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Whose faith follow: Willie Rew (1886-1984)

Taken from "They finished their Course in the 80’s"

William Ritchie Rew was born in the Angus village of Strathmartin, the son of a textile mill owner, in 1886. He was one of ten children, whose parents were not saved when they married. Conversion changed their lives completely, family worship being commenced in their home, and regular attendance at the assembly in Hillbank Hall, Dundee, four miles away on foot. It was during family worship one Sunday evening, when he was fifteen years of age, that young Willie, until then not interested in spiritual things, heard God’s voice: "This is your last chance. If you do not believe now, you will not have another chance." He responded immediately, and never looked back. Baptism followed at the Dundee New Year Conference shortly afterwards.

From the beginning, the youthful Willie Rew loved the Scriptures, loved to pray, and loved the assembly gatherings. A brother, who took a keen interest in the spiritual welfare of young Christians, gave him his first opportunity to take part in a meeting by inviting him to open a Saturday evening meeting. He got up, read his passage, gave out a hymn, prayed, said, "If you get as much out of this Scripture as I have, you will do well", and sat down.

The family moved to Perthshire. Father and son were joint founders of the new assembly in Doune. The First World War saw Willie Rew move to Clydebank where he worked in the famous Singer’s sewing machine factory. He had become interested in missionary work, but the war postponed any possibility of travelling to any mission field. Meantime he was introduced to Margaret Smith from Ayr. They were engaged three weeks later.

Willie preached the gospel round Glasgow area. From Clydebank they moved to Norwich for war work i.e. the building of aeroplane bodies. It was here they were living and from whence they were commended in 1921, after a year at the Missionary School of Medicine in Great Ormond Street.

The way to Africa did not open until Mr Rew was a mature man of thirty-five. Communications in that continent were not as poor as in the days of the pioneers, but it was still a three week journey on foot into the interior, Mrs Rew being carried in a hammock while her husband walked. They camped out every night in this strange land with its strange climate. They were heading for Kalunda to join Tom Rea of Ulster, who had been in Kalunda since 1911, but when they discovered that a number of new missionaries, held up at home because of the war, had gone to Kalunda, they went to Kavungu instead. The next twenty months were occupied learning the language of the district. When Mrs Rew was returning to Kavungu after the birth of Kathleen one of the carriers asked, "Why don’t you go where people have not heard the gospel?". Mrs Rew asked him where such people were and the result was that Dilolo appeared on the missionary map.

Imagine living with a growing family in a place 600 miles from the nearest shop where goods like flour, sugar, tea, paraffin, etc. could be procured. These could only be obtained in the dry season when the journey took three months there and back. One year they had no money for the yearly shopping list so the trip did not take place. However, a caravan of thirteen men arrived with loads which were deposited at the Rew’s door. These supplies had been sent from a prospector to whom the Rews had previously given hospitality when he had taken ill in the district. Now employed, he bought a year’s supplies for the Rews when he was purchasing his own.

The natives were a long time in understanding the gospel. The first convert was a fifteen-year-old lad. He went on to become a preacher and an elder in an assembly and served the Lord for fifty years. From then on the work grew but the Catholics arrived and planned to cover the district with schools. The people, however, wanted Mr Rew’s schools. Three hundred were built in three months and he had to find teachers for them. He visited Angola to see if teachers could be obtained there but returned without having achieved success. He then found that the workers laying the new railway line were having Christian services. They turned out to be Lubans who had been carried off as slaves and had been converted in slavery. Now that slavery was abolished they had liberty to return to Lubaland, but hearing of the need for teachers they stayed on at Dilolo to fill the gap.

Mr Rew’s first means of transport was a bicycle, and when he eventually got a truck they had to build eighteen miles of road for it. Many a tale could be told about the problems of negotiating African bridges with that truck, and with a later car, including the occasion when the bridge broke and Mrs Rew was tossed into the river and carried some distance downstream. After twenty-three years in Dilolo the Rews had seen some 3,000 people trust the Saviour. Sixty of them had become teacher-evangelists, full-time servants of the Lord. They had seen many meeting-places erected in the bush.

The Rews had to take one of their sons to Elizabethville for medical attention. There they met hundreds of believers who had been attracted to the town for work. The only church was Methodist but they greatly missed the practice of believers’ baptism and the weekly Breaking of Bread. They had appealed to other missionaries for help without success and now they appealed to this sixty-year-old. There were enough missionaries, including his own family to carry on in Dilolo so the new challenge was accepted.

The problem was that building in Elizabethville was going to cost a lot of money. Initially they took a disused hotel ten kilometres out of the town and this was their first home there. It was so run-down that the family did not want their school friends to know where they were living. A meeting-place for the first African assembly in a city was provided and on the first Lord’s Day 450 commended Africans gathered to remember the Lord.

Mr and Mrs John Duff of Chicago were visiting Africa and were shown hospitality by the Rews. A violent thunder storm put out the lights and showed that their home was very leaky. Elizabethville was central for many missionaries in Central Africa. The Duffs decided to make it possible for "Restawhile" to be erected, not just a home for the Rews, but a home from home for travelling missionaries. Moreover, the area was evangelised by the time of the Katanga war in the nineteen sixties. When Willie Rew was ninety-one there were some forty assemblies in the area, only three of which had been there when they came to the district.

The political situation was deteriorating and Mr Rew was increasingly crippled from injuries sustained when his car had overturned away back in his youth. With roaming soldiers who were little better than brigands, it was increasingly difficult for the others to have a care for him when danger was near. Mrs Rew was called home in 1963. Undaunted, Mr Rew carried on with the work and eventually married Win Wagland, one of the lady missionaries from Chamfubu. Win looked after him well. Willie was not very mobile but ran a Bible School on Saturdays to prepare natives for future leadership, until the Government required them to give part of their free day for public works. It became apparent that it was better for the old warrior to come home. He returned to Scotland, and at the ripe old age of ninety-eight, after fifty-seven years in the Tropics, the Lord took him home.


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