Brethren Archive

A Village Mission.

by William Luff

FOR several years a most excellent village mission has been carried on in a quiet way, under the direction of Mr. T. S. Heley, of Wing, Leighton-Buzzard; and as it has been my privilege to take part in this work, a few particulars may be both interesting and useful, leading others to go and do likewise.  Let me first describe— 
A pony and four-wheel carriage—the latter fitted with a box for provisions, &c.; the former has also a box for provisions, but as he can fill his with the roadside grass, we need say no more.  Our box requires furnishing with plates, knives, forks, &c., which are permanent; and bread, meat, butter, jam, &c., which are only permanent so long as the hungry workers keep from them.  These stores generally require replacing every morning before leaving the town at which the party stays for the night.  One worker has charge of this department and is known as the "High Commissioner of the Cupboard."  The box is also stored with spiritual food—tracts, small books, and publications, for house-to-house distribution. If a long journey is undertaken, parcels of these are sent on by rail, to meet the workers at different points.
The workers themselves are generally hardy folk, who can sit under a hedge and enjoy their dinner, happy as kings; for this meal, a rug is spread, a tin of meat opened, a loaf cut, thanks said or sung, and the repast is thoroughly relished.  Tea is not quite so simple, the plan being to carry all that is needed, except cups, tea pot, and hot water—these articles are usually obtainable at a cottage for a trifle, by way of remuneration, though frequently payment is generously refused, the cottagers believing that if "a cup of cold water" shall in no wise lose its reward, certainly twelve cups of hot water will not be forgotten.  The nights are generally spent in a town, at some temperance house, or ordinary hotel, except when Christian friends can entertain.
As for the work, it is various as the weather, and consists of singing, preaching, praying, visiting; in short, our motto is, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."
visited depend as Paddy said, upon which way you go.  The sketch here given was a run of thirteen days, from Bucks to the South-east coast and back, passing through Beds, Herts, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridge, embracing mission work in over one hundred villages and hamlets.  Some of these were large, and some very small; the latter generally require a visit more than the former, and so receive special attention.  In one little place, some of the houses seemed perched, like swallows’ nests, far above the road, which passed between steep banks; to reach the doors necessitated climbing a dozen rough, irregular steps.  Awkward places for drunkards!
One Sunday afternoon, we wended our way up to what was supposed to be a lane, but which, in wet weather, would prove a water-course; the road was too steep for the pony, which met the detachment dispatched to this spot half a mile on.  At the summit, a windmill was discovered, and several houses.  As the mill was not keeping the Sabbath rest, reference was made to the fact, the miller curtly excusing himself by saying, "The wind blows Sundays."  As a contrast, we found a dear aged saint nearby conning the Old Book.  So, it is all the world over, believers and unbelievers.
Another lone place through which our route lay, seemed inhabited only by rabbits, to whom we ventured to sing a hymn.  It was almost more than flesh could bear to see the comical way in which the congregation listened, a congregation of perhaps a hundred, riveted for a moment to the spot.  But alas, for the behaviour of the hearers!  They turned and fled, their white appendages quivering with fear. Even in this out-of-the-way spot, some most hopeful visits were made.
It may be more interesting if a few pictures of this work are given.
1. A blind lane, a row of cottages on the right, a few at the end, and another row at an angle on the left, a brilliant afternoon, a sudden invasion and disturbing of the peace by the arrival of the King’s cavalry—one horse and four men.  A hymn is sung, and the people come to their doors.  Soon the congregation is eager for the proclamation.  How they listen!—and please observe, it is a working congregation, each person having under the arm a bunch of straw, and around the arm, a coil of plait, while the fingers twist, and twirl, and twine busily—a sure sign that we are in Bedfordshire, a straw-plaiting district.
2. An evening gathering, supplementing the work of an evangelist, who is holding services at the chapel.  This is an expected meeting, duly announced, and held in an open space in the village.  The harmonium and a band of singers start the work; a large company of respectable hearers gather round, until evening shadows warn of a departing day.  Then follows a solemn and impressive meeting in the schoolroom, where, we trust, the nail in a sure place is clinched for eternity.
3. Things are not always thus pre-arranged.  Picture a long and large village, at an evening hour when all are within the little city's circumference.  Suddenly the voice of song is heard at one end of the main street; doors are opened, heads appear at windows, children run, passers-by stop.  The song over, three workers scatter, and go from house to house, leaving one in the trap to publish the gospel, which is done in a clear, steady voice, ringing far down the long line of houses.  Driving on, the crowd is left wondering who the strange being can be.  As soon as the visitors are overtaken, another song is sung at the crossroads, and then slowly turning, so as to face each road in succession, the proclamation of good news is again made.  Three times in this village was the gospel preached, until the whole place appeared stirred.
4. Sometimes a little opposition is encountered, which usually emanates from John Barleycorn and his family.  We were stopping at an angle in the road, opposite a public-house; presently a party from "the parlour" came forth; sneers and jeers followed, but our preacher went on.  Sneers and jeers waxed louder, if not more musical; at length, the preacher turned, and, with withering utterances, poured forth in hot indignation, forced the enemy to a hasty retreat, with a few subjects for meditation.  After this, a quiet and splendid time was enjoyed, many Christians coming forward to shake our hands.
Perhaps it may be as well here to say a little about—
Of course, they were good and good-for-nothing; civil and uncivil, wise and otherwise.  As will have been seen, we had "the publicans and sinners" to hear us in more senses than one.  Handing a tract to a man in a cart, we received a few not very complimentary words, to which a reply was given stating that the Lord Jesus had saved the speaker from "pots and pubs." "Don’t say anything against the public houses," said the man in the cart, "for your Master was born in an inn."  This was an unfortunate plea; for our friend replied, "No, no; there was no room for him there, they would not take him in."
But objectors were few; the many welcomed us and our messages with gladness, nor could we fail to notice how numerous were the anxious ones who wished to hear more of the Saviour.  In one large village, we might have spent many hours in deep spiritual conversation with seekers; as it was, a few words had to suffice.  As an example, take the following—A woman came to the door of a respectable house; a question or two soon showed she was desirous of light.  The text was quoted which speaks of Christ taking away our sins.  “He took all," said the visitor, “not some.  If you took all these tracts in my hand, I should not have any left.  If Christ took all my sins, he leaves me free, not one remains."  With such messages, we passed from door to door, leaving results to God.
Among the persons met, we were almost surprised to find so many children of God.   Witnesses were discovered in almost every place, until we were led to believe—"There are more saints in heaven and earth, O doubting one, than are dreamed of in thy theology."
Coming through a very wild country, owned by the Black Prince, we met a large flock of sheep, feeding along the open plain adjoining the road. "Guess how many sheep there are," said one.  The first guesser replied, "Three hundred."  The second, “Five hundred."  The third, "Seven hundred."  To decide the matter, we determined to ask the shepherd. "Eleven hundred and fifty, sir," said he.  When tempted to think there are but few sheep in the Lord’s flock, let us "ask the Shepherd," and we shall find there are more than our fears guess.
Among the persons must be mentioned, the many sick folk who were visited.  I was called in by a fellow-worker to see an old lady he had discovered; a happy praising one, though confined to her bed in the corner of her cottage.   We sang to her a verse of a little hymn, to which her thin hand waved in joyful sympathy.
"The Lord has sent me two blessings: a good night, and now you gentlemen.  Thank him!"
Another old lady, sitting in her cottage, was asked if she knew Jesus.  "Known him these three years," said she; and then told how she had been looking for Him for "years and years," and how one day while cleaning her house, she stopped and knelt, and light came into her mind in a moment.
“But suppose I told you that Book was not true," I said, pointing to her Testament.  "I know it be true," she exclaimed.
This old creature was seventy-eight years of age; and she and her "old man" had been dependent upon parish relief for twenty-two years.  She had proved the Book true.
Hearing that a certain publican was dying, one of our number called, and had a long conversation with the poor fellow.   He was very dark; but who can tell, but the Lord led us to that road and that house, that a soul might be saved at the eleventh hour?
"The Lord led us."  That thought suggests—
which happened to us during our tour.  The first day, toward evening, we suddenly had a slight breakage, which necessitated finding a blacksmith.  The right man was secured, a smart young fellow, who went to work with a will.  While our trap was undergoing repair, we held an open-air service on the green—a capital time.  A good man followed and asked us to supper.  He lived next to the blacksmith; but our vehicle was not ready, and we had some miles between us and the town.  We then found that our friend could accommodate us all, pony included.  To be led to a house where we could be comfortably lodged, with a field for the horse, was a remarkable circumstance in a village.  We had a hearty laugh over the passage of Scripture which came in the course of reading for that night. When the family assembled, the verses proved to be in Jude: "There are certain men crept in unawares." The fact that five strangers of the male sex were present, looked like a fulfilment of the words.  In the morning, a capital breakfast was provided, and all free for the Lord’s sake.  "The Lord led us!" 
Another night we found ourselves in a village where we were not expected; a bed was provided for two, but as there were five of us that evening, three were bedless.  At the close of the open-air meeting, we told the people how matters stood, and three friends came forward to take charge of the three homeless strangers; and right well did they entertain them.  "The Lord led us!"
It was Saturday evening; we hastened on, and got in much earlier than usual, hunted up an old friend of one in the party, and by his help, obtained private accommodation.  Hardly had we got to our rooms before a heavy storm came on; lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and rain pelted in a style that would have drenched us had we been out.  Again, we had to say, "The Lord led us!"
It was wonderful in how many places the name of C. H. Spurgeon turned up.  At a farm, we were shown the yard in which he once, under an awning, preached to the assembled crowds.
An old thatcher, who appeared to know a thing or two in religious matters, told us that for many years, he had taken Mr. Spurgeon's sermons.  "I read them," said he, “and then I passes them on to someone else."
In a cottage where we had tea, the name of Mr. Spurgeon’s grandfather was very fragrant, and one of our party quite startled the good woman by asking her if she thought he was anything like Mr. Spurgeon.  As she had never seen the original, it seemed to dawn upon her that perhaps she had the veritable C. H. S. before her.  She looked, seemed somewhat troubled at the august presence, and at last asked, "Are either of you gentlemen Mr. Spurgeon?"   Then her vision ended, and she realized that she had ordinary individuals beneath her roof, and not the popular preacher.
I have gone thus into detail with the hope that some other Christians, possessed of pony and carriage will take up a similar work in other parts.
William Luff.
"The Sword and the Trowel" 1887 


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