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“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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Ever glow in my breasts to God and them and as I have freely received in times of my distress so let me freely give as God enables and occasion offers. Lord ever open my hand and heart to the sick poor and needy and make me a blessing in my day. O make me extensively useful in my family in my school in the dear society to all around me. Oh let the Lord God almighty delight to own me to use me to set me apart for Himself in secret in private and in every way my proper station admits. (Sarah Osborn’s diary, October 21, 1761)

In last week’s post we recounted Sarah’s life through the early 1760’s when she was in her fifties. Though Sarah was suffering with chronic pain she was continuing to hold meetings in her home that were a blessing to thousands.  She was overloaded with work caring for others. Many women might have felt like retiring at this point. But God still had nearly three more decades of service for Sarah.

During the 1760’s the pastor of Sarah’s church lost his wife and fell into alcoholism. The congregation tried to be understanding but more and more services began to take place at Sarah’s home as the congregation avoided the unpleasantness at church. By 1769 Sarah’s home was the spiritual center of the church.

The minister, William Vinal resigned from the pulpit in 1769 after being charged with drunkenness. Over the next two years, temporary pastors came and went to fill the pulpit. Often they ended up preaching at Sarah’s house.

Sarah and the women of the church had founded a female society in 1741. Though the women were not allowed in leadership positions they played significant roles in the affairs of the church. It was through their influence that the church called Reverend Samuel Hopkins to be its minister. Many in the church did not agree with Reverend Hopkins’ ideas, especially about equality for blacks, and the vote to call him as their minister was very close. It failed the first time and succeeded the second time due to the influence of the female society.

SamuelHopkinsClergymanSamuel Hopkins knew that it was through Sarah’s influence that he was called and he treated her as one of his most trusted friends and confidantes. In fact, when her illness prevented her from being able to walk to church he preached at her house. This was not seen as unusual, since Sarah’s house had been the spiritual center of the church for many years anyway.

Now that the church had a full time minister, Sarah stopped holding all of the weekly meetings at her house. She still met with the women’s society and prayed with them regularly. As her health declined, Rev. Hopkins took over most of the meetings.

Samuel Hopkins became convinced that slavery was sinful. Sarah had not questioned the morality of slaveholding even though she believed that black people were equal as Christians with whites. Prejudice against color was one thing and slavery, though related, was quite another. Sarah had become convinced that slavery was sinful and she joined with Samuel Hopkins in his work against slavery.

Many people considered slavery a fact of life. They did not agree that it was morally wrong and Sarah lost a few friends because of her stance in favor of the blacks. Sometime during this period of her life she composed a poem expressing her heartfelt belief:

New wonders still! Lo, here are they,
Unjustly brought from Africa!
They’ve heard the gospel’s joyful sound,
Though lost indeed they now are found.

Those we see here who once have been
Made slaves to man by horrid sin.
Now through rich grace in Christ are free,
Forever set at liberty.

When the colonies went to war against Britain for their independence (1776 – 1783) Sarah was in her sixties. In Newport poverty and destruction of property and life abounded. The valley-forgewinter of 1779 was extremely cold. Americans remember it as the time when George Washington was worried about his troops freezing to death. British soldiers had been known to freeze to death at their posts. Newport residents feared that they would not survive the winter. There were no jobs, high taxes, and the British commandeered what little food they had. Pews in churches were ripped out to provide fuel for their fires. Many people just moved away looking for a better life. The population of Newport decreased from over 9,000 residents to 5,530.

Sarah did not think she would outlast the war. Henry died in 1778 at the age of ninety-three. Sarah thought she would soon follow but God had more work for her to do. Sarah did not wish to move. The interior of the First Church had been gutted, so Sarah’s home again became the spiritual center of the church. The friends that she had blessed over the years now returned the blessing and gave her food and fuel to keep warm by.

When the devastating war was finally over Sarah looked to God to somehow bring good out of evil. Sarah had always believed that God truly loved her and wanted the best for her. She concentrated on God’s grace and blessings. Always wanting to be a blessing to others, she continued to comfort the poor and needy for nearly two more decades.

Sarah continued to write with help from friends. Her eyesight was failing and she could no longer keep a diary. Incapacitated by her illness she began a prayer ministry. Her friends and acquaintances assured her that her prayers touched many other lives.

Sarah died quietly in her room on August 2, 1796 at the age of eighty-two. Like many people Sarah hoped that her life would have made a difference to others. She hoped that the memoirs that she had written would encourage people to keep on trusting God no matter what happened.

Near the end of her life she wrote, “I know that my Redeemer liveth (Job 19:25), and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. O transporting thought! O glorious resurrection! Then I shall gaze to eternity. Then I shall drink my fill. Then I shall be like him, for I shall see him as he is.”

Sarah’s life did make a difference to others. She put others before herself. Through all of her sorrows and afflictions she gave the glory to God and did not let her own suffering prevent her from sharing the love of Christ in many ways. In 1826 the women of the First Church of Christ changed the name of the society that Sarah had founded from the Female Praying Society to the Osborn Society.

Like Sarah Osborn we should never despair. She is an encouragement to us to see God’s love in every area of our lives.

 

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Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though your were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)

—  For the last month we have looked at the lives of four very remarkable women. Three lived in the nineteenth century and one in the eighteenth century. Three were slave-born blacks; one was a free black. In spite of the fact that they had seemingly everything going against them as black women, at the bottom of the social scale, they rose above their circumstances and gave much to humanity while serving their Savior.

Why were they able to live in a realm above their circumstances? It is because they all received strength from God. They all answered the call in their lives to serve.

Phillis Wheatley came to Boston from West Africa in 1761. Her owners, John and Phillis Wheatley - 1Susanna Wheatley, were devout Christians. Susanna recognized Phillis’ gift for learning and educated her. Phillis was brilliant enough to read and understand even the most difficult parts of Scripture. She loved poetry and was familiar with Alexander Pope, John Milton, Horace, Virgil and many others that twenty-first century college students cannot read.

Phillis lived as a slave until the death of her owner in 1778. During that time she wrote poetry and much of it reflected her thoughts on the cruelty of slavery. But her poetry also reflected her strong Christian faith. She was able to put into perspective the difference between physical and spiritual slavery. One reason she was able to rise above her circumstances was that she knew that her life with Christ would be forever and life on this earth is short. She was grateful to God for saving her soul:

“On being brought from Africa to America”
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Phillis looked forward to the day when slavery would be ended but lived a righteous life that honored God in spite of her circumstances.

 

If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1)

Sojourner-Truth - 1   —  Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth) was born around 1797 to slave parents in New York. She ran away from a cruel owner around 1826. Kindly Quakers took her in and purchased her from her owner when he caught up with her. Isabella had a life changing experience where her faith became more real to her. There came to her “the true revelation of the character and attributes of God, and of the office of Jesus Christ as the Mediator and Savior; and the converted Sojourner became from that time henceforward one of the most faithful, consistent, and zealous of Christian disciples.” It was during this time that Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner wanted to do something to help her people. Besides trying to get the United States government to give land to the colored people, she became a reformer. She was nearly six feet tall and had a strong, deep voice. When she spoke, people listened. She was active in the temperance movement and argued for better treatment of women.

In Sojourner we have another woman who lived above the pettiness of society. Many other black women of her day went on to live mediocre lives after their emancipation, but not Sojourner. “People ask me,” she once said, “how I came to live so long and keep my mind; and I tell them it is because I think of the great things of God; not the little things.” Sojourner kept her eyes on the things above.

 

I’ll meet you in de mornin’,
When you reach de promised land;
On de oder side of Jordan,
For I’m boun’ for de promised land.    

—  The little lady who rescued three to four hundred slaves in the mid-nineteenth HTubman-1century, earning the title, of a “Moses to her people” was born Araminta Ross around 1820 to Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves. Harriet Tubman later took her mother’s name, Harriet. She took her husband’s name when she married John Tubman.

Harriet would not blame God for any of the hard circumstances of her early life, but acknowledge that her difficult upbringing prepared her for the tasks ahead of her when she followed her calling to rescue slaves.

In 1849, she and some other slaves were to be sold. She determined not to be sold and so one night she just walked away. Eventually she arrived in Philadelphia where a white woman befriended her and she got a job. She saved her money and two years after her own escape from slavery she went south to rescue her husband. She found him living with another woman and unwilling to take her back. This did not stop her from her plan of rescuing other family members. She just moved on trusting in the Lord.

Harriet didn’t acquiesce to her slave condition; she did something about it. Risking her health and even her life she lived in crude circumstances in order to rescue and move slaves to freedom. She had to live by her wits but she always gave the credit to God. When someone would express surprise at her boldness and daring she would reply, “Don’t I tell you, Missus, ’twasn’t me, ’twas de Lord!”

Harriet’s life is an example of what can be done, even in horrible circumstances, when a person does not give up or give in. It was her faith in God and her attitude that made all of the difference.

 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

MariaStewart_   —  Maria Miller was born a free black in 1803 in Hartford, Connecticut. Other than their last name, we don’t really know anything about Maria’s parents. She was orphaned at the age of five and became a servant girl in the home of a minister. While there she learned to read and became very familiar with the Bible. She understood it so well in fact that one she would later incorporate it into her speeches in very intelligent and appropriate ways. When she was twenty-three, Maria Miller married James W. Stewart at the African Baptist Church in Boston. She took not only his last name but also his middle initial and became known as Maria W. Stewart after that.

Maria is well known for her speeches and article on abolition and women’s rights. She was cruelly robbed of her inheritance by white, unscrupulous businessmen when James died. She knew how unfair life was for blacks and especially for female blacks.

In spite of that, she was also a devout Christian who knew what God expected of His people – all of His people. Maria boldly lectured the blacks themselves for doing little to better their own plight. “It is useless for us any longer to sit with our hands folded, reproaching the whites; for that will never elevate us,” she said.

Here was another woman who understood that the most important thing in life is to be right with God. She fought for social justice, but always in the context of the Bible.

All of these women understood that the most important freedom is freedom in Christ. Yes, human slavery is wicked and cruel. We still have it with us today in the form of human trafficking. As long as wicked men have the power to abuse others they will. We will not be free of sin until Christ comes again. We can fight for social justice as all of these women did. It is in service to others for the Lord that we find a meaning in our lives that keeps us going. We are able to rise above our circumstances keeping our eyes focused on Jesus and on the tasks at hand.

We can learn from the examples of these four remarkable women who understood that:

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:29) and If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36)
 

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Thou, Lord, whom I behold with glory crown’d,

By what sweet name, and in what tuneful sound

Wilt thou be prais’d? Seraphic pow’rs are faint

Infinite love and majesty to paint.

To thee let all their grateful voices raise,

And saints and angels join their song of praise.

(From: On the death of a young Lady of Five Years of Age. Phillis Wheatley)

Phillis Wheatley was born around 1753 in West Africa, probably between present-dayPhillis Wheatley - 1 Gambia and Ghana. She was kidnapped and brought to Boston. Of course Phillis Wheatley was not her birth name, but the name she was given when she arrived at the home of her new owners, John and Susanna Wheatley. The ship that brought her over to America in 1761 was the Phillis, a slave ship owned by Timothy Fitch. At the time, approximately 1000 of Boston’s more than 15,000 residents were slaves.

John Wheatley bought Phillis to be a servant to his wife. Phillis was a sickly child, but Susanna recognized her agile and intelligent mind and gave her an extraordinary education for any woman of that time, let alone a slave. The Wheatley’s were devout Christians and we are not sure when Phillis became a believer but it was very early in her life. She was baptized at the Congregationalist Old South Church on August 18, 1771.

Phillis learned English, the Bible, Christianity, Latin, ancient history, geography, and classical literature. She was a quick learner; within sixteen months Phillis was proficient enough in the English language to be able to read even “the most difficult parts of the Sacred Writings” according to her the Wheatley’s. Phillis especially loved poetry. Her poems and letters show that she was familiar with Alexander Pope, John Milton, William Shenstone, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Terence, and Homer.  How many fourteen-year olds in our day can read the writings of these classical giants?

Though Phillis was treated very kindly by Susanna, she was still as slave. Her poetry would reflect thoughts on slavery, but also on the kindness of her mistress, whom she loved very much.

Phillis’ poetry would reflect the Christianity that she had learned from Susannah and from George Whitefield. Susannah Wheatley was a supporter of the famous evangelist and Phillis went with her to hear Whitefield and other Calvinist Methodist preachers.

Phillis’ first published poem, “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin”, was a tale of two men who nearly drowned at sea and their steady faith in God. Published by the Newport Mercury in 1767, this poem reflected Phillis’ strong faith in God and would anticipate the Christian piety that would characterize most of the poetry that she would write.

For the next several years, Phillis continued to write and publish occasional poems. Her fame became international however after she wrote a funeral elegy for George Whitefield after his death in 1770. This poem was addressed to the Countess of Huntingdon, Lady Selina Hastings. (See my April 2012 posting for more information on Lady Selina.) The Countess of Huntingdon was a supporter of George Whitefield and Charles and John Wesley. Left a fabulous fortune when she was widowed, Lady Selina chose to advance the cause of the Gospel by using most of her money for evangelical causes. Whitefield was Lady Selina’s chaplain.

After this elegy was published, Phillis’ reputation as a gifted poet spread throughout the colonies and Great Britain. Here is an excerpt from “On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, 1770”:

Hail, happy saint, on thine immortal throne,

Possest of glory, life, and bliss unknown;

We hear no more the music of thy tongue,’

Thy wonted auditories cease to throng.

Phillis also wrote letters or poetry addressed to George Washington, King George, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and many others. She wrote on the theological topics of Atheism and Deism as well, showing her understanding of the Bible and practical wisdom.

Slavery and her own experience were the topics of several poems. Though she longed for an end to the cruel practice of slavery, she was able to put into perspective the difference between physical slavery and spiritual slavery. She understood that eternal life is forever and life on this earth is short. She was grateful to God for rescuing her soul:

“On being brought from Africa to America”

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,

Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:

Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,

“Their colour is a diabolic die.”

Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,

May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

phillis-wheatley- PoemsPhillis’ first volume of poetry was published in London in 1773. Later in her life she hoped to publish a second volume but was unable to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately for us, that volume is lost.

Of course the early 1770’s was a time when tensions were growing between the colonists and Great Britain. The War for American Independence interrupted Phillis’ career. People were buying books on other topics. Her master moved several times. Her beloved mistress, Susanna died on March 3, 1774. Phillis continued to live in the Wheatley house until John Wheatley died in 1778. Phillis was effectively, if not legally freed.

Phillis struggled to support herself by selling copies of her poetry. She met and married John Peters, a free black, on April 1, 1778. At first this marriage seemed to be a sound one, but it deteriorated. We are not sure what all happened, but apparently Peters changed jobs frequently and was often in debt. He seems to have been conceited as well. John and Phillis had three children all of whom died early. The third child died at the same time as Phillis on December 5, 1784. Her last known poem was addressed to George Washington. On December 8 they were buried together in an unmarked grave.

John sold Phillis’ manuscripts and books to cover his debts. The first American edition of her “Poems” was finally published in Philadelphia in1786.

Phillis Wheatley’s poetry continued to be used as evidence for the humanity, equality, and literary talents of African Americans. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, her place in the developing tradition of literature by people of African descent is secure as the mother of African-American literature. No one should ever doubt that talent and intellect are not a function of color but are gifts of God to any of His children no matter where they are from. We are thankful that God blessed us with Phillis Wheatley. May we learn from her life to have confidence in our callings no matter our circumstances.

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“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

The date of birth of the woman we know as Sojourner Truth is not certain, but many think itSojourner Truth - 2 was around 1797. She was born in Ulster County, New York to parents who were slaves.

The state of New York did not give emancipation to the slaves until 1827, so Isabella Baumfree was a slave until her mature adulthood. Isabella had many last names over her lifetime, because she had a number of masters and of course slaves took the last name of their master to show his ownership of them.

Isabella’s family lived on a Dutch plantation and she grew up speaking Dutch. At around age nine, she was sold to another family. They only spoke English and so there were frequent miscommunications. They beat her cruelly until she learned English, but she always spoke with a Dutch accent for the rest of her life.

She went through many trials until she finally ran away with her youngest daughter, Sophia who was only an infant. She had intended to stay with her owner until her emancipation, but he took advantage of her. He had promised her that he would free her one year before the New York law went into effect if she would render him faithful service until that time. When the time came, he reneged on his promise. She now faced one more year of harsh treatment. She was so angry that she determined to take what was justly her own.

She asked God to help her escape. She thought that she heard a voice telling her to leave in the early hours of the morning, so she did. Then she asked for direction and was given a vision of a house that she actually found later on her journey. There were some kindly Quakers living there. They invited her to stay. When her master caught up with her and tried to take her back, these kindly Christians, Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, paid the price of her last year’s service and so he went home with his $20. Isabella remained with these good people a long time.

It was during this time that Isabella underwent a life changing experience. She had always had faith that God was real, but now she began to sense God’s overwhelming presence. There came to her “the true revelation of the character and attributes of God, and of the office of Jesus Christ as the Mediator and Savior; and the converted Sojourner became from that time henceforward one of the most faithful, consistent, and zealous of Christian disciples.” (“A Brief Biography of Sojourner Truth” by Harriet Carter and John W. Cromwell).

At some point, Isabella wanted to change her name in order to leave behind all of the associations of her old life. She believed that the Lord gave her the new name of Sojourner. Later, a Quaker woman whom she met asked her for her name.

“Sojourner.”

“Sojourner what?”

She had not troubled over having only a Christian name, but since it seemed good to have a surname she asked the Lord for help. “And it came in that moment, like a voice, just as true as God is true, ‘Sojourner Truth.’ And I leaped for joy. ‘Why,’ said I, ‘thank you, God; that is a good name. Thou art my last master, and thy name is Truth; and Truth shall be my abiding name till I die.'”

Sojourner wanted to do something to help her people. Among other things she tried to get the United States government to give the colored people (as they were called in those days) some land out west. She believed that they could become self-supporting. This dream never materialized.

Sojourner-Truth - 1But Sojourner did many other good things. She became a reformer. For one thing, due to the influence of the Quakers, she was concerned about how women dressed. We could use her advocacy today! She believed that modesty was more important than just blindly following the fashions. She had adopted Quaker style dress for herself. She was also an active worker in the temperance movement.

She was nearly six feet tall and strongly built. She had a deep voice and when she spoke people listened. She had been blessed with native intelligence and was quick witted. She could debate opponents on issues point by point with irrefutable answers. One of her most famous speeches, which has been preserved for us is – “Ain’t I a Woman?” This was given at a women’s rights convention in Ohio in 1851. Here is a part of the speech as printed in the local paper at the time:

“And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunders, she asked ‘And a’n’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a’n’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear de lash a well! And a’n’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen ’em mos’ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a’n’t I a woman?…….Den dey talks ’bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?” (“Intellect,” whispered some one near.) “Dat’s it, honey. What’s dat got to do wid womin’s rights or nigger’s rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?’ And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.

“If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let ’em.” Long-continued cheering greeted this. “Bleeged to ye for hearin’ on me, and now old Sojourner han’t got nothin’ more to say.”

Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude.”

There are many other incidents that could be related about this fascinating woman. She is to be admired not only for her courage, but also for the way she rose above her circumstances.

Sojourner had no “book learning” but she was a power at meetings; there was no tongue more feared than hers. She did not accomplish as much for her people as she would have liked, but it was not her fault. Change was slow. Many other black women were freed and went on to poor or mediocre lives, but not Sojourner. “People ask me,” she once said, “how I came to live so long and keep my mind; and I tell them it is because I think of the great things of God; not the little things.” She was truly a remarkable woman.

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“I’ll meet you in de mornin’,
When you reach de promised land;
On de oder side of Jordan,
For I’m boun’ for de promised land.”

We recently watched “The Ten Commandments” a great movie with Charlton Heston. It was made in the 1950’s when it was still ok to talk about the Bible in a movie in a positive way. The nearly four-hour movie told the story of Moses and the rescue of God’s people during the Exodus from Egypt.

We don’t know why God allowed His people to bear cruel slavery for four hundred years before sending a deliverer and rescuing them. We must not run the danger of accusing God for the evil that sinful men are doing. He did allow the slavery for His own purposes. Our response should be of gratitude when He hears our prayers and rescues us and not question His sovereignty.

One woman who did just that was Harriet Tubman, the little lady who rescued three to fourHTubman-1 hundred slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, earning the title, of a “Moses to her people”. Harriet would not blame God for any hard circumstances but instead she would acknowledge that her difficult upbringing prepared her for the tasks ahead of her when she followed her calling to rescue slaves.

Born Araminta Ross around 1820 to Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves, she later took her mother’s name, Harriet. She took her husband’s name when she married John Tubman.

Harriet was born in Maryland and had ten brothers and sisters. She was later able to rescue many family members and her parents, who retired in New York on property that Harriet purchased for them.

When Harriet was six years old she was sent to live with the James Cook family and learn the trade of weaving. Her mistress was cruel. James Cook sent her out to check muskrat traps, and so she had to wade in water. Already ill from measles she grew very sick and was eventually sent home.

When she was in her teens she worked as a field hand. While working for that farmer she received a wound to her head that would affect her for the rest of her life. The farm overseer was trying to punish a disobedient slave and threw a two pound weight at him which fell short and hit Harriet, cracking her skull. It took her a long time to recover from this and for the rest of her life she was subject to sleeping spells. At times a sort of stupor would come over her even in the midst of a conversation and she would need to sleep. This would give the appearance of laziness or stupidity, but Harriet would show that she really had a fine mind and a courageous strength.

After this Harriet worked for John Stewart. She did many jobs usually given to men, such as cutting and hauling wood. Here she built up the incredible strength that would later allow her to do such things as carry grown men through the water to their safety.

Harriet married a free “colored” man named John Tubman around 1844. They had no children.

In 1849, she and some other slaves were to be sold. She determined not to be sold and so one night she just walked away. Eventually she arrived in Philadelphia where a white woman befriended her and she got a job. She saved her money and two years after her own escape from slavery she went south to rescue her husband. She found him living with another woman and unwilling to take her back. This did not stop her from her plan of rescuing other family members. She just moved on trusting in the Lord.

Between 1852 and 1857 she made many journeys to the south rescuing many people. It was during this time that people began to call her “Moses”, a name she retained for the rest of her life. She rescued so many people that a reward was put out for her capture.

Let’s don’t forget that a Fugitive Slave Law had been passed, making it a crime for people to help slaves escape. Harriet had to find ways to get the rescued slaves all the way to Canada since even many Northerners would not help for fear of getting fined or arrested for breaking the law. Many Christians would say that Harriet should not have defied the government because of what it says in Romans 13 about obeying all those in authority over us (see Romans 13:1). That is a subject for another post in the future, but for now let us not judge her conscience. Slavery is evil and the Lord helped Harriet to rescue many people.

Harriet was able to discern the voice of the Lord speaking to her, warning her and giving her guidance. Because of this she was able to avoid capture many times. She said that she always knew when danger was near though she didn’t understand quite how exactly, but “pears like my heart go flutter, flutter,” and she would know that something bad was going to happen.

One example of this was a time when Harriet was going back North and she had a premonition that told her to turn aside and cross a stream. The stream was swollen there and she did not know how deep it was. She obeyed the whispered warning in her head and stepped in to cross the water. The men that were with her hung back, but when they saw that the water was only up to her chin they followed her and all safely crossed the stream. Later they found out that there was a party waiting down the road to arrest her and if she hadn’t crossed the stream she would not have escaped.

Another time Harriet fell asleep in a park beneath a notice that was offering a reward for her capture! Of course, Harriet couldn’t read and had no idea of the irony until some friends found her and told her.

Because she was on the run, Harriet slept in wet swamps or in potato fields where she could lie hidden. Besides the obvious risk to her health there was always danger of being spotted. But the Lord always rescued her, sometimes through friends or by her own wits. And Harriet always gave the credit to God. When someone would express surprise at her boldness and daring she would reply, “Don’t I tell you, Missus, ’twasn’t me, ’twas de Lord!”

All through the War Between the States Harriet rescued slaves and nursed wounded soldiers. She was never paid for her efforts. Harriet remained poor for the rest of her life but she never complained.

Harriet-Tubman-2Harriet died on March 10, 1913, in Auburn, New York at around the age of ninety-three!  All through her life she had depended on the Lord and God had never disappointed her trust in Him.

Her life is an example of what can be done, even in the most horrible of circumstances, when a person does not give up or give in. Harriet’s attitude in life made all the difference in the world. Here we sit in our comfort and can’t seem to find time to help those around us. Harriet accomplished much in spite of illness, threats, poverty, and danger all around her. Her childlike faith and determination is an example for us all.

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