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Eliza strained forward as her legs churned beneath her, the underbrush tearing at her long skirts. The small boy in her aching arms whimpered, sensing a danger he couldn’t see.

“Hush, chile,” she gasped in a whisper. “Mama’s gone keep you safe.”

Eliza dared a quick glance behind her. She could see nothing of the slave catchers who’d found her hiding place, a house near the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.  She’d slipped out the back door and into the woods as they approached the front. But they would surely guess her run for freedom, and their long legs, unencumbered by skirts, would quickly bring them close.

Runaways like Eliza Harris

Eliza dared not slow her pace toward the northern side of the river, where she and her baby had a chance to be together. Though her master had been kind, he was planning to sell her son. Eliza could not let that happen; her two older children had already died.

Finally, Eliza could see glimmering flecks through the trees as morning light danced on the water. But this was not what she’d planned. Eliza had expected to walk across the mile-wide river on ice, given the winter season. Instead she found the ice broken up into mammoth chunks, drifting slowly on the current.

With a prayer on her lips, Eliza made the choice to cross anyway, jumping from ice cake to ice cake. Sometimes the cake on which she stood sunk beneath the surface of the water. Then Eliza would slide her baby onto the next cake and pull herself on with her hands. Soon her skirts were soaked and her hands numb with cold. But Eliza felt God upholding her; she was confident he’d keep them safe.

On the northern bank stood William Lacey, one of those who watched the river for escaping slaves in order to help them. Time and again he thought the river would take the woman and child, but she miraculously reached the bank, heaving for breath and weak from cold and exhaustion.

When she’d rested for a few moments, the man helped her to a house on the edge of town. There she received food and dry clothing before being taken to another home and then another, along the Underground Railroad. Finally she reached the home of Quakers, Levi and Catherine Coffin, in Newport, Indiana.[1]

Note the mention of Levi Coffin

By the time Eliza arrived on their doorstep in 1838, the Coffins had been helping escaped slaves for more than a decade. In fact, the following year they would build a house specifically designed for their work as station masters on the Underground Railroad.

A Federalist-style house, similar to the Coffins’ home

In the basement they constructed a spring-fed well, to conceal the enormous amount of water needed for their many guests. On the second floor, they built a secret room between bedroom walls, just four feet wide. Up to fourteen people could hide in the long, narrow room.

Eliza Harris was only one of more than a thousand slaves (some say 3,000) that stayed in the Coffin home on their way to Canada. Had the Coffins (or others) been caught helping runaway slaves, they would have owed a $1000 fine (which few could afford) and would have spent six months in jail (which meant no income for the family during that time). Slave hunters were known to issue death threats as well.

But the Coffins held strong convictions concerning slavery. In the 1870s Levi wrote in his memoirs, “I . . .  risked everything in the work—life, property, and reputation—and did not feel bound to respect human laws that came in direct contact with the law of God.”[2]

For the introduction of Coffin’s book, William Brisbane[3] wrote the following about Levi and two other abolitionists:

“In Christian love they bowed themselves before their Heavenly Father and prayed together for the oppressed race; with a faith that knew no wavering they worked in fraternal union for the enfranchisement of their despised colored brethren, and shared together the odium attached to the name of abolitionist, and finally they rejoiced together and gave thanks to God for the glorious results of those years of persevering effort.”[4]

Should we face such hatred and endangerment in our day, may we stand in the midst of it like Levi and Catherine Coffin—steadfast and unmovable in the power of God.

Addendum:

In 1854 the Coffins visited Canada and happened to encounter a number of former slaves they’d helped. Eliza Harris was one of them–settled in her own home, comfortable and contented.

Her story may sound familiar because Harriet Beecher Stowe, a friend of the Coffins, included the slave’s harrowing escape in her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


[1] Now called Fountain City

[2] https://www.indianamuseum.org/historic-sites/levi-catharine-coffin-house/

[3] a doctor, minister, author, and South Carolina slaveholder who turned abolitionist and moved north where he freed his slaves

[4]https://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/coffin.html

Other sources:

http://www.womenhistoryblog.com

http://www.rialto.k12.ca.us/rhs/planetwhited/AP%20PDF%20Docs/Unit%206/COFFIN1.PDF

https://mrlinfo.org/famous-visitors/Eliza-Harris.htm

Art & photo credits: http://www.nypl.getarchive.net; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.slr-a.org.uk; http://www.wikimedia.org.

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Betsy gasped at the revolting scene before her. Yes, she’d been warned by Stephen Grellet, a family friend, but even his graphic descriptions could not have prepared her for this.

In a space meant for sixty women, three hundred women and children[1] swarmed over every square foot, some barely clothed. Screaming and shouting assaulted the ears.

But the worst offense was the stench of unwashed bodies, vomit, human waste and more which saturated the meager straw on the floor. Small barred windows offered little fresh air for relief.

The place: Newgate Prison in London England. The time: 1813.

Newgate prison. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

In that first moment inside Newgate, Betsy knew that “God wanted her to minister hope to these women who were being treated like animals and had lost their desire to live.”[2]

The jailers told Betsy and her companion, sister-in-law Anna Bruxton, not to enter the cells, that the women were bound to attack her.

But Betsy insisted, and they marveled when her quiet presence actually calmed the women. Betsy read the Bible and then prayed for the prisoners. Many dropped to their knees.

After that first visit, Betsy began to dream of better ways to deal with prisoners—especially those guilty of nothing more than stealing apples to feed their starving children. She wondered, Instead of severe punishment as the only purpose of confinement, what if rehabilitation was provided?  

Betsy went to work immediately.  She organized her Quaker friends (a group which quickly expanded) who made clothing for the inmates and their children.

Betsy recruited volunteers to visit the prisoners, read the Bible and tell them about Jesus, then pray with them, just as she did. No doubt many chose to believe in Jesus as a result.

Mrs. Fry reading the Bible to prisoners.

Betsy arranged for clean straw to be brought in regularly. A prison school was established, paving the way for children and mothers alike to escape destitution. Betsy also convinced prison authorities to hire a matron and female monitors for the women.

It’s no wonder people began to call her the Angel of Newgate. But financial backing proved difficult. None of the male-dominated organizations were interested. Nevertheless, Betsy was able to raise support through friends.

As she worked, Betsy prayed:

“Lord, may I be directed what to do and what to leave undone, and then may I humbly trust that a blessing will be with me in my various engagements—enable me, O Lord, to feel tenderly and charitably toward all my beloved fellow mortals.”[3]

News of Betsy’s reforms began to spread. In 1818 Betsy was invited to speak before a House of Commons committee concerning prison conditions. She was the first woman ever brought before such a body as a witness.

Her experience as a Quaker minister helped Betsy deliver a clear and powerful speech. And members of Parliament responded affirmatively. But when she spoke against capital punishment, any action toward prison reform stagnated.

Disappointed but not discouraged, Betsy continued her efforts toward further reforms. At the time many prisoners were shipped to Australia. Women were chained, then transported to the docks in open carts. Crowds gathered to mock and throw all kinds of filth at them.

Betsy initiated change by offering to escort each convoy and keep order if prison officials used covered carriages. They agreed.

She also supplied each woman with a bag of useful items including materials for a patchwork quilt, giving them something to do on the long voyage. Better yet, when the women arrived they could sell the finished quilts.

Inside the hull of the Edwin Fox, the last surviving convict ship. Just 157 feet long, she transported at least 180 prisoners each voyage.

Also in 1818, an American emissary John Randolph visited England to see Betsy’s work firsthand. He wrote, “I have witnessed there miraculous effects of true Christianity upon the most depraved of human beings. Bad women, sir, who are worse, if possible, than the devil himself: and yet the wretched outcasts have been tamed and subdued by the Christian eloquence of Mrs. Fry.”[4]   

Five years later sympathies in Parliament had changed and the Gaols Act of 1823 was passed. It included many of Betsy’s recommendations from three years before.

The new reforms didn’t apply to local jails or debtors’ prisons. Betsy and her brother Joseph traveled the British Isles to gather evidence of the conditions and then presented additional reform legislation.

And yet Betsy accomplished still more. “She established night shelters for the homeless, libraries for coast guards, societies to help the poor, and the Institution for Nursing Sisters to modernize British nursing. She also influenced Florence Nightingale’s training program.”[5]

For more than thirty years Elizabeth Fry championed these causes in the name of Christ. And to think, one year before that first visit at Newgate, she wrote in her diary, “I fear that my life is slipping away to little purpose.”[6]

But of course God would never let that happen to someone who trusts in him.

Addendum: Elizabeth Gurney (1780-1845), married Joseph Fry in 1800; they had eleven children.


Notes:

[1] The youngsters had no one else to care for them

[2] https://setapartgirl.com/story-elizabeth-fry/

[3] From Great Women of the Christian Faith by Edith Deen, quoted at https://setapartgirl.com/story-elizabeth-fry/

[4] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/to-act-in-the-spirit-not-of-judgment-but-of-mercy

[5] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/to-act-in-the-spirit-not-of-judgment-but-of-mercy

[6] (https://christiansforsocialaction.org/resource/heroes-of-the-faith-elizabeth-fry/ ).

Sources:

https://christianfocus.org/elizabethfry

https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/to-act-in-the-spirit-not-of-judgment-but-of-mercy

https://christiansforsocialaction.og/elizabethfry

https://setapartgirl.com/elizabethfry

https://encrustedwords.ca/elizabethfry

Art & photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.lookandlearn.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.lookandlearn.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.dailyverses.net.

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Prince Kaboo’s head hung over his chest. Every part of his body ached from being tied to a wooden cross and then beaten. His back stung like fire from whippings with poisonous vines that also caused chills and fever. 

All Kaboo could think about was death, and he welcomed it. Then the continual torture and starvation would stop, inflicted by the powerful Grebo tribe, who’d taken him captive in central Liberia. They used Kaboo to extort “peace payments” from his father, chieftain of the neighboring Kru tribe. He was only fourteen years old; the year, 1887.

(Liberia is located west of the Ivory Coast in southwestern West Africa.)

Suddenly, a bright light appeared over Kaboo. The ropes that held him to the cross fell off, and a voice called, “Kaboo! Run!” He felt miraculous strength return to his emaciated body.

Kaboo did as the voice commanded, dashing for the jungle and hiding inside a hollow tree until nightfall. Questions swarmed in his head. Where had the light come from? Who spoke to him? How did he become instantaneously strong? Kaboo had no answers.

The young prince did know he could not return home. The Grebos would just come for him again. So Kaboo determined to go in the opposite direction. At nightfall when he emerged from the tree, Kaboo was startled to see the light still shining above him. It guided him through the jungle.

Kaboo walked many days and finally came to a farm where he met one of the workers who happened to come from his tribe. That young man introduced Kaboo to the boss, who gave him a job.

The fellow tribesman took Kaboo to church on Sunday.

(Perhaps the church resembled this one.)

There he heard the story of a man named Saul who saw a great light and heard a voice.

“That’s what happened to me!” Kaboo exclaimed. He realized the same Jesus who spoke to Saul had spoken to him, and he invited Jesus into his life.  Soon after, an American missionary, Miss Knolls, gave Kaboo a new name: Samuel Morris, after her benefactor.

Months later Kaboo met a boy who’d been a slave in the Grebo tribe when Sammy (as he came be known) was held hostage. The boy told Sammy, “We didn’t know what happened to you. A bright light flashed over you, someone called your name, and then you were gone!”

Sammy explained the miracle of his escape and the boy became a Christian too.

A dream began to form in Sammy’s heart, to head for America where there’d be knowledgeable teachers and many books about God. He was hungry to learn. So Sammy set out on foot for the coast where he found a ship headed to America.

(Such a scene may have greeted Sammy as he arrived at the port in Monrovia.)

He offered to work in exchange for passage but the captain declined.

“Oh Lord,” Sammy prayed. “Change his heart!”

And God answered. One of the sailors became sick and Sammy was assigned his tasks. Others on board mistreated him, but Sammy’s kindheartedness won them over, and by voyage’s end many chose to believe in Jesus, including the captain.

Upon arrival in New York City, Sammy set out to find Stephen Merritt. According to his missionary friends back in Liberia, this superintendent of a homeless mission would gladly help him.

(New York City, 1880-1890)

Sammy stayed several months with Stephen, learning to know God better and assisting with the mission work. His passion for Jesus was contagious and many of the men who came through the mission also accepted Christ into their lives.

Stephen urged Sammy to go to Taylor University in Indiana to continue his education. The superintendent contacted the school’s president, Thaddeus Reade, on Sammy’s behalf.

This was the same university where the missionary, Miss Knolls, had attended. By December of 1891, Sammy had enrolled at Taylor and planned to become a missionary himself to the people of Liberia.

(Samuel Morris)

On May 12, 1893, the unthinkable occurred. Sammy died from a respiratory infection.

Some would say, “Why would God allow such a tragedy?”

But here’s what happened.

A few days after Sammy’s funeral, one Taylor student declared in a prayer meeting, “I feel impressed this moment that I must go to Africa in Sammy’s place, and I pray that as his work has fallen upon me, the mantle of his faith may also fall upon me.”[1] 

Two more of that group affirmed they felt God wanted them to go to Africa also. Instead of one missionary—Samuel Morris—there would be three. And many more have followed.

In addition, five books and a film chronicle his life. In Sinoe County, Liberia, stands the Samuel Morris Educational Resource and Conference Center—a joint project of Taylor University, the Sinoe County Association of the Americas (SCAA), and local agencies in Liberia. At Taylor, scholarships and a dorm bear his name, and the school still prepares missionaries to serve around the world.

“Samuel Morris was a divinely sent messenger of God to Taylor University. He thought he was coming over here to prepare himself for his mission to his people, but his coming was to prepare Taylor University for her mission to the whole world. All who met him were impressed with his sublime, yet simple faith in God.”[2]

Thaddeus Reade

 

[1] https://pillars.taylor.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=samuel-morris

[2] https://www.taylor.edu/about/samuel-morris

Sources:

https://www.taylor.edu/about/samuel-morris

https://www.taylor.edu/news/taylor-group-traveling-to-liberia-for-dedication-cornerstone-laying-of-samuel-morris-center

https://wellsofgrace.com/biography/english/morris.htm

Photo sources: http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.wikimedia.org.

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Remember Christmas morning as a child—the first glimpse of the enticing packages tucked under the tree?  Did you hop and clap with delight?

Or how about that winning touchdown for your team—in the last few moments of the game with your school’s arch rival? Did you jump up and shout in celebration?

Perhaps a family member or dear friend recently announced glorious news—a baby on the way, better employment obtained, or a clean bill of health finally received.  Did you find yourself dancing for joy?

Over-the-top pleasure and exciting events will do that to us. And although the body may no longer respond with hops, jumps, or dance, our spirits certainly soar in the moment.

photography by Nicole Sánchez : love.nimagens.com

The prophet Habakkuk of Old Testament times wrote about just such a response.  I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased the verse: “I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God” (Habakkuk 3:18 MSG). Sounds like the prophet received the answer to a heartfelt prayer or perhaps a miracle had occurred.

Truth is, Habakkuk’s home city of Jerusalem faced imminent invasion by the brutal Babylonians.  Recent conquests of other kingdoms left no question about the city’s fate.

God had made clear why disaster loomed.  The people of Jerusalem had continually ignored his wise ways and reveled in wickedness. Multiple warnings had been proclaimed and disregarded.

In response God was about to provide a means of saving his people—not from the ruin of their city—but from the ruin of their souls.  He would allow the invasion and a period of captivity in a foreign culture 900 miles away (Isaiah 39:5-8; Jeremiah 25:1-11).

(Isaiah foretold this scene in the latter half of the eighth century BC,
Jeremiah in 605 BC. The invasion took place in 586 BC.)

Habakkuk questioned God’s decision, wondering why he would allow the Babylonians, a people more wicked than the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to “swallow those who are more righteous than they are (Habakkuk 1:13)?”

By the end of his book, however, the prophet’s doubts had turned to faith and he declared—in the face of calamity–“Yet I will celebrate the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (3:18 NIV).

The word rejoice in this verse is ‘alaz’ in the original Hebrew, and means to “spin around for joy.”* Can you imagine? Disaster loomed. All Habakkuk had ever known would be destroyed.  If not killed, he would be forced into captivity in a hostile country.

Yet Habakkuk determined to dance for joy in his spirit—spin cartwheels even.

How does a person acquire such joy? Not by setting her sights on things that make her momentarily happy.  Deep-down dancing joy grows in proportion to our trust in God, and our trust grows in proportion to our knowledge of God—knowledge gained as we spend time in His Word.

We’d also do well to remember the close relationship between joy and gratitude.

As 2022 unfolds, a number of crises threaten—in our cities and states, our country, and around the world.  With Habakkuk of old we have a choice: to sink into despair over the real possibility of disaster, or to rejoice in our God who will enable us to endure whatever we may face (James 1:2-4).

It is our turn to spin for joy–in the God of our salvation!

*Linda Dillow, Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, 202.

Art & photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.love.nimages.com; http://www.maxpixelnet; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

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(From Morning by Morning, March 4.)

S. Truett Cathy (1921-2014) was just such a person, who grew up in poverty during the Great Depression to become a steadfast and unmovable masterwork of God.

At age eight he started his own business, inspired by a woman in his Atlanta, Georgia neighborhood. She sold cupcakes from her front yard.

M-m-m.  What could I sell to earn some money? Truett wondered. 

The answer: soft drinks. He purchased six bottles for a quarter and sold them for a nickel apiece. Just twenty six-packs, he figured, and I’ll have a whole dollar.

Truett quickly realized he could expand sales by enticing the door-to-door salesmen with cold drinks. He began to serve ice with the soda.

Soon the young entrepreneur had saved four dollars—enough to buy an old bicycle. Now he could make quicker profits by delivering newspapers.  But competition for customers was stiff with three well-established papers in Atlanta.

Truett had learned the value of customer satisfaction, however, so he made sure his papers landed on porches. On rainy days he put them inside the screen doors, and his customer list grew.

Truett delivered papers until high school graduation, after which he was drafted into the Army. Upon honorable discharge in 1945, Truett returned home to pursue his lifelong dream:  owning a business.

He decided to open a restaurant, knowing a bit about cooking for a crowd.  For years he’d helped his mother as she daily prepared meals not only for their family of nine but also for six boarders.

Truett and his younger brother Ben pooled their resources, took out a loan and bought a piece of land near a Ford assembly plant and Delta Airlines at the airport which provided a large customer base.

The tiny restaurant, aptly named the Dwarf Grill, included just ten counter stools and four tables.  The brothers served quick-to-fix burgers and steaks.

(The Dwarf Grill is still in operation, but in a new building with a revised name.)

They worked hard and the business thrived. But in 1949 tragedy struck. Ben, another brother, and two friends were killed.

Later Truett would remark, “I lost two brothers in an airplane crash, both of them leaving a wife and kids.  When I get to heaven, that’s probably the first question I’d like to ask: Why was it necessary?”[1]

The heartbreak did not erode Truett’s strong faith in God, which had been inspired by his devout mother and nurtured by Sunday School teacher and life-long mentor, Theo Abbey.

Then more trouble ensued.  In 1959 Truett was diagnosed with colon cancer. In an interview he explained that just prior to the successful surgery he experienced a new peace, knowing that whether he lived or died, he would be with God.[2] God granted another fifty-six years.

In 1960 the second restaurant burned to the ground, and then the original Dwarf Grill caught fire in 1965. But instead of becoming discouraged, Truett leaned on his God, growing stronger in faith and more determined than ever.

With only one restaurant to oversee, he focused his time on developing the menu. Truett remembered his mother’s impressive fried chicken, how she seasoned it the night before and put it in the ice box to marinate. 

He experimented with recipes, tried his efforts on regular customers and soon created a new menu item: the Chick-fil-A sandwich—a play on the word fillet, but also indicating the meat was grade A.

Customers loved the new sandwich, and in 1967, Truett opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant. One successful opening followed another until, in the year 2000, the restaurant chain grossed one billion dollars in sales. By 2018, it surpassed $10 billion in sales.

(Enlarge this image to read about Truett Cathy’s winning habits
–based on Biblical principles.)

Today, the company generates more revenue per restaurant than any other fast-food chain, even though all locations are closed on Sundays. (Since his first day in the restaurant business, Truett set aside that day for his employees and himself “to rest and worship if they choose.”[3])

Truett’s commitment to put God first is expressed in the company’s statement of purpose: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”[4]

Truett also delighted to glorify God by spending his fortune to encourage others.

How do you identify someone who needs encouragement?

That person is breathing.

–Truett Cathy

Since 1973, Chick-fil-A has given more than $35 million in college scholarships to its employees. Truett also founded the WinShape Foundation, providing approximately $18 million dollars for the development of foster homes and summer camps.

His legacy of planting Christian ideals in the lives of others continues, even though Masterwork Samuel Truett Cathy now resides in heaven. (He is survived by his wife of sixty-six years, three children, eighteen grandchildren, and nineteen great-grandchildren.)


[1] https://www.quotetab.com/quote/by-s-truett-cathy/i-lost-two-brothers-in-an-airplane-crash-both-of-them-leaving-a-wife-and-kids-w

[2] https://www.11alive.com/article/news/thank-you-god-that-im-alive-in-book-chick-fil-a-founder-s-truett-cathy-shared-faith-affirming-brush-with-mortality/85-48c52862-7a53-4167-9e7a-1a37bd8d6185

[3] https://thechickenwire.chick-fil-a.com/inside-chick-fil-a/secret-menus-and-closed-on-sundays-chick-fil-a-fact-or-fiction

[4] https://billygraham.org/story/a-conversation-with-truett-cathy

Other Sources:

http://www.academicstar.us/UploadFile/Picture/2015-7/20157331854318.pdf

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/311452

http://www.giantsforgod.com/s-truett-cathy/

https://www.thextraordinary.org/s-truett-cathy

Photo credits: http://www.pixhive.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.samiskelton.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxfuel.com.

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If asked to name a theme from the Christmas story, most people would probably mention one of these:

  • Love—expressed by God when he sent his Son to be born a man, then die in our place (John 3:16)
  • Joy—that the Savior of the world has come (Luke 2:10-11)
  • Peace—because Jesus is our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Hope—in the knowledge that our future is secure in heaven, when we believe in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-5)

But another word is mentioned more often in the account than any of the four mentioned above.  Perhaps you’ve already discovered this theme: 

FEAR.

You’ll remember:

  • Mary was greatly troubled when Gabriel appeared. He had to reassure her, “Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:29-30).
  • Joseph received an angelic visitor in a vision. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” he was instructed (Matthew 1:20).
  • The shepherds were terrified when an angel materialized before them.  They too heard: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:9-10).
Annunciation to the Shepherds
by Edouard Joseph Dantan (1848-1897)

I jump and shriek if my husband walks into the room and I haven’t heard him coming. What must it feel like to witness the sudden appearance of an angel?    

And just so we understand:  Angels are formidable beings—quite different from the delicate, winged creatures or sweet little cherubs often found in paintings or nativity scenes. (See Daniel 10:5-6 for one description of a fearsome angel.)  

The Nativity by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

One of our pastors said Sunday, “In my imagination, I see Gabriel about the size of Dwayne Johnson!”

No wonder these Christmas-story participants were afraid, to be confronted with such a large, commanding presence.

But surely the angel’s message of “Do not be afraid”–spoken three times in the narrative–is not just happenstance.  Perhaps God would have us learn how to respond to fear from the examples of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.

First, Mary would teach us to counter fear with faith.

It’s doubtful the fear brought on by the angel’s appearance just evaporated at his command. Yes, his message contained good news, including great honor for Mary, but it also came with risks: “scandal, misunderstanding, lunacy charges, and possibly stoning.”[1]

Yet this young girl responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Mary demonstrates:  Faith and fear can coexist as we exercise the former to control the latter.

Second, Joseph would teach us:  “Do it afraid.”[2]

Courage is not the absence of fear; courage acts rightly in spite of fear.

Joseph is a prime example. He’d face scandal himself as news of Mary’s pre-marriage pregnancy spread through Nazareth. Would his neighbors whisper in the shadows as he passed?  Might people refuse to employ him as their carpenter? Would his reputation as an honorable man (Matthew 1:19 GWT) be sullied forever? Surely such questions plagued Joseph.

Yet he chose to do the right thing.

Third, the shepherds would teach us to fight fear with truth.

Even while cowering in fear, the shepherds listened to the angel.

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people,” the angel announced.  The shepherds’ hearts that had pounded with fear the moment before must have continued racing, in anticipation of what this glad celestial news might be:

I imagine the angel’s voice boomed with emphasis upon each phrase.  And now all-out excitement coursed through the shepherds’ veins.  Fear had been eradicated by the truth of what God’s messenger had told them.

In our time we’ve no need to wait for an angelic visitation to bring us good news. Our Bibles provide all the truth, wisdom, and encouragement necessary to meet all circumstances—even those that cause fear.

Like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, we have a choice: give in to fear and become disheartened, paralyzed, and useless, OR we can exercise our faith to become encouraged, empowered, and useable.


[1] Patsy Clairmont, Joy Breaks, p. 109.

[2] Suzanne Eller, A Moment to Breathe, p. 43.

Art & photo credits: http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.pxhere.com; www. rawpixel.com; http://www.pixhere.com.

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The emergence of Mildred Jefferson’s life purpose can be traced all the way back to her childhood, in the small town of Pittsburg, Texas during the 1930s. 

Pittsburg, TX 1925

That’s when her fascination of medicine began, under the wing of the local physician who allowed her to tag along on house calls in his horse-drawn carriage.

One day Mildred announced to him, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor too.”

He could have suggested, “A career in nursing might be another good choice, Millie. It’s not a bit fair, but most medical schools will likely turn you down because you’re a girl, and even in these modern times, most doctors are men.”  He might also have mentioned the barriers Mildred would face because she was black.

But the doctor encouraged her to work hard toward her dream. So did her mother and father, a teacher and Methodist minister respectively. 

Mildred followed their advice and graduated from high school at age 15 and then college at 18, summa cum laude no less. Too young to enter medical school, Mildred earned her master’s degree in biology while she waited.

Against great odds, Mildred was accepted into medical school–at Harvard–and in 1951 became the first African American woman to graduate from the esteemed institution.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is harvard_medical_school_boston.jpeg

Then she became the first woman to intern at Boston City Hospital and the first female surgeon at Boston University Medical Center, where Mildred eventually served as professor of surgery.

By 1970 the abortion debate had begun to garner much attention.  At the time, the American Medical Association was preparing a resolution in favor of abortion rights. Mildred strongly opposed such action, citing the Hippocratic oath and Judeo-Christian values as her defense.

Driven by her strong faith in God and heartfelt patriotism, Mildred began her fight against abortion. She helped found the Massachusetts chapter of Citizens for Life and later co-founded the National Right to Life Committee.  Mildred served as president of the latter from 1975-1978.

After forty years of coping with sexism and racism Mildred had developed great strength of character and courage.  She did not mince words concerning her conviction that abortion was wrong.

“I became a physician in order to save lives, not to destroy them,” Jefferson said in a 1978 interview. “I will not accept the proposition that the doctor should relinquish the role of healer to become the new social executioner.” [1]

In another interview, Mildred stated:  I am at once a physician, a citizen, and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow the concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged, and the planned have the right to live” (2003, American Feminist Magazine). [2]

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is download-2-2.jpeg
azquotes.com/author/29722-Mildred_Fay_Jefferson

Mildred abhorred the fact that women of color aborted at higher rates than white women.  Were there racist motives behind the push to publicly fund abortions? Was a purposeful genocide being committed against blacks?  It certainly appeared so.[3]

Mildred asserted: “I would guess that the abortionists have done more to get rid of generations and cripple others than all the years of slavery and lynchings.”[4]

The articulate doctor received invitations to speak all over the country.  Her logical arguments and impassioned delivery convinced many people that abortion was immoral.

After a television appearance in 1972, Mildred received the following letter:

“Several years ago I was faced with the issue of whether to sign a California abortion bill. . . . I must confess to never having given the matter of abortion any serious thought until that time.  No other issue since I have been in office has caused me to do so much study and soul-searching . . . I wish I could have heard your views before our legislation was passed.  You made it irrefutably clear that an abortion is the taking of a human life.  I’m grateful to you.”

The letter was signed, Governor Ronald Reagan.[5]

For nearly 40 years Mildred continued to fight for the rights of the unborn as she lived up to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25:40, that whatever we do for the least of those among us, we do it for him.

Sources:

  1. https://christiannewsjournal.com/one-doctors-prescription-for-life-mildred-fay-jefferson/
  2. https://www.classicalhistorian.com/johns-blog/mildred-fay-jefferson 
  3. https://cultureoflifestudies.com/newsletter/dr-mildred-fay-jefferson/
  4. https://kofc.org/en/news-room/columbia/2020/january/passionate-pioneer-remembered.html)
  5. https://marchforlife.org/dr-mildred-jefferson/

Notes


[1] https://kofc.org;en/news-room/columbia/202/january/passionate-pioneer-rememberd.html

[2] https://marchforlife.org/dr-mildred-jefferson/

[3] op. cit. https://kofc

[4]  https://www.classicalhistorian.com/johns-blog/mildred-fay-jefferson 

[5] op. cit. https://kofc

Photo credits: http://www.picryl,com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.heartlight.org, Ben Steed; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.all.org.

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My nephew is training for an Iron Man competition taking place in April.

Every day Preston follows a carefully prescribed regimen of exercise, riding his bike, running, and/or swimming. He eats a specified diet, and strives for proper rest. Recently he purchased a new bike based on current research for achieving top speed.

Much of this is according to his trainer’s recommendations, from his acquired knowledge and experience as a competitor. The trainer knows what it takes to finish the race.

Over the last forty-plus years of Iron Man Triathlons, participants have learned strategies for success. For example, they use their arms almost exclusively for the swim portion, saving leg strength for the bike ride and run.

 

 

Months ago Preston had to choose: should he embark on this test of endurance or opt for an easier goal? And if he did tackle an Iron Man race, would he seek guidance or train on his own? You already know his choices.

Now Preston is within weeks of the race. He’s in the best shape of his life and pushing his body to accomplish far more than ever before. But any current contentment will be multiplied many times over when he crosses that finish line and celebrates the completion of this extreme challenge.

What Preston is experiencing in the physical realm, God would have us understand in a spiritual sense, as laid out in Jeremiah 6:16:

 

 

Like Preston, we face a choice, but of much greater consequence than a competition.  Will we follow the ancient paths of God’s good ways or not? And like Preston, we can experience contentment now—not just when the race is complete. God offers us peaceful rest within our spirits (Philippians 4:6-7).

Meanwhile, many around us suffer from discontent and restlessness–the result of sin and following one’s own path. Jeremiah proposes a better plan: follow the good ways of God and contentment of soul will result.

But there’s a broader meaning to this verse. Jeremiah was addressing the entire nation of Judah. As he spoke the words quoted above, a national calamity loomed. Within a few years the people of Judah would be taken captive to Babylon, because the people had not listened to God’s words and they rejected God’s law (Jeremiah 6:19).

 

 

Our nation also stands at a crossroads, but few Americans seem to be looking to God for how to proceed. Instead they’re engrossed in self-interests. They don’t ask for the ancient paths that led us to security, prosperity, and blessing in the past.[1] They reject biblical values as out-of-date and stifling.

As a result, many Americans experience dissatisfaction in life, relying on drugs or alcohol to numb the emptiness and soul-strife.[2]

And what of us who believe in Christ and do seek the ancient paths? We stand at the crossroads of these choices:

 

 

  • Will we defend our faith even though ridiculed?
  • Will we remain on the ancient path of righteousness, or bend to blend in?
  • Will we stand for absolute truth or succumb to the relative truth of the culture that says it all depends on perspective?

 

Uncomfortable repercussions may result when we stand for our faith and absolute truth. But our souls will rest in the peace and contentment of a clear conscience.

When Preston finishes his race, family and friends will be ready to congratulate him.

 

 

When we finish our life race, God will be ready to congratulate us with, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

IF we remain steadfast.

 

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,

for when he has stood the test

he will receive the crown of life,

which God has promised to those who love him.”

James 1:12 (ESV)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Help us all, O God, to be on guard against the lies of the enemy, to stand firm in our faith, to remain courageous and strong in all circumstances. Our heart’s desire above all is to honor you—by finishing strong. 

(1 Corinthians 16:13)

 

 

Notes

[1] The security of settled minds (Psalm 112:7-8), the prosperity as God’s people (Jeremiah 29:11), and the blessing of his provision (2 Corinthians 9:8).

[2]   a. In 2017, 12.7% of Americans were taking antidepressants, up 64% since 2014 (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/11/numbers).

b. About 38% of adults in 2017 battled an illicit drug use disorder (https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics ).

c. 14.5 million people, or 5.3% of the population had AUD, alcohol use disorder, in 2019 (https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics).

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

No sooner did Mama open the front door than Marian was in her arms, sobbing.

“Oh, Mama! It was awful. There were so many empty seats, and the critics—one said I sang as if by rote.” Marian’s throat constricted around the hurtful words.

If anything, she always put heart and soul into her music. To be told she sang by rote was as painful as being told she sang flat.

“I’m done,” Marian announced through tears. “I need to find a different profession.”

Mama paused, then quietly suggested, “Why don’t you think about it a little, and pray a lot first?”

For a full year, 1924-1925, twenty-six-year old Marian didn’t sing a note.

But a gift for music like Marian’s isn’t easily put away. She’d been singing all her life, including church solos from childhood. Her proud Aunt Mary took her to other venues in Philadelphia so everyone could hear Marian’s glorious voice with its three-octave range.

She longed to develop the gift God had given her and sing the music of the classical composers. So at age eighteen, Marian waited in a long line of applicants for a nearby music academy. Finally someone told her, “You can’t attend here; you’re Negro.”

Of course, she understood. African Americans of the time were prohibited from many establishments. But the pain didn’t come just from the words; it was how they were spoken. The young woman seemed to take delight in deflating Marian’s hope.

“That’s all right,” Mama told her. “God may have something better in mind.”

Mama was right. The principal of Marian’s high school introduced her to esteemed vocal teacher Guiseppe Boghetti, and asked him to take her as a pupil.

“No new students!” he barked, but agreed to hear her sing one song. Marian chose “Deep River,” and Boghetti miraculously found time for her.

But how would she pay him? Papa had died when Marian was twelve; Mama took in laundry and cleaned for Wanamaker’s Department Store to support her three daughters. Marian contributed as she could from her sporadic earnings as a soloist. It was their church who paid for the lessons as members contributed pennies into a special fund for her.

Soon invitations to sing arrived from outside Philadelphia. But travel, especially in the South, presented challenges and indignities. Trains did not serve food or offer sleeping berths to African Americans; hotels would not provide rooms. Marian stayed in homes or at the YWCA. And she sang to segregated audiences—Whites on one side, Blacks on the other.

Marian absorbed the ill treatment—even deflected it—by standing tall and dignified on every stage, in front of those who respected her voice but not her personhood.

Then came the devastating concert at New York City Hall, and her hiatus from singing. But within a year, Marian had returned to Boghetti for more lessons.

In 1925, he entered her in a vocal competition with 300 soloists. Marian won first prize: a concert with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Positive reviews fueled her courage to leave home for Europe, where she not only studied singing but the languages of the music she loved: German, Italian, and French.

From 1933-1939 she toured the continent. As those around her focused on her talent, Mama kept Marian focused in her spirit. “Grace must always come before greatness,” she would say.[1]

 

(1940)

 

As the Great Depression raged, Marian concluded each concert with several Negro Spirituals. Many were brought to tears as she poured her own emotions into each word, each note.

In 1939, Marian’s agent sought to book a concert at Washington D. C.’s Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the Revolution. They refused the request, asserting their policy forbade African Americans from performing there.

The incident became a national headline when Eleanor Roosevelt heard of their affront. She expressed disapproval in her newspaper column and announced withdrawal of her membership from the organization.

 

(Eleanor and Marian, 1953)

 

Meanwhile the Executive Secretary of the NAACP approached the Secretary of the Interior with an alternative venue. Could Marian sing from the Lincoln Memorial steps and the audience stand on the Washington Mall? Permission was granted.

Seventy-five thousand people gathered to hear her sing. Black and White attendees stood together that day, shoulder to shoulder—a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream—nearly three decades before his famous speech, given from the same location.

 

(April, 1939)

 

More tours abroad and across the United States followed, keeping Marian away from home and family. But her mission compelled her forward:

 

“I sing to all, of course, but to that one, that one over the ninety-nine

whom you’d like to bring back into the fold—

if I reach that one soul, and reach it well–

then the concert was not in vain.”

—Marian Anderson [2]

 

By the mid-1950s the Civil Rights Movement gripped the country. Marian received criticism for not using her influence more vehemently. Perhaps they didn’t know her quiet battle behind the scenes.

For example, when the DAR sought to correct the wrong from 1939 and invited Marian to sing at Constitution Hall in 1943, she graciously accepted—with the stipulation that seating be integrated. The DAR complied.

Marian has been described as “a silent fighter who quietly opened doors for others.”[3]

Others. That was Marian’s focus, whether she was singing, serving her community, or giving interviews. In fact, she was known for questioning her interviewers, taking genuine interest in their lives.

Her nephew James LePriest remembers that even into her nineties people would comment, “You look just like Marian Anderson!”

She’d reply, “You’re the third person who’s told me that today,” and never reveal her identity.

Grace before greatness indeed.

(You can access a recording of Marian singing here:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aO9yDb_9NVw&list=PL-J_hJ4fmXTik1Z1NuWrH2mXrTAk-8HVe&index=43)

 

Notes

[1] https://www.guideposts.org/faith-and-prayer/prayer-stories/power-of-prayer/guideposts-classics-marian-anderson-on-the-power-of-faith

[2] https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/1165

[3] Ibid.

 

Other Sources:

  1. http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/ead/ead.html?q=year%20of%20first%20concert%20at%20New%20York%20City%20Hall&id=EAD_upenn_rbml_MsColl200&
  2. https://whittakerchambers.org/articles/time-c/marian-anderson/

 

Photo credits:  http://www.loc.getarchive.net; http://www.flickr.com (3).

 

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Mention “Fiji” and our imaginations conjure up aquamarine waters, sugar sand beaches, and lush foliage.  Add to the delightful surroundings a slow-paced lifestyle and some of the happiest people on earth (1); it’s easy to understand why many describe the islands as paradise.

But that’s not what John and Hannah Hunt experienced when they traveled to Fiji.  They encountered villagers who cut off the fingers of those caught stealing.  The sick and infirm were strangled to death, and victors of village wars ate their enemies.

The young newlyweds arrived on the island of Rewa in 1839, sent as missionaries by the Methodist mission board of England.  In spite of the obvious danger of living among cannibals, John wrote in his journal, “I feel myself saved from almost all fear though surrounded with men who have scarcely any regard for human life” (2).

Fijian Warriors (1915)


Though still in his twenties, John had been a well-respected preacher in England.  He was able to continue the same kind of work on several Fiji islands. 

The young missionary was quick to learn the language.  Soon he was preaching three sermons on Sunday and teaching throughout the week.  John also established a small medical clinic.  And during spare moments, he continued to study the Fijian language.

After six years of preaching, teaching, and building relationships, John felt led by God to hold a special prayer meeting.  The villagers came. 

He invited them to be set free from the fear and darkness of their violent practices and enjoy a new way of life with Jesus, as well as accept his gift of eternal life.  More than one hundred Fijians accepted that invitation, including the queen of their island.

Not long after, an enemy tribe attacked their village, intent upon killing them all.  But the war party inexplicably fled in fear.  Later these men admitted their plan failed because they suddenly knew the missionaries’ God was stronger than they were.

Not far away lay the island of Mbau, the highest seat of Fiji power.  The ruler, King Thakombau, was called “the butcher of his people.” 

But over time, the king’s respect for John Hunt grew.  When Thakombau’s general of war asked Jesus into his life, the king tried to dissuade him, but did not resort to violence.

 

King Thakombau


Excitement about Jesus spread from island to island, and brutal cannibals became transformed into peaceful, devout Christians.

One evening, as Fijian villagers worshiped, a band of thirty chiefs surrounded their church and threatened to kill everyone inside.  The congregants said and did nothing. 

Finally one of the chiefs entered the door, brandishing his club, but immediately fell to the floor in a swoon.  Other warriors entered, and they too collapsed until all thirty lay helpless.  By morning, every young man of that murderous mob had received Jesus.  

John soon turned his attention to translating the New Testament into the Fijian language.  With the help of others, he strived to express scripture with idioms and terms from Fijian culture.  The volume was published in 1847.

Old Fiji (1860)


John also trained villagers to teach the Bible.  The lectures were compiled into a manual of theology and used for decades.

On December 1, 1847 John wrote to friends in England:  “We can now report upwards of three thousand who attend our ministry and that of our teachers every Lord’s Day.”

During these ten years of ministry in Fiji, five children were born to John and Hannah.  Three are buried there, all before their second birthdays.

At age thirty-six, John succumbed to dysentery.  But according to historian, Rev. Joseph, Nettleton, John had “crowded the work of a lifetime into ten short years” (3).

A page from Christian Herald and Signs of Our Times (1886), honoring the work of John Hunt (top left) and colleague, James Calvert (top right).


The next day, King Thakombau came to pay his respects to the missionary.  He was given a letter, written by John not long before his death, expressing love and including a prayer for the monarch.  Thakombau was deeply moved and later he too came to faith in Jesus.

At the king’s baptism, a most unlikely crowd gathered:  widows of husbands he had killed, relatives of men he had eaten, and adult children who had formerly vowed revenge against Thakombau for the deaths of their fathers. 

God had rescued all of them from the dark power of Satan, had forgiven their sins, and set them all free (Colossians 1:13-14).


In 2012, two hundred years after John Hunt’s birth, Fijians held a grand celebration in honor of the man who had brought happiness to their islands—happiness in Jesus (4).  To this day, most indigenous Fijians are Christian (5).

Notes:

  1. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/travel/6-reasons-fiji-is-one-of-the-happiest-places-on-earth
  2. https://lights4god.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/john-hunt/
  3. John Hunt, Missionary and Saint by Rev. Joseph Nettleton, p. 114.
  4. https://www.methodist.org.uk/downloads/wcr-julia-edwards-newsletter-junejuly2012.pdf
  5. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/religion-in-fiji-important-facts-andfigures.html#:~:text=Christianity%20in%20Fiji,Europeans%20than%20Fiji’s%20indigenous%20population.

Additional Sources:

  1. The Life of John Hunt, Missionary to the Cannibals in Fiji by George Stringer Row, 1874. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/AQY9133.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext
  2. “A Missionary Evangelist,” Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, 1877, pp. 266-270. https://books.google.com/booksid=T29MAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA266&dq=Frank=Leslie%27s+pCdUQ6AEwAXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Frank%Leslie’s%20Sunday%20Ma

Art & photo credits: http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org (3); http://www.heartlight.org

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