Igala Gospel Half-Hour
with Paul David Gross
|Thursday||7:00 pm||7:30 pm|
|Saturday||7:00 pm||7:30 pm|
Paul David Gross (1918 - 1982)
Tagged as Sermon
PAUL DAVID GROSS – BIOGRAPHY
(May 15, 1918 – June 7, 1982)
His name meant “Little, Beloved, Big”. It was true. Standing his tallest at 5’ 8”, most would have considered him physically “little”; and observing his ways and seeing no haughty arrogance in him, they would have felt he was little in spirit, too, for he was humble and gentle. He was beloved by his family and by thousands and thousands with whom he shared the love of Jesus his Savior. And, what he accomplished during his short 64 years turned out to be very big indeed.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA on May 15, 1918, Paul was the firstborn of brand new Christians and newlyweds, Malcolm and Minnie Gross. When Paul was four years old, Malcolm and Minnie obeyed the call of the Lord to leave the comforts of America and step out into the unknown.
In 1922 this family of three set sail for Nigeria, arriving on the ship Abinsi at the Lagos docks in October of 1922, and by November 1922 joining other newly arrived pioneer missionaries to the Igalas: the Hewstones (1919), the Ramsdens (1920), and the Dibbles (June 1922) where they lived in grass-roofed mud huts.
Four-year-old Paul quickly learned Igala, far outstripping his parents who struggled with this tonal language. As early as age five, Paul was translating for his parents and even preaching the gospel, though like the young prophet Samuel, Paul did not yet know the Lord. His mother reports in a journal entry:
Thursday, October 18, 1923. Two men who received medicine yesterday came again today. One wanted ogu (medicine) for his uti (looked like ringworm). I painted it with iodine. Paul was on the porch at the time and said, “Shall I tell them about Jesus now that we have them here?” I agreed, so he started in – “Listen, I will now tell you the story of God. A long time ago, Jesus came into the world and shed his blood for sinners. The blood of the Son of God is sufficient. Your sacrifices of goats and chickens are no good.” (All in Igala, of course.) Then he said, “God loves the Igalas, but your sacrifices are not enough. He sent His Son into this world to save all of you.” I helped him in the singing [of an Igala hymn]. He told them to come Sunday over to Ramsden’s porch [for a church service].
At age nine while the family was on furlough in the States, Paul gave his life to the Lord during a communion service. He had recently been thinking that since according to the Bible a person’s lifespan was 70 years, that he would live as he liked for most of his life and then, just before he turned 70, he would give his life to Jesus. But that day during the service the words of the hymn hit him hard: “A little while, our Lord shall come” making him realize that he needed to be ready, for the Lord could return at any moment. Had he not responded to the urgings of the Holy Spirit in his heart, he and so many more would have been lost. And so much more.
Paul’s conversion started a life of surrender of self, and he served the Lord with all his energy, driven by his love for Jesus his Lord and for the Igala people. By age 13, Paul was riding his bicycle to surrounding villages, preaching the gospel and supervising Sunday School teachers. Over the next nine or ten years, Paul continued to work with his parents in medical work, education, evangelism, translation of the scriptures, and in building the first two-story house in Igalaland, their house at Ojuwo, Anyigba.
When World War II broke out, Paul returned to the States to attend a school set up for children of missionaries. Now in his early 20’s, and with only 4 years of formal education behind him, plus some high school tutelage by missionary John Neal, Paul crammed the rest of his high school studies and three years of Bible school into three short years at Westervelt. It was there at the Westervelt Home for the Children of Missionaries that he met Anna Caroline Carlson, daughter of missionaries to Ecuador. She was just the person he had been praying for: a good cook, a hard worker, and someone willing to go to Africa with him. They married on May 17, 1944, right after graduation from Westervelt; he was 26, and she, 21. They arrived in Nigeria on May 15, 1945 – after a circuitous wartime journey which included an incident of blood poisoning in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin and a flight across the Atlantic on an American military plane.
Paul and Caroline’s motto was: “Find a need; fill it; teach someone else to fill the need. Find another need; fill it; repeat.” Their work encompassed medical work, Sunday school lessons and training, translation of Genesis through Ruth, monthly men’s leadership meetings, women’s leadership meetings, church planting, evangelistic trips, radio programs in Igala, caring for orphans and widows, Igala Bible School, primary schools, CMML Secondary School, New Life For All campaigns, and entertaining strangers in their home – perhaps some “angels unawares”.
The couple’s first two children soon entered the world, Carol Ann Gross in Enugu, Nigeria in 1946, and Pauline Elizabeth Gross in Jos, Nigeria in 1948. These two little ones did not slow Paul and Caroline’s gospel work down, for Paul and Caroline continued to ride their bicycles to various villages for evangelism with one child strapped on Caroline’s back and the other child riding in the basket attached to Paul’s handlebars.
Paul excelled in practical, hands-on matters as well. As Mr. Philip Ebikwo writes in his September 1982 address, “Brief Life Histories of the Grosses”:
[Paul] was a mechanic and could repair bicycles, radios, motorcycles, and cars for people. He made carts and tricycles for the lame. He was a carpenter. He was a hunter and in 1967 when many lives were in danger because of a wild stray elephant, he killed it at Ochaja. Paul and his wife have been loving entertainers with palatable dishes and beverages in their home. Above all, he cannot be surpassed in his ability to tolerate all types of people, including missionaries!
Tolerating all types of people, including missionaries! How true a statement. Though he may have never read it, Paul lived the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi; those who knew Paul will testify that these words are true of Paul’s heart and life:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
There is a mystery that was never solved during Paul’s lifetime and which to this day remains a mystery. At some point during the early 1950s, rather than speaking to Paul face-to-face about an issue – as is the biblical pattern – an unknown person accused Paul of an unknown fault to unknown entities. Because of this unseen, unknown accuser and accusation, Paul and his family were for seven years unable to return to Nigeria after a furlough in the States. The Nigerian government refused to grant visas, and some churches and organizations in the States withdrew support from the Grosses.
Perhaps many of us would have become angry, frustrated, and would have thrown up our hands in despair and lost the vision that God had given us. But Paul persevered peacefully, faithfully trying again and again to gain entry back into Nigeria and to the work of the Lord that he felt called to.
During the seven years that Paul was barred from returning to Nigeria, two more daughters joined the family: Esther Hannah Gross in 1953 and Ruth Helen Gross in 1955. Times were difficult, for since Paul was ready at any moment to go back to Nigeria, he did not seek permanent employment to support his family but rather took odd jobs just to make ends meet.
In 1956, in the midst of the seven years, Paul heard that ELWA, the first Christian radio broadcasting station in Africa, had opened, and on May 3, 1956, Paul prepared his first half hour Igala program in a Christian brother’s home studio. From that time until 1959 when the family gained entry back into Nigeria, Paul continued to prepare weekly messages from the States in flawless Igala, each time appealing to his audience in Nigeria to surrender themselves to the Lord before too late. He continued this work until his death in 1982.
A March 1957 letter to Paul from ELWA reports, “The response to the Igala programs is probably the greatest we receive here in Liberia. Many of these people who write know you personally. We feel that this speaks very highly of the work that you did during your last term in Nigeria.” And from Caroline Gross’s journal: “People travelled as far as 50 miles to listen to the Igala broadcast. 400 gathered around one radio, with Muslims and Roman Catholics also [listening].”
What man meant as evil against Paul, God used for good. The radio messages reached many more Igalas for the Lord than Paul could have reached in person. Paul continued to passionately spread the love of Christ in many other undertakings, too many to name in this short biography, but the cloud of witnesses who encountered him, including those in heaven and those still on earth, are a testament to the commitment of this man to his Lord.
On June 7, 1982, in the evening of his last day here on earth, having finished supper and while rising to get his Bible to lead in family devotions, Paul’s great heart stopped. As his lastborn wrote in her 1982 tribute to him, “I have lost a great man. But I have a great example to follow, too: a man of peace, a man of love, a working man, a man of God. He lived reaching for his God, he died, reaching for his Bible.”
Paul D.Gross has left a gift for all Igala-speaking people all over the world. We have been able to recover and digitize some of his radio programs in his splendid Igala, each tagged with a signature hymn in his strong, throaty signature voice, and followed by a song by various Igala musicians and songwriters.
Please gather round this new kind of radio program, a simple and free download of Paul’s insightful Bible teachings for you to enjoy on your phone or laptop. You would never know a white man could speak Igala like this! Take some time to brush up on your Igala proverbs and idioms from Paul David Gross. Little Beloved Big. Pọlu Ọmẹnẹfu Anyigba.
Igala Gospel Half-Hour crew
Singer/songwriter, poet, author, music producer/audio engineer, web designer, and a few things else: Joe Ifah is a man of many evident parts. Above all these, he is a lover of God. His ultimate goal in life is to please the Lord Jesus Christ, and he has devoted all that he is to serving the Master’s Kingdom cause.
Theophilus Ugoya is a graduate of English and Literary Studies from Kogi State University, Anyigba, Nigeria. A man of diverse interests and gifts, Theo has his hands and eyes on videography, editing, photography, Christian ministry and politics.