The White Fox of Andhra
[Romans 1:16; I Corinthians 2:2]
One of the most interesting and dynamic personalities to grace the chapel platform at BJU was a missionary known as The White Fox of Andhra. This diminutive man over 80, too weak to stand, spoke with power from a wheelchair. What he lacked in strength of limb, he made up for in spoken word and song (October 1977)].
Silas F. Fox was born in 1893 at Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. His father died when he was a year old. Shortly thereafter, his mother remarried. Silas' stepfather was abusive and an alcoholic; and while Silas was still a young child, his mother left his stepfather, taking the children with her. He grew up in a single-parent home with no Christian influence.
Silas was a man with great drive and, at a very early age, lied in order to obtain jobs available only to older men. He proved himself competent in these responsibilities.
He met a neighbor girl and fell in love with her at first sight. It was through her influence that he began to attend a Baptist church. In due time he made a profession of faith and was baptized, but he really did not live for the Lord as he should. It was the testimony of a middle-aged alcoholic who said to him on one occasion, "Silas, take some advice from a drunken bum. Take Christ as your Savior, and you won't end up like me—a good for nothing." It was with these words in mind that he finally fell on his knees and cried out to the Lord and accepted Him as his true Lord and Master.
Sensing the call of God upon his life, he went to Toronto Bible College, where he graduated in 1916. In 1973 at the age of 80, he was awarded the honor of Alumnus of the Year. Among other things, the citation referred to him as: "A man with the heart of a Viking and the simple faith of a child."
On November 20, 1916, he married his childhood sweetheart, Emma. Two days later they left for India. Upon arrival, they threw themselves into the major task of learning the local Telugu language. Like any new missionary, he made many mistakes at the beginning, but he became extremely fluent in this major language of India and learned several other dialects as well.
His great strength was that of evangelism, and he took every opportunity possible to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His favorite pulpits were the marketplace, the roadside, and under shade trees. Wherever he could gather a crowd of people, he would preach. Many times he used very unorthodox ways to speak to his congregation. He relates one experience of preaching in a market area surrounded by a large crowd with three Brahmim priests in the midst of the crowd. They were bare to the waist and wearing their sacred thread, and their foreheads were well smeared with sandalwood paste. After Silas had preached, one of the priests approached him and, with his finger pointed to Silas' face, began quoting the Vedas, a Hindu holy book, in Sanskrit. Silas said he didn't understand a thing that was being said, and the priests were successful in turning the crowd with their words. They reasoned that if this man could not understand the holy sayings of the gods, why should they bother to listen to him. With this, the crowd scattered.
When the Brahmin priest returned another time and repeated the same accusations, Silas recalled reading of a similar situation experienced by a CIM missionary in China when a Confucius scholar had confronted him quoting from Confucius. In response, this man had quoted in English long passages from Shakespeare which, of course, the Confucius scholar did not understand and turned away from him. With this in mind, Silas looked the Brahmin priest right in the eye and very deliberately and with as much authority as he could command quoted the only poetry he knew. It was the well-known ditty that goes as follows:
The boy stood on the railroad track,
The train came rushing by.
The boy jumped off the railroad track,
And let the train go by.
The Brahmin priests were astonished. They had no idea what he was quoting, but because it was said with such authority, they quietly left, and Silas continued preaching.
Most of his time was spent as an independent missionary. He often said "My mission is submission." He was a preacher first and foremost and spent much of his time in evangelistic campaigns throughout India but primarily in the southeast part of India in the Madras Presidency.
As with the prophets of old, Silas said there were two "woes" that he preached. One was for the hearers: "Woe if you do not listen." The other was for himself: "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel." And preach he did.
Silas originally went out to India under the Ceylon and India General Mission, but after his first term, he "jumped ship," and for the remainder of his long life was an independent missionary.
Silas recognized the great value of the printed page and for many years published a paper in the vernacular language that was widely circulated and proved to be a great blessing and encouragement to the Indian believers, as well as a number of tracts and booklets that were greatly used of the Lord.
The independent nature with which Silas Fox was endued probably would never have set well in the context of a mission board, but he was not opposed to such mission agencies. On one occasion while speaking from Acts 27 concerning the shipwreck, he said with tongue in cheek, "Here we see the Scriptural justification for boards. It says in verse 44 that some escaped on boards. Many a board keeps a sinking missionary afloat." Silas, in his dramatic way, captured the limelight throughout his ministry, yet his wife certainly was not without her own ministry. One of the many behind-the- scenes activities that Emma superintended was the circulation of his paper and other literature and correspondence, a very considerable task. She was the one who kept the family ship on an even keel. He often referred to Emma in this way: "She was a missionary wife, not just the wife of a missionary—a very important difference."
Silas Fox had the ability to work with nationals as equals and co-laborers in a very good way, and there were several who were his longtime friends and co-workers. Although he spent more than 50 years in India, he still had an active ministry in semiretirement, but increasingly debilitating health limited his ministry in his final years.