Record Rewind: The man with the lamp

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Arthur Lawson was born on July 16, 1880 in Wilmington, South Australia. He accepted the Advent message in Broken Hill, New South Wales (NSW), in about 1903 due to the influence of Pastor J Steed.

By 1904 Lawson was canvassing in Broken Hill, selling Daniel and Revelation before attending Avondale College from 1905 where he graduated from the Normal (Teacher Training) Course in 1910. Called to be a missionary in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Lawson then spent some months in brief nursing training at the Sydney Sanitarium and Hospital in order to prepare himself for mission service before going on pre-embarkation leave during August 1911, with his family in Broken Hill. He sailed for PNG on September 30 of that year and was later joined there by his wife, Enid.

Nearly a year later, Lawson described the events of his first year in mission service to the church membership back in Australia. He was grateful for the modest amount of nursing training he had earlier received at the “San” as he had been thus able to help the local people, particularly with several cases of snake bite. He also reported that the mission station at Bisiatabu was ideally placed for the “starting of the work in this dark island”. One of the very early Adventist missionaries to Papua New Guinea, Lawson continued in mission work there until his permanent return to Australia in early 1921.

Back in Australia, Lawson worked for a time at the Mona Mona Mission in the state of Queensland. Then he moved to Cooranbong (NSW), living there for the rest of his life and working for the Sanitarium Health Food Company until his retirement. Arthur Norman Lawson died on June 29, 1965 at the Kurri Hospital in his 85th year.

But there is more yet to the Lawson story; old and frail in the early 1960s, he did not sleep well and often wandered around the Avondale College campus during the night. In those days students often worked in the Sanitarium factory on the campus and as they got off their shift at 2am, they would often see this old man walking the campus in the middle of the night with his kerosene hurricane lamp bobbing among the trees. Some commented on these sightings with disrespect, even ridicule. But the college preceptor (dean of men) at the time, Pastor Desmond B Hills, was astute and invited old Pastor Lawson to take evening worship for the young men in the dormitory.

Frail and with a weak, quavering voice, Pastor Lawson described what it was like to be a pioneer missionary; how he had preached the gospel, every day of every month for years before he got his first baptism and how that first convert had died six weeks later of black-water fever. He shared how he had then continued his preaching and teaching, full-time, for several more years before he had his second convert.

Those present in the chapel that night were humbled by the story of enormous commitment and resilience they heard from Pastor Lawson. The man with the lamp was not only an honoured presence on campus from then on, but those present that night carried the memory of the occasion with them down through the years.

The seed that Pastor Lawson and the other pioneer missionaries to PNG sowed, and which did not seem to be fruitful at the time, has now blossomed into full bloom, as today there are more church members in Papua New Guinea than in any other country in the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Lester Devine is director emeritus of the Ellen G White/Adventist Research Centre at Avondale University College.

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