Freed for Evangelism: The Story of Former Slave Amanda Berry Smith
Editor's note: Today's post continues our Women's History Month series, connecting our contemporary efforts for justice with the evangelical women who came before us. We will feature "women of character, courage, and commitment" each Wednesday in March.
My pastor once said that God often calls us in our area of weakness, asking us to do the things we most fear.
I didn't want to believe that. Just days before, I was invited to speak at a conference. While I was flattered, I fretted about my decision for months since I was not comfortable with public speaking. Why would God ask me to do something that so clearly frightened me?
That is the same question that plagued the heart of Amanda Berry Smith.
Amanda was born into slavery in 1837. Married at 17, she all-too-quickly became a widow at age 26. She labored as domestic help for minimal wages, raising her children alone. She was so poor she couldn't afford medicine to heal her sick baby. Weeping bitterly when he died in her arms, she realized she had no money to bury him.
Despite personal hardship, Amanda was a resolute believer. She felt that even while doing menial tasks like mending clothes or washing dishes, she was serving God. In her autobiography, she wrote,
I found out that it was not necessary to be a nun or be isolated away off in some deep retirement to have communion with Jesus; but, though your hands are employed in doing your daily business; it is no bar to the soul's communion with Jesus. Many times over my wash-tub and ironing table, and while making my bed and sweeping my house and washing my dishes I have had some of the richest blessings.
Amanda showed deep devotion to God. Yet, she felt like many of us do, fearful and unqualified, when he called her to carry his message around the world.
In the 1870s, the equal participation of a black woman in church or public life was unusual–even in areas where they were considered "free." Despite the fact that she had left slavery many years before, Amanda still faced discrimination.
In Philadelphia, Amanda wanted to attend a Bible reading held by author and speaker Hannah Whitall Smith. On her way, she happened to sit by Hannah's husband, Robert. He did not show any embarrassment at being seen in her company. "How real and kind and true he was," said Amanda.
However, when she arrived at the prestigious address, she grew nervous. Amanda prayed to God to give her the courage to attend the white gathering. "I always tried to avoid anything like pushing myself or going where I was not wanted," she explained. When she arrived, a woman told her the meeting was full and to come back another time. She slipped quietly inside and stood at the back.
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