Jump directly to the Content Jump directly to the Content

We Are Free Indeed

Sojourner Truth used her God-given freedom to set others free—and we can too.

Powerhouse is not a word often used to describe women of the 19th century, but Sojourner Truth is not like most of our spiritual mothers. An itinerant preacher turned abolitionist, and an early voice in the fight for women’s rights, Truth poured out her life for the marginalized and the oppressed.

Born into slavery in 1797, Isabella Van Wagenen—as she was called at birth—was separated from her parents at nine years of age. She was sold on an auction block for $100, with six sheep thrown in to “sweeten the deal.” Over the years, she faced sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of her masters, but somehow persevered. Many saw her as the lowest of society—not only black, but also a woman—but she overcame unfathomable adversity. From birth, the cards were stacked against her, but she retained a steady faith in the God who sees and hears every single one of his children.

When she was 29, Sojourner’s life began to take a positive turn. Although she couldn’t read or write, Truth escaped slavery with her infant daughter in 1826. A year later, the New York State Emancipation Act declared her a free woman. She soon learned that her five-year-old son, Peter, had been illegally sold into slavery in Alabama; so, in 1828, with the help of the Quakers, she sued the owner and became the first black woman to win a case against a white man in court. Some say this series of events gave Truth the gumption to step further into the life she was meant to live.

Isn’t it the same for those of us whose hearts beat wildly for the marginalized and the oppressed? We have encountered the God of the underdog, and now we can’t help but fight for the same. So we teach the children in our churches to have a heart for the poor, and we invite the adults in our communities to fight with and for those who can’t always fight for themselves. We build awareness of the Goliaths the under resourced face and help people see how they can make a difference. And maybe, along the way, we help people discover the deeper lives they too were meant to live.

If Christ Sets You Free . . .

When it comes to Sojourner Truth, many observers say that it wasn’t until 1843, after a true encounter with Jesus, that she began to soar. According to Olive Gilbert, this was the first time, “God was no longer a terror and a dread to her.” Instead, Jesus was her savior. He had been an intercessor for her and for her people all along.

Like Frederick Douglass, a counterpart in the abolitionist movement, God had given her a spirit of insurrection. She was fully free to go and be who God had intended her to be all along: Free to preach the Word. Free to change her name to Sojourner Truth, “because I was to travel up an’ down the land, showin’ people their sins, a’ bein’ a sign unto them,” declaring truth to people. Free to fight for the rights of all, rising in resistance against the freedoms we take for granted today (see The Narrative of Sojourner Truth for more).

It is, after all, for freedom Christ has set us free, and we use that freedom to set others free. So how has God made you free to be who you were created to be, as a woman in leadership, even if you came from the most unlikely of circumstances?

“God uses the least likely candidates to embody and carry out his message of the Good News,” Michelle DeRusha, author of Fifty Women Every Christian Should Know, wrote me in an email. “[Truth] was nearly destroyed by the burdens of her life until God resurrected her, gave her a new name and a new identity, and empowered her to speak the truth about slavery and women’s rights to audiences that were often less than receptive.” Sojourner Truth not only fought for the rights of those who needed it most, but also in her later years spoke out about prison reform, property rights, and universal suffrage. She who stood on the very fringe of society, maligned and ostracized by those who should have been defending her, never ceased to uphold the right to freedom for all persons, with an authority, dignity, and courage all her own.

Truth fought for the marginalized and the oppressed because she herself had been marginalized and oppressed. So we, too, are invited to fight with and for the marginalized and the oppressed. We are invited to give voice to the voiceless. And we are invited to believe that there can be equal rights for all humans everywhere, because, like Truth, we can relate, even in the smallest of ways, to their plight.

As women in ministry, we wait for the time when all will see the value we bring to the table, when the kingdom of God is advanced by women and men working together. But until that day comes, we too wait in earnest hope, with an authority, dignity, and courage only Christ can give.

Somehow, in God’s kingdom economics, nothing is lost, and he is able to redeem even the worst experiences. In Sojourner’s case, he took a woman who once stood on a platform as a commodity to purchase, and gave her a platform to bring freedom to the oppressed. Rallying the crowds with wit, winsomeness, and holy grit, Truth used her platform to bring value to the marginalized.

In the famous speech that sparked the poem, “Ain’t I a Woman,” Truth declared that women are strong and capable of bringing out important change. So why deny women the right to vote? (See Kerry Washington’s rendition of the speech here.)

That little man in black there say

a woman can't have as much rights as a man

cause Christ wasn't a woman.

Where did your Christ come from?

From God and a woman!

Man had nothing to do with him!

The crowd came to thunderous applause that night, and in many meetings thereafter. Until her death in 1883, Truth continued to lean into the life she was meant to live.

So, take heart, woman in ministry: He who called you is faithful. Now use your God-given freedom to be a powerhouse in your church and in your community, and lean into the calling God has given you.

Cara Meredith is a writer and speaker from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and co-host of Shalom in the City's monthly book club podcast. She holds a Masters of Theology (Fuller Seminary), and can be found on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

August29, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Recent Posts

When Your Calling Is Challenged
As hardships come, you have 1 of 3 options.
What Is Calling?
Defining this “super-spiritual” word
Cultivate Your Calling in Each Stage of Life
Angie Ward discusses cultivating leadership amid ever-changing responsibilities.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
How to know whether to leave or stay in your ministry context.

Follow us


free newsletters: