“You are good boys for living, but not yet for dying!” This is the way Clementina Nottage reminded three of her boys that they needed to be saved. They were nominal church members, and attended Sunday services, but they had not yet received the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Clementina was the mother of nine boys and two girls. She prayed daily for the salvation of her children, and witnessed faithfully to them. Concerned about missions, she raised pigs to sell so that she would have money to give. She prayed that some of her children would become missionaries. Living in a place where evangelists from the United States sometimes came, she probably never dreamed that three of her sons would be missionaries to major cities of the United States of America.
God had been dealing with these three boys. In the year before their conversion, three of their brothers had died of disease. With their mother’s reminders that they themselves were not ready to die, these three future missionaries all came to Christ in a one-month period in 1904. The names of the three sons were Whitfield, age 21, T. B. (Talbot Burton), age 18, and B. M. (Berlin Martin), age 14. T. B. was saved first, in his room on February 28. Whitfield came to Christ the next day. And a month later, on March 28, Whitfield led B. M. to the Lord.
The boys began witnessing and street preaching almost immediately. They worked by day and preached at night. They had no Bible school to go to; but some noted Bible teachers, assembly missionaries, came to their area soon after their conversion. The boys became avid students of the Word of God. They learned from these men the truths of the personal return of Christ and the importance of the Lord’s Supper. And they learned much about evangelizing. The Nottage home was on the island of Eluthera in the Bahamas. The godly mother lived to see her sons saved and bolding witnessing for Christ. However, she did not live to see them become missionaries, for she died two years after their conversion.
In 1905, T. B., the first of the brothers to go to the United States, went in search of better employment opportunities. It was then a seven-day trip to Key West by boat. He found his way to New York City and settled in Harlem. In 1909, he was joined by B. M. and the following year by Whitfield.
By 1913, the boys were deeply involved in evangelism in the black districts of New York City. A tract band was formed that year, and three and a half million tracts were bought and distributed by the summer of 1914. Open air meetings were being held in Harlem, with hundreds being saved or restored to the Lord. Home meetings were begun in the winter of 1913, which led to the establishment of the first assembly in the black areas of New York City. Grace Gospel Chapel opened its doors on October 25, 1914, at 50 West 134th Street, right in the heart of Harlem. It continues today at 102 West 133rd Street.
In time, Whitfield moved to Richmond, Virginia, where he pioneered with tent work. In the mid-1930s, he settled in Philadelphia and he founded the Ebenezer Community Chapel, where he ministered for more than thirty years before retiring. In 1986, surviving both of his younger brothers, Whitfield went to be with the Lord at the age of 103. He was blind for the last twenty years of his life. Whitfield was survived by His daughter, C. Delores Tucker, a politician and civil rights activist.
T. B. Nottage took a job with the U. S. Bureau of Census and lived in Washington, D. C., for three years. In 1921, he gave up employment and spent the rest of his life in full-time service for the Lord. A letter of commendation, written by the Washington, D. C., Gospel Hall on September 1 of that year reads:
“Mr. and Mrs. T. B. Nottage…have been much exercised about the Lord’s work in the cities of the United States: and while our brother has diligently sought to give all his spare time to gospel work, they feel that the need demands, and that the Lord is calling them to give their whole time to His service. They hope, the Lord willing, to reinforce their brother, Mr. B. M. Nottage, who is laboring in New York City and vicinity.”
In addition to this commendation, all three brothers were eventually commended to the work of the Lord by Grace Gospel Chapel in New York City.
A Wider Ministry
For the next twenty years T. B. and B. M. Nottage traveled widely throughout the United States. Assemblies were established in St. Louis, MO; Muskegon, MI; Terre Haute, IN; and Birmingham, AL. Evangelistic work was done in Alabama, California, Ontario, and extensively in Michigan. They traveled by trailer, using a public address system when they preached, and distributed Bibles and New Testaments wherever then went.
In 1930, T. B. and B. M. Nottage established the first assembly in a black Chicago community, Grace Gospel Hall. For six years, T. B. Nottage commuted from New York City, coming for four to six weeks at a time to help in the work in Chicago. A second assembly, Grace and Glory Gospel Chapel, branched out from the original Chicago assembly. In time Burleigh Edwards, aided by the Nottage brothers, began the Southside Gospel Assembly, and later, Westlawn Gospel Chapel branched out from that.
B. M. Nottage moved to Detroit and founded Bethany Tabernacle in 1932. Working with Gospel tents and store-front evangelism, five more assemblies were begun in the next eleven years in Detroit. He was instrumental in founding River Rouge Bible Chapel, Berean Bible Chapel, Grace Gospel Chapel, Gospel Chapel, and the Open Door Rescue Mission, all in Detroit. B. M. became a well-known speaker and authority on evangelism to the black community. He was invited to minister at Moody Founder’s Week and Radio Station WBMI. Although he never attended Bible School, he was frequently the commencement speaker at Detroit Bible College and the Community School of the Bible. He continued his ministry at Bethany Tabernacle until his death on May 3, 1966, at the age of 76.
The Big Four
New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit—during the 1920s and 1930s these were the four largest cities in the United States. And in the heart of each of these cities, the three Nottage brothers had planted multiple testimonies for the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was pioneering gospel work in the truest sense of the word. They often evangelized in areas where there was a great dearth of gospel preaching and a lack of sound Bible teaching. It is probable that, before the Nottages came, there were, in the black communities of these cities, no assemblies of believers meeting along New Testament lines as we know them today.
One more major city in the United States has yet to be mentioned. In 1930, T. B. Nottage had begun a work in Cleveland, known as Elim Gospel Chapel. In 1936, he and his wife Josephine and their children moved to Cleveland. T. B. continued his itinerant evangelism until 1941, twenty years after it had begun. After World War II broke out and traveling was difficult, he concentrated his further efforts in Cleveland.
Born in 1885, T. B. Nottage was now well into his fifties. But there was still thirty years of service for him in the city of Cleveland. He concentrated on visitation and radio work, as well as preaching. There were buildings to be built, too, as many of these inner-city assemblies began building chapels, instead of meeting in store-fronts. And there was the usual branching out of the work, as Faith Gospel Chapel became an offshoot of Elim Gospel Chapel.
In the last years, heart problems began to bother T. B. Nottage. Nevertheless, death was unexpected when he succumbed to a heart attack on April 27, 1972, a few days after his 87th birthday. T. B’s life verse was, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” A little less than ten years prior to his death, the three brothers came together at a conference in 1963, after almost sixty years of ministry for Christ. At that time, T. B. Nottage quoted this verse and remarked, “I am persuaded that whosoever trusts in Him shall not be disappointed.” “As brothers according to the flesh,” he said on this occasion, “as brother-ministers of the gospel, and brothers in the Lord, we are delighted that God chose us to spark such a work as we have had represented at the Cleveland conference this year. We are especially glad that God is raising up godly young men to carry on. We feel that our labors have not been in vain.”
– Taken from Berlin M. Nottage, Facts of the Faith, (Grand Rapids, MI: Gospel Folio Press, 1972), p. 121-125