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Omri Jenkins 1915-2003

December 2003 | by Geoff Thomas

Omri Jenkins, who died on 2 September2003 aged 88, was born in Llandybie, Carmarthenshire, a small village in south-west Wales. His parents were converted during the 1904 Revival and he was named after a respected evangelist.

His early years were spent in the Pentecostal fellowship which they attended. Omri could set no date for his conversion — he probably trusted in Christ in his late teens, but drifted away from the Lord.

But when 24, following surgery, he was restored to serious discipleship. In fact he once thought he was converted at that time, but modified this judgement after coming to an understanding of the doctrines of grace.

Theology at low ebb

The first world war was followed by uneasy years for Welsh Evangelicalism. There were men who had been changed by the 1904 revival, for example, John Evans of Llantrisant.

He bore the stamp of experiential piety — seen in his spirit of prayer and reverence before God. He led a regular ministers’ fellowship in Cardiff, and Omri could remember him quoting the revolt of Absalom and crying, as they all kneeled in prayer, ‘It is time to bring back the King!’

These men were inconsistent Calvinists, not blessed with the books, conferences and free grace preaching which we enjoy — but they served God and his Word in their generation.

But there were other less favoured characters, who sometimes played on the larger-than-life aspect of their personalities. When theology is at a low ebb it is mere man who in different ways will rise.

Answer to prayer

Omri had left the Apostolic mission hall and had joined a Welsh-language Baptist church. Increasingly, he felt a call to preach the gospel. In 1941 Omri was working with his brothers managing a garage in Ammanford.

He was finding it very hard to communicate with his own minister, and eventually prayed that the Lord might send the man to his house in Llandybie.

Each morning he would leave home at 8.30am and set off for Ammanford a few miles away. Then one morning, who should come knocking at the door before he had left for work but the minister himself.

This answer to prayer was a significant providence to the young Omri and encouraged him to feel that the Lord would not be displeased if he sought to enter the ministry.

He applied to the Presbyterian College in Carmarthen (the oldest nonconformist theological college in Wales) and a place was offered him.

Its board, however, was largely Unitarian. There were about ten Baptist students plus Congregationalists and Presbyterians. One professor was a Baptist and the other three were Presbyterian.

No notes

Each day Omri would set off from his home in Llandybie, where he lived with his wife and two daughters, and catch the bus to Carmarthen. He was the only evangelical Christian in the college.

All the lecturers were liberal. He remembers the Baptist Professor of Church History speaking of George Whitefield and saying that he could never understand how all the greatest evangelists in the church had been Calvinists. Omri did not understand the remark but it lodged in his mind.

At one of the sermon classes, a fellow student stole his notes and Omri, without their benefit, had to preach on Matthew 2:11: ‘And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him’.

His theme was the divine person of our Lord, and the Unitarian Principal, who seldom remarked on the theology of a sermon, was constrained to respond, ‘I do not agree with your theology, Mr Jenkins’.

At another preaching class, a Baptist student preached at interminable length. At its conclusion the Principal muttered with a sigh, ‘You can throw half that sermon away, and it doesn’t matter which half’!

Modernism

An unchallenged tide of modernism swept through Wales in the first half of the 20th century, and true Christianity waned. The social gospel prevailed, strangling vital Christianity. Omri Jenkins left the Carmarthen College in 1946 with no regrets.

The college is long-since closed, as are most of the denominational seminaries in Wales, but its building was subsequently bought by the Carmarthen Evangelical Church, which thrives today under the ministry of Dafydd Morris. Omri had the joy of going back to preach at the opening services.

Omri proceeded to a Baptist church in Barry, South Wales. Not only had he retained his evangelical convictions, but made steady progress during those years — rejecting the Scofield Bible’s dispensationalism and becoming convinced of the eternal security of the believer.

He had been kept by two factors — he had been regenerated by the Spirit of God and he heard Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach on his regular sorties into Wales.

Diminutive figure

Omri belonged to a new generation of leaders, who went through liberal seminaries but rejected higher critical attitudes to Scripture and the fashionable neo-orthodoxy they were taught.

They were also sceptical about the World Council of Churches, then at its zenith of influence, and they began to preach free grace from their pulpits.

Dr Lloyd-Jones was instrumental in teaching these men and providing a role model for their ministries. Omri Jenkins still remembers Lloyd-Jones’ first visit to Llandeilo in the early 1930s.

Omri was playing football in the park and watched two local ministers walking away from an afternoon meeting with a man of more diminutive stature. Little did he realise what an influence that man was to have over him and the whole of Wales in the next half a century, as he preached the great doctrines of the faith with such clarity.

European Evangelistic Crusade

During his six years in Barry, Omri’s gifts as a preacher developed. He became a notable evangelist and saw God’s blessing in meetings at Bangor University and with I. B. Davies at the Presbyterian Mission in Neath. His long friendship with the late Paul Tucker began in Barry, and they co-operated in evangelism at Princess Street Mission.

It was at one of these missions that James Stewart told Omri of the work of the gospel in Europe, and subsequently invited him to become the British Home Director of the European Evangelistic Crusade.

This was an international society with branches in Holland, Switzerland and the USA. The American branch was larger than all the others, with 80 missionaries and still growing, while the British branch had only three missionaries and an annual income of less than £3,000.

There was an office in Victoria Street, London, and a small Mission Home in St Leonards, Sussex, which was in the process of being sold. This meant that no accommodation was available for the Jenkins family.

Doctrines of grace

Nevertheless, two early developments confirmed that this invitation was of God. Two weeks after he started with EEC, a lady— knowing nothing of the Jenkins’ need — walked into the office to offer free accommodation for a family.

Then, within three months, a gospel van was offered for the work in Lapland. Putting this to use required some of the experience which Omri had gained in the Ammanford garage.

Not surprisingly, the family were drawn to Westminster Chapel where they became members.

Dr Lloyd-Jones had begun a series of messages on Christian doctrine (recently published in three paperbacks or one large American volume). Listening to these addresses, Omri Jenkins was brought to understand the doctrines of grace.

There was a close bond of trust and affection between Dr Lloyd-Jones and Omri Jenkins. He understood the Doctor and commended his stand on the ecclesiastical issues of the day to members of the congregation and to the deacons.

Welcome visitor

Omri travelled as no other minister, up and down the British Isles speaking of the work of the mission to small mid-week meetings and encouraging churches with news of the growth and spread of the gospel across Europe.

He was also a welcome visitor to many continental churches, preaching through interpreters — a beloved and inspirational figure. Under his leadership many national workers were supported. Although the mission budget increased vastly, its needs were always met.

Inevitably, tensions developed between the Arminian evangelism of the American EEC and his own convictions about missionary work. The American section broke up and an independent British work began in 1958 — renamed the European Missionary Fellowship.

Banner Books

These were also the early years of the Banner of Truth Trust, in which Westminster Chapel and Dr Lloyd-Jones played no small part.

Omri sought to influence the men of the EMF theologically. Dr Lloyd-Jones had led both Westminster Chapel and himself into the doctrines of grace, and he proceeded with the same gentle and sure approach.

He never said anything to the missionary committee about being a ‘Calvinist’, but sent Banner of Truth books to all the missionaries each Christmas! The teaching was underlined in the annual workers’ conferences and among the European preachers.

Today the whole executive committee and mission staff, with few exceptions, are assured of the truth which must control our evangelism, worship and all our living.

For ten years, Omri Jenkins rendered outstanding service to Evangelical Times, first as Chairman and thereafter as chairman of the Editorial Committee.

School of Biblical Studies

The EMF School of Biblical Studies (which later became the School of Evangelism, but reverted to its original title this year) was set up under Omri’s wise direction in the 1960s. It operated first in Watford but moved to Welwyn in 1981.

At the school, European nationals from all over the continent pursue a course of study in biblical theology, church history and evangelistic and pastoral skills, before returning to serve the Lord in their own lands.

In his last editorial in the Vision of Europe, Mr Jenkins wrote of his ‘joy of fellowship with an exceptional body of men and women — committee members, fellow workers, etc. — who above all are committed to the infallible Word of God, to reformed Christianity and to the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes’.

After 33 years leading the European Missionary Fellowship, Omri Jenkins stepped down from that work on the last day of August 1985.

Last years

His last years were spent writing a history of the European Missionary Fellowship, entitled Five minutes to midnight (Evangelical Press). He preached continually and attended the Bala Ministers’ Conference and the Aberystwyth Conference until he had no more strength.

His hopes were focused on those churches where the Word of God was faithfully ministered — ‘not dry Calvinism, God save us from that! Where the Bible is preached with real liberty there is fruit’.

He was a righteous man and enormously affectionate. He loved his family, blessing God for his sons-in-law. What a grief was the death of Yolande, one of his dear daughters, six months ago.

His own end was peaceful. Nursed by his family, encouraged by daily readings from Spurgeon and Tozer, he looked with anticipation to heaven.

No other man of his generation was held in greater respect by Christians in Wales and further afield than our dear friend and brother.

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