What could an Adventist learn today from a Salvation Army chaplain from 100 years ago? I’ve spent the past 10 years or so exploring the life of legendary Anzac chaplain William "Fighting Mac" McKenzie, a man described by some in the 1920s as the best-known Anzac of them all. And here’s what I have learnt—in no particular order.
1. Stand up for what you believe in
McKenzie was the kind of man who was never ashamed of his faith in God, his love for Jesus or his passion for saving the lost. As a young man he toyed with abandoning the strict and legalistic religion of his upbringing. However, he saw The Salvation Army in action and was impressed with their commitment in the face of determined ridicule and opposition. He heard the voice of God calling him to join them, a decision he described as, “What a religion! Why, it was the real article! It meant giving up things—drink, tobacco and much else—and facing scorn and derision. It meant going down to the mud and slime; it meant living with the lowest and the worst; it meant fighting with the devil himself for the souls of men. Lo’, it snatched me clean out of myself. It hit me, like a blow. It was so real, so honest. I said to myself ‘here’s the true religion for a fighting man’; and off I went to be converted and to sign on.” As an officer he was subjected to abuse and assault (including a week in prison in Charters Towers, Qld, for street preaching), yet he never wavered from publicly proclaiming the saving power of Jesus.
2. But don’t be a martyr
McKenzie was prepared to die for Christ but he wasn’t a sad sack. He radiated joy and fun; people loved to be in his presence. As a Salvation Army officer, he was creative in organising appealing social events; as a chaplain he was famous for running rousing concerts and entertaining diversions, and his sense of humour engaged everyone. People felt energised and renewed by having spent time with him.
3. Engage with your community
One of the things that secular Australians, especially the Anzacs, loved about McKenzie was that he came to where they were, rather than expecting them to come to where he was. Chaplains were not expected to accompany the men on training exercises, nor were they expected to be on the front lines in battle. McKenzie did both. He went on desert route marches, carrying the packs of tired soldiers half his age (he was in his mid-40s during the First World War); he dug trenches faster than them—his dug-out on Gallipoli was the one closest to the Turkish wire. Doing these things made him deeply respected, then widely loved, then almost venerated.
4. Respect differences
While McKenzie never compromised his own high standards, and frequently appealed to the Anzacs to stop their drinking, gambling, swearing, smoking and womanising, he still treated with respect men who continued those habits. McKenzie would sing in his powerful voice as he moved along the trenches so that the men knew he was coming and had time to put their cards and drink away before he arrived so that they would not feel embarrassed. Although everyone knew what he stood for, they never felt condemned by him for their own lifestyle choices.
5. Focus on the essentials
McKenzie increasingly recognised that the sins most often condemned were the obvious surface sins. He saw true courage and self-sacrificing love in men who swore, drank and gambled, and learnt to value what was in the heart rather than the mere outward appearance. He became less worried about superficial sin and more about matters of love. When one soldier (literally) swore on being attached to McKenzie’s religion, he was able to look past the bad language and affirm the man’s commitment to Christ. He noted of himself that he had become less judgemental and more gracious in his attitude towards those who differed from him.
6. Don’t be afraid of being tainted
In Australia, McKenzie frequented the pubs, finding that people were more likely to talk about spiritual things in their own comfortable environment than if they were in the unfamiliar surrounds of a religious meeting. Every chaplain in Egypt preached against the brothels of Cairo. But only McKenzie had the courage to go into them at night to drag men out and put them on a tram back to the camp. For this work he was lauded after the war by C E W Bean, author of the Official War History, as having secured the futures of many thousands of Australian men.
7. Laugh at yourself
McKenzie was a fool for Christ and carried not a shred of pride or fear about his own image. He had no self-consciousness or dignity to stand on. He often made a spectacle of himself in his desire to impress people with their need for Christ. Many laughed at him—and he usually joined in their laughter. In Egypt, having preached to the soldiers that they should not use language stronger than “hokey-pokey”, he enjoyed seeing a tent near his that sported a banner proclaiming “The hokey-pokey push”.
8. It’s not about me
A defining trait of McKenzie was his very sincere and deep humility. Having died to self at his conversion, he expected nothing for himself except hard work and self-denial. He was constantly aware of his shortcomings, returning again and again to the throne of grace for renewed forgiveness. His personal mantra was self-sacrifice; he always put the real interests of others first, as a pastor, chaplain and church administrator.
9. Make your work for Christ practical
Apart from route marches and trench digging, McKenzie helped wherever he could. He carried stretchers and water cans at Gallipoli. Overnight he dug steps in a steep and slippery part of a track so that the men lugging supplies and the wounded would find the way easier. He tracked down eggs and chocolates to break the monotony of the men’s diet. In France and Belgium, he started canteens for the soldiers, running hot drinks up to the trenches when the men came out of the line on cold winter nights. The memory of these deeds lasted for the lifetime of the Anzacs he served.
10. Love deeply
The bottom line was that McKenzie was so widely loved because he himself loved others. McKenzie was not a flawless man. He was ambitious and competitive. He also was so committed to giving that he failed to look after his own health and wellbeing. But through his flaws, the love of Jesus shone with remarkable clarity and strength.
And there’s so much more I would have liked to note but I have limited space here. I could have commented on short, engaging sermons that grabbed the ears of thousands of soldiers, earnest prayer and personal devotions, integrity of character, remembering people’s names, courageous actions in the face of death, a wide and engaging general knowledge, charisma, optimism in the face of despair and so on. For the rest, you’ll have to read the book.
The Man the Anzacs Revered, by Daniel Reynaud, is available from Adventist Book Centres and other Christian bookstores.
Dr Daniel Reynaud is an associate professor at Avondale College of Higher Education.