It is 1932 in north-east Brazil. A young missionary is facing a hostile crowd summoned by the Roman Catholic priest to stop him preaching.
The priest calls out ‘What bishop ordained the preacher?’ The firm reply comes back, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ who said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” … the Lord Jesus Christ ordained me’. This provokes the priest and the stones begin to fly – forcing the missionary and his Brazilian colleagues to leave town.
Born on 30 July 1906, William Bannister (Ban) Forsyth had been in Brazil for just four years, but would remain for another 42, faithfully preaching the gospel. He was called to missionary service while singing a hymn during an evening service in February 1925 (he did not know the Lord at the time and only came to saving faith several months later!)
He spent two years at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow. One of his lecturers was D. M. McIntyre, son-in-law to Andrew Bonar. He then did a further year at the Missionary School of Medicine.
Ban Forsyth was accepted for service by the Evangelical Union of South America (now Latin Link) and arrived in Recife, Brazil, on 3 October 1928. After language study he married Edith Paton and together they worked over a huge area of the arid north-east region – where the above incident took place.
Many speak with great affection of his time there – his tireless horseback visits to remote churches and mission stations; his deep commitment to expository ministry; and his impassioned preaching (sometimes five times every Sunday – he once said without boasting that he never got messages muddled up).
In 1933 he began what would become his ongoing ministry – training Brazilian men and women for the work of the gospel. Ban and Edith worked in the north-east for eleven years, before moving to Anapolis in 1944 on account of Edith’s poor health.
Anapolis was the location for both the Evangelical Hospital of Goias and the Biblical Seminary, so they remained there until 1957 when Edith’s illness made a return to Britain unavoidable.
Edith Forsyth died in 1958 and one year later Ban married Mary Hamilton, a great friend of Edith’s and a nurse at the Anapolis Hospital. They returned to Brazil, to the city of São Paulo, where once again the training ministry was the main focus, along with pastoral work in a local church.
About this time Ban Forsyth carried out one of his most important tasks within EUSA. It had become clear that direction of the mission should pass from the London Board to an International Council formed by the leaders of the various fields – Argentina, Brazil and Peru.
It fell to Ban Forsyth to pave the way for a peaceful transition and establish a system that remains basically unchanged today – although the fields now include Bolivia, Ecuador and Costa Rica.
Tragically, on a journey in Peru on behalf of the new leadership, the Forsyths were involved in a road accident in which Mary died. Once again he had lost a faithful partner – after just five years of marriage.
In 1965 Ban married his secretary, Brenda Wayling, and they have been together now for 41 years. They then moved to Rio de Janeiro, where Ban continued as Inter-Field Secretary until Robert Grant became EUSA’s first International Secretary.
This freed Ban to return to his beloved teaching ministry at the Bible Seminary of Rio de Janeiro, where he also pastored a church. They returned to the UK to retire in 1974 after doctors diagnosed that he had cancer. But doctors in the UK found no trace of the disease!
It might be imagined that retirement would bring a well-earned rest, but Ban Forsyth never had this in mind. Taking the pastorate of a struggling church in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, which had just a dozen or so regulars, he reinstated regular services and Bible studies, brought back disaffected members and oversaw its amalgamation with another evangelical church in the village.
After eight years he retired again, but remained as overseer until a new pastor was called in 1984 – by which time there were 30 members and a congregation that spanned all age groups.
His ministry thereafter consisted of quiet and gracious encouragement of the young pastor – in reality, an extension of his training ministry!
He preached regularly until well into his nineties. In 1999 he wrote to his grandson, ‘Seventy-four years have passed. I have preached the gospel literally thousands of times, and yet it is as fresh, if more mature, as it was when I first believed. Christ-centred, Bible-based, inexhaustible, life-giving’.
On 30 July 2006 Ban Forsyth celebrated his 100th birthday. A celebration was held at the Wiveliscombe Congregational Church, when family, friends and former colleagues joined him from all over the world to give thanks for the life and work of a dedicated servant of God. It is, of course, impossible to summarise 100 years adequately, so just two points must suffice.
Firstly, Ban Forsyth’s life and character has always reflected the Lord Jesus – though he says he wants no more said about him than that he is ‘a sinner saved by grace’. Jesus Christ remains his focus and he has no other aim than to see the Lord Jesus honoured.
Secondly, such a lifetime of ministry bears surprising fruit. Returning to 1932 we find among that hostile crowd a young man unexpectedly unnerved by the day’s events. Even as he pelts the missionaries, questions arise in his mind. Why have these people come? What makes it worth risking injury to get their message across? He begins to search for answers, finds faith and himself becomes a preacher of the gospel.
How do we know? Fast forward 42 years. This same man hears that the preacher he once attacked is taking one last service before leaving Brazil for retirement. So he goes to meet him and reveal how one day’s seemingly useless work had not been in vain.
There will be many more such stories that will not be told until we reach heaven and see ‘what great things the Lord has done’. To God be the glory!