THE DAY THE BANKS CLOSED
Elder Williams would never forget the events of Thursday, March 2, to Sabbath, March 4, 1933. We should never forget them either. For they show that the God of heaven is leading the people who believe and obey the historic truths given in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. Are you and your loved ones faithfully adhering to those truths?
By Emma Howell Cooper
thousand dollars is a lot of money to keep in a small safe. Yet W.H.
Williams, under-treasurer of the General Conference, asked his secretary
to place ten $100 bills in an envelope, date it, mark the amount, and put
the envelope into the office safe. In subsequent weeks the secretary
stuffed, dated, and marked other envelopes, also storing them in the safe.
a keen financier, Elder Williams understood the currencies of many lands.
The Lord needed just such a man in 1933. That was a time of depression.
Funds were scarce, and many people were going hungry. The world budget of
the church had been cut at the annual meeting, and a general feeling of
Williams had charge of the flow of denominational funds in and out of the
General Conference with respect to both the world field and the North
American Division. Because of this he did his banking not only in Takoma
Park and downtown Washington D.C., but in New York City, as well. The
$1,000 amounts Elder Williams directed his secretary, Chester Rogers, to
put into the office safe were funds he had withdrawn periodically from the
General Conference account at the Takoma Park bank. His secretary wondered
why he made these withdrawals.
the drawing of cash from the bank and then storing it in the office safe
was not the only strange thing that the secretary had noticed Elder
Williams doing lately. He had recently written letters to the overseas
divisions, urging them to send in their budget requests for the next
Annual Council. This was far in advance of the usual schedule. Why all the
Elder Williams further complicated the situation by asking Mr. Rogers to
drive him to the Union Station in downtown Washington, so that he could
take the midnight train for an unscheduled trip to New York City. Of
course, Elder Williams frequently went to New York City to arrange to send
mission funds by cable to the various offices, but this time it was fully
10 days before the date such a trip normally would have been scheduled.
Why did he need to go to New York City that night? Mr. Rogers wondered,
but asked no questions.
few days later, in regular morning chapel service at the General
Conference office, Elder Williams told the office a story that made a
lasting impression on everyone present. Here it is as told in his own
It was closing time on March 2. People were rushing home from work while I sat alone in my office enjoying the quiet hush after a busy day. Because my wife was not at home, there was no need for me to hurry to an empty house. I will go home and go to bed early, I mused to myself.
then, there was a pressure on my shoulder, and a clear voice commanded,
Go to New York City tonight.
sat up and braced myself in my chair. Then I bowed my head and prayed,
Lord, I have no authority to transact business in New York City at this
time. What am I to do when I get there?
pressure continued: Go!
was tired. I dreaded a late-night trip to Union Station by streetcar. Had
Chester Rogers gone yet? Stepping outside my office, I met my faithful
will you take me to the train tonight? I asked. To this he agreed
the next morning I arrived in New York City. I prayed that the Lord would
keep me from improper transactions that day. Why was I there, anyway? As
the morning advanced, the answer came clearly: Go to the two banks and
send the mission money to each division. But this was too early in the
month, I reasoned with the Lord. However, there seemed to be no
the banks opened that Friday morning, I found myself at the first bank,
facing the teller who normally handled our mission transactions. He knew
our schedule. Would he straighten me out? I wondered. But the teller did
not raise so much as an eyebrow at seeing me that day at such an early
I told him that I wished to send the mission funds to the usual places, he
replied, Yes, Mr. Williams, Ill be happy to care for that.
Times the Amount
checking to be sure he had the correct addresses, I gave him a list of the
various amounts to send to each division. As I did so I found myself
saying, In fact, Id like to send three times our regular amount in
each case, please.
a telescopic view my minds eye could see the figures of our accounts.
Yes, We had enough in the bank to cover three months appropriations for
each place, but it certainly would leave little in reserve!
teller indicated that he would carry out my wishes. After turning away
from the window, I stepped back again. You'll be sure to attend to
this at once, please? I urged.
of course, Mr. Williams, it will be the next thing I do, replied the
I had gone there that morning I had been trembling so much that I could
scarcely walk. But, inside the bank, all my quaking and fears had
vanished. Out on the street the shaking returned. How could I ever explain
to the General Conference officers what I had just done without their
I felt the pressure on my shoulder and heard more words: Go to the
other bank and send those funds now. The voice sounded as though there
was no time to lose!
I followed the instruction. At the second bank I again met a cordial
reception and I transferred the mission funds in exactly the same manner I
had at the first bank, not forgetting to caution the teller that the money
should be cabled at once, and receiving the same assurance I had at the
the next stop became clear to me: I must cable the divisions and say,
Conserve funds. Letter follows. Having attended to this, I suddenly
realized that I was completely exhausted.
was a relief to think that now I could take the train back to Washington
and the streetcar back to Takoma Park. I would arrive in mid-afternoon,
and the General Conference offices would be closed. However, there would
be many Seventh-day Adventists scurrying here and there on the streets,
preparing for the Sabbath. I preferred not to meet anyone.
the streetcar line ends in front of a shopping area, I wondered if anyone
would tell me that he had needed me in the office that morning. In
weariness and apprehension I prayed, Lord, let me get home alone.
Don't let me be obliged to talk with anyone when I get back. Please help
must have dozed a bit. All at once I realized that we were being switched
onto a siding. Soon the conductor explained that there had been a wreck
ahead, and it would be some time before the track was cleared. When
finally I arrived at Union Station in downtown Washington and then made my
way to Takoma Park by streetcar, it was already dark.
streets were deserted. I walked the few blocks to my home on Carroll
Avenue without meeting a person I knew. Soon I was in bed, after praying
that the Lord would grant me a good nights rest and would prevent my
awakening on the Sabbath with my mind in a turmoil over the past days
Lord granted my request, for I slept soundly. In fact, Sabbath was well
along before I awakened to find the sun shining across my bed. It was
March 4, 1933, and it was the day a new United States president was to be
inaugurated—Franklin D. Roosevelt. For a moment I lay there. How good it
was to relax!
through my open window came the raucous voice of a newsboy: Extra!
Extra! Banks closed! Extra! Extra! Banks closed nationwide! I sprang
from my bed. In my pajamas I rushed to the door for a newspaper. I had to
know what had happened! And there it was—a two-inch-high black headline
proclaiming: Banks Closed Nationwide! As I began to realize what
this meant, tears came to my eyes, making it difficult for me to read.
was humbled to realize that the Lord had used me to save most of our
mission funds. I spent the rest of the Sabbath alone with God, praising
the Lord. I prayed that He would always keep me humble in His service.
after sundown my telephone rang sharply. It was Elder J.L. Shaw, our
General Conference Treasurer. He was calling a meeting of the Treasury
personnel immediately in his office. You have heard the news,
he said. What will we do to support our missionaries? Then he hung
up before I could answer.
noticed that, as the treasurers entered
Elder Shaws office, everyone was tense and all were talking in subdued
tones. All were especially concerned for our overseas workers. With the
banks closed there will be no funds to support the missionaries in the
field, neither will there be money with which to bring them home, Elder
Shaw explained to us.
that point I requested permission to speak. I quietly related to them my
had a prayer season that evening instead of a business meeting. Instead of
agonized prayers for help, there were prayers of praise and gratitude for
Gods wonderful guidance. Nor did we forget to beseech Him to keep us
humble in the future. Oh that He might always lead us as He had in this
instance, we prayed.
we rose from our knees someone remarked that we had been so concerned for
our overseas missionaries that we had given no thought to the need of our
workers at headquarters. How would we provide for them? How long would the
banks be closed? Then I remembered the $1,000 items in the little safe in
my office. Quickly we counted the envelopes. With care there would be
enough cash with which to meet our payroll for the next three months—the
same length of time for which we had sent funds the day before to the
When Elder Williams sat down that morning on which he shared this experience, it was evident that the congregation had been deeply moved.
of small banks, indeed, went permanently out of business on March 4, 1933.
Many large banks did not open again until after a panic-filled period had
passed—a period of three months. During that time it was not possible to
send funds out of the United States.
During that time the Seventh-day Adventist Mission Board did not recall one missionary. Neither did the General Conference find it necessary to borrow funds in order to carry on its work, and the payroll for the General Conference was met on schedule, during the time the banks were closed, from the dated and marked envelopes in the little safe in Elder Williams office.