Bruce Hunt, Witness for Jesus Christ
I still have the Hunt familyBruce, Kathy, their children and grandchildrenon my list of prayer requests. They told me years ago that I was on theirs. Bruce died in 1992 and Kathy in 1994. Often I talk with Christians who like to witness, and I like to tell them how the great Presbyterian missionary to Korea did it. There is something thrilling about the sources of our faith. I was close to a remarkable Christian missionary for a few years, and his example is worth imitating.
I met Bruce Hunt at an Inter-Varsity missions conference held in Urbana, Illinois, during the winter of 1975. This was a large gathering for students who were contemplating missionary service. As a first-year seminary student, I was there as much as a tourist as anything else.
One evening, while I was waiting in the cafeteria line for dinner, an ordinary-looking man asked if he could join me. He was of moderate stature, with sandy hair swept across his head. Nothing in his appearance alerted me to the esteem he had obtained here or abroad. I said OK. He introduced himself as Bruce Hunt, retired missionary to Korea.
Witnessing in Wilkes-Barre
After three years of study at Westminster Seminary, I became a licentiate of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. In 1978 and 1979 I helped plant Covenant Chapel OPC in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, with home missionary H. Leverne Rosenberger. One winter weekend, I took a bus to Wilkes-Barre to evangelize and teach Bible studies. Bruce Hunt was filling the pulpit that particular Sunday, but before that he and I would try to solicit interest in the work by doing door-to-door evangelism.
He met me at the bus station with a nondescript car. Strewn across the back seat were innumerable tracts. He asked if I liked any of them. It was impossible to say. He explained that he liked to leave a tract after witnessing, but he hadn't bothered to read them.
When we stepped out of the car, I could see that his suit was in fairly good shape, but that his shoes were old and his coat was borrowed. He had forgotten to bring an overcoat or hat on this trip. He asked what month it was, oblivious to the cold.
We approached a street lined with houses, and the witnessing began. He knocked on the first door and said to the man who answered, "Hi, we're Christians just out for the day to meet other Christians in this neighborhood. The Bible says that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for our sins and was raised on the third day. You can't tell if a person is a Christian by looking at him, so we ask: 'Do you have a faith in Christ?' "
The man said he was an atheist. Bruce warned him that it was not safe to be an atheist. To be one is contrary to the very first words of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Then he asked if he could leave a tract. The man said yes. Bruce handed him one and proceeded to the next door. Although he would talk briefly with each person, he did not delay in any one doorway for very long.
Bruce kept his Bible in a small case, and did not bring it out that day. He said he did not want to intimidate people by showing them a Bible immediately.
An Encounter with the Police
At one point we went up the mountain from downtown Wilkes-Barre to a condominium community to witness. Apparently, someone had called the police, and a patrol car pulled up beside us.
The policemen asked what we were doing. Bruce said we were telling people about our faith in Jesus Christ. The police said we were disturbing the peace and would have to stop.
To my surprise, Bruce replied, "I thought this was America. In America we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We're not bothering anyone, and we have a constitutional right to do what we are doing." The policemen backed down. One of them said, "OK, but don't bother anyone."
At lunchtime, Bruce asked what I would like to eat. I said pizza, and we went to a roadside pizzeria. When the pizza came, he asked me where I had gone to college. I said Harvard. Bruce said he had a cousin teaching there, John Finley. I remarked that John Finley was master of the blue bloods' Eliot House and a famous classical Greek scholar. Bruce said that was his cousin, and that his own middle name was Finley.
Profoundly different lifestyles characterized the missionary and the Harvard scholar. Bruce was carrying the gospel by foot through the streets of a small Pennsylvania town, while his cousin was living in a mahogany-lined house with silver tea service at a prestigious university. The self-effacing missionary did not have the world's esteem, as his cousin did, yet he would soon seem light-years ahead of him in my estimation.
A Realization Dawns
As we continued down the streets of Wilkes-Barre, witnessing for Christ from door to door, without shouting or crying aloud, large, beautiful flakes of snow began floating down. As the snow was landing on the bare head of the missionary, something began to dawn on me. It was slow at first, but then it became clearer and clearer, louder and louder. This man in front of me had done all this before. How many days, months, and years of this humble, lowly argumentation preceded our meeting?
It was really more than I could bear, and so I asked him, "What did you do in Korea?" The floodgates of understanding began to open for me as he answered. He explained that he had been an evangelist in Korea, had been tortured by Japanese invaders, and had written two books about his experiences. He asked if I wanted the books. "Of course," I replied. At that moment, it seemed like I was talking to Odysseus himself about the Trojan War.
We went back to his car and he opened the trunk, where he had copies of For a Testimony and The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings Which Followed. After he gave them to me, I began to question him avidly. I wanted to know who he was, what he had done, and what he thought about various things.
We finished the day of witnessing and returned to the nice large house of the Schulz family, where we were staying. I was truly happy that I had met the great Bruce Hunt.
Kathy, Bruce's wife, was waiting for us. She was fairly small and slim, almost like a frail Korean lady. She humorously chided Bruce for forgetting his overcoat.
There were times when I went to Wilkes-Barre with Bruce when Kathy was not there. Then we would sleep in the same guest room. Before turning out the light, Bruce would thoughtfully recall the people we had met that day for whom he wanted to pray. He would say, "I'm concerned about that atheist and that Jewish man; let's pray for them." After praying, he retired for the night.
Sunday preaching was something to behold. Like the apostle Paul, Bruce Hunt was often "of average appearance and despicable speech." He once sat down with about half an hour to prepare, and wrote notes for his morning sermon. He declared, "I should spend a little time in preparation." Then he came up with a sermon.
I remember him opening the Bible and mentioning one or two words he thought were important. Then he preached through the text, with an unusual number of points for an outline. He said, "Well, you have heard of a three-point sermon, but here is a ten-point sermon!"
Korean people tell me that Bruce Hunt could speak two dialects of Korean flawlessly. However, the English sermons I heard him give were not terribly impressive. I got the feeling the people of Wilkes-Barre wanted their own pastor back.
What I remember, though, was that he opened a Bible and used it. He exemplified something that Charles Spurgeon once said: "A living, loving gospel sermon, however unlearned in matter and uncouth in style, is better that the finest discourse devoid of unction and power" (Morning and Evening, September 30).
The thoughts of Bruce Hunt seem important to preserve. I cannot remember how many days we spent together, going from door to door. But I remember many of the things that he said to me. He thought that Robert L. Nevius's book, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches in China, should almost be memorized by every missionary, and he felt that he had used the "Nevius technique" in Korea. He also thought that although much had been done for Korea by American missionaries, the witness to Korea could and should continue.
Being a Witness for Jesus
As I got various jobs, Bruce would counsel me on how to maintain a witness for Jesus Christ. For instance, when I was teaching in New York high schools, he told me that I should stand up for the truth as it is found in Jesus Christ. That is, he felt I could witness to my classes and other teachers, though not require exams about my faith.
When I got a job in the garment business, he told me that I could witness at lunch on my own time, but not during work, since I was being paid to do work other than teaching.
He thought missionaries should serve for life, if possible, and did not like the idea of temporary missionaries.
I have tried to summarize here how he witnessed as a good example to other Christians.
Bruce Hunt believed that the witness of the gospel should first and foremost be personal. You should tell people about your faith and ask them if they believe, too. He would leave a tract only if requested. He did not believe in handing out tracts indiscriminately.
He often stated that the apostle Paul had established the church at Thessalonica in three Sabbath days, that is, two weeks. He believed in the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. He told me that in Korea he would preach in a village and then return in six months to see what had happened. He had never seen a conversion on the spot.
He had resisted the entrance of evangelist Billy Graham into Korea back in the 1950s because he felt that Billy Graham's spectacular ministry would distort much of the work that the ordinary missionaries had done in producing indigenous congregations.
The Late 1970s
During the late 1970s, the Norman Shepherd controversy regarding justification was going on in the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Mr. Hunt was not just a nice elderly man, and he took an active part in the deliberations.
One of his daughters, Margie Mitchell, died in 1977. After her sad death I remember him saying, "She led a full life."
In the spring of 1979, I preached on Wall Street in New York with Cornelius Van Til and Bruce Hunt. Some of us preached in the conventional stylewith a raised voice to herald the good news to the watching crowd. But Bruce did not preach as such. He remained at the foot of the steps of the Federal Building, quietly discussing Isaiah 53 from an open Bible with a Jewish man.
He felt that the mission to the Jews was important and always remembered me as someone who evangelized or ministered to Jews, because I taught New Testament theology at the New School for Social Research in New York, a school established by German Socialist Jews.
When he received an honorary doctorate from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, hundreds of Korean Christians arrived to celebrate the joyful occasion. Although I was only an observer of the occasion, Kathy came out into the hallway, where onlookers were standing, and invited us to partake of the food. There was never a show of formality with the Hunts.
I received my Th.M. that spring, and had a graduation lunch with Bruce Hunt and Cornelius Van Til. I asked them what they thought the church needed. They both said biblical exposition.
During the middle 1980s, I joined the Harvard Club of New York City, where I met David Otis Fuller, Jr. His father had popularized the writings of Spurgeon in America and had roomed with Bruce Hunt at Princeton Seminary. David gave me an article that Bruce had written in 1928 on "Korean Dragons," an erudite study of the dragon myths in his area of Korea. It is now in the Bruce Hunt Archives at Westminster.
While passing through New Jersey, Bruce gave my name to the Korean American Presbyterian Church of Jersey City. Because of his recommendation, I served as youth minister there for one year.
The Declining Years
I ran into Bruce Hunt later at Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania, around 1988, before he entered Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community. He had forgotten my name, but remembered that I "ministered to the Jewish people of New York City." I did not see him again, but I did see Kathy at Quarryville a few months before her passing in 1994. She could not speak, but looked radiant and was dressed splendidly to receive guests on a visitors' day.
Evangelism the Hard Way
Much more could be said about Bruce Hunt, but I wanted to focus on how he gave a street witness for Jesus Christ. He did it the hard way, which is the best way. That is, he did not shy away from the shame of the gospel as he carried it personally to a fallen world.
This may not be the best article ever written on Bruce Hunt. But then, he would have said, "There is always someone who can learn from you and always someone who can teach you. Christians have to learn both receiving and giving."
Mr. Sigward is a member of Franklin Square OPC in Franklin Square, N.Y. He has recently produced a CD-ROM containing the complete works of Cornelius Van Til. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 1997.