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Of mountain-high waves and a sea-sick journey

Of mountain-high waves and a sea-sick journey

More than 110 years ago, pioneer Methodist missionary William G. Horley (right) took more than a month to reach Singapore. Sailing from Southampton on December 10, 1893, he arrived on January 12 and here recorded in a journal are his experiences which are inspiring to read.

‘DECEMBER 10th 1893 — SOUTHAMPTON. My thoughts were indeed sad today at the thought of leaving dear old England. It was with anxiety that I looked out of my bedroom window to see if it was blowing hard, and when to my dismay I found that it was blowing quite a gale, my anxiety increased.

I made a good breakfast however and went with the dear friends with whom I am staying, to a place of worship. God was present and He blessed and comforted me, but as I thought that this would probably be my last English service for years I could not help weeping …

On Monday the gale was bad, on Tuesday it was worse, and on Wednesday it was at its worst. I shall forget the Bay of Biscay, and if I possibly can I will never cross it again, but return by the overland route. The waves beat “mountains high”; now we would be on the top of one, and the next moment at the bottom of a deep valley. I kept comforting myself with passages of God’s Word and with verses of hymns. I did not feel at all anxious. I knew God was in charge of the ship. Alleluia!

You will be glad to know that a Hindoo Christian has been very kind to me. He is on his way to Colombo, where his home is, and he is going to preach Jesus there, having become converted since coming to England four years ago.

One little kindness is specially Christlike. When I was lying at my worst he asked me if I could eat an apple, and, strange to say, it was the very thing that I was longing for. I said, “Yes I should.” He ran and fetched me two and he said that he had 12 which he was taking home for his parents to taste but that he would give some to me and the rest he was going to give to some other sick ones, ‘for my parents,’ said he, ‘will never know the taste, therefore will not miss them’.

I am sorry to find that there is no service held on these boats on the Sabbath; in fact there is rather a difficulty in holding one as there are so many nationalities on board. I have had a nice little Sabbath to myself by prayer and Bible study, and by reading “Pilgrim’s Progress”. I have been praying that God will help me to speak to all I can individually about their souls.

I am sorry to see the utter disregard of the Sabbath on deck, some playing dominoes, others playing some of the deck games, and the sailors are working as hard as any other day, cleaning the ship because we enter Genoa tomorrow.

Thursday December 21st – About dinner time we were in the Straits of Messina. Italy was on our right and Sicily was on our left. We were close to the shore for some miles and could see towns and villages, the rivers and vineyards.

We passed the town of Reggio (the ancient Rhegium where Paul landed on his journey to Rome) on our left, and in the distance was Syracuse where Paul and his comrades fetched a compass to guide them on their Journey (Acts 28: 4-13).

Monday December 25th – Christmas Day. How one’s thoughts fly away to England today, to the dear ones assembled in the sanctuary to hear the old, old story of Unto you is born this day a Saviour who is Christ the Lord, and then to the festive gatherings round the Christmas table. I went on deck and read the blessed story of the Saviour’s birth and then went and said a few words for Jesus to a German lady.

We are now in the Suez Canal with miles of dreary sand around us, broken here and there with an oasis where a few palms are. Also an Arab hut or two. In the distance is a caravan of camels marching across the desert. I thought of the saints of God who had crossed this very desert to Egypt, of Abraham, of Joseph, of old Jacob and his sons, of Moses, and then of Jesus crossing it as a babe with Mary and Joseph. Truly this is sacred ground!

Soon after breakfast we were in the Bitter Lakes and it was somewhere about this spot where the hosts of Israel crossed over the Red Sea (which used to come up here, but has now receded), and where Pharaoh and his hosts were engulfed. I could almost fancy I could see the scene, God leading his people in safety to the hills yonder, then old Moses singing his psalm of praise (Exodus Chapter 15) and then Miriam and her damsels dancing in praise with the timbrels, behind them their enemies engulfed in the briny ocean.

Soon after luncheon we arrived at the town of Suez and anchored in the Red Sea. On our left is Arabia and in the distance I can see the “Wells of Moses”, the reputed first stopping place of the Children of Israel; on our right is Egypt, aye of darkest Africa. O! that God’s light may soon extend over all Africa. Mount Sinai is on our left, where God gave the Law and where Moses spoke with God in the mount, how much I should like to climb its slopes.’ — Excerpts from W. G. Horley’s handwritten Journal, slightly edited.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.