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Whose faith follow: Mr Alex Ross(1903-1997)

E Taylor, Aberdeen

The name of Alex Ross is always associated with Aberdeen, but he was in fact an Aberdonian by adoption. He was reared in the small village of Cowie, near Stirling in Central Scotland. It was a mining community and, as was common practice in those days, youngsters on leaving school followed older members of their family into the coal pits.

When he was seventeen years old he was converted through the efforts of his older brother, Robert, who had been saved only a fortnight before. A preacher by the name of William Duncan was conducting a gospel campaign and Alex attended the meeting one night, after which he was invited to his brother’s home. The preacher was present, and on being introduced to young Alex asked if he was saved. On finding he was not, the preacher asked if he would like to be. After explaining the way of salvation, he turned to John 3.16 and asked Alex to insert his name in the verse. That night he saw it so clearly and was saved. He told the story in more detail in later years in a little tract he wrote entitled "How God saved a Coal-Miner".

Conditions were hard in the coal-mines; wages were low and employment uncertain. Trouble spread from the pits to other major industries, such as steel, engineering, and transport, and, in 1926, culminated in the General Strike. Great bitterness, hardship, and recrimination followed.

The result was that Alex Ross packed his few belongings, tied them to his bicycle, and left home in search of work. He spent some time in the Highlands working as a labourer in road-making and bridge-building. When that project was completed, and as the General Strike was not over, he felt guidance through the Scripture in which God said to Israel, "Turn you northward" (Deut 2.3), which brought him to Inverness. He stayed there briefly when again he was moved by a sense of divine guidance on reading Genesis 12.9: "And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south". Alex resolved to do likewise and this prompted him to head for the city of Aberdeen, where he arrived on his bicycle in July, 1926.

On his way to Aberdeen, he found a Christian conference taking place at Craigellachie on the banks of the River Spey. He stopped off there and was given overnight accommodation. For many years after that, when Aberdeen was packed with visitors from the south of Scotland, Alex used to arrange a bus to take believers to the Craigellachie conference. He used to advise visitors that it was a beautiful run and had the bonus of good ministry.

Within a few days he was able to find work, labouring on a building site. He continued in this job until the work was completed but again found himself unemployed. This led him to start on his own account buying fish from a brother in one of the Aberdeen assemblies and then selling the fish from door-to-door. From this humble beginning he progressed to a retail shop and then to set up as a wholesale fish merchant. The Lord prospered him in mill and in market, in field and in store-house. Throughout the years of his business life, whether on the Fish Market or in his premises, with colleagues and clients as well as his staff, Alex maintained a clear uncompromising testimony as to "whose he was and whom he served". In the local assembly at Holburn Gospel Hall there is still a dear sister in happy fellowship who was saved as a result of being one of Alex’s employees.

Alex’s association with the assemblies never wavered, and his more than fifty years in the Holburn assembly was a witness to this. Throughout this period he was an active and enthusiastic member in all aspects of its testimony. He had a great love for children’s work both in Sunday School (he was superintendent for a number of years), and in local authority school outreach work. These were ways by which he expressed his genuine zeal in the gospel, whether in the context of the local assembly or in the towns and villages of the shire. In earlier, as well as later years he actively supported mobile gospel van work, and had an unmistakably clear voice for open-air preaching. There would be no embarrassing silences if Alex was present. Many recall with affection fellowship with him in open-air witness. On the subject of gospel van work, it is worthy of note that, immediately after the war, quite a few young men were keen to help small assemblies in the local area. Alex Ross rose to the occasion by purchasing a suitable vehicle which was festooned with appropriate gospel texts and equipped with loud-speakers. He handed over the vehicle licensed and insured. For a number of years then, and another thirty years at a later date, the Aberdeen Gospel Van was active in support of North-East assemblies.

One of the great interests he had throughout his Christian life was the work of the Lord in other lands. This led him to forge lasting bonds with many of the Lord’s servants both by correspondence and by personal visits to them. He was responsible for bringing many missionaries to the assembly and to the wider attention of other assemblies in the area. He saw a missionary conference commenced in Holburn which continued for many years, thus promoting missionary interest in the city.

There are at least two other tangible legacies from Alex’s Christian life which have benefited the Lord’s people. He was keen to make use of his pen in reaching out both to believers and unbelievers. Early in the Second World War, he took over a Bible shop known as "The North of Scotland Bible and Tract Depot" in the centre of Aberdeen. It was understood to be in financial difficulties and it was genuinely believed that Alex rescued it from almost certain closure. He sold it after the war and it continued as a Bible shop for many years. Considering the shortages and restrictions that the war imposed, it probably brought in little financial gain but it gave him the opportunity to publish tracts and other items. His first effort was a gospel magazine called "The Northern Trumpet". Other tracts and pamphlets followed and in later years he published a few books, including "Choice Gems from the Psalms", published on the occasion of his diamond wedding in 1988.

Alex, when he was well into his eighties, was deeply thrilled when a friend told him that he was given a tract one afternoon by a lady standing at the street corner in one of the Cotswold villages. The recipient, who belonged to Aberdeen, was able to tell the dear lady that he knew the writer well. This brought pleasure to all three persons involved: the author of the tract, the tract distributor, and the recipient. Alex had cast his bread upon the waters and it was returning after many days.

The other legacy Alex has left is Summerhill Home in Aberdeen. In the late fifties he, more than any other, had the vision to see a home established which would provide a high standard of care and comfort for elderly believers. A working group of interested brethren began to meet but the reception given to his exercise was cool at that time. Alex would not allow anything to cloud his desire for a home for the elderly and the proposed venture was out in the open again in 1962, when the scope was widened to include brethren from Montrose to Lossiemouth, as well as from Aberdeen. In November, 1965 the purpose-built Summerhill Home was opened. Alex served as chairman of the management committee for more than twenty years. He ensured that as high a standard of care and comfort as was possible in those early days was maintained, and also that the spiritual needs of the residents were met. Many were the occasions when either on his own, or with a visiting missionary or preacher, a short service would be conducted in the morning.

It was fitting, therefore, that when the burden of years became too heavy for Alex and his wife to look after themselves in their own home they should benefit from the care and comfort which his original exercise could now provide. It was from there that he passed to be with the Lord in June, 1997.

Alex had a sense of tradition but he was by no means a person who was trapped in the past. He constantly had the eagle’s eye to look into the future and the lion’s heart to go forward. The richly coloured tapestry of his life is a clear demonstration of the workings of divine providence in the life of a devoted Christian.

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