|CHAPTER I. -- Call to Service.|
In a certain city of the fair South Land of the United States of America there was born a wee little girl baby, whom her father named Virginia, in honor of the state of his nativity, which he never ceased to praise. This Negro child had the godly heritage of being well born of honorable parents who had secured their freedom at great cost.
Virginia's father was an industrious, intelligent man, who, early in life, hired his time from his master and thereby was enabled to purchase his own freedom and also that of his wife.
As freedmen they began to build up a home and rear children who could enjoy the privileges of education that only very few of our race could enjoy at that time. Before the late Civil War Virginia attended a private school, taught by Professor Daniel Watkins, and was reading in the fourth reader when the new day of freedom dawned upon the race and brought with it the glorious light of education for all who would receive it.
Fisk University was one of the first institutions of learning established for the Freedmen. Virginia was enrolled among its first pupils and classified
Virginia has the distinction of being the first college graduate of womankind south of Mason and Dixon line. The prevailing custom in the South at that time regarding the education of woman made it possible for this Negro girl to have such a distinction.
Immediately after her graduation, in answer to a telegram, she went to Memphis and there passed a creditable examination for a position in the public schools of that city. So brilliant was her success in the examination, her friends insisted that should take the principal's examination. This, however, she declined to do, as she did not wish to be a rival of her male classmate who was aspiring for that position.
For twelve years she taught in the public schools of Memphis, being promoted from time to time, until she became principal of the North Memphis school, and later assistant principal of the Kortrecht grammar school, the most advanced public school in that city for colored youth.
While teaching in the last position mentioned a stranger introduced as Miss J. P. Moore, accompanied by Miss E. B. King, called to see Virginia, and invited her to attend a missionary meeting appointed
The interest became so general in this Bible Band work that Miss J. P. Moore advised the women to petition the W. B. H. M. S. for a Stationary Missionary. This was done. Miss Burdette, corresponding secretary W. B. H. M. S., came to Memphis and after through investigation Memphis was selected as a regular mission
This Bible Band work being fairly established in Memphis, as a means of greater development, God opened a way through that fearless pastor, Rev. R. N. Countee, for the establishment of a Christian school, known as "The Bible and Normal Institute." Ere this school was completed a heartless assassin slew the philanthropist who was providing the means for erecting and furnishing the building.
Alas! Alas! Imagine the dilemma this blow placed our work in; school building and furnishings
incomplete and a debt of several thousand dollars upon us. We can say with the song writer at this
"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm."
This crisis was God's way of opening the doors for women to speak in many of our churches in that section that were interested in the new Bible School. Hitherto Paul's statement, "Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak," had looked and barred the doors of our churches against women speaking.
In the meantime, while God was providing the way
Husband, children and all other earthly ties and possessions were given up. By and by the Lord manifestly came, but not as she expected, to bear her ransomed spirit home, but she was overshadowed with the veritable presence of God, and made to understand thoroughly and clearly in language spoken to the soul, that God was not ready for her then, but He had a work for her to do. That marvelous experience was accompanied with renewed strength of body that continued to increase from that moment until she was able to leave her bed. Virginia's physical weakness, at that time, prohibited her from witnessing a great baptizing that she desired greatly to see, but she was given another rich spiritual blessing that more than compensated her for failing to see the baptizing. She was privileged to hear sweet heavenly music that is unlawful for man to utter, and she quietly rested, sweetly rejoicing in the Lord, as a babe lulled to rest in its mother's arms. In time her strength increased and she came to her normal condition of health. The following song was at once given her, suggestive of many of her experiences, and also as one of the ways God would direct her in her work.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word;
What more can He say, than to you He hath said,
You, who with Jesus, for refuge hath fled?"
This song, through all these twenty years, has not only been an inspiration for service, but its truth have been verified in the varied experiences we herein relate.
Virginia gladly began her work again in the Bible class taught by Mrs. M. Ehlers, the stationed missionary in her home city. The first meeting she attended after her recovery was one of great joy to her; she was so full of joy she spoke twice in that meeting, and then and there won friends to the Lord's cause that have ever since proved faithful allies of hers in the great work of missions where unto God had called her. Among those friends we would mention the two devoted sisters, Peggie and Hannah.
Mrs. Ehlers, and the other white missionaries who visited us in these early days, were not slow in discerning Virginia's adaptability and ability to help in advancing the work. They began at once to encourage her and develop her gifts by assigning her special duties to perform in the meetings. Virginia's increased zeal was also manifest in her church, and she was used in various official capacities in the local Bible Band of her church and that Sunday school work.
This great Bible Band work among our women was soon noised abroad and invitations came to us from the regions around to send out a worker that the people generally might learn of the work and share in its blessings. A certain district association met in Memphis, and Rev. Copeland, another staunch friend to the woman's work, presented our Bible Band work to his associate brethren. Many of them were favorably impressed and requested that we send one of our Bible women to their churches to tell them more about the work, and organize the women of their churches. Thus, in due season, being approved by the church, Virginia was sent on her first missionary journey to the regions beyond her home city.