The picture I’ve chosen to go along with today’s post depicts Robert Raikes out in the streets of England doing the work that was so near and dear to his heart. Raikes, in case you don’t know, was the father of the Sunday School movement that swept over England in the late 1700s and spilled over into the United States in the early 1800s.
As the editor of the Gloucester Journal, Raikes became greatly burdened over the plight of the city’s underprivileged children. These children received no schooling and typically worked six days a week in the factories right alongside their parents. The kids couldn’t read or write, had little or no chance of upward mobility when they got older, and ran wild in the streets on Sundays, the only day the factories were closed.
So in 1781 he opened a home-school on Sunday whereby the Bible was used as the textbook to teach the children to read and write. That small spark created a movement and in four years time over a quarter of a million children were attending the various Sunday Schools of England. Ultimately, those Schools became the basis for England’s state-funded school system. From England the institution soon spread to the United States, where again the emphasis was on teaching underprivileged children to read and write and give them a moral basis by which to improve themselves. You see, the early Sunday Schools bore little resemblance to the typical Sunday Schools of today’s churches where the children attend public schools and wear their “Sunday best” to church.
It was to one of those early Sunday Schools in the English city of Newcastle that a boy named Bob came in rather raggedly dressed. As was the custom, the School’s superintendent gifted the boy with a brand new suit of clothes. But after attending for three Sundays, Bob stopped coming. The kindly woman who was his teacher went looking for him and found him. Since Bob’s new suit was now torn and dirty, the Superintendent gave him another new one. This time Bob attended for two Sundays but afterwards went missing again. The teacher tracked him down one more time and found that the second suit of clothes was now as bad as the first one. This second setback was more than she could bear, and she reported to the Superintendent that, despite their best efforts, they should consider Bob a lost cause. The Superintendent, however, wasn’t ready to give up all hope just yet. He said, “I’ll give him a third suit if he will promise to attend regularly.”
Well, Bob did promise, and he made good on that promise. Even more than that, he went on to become a Christian, join the Presbyterian church, become a teacher, study for the ministry, and become a missionary. History knows him as Dr. Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, the man who lived in that country for twenty-seven years and translated the entire Bible into the Chinese language.
But what would have happened if that Sunday School teacher had given up on Bob the first time he quit her class and ruined his new suit? Or what if that Superintendent had let her give up on the boy the second time he quit and ruined the second suit? Dare I say that the history of missions would have been changed for the worse. Isn’t it amazing how much difference some perseverance, faithfulness, and patience can make? Galatians 6:9 is a good verse to work in here:
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
I, for one, know what it is to grow weary while doing good and to lose heart, and I’m guessing that I’m not the only one. It’s so hard to keep serving the Lord when you can’t see the immediate benefits of it, isn’t it? But let’s take the case of the legendary missionary Dr. Robert Morrison as encouragement today. Christians, we can make a profound difference in peoples’ lives if we just keep on plodding in service. Will there be setbacks, trying times, and days of disillusionment? Certainly. But if we will stay the course, continue the work, and resist the temptation to quit, we are promised by God that “we shall reap” in due season. You ask, “And just when is my due season?” I don’t know. It might be today or it might be in ten more years. The thing to remember, though, is that it’s coming. So don’t lose heart and derail it before you get to enjoy it.