During my senior year in high school I attended a youth retreat at Cedar Lake Conference grounds in northern Indiana. At that retreat I heard missionary-evangelist Hubert Mitchell speak and I have never forgotten the impact of his ministry on my life. God is truly gracious to give us these experiences and encounters with choice servants of His during our personal grace journeys.
Hubert Mitchell and his wife were missionaries in Indonesia. They had 4 children when his wife died. Annie Flint’s poem “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater” brought comfort to his heart and the Lord inspired him to write music for it.
Story by Hubert Mitchell, and relayed by Linda Morken
The Story of a Nail is the singular account of one missionary’s encounter with the miraculous. The setting of the story is the central area of Sumatra, Indonesia. The time is 1937. The players are an aboriginal tribe called the Rawas Kubus and a missionary from America by the name of Hubert Mitchell.
Most of the other native tribes of Sumatra were of the Islamic religion, but the Rawas Kubus held to no religion, worshipping only nature. Thus, they were a people despised by the other inhabitants of Sumatra. They were also a people who had never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hubert Mitchell begins his tale with his entrance into Sumatra in 1934 with his wife and his two year old son. After three years of tramping the jungle trails ministering to this people, he desired to reach yet another more secluded Kubus tribe in the Jambi Kubus area.
With guides and machetes hacking through the almost impenetrable forest he finally found himself face to face with the tribes people, he with Bible and they with blow-pipes and poison darts in hand. His guide explained to the chief that Mitchell had come to tell them the story of “the Great Chief” who had died for their sins. The following morning all were gathered to hear this tale.
After having explained the life of Jesus and having begun the tale of the crucifixion, Mitchell realized he was beginning to lose their interest. The concept of a cross and of a nail held no meaning to them; they had never seen either one. His efforts at explanation seemed to bring no understanding and the impact of the story was lost. His audience finally began chatting among themselves and drifting away.
Discouraged, he decided to take a lunch break and pray for God’s help. A well-known poem came to mind: “For want of a nail a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost.” And he added in his mind that for want of a nail it was possible that a whole tribe would be lost.
He sorted through his backpack hoping to find some kind of a nail to show them. Neither he nor his guides could find any nail at all. Discouraged, he sat down by a stream and opened a can of mandarin oranges he had bought in Japan.
After emptying the contents, he started to toss the can but stopped short, hearing a clinking sound in the can. Examining it, he found to his amazement and joy a three-inch nail in it!
Quickly he explained to the people what it was and told them that he had never heard of a nail getting into canned food. Believing him, they responded to this God who wanted them to know about Jesus and had helped them, and the whole tribe was converted. This story is told often in our family gatherings, for Hubert Mitchell was our uncle.
Below are some resources about Hubert Mitchell and this true story.
A fuller telling of the story, with complete illustrations, is available through the Billy Graham Center archives at Wheaton College. Click on link below. The video is an oral retelling of the story by his son.