when Miss Barber met Sparks
The source of their fellowship is an interesting question. Not much has been written, and not much evidence has been produced, to confirm any conclusion. However, the facts that are clear are as follows: In 1926, an article by M. E. Barber appeared in, T. Austin Sparks’ bi-monthly magazine; when speaking to Watchman Nee, she referred to their fellowship with Sparks and others with him as an “us”; and it was M. E. Barber who introduced Nee, Luke, and others to Sparks’ writing.
Outside of her two years in England while she was between missionary journeys (1907–1909), Miss Barber did not have the opportunity to meet English Christians in person. So was it during this period in which she met Sparks? Perhaps she met him at the annual Keswick Convention during those years. 1 And we do know that Sparks attended at least some of the Keswick Conventions, as he did in 1938 with Watchman Nee and Elizabeth Fischbacher.
Was Miss Barber introduced to Sparks by D. M. Panton? Was there fellowship between these to men? We know they held similar views regarding partial rapture and overcomers in this dispensation. This is a hallmark teaching of Robert Govett and D. M. Panton that Sparks incorporates into his perspective on the Bible. Was this teaching more common at that time, or was it unique—pointing to a connection between Sparks and Panton?
It is also possible that sometime in 1907–1909, Miss Barber became connected to Sparks through Jessie Penn-Lewis, specifically through her writings or her conferences. We know that Miss Barber corresponded several times with Penn-Lewis due to some of her letters being acknowledged or responded to in Penn-Lewis’ Overcomer magazine. Sparks at this time was also associated with Penn-Lewis’ ministry, and Miss Barber could have become aware of Sparks’ ministry before he removed himself from participation in Penn-Lewis’ activities.
These are three possible avenues of connection and there could be endless other possibilities. It is intriguing to consider how the Lord may have joined these two in spiritual testimony and understanding but, so far, not much can be said definitively except that this connection developed into a clear relatedness by 1926.
1 - Chen, in Christ in Hymnology, states that she attended the Keswick Convention at least once during those years