Pen Portrait of The Man Lawrie
It seemed all too simple when I was asked to give a pen picture of Brother Lawrie. As I had been in close contact with him for so many years, I thought I knew him well to dash off a few thousand words. Only when I sat down with my pen poised to write, that I realized that I don't know this man well-enough! This came to me as a rude shock. Pondering over it, I concluded that Bro. Lawrie must be the most controversial figure on earth, hence the least understood or most understood.
For instance, let us take his calling first. He is supposed to be a godly man. It can't be otherwise, as God Himself has chosen him for the highest vocation for any man, ever since the time of Adam, to be the Tabernacle for Himself to abide forever. God must have found him to be “a man after His own heart”. Looking at him, however, no one will even suspect him to be a saint.
He has a rough exterior and looks a wrestler, ready to battle the world, rather than a godly man going about fighting the evils of the world, he never puts on the airs of the Sadhus who assume a far-away look in their eyes and go about with unsmiling long-drawn faces. On the contrary, Bro. Lawrie can crack a joke and laugh wholeheartedly at anything amusing. Nor does he wear any dress to distinguish himself from the common man, unlike the men of divinity, who go about in robes or other distinctive dress, and sport a beard or long hair to be recognized as saints.
Even my coming in contact with him and the attachment I have for him is very paradoxical. I am a man who did not like private evangelists. For me anyone not sponsored through the Church was a ‘thief’ out to steal some stray sheep of the Lord. But I had been irresistibly drawn to Bro. Lawrie, that I have forsaken the Church to which I had been greatly attached.
I was a member of the Pastorate Committee of the Zion Church, Chintadripet, when a friend (a co-member of the Pastorate Committee) made the suggestion that I go and attend one of the meetings of Bro.Lawrie. Curiosity rather than spiritual thirst, took me to one of the meetings held at the Methodist Episcopal Church, Vepery.
The message was simple but forceful, and much more than that, it had the power in it to draw me day after day as long as the meetings continued. The experience was something astounding which I never had gained in all the 40 years of my association with the established Church. The contact I made then with him was never broken, even though I had to go through ever so many obstacles due to this strange attachment.
Again when I try to analyze what attracted me to him that bound me so firm, I draw a blank! Is it his charm of personality? May be ‘Yes’ and may be ‘No’. He is charming - a good conversationalist who can keep you spellbound for hours and boost your ego up sky high. But at other times you don't understand him at all, and any man not on the Word would break off with a huff.
Almost every time it was his adamant stand on the Word that has caused rifts between him and his close associates. As a human being, one could find many foibles in him. But where the most saintly of saints have stumbled or backslidden, Bro. Lawrie stood fast on the Word of God - never swaying to the right or to the left.
When it came to standing on the Word, Bro. Lawrie never cared what others had to say, whether he is a friend or foe. Even the bitterest criticism will not make him budge from the stand he takes on the Word, and he goes about with supernatural energy to vindicate his stand. He is physically well and strongly built too, to spend any amount of energy in this life.
Bro. Lawrie not only appears to be rough and tough, but he really is. He had built his body like that in his younger days, playing robust soccer and taking seriously to other manly games as wrestling and boxing. This helped him in his later days when he could boldly stand up to any bully. Still later in his life, this gave him the physical fitness and stamina to withstand the tremendous strain of the ministry.
I had been appalled to watch how a human physique can stand such a beating. During the campaign days he would go on preaching to tens of thousands of people for hours on end, and follow it up to continue the healing by praying for the sick, the maimed and the possessed, for another three to four hours. On campaign days I have never seen him quit his post until long past midnight.
Here again there is something contradictory. This man who displays such zest and vigour when it comes to God's work, will slog on unenthusiastically at other jobs when even the smallest effort, such as replying a few letters, tires him. Hence one has to suspect that it is something above physical stamina that sustains him. His close associates have observed that he will talk to a single individual for hours if he finds in that person a ray of hope for bringing him to the saving influence of the Lord Jesus Christ. So one can easily make the deduction that the ‘X’ factor for the source of his abundant energy is this zeal for saving the lost sheep of God.
Such painstaking stint would make one feel that he is a patient man. He is patient on such matters only. Yet, he is one of the most impatient men one could come across. For instance, if he wants a thing to be done, he won't calculate the time and work involved, and get so impatient that he will be on one’s nerves! This may sound that he is intolerant. Yes and No again.
There are instances wherein he had been tolerant to such limits that have hurt his own interests. At the same time he is intolerant as to hurt the feelings of even his loved ones. He is known to have been intolerant even on such matters as spending a few rupees. Is he stingy? Yes, at times, and surprisingly at small things! But he is usually the most generous man, and at times, to the extent of spoiling. One can go on adding to the contradictions that Bro. Lawrie is.
Whatever he is, his sole concern is the successful completion of the commission that has been given to him by God. For furthering that cause and objective, he would go to any lengths. If anyone came in the way, knowingly of unknowingly, blocking its progress Bro. Lawrie cannot tolerate it even though that person may be his dear friend or a person who had previously helped in the ministry to a great measure.
His way of work also is out of the ordinary. He commits himself to the will of God in everything he does, and will not stand to any reason if he feels it is against His wishes. Many friends and well-wishers have been so displeased with him because of this, and some have even walked out on him.
This facet of his character is one of the most difficult to be understood by people who had to deal with him. I have even known of instances where he had refused to speak at meetings already arranged and vast preparations made, on the plea that the Lord hadn’t told him to. For him this is a normal thing, having subjected himself to nothing but God’s will; but to others it is exasperating.
Bro. Lawrie is a shrewd man in dealing with men or worldly matters. He can read a man inside out after having a few minutes’ conversation with him, so much so that people who come in close contact with him fear to think or act wrongly. Consciously he has read the thoughts of many persons that has baffled all. It may be, his thoughts transcend space and time, and he uses this armour effectively for God's work.
I asked some of the people who had been closely associated with Bro. Lawrie what, they thought, his most outstanding quality they have found in him. One gentleman came out with this: “He does not forget faces no matter how long ago he has seen them”, Yes. He has a stupendous memory both of faces and facts. He has gone round the world thrice and must have met many people. Yet he never forgets these persons if he confronts them again. Even the school-day friends are green in his memory. Whenever they meet, Bro. Lawrie always swaps stories of their boyhood pranks.
Another remarkable quality one can notice in him is that he, either carelessly or due to overstrain, does not let anything happening around him, escape his attention. He may be engaged most attentively in typing some important letters, or in a most serious conversation with others or even giving God's messages, yet his eyes (are they eagle’s eyes!) will be swirling round and eyeing the happenings around him. Nothing of significance can escape his eye.
Hence everyone is alert in not doing any wrong. Moreover, his whole-time engagement in the ministry, though really so much burdensome as to drag anyone else down, does not place him to neglect his other responsibilities, for instance, towards the conduct of his family affairs, every detail of which receives his close attention. The upbringing of his three boys in the most talented way to assist him in God's work will bear ample evidence to this trait of his.
The quality noblest of all is his humility. For a man chosen of God to rule the world, he is most unassuming and simple. The praises of the Bride members as the Son of Man, which has been confirmed time and again by the Lord Himself, could have spoilt any lesser man. Come to think of it, this appointment and title “Son of Man” is the hardest for any man to carry about. It could have cracked any human being.
Another characteristic that sticks out boldly is his complete honesty and love for truth. His candidness in everything, even in his own life, is surprising. He does not spare himself, and admits his misdeeds and mistakes, a thing we seldom find in most of the pastors or preachers. On the other hand it is more than likely that they try to hide such shortcomings to pose as saints. So also we, who claim to be Christians, have failed to confess that we are all sinners.
It would have bloated one’s head up in pride, receiving the bouquets of the Bride, or smashed him to smithereens by the brickbats hurled at him from every corner of the world. But Bro. Lawrie carries his head high when the world ridicules him, but bows in love whenever he is showered with praises by the Bride members. And there is no hypocrisy in his humility either. He always gives glory to God, and no one has ever heard him take the credit on himself for anything small or great.
Though he has been endowed with all the qualities of head and heart required of a leader, I have never seen him impose his leadership on anyone. Himself the most independent man, he likes everyone with him to be independent, having their connections with their Creator, as led by the Holy Spirit. ‘Compliance through love’ is what he wishes the people with him, to give him.
It is surprising how he can adapt himself to any person. He can play with a child as a child: discuss with the youth their problems, stooping to their level. It is a trait in him that he is lenient with the young and strict with the elders. He is at home in any company, whether he be a millionaire or a man on the street, a saint or a sinner. One of the great forces he has is his utter disregard for the riches of this world.
The rich are peeved of this because their money cannot buy him. He can be very friendly with the rich people of the world, but never spares them if he knew that they were wrong. He deals the same way with the world, acclaimed great missionaries and preachers and their powerful organizations. Bro. Lawrie has the boldness to point them on their faces what he feels is wrong with them or their doctrines.
Running an Ashram of about 300 inmates and catering to the physical and spiritual needs of hundreds of persons in three centres which are directly under his care, entails solving myriads of problems which require the wisdom of a Solomon and the leadership of a Moses. He is greater than them all.