The boy who loved the Bible

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I love stories like this where God, through one verse of Scripture, changes the course of a person’s life. Until Fergus Kirk received that word, his life was headed in a different direction. What he ended up doing is absolutely amazing.

This story was written by Pat Massey, and printed in the Winter 2021 edition of the Prairie Harvester, published by Prairie Bible Institute/Prairie College. Used by permission.

TEN-YEAR-OLD MABEL KIRK WAS MILKING HER ELEVENTH COW when her father came to announce the arrival of baby brother John Fergus. In a family of ten children, a new arrival wasn’t unique. But God would one day draw Mabel and this tiny sibling together for his own eternal purposes.

While his older brothers were full of mischief and often drove their parents to their wits’ end, young Fergus was the exact opposite. His brother Hector recalled, “I never knew a more sensitive, retiring disposition. To mention his name at meal time would cause him to slip down and hide beneath the table.”

There was no shying away, however, from his mother and father’s faith in God and their love for the Bible. The lives of Andrew and Maria Kirk were marked by joyful sacrifice and a spartan simplicity in their Ontario home. Early on, the children were taught to take responsibility and to do without in order to further the work of God. Those foundations would prepare the way for a future time when sacrifice and simple life styles for the sake of the gospel would become a way of life.

In 1907 seventeen-year-old Fergus headed west to the Saskatchewan prairies. A few years later he moved on to Alberta, settling near the tiny town of Three Hills. Leaving his modest upbringing and spiritual training behind and determined to make his fortune farming, the young pioneer soon acquired three quarter sections of choice wheat lands, a fine team of horses, and a full line of machinery. His dreams were almost within reach.

Fergus was no stranger to hard work. He could shovel an entire wagon load of wheat without a break and, being the proud owner of one of the first tractors in the area, he drove it day and night. When brother Hector announced his plans to become a missionary to Africa, Fergus was respectful but unimpressed. He would carve out his own little kingdom on western soil.

Most of his siblings were now in Alberta and at Mabel’s home the lonely bachelor discovered the love of his life—Jennie Munro. Their union would endure for more than sixty happy years, but it was soon to be tested “in sickness and in health.”

The new husband was happily planning for the future when, without warning, his overworked frame, pushed repeatedly to the limit, broke down completely. He would require absolute rest for two years. Grief was layered upon grief when their little son Allan, born in March of 1921, lived only four days. One by one, the dreams were crumbling to dust.

One by one the dreams were crumbling.

Unable to work the land, Fergus decided to use his fine Model T Ford to ferry visiting preachers around the community. One of these was missionary Sydney Hamilton, a personal friend. As they drove together over the rolling prairies, Fergus had no idea that Hamilton was praying for him, asking God to meet this broken young farmer in his need.

One Sunday at a country church Sydney preached from II Samuel 24:24, “Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that with doth cost me nothing.” It suddenly dawned on Fergus that he had always given out of his abundance but never anything that had really cost him. Fleeing to the car, he broke down in tears. This husky, self-sufficient lad who had broken the prairie sod and battled the wind and weather of the western plains was now humbled under the impact of the Word of God. From that time on, he would be a changed man.

Fergus began to sell his land and machinery, giving the money away to God’s work until only one quarter section and a few horses were left. Once passionate only about farming, now he hungered to know what God had to say. His sister Hattie offered her study notes from Bible school and Fergus began to work his way through the Scriptures. The truths so gripped his heart that he longed to share them with others, but that thought terrified the shy country boy.

“Lord,” he prayed, “I’ll give my last cent and do any kind of work for you, but I cannot preach.”

God gently persisted and Fergus finally stepped out, starting a Bible class and a Sunday school. He soon realized that the teenagers of the district needed someone to guide them to a deeper walk with God, but he had no more to share. Hattie suggested that he write to a Bible school in Kansas and ask if he could get a teacher from among their students. An answer soon arrived: if they could wait a year until he graduated, Leslie Maxwell was willing to come.

Fergus shared the good news with earnest Christians in the community, but while they were sympathetic, he soon realized it would be up to him to get the project going. He and Jennie had plans for a new home, the lumber already purchased. But if this new “spiritual house” was to get off the ground, they knew they would need to release their farm and dream home to God. The land was sold, the lumber returned, and from then on they lived frugally, cheerfully giving themselves and everything they possessed for something more lasting.

Mabel and her husband had built a new home in Three Hills, leaving their old farm house standing empty. Fergus persuaded them to donate it for classes and began knocking down partitions as volunteers started cleaning and preparing for the arrival of the new teacher.

On October 9, 1922, young Maxwell faced a class of eight teenagers and two farmers, Fergus and his brother Roger. The farm house became a sacred sanctuary as the Holy Spirit worked, and Maxwell, the brusque, outgoing army veteran, joined Kirk, the shy, hard-working farmer, in a unique partnership that would last for decades to come.

Twenty-three students signed up the following year. Mabel and others opened their homes to board them, but the classroom was fast becoming too small. They must build, but where? Then two lots in town suddenly became available for ten dollars. The deed was signed and Prairie Bible Institute was formed.

Among those offering their resources was Fergus who sold his car and contributed the proceeds. He and Roger laboured almost full time over the thirty-by-sixty-foot basement with local farmers helping as they could. By that Fall a rough building stood tall against the prairie sky, ready to receive men and women eager to learn the Word of God. As they studied, sang and shivered in the simple structure with its tar-paper exterior, warm fellowship and lasting life lessons drew them together.

Although he would serve as president of the Institute for the next forty years, Fergus Kirk never spared himself any of the hard physical labour needed to keep the school functioning. Nor did he abandon his study of the Bible, a habit that would last a lifetime.

“My word…will not return to me empty,” he read in Isaiah 55:11, “but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

The old farm house became a sacred sanctuary.

As the school stands on the brink of its 100th anniversary, the Bible is still the foundation of every program and more than 17,000 men and women have been prepared to witness for Christ around the world. God used an army of humble believers to accomplish his plan, but it was one young farmer’s love for the Bible that first planted the seed. True to his Word, God gave the increase.

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