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- God's Answers - 5/28 -
new schoolroom in the Refuge. How varied their feelings! One whispered, 'It was here my mother died of the cholera.' Another, 'Oh! I was once in this ward before, so ill of black cholera.' Dear children! our prayer was that it might still be a house of mercy to many a sin-wearied soul. We have never had such a large schoolroom before, nor the advantage of desks. Their joy knew no bounds when told to invite their mothers to come one afternoon in the week to help me to sew and to earn sixpence, my object being twofold,--to secure an opportunity of telling them the gospel, and to endeavour to help them in the management of their homes and little ones."
The following will show something of the trials attending "holding the fort" in such a spot:--
"Last night I felt it right to sleep at the Refuge for once, so as to be able to enter into all its needs. No words can describe the sounds in the streets surrounding it throughout the night;--yells of women, cries of 'Murder!' then of 'Police!'--with the rushing to and fro of wild, drunken men and women into the street adjoining the building, whence more criminals come than from any other street in London. At three o'clock the heavy rumble of market-waggons commenced, and then the rush of the fire-brigade. Thus much by way of asking special prayer for those whom God has made willing to live in the midst of such surroundings. On the other side of the building is an empty space, known as 'Rag Fair,' filled in the morning with a horde of the poorest women selling the veriest old rubbish. We are thankful to have among these a faithful Christian woman, who, though a seller of rags, is able to testify of the great love of the Lord Jesus."
Emigration of families--A visitor's impressions--The great life-work --Emigration of the young, begun 1870--First party of boys to Canada with Miss Macpherson and Miss Bilbrough--Their reception--Mr. Merry takes second party of boys--Miss Macpherson returns to England and takes out a party of girls--Canadian welcome and happy homes-- Canadian pastor's story.
Emigration had now for some time been in view as the only means of relieving the chronic poverty of the East of London, and in April 1869 a circular to this effect was issued by Miss Macpherson and Miss Ellen Logan. Fifty families were selected as being suitable for such help, and these were gathered together at a farewell tea-meeting before leaving for Canada, all expressing deep thankfulness for the opening given to them. The preparations for the voyage of these fathers, mothers, and little ones required much thought and labour, both for their temporal and spiritual welfare, but from the very beginning of the work, sisters in Christ came from a distance, giving hours or days as a labour of love, and besides personal help on the spot, many busy fingers were at work in their own homes. The first party was followed by others, all involving much care and labour. Before the close of the year very encouraging accounts were received from many of the travellers, and the contrast was great between their condition in the new country and that which might here have been their lot. Whilst this important work was being carried on, evening reading and sewing classes for the little matchbox-makers, and mothers' meetings, were continued without intermission, together with the teaching and training of boys begun at the first Homes; and on the Lord's Day, besides the very large gathering of matchbox-makers, every effort was made to bring all around under the sound of the gospel. A stranger thus describes his impressions after a visit to the Home of Industry, November, 1869:--
"'The mighty cry of anguish' that has gone up for so long from the East of London has, thank God, touched many a heart, and led some to carry God's answering messages in person to the suffering poor, and others to help in the lesser service of gifts.
"Determined to see how the matter stood as regards one portion of that great mass of misery, I gave myself up to the skilful guidance of one whose whole life is spent in the service of God and His poor.
"Leaving the rail, we proceeded to visit the sick-bed of one of the voluntary workers in the Refuge. We found him recovering from a severe attack of enteric fever complicated with pneumonia of the right lung. A fine, handsome young man, once the leader of the singing in a philharmonic club, now the devoted servant of God, his whole anxiety seemed to be as to when he could return to his work. During our visit, it was most touching to see the tenderness and anxious care of his companion, a young man called Fred, a labourer in the large wine vaults at the docks, who, though smelling of wine, and his clothes saturated with the fumes of spirits, was a staunch teetotaller; and judging from the intelligent way in which he answered our questions, would be a valuable witness before any commission of inquiry into the practices which wine-sellers term 'mixing,' but which he vulgarly called 'adulteration.' Every night during the many weeks of illness Fred had paid his friend a visit, and watched over him with all the love of a Jonathan to a David.
"We now pressed him into our service to conduct us through some of the many licensed lodging-houses and thieves' kitchens, which abound in the neighbourhood of Spitalfields.
"On our way we met two little girls, matchbox-makers. The outline of their lives was given in a few moments. The father, a drunkard, had absconded six years ago, leaving his wife and six children to struggle with awful poverty as best they might, having previously so beaten and kicked his wife about the face, that she had become almost blind. 'Where's father now?' 'In the workhouse, stoneblind.'
"In a room with a roaring fire were seated some thirty men and a few women with infants. The landlord's reception was anything but gracious. In answer to our 'Good evening,' he growled out, 'We don't want talk; those men want bread.' And hungry enough many seemed. So while one was sent for a supply of bread, which was received with unmistakable gladness, and devoured greedily, we spoke to them of that living bread which came down from heaven. All were interested, and one young man seemed to wince and to be ill at ease when the love of God was spoken of. I could not but feel that conscience was at work, perhaps memory carrying back his mind to a godly mother, who once had spoken the same loving words, but had gone to her rest in tears.
"We then entered a licensed lodging-house accommodating 350. This was a sad sight, because three-fourths of the men were unemployed poor, chiefly dock-labourers, willing and glad to work, if work could be got. On many a face there were stamped hopelessness and apathy. Two poor fellows were sipping a cup of tea, without milk or sugar, given to them by a poor man, but they had not a morsel of bread; and this was their breakfast,--a late one truly, for it was ten at night. Out all day in search of work, their last coppers were paid for the night's lodging, and a cup of poor tea was their only meal. It made one's spirit groan to think of the misery that sin and selfishness had wrought for these poor fellows.
"In the next house the inmates were mostly thieves. But here is one poor fellow, a workman, but with no work; he has been out in the streets three nights, and now one of his companions pleads with us for three-pence to procure him a night's rest. We peeped into several other such dwellings, but the same story was repeated in each. In all we were struck with the kind reception we met with, evidently due in part to the presence of our companion, who, although a lady, feels called of God to labour among these dens of misery, where there is so much to do and _so few to do it_, and to the fact that we lent a kindly ear to their tale of distress, and did what lay in our power to relieve the immediate pressure of the very destitute. But, above all, we were thankful to meet with such a spirit of hearing, and a ready attention when Jesus was lifted up as the Saviour of sinners.
"We now entered a court to visit a poor woman whose husband had died suddenly the week before. It was between nine and ten, and we found the widow had been washing, the clothes hanging from lines in the room. Her two children, aged nine and eleven, were busily employed in matchbox-making.
"The rapidity and neatness of these little human machines were truly most remarkable; the number of boxes made in a day, from half-past six in the morning to ten at night, was something fabulous. The floor of the room was covered with boxes; they earned a shilling each a day; often days passed when they were unable to get work to do. Poor children! thin and wan-looking, life seemed a terribly serious thing to them, their days spent in incessant toil when work was plentiful, their nights--well, they had a bedstead with a bundle of dirty rags for a bed, but not a stitch of bedclothes; the clothes the children wore were their only covering at night.
"In another court we found a silk-weaver hard at work,--from eight in the morning to eleven at night. This man, a Christian, had formerly been a weaver of velvet, but finding that a living could not in any way be made out of it, in an evil hour he was tempted to go into a skittle-alley as a helper. Here, though receiving good wages, he found he could not be happy,--could not 'abide with God;' so he gave it up, and now he is earning barely tenpence a day; but hard as his lot is, he is happy in the consciousness of doing right, and still manages to spare a little time to take his reading-lesson from the Bible, and to tend a flowering-plant, his only companion, which representative of the vegetable world seems to have nearly as hard a struggle to live as its master.
"Our next visit was to a poor old woman between sixty and seventy years of age, surrounded with every discomfort, and troubled with constant cough and weakness. Apparently she had only a few days to live, but she was able to rejoice in Jesus as her Saviour, whose presence even then made all things bright.
"The next visit was to a poor dying girl; in a room so small that there was only a margin of about three feet round two sides of the bed for standing ground, the floor covered with rags, (her mother being a rag-mender), lay one, who, though poor and miserable, was yet an heir of glory, and was upheld in all her wretchedness by Him who was sent to be 'the Comforter.' We thanked God for these two bright spots, where divine light and love were seen and felt.
"At the Home of Industry we had been invited to take tea with two hundred and fifty destitute widows. The testimony of one of these, a clean, tidy old woman, was very precious. She had once been in affluent circumstances and drove her carriage; her fortune lost in one day, she was now reduced to poverty, but, 'Sir,' she said, 'I would not go back to it all and be as I then was; no, not for all the world.' Possessing Christ as her own, she felt she had the riches of God, and knew that there was an inheritance reserved for her in heaven, incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away."
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