Brown, Hallie Q.
|AMANDA SMITH -- 1837--1915|
"O, woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
Amanda Smith was born at Long Green, Maryland, January 23, 1837. She was the daughter of Samuel Berry who, though a slave, was far above the average in intelligence. By working nights, holidays and extra hours, he earned enough money to buy his own freedom and afterwards that of his wife and five children.
He removed his family to the state of Pennsylvania where Amanda grew to womanhood. She had only three months' schooling, but this gave her a start and she improved every opportunity to gain knowledge. On March 17, 1856, while living at Columbia, Pa., she was converted; but it was on the first Sunday in 1860 that God wonderfully blessed her soul with the fullness of his love. Her work for the Lord took shape from that time and His leadings were marvelous. She became known as one of the most remarkable preachers of any race or of any age. At the time of her conversion she was a poor widow, taking in washing to support herself and a little daughter. She tells us that she was called upon to surrender all and follow Christ. This she did placing her little girl and her earthly possessions, which consisted of her washing outfit, on the altar.
The following Sunday found her in a fashionable Church in New York City. The spirit was poured upon her to such an extent that she gave God the praise, shouting "Amen"
At this time Mrs. Eli Johnson of Brooklyn, a Quaker lady of wealth connected with the Gurney family of England, proposed that she go across the waters and offered to provide the funds. This was a startling idea, a trip to Europe for a poor, uneducated colored washer woman--and at first she merely laughed at it. But it gradually became evident that it was a pointing of Providence. The door opened more and more widely and so finally she went. She attended the Keswick conference for the promotion of higher life, presided over by Canon Battersy and participated in by Dr. Mahan, Mr. and Mrs. Boardman, Miss Smiley and many prominent members of the Church of England.
Thus she became well known among these people, many of them moving in high circles, and at once had all the invitations she could accept, and more, to hold meetings.
She spent a year in Great Britain visiting the large centers of England, Scotland and Ireland.
In the summer of 1879 she was invited by Rev. W. B. Osborne to visit India which she treated at first as an altogether ridiculous idea. However, her friends urged and interested themselves in the matter. Money of course was needed for the journey and she had none. But this difficulty was quickly removed by unsolicited gifts till an abundance was provided. So, needing a warmer climate in which to spend the winter and provisions having been duly made also for her daughter in America, the way was clear and after three weeks' passage she stood on the soil of India.
She gave her first Gospel Address in Falkland Road Hall, Bombay, November 9, 1879. During the two years spent in that far off country she visited Poona, Calcutta, Cawnpore, Allahabad, Jubbalpore, Lanorvli and Lucknow. She went northward to Bareilly and Naini Tal at which mountain retreat she spent the hot season getting rested and strengthened for a more extended campaign.
Her labor in India was an unqualified success, even beyond the expectations of her friends.
Dr. (later Bishop) Thoburn of Calcutta, where her largest meetings were held and the vast community deeply stirred, wrote--"I have heard speakers of her race who were much more eloquent, but never any of her race or, for that matter, of any other race to whom I have listened with such delight and profit." He testified also, that while the attendance on the services of other evangelists that had visited Calcutta had almost always fallen off, hers steadily increased to the last. In portraying the secret of her power, he ascribed her success to the thorough understanding of God's method with sinners and with every object bearing the impress of our common humanity. "She knows the 'way of the Lord'." She has a keen insight into character, she talks with God as with a familiar friend; and her kindly heart burns at the sight of every human sorrow or want."
Great numbers were saved and scores quickened in the divine life.
It was something entirely new in India for a woman to mount the pulpit and when to this element of startling novelty was added the fact that she was a colored woman, once a slave, come from America and gifted with a marvelous sweet power of song the excitement awakened in any community by her advent may easily be imagined.
Multitudes not at all church-going people and scarcely coming within the range of an ordinary preacher, crowded the places of worship. Drawn by the power of curiosity they heard the gospel most plainly and faithfully set forth and they came again.
Wherever she went there always sprang up an eager discussion on the subject of woman's right to preach.
A great deal of prejudice was swept away and the true position on this matter was fully explained, finding its way into many minds and hearts as they perceived how God used this humble, uneducated woman as one of his choice instrumentalities. Furthermore she impressed with much power the educated non-christian natives who understood English and in the large stations assembled in great numbers to hear her relate her glowing experience in God's love.
For the most part she spoke through an interpreter, but did not feel at home in it.
She gave India Mission a decided impetus. Wherever she went she made a mark. The toilworn workers were cheered, their experience took on a new glow caught from the burning love that filled her heart, and their numbers were increased. In private intercourse too, her influence was admirable and the many homes she visited will cherish very pleasant and profitable reminiscences of her stay. She returned to America much improved physically and better fitted in every way to do many years more of faithful service for the Lord. One writer from Lucknow said--"India has had many visitors of rank and wealth, but we are sure that very few of them have contributed as much to her real advantage as this obscure colored woman, poor in this world's riches and unschooled in earthly learning, but very rich toward God and well instructed in the school of Christ. How earnestly this land and every other, cries out for more such."
A year later she went to Africa where she labored for eight years among the benighted people on the West Coast. Arriving at Monrovia she was compelled to remain a year suffering for the most part of that time, with the African fever. While in that country she was a co-laborer with Bishop Taylor, although on the field as a missionary two years prior to his coming. Bishop Taylor often remarked that Amanda Smith had done more for the cause of missions
Having lost all her own children except a daughter, Mrs. Smith adopted a native boy and girl whom she intended to educate and return to Africa to labor among their own people. On the eve of leaving for England the girl, Frances, was taken ill and Mrs. Smith was forced to leave her with friends. She brought the boy, Robert, as far as England where he was educated and afterward returned to his native country as a missionary. While in London, England, in the spring of 1894, attending the W. C. T. U. Convention the Lord spoke to her and said, "What have you done to help your own people in a permanent way that will live after you are gone"? "Nothing, Lord." Then the thought came to her, "Why not start an Industrial Home for Colored Children"? She began to work to that end. She wrote her autobiography and the profits on the sale of the books were used for the purpose of founding this home. A twelve room brick house was purchased at a cost of six thousand dollars and in this way, "The Amanda Smith Industrial Home" was inaugurated. She counted her friends of both races by the thousands. A cottage fitted up with comforts and all her wants supplied by loving hands at Seabright, Florida, made her last days on earth a haven of rest to enter into that fuller, eternal rest prepared for the faithful of the Lord. Amanda Smith lived on earth, but her conversation was in heaven.
Being dead she yet speaketh.