Monthly Archives: December 2010

Jennie Smith, railroad evangelist

In the correspondence in the Charles A. Blanchard papers there is an 1883 Christmas Eve letter from Ellen Milligan Blanchard, Charles’ first wife, to her mother-in-law, Mary Bent Blanchard. In it Ellen writes that Charles had brought Jennie Smith, evangelist of the Railroad men to visit and speak in the college chapel. As noted in a prior blog entry, it was rather unusual for women to be involved in direct public ministry, particularly as pastors or evangelists. Charles Blanchard clearly resisted this trend and endorsed the ministry of numerous women in ministry.

The life and ministry of Jennie Smith is revealed well within the holdings of the Evangelism and Missions Collection. In 1876 Smith wrote Valley of Baca, wherein she recorded her birth, youth, sufferings and triumphs. Smith was the first child born to James and Eliza Smith on August 18, 1842 in Vienna, Ohio, west of Warren and north of Youngstown, a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. Smith came to faith as a child through Christian literature, coupled with the death of a brother and local Sabbath schools. According to her memory her childhood was one of plenty–a situation that changed after her father’s passing. Jennie Smith, bed-boundIt was prior to this loss that Smith succumbed to typhoid fever that resulted in a spinal disease. Her illness resulted in isolation and a broken engagement. Though she would regain her strength and health from this bout a deeper illness and fever fell upon Smith in early 1862, resulting in a paralysis. An inventor created a portable cot for Smith so that she could travel. In illness or health Smith took advantage of opportunities to speak about God’s mercies to her doctors and visitors. In her first memoir she noted that Christian people were not as charitable to “railroad hands, street-car drivers and conductors, livery men, firemen, policemen and others, including domestic servants” who often, due to work schedules, lack the liberty to attend worship services. Smith was keenly aware that her illness put great strains on her family and others.

In 1880 Smith published From Baca to Beulah as she continued to tell the story of God’s work in her life. She recounted how in 1877 she felt the call as an Evangelist while speaking to a Friends (Quaker) group in Woodbury, Ohio. This spurred Smith on to ministry and began her travels–all in her portable cot. During her work she would seek medical attention as needed and consult with panels of physicians seeking restoration. In late March 1878 Smith sensed a strengthening of her faith and asked her physician to pray with her for God’s help. Smith recounted that it was during this prayer that she felt “the instant cessation of all pain.” She exclaimed how she “praised the Lord many times for a praying physician.” In less than a month Smith was able to stand and walk. Jennie Smith, restored to full healthShe welcomed the opportunity to sit to dinner with family, something she had not done “since February 23, 1862.”

During her time bed-bound Smith and her family relied upon the generosity of others. In those days there was no large governmental or private social service structure that serves so many today. Smith noted that the only funds she had was in her “bank of trust” in her heavenly Father.

As noted above, Jennie Smith was known for her work with “Railroad men.” She was drawn to working with these workers when she was paralized and had relied on rail staff to carry her helpless body when she traveled by train, in the baggage cars, for treatment. Smith was struck by their noble and generous work, yet they were often spiritually neglected. After her healing she chose as her work to minister among “railroad people” and was made the National Superintendent of the Railroad Department of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. So touched were the workers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad by Smith’s tireless ministry and efforts to obtain for them a “mansion in the skies” that they sought to raise funds sufficient to purchase her an earthly home. This fund drive was limited to B&O Railroad employees and was not to exceed $1 per person.

Smith felt her particular mission was to travel on the railroads and give meetings and her testimony along the routes. She took efforts to inform others of her work and along with the two volumes mentioned above she went on to write books Ramblings in Beulah Land, volumes 1 and 2, published in 1881 and 1882 and Incidents and Experiences of a Railroad Evangelist (1920). Despite so many years physically impaired Smith continued her ministry for many years until her death on September 3, 1924 at the age of 82.

Gospel Pearls

Two hundred and ten years ago African Methodist Episcopal Church founder Richard Allen published A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns, selected from various authors. The first hymnal published with the intent to serve the black church, Allen sought to divert black worshipers away from the official Methodist hymnal. Within the first year a second edition was published. The hymnal, pocket-sized at 3″ x 5″, was known to be popular, however few copies are known to exist and only microfilm editions are listed in OCLC’s Worldcat. One reason this seminal hymnal is so important is that it reflected the songs that black Christians in America enjoyed singing and that were popular. Allen’s hymnal is the precursor of the gospel hymnal of nearly a century later.

Gospel PearlsOne hundred and twenty years after Allen’s hymnal made it into the hands of worshipers Gospel Pearls was published. Despite the large numbers of gospel hymnals in the marketplace and in churches, the publishers of Gospel Pearls, the National Baptist Convention Sunday School Publishing Board, made no apology for its availability citing the “present day needs of the Sunday school, Church, Conventions and other religious gatherings” since its songs were “suitable for Worship and Devotion, Evangelistic Services, Funeral, Patriotic and other special occasions.”

This hymnal, found in the Special Collection’s Hymnal Collection (SC 15-1208), was created under the direction of Willa Townsend and contained 164 songs, including works by white gospellers like Sankey, Bradbury, Bliss, Crosby and Rodeheaver, but also works by black writers like Charles Tindley, Lucie Campbell, and, notably, Thomas A. Dorsey. Townsend included one of her own works in Gospel Pearls, “Wade in the Water.”

Tindley is recognized as one of the founding fathers of American gospel music, but it was Dorsey who would have the biggest impact on this musical form. If I Don\'t Get ThereSongs written in Dorsey’s musical style were called “dorseys” and were a combination of Christian praise and rhythm and blues and jazz music stylings. Incorporating much of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century hymnody’s emphasis upon personal experience, Dorsey’s gospel songs influenced mainstream white music, both secular and sacred. Gospel Pearls included Dorsey’s “If I Don’t Get There,” but he was famous for his song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” So beloved was this song that it was recorded by a wide range of singers, both black and white, like Albertina Walker, Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Jim Reeves, Roy Rogers, and Tennessee Ernie Ford and many many more. It was also the requested song for the funerals of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Thoughts for Troubled Times

James Montgomery BoiceDr. Philip Ryken, Wheaton College’s newly inaugurated eighth president, previously served as pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Before assuming that role, Ryken served as assistant to its senior pastor, Dr. James Montgomery Boice. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Boice received his early education at Stony Brook school on Long Island, continuing at Harvard where he was awarded his A.B. degree with high honors in English Literature. Two years later in 1962 he earned his master’s degree in theology from Princeton before pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland, supervised by instructors such as Karl Barth. In 1969 Time magazine recognized Boice’s efforts in “revitalizing the urban scene” in downtown Philadelphia where the almost-200 year old church is located. Dr. Boice preached the 1974 Wheaton College Special Services during the first week of April. For the morning chapel services, titled “Thoughts for Troubled Times,” he drew from the book of Habbakuk. For the evening sessions, held in Pierce Chapel, Boice shared “Conversations with Christ,” derived from the Gospel of John. In addition to hosting the National Bible Study Hour radio broadcast, Boice authored several books, including Foundations of the Christian Faith, Psalms, Gospel of Matthew and What Ever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? Boice died as the result of liver cancer at age 61 in 2000.

Tragedy and Faith – Scott & Janet Willis

Sixteen years ago on November 8, 1994, Scott and Janet Willis were traveling outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the six youngest of their nine children. Scott was a pastor at the Parkwood Baptist Church in the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood on Chicago’s Far Southwest Side and Janet schooled the six younger children at their home on the second story of the church. In an instant their lives were forever changed as a piece of metal debris on the road punctured their gas tank and their minivan erupted in flames. The couple barely escaped with their lives as the inferno blazed throughout the van, instantly killing five of the children still buckled in their seats (Joe, Sam, Hank, Elizabeth, and Peter, ages 11 years to 6 weeks). Thirteen year old, Ben escaped the burning van but later died at the hospital with third degree burns over 90% of his body.

This horrific tragedy would throw this Chicago pastor and his family into the international spotlight and eventually lead to the imprisonment of former Illinois Governor George Ryan. The deaths of the Willis children came to symbolize the infamous licenses-for-bribes political scandal during Ryan’s tenure as Secretary of State before his election as Governor in 1999.

A year after the accident, the Willis’ bravely spoke before the Wheaton College chapel on November 17, 1995, to share their personal story of tragedy and testimony of faith. In subsequent years, they moved to Tennessee in 2004 and have been blessed with 25 grandchildren from their surviving three older children.

Audio icon Listen (mp3 – 00:28:29)


A Wray of Hope

When Wayne Wray initially enrolled at Wheaton College, his desire as a student was to pursue veterinary medicine and oceanography, reflecting his passion for the outdoors. He wrote on his application: “I can offer Wheaton a life dedicated to Christ and believe your acceptance of me will give me advantages I will not find in all colleges. My hope is in Christ and I commit all things to His leadership.” As a sophomore in the fall of 1972, his goal as an athlete was to be the defensive starting end for the Crusaders. Through grueling practice and determination he earned the position. During his first starting game as a varsity football player, playing against Millikan University, he received a critical injury, a fractured and dislocated fourth cervical. Suddenly he was paralyzed from the neck down. He endured three major surgeries in three days. Each time the neurosurgeons declared, “No hope.” Wayne WrayAs he lay motionless in the intensive care unit, drifting in and out of consciousness, Wayne prayed and sought God’s will for his life, now so dramatically altered. Strengthened by his faith and the constant encouragement of friends and family, Wayne did not surrender to despondency. Instead, he set objectives and accomplished them one by one, tackling his rehabilitation with the same focus with which he’d played ball. He learned to type, write and print. “He cheers and lifts you up when you go to see him,” visitors remarked. “He’s not bitter, he would play again if his body were healed.” Wayne decided that he would encourage others as a profession.

Wayne Wray IITo assist with medical expenses, classmates raised $100,000 for the “Wray of Hope” campaign. In 1972 Wayne returned to Wheaton College to receive an honorary degree. Following that he earned his associate’s degree from Springfield Technical Community College and his bachelor’s degree from Northern Colorado University. Fulfilling his desire to help others who’d experienced similar injuries, he received his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling in 1982. That year he also married Jeanette Gaffney, a physical therapist. The wedding was performed by his Wheaton roommate, Scott McClellen. Though Wayne provided a shining beacon for victims of spinal injuries, he faced one more challenge in 1986 when he was diagnosed with cancer. After battling illness for several months, he died at age 34 on January 4, 1987, at his home in Ocala, Florida. As he’d indicated on his college application, he did truly “commit all things to His leadership.” Wayne’s football coach at Wheaton College, Gary Taylor, observed at the funeral, “He taught us about courage because he faced unbelievable odds and time and again beat them…He set goals, saying, ‘If I can only get by today, then I can start on tomorrow.'”

A memorial scholarship in Wayne’s honor was established at Wheaton College to recognize, encourage and financially assist any upperclass student who has faced, or is facing, personal adversity, and who nevertheless shows continued growth in faith, in academic performance and in contribution to campus life.