Here I raise my Ebenezer

Autobiography by Roy Allen Davison


An “Ebenezer” is a monument to commemorate help received from God. After Israel had defeated enemies, Samuel set up a stone of commemoration that he called, “Ebenezer,” saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). “Ebenezer” means “stone of help” in Hebrew.

The second verse of the song, “O, Thou fount of every blessing,” written by Robert Robinson in 1758, which he published in 1759 as A Collection of Hymns Used by the Church of Christ in Angel Alley, Bishopgate begins:
“Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I've come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.”

When I was 73 a friend asked me to recount significant spiritual influences and formative experiences in my life.

Spiritual Heritage and Early Years

Charles Jones and Pearl Mary Kincaid (Collins) were dedicated Christians. After my mother passed away, my brother, Dale, sent me a tract written by my grandfather that was among her things: “Why should I be a Baptist?” Most of his extended family were Baptists and I presume he was raised as a Baptist, but at some point he came in contact with people who were striving to restore the ancient order. His formal education was limited to grade school, but mother said he had educated himself with a Bible and a dictionary. He was a janitor at White Rogers to support his family of five children, the youngest of whom died when he was thirteen from what would be a minor foot infection now. There were no antibiotics then.

Granddad preached on occasion. When I visited the Central Church of Christ as a young man, when passing through Saint Louis, I met a man who remembered by grandparents. He said Charles and Pearl had beautiful voices and sang duets at area singings. I do not remember my grandfather at all because he passed away when I was three, yet via my mother, he and my grandmother had a significant influence on my life. I cherish some letters they wrote my parents during the Second World War.

My parents, Charles Henry Davison and Bessie Inez Kincaid, were married at Saint Louis, Missouri on January 14, 1939. Mother was eighteen and dad was twenty-four. I was born at Saint Louis on September 15, 1940. After dad joined the navy in 1941, he was stationed first at San Francisco and then in Florida. Dad was an electronics technician and during the war was on the research team that developed sonar. My brother, Dale, was born on Key West, Florida on November 22, 1943.

The folks did not attend church during the war.

Dad's dream was to live on a small farm which he thought would be a good environment for raising children.

Thus, after the war we moved to a 15 acre farm in Lutesville, Missouri dad had bought and paid for during the war. His research colleagues in the navy accepted employment as civilians with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C. and encouraged dad to do the same, but he chose the farm instead, where he also had a radio repair shop.

I went to the first grade in Lutesville and the farm was indeed a great place for a six and three year old boy, but things did not work out well financially, so after a year dad gave in to the continuing encouragement of his former colleagues at the Naval Research Laboratory and we moved to Clinton, Maryland near the District of Columbia where I attended the second and half of the third grade.

"Which church should we attend?"

In 1948, when I was seven and my brother, Dale, was four, my parents decided to start going to church. Sunday school would be good for their children.

But which church should they attend?

My father had attended the Methodist church as a boy, but felt no particular loyalty to that denomination.

My mother had attended the Christian Church, and had been baptized into Christ when she was twelve. After she left home, however, her parents left the Christian Church and became members of the Central Church of Christ in Saint Louis, Missouri.

After some discussion, my parents decided to visit the Christian Church and the Church of Christ. I remember those visits well!

We first visited the National City Christian Church at 5 Thomas Circle in Washington, DC. It was a congregation of almost 2000 members. I remember the impressive building with its large columns like a Greek temple. But most of all, I remember the steps! There are 31 stone steps from the street up to the door. There was no handrail. It was scary! I would need to be very careful on those steps! If I fell, I might tumble all the way down to the bottom and really hurt myself!

The Sunday school classes were putting on a big pageant for the parents that day. So my brother and I were put on two chairs in the corner of the classroom while the other children put on their costumes. One boy was dressed like a Roman soldier and had a wooden sword. The whole class then filed out into the auditorium and took seats at the front. The teacher told us that when the other children got up to go on stage, we should just stay in our seats, since we would not know what to do. I remember feeling very lonely and conspicuous after the others got up. Dale and I sat alone in the midst of all those empty seats. During the worship service, I noticed that the preacher wore special clothes. It looked like he had his collar on backwards.

The next Sunday we visited the Anacostia Church of Christ (in 1952 the name was changed to the Southeast Church of Christ when they built their own building). It had less than a hundred members and met in a rented lodge hall. The building was used for dancing on Saturday nights, so someone had to come early on Sunday morning to sweep up the broken beer bottles and open the windows to air the place out.

My brother and I had an interesting Bible class, and I remember how nice the singing sounded. The people were friendly and made us feel like long-lost friends.

Can you guess which congregation my parents decided to attend? They were zealous and attended all the services and Bible studies. Although my father came from a denominational background, he thought he was a Christian. He had been immersed when he was a teenager, so he thought his baptism was valid.

A gospel meeting was held with Bond Stocks doing the preaching shortly thereafter and my father went up and down our street inviting people to attend. During that meeting, in October of 1948, he was baptized for the remission of his sins (Acts 2:38). The clear preaching of the gospel caused him to realize that his previous immersion was not valid, and that he actually was not yet a Christian.

When he was a teenager, his mother had told him he was old enough to join the church. He asked how he was supposed to do that, and she told him to talk to the preacher. When my father heard the true gospel preached during that meeting, he realized that his previous immersion was just to please his mother and to join the Methodist Church, not to put on Christ (Galatians 3:26).

We drove 45 minutes to services in D.C. I remember one Sunday evening when I rode with dad alone to services because mother was ill. We passed several church buildings on the way. (One was a Catholic building with a big sign in the yard, “BINGO EVERY THURSDAY EVENING!”) I asked dad where all the different churches came from. During the 45-minute drive home he reviewed church history telling about the Apostasy resulting in the Catholic Church, the Reformation resulting in various Protestant churches, and the restoration movement to form churches of Christ.

Dad had been attending night classes to earn credits toward a BS degree in physics. After he became a Christian he decided to further his education at a Christian school so he could learn to preach. He had always tried to do what was right, but simply did not know what was right. He thought there were probably others like that too, and he wanted to be able to help them.

So I attended the second half of grade 3 and the first half of grade 4 at Finger, Tennessee near Henderson. Dad went to Freed-Hardeman College on the GI Bill that financed education for veterans after the war. We lived in a motel that had been converted to student housing across the highway from Logan's Lake.

That year my cousin, Sandy, became my sister through adoption. It was great to have a two-year-old sister!

When we were learning to use a dictionary in the fourth grade I discovered that in my school changes I had missed learning the alphabet! I remember going over my ABC's to learn the alphabet on the bus on the way to school one morning. At that school I was cast as the preacher in “Tom Thumb's Wedding.” Mother made me a tuxedo with tails from cheap black cloth and I “performed” my first wedding when I was nine! I still remember my lines consisting of 29 words!

At the time, Freed-Hardeman was only a junior college, so from there we moved to Portales, New Mexico where dad studied at the Bible Chair and earned a BS degree in Physics and Bible from Eastern New Mexico University. I attended the second half of the fourth grade and the first half of the fifth grade at Portales.

I walked for half an hour home from school. A boy (who was much taller than I) at a house I passed would regularly ask me if I wanted to have a fight with him. (He had six fingers on each hand.) I got tired of it, so agreed one day to fight him at the neighborhood playground at 10 a.m. the next Saturday. I had several friends along as moral support. He was alone. I told him, “I don't have any reason to fight with you. But you want to fight, so if you want to hit me or something, go ahead!” He did not want to just haul off and hit me, so he gave me a little push. Each time he gave me a push, I would back up a little. He pushed me all the way across the playground and then turned me around and started pushing me the other direction! His pushes were getting harder and I misjudged the force of one push and fell down. He then sat on top of me. That was not a problem except that in New Mexico, even the grass has stickers! So I started to cry because of the stickers! He then let me up and went home. The next time I passed his house he asked, “Do you want to have another fight?” I said, “Sure! Any time!” He said, “No. That won't be necessary.” After that he would greet me when I passed his house, and he never asked for a fight again.

From Portales we went back to the D.C. area and dad resumed his work with the Naval Research Laboratory and preached on occasion for small congregations. I was baptized into Christ on Sunday evening, March 4, 1951 at Alexandria, Virginia. I attended the second half of the fifth grade at Indian Head, Maryland.

Various men who worked at the Naval Research Laboratory were invited to work for a new guided missile division the Bureau of Standards was setting up in Southern California. (I have no idea why the Bureau of Standards had a guided missile division!) When a small congregation near the new division asked dad to help them as a self-supporting preacher, he accepted the job and we moved to the Riverside, California area in August of 1951. I attended the sixth grade and the first half of the seventh grade in Southern California.

Preaching for the small congregation did not work out. (The daughter of one of the elders was offended by something dad said.) So we started attending services at the Ninth & Lime congregation in Riverside, which was a great blessing! They had excellent Sunday school classes in which daily Bible reading was encouraged. When I was 12 I started reading five chapters from the Bible every night before I went to sleep and did not miss a day doing this for several years thereafter. By then I was planning to be a preacher.

As dad grew spiritually he began to question whether a Christian should be designing guidance systems for weapons of mass destruction! Especially Romans 1:30, “inventors of evil things,” caused him to give up his well-paying government job with a good pension plan. He worked for a TV repair company for a while until he learned that the boss was dishonest and wanted him to lie to customers. He started doing TV repair work on his own.

In the middle of my seventh grade we moved to Socorro, New Mexico where dad was hired to preach full time. That was the only one of our many moves that caused my grades to suffer significantly. But I learned a lot! My homeroom teacher was also the high school speech teacher. So I got to listen in on Mr. Miller's speech classes which I found extremely interesting! At Socorro I also learned the wonders of the local library and read biographies and science fiction books (when I should have been studying or sleeping).

Shortly after we moved to Socorro, two of the best givers in the congregation were unexpectedly transferred away, so the congregation could no longer support dad.

A wonderful summer!

Dad saw an ad in the Christian Chronicle in which Alvin Jennings, who was preaching at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada, was seeking someone to move to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to start a congregation there.

So at the end of the school year we packed our belongings into a trailer and went to Saskatoon, where we lived temporarily in the basement of the church building.

Dad could not find a job at Prince Albert, but got a job right away with the University of Saskatchewan as an electronics technician. There was a shortage of housing in Saskatoon, however, and we could not find an affordable house to rent.

But I had a wonderful summer! In Saskatchewan at the time various congregations had what they called summer Bible schools. They were something like “Bible Camps” except that instead of being mostly camp with a little Bible, Bible classes were taught from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and there was preaching every night for two weeks. (There was plenty of time for recreation after four!) I attended the schools held at Perryville and at Estevan.

That summer I also learned about Radville Christian College, a small boarding secondary school in Saskatchewan, and decided that, Lord willing, I would attend high school there a year later.

We could not find a suitable house in Saskatoon. My sister, Sandy, who was six, was tired of living in the church basement and asked mother one day, “Mom, when are we going to start living again?” Mother probably felt the same way.

The folks learned from the real estate agency that was renting out our house in Southern California that the renters had moved out owing several months' rent. Since the rent money was used to pay the mortgage there was danger of losing the house.

So at the end of the summer the folks decided to go back to California to save the house.

Financially nothing worked out well that year, and dad concluded that he should have stayed in Saskatoon rather than try to save a house.

A great year in the eighth grade

But for me it was a great blessing because I had a tremendous homeroom and science teacher for the eighth grade! Walter Gardner was qualified to teach in university but preferred teaching the eighth grade. During successive periods of a few weeks we made an in-depth study of various branches of science: geology, meteorology, anatomy, etc. He challenged us in this way: “We have a 45 minute class. Actually, if we work hard we can learn what we need to learn in 30 minutes, and then have 15 minutes at the end of the period to have fun!” The “fun” was usually doing some kind of scientific experiment, but sometimes we could just visit. We usually got our work done in 30 minutes!

My best friend “Skipper” (Larry Snyder) and I won second place in the school science fair. (The girl who won first place had boiled all the meat off a chicken and had glued and wired all the bones together to make a chicken skeleton!) Skipper and I had a display of our rock collection we had assembled on our Saturday hikes into the hills. We also put an electric eye on the display so the light would come on when someone stood in front of the box.

That year in Physical Education classes we were given dancing lessons. I thought, “This is not something a Christian should be doing!” So I asked dad to write me a note asking that I be excused.

Two girls who sat near my desk in homeroom chided me, “What's wrong? Are you afraid of girls?” Actually, I was! But that was not the reason. I said, “It's against my religion.” I could see that the Japanese girl was favorably impressed.

For some reason my classmates that year affectionately called me, “The old man.” Fortunately, I have continually become younger since! When I did not join in on some of their escapades, they would roll their eyes and make the shape of a square with their fingers. It was a great year and a great class!

We also had a great exercise in democracy! There were several homerooms for each grade, and each eighth-grade homeroom nominated a classmate for student body president the next year.

We nominated a tall black boy: handsome, good student, sociable and a friend to everyone.

The school was completely integrated racially. Among 700 students there were about 10 blacks and about 50 Mexicans. The latter formed something of a clique, no doubt because of the language. But among the students I noticed no racial prejudice whatever.

When the candidates were announced, we were first shocked and then very angry, that our nominee had been left off the list! The nominee of each class was supposed to be on the list! No explanation was given. But we concluded that the school administration had rejected him because he was black.

So our class mounted a write-in campaign for our nominee, and he won the election!

Near the end of the school year a special assembly was held to give various awards. The auditorium was packed, with students standing in the aisles on each side because there were not enough seats. I was standing way at the back.

They were talking about some kind of a good citizenship award when suddenly my name was called out. I thought there must be some mistake, so I did not react at first. The principle said, “Is Roy Davison here?” I thought, “Well, there is no other Roy Davison in this school, so he must mean me.” In a daze I walked up to the front with students making way so I could get through. On stage I still thought, “This must be some kind of a mistake.” They gave me a medal with a red, white and blue ribbon. I turned it over and my name was engraved on the back. Then I thought, “Well, it really must be for me!”

On my way home, my bicycle was stopped by one of the school rowdies. He said, “Let me see your medal!” I took it out and gave it to him. He said, “What would you do if I kept it?” I said, “Well, I guess there wouldn't be much I could do.” He gave it back and said, “No. You deserve it,” and rode off on his bicycle.

He was the boy I had reported for having made a master key for the student lockers. Skipper and I had the job of going around after school and using a master key to lock any lockers that had been left unlocked. The boy who stopped me had bragged to me one day, “I have a key like that too!” And he showed me his key that he had filed off.

Although dad did not preach full time while we lived in Southern California, he baptized 30 people he taught in home Bible studies.

Since dad thought he should have stayed in Canada the year before, he contacted the University of Saskatchewan to see if he could get the same job back and they accepted him immediately.

Thus, during the summer we packed all of our belongings into two trailers and were all ready to move back to Saskatoon. The day before we were to leave, however, dad got a call from the university saying that they could not give him the job after all because some had complained that the work should be given to a Canadian (although they could not find anyone with qualifications as good as dad's). So what should we do?

Since the original intention had been to move north to establish a new congregation, dad decided we would head for Saskatoon as planned, and he would look for a job there or in Prince Albert. Along the way, however, he would also investigate other possibilities for establishing a new congregation in a needed area as a self-employed preacher.

The larger trailer was 8 by 8 by 16 feet. We had a Nash car and a very small van dad used in his TV repair business, a Thames English Ford. He intended to make two trips, first with the car pulling the large trailer and then with the van pulling the smaller trailer. But when he hitched the loaded large trailer to the car, the Nash springs were so soft that the back almost touched the ground. He tried hitching it to the van and its springs were stiff enough to bear the load. But when he tried to move, the small engine did not have enough power to move the trailer. He had the engine checked, and it had virtually no compression. Thus, he had an overnight valve job done, and the next day dad and I, and our dog Tippy, set out on the first trip. On the level, the maximum speed the rig would go was 30 mph. The van had two seats and the dog rode in a box behind my seat.

Things went ok until we hit a 20 mile grade in California where road construction was being done. The van had no water pump but convection cooling and was definitely not designed for what we were asking it to do. Fortunately, the construction company had placed laybys about every 200 yards with barrels of water for cars that overheated. We overheated every 200 yards and barely made it from one water barrel to the next before the engine began to vapor lock. We would cool down the engine (dad found that it stayed cooler if he left the radiator cap off and just let it boil) and then start out again. On the grade the engine barely had enough power to get us started in low, so I would push to help get us going and then jump in. It was a great adventure for a thirteen-year-old boy with his dad!

As we crossed the Mojave Desert on the way to Las Vegas, to say it was hot would be an extreme understatement. Tippy was so hot that he would lay his head on my shoulder and intersperse his pants with a moan now and then. At first we had two five gallon cans of radiator water along and one five gallon can of drain oil that dad got free at filling stations. But the toiling little engine, that had to run in low or second gear most of the time, was using so much oil that we decided we needed two cans of oil and one can of water.

When we saw a sign in the middle of the desert, “Watch out for cattle on the road!” dad quipped, “This must be where they raise that dried beef!”

A double mattress was loaded last on top of the trailer and made up as a bed. At night we would climb up on the trailer, prop up part of the canvas to make a little tent, and sleep on top of the trailer. There was no money for motels.

After we passed Vegas and headed for Salt Lake City we were thankful that the temperature dropped some. There were two short, steep hills on the trip that the van just was not powerful enough to climb. We had to wait for a pickup to come along with a friendly driver willing to tow us to the top of the hill! Downhill, dad always had to put the engine in low gear because the breaks were not strong enough to slow the rig downhill.

As we approached Salt Lake City several big trucks blew their horns as we met them. We thought there must be something wrong with the rig so we would pull off and check everything but could find nothing wrong. Then we noticed a distinctive truck and remembered that it had passed us some time before. Then we realized that the truckers had passed us on their way to Salt Lake City and were just saying hello when they saw us again on their way back to California! So after that, when they blasted their horns at us, we tooted back!

When we passed through West Yellowstone, Montana at 6667 feet altitude there was snow on the ground. We did not mind at all after the sweltering heat of the desert! The next morning there was snow on the canvas above our heads when we woke up.

When we visited a congregation in central Montana, dad asked if they knew of any cities that might be good places to establish a new congregation. It was mentioned that there was only one church of Christ in all of North Dakota, at Bismarck. A brother agreed that we could leave the trailer at his house while we scouted for a place to go. So, without the trailer, the little Thames took off like a jack rabbit as we headed for Bismarck, North Dakota to visit Gordon Pennock who was preaching there.

Brother Pennock suggested Fargo as a good place to establish a congregation. Dad went to Fargo and found a job as a TV repairman right away.

Gordon was going to Saskatoon to conduct a gospel meeting. Since I knew the brethren there from the summer before, it was arranged that I would go to Saskatoon with Gordon while dad went back to California to get my mother, brother and sister, and to drive the car and the other trailer to Fargo. Dad found a car to drive that a dealer wanted to move to the California market.

When I returned from Saskatoon to Fargo the folks were camping in an empty house they had rented for one month while they looked for something more suitable.

Radville Christian College

RCC campus 1957, from a painting by Fred Brehaut

In September of 1954, after being with the family for a week, a couple of weeks short of my 14th birthday, I went to Radville, Saskatchewan to attend secondary school at Radville Christian College. It was a small Christian boarding school serving churches of Christ.

Attending a boarding school with forty students is like being part of a large family. Close and valued friendships were formed with students and faculty, and I met the girl who fourteen years later would become my wife. Since the school was 500 miles from Fargo, I was able to go home only at Christmas, Easter and for two months in the summer. So much could be told about my three years at Radville, and one year at Weyburn after the school moved there, that it is difficult to know what to tell and what to leave out!
(To be continued, Lord willing.)
Roy Davison

Published in The Old Paths Archive