“Leonard was the perfect husband and father to us.”
“Leonard lived all his life with eternity’s values in view.”
Sometime in 1937, while pastoring at Oldham Leonard met a young lady who was attending mettings where he was preaching. Martha Wilson, a state-certified midwife, was working as the director of the nursing staff at Hope Hospital in Salford, on of the largest hospitals in England at the time.
When Martha was seventeen, she left Ireland by ship for Australia to be trained as a nurse. The journey took three months. After finishing the training she went to England and secured work at the hospital in Oldham. Four years younger than Leonard, Martha was from a family of seven children–five boys and two girls–from County Monaghan, Southern Ireland, where her father was a farmer and blacksmith, and also owned a mill.
Martha attended some of the meetings where Len was preaching near Manchester. The details of the development of their friendship and courtship are not known, but what is known is that God led them together to be partners for life. leonard spoke only briefly of how they came together: “I met my precious Irish wife in a little town called Eccles ten miles out of Manchester. She was the night of supervisor at one of the largest hospitals in England. God wonderfully led us together.”
Their relationship developed with Christian fellowship and friendship and grew into love. Leonard and Martha were serious-minded believers and viewed marriage as haveing one primary purpose–to advance Christ’s kingdom and serve Him together.
The wedding was in Leeds in September of 1939 while Leonard was pastoring in Oldham. Their lives were linked together for the next fifty-five years. The Calvary Holiness magazine announced the wedding in its news section:
“Wedding bells were sounded in Leeds on the occasion of Brother Leonard Ravenhill’s marriage to sister Martha Wilson on Saturday, September 30. Maynard James and Jack Ford were the officiating ministers at this important event. We pray that God’s rich blessing may ever be the portion of the newly wedded couple, as they united to serve the Lord in the Christian ministry.”
Martha resigned from her nursing job to establish their home and took care of all domestic responsibilities so Leonard could study, pray, and preach. Their son David said later:
“My dad couldn’t even boil an egg–what I mean is he didn’t have to do anything in the home. Mom did everything so he could be free to pray, study, counsel, influence people, and preach. She did not want anything to hinder his work.”
Martha was protective of Leonard’s life and ministry and was wise and frugal. When they married they requested that no marriage gifts be given to them. At the time they were strongly considering going to Africa as missionaries among the pigmies of the Itui forest in the African Congo. They offered themselves for that field, but God closed the door. From Leonard’s perspective, it was: “We offered up our Isaac, and the Lord said, ‘No.'” England was to be their mission field for years to come.
Ravenhill sons soon began to arrive. Their first son Paul was born in 1940 while living in Sheffield. A second son, David, arrived in Burnley two years later and finally Philip was born in Bath in 1945. During these years Leonard was interim minister for churches in Bath, Burnley, Oldham, Salford, and Sheffield. The fact that all three were born in different towns reflects the fact that they were living in different locations during those years.
Martha was wholly given to their home life, raising the boys and supporting Len. Leonard later said, “Every mother is a career woman,” and that certainly applied to Martha. She left the boys with a baby sitter only once when Leonard was severely injured in 1951 while in America and she was at his bedside for weeks, leaving the boys with two families in their church.
Being around Leonard and Martha even for a brief time revealed that they had a special relationship. They honored one another in their words and actions. His favorit terms for her were “darling or Martha dear.” After their sons were grown, Martha traveled with Leonard every where he went. They did everything together and his relationship with her and their sons was very special, more often seen than spoken. Their closeness to each other was evident and bolstered the credibility of his message.
From the biography In Light of Eternity by Mack Tomlinson pp. 111-113