Joe Merson was among the youngest members of a family of nine children, brought up in a home where the name of God was greatly revered, in the village of Sandend, on the Moray Firth. From early years they knew the way of salvation but Joe drifted steadily into a sinful life.
One night, Joe was on his way home, under the influence of alcohol, when he fell into a ditch filled with water. Such was his drunken stupor that he was unable to extricate himself. He lay there for most of the night. Eventually, he sobered up and was able to make his way home. This terrifying experience had a marked affect on him for he realised that, had he drowned that night, he would have been lost.
Concerned about salvation, Joe sought out a Christian in his native village and they had many conversations. One evening, deeply troubled, Joe went out for a walk to the ruins of an old castle. There, at Findlater Castle, Joe received Christ as his Saviour. His life was completely transformed. After a few years he felt the call to serve the Lord full-time and was commended to this work by his local assembly.
Soon afterwards, in the summer of 1949, he and the late Harry Burness co-operated in a campaign, centred in a gospel tent at Keith, which was then the administrative capital of Banffshire. Keith was a hard place and the work was difficult. There was at that time a small assembly in Keith. The Breaking of Bread meeting was held in the burgh courtroom with its plush red benches lending a solemn dignity to the proceedings.
The Aberdeen Gospel Van frequently journeyed to Keith to help during that campaign. At this stage Joe seemed to be very much "feeling his way". However, this very soon changed. Within a year or two, it was obvious that he had a good grasp of Scripture and a growing understanding of the Book. He quickly developed a growing competence as a preacher of the gospel and as a minister of the Word. He conducted campaigns in many parts, series of ministry meetings, and a growing number of conferences.
Joe visited the Shetland Islands frequently over many years of active service, being first invited by the late James Moar in 1951. In those days it was common practice to have gospel services in cottages and in farm kitchens during the winter months, as well as in halls. Joes preaching was greatly blessed. He joined Mr Moar in districts where there was no assembly, using Mr Moars bus which seated 30-40 persons. He and Joe would visit during the day and then have a gospel service in the evening. This sphere of activity proved very fruitful.
Some of the highlights of Joes service were in Ayrshire. An early visit was to Dailly. The small assembly was keen to have a gospel campaign but they were unable to support an evangelist. Joe volunteered to go, and his visit was a great boost to the believers. Another occasion was at Glenburn, Prestwick. Interest there was good and the period of the campaign was extended, with eight professions of faith being made. Another time, at Stevenston, sixteen professed under his preaching. In the course of many visits to various places, he preached in halls, tents, portable halls, and in the open air.
Joe travelled widely to many parts of the British Isles, including Northern Ireland. His work also extended to farther fields. On several occasions, he went to give help in Guyana where his brother-in-law, Alex Sutherland, was a missionary. He also visited Trinidad and even went as far as Alaska!
Several correspondents, writing of Joe Merson, have singled him out as a man of prayer, a preacher of great earnestness, a student of the Scriptures, and an evangelist with a deep yearning for souls. He passed to be with the Lord very suddenly on 11th December, 1996. He had gone out in his car to do some visiting but appeared to have taken ill and to have drawn in to the side of the road where he was found dead at the wheel. His wife, who had suffered very poor health and increasing debility, survived him by only five months.