On 21 May 2005, Francis Grim, the Founder and President of Hospital Christian Fellowship (nowHealthcare Christian Fellowship International) died peacefully at age 92. For over 60 years Francis Grim proclaimed the Gospel and established missions in over 110 countries.
In 1936, Francis Grim, then a Christian businessman, daily visited his elderly father in a local
hospital. During those visits he noticed that the patients’ physical needs were well taken care of, but their spiritual needs were largely ignored. As Francis Grim regularly proclaimed: “more people pass through the hospitals of the world than through the churches.” Yet, while they are ill, they are often more spiritually receptive and eager to reach out to God. The medical staff are often too busy, or not sure what to say, while physicians seldom include a spiritual assessment in their examination. Hospital Christian Fellowship set out to rectify these matters.
For 67 years Francis Grim challenged, evangelised, discipled and trained doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to share the good news of Jesus’ love, forgiveness, healing, joy and salvation to their patients and co-workers. Hospital Christian Fellowships were established throughout the world to minister to body, mind and spirit.
He not only pioneered Hospital Christian Fellowship; Francis Grim also founded Action Moral Standards, Intercessors for South Africa, Heart Publishers and South African Action for World Evangelisation.
I first came in contact with the dynamic ministry of Francis Grim through a booklet he had authored: An Ideology for South Africa. It was on a train that I saw this striking publication, with Table Mountain in the background and three hands, white, black and brown, holding up a cross in front of the South African flag. Francis Grim’s message in An Ideology for South Africa was that God had placed us at the foot of Africa to evangelise all of Africa. The purpose of the existence of South Africa was to fulfil the Great Commission in the continent.
He was adamant that there was no political solution for the conflicts prevalent in South Africa, but only a spiritual one. South Africans will only find unity in Christ Jesus. Mr. Grim urged us to not allow denominational divisions, racial segregation, or personal and political differences to prevent us from uniting to fulfil the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. Missions was the purpose of our existence, our destiny. We need to mobilise our resources to win the lost and to effectively evangelise the continent of Africa.
The vision of An Ideology for South Africa gripped me and I immediately wrote to pledge to Francis Grim my services for this mission.
There had barely been enough time for a response to come back to the letter when I saw Francis Grim, for the first time, as he ascended the pulpit at my local church to present the Sunday morning sermon. As he preached on the need for us to give our all for the fulfilment of the Great Commission, my heart burned within me. This was the missionary call that God placed upon my heart the previous year (1977) when I had been converted. At the end of the service I eagerly bounded to the front of the church to exuberantly report to Mr. Grim how God had used his book and sermon to confirm God’s call upon my life. Mr. Grim curtly cut short my bubbling testimony and told me to make an appointment with his secretary. After that he turned his back and gave his attention to someone else. I made an appointment to see him at their Cape Town HCF mission house.
The next day, straight after work, I reported to 49 Victory Avenue, Pinelands, the HCF mission house. As I was ushered into the lounge, Mr. Grim asked me to explain what I had done so far in the Lord’s service that made me think I was ready for missions. Although I had only been converted for about 18 months I eagerly related some of my church responsibilities: I was the youth leader, a Sunday school teacher, the church book table convenor, a Scripture Union holiday mission leader, and I regularly joined William McDougal (the Leprosy Mission representative in the Western Cape) for outreaches into local old-age homes. Sometimes I might preach as much as five times a Sunday in the various lounges of the local old-age homes. In addition I regularly ordered vast quantities of Gospel literature from Evangelical Mission Press, the Mowbray Tract Society, World Missionary Press and other literature ministries and distributed thousands of these Gospel leaflets at railway stations, door-to-door...
Mr. Grim cut my report short: “You talk too much about yourself.Young people today are quite useless for the Lord’s work. They are soft and weak and lacking in dedication. They give up too quickly!”
Before dismissing me Francis Grim knelt at his chair to pray for me.
I left quite shaken, and searching my heart: Did I have what it took to be a missionary? Would I persevere – no matter what?
The next day I gave notice of my intention to resign from Oxford University Press in Cape Town, then I phoned to make another appointment and later that afternoon was shown in to see Mr. Grim again. I announced that the Lord had really spoken to me through his words of rebuke the previous day, and I was determined to persevere in my missionary calling for the rest of my life. I had tended my resignation with OUP and – whether he would use me or not – I intended to launch out in full-time Christian work at the end of the month.
This seems to have been what Francis Grim had been waiting for because without blinking an eyelid, he reached to his side and handed to me an Application Form for Hospital Christian Fellowship. Before dismissing me he said: “Let us pray.” Immediately I sank to my knees beside the chair while Francis Grim remained seated and stared at me: “Don’t try to impress me boy! It’s God you should seek to please and His opinion is the only one that counts.”
As before I left rather shaken. Francis Grim had this uncanny way of being used of the Lord to shake one up. When I arrived the next day with the Application Form, Francis Grim gave it a cursory glance and handed it back to me: “It’s too untidy!” he declared. “Get another application form and redo it!”
And this is the way it was. By God’s grace, Francis Grim demanded high standards from all of his staff. His unwillingness to tolerate less than our best and his determination not to accept excuses continued to inspire me to overcome all obstacles and achieve what others said was impossible.
After my application was accepted, I was instructed to report to 49 Victory Avenue the day after my employment at Oxford University Press was concluded. And so on 1 st December 1978 I reported to the HCF mission house in Pinelands only to find the mission combi being loaded, and Francis Grim about to set out for the long drive back to Kempton Park in the Transvaal. “Keep busy in the Lord’s work. I’ll be in touch” was his only instruction to me.
Exactly one month later I received a telegram from Mr. Grim requesting a detailed report of my activities over the previous month: what books I had read, how much time I’d spent in Bible study and prayer each day, what evangelistic activities I had engaged in, etc. While I had not expected anything like this, by God’s grace I could report back on some productive study and lots of outreaches. Another month went by. At the end of January I received a further request for a detailed report of the previous month. This time I was better prepared and could report back on a disciplined month of energetic activity.
A few days later a telegram arrived from Francis Grim. It simply said: “Have hair cut and report to 25 Oak Avenue, Kempton Park soonest.” Kempton Park is 1400km from Cape Town, and at this stage I had exhausted all my savings. I literally did not have one Rand to my name. Evidently Mr. Grim wanted me to learn to live by faith! I earnestly prayed and, by God’s grace, within 24 hours the Lord had provided sufficient funds for me to purchase a one-way railway ticket to Kempton Park.
Arriving at Kempton Park railway station I struggled with my luggage up the stairs and across the railway lines to the nearest payphone. Mr. Grim’s response to my phonecall was “you need to find your own way to 25 Oak Avenue”. His instruction was not to report to the railway station, but to the mission office. As this was my first time in Kempton Park, and I had not yet learned to travel with a backpack and a wheeled suitcase, this presented something of a challenge.
Upon arriving at HCF I was immediately set to work, sweeping out the garage, and moving a pile of rocks and bricks from one part of the garden to another, and then moving them back again. When Mr. Grim saw me he looked displeased: “I told you to have a haircut!” I did have a haircut, but obviously it was not short enough. So I went to the barber again. In returning I was told that it still was not short enough and I was sent out yet again. More tests followed. I was abruptly moved three times in the first week to different places to stay. Some times Mr. Grim would pull staff members out of bed in the middle of the night to tidy their desk “What if the Lord returns? We must be ready!” he said. Mr. Grim showed me their library and instructed me to reorganise it. This was just the kind of job that I thoroughly enjoyed. I have always loved books, and at Oxford University Press I had been responsible for organising over 26,000 titles. I threw myself in to the task with zeal.
In the evenings I would go to the railway station at rush hour and hand out thousands of Gospel tracts. After one such distribution I arrived late for supper. That was the first and only time I arrived late. Mr. Grim let me know in no uncertain terms that punctuality was one of the marks of a Christian. It was extremely rude and inconsiderate to others not to be punctual.
Francis Grim taught me to pray. Days at HCF always began in corporate prayer. Each lunch was followed with a time of intercession. Each workday concluded in prayer. Some days we had a full day of prayer. Some nights we had all night prayer meetings. I remember one day of prayer where, at the end of the day, Francis Grim announced that we would go straight into a night of prayer. As we prayed for the many international workers of HCF, and the various countries of the world, our numbers began to thin out towards midnight. By the early hours of the morning there were only a few left. By 5AM there was just Uncle Francis and I still awake, around us everyone else had passed out. Uncle looked around and said to me “well, lets get some sleep, shall we.” Three hours later, at 8AM, we began another normal day of work.
Francis Grim taught me what it means to prevail in prayer. Kneeling next to him in those extended times of intercession were some of the most meaningful times of discipleship in my life. Uncle Francis also taught me to live by faith. On occasion he would equip me with order forms and samples for Heart Publishers and send me around the country to sell the mission’s books. I did not receive any vehicle or transportation expenses for this. I hitchhiked across the country from bookshop to bookshop helping to market Heart Publications. These hitchhiking deputations involved many adventures and I was always sure to witness to each person who gave me a lift.
By the time my military call up came, Francis Grim had so installed the fear of God into me, that I handled my basic training with comparative ease. No sergeant or peer pressure could deflect me from my path of discipleship, I feared God and Francis Grim! It is to a large extent through Uncle Francis that God prepared me for the ministry in the military, and the mission of Frontline Fellowship which grew out of that. When my two years national service was over, I went back to Hospital Christian Fellowship, and it was under Uncle Francis that I was able to organise the Motorbike Mission which later developed into Frontline Fellowship.
My first mission to Mozambique was undertaken while still being apprenticed by Francis Grim. It is for this reason that I dedicated my book “In the Killing Fields of Mozambique” to Francis Grim. Throughout the years I maintained correspondence with Uncle Francis, and I regularly had the privilege of visiting him at the HCFI headquarters. His example of uncompromising dedication to the fulfilment of the Great Commission has been a tremendous inspiration to me. Listening to his uncompromising messages from the pulpit, kneeling next to him in days and nights of prayer, and working under his direction transformed me and laid the foundations for the missionary work to which I am still dedicated.
By God’s grace, the missionary movement which Francis Grim pioneered has lead countless multitudes to the Lord and established an example of excellence which stands as an inspiration, a challenge and a rebuke to us all. The Great Commission must be our supreme ambition. The last command of Christ ought to be our first concern.
As Francis Grim wrote: “We carry a grave and urgent responsibility to do the will of God now with our whole being – body, soul and spirit…A number of our friends have recently left our company to enter the portals of eternity. Who will be the next? If it would be one of us, let us be prepared, having done the will of God as we know it and leaving no barrier between us and our Lord or our neighbour. If there is anything to be attended to, let us do it now. How sad to end life with unfinished tasks and unexpressed apologies.” And as Francis Grim ended some of his letters: “As a child of eternity living in time!” Now he belongs to eternity.
I praise God for a man who feared God alone and who was faithful in His missionary calling.
Truly Francis Grim can say with the apostle Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I’ve finished the race, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4:7
May we be faithful in discipling the next generation of missionaries to be world changers, culture shapers, and nation transformers for Christ.
Dr. Peter Hammond
P O Box 74