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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Ministers from the Desert

Looking Back

The view from the city of Yafran (Jefren), Libya. Picture by Mohamed Ahtash (Creative Commons)
The view from the city of Yafran (Jefren), Libya. Picture by Mohamed Ahtash (Creative Commons)

Friday November 20 2020

Looking Back: Ministers from the Desert

As the Second World War reached its conclusion, a group of allied soldiers met in Libya to explore their calls to ministry. Published in November 1945.


By Captain J. S. Drummond

FOR years it seemed that there had been nothing but sand, and wheels turning, and guns and aeroplanes straffing down that Desert Road. Then came Cap Bon and a certain measure of rest; but the rest was short, and in July we were hammering at the gates of Europe.

Back in Tripoli (Libya) once every week there had gathered in the crypt of the church a band of men who had felt their call to the ministry of the Church of Christ. The figures round that circle were not always the same. Sometimes a dusty figure would turn up from the front up behind Sfax, or a Navy lad from a convoy on the Mediterranean run would drop in; but the meeting was always held.

Later, the need was felt for ‘going apart’ for a while, for closer concentration. One afternoon a U.D.F. Canteen van and two fifteen-hundredweight trucks set off with twenty-one men and an abundant supply of rations from Tripoli for Jefren on the Jebel. These men had gathered from Tunis, Cyrene, Tripoli and Sicily. At the very moment when Italy was being invaded the Army authorities saw fit to let these men off. Manpower was vital in Italy, but it was vital on another front, too; and some people were not blind to that fact.


It was a striking run down. First through the vineyards and palms to Azzizia, then on to the road that ran straight for the Jebel over the desert. It was a hard, reddish brown desert, but hard though it was, it was lashed at times by sudden whirlwinds drawn up by the September heat. How the road was going to get up the Jebel cliffs was difficult to see, but the pass of Bugielan is as fine a piece of engineering as any on the Desert Road.

Once over the top, there was a new land. The desert was gone, and for mile upon mile the road ran through fields of oats and wheat studded with olives. After forty odd miles, the road turned into a valley, rising gradually the while. As we swung round a spur, a village on a rocky prominence came into view: Jefren on the edge of Jebel.

Soon the party were sitting down to a simple meal in the hotel, a building on the site of a Turkish castle on the edge of a cliff hundreds of feet above the desert. All rank was abandoned for the time, the Major sat down with the private, and for six days all were rankers in another army.

The main Protestant faiths were represented, Church of England, Church of Scotland, Presbyterian Church of England, Methodist and Baptist; but at seven o’clock the following morning every man gathered round one Communion Table. It was with strangely full hearts that that Sacrament was taken. And the spirit of the Sacrament was in all the study and the prayer together.

At sunsetting, each day, by twos and threes, the band would walk abroad through the moonlit olive groves. There was a strange peace about this time; and, as they walked, the day’s work was reviewed – or it might be that each would say what he felt his Church stood for. But there was no bitterness in these unskilled discussions. These men were soldiers in one band, not theologians of rival schools. Each man had his say, and each man was heard.

At last we were once more facing towards the warring world; but, as each went on his way, he knew that he was not travelling alone, and there was a new found strength and vigour. He was part of the Church that God is raising up for the new day.

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