This I Believe

Underhill, Irvin Windfield


  • Reverend Irvin Underhill believes that good things can come out of adversity when one keeps faith and he recalls an experience in Africa in which fear and danger led him to peace and tranquility.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Although this is an age of standardization, some men do not readily fit into standardized molds. Dr. Irvin W. Underhill was born in Ohio 55 years ago. He went to the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton Theological Seminary, and studied in Paris. For years he lived in Africa. For his work among the Pygmies of the French Cameroons he was made a fellow of England’s Royal Geographic Society. Today he is a housing expert, manager of the Richard Allen homes, Philadelphia’s largest low-
income housing project, where 1,322 families live. He is active with welfare organizations, hospitals and the YMCA. Here now Dr. Irvin Underhill with his beliefs.
My father lost his sight was I was 9 years of age, and a few years later, my mother died after struggling to provide for her handicapped husband and three children. Then for a time, our family, which had lived in good circumstances, became acquainted with poverty and want, in a very real sense, but never with despair.
The deep Christian faith of my father—despite poverty and blindness—made me realize very early the sustaining force and the comforting power of this Christian faith, a belief in the way of Jesus. Like
most men of my years, I have known sorrow and tragedy, but these have always proved to me the sufficiency of His grace.
One day long ago, while I was living in equatorial Africa, I started out to visit a village located about 100 miles from home. To reach it, I had to pass through a great jungle forest. On the way, my motorcycle broke down, and night fell before I could finish repairing it. I left the motorcycle and started off on foot in the darkness for the village, still eight miles away. I was nervous. I knew the forest was a habitat of such ferocious beasts as the man-eating leopard, the gorilla, the wild bush cow, and the python.
As I stumbled along in the darkness, I suddenly heard a roar and a rush, as something crashed through the undergrowth. The sound filled me with terror. I stood trembling on the forest path, paralyzed. But as I stood there, there came to mind a statement I had heard somewhere: “Fear, in all its forms, is a kind of unbelief.” I became ashamed of myself for being so afraid. I had learned early in life that the best pacific for fear was prayer, so I knelt on the mossy path. I closed my eyes and tried to close my ears to the sound of the jungle. And there in the wild darkness, I called upon God.
As I prayed, my heart kept racing. Then after a time, I recalled a phrase of the prophet, Isaiah: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.” As I meditated on those sublime words, a
great peace somehow took possession of me. I understood in a deeper sense what the Psalmists meant when he said: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” So deep, so beautiful was my fellowship there with God in the night, that I was loathe to end my prayer. I knew, however, that it was still a long way to the village. Reluctantly, I got up and went on. My fears were dissipated, my heart aglow with peace and reassurance. After several hours, I reached my destination safely.
I have always been grateful for that experience. Poverty, sorrow, tragedy, and trouble, despite their pain, can be wonderful agents, I think, in helping us to a greater understanding of God, and to a deeper appreciation of the role our Savior played in making known to us the God of love, and giver of
perfect peace. These things I deeply believe.
That was Dr. Irvin W. Underhill of Philadelphia, a humanitarian with a creed based on faith and wide experience in the world of people.