It was a cold February night, but less than seventy feet away was a molten, boiling, lake of fire! Behind fire-brick walls, and heavy water-cooled steel doors, a 500-ton mass of seething molten steel bubbled at 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. It was fed by a tremendous flame that required 700 gallons of oil per hour. This was an open hearth furnace -- the very heart of steel making.
Over the years, God had spoken to Robert Surgenor through two motorcycle wrecks, three near disasters while piloting a plane, and a near drowning in the Atlantic Ocean. But, like many brought up in a Christian home, Robert did not want God's ways (Job 21:14).
Robert's mother objected to him going to the mills for work, but it was "big money." However, during his first month he witnessed the gory death of a fellow worker. As Robert's father, the melter foreman, took his remains away, he thought, "If that were you, Bob, where would your soul be?" Immediately he pushed the thought out of his mind.
In the course of twenty years, three men had fallen into the pits -- a fifteen-foot drop in back of the furnaces. Two were burned alive, but one survived. A brush with death was nothing to laugh at. God was speaking to Robert again. His mother cried, and pleaded with him to quit, but money, sin, and fun were Robert's gods.
Then one day, a swinging overhead crane hook just narrowly missed Robert's head. He was shaken! Fellow workers on the scene shouted in jest: "Hey Surgenor, if that thing had hit your head, you'd be shoveling coal in hell right now!" Their laughter pierced his heart! He had heard the Bible enough to know that there is no shoveling coal in hell -- just a flame that torments its victims. A steady, piercing flame on the soul! A place of no comfort, water, or hope! But their words of jest were like arrows from Almighty God in Robert's heart. They stuck, and he couldn't get rid of them.
Looking into the furnace through a wicket hole, preparation was made to draw out a sample of molten steel for testing. As Robert's eyes beheld the white-hot roaring flame and the steel lake of fire, his soul trembled. A voice said, "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed and that without remedy." It was a Bible verse he had learned in Sunday School many years before, and now God was bringing it to his remembrance to awaken him (Proverbs 29:1).
After the shift, Robert went home from the steel mill a young man convicted of sin, scared of going to hell, and wanting to be saved. A few days later, on February 10, 1952 he was humbled, broken, crying and trembling for fear of meeting God in his sins. At that moment, his dear wife who had been saved just six days before pointed him to the Savior. Robert trusted the Lord Jesus Christ who died for him on the cross.
In June of 1963, Robert laid down his secular tools of steel-making, and under the wing of the late William Warke entered the great harvest field for God. One might say that his first seven years were like an apprenticeship, being a help to brethren William Warke, George Graham, Oswald MacLeod, and Archie Stewart in various gospel efforts. A most valuable time was spent under these men.
In the spring in 1970, Robert's sight focuses on the State of West Virginia, and from then until this present day, most of his gospel labors have been in that state. Robert encountered many strange and unexpected events while pioneering with the gospel for forty one years in the mountains of West Virginia. His book, Happenings Up The Hollow, details the work of a servant seeking to fulfill the great commission: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).
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