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Archive for June, 2012

Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones
(Psalm 116:15).

What would you do if you were serving on a foreign field as a missionary and serious, life-threatening trouble started? Would you still be able to go one with your work, trusting the Lord to take care of you?

This is a question that all missionaries in countries with hostile governments must answer for themselves. There are still a lot of places in the world that are in darkness. The challenges are great and require great courage.

This week’s story is about two women, Ruth Hege and Irene Ferrel, who served God in a dangerous area of the world in the 1960’s – Belgian Congo, now called Zaire.

Congo declared its independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960. People living there at the time were hopeful for a new and better country. They were fooled as we all now know by promises that never materialized. Instead of prosperity and peace they got poverty and civil war. Communist backed leaders worked to gain control when the people began to revolt.

One of the methods used by Peking-backed Mulele Pierre was to train disillusioned youth, the Jeunesse, in guerrilla warfare to terrorize the villagers into submitting to his authority. The Jeunesse were trained to believe that they were righteous and invincible.

It was one of these insurgent youth groups that attacked the Baptist Mid-Mission School in Mangungu on January 25, 1964.

The day before this, the two women missionaries, Ruth and Irene had been warned that other missions had been attacked and some missionaries were harmed. A Mission Aviation Fellowship airplane had flown over dropping them a note and asking them to signal if they wanted to be evacuated. They prayed about their situation and signaled that they wanted to be airlifted by helicopter later. They expected the helicopter within hours. It didn’t show up.

In the night, the Jeunesse broke into their house, stealing whatever they could and threatening the women. The drug-crazed, half-naked, angry youths dragged the women outside roughly and threw them on the ground. Ruth and Irene had no idea what would happen next. Suddenly, one of the terrorists aimed his bow and arrow at them. To Ruth’s horror, the arrow went straight into the left side of Irene’s throat. Irene reached up and pulled the arrow out, causing blood to gush everywhere. “I am finished,” she gasped. She took a small step and collapsed. Ruth fell to the ground next to Irene. At some point she lost consciousness. She woke later to find that they had been dragged under a large shade tree near their house.

Ruth could hear the sound of the frenzied, drug-crazed youth smashing and destroying everything in sight. She began to tremble uncontrollably. Several times men approached her and probably would have killed her if they’d known she was alive. But the miracles that God would work to help Ruth over the next four days began right then. Ruth was able to be perfectly still when four different times bandits came near her. She did not even wince when one yanked a lock of her hair out to wear as a fetish.

The mob then lit most of the compound on fire and eventually left. Ruth dragged herself to the garage and hid. She longed to talk to her faithful friend, Irene, but she knew that Irene was safely in the arms of the Lord, away from this terror and torture.

After a long, lonely night, Ruth crept out of the garage. She found a wound in her arm, but thank the Lord, it was clean. She began to wonder, “Why had the promised helicopter delayed so long in coming? Why had we not been taken to safety before this heinous and unnecessary cruelty? … Why was I left?”

Anyone in this situation would feel the same way. Ruth was able to find peace in the fact that God knows best. The Father would never do anything that is not perfectly loving and wise and good. She would wait to see what God’s purpose was in allowing all that had happened.

Ruth and some Congolese friends buried Irene. A nurse dressed her wound, taping it due to lack of better supplies. Here again, the Lord had blessed her by keeping away infection.

Several times in the next day, the Jeunesse tried to plunder whatever was left in the compound. Ruth was miraculously spared each time. Her friends hid her in a hospital hut and she spent another night of terror wondering if the looters would return and perhaps try to burn down the building she was hiding in with her in it. God sent a loud thunder storm in the night. This was His answer to Ruth’s prayers; the Jeunesse would not skulk about during a storm.

Over the next several days Ruth received help from the Congolese Christians in the area. They tried to help her get to another town where she could get a plane. They traveled there, but along the way she was captured again and taken to a leader’s house. There she was questioned and threatened with death. Miraculously, she was spared again. The Jeunesse had captured the town she was traveling to and she would not get a plane there. Surprisingly, the leader decided to escort Ruth back to Mangungu.

In the meantime, Mission Aviation Fellowship planes had been searching for Ruth. She tried to wave at one, but they didn’t see her. She began to despair of being rescued. Then one morning she heard a droning sound in the distance. She tried to run into an opening to signal it, but was too weak from hunger and lack of care to run very fast. A kind villager came to her with a bicycle and pushed her to the clearing. When she arrived she noticed a helicopter had come. Finally, after four days of terror, Ruth was rescued.

Since that time many have questioned the wisdom of sending lone missionaries into dangerous places. Some have thought that it is a huge waste of life sending people into those lands. Their thinking goes like this, “What a waste that a consecrated young woman should thus throw her life away. Irene Ferrel was completely wrong in her thinking. The Africans did not ask her to come to them nor did they need her. They are happy in their own pagan beliefs and superstitions. Why thrust Christianity, a western religion, upon them?”

Jesus gives us the answer, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45,46). Irene Ferrel gave her all to take the message of the Gospel to those who are lost in darkness. If her life was wasted, then so were the lives of all of the martyrs since the first century.

Ruth was spared, but she soon realized that God had a new task for her. Back home, after recovering her health, she told her story to others. A book was published, We Two Alone. When asked why Irene was killed, she responded, “Only eternity will reveal the harvest that was reaped from the grain of wheat which fell into the ground in Congo” (John 12:24). Many young people were dedicated to following Christ no matter the cost; others renewed their cold hearts with a new love for God and for missions.

We are pretty comfortable here in the United States in the twenty-first century. What have you done for others lately? We are not all asked to sacrifice our lives, but how about sacrificing some luxuries and sending the money to missions instead? Just how much are you willing to give up in order for others to know the joy of salvation?

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Margaret and Richard Baxter were an unlikely couple, yet their story is one of the most romantic Puritan love stories ever told.

Margaret Charlton was born into a wealthy English family in 1639. Her family had lived in Apley Castle, near Shrewsbury for three centuries. In 1644, when Margaret was just five years old, the Parliamentarians sacked the castle, burning part of it to the ground and seizing much of the personal property. (The Parliamentarians and the Royalists were the two sides of the English Civil War. The Royalists supported King Charles I; the Parliamentarians were trying to get the king to obey his own laws and rule fairly.) The memory of this traumatic time would stay with Margaret for the rest of her life.

Margaret was a precocious child. She grew up very self-centered and rebellious. She did not profess faith in Christ until she was twenty years old. She realized her sinfulness and was convicted due to the preaching of her future husband, Richard Baxter. Baxter was already a famous preacher by this time and twenty-four years older than Margaret.

Margaret had struggled with the emptiness and pain in her life and had much turmoil inside. She wrote to Richard Baxter often and received counseling from him. It did not come as a surprise to many when she realized that she was in love with him. Since Richard had been a confirmed bachelor this made it difficult for her. Ladies did not communicate their feelings openly in those days. She carried her secret for a number of years.

Once when she was ill, her mother asked friends, including Richard to pray for Margaret. She was wonderfully healed and Margaret’s mother had a day of thanksgiving to celebrate God’s blessings. Margaret’s feelings for Richard only deepened.

Richard Baxter’s care and concern for his whole congregation was superlative. He wrote a book on the subject, The Reformed Pastor. based mostly on his own exemplary example. This book is still widely read in seminaries today. Richard cared for all of his parishioners, but there seemed to have been a special affection growing between him and Margaret by this time.

He went to London for a couple of years. During that time, Margaret’s mother died (1661). She had been really close to her mother and now she was devastated. Richard preached the sermon at her funeral. It was at this time, many believe, that Margaret decided to get brave and propose marriage to him. They began a secret engagement that lasted until September 10, 1662, when they were married.

Their marriage was shocking to many, not only because of the age gap, but also because of the difference in their financial circumstances. Tongues wagged when the former confirmed bachelor suddenly married this young, vivacious, and wealthy woman. In order to try to stop the gossip, Richard asked Margaret to agree that he would have no legal claims on her money or property. Margaret was willing to do this. She was married to the man she loved and had dreamed about for years. She agreed to comfort and care for him for the rest of her life. Her only sorrow about giving up claims to much of her money came later in life when she wished to work among the poor. She could have done so much more if she could have used the income from her estates.

Richard worked very hard at his writing, producing 128 books in addition to all of his letters and other correspondence. This was in large part due to Margaret’s oversight of all of the everyday concerns in life. Richard found out, as many other ministers did, that he could do a lot more with a good wife to help him.

Things would not prove to be a bed of roses for the Baxter’s. Richard would not conform to the state church. The Anglican Church at that time insisted that all preachers be licensed through them. It is hard for us to imagine how the state could have control of the church like that, but that is how it was in 17th century England. No one was allowed to preach without the permission of King Charles II. Richard and many other non-conformist preachers would not go against their consciences. (Recall that John Bunyan lived during this time period. You can read about his godly wife, Elizabeth in another posting on this blog (July, 2010). While Elizabeth ministered to John in prison, he was able to write Pilgrim’s Progress.)

Margaret would get her chance to show her entire devotion to Richard when he was arrested in 1669, while they were serving in their house church in Acton. Richard had refused to use the state sponsored prayer book and would not take an oath of non-resistance to the state church. He was sentenced for six months, but was able to get out on a technicality after a few weeks. So completely loyal was Margaret that she insisted on joining him in prison! A friendly jailor allowed her to make the prison room comfortable for Richard and herself. Richard was grateful for her care and later wrote, “I think she had scarce ever a pleasanter time in her life than while she was with me there.” This may sound rather chauvinistic to us, but Margaret was not only a woman very much in love, she was also a strong, determined woman who did not do things by halves. Today’s liberal woman would probably criticize Margaret’s actions, but Margaret only saw an opportunity to minister.

After Richard’s release, they had to move away from Acton or risk re-arrest. He was not able to preach openly again until 1672, when the Act of Uniformity was passed, allowing ministers of other churches besides the State Anglican Church the freedom to preach. They were able to move to London and spent happy years together. During her later years Margaret raised money to build several chapels for preachers who worked in poor areas. She began a school for poor children. She wanted them to attend free of charge and so she solicited money from her friends. She was very generous and not very patient with people who would not donate money for the poor.

With all of the trauma in her life – her childhood home destroyed in the Civil War, the serious illness suffered in her teens, a near collapse of a church they attended, the “Great Plague of 1665”, the “Great Fire of London – 1666”, many other fires including one right next door to their house, and the constant vilification of her husband, it was no wonder that at times Margaret thought that she might lose her mind. There was a history of mental illness in her family. Margaret sometimes lost sleep due to her fearfulness. Richard knew that her illness was physical and due to stress. Margaret was a strong Christian.

It was sad then that her early death was due to ignorance of medicine in their day. About three years before she died, Margaret did suffer from anxiety. She had pain in one of her breasts and believed that she might be dying of cancer. She prepared herself to die. Later the pain moved to her right kidney. She tried several remedies but only got worse. Finally, the doctors followed the common practice of bleeding her and she lost the last of her strength. After severe illness for twelve days, she died on June 14, 1681, aged only forty-two. She was buried in the grave she had built for her mother. Richard continued to live on lonely and sad for ten more years, dying in 1691 at the age of seventy-five.

The picture of Puritan women is usually a dour one. Historians often portray the women as completely silent and in the background. How different than that Margaret was!! She was very much a partner in the Gospel with her husband. She believed, as other Puritan women, that her personal salvation required her to read her Bible, pray, sing, and journalize her experiences.

Richard and Margaret did not have children. Margaret knew this was from the hand of God and saw it as an opportunity to spend her time serving alongside her husband. She demonstrated true courage by opening her home to the other non-conformist preachers, because arrest was as much a reality for her as for them.

Margaret actively shared in Richard’s pastoral matters. She was openly evangelistic. She had compassion for the poor. Though she suffered from occasional anxiety, her neighbors constantly remarked about her cheerfulness. She was unassuming and unselfish and loved wherever she went.

What can we learn from her example? It would be easy to say that her devotion to her husband was just due to the times in which she lived. But that would be over-simplistic.  Yes, she knew her place as a godly wife, but she in no way believed that women were lesser beings than men, created only to serve them. She was able to see her calling in the greater context of the kingdom of God. Margaret loved Richard deeply, but she loved God more and by helping her husband with the domestic affairs, he was free to serve God better and the Gospel advanced further than it would have. She is an example to us of what it means to put Christ first.

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For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39).

 

Sarah Edwards knew intimately all of life’s joys and sorrows. She was blessed with a loving and faithful husband, eleven children, and many good friends. But she also suffered the loss of her home, her reputation, several children, and eventually her husband. She knew what prosperity was like, and also extreme poverty. She knew security and comfort, but also very real mortal danger. When she proclaimed Romans 8:38,39 as one of her favorite verses, she meant it and lived it.

Sarah Pierrepont was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1710. She was the daughter of a famous minister, James Pierrepont. Her family was wealthy and respected in this Puritan community. Sarah’s father died when she was only four, but her mother continued to raise her in a godly fashion.

Sarah was not only a beautiful young woman, but she was deeply pious. Jonathan Edwards was struck by this inner beauty in Sarah, impressed with her joy in the Lord, and loved her for her passion for God. Sarah loved to take walks and think about God and the beauty of His creation and often burst into song praising Him.

Sarah and Jonathan were married on July 28, 1727. She was seventeen; he was twenty-five. Jonathan had been ministering as co-pastor of the church in Northampton, where his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, had been ministering since 1669. This dynamic preacher was leading one of the largest congregations in New England. Jonathan would become the senior pastor when Solomon Stoddard died in 1729.

In the next few years, thanks in part to Jonathan Edwards, the First Great Awakening, which spread throughout the colonies, would occur. After preaching a sermon that is still famous to this day, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, Jonathan noted that church members were repenting and renewing their lives in droves. In a congregation where the love of God had grown somewhat cold over the years, revival broke out. Three Hundred people were converted in six months.

This was a real spiritual high for Jonathan and Sarah. Their home was crowded with people seeking spiritual guidance for many years. Of course, they gave the credit for the change in people’s lives to the Holy Spirit.

Sarah underwent a spiritual “revival” of her own. Her experience has been described by some as mystical, by others as ecstatic. Once while Jonathan was away from home, she took to her bed and was prostrate for nineteen days. She was alternately very talkative and then unable to speak. She felt the love of God and the love of her neighbors so much that she would get up and dance around for joy. Many criticized her experience as nervous instability. When the very serious Jonathan came home he questioned her carefully to find out what happened.

Jonathan had been known as the quiet, scholarly type, not given to mystical experience. He became convinced after questioning Sarah that her experience was real. He gave it time to see what would happen. Very real changes took place in her life and he became convinced that intimate communion with God could indeed manifest itself in the experiences such as Sarah had. Over the coming years, Jonathan would see that Sarah’s peace and joy were continual.

Where once Sarah feared the gossip and criticism that was normal for all pastor’s wives, she now was only concerned with what God thought of her. Once she was worried about all of the dangers present in the mid 1700’s for herself, her husband, and her children. Now she was totally resigned to God. She knew for certain that He was her protector and would always love her. She would totally trust in Him from then on.

It was a good thing that she resigned her all to God, because now the testing would begin.

In just a few more years, around 1742, the Lord would plummet the Edwards’ from the spiritual high to a low point. A disgruntled cousin of Jonathan’s would spread slander around ruining the minister’s reputation and eventually resulting in his dismissal from the church in 1750. Jonathan and Sarah took the high road, neither fighting back nor feeling the need to defend themselves. Sarah proved her new love and conciliation toward God and others by never uttering a bad word about any of the people in the congregation who were engaged in the gossip.

Sarah also suffered the trials of war. The French and Indian War began in 1744. It was actually a war between England and France, and both sides hired the Indians to help them. The colonists became targets as the French paid money for scalps. Several of Sarah’s neighbors actually lost their lives in this way. A watchtower was built in their yard so that the town’s militia could keep a look out for Indian attacks. Friends tried to get them to leave, but their response was that they were safest where God wanted them. Sarah was courageously depending on God, proving that her promise to rely only on Him was genuine.

Another testing from God came when Sarah’s daughter, Jerusha, died from tuberculosis. A famous missionary to the native Americans, David Brainerd came to visit the Edwards’. Jerusha and David fell in love. It seemed like one of those matches made in Heaven since both young people were intensely devoted to God and to telling of His salvation to others. But David Brainerd had been suffering from consumption for some time in 1747. Jerusha attempted to nurse him. David died in October, and Jerusha the following February 1748. Sarah could have been bitter, but she knew that she would see Jerusha again in Heaven.

After they were dismissed, penniless, from the church in Northampton, Jonathan and Sarah moved to the frontier where they worked among the native Americans. How different this was from the city. But Sarah, always trusting God to provide, adapted to her new surroundings easily. Actually she enjoyed the country where she could go for walks in God’s beautiful creation. Their children enjoyed making friends with the native children and several of them even became bilingual.

Sarah would experience the joy of seeing her daughters happily married. Of course the grandchildren would add much to their family as well.

But God would again send her mixed blessings. In 1757 Jonathan accepted the call to become the president of New Jersey College. While he was there, he and their daughter Esther both took the inoculation for smallpox. Though there were risks with the inoculation, they were minimal compared to getting the disease itself. As the Lord would have it, Jonathan did not recover from the inoculation and died in 1758. Esther died shortly afterwards leaving two orphaned children behind.

Sarah was devastated but though she had lost two dear ones, she still loved God who gave her blessings and took them away. She said, “The Lord has done it: He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives and he has my heart.”

Sarah began to raise her two grandchildren. She was still healthy at age forty-eight, but she contracted dysentery and died after being ill only five days. She died peacefully and was buried in the graveyard with Jonathan.

Both Jonathan and Sarah died tragic, early deaths. But their influence was felt for many years. The Great Awakening transformed many in large, spiritually sleepy churches. The groundwork was laid for Protestant missions.

Nine of Sarah’s eleven children grew up to live fruitful, fulfilled lives. Eventually over 100 missionaries were numbered from this one family. Thousands upon thousands have been blessed by the writings of Jonathan Edwards. His ability to produce so many books was largely due to Sarah’s support, especially during all of the times of adversity, danger, and poverty.

Near the end of her life, she wrote in a letter, “O what a legacy my husband and your father has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.”

A wonderful DVD that you can obtain for more information on this courageous woman is:
“An Uncommon Union: The Life and Love of Sarah and Jonathan Edwards”.

It is distributed by Vision Video, Box 540, Worcester, PA 19490.
http://www.visionvideo.com

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How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”  (Romans 10:14,15).

Reading the life of Ann Hasseltine Judson was more convicting for me than any other biography I have read recently. Ann gave her all, even sacrificing her life and she did it for the right reasons. Here are her own words:

I feel willing and expect, if nothing in providence prevents, to spend my days in this world in heathen lands. Yes, Lydia, I have about come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in His providence, shall see fit to place me. My determinations are not hasty, or formed without viewing the dangers, trials, and hardships attendant on a missionary life. Nor were my determinations formed in a consequence of an attachment to an earthly object; but with a sense of my obligations to God, and with a full conviction of its being a call in providence, and consequently, my duty.

When thinking of the great price that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ paid for my salvation, I wonder “How can I possibly repay that debt?” There is no way. I am just one person and my life seems inconsequential, but the truth is, it is not inconsequential to God or He wouldn’t have sent His Son to redeem me.

We all look for meaning in life. Some also look for fame. Ann Judson only wanted to serve Christ; she did not seek fame. God would put her through many fiery trials and then afterward would use the story of her experiences to help wake up Christians in the United States to the plight of all those in other parts of the world who had not heard the Gospel. She truly was an ornament to her profession of faith.

Ann Hasseltine was born in Bradford, Massachusetts on December 22, 1789. This was the time when the United States was a brand new country. There was missionary activity among the Indian tribes but the idea of this little country sending out missionaries to other parts of the world was as yet unknown.

Having grown up as industrious, vivacious, and attractive, Ann thought that she would continue to lead a popular social life for the rest of her days. She later wrote, “I so far surpassed my friends in gayety and mirth that some of them feared that I had but a short time to continue in my life of folly and should be suddenly cut off.”

But in 1806, at the age of sixteen, Ann heard a moving sermon that caused her to feel the weight of conviction and her life was changed forever. God took her frivolous heart away and gave her a new serious heart.

About this time a man who would later become world renowned as a missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson, noticed this serious young Christian woman. Adoniram and a few other young men had been meeting at the Theological Seminary at Andover discussing how they could go and preach the Gospel among the unreached peoples in Asia. Adoniram wanted to make missionary a life long commitment and he desired to take a godly wife with him. He knew the dangers, but he asked Ann’s father for her hand in marriage. After due consideration, Ann accepted knowing the risks. She knew that she may never see her family again, but she wanted to follow and serve Christ. “Blessed Jesus, I am Thine forever. Do with me what Thou wilt; lead me in the path in which Thou wouldest have me to go, and it is enough.” Ann knew that she had a call from God for a special purpose and she was willing to obey.

There are some really good biographies of Ann that are available. My purpose is not to recount all of her experiences on the mission field in Burma. I just want to say that in spite of the death of two children (her third child would die six months after she did), loneliness from the many times her husband was away, (he was lost at sea one time for months), nearly starving to death while trying to care for her husband when he was imprisoned for about two years, and suffering through illnesses which almost claimed her life several times, she never lost her vision.

In her day, she was not only one of the first American missionaries, but probably the first woman missionary to go out from this country. Many people opposed her. She had ample opportunity to give up and return to the States and live out the rest of her life with her family. No one would have blamed her, especially in light of her serious illness.

But the thought of salvation for Burmese women kept her zeal high. “I desire no higher enjoyment in this life than to be instrumental in leading some poor, unreached women to the knowledge of the Savior. … Let me have no object in life but the promotion of Thy glory.”

After about ten years in Burma, Ann became so ill that Adoniram and she decided that she should return to the States for proper medical care. While she was there, Ann’s only thought was to get well as quickly as possible to return to her Burmese women’s fellowship. God used her illness though to give her time to speak and to publish an account of what He had been doing in the East. Everywhere she went she engendered support for the cause of missions.

Ann did go back to Burma. Her health was ruined during the time that she provided aid to her husband in prison. Eventually he was freed. While he was away on business in the Burmese capitol, she succumbed to a fever and died on October 24, 1826.

What can we learn from Ann’s life? She is a great example of unselfishness and love for the Lord and for the lost. I am praying that God will make my heart more tender to those who do not know Him. What a privilege to know the Savior. How can we keep this Good News to ourselves? I know that I fall far short of being an ornament to my profession of faith. I’m sure that I look like a hypocrite many times. I pray that God will enable me to “walk the walk” that I profess with my mouth.

Things in our country have gone down hill since the Puritans came here. It seems at times that most people have forgotten the One Who has blessed them. I pray that women will be stirred to remember their Savior and the joy that comes from serving Him. Ann shows us the way:

How much of heaven might Christians enjoy even here on earth if they would keep in view what ought to be their great object in life. If they would but make the enjoyment of God their main pursuit, how much more consistent would their profession be with their conduct, how much more useful their lives, and how much more rapidly they would ripen for eternal glory. … One degree of grace attained in this world is worth more than every earthly enjoyment.

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