Mel Trotter. A Biography by Fred C. Zarfas


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A Biography



Superintendent, Mel Trotter Mission Grand Rapids, Michigan




I. Mel Trotter’s First Prayer 9
II. The Missing Obituary 14
III. “The Greatest Day of My Life!” 22
IV. Mel Starts His Life Work 27
V. The Invasion of Bucktown 39
VI. Letters to a Spiritual Son 50
VII. The Globetrotter 60
VIII. Runs Batted In 76
IX. The World’s Most Novel Revival 80
X. Leadership Qualities 90
XI. Mel Trotter – A Portrait 96
XII. Sparks From the Anvil 102
XIII. God’s Soldier Goes Home 106



This book is dedicated to

all of Mr. Trotters friends, associates and

helpers through the years. To all, great or small,

 who in any way helped him in the great work

 he accomplished as God’s Soldier, and to

Rescue Mission superintendents, their wives and

helpers throughout the world, by whose faithful­ness

and loyalty to Christ the portals of mercy

are kept everlastingly open.






This book has been written after several years of careful research. To the best of the author’s knowledge the facts contained in this book are authentic.

The purpose of this book is to tell the life story of Melvin E. Trotter, and not to deal in personalities. Names of people influenced by his life and ministry are not mentioned here. There are, however, one or two exceptions when it was necessary to carry the continuity of the story. Mr. Trotter in his own autobiography, “These Forty Years,” tells the story of his outstanding converts, and also paid tribute to his associates.

That an official biography should be published and sent out by the Mission he founded is a foregone conclusion. It has been my honor and humble privilege under God to write this book. To all who have assisted me in any way, both in furnishing material or in the construction of the book, I offer my sincere appreciation.

May the life story of this great missionary, a powerful saga of divine grace, be an inspiration to all.


Grand Rapids, Michigan

Fred C. Zarfas






I seriously doubt that any man during Mel Trotters day excelled him in force of personality, in native ability, or in spiritual power.

I have had the opportunity to know most of the great preachers in America and many from other lands who have lived during the past fifty years. I never marvelled at the ministerial technique or gifts of any man more than I marvelled when I heard Mel Trotter preach. The first time I ever saw him was in Northfield, Massachusetts, when I was very young. A number of greatly anointed and gifted preachers stood on the platform and played upon the heart strings of hundreds of Christians, both ministers and laymen, who had come many miles to attend that annual Bible conference.

I have forgotten what all of these men said and do not even remember the themes that these preachers discussed. But I do remember what Mel Trotter said. He said what he had to say in a way that I cannot forget. He painted on his canvas of natural eloquence the most wonderful picture of Jesus Christ as the up-to-date miracle-working Son of God that I have ever known any man to paint.

An old country preacher told me one time that he believed in election. “And here is what I mean,” he said. “If I wanted to build a house, I would go out into the forest and elect the best type of tree I could find to get as nearly as possible the sort of lumber I wanted out of which to build my house. I might not be able to get a perfect tree, but I would do the best I could. That is the way God does. He gets the best man He can find to do the job He wants done.” God knew what He was doing when the Holy Spirit pulled Mel Trotter, a drunken bum, into that Chicago mission one night and made him see a way out of his drunkenness and sin and then called him to preach to other poor, helpless sinners.

A few years after Mel Trotters conversion, nobody would have ever known that Mel had been a bum unless he told them. I have seen him in all sorts of places under all sorts of circumstances. I have sat with him at the table when there were distinguished and cultured guests present. Mel was al­ways a gentleman. I never saw him ill at ease. At Bob Jones University he stood one day with a group of very distinguished men and I, who at that time was president of the institution, conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. It was a wonderful occasion. Great men were present. But no man on that platform was more at ease or seemed to be more at home than Mel Trotter. Mel was no ordinary man He was born into this world a sinner. He was born again and made a child of God, and God took the native ability that He had given Mel when he was born the first time and used him as few men have ever been used.

I have often thought that I would like to have been in heaven when Mel walked in. If he was anything in heaven as he was down here, I can imagine he said, “Jesus, it was wonderful of You to save me. I am sorry I wasn’t a better Christian and a better preacher, but, Jesus, I sure do love You.” I imagine he was soon greeting friends whom he had led to Jesus and some of them had been mission workers in this world and had gone to heaven ahead of Mel.

My friend, the Rev. Fred Zarfas, Mel Trotter’s successor in Grand Rapids is to be congratulated on giving us this book. The book will do a great deal of good to many people, and I am sure it will be an honor to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob Jones Sr.

Greenville, S. C.





An Appreciation


Rev. Art. Blackmore Superintendent

City Rescue Mission, Erie, Pennsylvania


I knew Mr. Trotter for more than thirty years. For five years I was his assistant. He is my most unforgettable char­acter. It was this man whom God raised from a drunkard’s hell to change the destiny of my life, as well as that of my family. He led us into a life of service for Christ which has continued for more than a quarter of a century.

My first memory of him was in old Lockerby Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. D. B. Towner and Charles Gabriel, two noted hymn writers, were doing the singing. Mr. Trotter was the speaker; the hall was packed. As he spoke, he impressed me as having a great passion to tell us of a Friend of his, to present Jesus in all His beauty; and believe me, he did a great job of it!

Later, when I became his assistant, I noticed he was always looking for an opportunity to speak to someone about Christ. Often when approached on the street by men seeking help, he would say, “Yes, I think I can help you, but first I want to talk to you.” Then he would tell them of Jesus, and give his testimony. I have often heard him say, “I was hungry and helpless too.”

When he thought the proper time had come, he would say: “Let us pray. Repeat this little prayer after me.”

The man would bow his head and say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner, and save me now for Jesus’ sake.” When Trotter had finished talking to the man, he would put money in the chap’s hand and exact a promise from him to attend the Mission that night.

Mr. Trotter used to say, “Art, I expect to meet a lot of these fellows in heaven, and if they will let me give them my testimony, I will give them a piece of money any time.”

Mr. Trotter was a tireless worker. During the years I was with him his ministry was blessed with a continuous revival. He was always planning something to glorify his Lord and to lead men to Christ. Mr. Trotter was as suc­cessful with the “up-and-out” as he was with the “down-and-out.” He seemed to be a universal character. I believe that much of his power was in his absolute loyalty to Jesus. He pos­sessed an undying passion to please and honor Him.

One night we were a little late for the meeting. The singing had begun. We hurried in, and when we were back of the platform, he said, “You take the meeting for about fifteen minutes while I go and pray.”

I replied, “What do you wish me to do, sing or speak?” He said: “Oh, go in there and rave about Jesus for about fifteen minutes.”

He meant just that. Nothing pleased him more than to hear someone with a passion to exalt Jesus. This, I think, well describes his preaching – he was the man who “Raved about Jesus.”

His leadership was outstanding. He always knew what to do, and he was always master of every circumstance and problem. His vision was large. He could see no limit to what Jesus could do. He never seemed worried about opposition, Mel Trotter was a humble man, and this was a great power in his life and testimony. Melvin E, Trotter was truly a great man of God!

Erie, Pennsylvania


I. Mel Trotter’s First Prayer


Let us make the home the threshold

Of the city bright and fair;

Each the other’s joy possessing,

Each the other’s burden share.

In the storm of deep affliction

Let us seek the heavenly balm;

In life’s tempest just remember

Prayer will make the storm a calm.


The life story of Melvin E. Trotter is a story of the redeeming grace of God. The record of his remarkable con­version and great ministry cannot be understood or explained without taking into account the transforming and transcending power of the Holy Spirit.

Mel Trotter was like the Apostle Paul, whose spectacular experience on the Damascus road led to his unconditional surrender to Christ so that straightway he went out and preached that Jesus was the Christ. Mel Trotter rose to his feet in the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, Illinois, and immediately preached Christ and did it with a passion which continued unabated for forty-three years.

If Mr. Trotter’s life was a miracle of divine grace, it was also the answer to an anxious mother’s prayers. It was a reward for faithfulness and the crowning result of a mother’s faith that Mel was converted amid all the evil influences he fought against unsuccessfully for twenty years.

Mr. Trotter’s first prayer was the simple childhood prayer he learned at his mother’s knee:

Now I lay me down to sleep;

I pray the Lord my soul to keep…

He had the choicest gift that any new-born babe on this earth can have. The first face that he looked up into was that of a saintly, praying, loving mother. God, in His infinite wisdom, entrusted the laying of the foundation of this great mans life into the hands of his mother.

Emily Jane Lorch was born in Springfield, Illinois, on Oct­ober 30, 1842. Her early childhood was spent in the days when a new and heroic chapter was being written into the history of these United States. She knew Abraham Lincoln and was a playmate and neighbor of Anna Herdon, whose father was Lincoln’s law partner in Springfield.

Those were days of strange restlessness. The railroads were gradually pushing their shiny ribbons of steel through the land. Unprecedented signs of progress were to be seen everywhere. Then came the Civil War and the opening up of the Great West. The cry of the day was, “Go West, young man, go West.” Stories about the daring deeds of the frontiers­men drifted back into the Middle West. All this had its repercussions upon the home and business life of the people.

Emily Jane met William Trotter at the close of the Civil War. In 1865 they were married and moved into northern Illinois, when that part of the country was still new. They made their home in Orangeville, Illinois, and it was in that town that Mel Trotter was born on May 16, 1870.

Five years after Mel was born the Trotters moved to Polo, Illinois, which is situated about 165 miles west of Chicago and is the center of a vast farming community. Here Mel grew up.

There have been some changes in Polo during the past seventy years. Most of the dirt roads have given way to paved streets, while the little red school house on Division Street where Mel went to school has been replaced by a business block. A modem elementary school and a high school are there now. The old Trotter homestead, a large rambling country-style house, remains to this day. Mr. Trotter visited his childhood home many times during his great career.

The town hall still stands, and inside one finds the town clerk’s musty office. The old town clerk is even yet on the job, and proudly remembers the days when Mel ran the streets as a boy.

William Trotter was an alcoholic. For years he was an habitual drunkard. Not only did he himself drink, but he served it to others. In Polo he earned his living as a bartender. His wife Emily was a good wife and mother, but her lot in life was not easy. Married to a drunkard and the mother of seven children, she had a hard task to do all she wanted to do for her family. But although Mother Trotter was unable to achieve her aims under the circumstances which beset her path and disturbed her home, she did for the children what no one else could have done. She taught them that prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep;

I pray the Lord my soul to keep…

During the terrible years Mel spent in the depths of utter blackness and despair, these lines were the pin-point lights faintly seen, but divinely set, in the dismal back­ground of his early life:

In life’s tempest just remember

Prayer will make the storm a calm.

In his youth Mel considered an education unnecessary to success. His parents did their best to get him to go to school, but he was more interested in his fathers saloon and the gambling den down the street. He skipped school more often than he attended it.

Mel followed in his fathers footsteps. Early in life he learned the taste of liquor and like his father became a drunkard, and his brothers with him.

Twelve years after the Trotters moved to Polo, Illinois, they made another change. This time they went to Freeport, Illinois, to live. Melvin was seventeen years of age at the time, and this move gave him the chance he had been waiting for. For a long time he had been chafing under the restraints of home. It was time, he thought, to get out and shift for himself. He had some well-defined plans, chiefly for playing the horses. He used to say, “I followed the horses for a time and knew the pedigree of every race horse in the country. One day I would be flat broke and maybe the next I would have a roll big enough to choke a cow. I have also seen the time when I sold my shoes to buy whisky. One day I would be rolling in money, but the next day I’d be panhandling for a flop.” What he did not know then was that ten horrible years of sin and failure lay ahead.

Mel left home after living for seventeen years under the best tutor any boy ever had – a saintly mother. Whatever the structure, she had laid an eternal foundation. She had taught her boy to pray. Perhaps he thought he had left everything behind him when he left home. At last he could go where he pleased, do what he liked, and have a good time. But he did not leave everything behind. He carried a prayer in his heart. He did not know it was there until one day in the midst of life’s tempest and in an hour of extremity it welled up in his soul, and in his distress he repeated it like a little child.

Thirty-four years after he had left home, when he was in his prime as an evangelist and when God had made him a mighty soul-winner, he paid a following affectionate tribute to his mother as he told of that awful hour of need when Mothers prayers followed all the way through: “There were seven of us,” he said, “three boys and four girls. My dear mother, now eighty years of age, has lived to see her three boys ministers of the Gospel and her four daughters, Christian woman. In my drunken, sinful days all the seven had to cling to was the prayer my mother taught me as a little child:

“And that prayer often came to me in the darkest moments of my life.”

“I recall so vividly once I was thrown out of a box car and I landed under a water-tank. Drunken and sore, yet with a prayer in my heart, I had the manhood left to repeat it, and there under that old water-tank a drunkard’s prayer was the prayer his mother taught him. My mother never was satis­fied, never felt satisfied that her work was done, until her boys and girls were all saved.”

The story of Mel Trotter is a story for mothers the world over. Mother Trotter watched her son sinking down to a drunkard’s hell. Each time she heard of him he was lower down the scale. Finally her Melvin became a drunken bum, a down-and-outer. In her helplessness and with a broken heart she lifted her tear-stained face toward heaven and prayed. Alone in her grief, for her own husband was a drunkard, she had only one hope: she knew God and had faith to be­lieve. Then one day God answered her prayers and her boy was saved. The Lord spared her to see her boy become one of the greatest soul-winners of his generation. Not only that, but she saw all her children saved, and her husband as well.

Paying a tribute to his mother on another occasion, Mel said, “I never got so drunk, or so far away, that I could not always feel the hand of my mother. One of the prettiest things I ever looked at was an old, old hand, all twisted up with rheumatism – the hand of my mother. When my mother lay dying, she turned to me and said, ‘You win all the souls you can for Jesus, and I will see you over there.’ ”

Faith of our mothers, guiding faith,

For youthful longing, youthful doubt,

How blurred our vision, blind our way,

Thy providential care without:

Faith of our mothers, guiding faith,

We will be true to thee till death.

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