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Archive for the ‘Heroes of the Faith’ Category

 

 

From the time Darlene McIntosh was ten years old, she knew God wanted her serve him on the mission field.

By age twenty-two, Darlene was newly married to pioneer missionary Russell Deibler, and settled in the jungle of New Guinea where he had built a two-room home for her out of woven bamboo mats.

 

 

Russell and Darlene proceeded to build relationships with members of a nearby primitive tribe, the Kapauku, who had never heard of Jesus. She fell in love with the people, the work, and her surroundings.

On her twenty-third birthday in May of 1940, the couple heard that the Nazis had invaded Holland. It didn’t take long for the war to find them, even in their remote location. The Deiblers and other missionaries could have escaped to safety but chose to stay at their mission compound.

In January of 1942 the Japanese came and took the men captive. Russell’s last words to Darlene were: “Remember one thing, dear: God said that He would never leave us nor forsake us.” That was the last time she saw Russell; he would die in the prison camp.

 

 

For a short while, the women and one older man continued to live at the mission.

One night Darlene heard scuffling noises in the house. She got up from her bed and encountered a bandit armed with a knife.

Darlene surprised herself by rushing at him. Even more surprising, the bandit turned and fled; Darlene chased him out of the house. Suddenly a gang of bandits ran out of the jungle to join the first. She expected them to attack her. Instead the first bandit yelled to the others, and they all turned and ran.

From then on, the missionaries kept clubs at the feet of their beds, but they never had to use them.

Darlene always suspected the compound gardener had been the bandit, because he was familiar with the house. After the war, Darlene asked him why he had never tried to steal from the missionaries again.

“It was because of all those people you had there–” he replied.  “Those people in white who stood about the house!”

 

 

In May of 1943, Darlene and the other remaining missionaries were taken to a prison camp in Kampili. Commander Yamaji, a man with a mercurial temper, required strenuous work quotas of the six hundred women living there, including killing flies.

The flies bothered the pigs, raised at the camp to feed Japanese soldiers. Each prisoner was required to bring Commander Yamaji 100 dead flies every day (That’s 60,000 flies!)—even while completing numerous other tasks.

Darlene prayed for Commander Yamaji and was able to tell him about Jesus. “He died for you,” she told him. “Maybe that’s why God brought me here, to tell you he loves you.” The commander suddenly left his office with tears on his cheeks.

 

 

In May of 1944, the Japanese secret police came to escort Darlene to another prison. She was put in solitary confinement, falsely accused of espionage.

Darlene endured nightly mosquito swarms, near-starvation, malaria and other serious illnesses, inhumane conditions, brutal interrogations, and torture.

But only her Heavenly Father saw her tears, never the captors. She sustained herself by singing hymns, quoting scripture, and reciting Russell’s last words: God will never leave you nor forsake you.

 

 

One day Darlene pulled herself up to look out the small window of her cell. She saw a woman make her way to the fence, reach through the underbrush, and come away with a bunch of bananas, which she quickly concealed in the folds of her skirt.

Oh, to eat just one banana, Darlene thought. Lord, how I would love a banana! Darlene could not get the coveted fruit out of her mind. She talked to God about her craving, knowing that such a fantastical desire could not be fulfilled.

The next morning, Darlene had a surprise visitor, Commander Yamaji. Tears filled her eyes. “It’s like seeing an old friend,” she exclaimed.

“You are very ill, aren’t you,” he remarked.

“Yes, Mr. Yamaji, I am.”

When the commander left, Darlene watched him speak to the guards for a long time. Later she heard the familiar stomp of boots outside her cell. The door was unlocked and one of the guards threw a stalk of bananas onto the floor.

“From Mr. Yamaji,” he said.

With tears of praise to God, Darlene counted ninety-two bananas. God had provided—far above what she imagined. She savored them, one per day for three months.

 

 

Darlene would surely have been beheaded as a spy, but she was inexplicably returned to Kampili, the POW camp under Commander Yamaji’s leadership.

Soon nightly bombings began. The women hid as best they could in ditches. Every morning they would have to bury those who had not survived.

One night during the siege, Darlene felt compelled by God to leave her shelter in the dirt, go back to the barracks, and retrieve a Bible. By the time she returned to her ditch the bombing had subsided.

But during Darlene’s brief absence, her refuge had been hit directly and destroyed.

 

 

Finally, in the fall of 1945 the horrific ordeal ended. Darlene returned to her family in America to be nursed back to health. She weighed 80 pounds.

Four years later, Darlene was back in New Guinea. God had brought Gerald Rose into her life, another missionary who also carried a passion for indigenous people. They were married and together raised two sons. For forty years they served God, not only in New Guinea but also in the Outback of Australia.

In 1976, a friend told Darlene she had heard Mr. Yamaji sharing his story on Japanese radio. The angry and cruel prison camp commander had become a changed man because of Jesus.

 

 

No doubt God had used Darlene as an important influence in his life—and in the lives of countless others as well.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Almighty God, we exult in your sustaining power that carries us through even the most excruciating circumstances. You supply impossible strength, courage, and perseverance to endure. And just as Russell told Darlene, you never leave us nor forsake us. Hallelujah!

(Psalm 28:7; Philippians 4:13; Deuteronomy 31:6; James 1:2-4, Deuteronomy 31:8)

 

Sources:

1) http://reneeannsmith.com/a/tag/darlene-deibler-rose/

2) http://pursuedandconquered.blogspot.com/2012/08/bananas-in-prison.html

3) http://www.danielakin.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Psalm-27-The-Lord-Is-My-Light-and-My-Salvation…Darlene-Diebler-Rose-Convocation-Fall-2016-kh.pdf

4) http://www.scripturaltruths.org/Articles/Real%20Life%20Experiences/REAL%20LIFE%20STORIES%20-%20Darlene%20Deibler%20Rose%20-%20Prisoner%20of%20War%20-%20May%202017%20-%20PDF.pdf

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.darlenerose.org; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org;www.canva.com (2); http://www.heartlight.org (2); http://www.canva.com.

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

(Mary McLeod Bethune)

 

Mary turned over in her bed for the umpteenth time seeking a restful position, even though she knew discomfort was not the cause of her sleeplessness–excitement was. Tomorrow morning, October 4, 1904, she would stand in front of her first class of children in her own school: The Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Negro Girls.

Mary smiled, remembering the miracle of learning to read for herself when she was a girl of ten—miraculous because: 1) the provision of education for African-American children was rare in 1885, and 2) out of the seventeen children in her family, she was the one chosen to attend.

 

(Cabin where Mary was born, the fifteenth child out of seventeen)

 

The school was five miles from home, and she had to endure harassment and assault from white children on her daily treks. But Mary knew: this opportunity meant God had purpose for her life.

In 1886 a Quaker missionary financed the continuation of her education at Scotia Seminary in North Carolina.

Seven years later she entered Moody Bible Institute in Chicago as the only African-American among hundreds of white students. Instead of harassment and assault, however, Mary encountered acceptance, proving that “blacks and whites could live and work together with equality” (1).

While at Moody, Mary sensed God leading her to Africa as a missionary. But when it came time to apply, her denomination’s mission board denied her request because she was black.

The disappointment was deeply painful, but Mary soon turned her attention to those of African descent in America, and became a teacher—first in Augusta, Georgia and then in Sumter, South Carolina. She worked tirelessly, not only for her students but also for the surrounding black communities.

Thank you, Lord, for those nine years of teaching experience, Mary prayed. You prepared me well to found this new school.

Granted, there would only be five little girls greeting her in the morning, but it was a beginning. And Mary was confident God would make her school grow.

She chucked to herself. Of course, Lord, you left an awful lot of work for ME to do!

First she found a community in need of a school: Daytona Beach, Florida. Numerous African-American families were moving there, in order to be employed by the newly formed Florida East Coast Railroad.

 

(Workers on the East Coast Railway Extension, 1906)

 

Next Mary found a run-down cottage to rent for eleven dollars per month.  She convinced the owner to accept $1.50 as a down payment.

To supply her school with furniture and other necessities, Mary foraged at the city dump and behind hotels for anything useful. Old peach crates became student desks and chairs, an old barrel became her teacher’s desk.

She retrieved discarded linens, kitchen ware, and cracked dishes for the homemaking and skilled trades she would teach. Everything was scoured, mended and repurposed. Even charred wood had value as substitute pencils.

To cover expenses, Mary sold sweet potato pies and fried fish to wealthy tourists. She canvassed neighborhoods, spoke to church groups and clubs, and distributed leaflets.

Now, opening day was hours away.  And as she finally drifted off to sleep Mary wondered, What might the future hold?

If God had told her, even Mary’s strong faith would have been stretched.

That tiny handful of students in 1904 would grow to almost 250 by 1906, requiring more teachers, an advisory board, and a bigger facility. Among the influential men (black and white) on the board was James M. Gamble of the Proctor and Gamble Company.

 

(Mary and her students, ca. 1905)

 

In 1923 her school would merge with the Cookman Institute, a co-educational school for African-American students in Jacksonville, Florida. Mary was chosen as the first president. Later the Bethune-Cookman Institute became a college and then a university. (Today, nearly 4,000 students attend the school.)

 

(Faith Hall, built in 1907 to accommodate Mary’s growing school;

now part of Bethune-Cookman University)

 

In 1935 Mary helped organize the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) “to connect African-American women across the country and establish a national voice for them” (2).   Mary served as the first president.

A White House Conference of the NCNW met in Washington, DC in 1938. Then president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, offered her the position of Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.

Mary met one-on-one with President Roosevelt several times a year and became good friends with Eleanor.

 

(Eleanor in the middle; Mary to her right)

 

Her participation on various government committees actually spanned the terms of four presidents, from Calvin Coolidge to Harry S. Truman.

 

(Mary’s home in Washington, DC)

 

Mary often said:

 

 

The impossible events of Mary’s life offer ample proof.

 

(Mary McLeod Bethune, 1875-1955)

 

Notes:

(1) http://www.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/protestant/mary_bethune

(2) https://savingplaces.org/stories/mary-mcleod-bethune-bethune-cookman-university-hbcu-history#.WnzP3pM-e8U

 

Sources:

http://www.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/protestant/mary_bethune

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ969859.pdf

https://savingplaces.org/stories/mary-mcleod-bethune-bethune-cookman-university-hbcu-history#.WnzP3pM-e8U

http://www.wciujournal.org/journal/article/mary-mcleod-bethune-an-agent-of-change-and-leadership

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.nationalparkservice.org; http://www.wikimedia.org, http://www.canva.com

 

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On May 30, 1778, eighty-three year old Voltaire lay dying. His had been a writerly life, as he produced plays, poetry, essays, historical and scientific works, over 21,000 letters and over two thousand books and pamphlets.

Now he would never pick up his pen again.

Some of that writing criticized the Christian faith and the church. He had no use for them personally, asserting that a person could achieve moral character through reason. Wasn’t that what Christianity was all about anyway?

But Voltaire had also decided the way to dissolve the tight alliance between the self-serving state church and the totalitarian government of France was to discredit God and the Bible. Then the people would abandon Christianity and the church would become useless.

To that end he wrote in 1758:

 

 

Those twenty years passed. God was not in a pretty plight.

Voltaire made a new prediction around 1775: “Fifty years from now the world will hear no more of the Bible.”*

Of course, Voltaire was eighty years old by this time. He had no hope of being alive to see if his prediction came true.

Three years later on his deathbed, however, Voltaire was not concerned about his predictions. It would seem he was reconsidering if the Christians and their Bible may have been right after all about the importance of faith in Jesus.

Voltaire’s last words, as reported by his doctor, were these:

 

“I am abandoned by God and man! I shall go to hell!

O Christ, O Jesus Christ!”

 

Such a sad end for a brilliant man. We can only hope his last thoughts expressed the faith he fought against for so long.

But what about dying saints? Are they too tortured by doubt, fear, and aloneness?

Far from it.

“The very happiest persons I have ever met with have been departing believers,” said Charles Spurgeon. As a pastor to thousands over thirty-eight years of ministry, he must surely have visited many.

 

(Charles Spurgeon preaches to a crowd in 1858.)

 

In reality, the last remarks of saints most often offer hope, encouragement, and affirmation.

We can look forward to death, like Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)—a Scottish physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor of the kaleidoscope, and writer:

 

 

“I will see Jesus; I shall see Him as He is!

I have had the light for many years.

Oh how bright it is! I feel so safe and satisfied!”

 

Willielma Campbell (1741-1786), patroness of missionary work in Scotland and elsewhere, expressed complete contentment:

 

 

“If this is dying, it is the pleasantest thing imaginable.”

 

And John A. Lyth (1821-1886), a minister who served as a missionary in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), died with his heart bursting with joy:

 

“Can this be death? Why it is better than living!

Tell them I die happy in Jesus!”

 

Another missionary, Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), created a delightful visual with his last words:

 

 

“I go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school.

I feel so strong in Christ.”

 

And the famous evangelist, D. L. Moody, gave us a brief but bright glimpse of what awaits us beyond death.

Moody had been sleeping, although fitfully. When he awoke, Moody said, “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me!” His son thought his father had been dreaming. “No, this is no dream, Will. It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, I must go.”

 

*     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *     *

 

O Father, thank you for this wonderful record of  joy-filled hope for the day when we, too, must go.

Even better, thank you for your great promises that you will be our refuge, even as we die. You will be our guide beyond death. And though we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we have no need to fear for you are with us. Hallelujah!

(Proverbs 14:32b; Psalm 48:14 (GW); Psalm 23:4)

 

 

*Fifty years after Voltaire’s prediction, the Geneva Bible Society was printing Bibles in the house where Voltaire had lived. They even used Voltaire’s printing presses.

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikimedia.com (2); http://www.wikipedia.com; http://www.wikimedia.com (2); http://www.flickr.com.)

 

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“His compassions fail not.

They are new every morning:

Great is thy faithfulness.”

–Lamentations 3:22-23 KJV

 

Thomas read the familiar words from his worn Bible.

Oh Father, he prayed. You have been generously compassionate to me all fifty-seven years of my life– through trial and disappointment, joys and sorrows.

Thomas allowed his thoughts to take him back in time, first to his boyhood home, a log cabin on a small farm in Franklin, Kentucky, where he and his older brother helped their father in the fields and attended a small country school. Neither boy received an education beyond the elementary level.

 

(Typical log cabin school,

this one in the Hensley Settlement of Kentucky)

 

Yet, in 1882 when Thomas was only sixteen, the school board hired him as the new teacher.

Imagine me—just a kid myself—a school teacher, thought Thomas.

He smiled, remembering his favorite part of the school day: reading stories and poems to his students, enriching all of their lives, his included. Thomas puttered at writing poetry himself—an avocation he would enjoy the rest of his life.

Six years later, Thomas’ proficiency with language led to the position of associate editor of his hometown newspaper.

 

(Thomas Obadiah Chisholm)

 

I enjoyed that work and being a contributing member of the community. But you and I both know, Lord, 1893 was when I really began living.

That was the year, at age twenty-seven, Thomas accepted Jesus into his life, through the ministry of Henry Clay Morrison, the founder of Asbury College and Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.

 

(Henry Clay Morrison)

 

Again, Thomas smiled, remembering the day when Dr. Morrison came to him with a surprising proposition: become the editor for his publication, The Pentecostal Herald. Thomas’ mind reeled at the idea of leaving his country community and living in the noise and crowds of Louisville, but in his heart Thomas felt led by God to accept Morrison’s offer.

I thought for sure I would spend the rest of my life in Louisville, but you, Lord, had other plans.

 

(Louisville, KY, ca 1900)

 

As Thomas worked at The Pentecostal Herald, he felt drawn to the pastorate. In 1903, at age thirty-seven, he was appointed to a small church in Scottsville, Kentucky. Thomas not only transitioned into parish life but married life as well, taking Catherine Vandervere as his wife.

 

 

I remember thinking, Well, God, you’ve finally planted me in the work you’ve prepared me to do.

But one year later ill-health demanded Thomas give up the ministry.

Catherine and I were heartbroken, weren’t we, Lord. No sooner had we settled into the Scottsville ministry, than it was over. But you, O God, provided that little farm in Winona Lake, Indiana, and employment with an insurance agency. And just as the scripture says here in Lamentations, your compassions failed not. The Christian community of Winona Lake warmly welcomed us, and you blessed us with the births of our girls, Ruth and Dorothy.

 

 

Then, twelve years later in 1916, God once again led the family to move—this time to New Jersey, where another position with an insurance agency awaited. Very quickly seven more years passed, and now Thomas was fifty-seven years old.

From Kentucky to Indiana to New Jersey you have cared for us, Lord.

Thank you for your great faithfulness, O God, my Father. Never have you forsaken or failed us. Day after day by your hand, everything we have needed you have provided.

And Thomas began to write:

 

Great is thy faithfulness, O God, my Father!

There is no shadow of turning with Thee;

Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not:

As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

 

Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness,

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

 

________________________________

 

In his later years, Thomas sometimes described himself as an old shoe. But look what God did:

Shortly after Thomas wrote “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (in 1923), he sent a collection of his poems to his good friend, William Runyan, who worked for a Christian music publisher. William was also associated with Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. This poem in particular caught his attention and William prayerfully sought to compose a worthy melody.

 

(William H. Runyan)

 

The resulting hymn became a favorite of Dr. Houghton, president of Moody Bible Institute. When he asked a young soloist, George Beverly Shea, to sing a selection of hymns on the Moody radio station. George included Dr. Houghton’s favorite, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

Some years later, the great evangelist, Billy Graham, invited George to join his ministry. In city after city, Billy preached and George Beverly Shea sang, frequently choosing Thomas Chisholm’s hymn.

It quickly grew in popularity. To this day, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is a favorite hymn of many.  (Hear Chris Rice sing it by clicking here.)

 

 

All told, Thomas wrote over 1200 poems over his lifetime, 800 of which were published—poems written by a man with only an elementary education. Among them were more beloved hymns such as “I Want to Be Like Jesus,” “O to Be like Thee!” and “Living for Jesus.”

 

(Thomas Obadiah Chisholm, 1866-1960)

 

His story proves: God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)—even with an old shoe.

 

(Sources: www.sharefaith.com; www.umcdiscipleship.org; www.lifeway.com; www.sermonwriter.com; www.worshipmatters.com; www.zianet.com.)

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.hymnary.org; http://www.hymtime.com; http://www.oldlouisville.com; http://www.digging-history.com; http://www.hippostcard.com; http://www.cyberhymnal.org; Nancy Ruegg; hymntime.com.)

 

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“The whole meaning of history is in the proof

that there have lived people before the present time

whom it is important to meet.”

–Eugene Rosenstock Huessy

 

Betty Greene (1920-1997) is one of them.

 

Eight year-old Betty sat close to the radio, listening intently to the news all America wanted to hear on May 21, 1927: Charles Lindbergh had landed his tiny plane safely in Paris. He had flown nonstop for thirty-three hours and thirty minutes  to cross the Atlantic Ocean. He was the first person to do so. As a result, Charles Lindbergh became a hero to many Americans, including young Betty.

 

 

The next year, she followed the exploits of Amelia Earhart. In June of 1928, Ms. Earhart also flew nonstop across the Atlantic, from Newfoundland to Wales.

 

 

“That’s what I want to do someday—fly airplanes!” Betty asserted. And she began to dream of her own adventures in the sky.

By the time Betty was old enough for flying lessons, however, the Great Depression had settled over the country. Her mom and dad needed every dime to provide necessities for their family of six. Flying lessons were an unaffordable luxury.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Betty received an envelope from one of her uncles. Inside was one hundred dollars—a small fortune at that time. Betty immediately made arrangements for flying lessons.

Not that she could expect to become a commercial pilot. That career was reserved for men in the 1930s. Unless Betty took up stunt aviation, she would have to be content to fly as a hobby—if she could afford access to a plane.

An elderly family friend suggested a creative possibility. Betty might be able to serve as a missionary pilot. “Think of all the time—and sometimes lives—that could be saved if missionaries didn’t have to spend weeks hacking their way through jungles,” she said.

Immediately Betty knew. This is what God wanted her to do.

Before Betty had a chance to pursue such a radical idea, World War II began. Early in the conflict, it became apparent the number of Air Force pilots was inadequate. It was determined that women could be trained to handle some tasks, freeing up men for combat assignments.

Betty was perfectly suited to become a WASP in the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and she was readily accepted into the program.

 

 

Soon she was flying planes from the manufacturing site to military bases and departure points for overseas. She towed aerial targets for soldiers to gain artillery practice—with live ammunition (so say some sources).  And Betty flew missions at high-altitudes, to assist in the development of needed technology for such flights.

Betty’s dream to be a missionary pilot seemed to be on hold as the war continued, but God was about to do immeasurably more than all she could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

While serving as a WASP, Betty wrote two articles for two different Christian magazines about using planes to help missionaries. Three American pilots read the articles and wrote to Betty about their idea to start just such an organization, once the war ended.

On May 20, 1945, the Christian Airmen’s Missionary Fellowship began operation in Los Angeles. Later the name was changed to Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF)—perhaps because their first pilot was not an airman at all. It was Betty.

 

(Preparing for the inaugural flight, February, 1946)

 

That first flight included two women missionaries in need of transportation from southern California to Mexico City, a three-day trip.

On the first leg Betty noticed something coming off the engine, so she made an unscheduled landing at Tuxpan, Mexico to have the plane inspected. The debris turned out to be just flaking paint. Meanwhile the two missionaries made their way to Mexico City on a commercial flight.

Betty and a new passenger, Cameron Townsend (founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators) left Tuxpan for Tuxla Gutierrez, near the Wycliffe Jungle Camp. Along the route Betty stopped in Minatitlan to refuel and then they were off again. However, a heavy storm developed, and they were forced to turn back.

As they headed toward Minatitlan, another setback occurred:  the engine died. Betty kept her head and switched gas tanks, then re-fired the engine. The tactic worked. She and Mr. Townsend safely returned to Minatitlan. Later she discovered that water in the fuel tank had caused the engine to fail.

The next morning, they finally reached Tuxtla. The three-day flight had taken one week. But the troublesome beginnings did not discourage Betty.

She went on to serve as an MAF pilot for sixteen years–in spite of more mishaps, emergency landings on rivers and at least one crash.  She completed 4,640 flights, served in twelve countries, and touched down in another twenty.

Her responsibilities included ferrying aircraft and delivering missionaries, dignitaries, and cargo to remote areas. She also saved lives by transporting ill or injured patients from inaccessible locations back to civilization and medical care.

 

(Betty, center left, in Papua, Indonesia)

 

In 1962 Betty transitioned from pilot-in-the-field to representative-and-recruiter for MAF, serving as an advocate for the organization until her death in 1997.

Today, MAF operates 132 aircraft in more than 25 countries worldwide.

 

(Sites of MAF Bases)

 

 

And it all began with a little girl who dreamed of flying.

 

Sources:  www.dianawaring.com; http://www.footprintsintoafrica.com; http://www.maf.org; http://www.maf-uk.org; http://www.mnnonline.org.

 

Photo credits:  www.flickr.com (2), http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.maf.org (3).

 

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

In the predawn hours of May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls’ experienced hands gripped the ship’s wheel of the Planter, though his heart was pounding. Ahead were five checkpoints along the Charleston River, and then the open sea. Within a few hours he and the fifteen others onboard would be free from slavery.

Or, failing to succeed, they would be sinking the ship, jumping overboard and perishing together. They had already decided: being captured was not an option.

Smalls prayed aloud, for the benefit of his crew and passengers: “Lord, we entrust ourselves into thy hands. Like thou didst for the Israelites in Egypt, please stand over us to our promised land of freedom” (1).

The first checkpoint came into view, its lanterns gleaming gold against the dark night. Even though the sentries would not be able to see him clearly, Smalls had taken the precaution of wearing the captain’s coat and straw hat. He even assumed his captain’s posture. And when Smalls gave the correct whistle signal, they allowed him to pass without question.

Robert whispered another prayer, this time of gratitude and praise. He marveled how God had engineered events to bring him to this moment:

  • At age twelve, Smalls’ master, Mr. McKee of Beaufort, South Carolina, had rented him to an employer in Charleston. Smalls had worked in the city ever since, as waiter, lamplighter, and then wharf hand.
  • Currently he was employed as wheel hand aboard the Confederate supply ship, Planter, under command of Captain Ripley. His circumstances had allowed him to learn how to sail and how to make the correct whistle signals at checkpoints.
  • The captain and white crew members frequently spent their nights in Charleston, not on the ship. This night was one of them.

 

charleston_s-c-_-_street_scene_-_nara_-_525179

(Charleston street scene by Matthew Brady)

 

  • Smalls enjoyed good rapport with the other ship-hand slaves of the Planter. Without them, this daring getaway would have been impossible.
  • The opportunity for escape presented itself when a pre-dawn mission was scheduled for May 13. Smalls’ 3:30 a.m. departure, although earlier than actually scheduled, did not alert the harbor guards.
  • Smalls had time to notify his wife and children that he would pick them up at a prearranged wharf nearby, prior to the first checkpoint.

A small pinpoint of pale light appeared ahead. Checkpoint Two. Again, the Planter slid by without incident as Smalls signaled to those on shore. Three, four, and five also allowed them to pass.

By sunrise they were sailing into safe Union waters. Upon sighting the first vessel of the Union blockade, Smalls took down the Confederate flag and hoisted a white sheet—just in time before Onward sailors began to fire at the Confederate vessel.

His plan had worked; the little band onboard had escaped to freedom. No doubt their shouts of celebration included, “Thank you, Jesus!”

Smalls surprised the captain of Onward with his knowledge of Rebel fortifications and their locations. Also of value: a book of secret flag signals used by the Confederates, and a full cargo of armaments.

It wasn’t long before Smalls had joined the war effort for the Union, helping to enlist Black men to fight. Nearly 5,000 former slaves fought courageously for the North.

For his part, Smalls became the Union Navy captain for the CSS Planter, the ship he had sailed to freedom. He also captained the ironclad, USS Keokuk.

 

uss_keokuk_h59546

(The USS Keokuk)

 

Smalls led Union ships into waters the Confederacy had protected with mines—mines that Small had helped to plant while enslaved in Charleston. Soldiers deactivated the mines, opening those passageways to Union vessels.

Smalls courageously conducted seventeen missions in and around Charleston, which included assisting in the destruction of railroad bridges in the harbor area.

After the war, Smalls and his family returned to Beaufort, South Carolina. He was awarded the rank of Major General of the South Carolina Militia during Reconstruction, and turned his attention to business, education, and finally, politics.  He opened a general store and started a newspaper. He helped establish the first school built for African-American children in Beaufort County.

 

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From 1869 to 1889 Smalls served in both houses of the South Carolina Legislature, and five terms in the U.S. Congress. Referring to his political service, one commentator said, “His record was brilliant, consistent, and indeed he led in all the most prominent measures” (2).

One story in particular highlights Smalls’ Christ-like attitude that impacted his entire life:

 

robert_smalls_house_beaufort_south_carolina

(The McKee/Smalls House in Beaufort, SC)

 

He eventually acquired enough wealth to purchase the house in Beaufort where he and his mother had been slaves of the McKee family. Sometime after Smalls and his family moved in, Mrs. McKee came to the door. By this time she was elderly and perhaps suffering from dementia. She thought the house still belonged to her.

The natural inclination would have been to send her away or have her delivered to her current home. But that was not Robert Smalls’ way. He invited Mrs. McKee inside, gave back to the woman her old bedroom, and then served her.

Robert Smalls died in 1915 at age 76, and was buried with great honors.

In 2001 a Logistics Support Vessel was launched with his name, the Major General Robert Smalls. It was the first ship named for an African-American.  A worthy honoree, indeed.

 

Notes:

(1) Boone, Bishop Wellington, Black Self-Genocide, p. 165.

(2) http://www.docsouth.umc.edu/neh/simmon/simmons.html

 

Sources:  Black Self-Genocide by Bishop Wellington Boone, APPTE Publishing, 2016; http://www.biography.com/people/robert-smalls; http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/138685.aspx; http://www.historynet.com/robertsmalls; http://www.robertsmalls.com; www.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.ibiblio.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (4)

 

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Isaac closed his eyes for a moment and pondered the scripture he had just read:

 

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,

all the earth:

Make a loud noise,

And rejoice, and sing praise.”

–Psalm 98:4 KJV

 

A poem began to take shape in his mind, and he picked up his quill to write.

Poetry came as naturally to Isaac Watts as regular conversation to others. Ever since he was a boy he’d taken great pleasure in rhyme and rhythm.

He also appreciated a heart-stirring tune, which is why, as a young man, he found the chanted church music of the day uninspiring and ponderous. At the urging of his father (also a nonconformist), young Isaac set out to write new hymns. In fact, he may have been among the first composers of contemporary Christian music—contemporary for the late 1600s, that is.

As could be expected, his first songs were rejected by some as unworthy for congregational singing. They even called Isaac a heretic because his lyrics were not direct quotes from scripture.  Despite the critics, however, his first volume of Hymns and Spiritual Songs was published in 1707.

 

page-of-watts-first-hymnal

 

Even today, some of his hymn-titles are familiar, including: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “We’re Marching to Zion,” and “At the Cross.” In all, Isaac Watts wrote more than six hundred hymns.

In 1716 Isaac was hired as an assistant to the minister of Mark Lane Independent Chapel in London, and less than three years later, became the minister. He worked tirelessly and creatively; the congregation grew.

 

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It was one day during that same year of 1719 Isaac chose to meditate on Psalm 98 and was particularly inspired by verse four (quoted above).

Perhaps Isaac pondered the “joyful noise” all the earth would make—if fields, hills, rocks, and plains joined mankind in praise of the Lord, the King. And the words began to flow:

 

DCF 1.0

 

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King:

Let every heart prepare Him room.

And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns!

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy.

 

The four-stanza poem was published in 1719—without benefit of tune.

More than one hundred years later in Boston, Massachusetts, Christian composer, Lowell Mason, was inspired to write an upbeat melody he titled, “Antioch.”

 

220px-lowell_mason

 

This tune needs to be sung, he thought. But finding lyrics with the correct rhythm and a suitable theme proved difficult. Not until three years later, in 1839, did Mason come across the perfect lyrics in Isaac Watt’s Modern Psalmist: “Joy to the World.”

Sing through the hymn and you’ll find no mention of Jesus’ birth—nothing about Mary, Joseph or Bethlehem, nothing about angels, shepherds, or wise men. So how did it become a traditional Christmas carol?

Perhaps pastors and music ministers began choosing the song because it celebrated the impact of Jesus’ birth—the advent of his Spirit to all who believe, and the final advent when Jesus will return to earth and begin his reign as King of kings.

When we sing this well-loved carol, we’re celebrating:

  • The past. “The Lord is come” (stanza one). Two thousand years ago Almighty God became flesh and lived among humanity, to win our hearts and transform our lives.

 

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  • The present. “The Savior reigns” within those of us who make room for him, filling our spirits with the joy of his presence (stanza two).

 

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  • The future. The day is coming when sin and sorrow will cease, God’s blessings will flow forever (stanza three), and he will “rule the world with truth and grace” (stanza four).

 

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The “wonders of his love” (also from stanza four) include all these truths and more.

 

So…

 

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“Shout your praises to God, everybody!

Let loose and sing!”

–Psalm 98:4, MSG

 

JOY TO THE WORLD!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest; http://www.yourworshiptools.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest; http://www.wikipedia.org (2); http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.tumbr.com.)

 

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