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Archive for February, 2017

“Don’t be afraid, because a kind providence is watching over you, and – you’ll see – everything will work out in the end.”     St. Josephine Bakhita

st-josephine-bakhitaSlavery is supposed to have been abolished, but today, millions around the world are enslaved, victims of human trafficking. Traffickers prey on the helpless, most often women and children. Even poor men are used and exploited for the benefit and gain of others, and some spend their entire lives never knowing the basic human freedoms that we so often take for granted.

Our story this week is about a woman who was trafficked as a child – St. Josephine Bakhita. God brought this daughter through many trials and her story of courage and grace is very inspirational.

“My family lived in the middle of Africa…” Josephine knew precisely where she was born though not exactly when. Due to the years of torture she endured “Bakhita” did not remember her original name either. However, she always held in loving memory her home in a village called Al-Qoz in Darfur. The name means ‘Sandy Hill’ and it is at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.[1]

Her father was a landowner overseeing a large staff of field laborers and herdsmen, and the village head man was her uncle. Her family was well-off, but most importantly, they were loving and close. Josephine recalls, “It was made up of father, mother, three brothers and three sisters, plus four others whom I never knew because they died before I was born. I had a twin sister; I’ve no idea what became of her or of any of them, after I was stolen. I was as happy as could be, and didn’t know the meaning of sorrow.”

Josephine’s story shows one of the most tragic things about human trafficking: the way it also destroys families. One day when she went out to play with a friend, Josephine was suddenly kidnapped by Arab slave traders. She was about 9 years old.

For the next 12 years Josephine would be bought and resold many times. One slaver gave her the name ‘Bakhita’. It means ‘Lucky’ and was a very common name for slaves. Lucky for the slave owners, but not for Josephine. She and another girl attempted to escape one time. How she longed to find her way home. But Bakhita was quickly found and brought back. The slaver eventually brought them to a market for sale.

Her treatment as a slave varied from one owner to the next. Her first owner was a wealthy Arab who gave her to his daughters as a maid. This went fairly well considering the circumstances until she angered the owner’s son. “He immediately seized a whip to flog me. I fled into the other room to hide behind his sisters. I should never have done that! He flew into a rage, dragged me out of there, flung me on the ground and with the whip and with his foot gave me so, so many blows. Finally, a kick to my left side made me lose consciousness. The slaves had to carry me to my sleeping mat, where I lay for over a month.”

When Bakhita recovered she was put to other temporary work and then resold. Worse torture was still in store for her. A Turkish general bought her. His wife ordered her to be scarred. It was a custom of that culture for slaves to show honor to their masters by wearing tattoos. These were given in a very cruel way. Indeed, Josephine Bakhita would eventually suffer a total of 114 scars from this abuse.

She remembered, “A woman expert in this cruel art arrived. She took us to the porch, while the mistress stood behind us, whip in hand. The woman had a dish of white flour fetched, and another of salt, and a razor. She ordered the first one (of three girls. Josephine’s turn was last.) to lie down on the ground and two of the strongest slaves to hold her, one by the arms and the other by the legs. Then she bent over the poor girl and, using the flour, began to trace on her belly about sixty fine marks. I stood there, watching everything, knowing that afterwards they were going to perform the same torture on me. Once the marks were completed the woman took the razor and swish, swish, sliced along each mark she’d traced, while the poor girl groaned, and blood welled up from each cut. When this operation was finished she took the salt and rubbed it as hard as she could over each wound, so that it would go in and enlarge the cut, and keep the edges open. The agony and torment! The victim was writhing in pain, and I was shaking in anticipation.”

When her turn came, Bakhita received cuts on her chest, belly, and right arm. She kept thinking, “’This is it: I’m going to die,’ especially when she rubbed the salt into me.” She and the other two girls were left on mats, unable to move for over a month.

Later Bakhita was sold to the Italian Vice Consul, Calisto Legnani, who proved to be a kinder master. When he decided to return to Italy, Bakhita begged him to take her along. He agreed and when they got to Italy she was given to another family. There she served as a nanny.

Her new mistress wanted to travel to be with her husband and left her child, Mimmina, and Bakhita in the custody of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. There Mimmina could get some education while her mother traveled. While they were there, Bakhita learned about God.

Josephine later said that she had always known about the God Who created all things, but did not know Who He was. The Sisters answered all of her questions and Bakhita made a decision to follow Christ. She desired to remain at the convent when her mistress returned.

Her mistress tried to talk her out of it and Josephine admitted that she would really miss Mimmina, but she believed that her decision was a call from Christ. The sisters believed it too and tried to make a way for her to stay.

The case went to court, and thankfully, it was discovered that slavery had been outlawed in Sudan before Josephine was born. Therefore, she could not lawfully be made a slave. Now Josephine was free to live her own life. She chose to remain with the Canossian Sisters.

She was baptized on January 9, 1890 and took the name Josephine Margaret and Fortunata. Fortunata is the Latin translation for the Arabic ‘Bakhita’.

Josephine became a novice and then eventually took her final vows on December 8, 1896 with the Canossian Daughters of Charity. She was assigned to a convent in Schio, Vicenza. For the next 42 years of her life Josephine served as a doorkeeper and cook at the convent. She also traveled and spoke. She helped many nuns who were training to be missionaries in Africa.

Josephine was kind to children and was known to have surreptitiously lifted her sleeve to show mother_bakhitathem her scars. At first the Italian children were in awe of her because they did not see many black sisters, but they soon grew to love her and call her ‘Black Mother’.

Gentle and quiet with a ready smile she became known affectionately as the “little brown sister”. After some years she was honored with the title “Black Mother”. When people would ask her story and then offer sympathy, Josephine would sometimes say that she should thank her kidnappers. Though God brought her to Himself in such a difficult way she was thankful for Jesus Christ. She told others that they should serve and love God no matter what. Her words really carried some weight!!

Josephine lived through two world wars and many other trials but always remained firm in the belief that God was watching over her. She was an encouragement to thousands and thousands throughout the rest of her life.

Josephine went to be with her Savior on February 8, 1947. Josephine is the patron saint of Sudan.

 

 

[1] All quotes from the booklet by Jean Olwen Maynard, “Josephine Bakhita: A survivor of Human Trafficking”, Catholic Truth Society, 2015.

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“How in the world could I have lived such a helpful life as I have lived had I not been blind?”        Frances Jane “Fanny” Crosby Alstyne

crosbyov2In her life­time, Fanny Crosby was one of the best known Christian women in the United States. Today, most American hymnals contain some of the over 9000 hymns that she wrote. There probably isn’t anyone who goes to church who hasn’t sung one of her hymns.

Frances Jane “Fanny” Crosby was born in 1820 and died in 1915. Though blind ever since a quack doctor ruined her eyesight while treating an eye infection when she was a baby, she never let her blindness make her feel sorry for herself. She turned her blindness into a blessing for millions around the whole world who enjoy her many hymns to this day.

Recently I watched a video production of her story. It is part of a “Testimony” series of videos that fanny-crosby-videoyou can easily find online and is titled, “The Fanny Crosby Story”. The video is only 46 minutes long and could be shown at church or any small group meetings for study and worship. Though it is not the best production of a documentary I have ever seen, it is very inspiring.

 

fanny-and-husbandThe video relates her story from birth until death. People often wonder if a blind person can marry and have children. Well, Fanny married a blind man and they had a child. Tragically, the child died. Still Fanny led a full and happy life. She helped others until the day of her death.

 

 

 

Darlene Neptune, author of “Fanny Crosby Still Lives”, is one of the narrators. Darlene Neptunedarlene-neptune-crosby is considered the world’s leading authority on Fanny Crosby and frequently presents dramatizations of Fanny’s life to audiences around the country. I would highly recommend her book.

fanny-autobiographyI have also read “Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography”. If you enjoy watching a movie and reading the book as much as I do, you will be very inspired by both of these books.

 

 

There were a couple of things about this video production that were disappointing. The other narrators were very amateurish in comparison to Darlene Neptune. Also some of the music in the background was from other composers. I would have thought that with over 9000 hymns to choose from the background music would have all been familiar Fanny Crosby hymns.

Nevertheless, at the end of the video, choirs sing one of Fanny Crosby’s most famous and favorite hymns “Blessed Assurance” and you will feel like joining in and praising the Lord!

Once a preacher sympathetically remarked, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when He showered so many other gifts upon you.” Fanny replied quickly, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?” “Why?” asked the surprised minister. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior!”

Some day the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing.
But, O, the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story — saved by grace.

Some day my earthly house will fall,
I cannot tell how soon ‘twill be,
But this I know — my All in All
Has now in heaven a place for me,
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story — saved by grace.

 

 

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I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.
Dorothy Day

d-d-entertaining-anglesRecently I came across a DVD that does a pretty fair job of telling the story of Dorothy Day’s life.

In our busy world it is often easier to watch a good video than to find time for books. I would still recommend reading the biography of Dorothy Day as well as her own writings. They are very inspiring.

The video is titled: Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story.

It is done by “Paulist Pictures”. You can get the DVD from Amazon or many other religious organizations that sell books and biographies of historical Christians.

I thought that the production of the movie was well-done. The actors, Moira Kelly as Dorothy Day and Martin Sheen as her friend and mentor Peter Maurin were very believable in their parts. Often other movies are ruined by the shallowness of the acting but in this production Moira Kelly and Martin Sheen gave very strong performances.

I really appreciated the introduction to the movie – It showed Dorothy in prison in the early 1960’s for protesting the war in Vietnam. It gave the viewer a glimpse of another facet of her life besides caring for the poor. Dorothy believed in peace and justice and was willing to practice what she preached! She went to prison several times.

The scene in the prison may or may not have been a real event in her life, but it pictures for the viewer just how much Dorothy loved the ‘unlovely’.  She comforts a woman cell mate who is quite agitated, seemingly coming off of drugs. As Dorothy sits with the woman’s head in her lap, the woman vomits on Dorothy whose reaction is only kindness and concern. The woman is moved by Dorothy’s kindness and wants to know “What is the story of your life?”

Dorothy begins a reminiscence. She reflects back to the time that she lived like a bohemian in Greenwich village along with friends who were trying to find answers to poverty in socialism and communism. No one in the crowd believed in God. Dorothy herself was very skeptical.

Over the next few years Dorothy suffered from failed love affairs and had many heartbreaks. But she encounters a wonderful nun who shows her love. The nun is also engaged in helping the poor. Dorothy wonders what the nun gets out of it. Dorothy finds out that just helping others gives you great joy.

I won’t give away any more details. I hope that this has whetted your appetite to see a film about a very courageous woman. A woman who did many things that she regretted in her early life but found forgiveness and love in the Lord Jesus. A woman who did not look back but spent her time helping others more unfortunate than she was.

In our day especially, women can be encouraged that they can do great things for God. Dorothy was a single mother with no money whose legacy includes over 100 “soup kitchens” and other places of charity for the poor. She ministered to the lives of thousands of angels.

And if you have some time, read the books too!!

Following are some pictures of the real Dorothy along with some of her most famous quotes.

quote-the-gospel-takes-away-our-right-forever-to-discriminate-between-the-deserving-and-the-dorothy-day-44-23-97

dorothy-day-poverty

 

 

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Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.                 Helen Keller

It was noted by one of Helen Keller’s biographers in 1960 that if a worldwide poll were to be taken to determine the most outstanding woman of their generation, no doubt the top selection would be Helen Keller.

I would say that even in 2017, if a poll were taken of women whose lives were a tremendous influence for good, Helen Keller would be still be among the top on the list. The work that she did for the blind and other handicapped people has helped untold numbers of people.

And those of us who are not physically disabled can still be inspired by her courage.

helen-keller-youngHelen Adams Keller was born a normal, healthy girl on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She had nothing wrong with her vision or hearing until she was about nineteen months old. Then in February 1882 Helen developed a severe congestion of the stomach and brain. In those days the doctors called it “brain fever”, but they really did not know much about the condition medically. Modern doctors believe it may have been scarlet fever, hemolytic streptococcus or even meningitis. In any event it was very serious and doctors even thought that Helen would die.

Gradually her fever subsided and Helen recovered. Her parents did not suspect that anything was wrong until one morning when Helen’s mother passed her hand over the baby’s face. Helen did not blink her eyes. They soon realized that Helen could not hear a bell ringing either. Helen was living in a world where she could not perceive light or sound and she was also mute.

Helen was an unusual girl. She had such a zest for life that her parents found a teacher for her, Miss Annie Sullivan. Annie Sullivan helped Helen to lead a happy life in spite of her disabilities.

There is a famous story about Helen as a girl which illustrates the wonderful occasionhelen-keller-annie-sullivan-160177633x when she was able to grasp the idea of language. Annie had been trying to teach Helen to connect the spelling of “mug”, “doll”, and “water” to the objects themselves. Helen was so frustrated that she threw a temper tantrum, throwing a doll on the floor.

Annie did not give up on Helen. They went for a walk and came upon a well. Annie thrust Helen’s hands into the cool water as it was being pumped from the well while she spelled the word “water” into Helen’s other hand.

Later in her autobiography Helen recalled, “I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”[1]And with Annie’s help many barriers were swept away.

About two years after Helen discovered the joy of language she had her first instruction in religion. She received instruction from Bishop Phillips Brooks at Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. Helen had many questions about God; questions that Annie who was a nonbeliever could not help her with.

Helen went on to be highly educated, graduating from Radcliffe College in 1904, the first deaf-blind women to graduate from college. There were many Braille books for her to read from by this time. She studied many subjects in college but loved philosophy best.

It is so incredible to me how someone who did not have sight or hearing could even imagine such deep concepts. Without having some sort of examples to draw from how did she experience God, life, love, and thoughts of eternity including Heaven. Those things are hard enough for a seeing/hearing person to think about.

Helen’s favorite philosopher was Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg had been a member of the Swedish Parliament and was a scientist when at the age of 55 he had a profound religious experience. He wrote many books explaining his experiences. He wrote about concepts of universal spiritual reality and brotherhood, a loving God, and an afterlife in which no one would suffer from limitations and physical disabilities. According to Swedenborg death is just a change of place from earth to a new world where Helen would be able to see and hear.

Helen’s father died in 1896 when Helen was sixteen. In the 1920’s Helen, in her forties, went on the vaudeville stage to support herself and her teacher Annie. It was difficult for Helen to get up in front of an audience but she willingly did it because she had to. In 1921 Helen’s mother died from a prolonged terminal illness. Helen could take comfort in the thought that she would see her mother in Heaven.

Now Helen had only Annie. A sad day finally came when Annie suffered a severe case of the flu and would be plagued with bad health for the rest of her life. Helen continued to perform on stage to support them. Then in 1936 Annie died. She and Helen had been together for nearly fifty years.

helen-keller-quotesPeople wondered, “How would Helen get around now without her helper?” But Helen met the challenge with her usual courage and fortitude. Her vitality and sense of adventure amazed everyone. They knew that in part at least it was due to her strong religious faith. Many would claim that meeting Helen was like having a religious experience. They were uneasy around her, not knowing how much sympathy to give. She always put them at ease with her good spirit and ready laughter.

In June 1955, a week before her seventy-fifth birthday, Helen received an honorary degree from Harvard University, the first women to receive such an award. When her name was called at the ceremony she received a standing ovation.

In her final years of life Helen read her Bible every morning, especially the Psalms. It is no surprise that her favorites were Psalms 90, 98, 100 and 23. Every Sunday Helen took time for private devotions to God.

Helen Adams Keller died on a Saturday afternoon, June 1, 1968, several weeks before her birthday. She had suffered a heart attack a few weeks earlier. Her companion at the time, Winnie Corbally was at her bedside. Winnie said that Helen died peacefully, just drifting off into her sleep. Helen was not afraid of death.

And so the woman who spent almost her entire life in a dark and soundless world was welcomed by her Savior into light and life and joy and the sound of trumpets and angels rejoicing.

Helen could now sing one of her favorite Psalms, Psalm 98, seeing the Lord and hearing His praises.

O sing to the Lord a new song,
For He has done wonderful things, …
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
With the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.

 

 

[1] From “The Story of My Life”, Helen Keller

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