought the whole idea of marriage for a long time. Her parents had divorced and this had caused her misery during her childhood. After her conversion she learned that every member of the body of Christ should have a gift, so she had asked the Lord what her gift was. The only answer she received was to be a help-meet. She fought this for some time but eventually accepted this calling. I was the first to come along.
A. The adjustment was only that now I had to think and provide for someone else. Bachelors can be very selfish and self-centred. I had already been in India for twelve years, but for Meg it was different and difficult. It was very hot and Meg’s respiratory system did not work properly. She was lonely because she could not speak the language; I was so busy with meetings. We prayed the Lord would give us children but he did not. But the Lord was first in Meg’s life and he helped her to endure as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. She was a wonderful help to me; she enriched my life tremendously and served the Lord with all she had. We were partners for fifty-one years.
Q. What did you hope to accomplish in India?
A. To be “a worker together with him” (2 Corinthians 6:1) in his programme of building his Church. My gift was not as an evangelist; my gift was to teach the word. I had no training, but the Lord gave me the gift of teaching and taught me how to use it. I travelled extensively throughout the land.
Q. What did you learn from your Indian brothers and sisters?
A. Yes, I learned about devotion to the Lord. Their zeal was something I had not seen in England. They delight in the Bible. They have none of the inhibitions such as we have. They kneel in the streets to pray. And their service one to another is precious. Their soul-winning zeal and all-night prayer meetings are remarkable.
Q. Would you have any advice for the Indian churches?
A. The biblical pattern is mentioned in Philippians 1:1: “Saints … bishops (elders) and deacons.” This is the order seen in the early Church. The missionary should seek the maturity of the local church and be on the lookout for “fathers” who are begetting children in the congregation. These are the prospective elders. The congregation will have noticed them and have confidence in them. They can be brought forward, commended to the congregation and appointed elders. Ordaining elders was what the apostles did in Acts 14 and what Paul instructed Titus to do in Titus 1.
Senior, mature members of the congregation recognising the need and time may call the congregation’s attention to those in their midst who have their confidence. Hands may be laid on these men to acknowledge they are being set apart as overseers or elders. The laying on of hands is a representative act. Those who are marked out and set apart as elders are not elders for life. There is an age limit for the Levites (Numbers 8:23-26) which shows a principle for all engaged in the Lord’s service. There is a time to “retire” or step down. These men can continue to help, but the responsibility of elder passes to younger men.
Q. You said you do not take sermon notes to the pulpit. What advice would you have for preachers?
A. Jeremiah 48:10 says, “Cursed is the man who does the work of the Lord negligently.” First, every preacher must prepare diligently. Second, pray until God drops a word, thought, text or subject into your heart. Third, study the context carefully. Fourth, ask God to guide you to other relevant passages. Fifth, decide carefully how you will begin your sermon. It is important to capture the attention at the beginning. Sixth, get all your material in order and know where you are going and how you expect to get there. Last, remember you are to be the “Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message” (Haggai 1:13).
I once asked a colleague what a certain brother’s ministry was like. His reply was, “It was a bit bookish.” If we are reading our message to our audience, it will appear bookish as well. Our mind, heart and spirit must be in the message. That is why I do not preach from my notes. Paul says, “May the word of God dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16).
Q. What kind of missionary training would you suggest?
A. I can think of no better training than I had myself: to become a person of God and a worker who need not be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15). The Missionary Training Colony provided excellent training for missionary work. There was Bible study and practical training. The Bible is the missionary’s manual. Read it and study it. Accept discipline in the service and welcome advice or criticism. Learn from your mistakes and failures. Your aim is excellence, not good or better.
The meekness and gentleness of Christ are the “weapons of our warfare” because our service is indeed warfare (2 Corinthians 10:1-5). At the Missionary Training Colony we had an evangelistic trek each year when twelve men set out on a four-hundred-mile trip. We preached from place to place and slept in tents or whatever else the Lord provided. It was quite strenuous and we sometimes had to walk up to twenty miles a day. We were all very immature preachers, but it was a good exercise. If we are prospective missionaries we must learn everything we can before we go. The Missionary Training Colony only accepted as students those who had already led souls to the Lord. There must be some evidence of our calling before we go.
Q. What advice would you have for missionaries going to the mission field?
A. Go as a learner. Be prepared to learn from the national people and from the culture of the country. Do not try to make the churches like the one in your own country. Do everything you can to develop indigenous growth. Do not be masters; be servants. Identify in every way you can with the people God puts you among. You are there to establish self-supporting; self-governing and self-propagating churches.
Do not go first to the villages. The Lord and the apostles started in the cities and towns. They were less conspicuous there. When missionaries are mostly among the poor, their converts will be “rice Christians” and any developing leadership will be “yes men.” This is fatal for spiritual development. I was asked to attend a missionary conference in India on one occasion. Missionaries were gathered to pray and confer about the work. They had many Christian workers, but not one of them attended that conference. Everything was being done without one of them present. The work was being directed by “remote control” somewhere outside the land. Brother Bakht Singh established self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating churches.
Missionaries must be prepared to live a very simple lifestyle. Only then will the people feel we are one of them. National believers who are sent away to Bible school abroad for training are of little use when they return because they have developed a different lifestyle. Our Lord Jesus and the apostles did not establish institutional centres, Bible colleges or schools.