For many years I wanted to go as a foreign missionary, but my way seemed hedged about. At last I went to live in California. Life was rough in the mining country where I lived, with my husband and little boys.
While there I heard of a man who lived over the hills and was dying of consumption. The men said: “He is so vile that no one can stay with him; so we place some food near him, and leave him for twenty-four hours. We will find him dead sometime, and the sooner the better. Never had a relative, I guess.”
This pitiful story haunted me as I went about my work. For three days I tried to get some one to go to see him and find out if he was in need of better care. As I turned from the last man, vexed with his indifference, the thought came to me: “Why not go yourself? Here is missionary work, if you want it.”
I will not tell how I weighed the probable uselessness of my going, nor how
I shrank from one so vile as he. It was not the kind of work I wanted.
But at last one day I went over the hills to the little abode. It was a mud cabin, containing but one room. The door stood open. In one corner, on some straw and colored blankets, I found the dying man. Sin had left awful marks on his face, and if I had not heard that he could not move, I should have retreated. As my shadow fell over the floor, he looked up and greeted me with an oath. I stepped forward a little, and again he swore.
“Don’t speak so, my friend,” I said.
“I ain’t your friend. I ain’t got any friends,” he said.
“Well, I am your friend, and—”
But the oaths came quickly, and he said: “You ain’t my friend. I never had any friends, and I don’t want any now.”
I reached out, at arm’s length, the fruit I had brought for him, and stepping back to the doorway, asked if he remembered his mother, hoping to find a tender place in his heart; but he cursed her. I spoke of God, and he cursed him. I tried to speak of Jesus and his death for us, but he stopped me with his oaths, and said: “That’s all a lie. Nobody ever died for others.”
I went away discouraged, saying to myself that I knew it was of no use. But the next day I went again, and every day for two weeks. He did not show the gratitude of a dog, and at the end of that time I said that I was not going any more. That night as I was putting my little boy to bed, I did not pray for the miner. My little boy noticed it and said:—
“Mama, you did not pray for the bad man.”
“No,” I answered, with a sigh.
“Have you given him up, mama?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“Has God given him up, mama? Ought you to give him up till God does?”
I could not sleep that night. I thought of the dying man, so vile, and with no one to care! I rose and went away by myself to pray; but the moment that I knelt, I was overpowered by the sense of how little meaning there had been to my prayers. I had had no faith, and I had not really cared, beyond a kind of half-hearted sentiment. I had not claimed his soul for God. O, the shame of such missionary zeal! I fell on my face literally, as I cried, “O Christ, give me a little glimpse of the worth of a human soul!” Did you, Christian, ever ask that and mean it? Do not do it unless you are willing to give up ease and selfish pleasure; for life will be a different thing to you after this revelation.
I remained on my knees until Calvary became a reality to me. I cannot describe those hours. They came and went unheeded; but I learned that night what I had never known before, what it was to travail for a human soul. I saw my Lord as I had never seen him before. I knelt there till the answer came.
As I went back to my room, my husband said:—
“How about your miner?”
“He is going to be saved.”
“How are you going to do it? he asked.
“The Lord is going to save him; and I do not know that I shall do anything about it,” I replied.
The next morning brought a lesson in Christian work which I had never learned before. I had waited on other days until afternoon, when, my work being over, I could change my dress, put on my gloves, and take a walk while the shadows were on the hillsides. That day, the moment my little boys went to school, I left my work, and, without waiting for gloves or shadows, hurried over the hills, not to see “that vile wretch,” but to win a soul. I thought the man might die.
As I passed on, a neighbor came out of her cabin, and said, “I will go over the hills with you.”
I did not want her to go, but it was another lesson for me. God could plan better than I could. She had her little girl with her, and as we reached the cabin, she said, “I will wait out here.”
I do not know what I expected, but the man greeted me with an awful oath. Still it did not hurt; for I was behind Christ, and I stayed there; and I could bear what struck him first.
While I was changing the basin of water and towel for him, things which I had done every day, but which he had never thanked me for, the clear laugh of the little girl rang out upon the air.
“What’s that?” said the man eagerly.
“It’s a little girl outside waiting for me.”
“Would you mind letting her come in?” said he, in a different tone from any I had heard before.
Stepping to the door, I beckoned to her; then, taking her hand, said, “Come in and see the sick man, Mamie.” She shrank back as she saw his face, but I assured her with, “Poor sick man! He can’t get up; he wants to see you.”
She looked like an angel, her bright face framed in golden curls and her eyes tender and pitiful. In her hands she held the flowers that she had picked from the purple sage, and, bending toward him, she said: “I’m sorry for ‘ou, sick man. Will ‘ou have a posy?”
He laid his great, bony hand beyond the flowers, on the plump hand of the child, and tears came to his eyes, as he said: “I had a little girl once. Her name was Mamie. She cared for me. Nobody else did. Guess I’d been different if she’d lived. I’ve hated everybody since she died.”
I knew at once that I had the key to the man’s heart. The thought came quickly, born of that midnight prayer service, and I said, “When I spoke of your mother and your wife, you cursed them; I know now that they were not good women, or you could not have done it.”
“Good women! O, you don’t know nothin’ ’bout that kind of woman! You can’t think what they was!”
“Well, if your little girl had lived and grown up with them, wouldn’t she have been like them? Would you have liked to have her live for that?”
He evidently had never thought of that, and his great eyes looked off for a full minute. As they came back to mine, he cried: “O God, no! I’d killed her first. I’m glad she died.”
Reaching out and taking the poor hand, I said, “The dear Lord didn’t want her to be like them. He loved her even better than you did, so he took her away. He is keeping her for you. Don’t you want to see her again?”
“O, I’d be willing to be burned alive a thousand times over if I could just see my little girl once more, my little Mamie!”
O friends, you know what a blessed story I had to tell that hour, and I had been so close to Calvary that night that I could tell it in earnest! The poor face grew ashy pale as I talked, and the man threw up his arms as if his agony was mastering him. Two or three times he gasped, as if losing his breath. Then, clutching me, he said, “What’s that you said t’other day ’bout talkin’ to some one out o’ sight?”
“It is praying. I tell Him what I want.”
“Pray now, quick. Tell him I want my little girl again. Tell him anything you want to.”
I took the hands of the child, and placed them on the trembling hands of the man. Then, dropping on my knees, with the child in front of me, I bade her pray for the man who had lost his little Mamie, and wanted to see her again. As nearly as I remember, this was Mamie’s prayer:—
“Dear Jesus, this man is sick. He has lost his little girl, and he feels bad about it. I’m so sorry for him, and he’s sorry, too. Won’t you help him, and show him how to find his little girl? Do, please. Amen.”
Heaven seemed to open before us, and there stood One with the prints of the nails in his hands and the wound in his side.
Mamie slipped away soon, and the man kept saying: “Tell him more about it. Tell him everything. But, O, you don’t know!” Then he poured out such a torrent of confession that I could not have borne it but for One who was close to us at that hour.
By and by the poor man grasped the strong hand. It was the third day when the poor, tired soul turned from everything to him, the Mighty to save, “the Man that died for me.” He lived on for weeks, as if God would show how real was the change. I had been telling him one day about a meeting, when he said, “I’d like to go to a meetin’ once.”
So we planned a meeting, and the men from the mills and the mines came and filled the room.
“Now, boys,” said he, “get down on your knees, while she tells about that Man that died for me.”
I had been brought up to believe that a woman should not speak in meeting, but I found myself talking, and I tried to tell the simple story of the cross. After a while he said:—
“Boys, you don’t half believe it, or you’d cry; you couldn’t help it. Raise me up. I’d like to tell it once.”
So they raised him up, and, between his short breathing and coughing, he told the story. He had to use the language he knew.
“Boys,” he said, “you know how the water runs down the sluice-boxes and carries off the dirt and leaves the gold behind. Well, the blood of that Man she tells about went right over me just like that. It carried off about everything; but it left enough for me to see Mamie, and to see the Man that died for me. O boys, can’t you love him?”
Some days after, there came a look into his face which told that the end had come. I had to leave him, and I said, “What shall I say tonight, Jack?”
“Just good night,” he said.
“What will you say to me when we meet again?”
“I’ll say, ‘Good morning,’ over there.”
The next morning the door was closed, and I found two men sitting silently by a board stretched across two stools. They turned back the sheet from the dead, and I looked on the face, which seemed to have come back nearer to the image of God.
“I wish you could have seen him when he went,” they said.
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, all at once he brightened up, ’bout midnight, an’ smilin’, said: ‘I’m goin’, boys. Tell her I’m going to see the Man that died for me;’ an’ he was gone.”
Kneeling there with my hands over those poor, cold ones, which had been stained with human blood, I asked that I might understand more and more the worth of a human soul, and be drawn into a deeper sympathy with Christ’s yearning compassion, “not willing that any should perish.”
—Mrs. J. K. Barney.
He answered all my prayer abundantly,
And crowned the work that to his feet I brought,
With blessing more than I had asked or thought,—
A blessing undisguised, and fair, and free.
I stood amazed, and whispered, “Can it be
That he hath granted all the boon I sought?
How wonderful that he for me hath wrought!
How wonderful that he hath answered me!”
O faithless heart! He said that he would hear
And answer thy poor prayer, and he hath heard
And proved his promise. Wherefore didst thou fear?
Why marvel that thy Lord hath kept his word?
More wonderful if he should fail to bless
Expectant faith and prayer with good success!
—F. R. Havergal.