Bob Sergent - his life and ministry
Introduction & his early life
Bob Sergent was a well known and successful motorcycle distributor in the centre of Liverpool who, following a somewhat dramatic conversion in his late 40's became a Christian and committed himself to doing much good in Christian ministry, not only in Merseyside but also around the country and abroad. It was a personal privilege to have met him in the 1960's when I worked at Cunard Steamship Company at the Pier Head when I asked him to come and speak at our Christian Union which had a good sized membership. He asked me if there were any non-Christians present, to which I informed him that there were, so he shared with us his testimony and gave a Gospel message to accompany his testimony. I also used to hear a lot about him from my first pastor Will Burnham who worked for him at the Good Samaritan Trust in Dale Street, Liverpool, a tremendous ministry, which my present pastor Richard Woods (Waterside Church, Everton) was involved in for a while.
His early life
The road where he was born
Robert Sergent (Bob) was born in Walton on the Hill on 18th July 1902 to William & Sarah Sergent, his father being a Joiner and Builder. He lived at 16 Carisbrooke Road, Walton, together with his elder brother William and his grandmother on his mother's side. He married at the age of 24 years to Kathleen Dorothy Carmichael (Dolly) and they had two children Ken, born in 1927 and Jean, born in 1931. From a worldly point of view he and his family were very comfortable and seem to have been enjoying all that life had to offer. However, one Sunday afternoon in 1948 his life was to change in a dramatic way such that he would never be the same again. The following is an account of his conversion, written in 1958, with the sub-heading "proves the saving, keeping and mighty power of Christ."
This in an account of Bob's conversion written by him in 1958:
"Always being very desirous to help my fellow man I had for twenty years done voluntary work for the Liverpool Personal Service Society, which included such things as installing wireless sets for invalids and disabled, endeavouring to obtain work for the unemployed, trying to settle family and matrimonial disputes! I felt, too, that this would, undoubtedly, secure me a seat in heaven, and so, neglecting the Bible, the Church, the Lord's Day, and the Lord himself, yet I, nevertheless, derived a certain amount of satisfaction from these good works.
Although enjoying to the full all that this life could offer, yet, deep down inside me was a something that I could not always analyse to myself. What more in life could I desire? I had a good wife, two lovely children, and a home with every modern comfort: super cars and a prosperous business; but yet, there was that something.
February 1st 1948, which was a Sunday, found me doing my personal work in the morning, and arriving home at one o'clock for lunch. I asked my wife if she would like to go into the country or to some worldly amusements such as Blackpool or Southport for the rest of the day, but she did not wish to, and no one else having any desire to do so, I was left to do as I liked. My like was to clean my car, always doing this myself, not allowing any of my employees to touch my car, I found Sunday a good day. As I worked I had a strange experience, for an inner voice kept saying to me; "you want to go to church, Bob." How ridiculous I thought it all, for I never went inside a church, and had only used that building as a convenience for such things as my marriage, and the christening of my son and daughter. My son at this time was twenty-two, and my daughter seventeen. But the voice persisted, "you want to go to church, Bob, you want to go to church, Bob." I tried to crush the thought, but for two hours I heard these same words.
My wife, at half-past four, happened to come out to feed the hens (having decided to keep some fowl on account of the war difficulty), and I called her, "can I have my tea early, Dolly?" "Why" she asked, "are you going to the Stadium?" (That was my usual place each Sunday when we were not in the country or at the seaside). "No," I answered. "Well, why do you want your tea earlier?" And being very loath to say - I said, "I have a feeling that I would like to go to church." And immediately she said, "to go to church! Why, what have you been doing wrong!! Will six do?" "Yes" I replied. To my amazement tea was ready dead on six, and at ten past I was out in my car ready for church. At this time, we were living in Dudlow Drive, Mossley Hill.
Having no idea to what church I was going, I looked at many on the way, and in all, I passed within the very close vicinity of seventy of them. Having arrived at Princes Gate, I said to myself, "you will have to make up your mind Bob for it is half-past six." Remembering that there was a Liverpool "Echo" in the car I looked up the religious notices, and I was struck by the advertisement which said "Special meeting at the Salem Tabernacle, Belvedere Road; Evangelist Tom Wilson". "Yes, I will go there" I said to myself. Not knowing this road very well, I drove along slowly, and seeing three boys, I stopped and asked them where this Tabernacle was, but I pronounced it wrongly, saying it as if it had double ‘ll’ in the middle, Sallem Tabernacle. The boys directed me to a church on the left of the road, and I found it was a Church of England. Getting back into the car, I said to myself, "you’ve had it Bob!" and I decided to make my way home. As I turned round, and moved up the road, those three boys ran after the car shouting "we’ve found it, sir; we’ve found it, sir". "Found what?" I asked. "The Salem Tabernacle, Sir". They showed me the Hall set back from the road. After giving the boys that which they hoped for, (having been a lad myself and wishing the same thing), walking up to the door, I stopped and looked at my watch, and found it was a quarter-to-seven; the congregation were singing, so I hurried in and sat down on the back seat. Bowing my head, this seeming the correct thing to do, but saying nothing, I then sat up to be presented with a hymn book from the lady next to me, and told the hymn. I stood to my feet like the rest of the congregation, but not knowing the hymn, I just looked about me, expecting to find a congregation of Jewish brethren. The name of the hall had given me this misleading idea, but I looked in vain. The service proceeded, and I had not the slightest interest in anything that went on, and sat criticising everything severely; the hard seats; the people and the whole performance.
The evangelist rose to speak, and I looked at him very critically, and sneered inwardly at his remarks of his wayward childhood, and feeling that I could give them far more exciting stories of my own life. But somehow, something was happening deep down inside me, and this bravado was an effort to smother that deep inner working that I did not understand, or realise. The Holy Spirit was doing His work. We came to the end of the sermon and Mr Tom Wilson said, "is there anyone here who would like to give their heart to the Lord this evening, raise your hand?" and mine, yes mine, went up like a shot. Not half way, but right up, and the tears flowed down my face. I did not know if anyone else had raised their hand, but I had raised mine. The miracle had happened. There is a Scripture that says, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth, so is everyone that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8) and so it happened with me, how, I do not know, but, I was "born again". Of course, then, I understood nothing of what had happened like I do now; the new birth, or to be born again, was like a foreign language to me, but God had met me, and He saw the heart’s desire; for it is the attitude of the heart, not the raising of the hand that brings about this miracle. I was very surprised to find that there were two men in the congregation that knew me. "So glad you have done what you have done tonight Bob", they said. "You do not know me, but I have often been in your shop, and have bought one of your motor cycles", he remarked. Then the evangelist and the resident minister came up to me, saying how glad they were and asking for my name. I was vainly trying to get out, for I longed to be away. Finally getting outside, I was in my car making for home. Now what was I to say to them at home! I must make up some story, but what? I could not tell them what had happened. What would they think of me? What would they say? And so I went on, and still I got nearer to my home. On arrival, I found the wireless on and everyone at home, as usual. Turning the wireless on higher to give the idea that I was interested, but I did not listen, and thought why they had not yet asked me what had happened whilst I was out – where did I go, etc., etc. In due course, supper was ready, and we all sat down. I waited for the questions, "How did you get on? How did you like it?" But no such questions came, and supper ended, we prepared for bed. Strangely, and yet, why strangely I longed to pray as I entered my bedroom. I had never prayed in my married life – excepting when on hospital operating tables where I had been eight times! But this night I desired with a great desire to really pray. And how could I with my wife there? It had not entered my mind that there were other places in the house in which I could pray, it must be by the bedside, somehow. Owing to my wife’s rheumatism we had twin beds, and knowing that she always turned to the window when in bed, I waited impatiently for this to happen, and then I knelt down quietly and said "Thank you, Lord, for what you have done for me tonight." And then I slipped into bed, pulling the clothes right over my face, I again wept like a little child.
The next morning I awoke realising that something wonderful had happened the previous evening, but still fearing to say anything about it to my family. We got through breakfast, and I went off to the office. How was I to meet everybody? But I did, and those who worked for me recognised that there was a change in me; I knew nothing of their talk till months later.
For five years, four of us, a Solicitor, a Solicitor’s clerk and a Bridge engineer had had lunch together, and during that meal we had told smutty stories and questionable jokes, and I had wondered how I should meet them this day. The Lord knowing all my fears and difficulties had proceeded me, and when I arrived at the café where we always met, to my amazement no one was there, I usually being a little after the others. Waiting for a little while I decided to have my lunch, and when it was completed still no one had put in an appearance!!! How wonderfully God had undertaken, for I knew too well the usual course of conversation. From that day to this we have never lunched together, but we have often met in the street, and have spoken to one another. This was very surprising to me, but the Hand of the Lord was in it all.
Sad to say, two of those men have been divorced from their wives, God indeed knows best, and knowing that I was but a babe in Christ, He cared and protected me.
As the following Sunday approached I longed to go again to the Salem Tabernacle, but how was I to do this without telling my wife? After some thought, I came to the decision that I would start my personal service work an hour earlier, that is, at ten o’clock instead of at eleven, and then I could slip into the Tabernacle. At ten to the hour I was sitting in church, a very different man from the previous Sunday. After the service I arrived home just about one as usual, and so no questions were asked, and this went on for the next twelve months! This was not the right thing to do, and I know now that it is by far the best to make a stand right away, but there was that ridiculous fear that kept me back. Yet, I longed and prayed that my wife might come to know this wonderful Saviour too, and that we might kneel together in prayer, and share this great joy of knowing that all our sins were under the Blood, cleansed for ever. "The Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin", and I know the power of that cleansing Fountain in a real way, and wanted all my loved ones to know it too.
Eighteen months after my conversion Martie Walsh arrived from America. Now this man had been wonderfully saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, and what a deliverance he had had! He was a Liverpool Roman Catholic Man, and had spent a life of sin. Sin which is recognised as such by his fellow man, such as, imprisonment for stealing, drunkenness, and so on. He had gone to America and had carried on the same life, and had got himself into the prisons out there; but one night he found his way into a small mission something after the same kind as the Salem Tabernacle where I had found the Lord, and there he gave his heart and life to God. The miracle happened, and today he is working among the down-and-outs in Philadelphia. He is superintendent of John 5: 24 Gospel Rescue Homes in this city where approximately two hundred down-and-outs gather every night and are fed with the material food, and then receive spiritual nourishment. Fifteen thousand souls had come to know the Lord through this great work, and he is a man just in the right place having once been as they are, he now can speak with assurance that Jesus is, indeed, the Mighty Saviour, able to save the down-and-outs as well as the up-and-outs!
As I have said above, this Martie Walsh came back to Liverpool, and I invited him to my home and church where we received great blessing; one of the greatest being when one Wednesday afternoon, we all being sat at the table for tea, Martie said to my dear wife, "and what is your relationship, Mrs Sergent, with Christ?" All these months I had been praying, and God had been so faithful, working quite unknown to me, continually upon her heart, for she stood to her feet, and I had never seen her weep so much, no, not even at her mother’s funeral. She shook with emotion, and I quickly rose to my feet and put my arm about her tightly to strengthen her. There and then she surrendered her all to God, and my heart knew the wonderful joy of seeing a soul come to Him, and that soul being my nearest and dearest. A little while afterwards I learned that Martie had taken my twenty-four year old daughter, Jean, out to lunch, and during that meal she had accepted the Lord too, but what of Ken, my twenty-eight year old married son! Yes, still outside the Kingdom; so much like his father was and if, Christian friend, when you read this, you will remember Kenneth Sergent in your prayers, I know that God will honour and bless you, praying that he might come to a saving knowledge of the truth, soon, very soon, I pray.
With regards to this matter of prayer; no one had ever had the courage to speak to me in such a direct manner as a friend of mine, a Miss Morris would ask me about my relationship with God, and I would tell her of my twenty years Liverpool Personal Service Society work, but she persisted that it was not through good works, but through the Saving Blood of Jesus Christ that I would get into heaven. I told her that to be a missionary in India was her way of serving the Lord, and that what I did, was my way; she hoped to be in heaven, and I was quite sure she would find me there too, continually she sent me tracts which went immediately into the waste paper basket unread, but although I continually told her she was wasting her time sending them to me, yet she persisted. She prayed for twenty-five years and I want you to take particular notice of this time, not twenty-five months or days, but years that I might come to Christ. So, if there should be a Christian who may be reading this testimony, and you feel at times rather discouraged, take courage again, and keep on praying and believing. Away there in India at her Ramabai Mukti Mission she prayed for me, and the very Sunday as I sat in the Salem Tabernacle she was writing to me saying "I feel there is something happening to you spiritually, and you are very near the Kingdom, Bob". How wonderful that was, and how very true. Prayers so faithfully sent up on behalf of others do not fall on heedless ears, but the interceding Saviour takes it all into account. Daily, in fact hourly now I try to witness for the Master to others that they might share in this all satisfying Salvation. I was satisfied with all that this world offered as far as the natural side, but there was that something which could never be satisfied with material things, but she knew that true satisfaction, so with me, "I drank of that Life-giving stream where my thirst was quenched, and then my soul revived, and now I live in Him." Hallelujah, all glory and praise to God.
A life of service
Following his conversion Bob set about working for his new Master. At his premises in Exchange Street East, the location of the present Moorfields Railway Station, he required all his staff to attend a brief prayer meeting before each day's opening time. He became active in a number of ministries, such as taking part in the Youth for Christ committee, becoming a director of the Liverpool City Mission, and was for a while Deputy Chairman of the Business Men's Association.
Billy Graham Harringay Crusade
In 1954 he took an active part in the Billy Graham Harringay Crusade which was relayed to different parts of Merseyside by radio for a full week and saw much blessing. I personally know of two people who were converted during these relays, one in Liverpool and the other in West Kirby. Bob's involvement was in the relays to the Central Hall and Picton Hall in Liverpool in which he was the Honorary Organiser. The Central Hall was originally booked for the Relay but it was such a success with every seat taken every night that the Picton Hall was also booked to accommodate those wishing to attend. Bob later testified that he had witnessed thousands of people gathered to hear the evangelist during those meetings at the two halls, and that four hundred and twelve people responded to the Gospel appeal. Never, he said, had he had such joy in all his life, and that he longed to make up for the years that he wasted in sin. "I must work" he said, "whilst I can, that I redeem the time for it is later than we think and the return of Jesus is nearer than we realise."
In the Liverpool Echo dated 3rd May 1954 Bob wrote that the Relay had been shown in 10 other places in Merseyside. At the Central Hall, he said, every one of the 2000 seats had been occupied. He said that some people had previously told him that he must be mad to expect to fill the Central Hall, but, he said, the laugh was on the pessimists!
In the same year he had the joy and privilege of being able to go to the Ramabai Mukti Mission in India to see Miss Morris, who had prayed for his salvation for 25 years and see her work in the home for unwanted babies. It was a joy, he said, which he would never forget and he thanked God for the privilege of visiting this devoted servant of Christ. Bob went on to found an orphanage in the country.
Oral Roberts Organisation
Following on from the above Bob subsequently became the Honorary Agent for the Oral Roberts Organisation in the UK and stayed with him on one occasion. His daughter, Jean, also became the UK Representative in Bristol. He travelled around the country showing one of his films "Venture of Faith" and he saw many thousands gathering with hundreds of people receiving Christ into their lives. At one time he was receiving between 50 and 60 letters a day following the showing of the film and testified that three quarters of his day was devoted to this work for the Lord. He also employed a typist to work of these letters from nine in the morning to six at night.. In 1957 he founded a charitable organisation in the name of Bob Sergent (Oral Roberts) Trust to administer this great ministry which was not dissolved until 1993.
Good Samaritan Trust
The former GST on the corner of Dale Street (left)
In 1962 Bob founded and financed the Good Samaritan Trust which occupied a shop in Dale Street opposite the Magistrate Court and this provided a wonderful service for the Lord for many years. As previously mentioned my first pastor Will Burnham worked there for a number of years and I recall him telling a number of testimonies of people who came to Christ through the ministry of the GST including some who were referred to the Trust by the Magistrates Court who were in a state of distress. On one occasion Will Burnham shared with our congregation a testimony of a young man who had come to Christ through the ministry of the Trust and from the circumstances he described I recognised the person who he was describing as somebody I had worked with and knew quite well. Amongst the peoploe who worked there were Howard Carter, a former Superintendent of the Liverpool City Mission and Richard Woods my present pastor from Waterside Church, Everton. The Trust was eventually dissolved in 1993. I was personally saddened by the closure of this great work, particularly as it was opposite the Magistrate Court and I do feel that it left something of a gap in an important spiritual ministry the centre of Liverpool.
Bob and his wife Dolly went to live in West Kirby and he died in 1972, aged 69 years, and was buried at Frankby Cemetery. His wife died five years later in 1977 and was buried with her husband. Both their children Ken and Jean went to live in Bristol and although Ken sadly never came to the Lord, Jean steadfastly went on with the Lord and opened a Christian Guest House there.