Helen Amelia Sunday Woos and Survives Billy Sunday

Helen Amelia (Thompson) Sunday died on February 20, in 1957.

Helen Amelia Thompson had been born 88 years previous, on June 25, 1868. She grew up in Chicago, gave her heart to Christ at the age of 12, and went on to become leader of a Christian Endeavour Society in the local Presbyterian Church.

At a Christian Endeavour social she met Billy Sunday – she was 17 at the time, and he was six years older. Two years later, during which time Billy also was converted – they were married; Billy having proposed to Helen on December 31, 1887. And in 47 years of marriage she followed her husband, as he stormed across America leading multitudes to Christ.

The couple had four children; Helen, George, William and Paul. When the children were young Helen and the little ones missed Billy as he made his extensive preaching forays. From 1907 Helen (known also as “Nell”) travelled with her celebrity husband.

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“And Mrs Billy Sunday became “Ma” Sunday to the nation. “Ma” ran the gamut of usefulness during the ever expanding and ever increasing evangelistic campaigns,” says her biographer. “She looked after many of the details so essential to the handling of great crowds. When the meetings were held under canvas, even the strength of the supporting ropes bore the scrutiny of her watchful eyes” (Remarkable ‘Ma’ Sunday, by O. Overmyer, page 13).

An unsympathetic writer concerning these halcyon days confesses: “Mrs Sunday was hard-headed and hard-working, and she demanded as much from every member of the team as she gave herself. She could always be counted on to help out in any task … they were all glad she kept a more business-like eye on the complex enterprise than her husband” (Billy Sunday Was His Real Name, by W. McCloughlin, pages 77-78).

Life was not without incident. In 1920 Helen survived a very serious car accident. In 1932 their daughter, Helen, died of pneumonia. In 1933 Billy collapsed while preaching in Iowa and that same year their son, George, committed suicide. Then, on November 6, 1935, Billy Sunday died of a heart attack. In 1938 Helen’s son, William, died in a car accident. Following the death of her son, Paul, in 1944, Helen had outlived her husband and all of her four children.

After her husband’s death in 1935, she found a fruitful ministry still awaited her. Invitations poured in for her to speak, and this 67 year-old widow set off on what would eventually be a million miles of speaking for the Lord. In her 84th year she shared in the 25th anniversary celebration of HCJB radio ministry, “The Voice of the Andes”. In 1955 Youth for Christ International observed a special “Ma Sunday Day” where she had the opportunity to address some 5000 young people.

Until her death in 1957, “and in a more subdued manner, ‘Ma’ Sunday carried on from where her bounding, founding Billy left off… (Remarkable ‘Ma’ Sunday, page 4).

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Luther Burgess Bridgers and the Sweetest Name

Luther Burgess Bridgers was born in Margaretsville, North Carolina, on February 14, 1884. His family attended the local Methodist church where Luther’s father taught a Sunday-School class. The family moved to Georgia … and by the age of 17 Luther had begun preaching.

Whilst studying at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky he met Sarah Veatch and married her.

He was ordained as a Methodist minister and then came invitations to conduct ‘revival’ services across southern USA. He also did mission work in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Russia.

In 1910 – at the age of 26 – while in Kentucky conducting a two week series of evangelistic services, he was at the peak of his popularity. Just at the close of those meetings a long distance phone call came in the dead of night to tell him that a disastrous fire at the house of his father-in-law had taken the lives of his wife and three sons.

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And Luther Bridgers wrote a Gospel song …
There’s within my heart a melody

Jesus whispers sweet and low:
“Fear not, I am with thee, peace be still,
In all of life’s ebb and flow”
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus –
Sweetest name I know
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.

At the age of 30 he was appointed General Evangelist for his denomination – and married Aline Winburn. He pastored in Georgia and North Carolina before retiring in 1945 in Gainesville, Georgia.

He died in Atlanta, Georgia, at the age of 64 on 27 May, 1948.

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Dwight Lyman Moody the Greatest Evangelist

Dwight Lyman Moody was born February 5, 1837, in Northfield, Massachusetts, USA, to solid New England Puritan Stock. He was the sixth of nine children. For 200 years seven generations of his ancestors had lived in the Connecticut Valley, and it was to his hometown of Northfield that Moody loved to return and there he hosted much of his teaching, including the successful Northfield Conferences.

His father died when he was but 4 years of age, leaving the mother destitute. Creditors even took the firewood, so the children stayed in bed until school time, in order to stay warm. From age 13 there was to be no more schooling. Moody’s mother demanded that her children attend church, keen to see them find salvation. Moody had the fear of God and wanted to please Him, although he did not know how to find salvation in Christ.

In the back room of his uncle’s shoe store in Boston 16 year-old Moody was led to Christ by Edward Kimball, his Sunday-School teacher. When Kimball presented Moody with the love of Christ the young man was keen to respond and the transformation was immediate. Moody recounts of the transformation, “Before my conversion I worked towards the Cross, but since then I have worked from the Cross; then I worked to be saved; now I work because I am saved.”

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Moody was illiterate, unable to read or write at the age of 17. But he became a dedicated student and gained much from his attention to life and to lessons. His zeal for the Lord made little impression on his church, which saw theological knowledge and correct doctrine as important for salvation. A year after his conversion Moody was denied church membership, since he was “not sufficiently instructed in Christian doctrine”.

The following year found him in Chicago, working with the Plymouth Congregational Church where he became a fervent soul-winner. He rented a pew and filled it each Sunday. Then he rented more, until each week he filled four pews.

When Charles Finney’s great awakening reached Chicago Moody was more than ready for action. At the same time his employment was also blessed, as he became such a successful shoe salesman that he was promoted to commercial traveller.

His next venture was to join a Sunday School which had more teachers than students. He set out to find his own pupils and quickly grew a huge gathering. He followed that with a second Sunday School project which outgrew its hall, so it kept expanding. Then, by reaching out to the parents of the students, he was able to build up a huge audience which thrilled to his excellent and powerful preaching. From the base of 1,500 students Moody was able to build his first church.

However, despite the popularity of his preaching, Moody had his critics among the pedantic folk who were offended by his poor grammar and illiterate modes of speech.

To one man who told him he had bad grammar, Moody replied, “I know I make mistakes and I lack many things, but I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.” He then gave the man a searching gaze and asked, “Look, here, friend, you’ve got grammar enough — what are you doing with it for the Master?”

Moody gave up his successful employment to work for the Lord full time. He became very active and successful with the YMCA work – when the “C” meant “Christian” in those days – the building up his remarkable Sunday-School … ministering in the Civil War to soldiers of both sides … and with his association with Ira D. Sankey.

In 1867 Moody went to Britain to hear Spurgeon preach, meet George Mueller and well known evangelist, Henry Varley. At a public park in Dublin Varley told Moody, “The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully consecrated to Him.” Moody was struck by the fact that the “man” Varley described did not have to be great, learned or smart, but just ‘a man’. Moody decided to be that man.

Moody met Sankey through the YMCA in 1870 and invited Sankey to sing for some open air meetings. Sankey soon gave up his own work and together Moody and Sankey became the world’s best-known evangelistic team on both sides of the Atlantic.

This semi-literate preacher founded the Chicago Bible Institute (today known as the Moody Bible Institute) – a mighty publishing house that is still to the forefront in issuing evangelical literature – and Bible conferences in his hometown. World famous speakers were invited to speak (like Campbell Morgan) and, alas, some not so evangelical (like Henry Drummond).

Moody’s life and his famous Northfield Conferences associate him with many great names of Christian ministry. One that bears special mention is the famous English boy preacher, Henry Moorehouse, who preached on the love of God so constantly and with such compelling words, that Moody’s own preaching and ministry were greatly deepened by the impact.

It is interesting to note that the salvation message of Moody’s Sunday School teacher, Edward Kimball, was also centred on the love of God. This one message seems to be very significant in impacting Moody’s life and ministry.

In 1871 Moody met two ladies in his congregation who prayed earnestly that he would be filled with the Spirit. This created a great hunger in him which he carried during the great Chicago Fire tragedy. While in New York raising funds for those in need he experienced a touch from God which greatly increased his effectiveness. The same messages now brought much greater results. Of that experience Moody said, “I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”

Moody and Sankey drew the largest crowds ever during their first British tour. From then on, both in England and the USA, they spoke to and led to Christ multiplied thousands. On at least one occasion 30,000 people stood outside a meeting hall, because there was no room for them inside.

Moody died on 22 December, 1899. “If this is death, there is no valley …” his friends heard him say. “This is glorious, I have been within the gates, and I saw the children. Earth is receding; Heaven approaching. God is calling me! Hallelujah!”

It has been estimated that before he died – aged 62 – “one million people were converted to Jesus Christ” as the result of his ministry (Hall of Fame, by E. Towns, page 133).

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Harry A Ironside Gives In to God

Harry A Ironside passed from time into eternity during a visit to New Zealand, on January 16, 1951.

Born in Toronto, Canada, October 14, 1876, Harry Ironside grew up in the Plymouth Brethren movement. His parents were eager soul-winners, and his dad was known as “The Eternity Man” because he frequently asked people, “Where will you spend eternity?” However he died at age 27, when Harry was only 2 years old.

Harry’s mum also had a newborn baby and so she struggled to maintain her infant family. What Harry lacked in finance and education he made up in abundance in his religious inclinations. However, he had not found true salvation.

When the family moved to San Francisco, when he was ten, he even started a local Sunday School and preached to average crowds of 60, including some adults. When he heard Dwight L Moody preach in his city to a packed Pavilion, Harry prayed that he would one day have a similar ministry. 42 years later he became pastor of the church which Moody founded.

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In 1889 an old evangelist friend of the family, Donald Munro, challenged Ironside that the boy’s preaching did not make him a Christian. This so impacted Ironside that gave up his Sunday School and struggled for six months over the issue of his salvation.

In February 1990, at age 13, he trusted in the truth of Proverbs 1:24-32, and confessed Christ as his saviour.

Soon after his conversion Ironside joined the Salvation Army and won his first convert in the open air preaching. Then with six months of training he was commissioned as Lieutenant. Later, during General Booth’s visit to San Francisco, he became “Special Orderly Officer to the General”, and Captain. General Booth influenced me more than anyone else …” he testified later, “with the need of reaching the lost for Christ.”

Ironside worked full time around California, preaching and working for the Salvation Army. But whilst wholeheartedly agreeing with the Salvationists on their evangelistic emphasis, Harry found it difficult to agree with their teaching concerning Holiness, the Second Blessing. He saw that the Salvationists looked for personal holiness from within themselves, when it came from the work of Christ. He was almost burned out after five years of constant and vigorous work for the Army.

So he resigned, and for 30 years became widely known as a Brethren evangelist and Bible teacher.

He helped British evangelist, Henry Varley’s San Francisco campaign in 1897and there took an interest in the pianist, Helen Schofield, who was also an ex-Salvation Army member. The couple were wed on January 5, 1898 and a year later their family started. That union lasted for fifty years.

The life of an evangelist was taxing. In the years from 1916 to 1929, Ironside was constantly on the move, preaching nearly 7,000 times to over one million people. He had no vacations and was always busy, even in sickness and weariness.

In 1930 he became pastor of the famous Moody Memorial Church, and also travelled extensively to speak at conventions. Most weeks he would leave Chicago on a Sunday night and not return until the following Saturday, so he could preach on Sunday.

He also accepted frequent ministry invitations in Britain, and also travelled to Europe and Palestine

Thirty books came from his able pen. His writings make him one of the most prolific Christian authors in the 20th century.

He was related, by marriage, to Mr Robert Laidlaw, well-known New Zealand businessman and author of The Reason Why.

Ironside is described as one of the greatest Bible teachers the world has ever known and the most known Christian leader of his era, outside of Billy Sunday whose funeral he preached. He was affectionately known as “the archbishop of Fundamentalism”.

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Billy Sunday Moves a Nation

William Ashley (Billy) Sunday was born on November 19, in Iowa, USA, 1862.

He never saw his father. Billy, as he is better known, was born four months after his father had marched away to fight in the Civil War – never to return to see this third child. Billy lived with him mum, in a Soldier’s Orphans Home and with his grandfather during his growing years, then went through diverse jobs including fireman, janitor and undertaker’s assistant, before getting the chance to go to high school.

By 1880 baseball had become the passion of his life and in 1883 he left his amateur team to play with the Chicago White Stockings. Sunday gained nationwide recognition for his baseball prowess, becoming the first player to run the bases in 14 seconds. He also set records for stealing bases.

In 1886 he stopped to listen to a gospel band on a street corner and he then followed them to the Pacific Garden Mission on Van Buren Street. At that meeting he knelt to accept Christ.

In the years shortly following his conversion he married Helen Amelia Thompson, worked with the YMCA and gave public talks about Christian living while touring with his baseball team. His career advanced and he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also attended Northwestern University for a time, coaching the baseball team in return for his tuition.

Sunday turned down a $400 per month baseball salary (the average worker made $480 per year) for a $84 per month ministry position. Ball teams later offered $500- $2000 per month. Later in life he was offered $1,000,000 to be in the movies, but declined them all in order to continue the evangelistic ministry.

After working for some years with the YMCA and then as assistant to evangelist Wilbur Chapman, Billy Sunday launched out into an itinerant evangelistic ministry (1896-1935).

Thousands crammed into specially built ‘tabernacles’ with sawdust-lined aisles to hear the explosive preaching of this new revivalist.

“By the end of his career he had preached to 100 million souls, of whom a million had walked the ‘sawdust trail’ – that is, had responded to his invitation for them to accept Christ as Saviour (Christianity Today, June, 1991, page 36).

“His magnetic personality, blended with sensational speech and theatrical gestures, kept audiences spellbound!” says the Dictionary of Religious Biography, page 443.

His anti-booze sermon caused “scores of towns and counties” to go dry. Hotels went out of business. His acrobatic preaching meant “he had to change his sweat-soaked suit after each meeting”.

His song-leader, Homer Rodeheaver, wrote that when Billy preached his sermon “The Devil’s Boomerang” – “until he tempered it down a little … two to 10 men fainted every time I heard him preach it!” (Twenty Years with Billy Sunday, page 32).

Sunday contributed much to the Prohibition of alcoholic beverages, through his powerful anti-booze preaching, especially his famous “Get on the Water Wagon” sermon. In later life he devoted much energy in defending the Prohibition amendment from repeal. A battle which he and the temperance movement lost.

It has been pointed out that he was one of the most outstanding preachers of history, yet he has left virtually no legacy. John Wesley was also a great preacher, yet his legacy survives today. The difference between the men is that Wesley built systems which others could employ, while Sunday built only on his own temporary presence and talent. There is a lesson in there for all who wish to make a difference.

Sunday passed away after a heart attack in 1935 at age 73. Helen began an active ministry of her own following his death and continued touching lives for another 22 years.

Not without his faults and plagued by errant sons, nevertheless Billy Sunday stood tall among the giants of evangelism.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.