Very soon after his return from Madeira, Rees Howells married Elizabeth Hannah Jones, who also came from Brynamman. This took place on December 21, 1910. They had known each other from childhood. After months of intense conviction, she had been born again in the Welsh Revival. Later she became one of the band of helpers in the village, and gradually the Lord had drawn them together, until they wondered if it were God’s will for them to marry and make a home for the tramps. Soon after, however, they were led in the opposite direction — to give up their marriage, not knowing whether it would ever be restored to them. Only now, three years later, did the Lord’s word come that their lives should be united in His service. Wholly one with him in outlook Mrs. Howells became a God-given help-meet to her husband and an unfailing co-worker, always sharing the burdens in the Spirit.
A handsome gift was received from America for the wedding expenses; part of it was spent in buying necessities, and part kept for the time of the wedding. A week before the event, however, a person in great need came to Mr. Howells for help. In the life of faith, he always maintained the principle, “First need, first claim”; and this man’s need came a week before theirs. So he gave him the money, feeling sure the Lord would supply. But by the day before the wedding, nothing had come. “I told the Lord,” he said, “that if it was any other day, I would not mind, but we could never be without on that day, as we had invited my sister and brother-in-law to accompany us in the morning, and we were to catch the train before the first post. The evening came, and I didn’t have a single penny! It was an occasion when one could doubt the Lord, but He had never failed, and late that night the deliverance came. There was great value in it! That was our start together in a life of faith!”
A few months later he went to America with a friend and began to preach again. He visited many old acquaintances, especially in the town where he had been converted. After three months they returned, and it was not long before the Holy Ghost revealed to him that he was to start attending chapel again. It was a strange feeling after being so long in the mission, and then living a hidden life; he and his wife had not been in the chapel for over five years. The next point was, to which should they go? He used to be a member of the Congregational Church, and she a Baptist, and as they sought the Lord’s guidance, they were led to a small Congregational chapel which had no minister at the time. This move was more puzzling to the believers than even the hidden life had been, for after the Revival there had been some estrangement between those -who had been blessed and the chapels. Many had left and started missions. Rees’ eldest brother John, for instance, who was always held in highest respect by the family, was converted in the Revival when a deacon in one of the chapels, and he with some friends was later responsible for building the Gospel Hall in Brynamman, which is still an evangelistic center in the town. As time went on, the distance between the missions and chapels often grew wider, although in churches where the ministers were blessed in the Revival, the converts remained and helped them. So when the people heard that Rees had gone back to the chapel, it was looked upon as a sign of backsliding, especially as the one he began to attend was within a mile of the mission.
From the first he started taking part in the meetings, and there was a move of the Spirit. Then one Sunday, when on the way to the service, God told him that he was to enter the ministry! He went straight home and said to Mrs. Howells, “Did you know you had married a minister?” He said nothing of this to the people, but one night the elders asked him if he would like to enter the ministry, and after a church meeting he was accepted and preached his first sermon. A call to the ministry meant training, so together with his wife’s brother he began to attend the theological college at Carmarthen.
“In my preaching at that time,” he said, “I never touched on intercession or on my past life, any more than the Apostle spoke of his years in Arabia; I was called to preach the simple Gospel, and I kept just to that. What a privilege it was to stand in the pulpit, and in the power of the Holy Ghost proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ! The Lord allowed me to go back and live a most natural life. I was always thankful to Him for letting me have the privilege of preaching to the multitudes in many chapels in the district. There is no glory like that of proclaiming the Cross. I was called to preach more about eternal life than about the divine Person of the Holy Ghost, as there are a great many in our country who believe in the atonement and resurrection, but have no assurance that they have passed from death unto life. From the time I began to preach, there was no further place of intercession gained, because all my hours and thoughts were given to that work.” But he was the same Rees Howells. One day in Carmarthen, he and a fellow-student passed a thinly-clad tramp shivering with the cold. Mr. Howells at once took off his overcoat and gave it to him.
Then in the midst of all this, God called again. He and his wife had a burden of prayer for some missionary friends in West Africa, Mr. and Mrs. Stober of the Angola Evangelical Mission. They felt they should help them in some way, and while they were asking the Lord about it, they read in their magazine that a little girl, Edith, had been born to them. Mr. Howells knew West Africa was no climate for children, so he told his wife that this would be a chance to help them — they could take the little girl while the parents were in Africa. It was a real test; Mrs. Howells would be tied at home, yet the child would never become theirs. She made the decision. “If they give their lives for Africa,” she said, “I will give mine for the child.” They wrote and told the Stobers, but the answer came that they were soon coming home and could then talk it over.
“I met my friend Stober at the Llandrindod Convention,” said Mr. Howells. “He did not say anything for the first few days, and it wasn’t until I was on my way to the missionary meeting that he told me how thankful he and his wife were for the offer we had made, but that they were not wanting to leave Edith just then. I walked straight into the meeting, and there I saw a vision of Africa! Mrs. Albert Head was speaking on behalf of the South Africa General Mission, and pleading for a married couple to take the place of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Faithfull, as he was becoming the home secretary. I had heard many people speaking on the need of the mission field, but I never ‘saw’ the heathen in their need until that afternoon; the Lord gave me a vision of them, and they stood before me as sheep without a shepherd.” He returned home on Saturday and told his wife, specially about the married couple. That night they prayed for this couple, and could not stop praying for a long time. When they did stop, they could not sleep, and before the morning, the Lord had said, “I will answer the prayer through you. I will send you both out there.” “It was the greatest surprise of our lives,” said Mr. Howells. “We thought we had a vision of the Africans in order to burden us to pray for someone else to go, but with the Lord we can only push others as far as we are willing to be pushed ourselves. There were a thousand and one hindrances, but the Lord would take no excuses; where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
The greatest problem was that a little boy had been born to them. At the time they had offered to adopt Edith, they had no child. “We had told each other that those missionaries ought to give the child up and devote all their time to the work,” said Mr. Howells, “but we little thought that we were preparing a trap for ourselves; what we thought others should do, we were now called to do!”
Months before their little boy was born, the Lord told them to call his name Samuel. There was no Samuel in the family; it was given them, just as the name of John was given to Zacharias. There were several similarities in his life to the one he was named after: one being that Mrs. Howells’ name was Hannah, and she too was now to put “her son on the altar of sacrifice.
“It was our first test on the call, and the greatest,” said Mr. Howells, who tells the story in his own words. “The Saviour had said, ‘Anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me’, and now the Holy Ghost said to us, ‘You must prove to Me that you love the souls of the Africans who are to live for eternity, more than you love your own son.’ Does He really mean it? I thought. Yes, He meant it, just as He told Abraham to take his only son up the mountain and offer him as a whole burnt offering. Many a time I had preached about Abraham giving up Isaac, and had emphasized the words, ‘Take now thy son, thine “only son, whom thou lovest.’ How little had I realized what that had meant to him!
“I knew what it was to give my life, but to give another’s life away was as different as two things could be. God had given us Samuel’s name before he was born, and I knew He had a purpose for his life, and this was our test. God said; ‘If you give him up, you can never claim him again’; and not once has it ever dawned on us since then that Samuel was ours. We were to surrender him as really as God surrendered His own Son, and Abraham his son. Unless your surrender is real and up to the standard, you will break down long before the end. It wasn’t a question of leaving Samuel behind, and then that he should call our attention back to himself; no thought of Samuel was to bring us back to this country.
“The time came for my wife to take a course of Bible training; we did not know what place the Lord would open for little Samuel. We left it entirely in the hands of the Lord, we wouldn’t have dared to interfere, or we could have made the greatest mistake. A few weeks before the time for us to leave I was sent for by my uncle, a brother of the one who was healed; his wife was the headmistress in the country school where they lived in Garnant, near Ammanford. He asked if we were taking Samuel with us. I said, ‘No.’ ‘Where is he going to?’ I said I didn’t know. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘he is to come here.’ They had never seen him, although they lived within three or four miles, but he said that a few nights .before, something came over them about him, and they wanted to nurse him while we were away. In a couple of days they were coming up to see him.
“Walking home that day to tell my wife was more than one could bear. Although we had given him up in our hearts, when the Lord actually opened a door for him, it was like pulling one’s heart to pieces; but before I had reached, home, I had enough Victory to control myself; it would have been no use for me to show my wife that I was giving way. When I arrived home, she was playing with him. I thought I had never seen him as he was that night, and for a time I could not break the news; but I took courage and told her. The scene that followed can better be imagined than described, and we were glad we only had to go through it once it/ a lifetime. We proved that night that Africa was going to cost us something. We were coming up to the victory by degrees, the process’ was slow and hard;, because it was going to be an intercession, one had to walk every inch.
“My uncle and aunt came up, and they had never seen a child like him! Without a doubt the Lord had put a father’s and mother’s love in their hearts towards him. The first thing they did was to invite my sister to be his nurse; it was just like Miriam and Moses. The morning came when my sister arrived to fetch him; I think in eternity we shall look back on what we went through then, giving our best to the Lord; we knew what it was to give money, health, and many other things, but this was the hardest test. The devil was not quiet that morning. He said I was the hardest man in the world to give my little child up; and the worst of all was to enter into the feelings of my wife, preparing his clothes, etc. His going out was more than emptying the house; he emptied our hearts too. When I came home that night, I asked my wife, ‘How did you get through?’ She said she went out into the garden and wept, and thought to herself, ‘I have been singing that hymn many a time:
But we never can prove the delights of His love,
Until all on the altar we lay,
and this morning I have to prove it.’ But then the Lord told me, ‘Measure it with Calvary.’ And with those words she came through.
“In praying together afterwards, the Lord showed me the reward. He said to us, ‘For everything you give up for Me, there is the hundredfold; and on this you can claim 10,000 souls in Africa,’ and we believed it.”
After Mr. and Mrs. Howells left for Africa, Samuel became so completely a son to Mr. and Mrs. Rees that his name was changed to Samuel Rees. He grew up with them and later went to Oxford University where he graduated. It was with him literally, as with Samuel of old, that he seemed set apart for the Lord and served Him from his youth up. He accepted Christ as his personal Saviour at the age of twelve. His adopted parents wanted him to become a doctor, but he felt the Lord’s call to the ministry. After his University course” he came back to join his own father, with his foster parents’ loving consent, although Mr. and Mrs. Howells never raised one finger to draw him in their direction. It was God who sent him back to them. He became assistant Director of the Bible College, of which now, since his father’s home call, he is Director, and is once again known to everybody by the name of Samuel Rees Howells. How perfectly the Lord has fulfilled the promises given to his father and mother even before his birth, and how abundantly the Lord has honored the sacrifice made by his parents in giving him up, and the love and care showered on him by his foster parents.