A Legacy of A Higher Education
In 1854, at the age of seventeen, an uneducated country lad, stout, rude, and shabby-looking, set off from his home in Northfield, Massachusetts, to seek work in Boston, with his mother's blessing upon him, and a few dollars in his pocket.
Duey, as one sibling called him, was the sixth of nine children born to his mother, Betsey. Duey’s father, Edwin, a farmer and stonemason, died when the boy was four. His youngest siblings - twins - were born one month after the death of his father. Even during those tough times, Betsey continued to send her brood to church. Together with his eight siblings, Duey was raised in the Unitarian church.
As the boy grew, he became more restless and mischievous. He was often found lingering around the Connecticut River, which ran through the town, dividing West Northfield from East Northfield.
Betsey, widowed, and trying to make ends meet for her large family, sent him away as a young teen, to work for his room and board. Even though the boarder provided cornmeal, porridge, and milk three times a day, young Duey complained to his mother and returned home. When she found out the boarder would give him all he wanted to eat, she sent him back. Times were tough in pre-civil war America.
With his measly money, and his mother’s blessing, Duey also carried with him to Boston enthusiasm, innocence, and a desire to work hard. Desperate, he found work in his uncle’s business. This, and a reluctant visit from a local religious teacher, would forever change this young man’s life. He would eventually educate and influence countless other American men and women in post Civil-War America.
While in Boston selling shoes in his uncle’s shoe store, Duey learned several valuable lessons that would drive his life from that day on, utilizing his gift for teaching and his passion for nonconformity, and persistence. One of his uncle's requirements for Duey to live and work for him was that the young man would attend the Congregational Church of Mount Vernon.
In early 1855 Duey met Edward Kimball, a simple, gentle Sunday school teacher. Later that year, Duey was converted to evangelical Christianity under the tutoring of Mr. Kimball. He met regularly with Duey and talked to him about how much God loved him and had a plan for his life. His conversion sparked the start of his career as an entrepreneur, educator, publisher and church planter.
Duey’s first experience of church membership, however, did not go as expected. He was initially rejected for membership. The 18 year old was frustrated. It was a full year later before the church leadership accepted the young man as a member. As his teacher, Edward Kimball, stated, "I can truly say, and in saying it I magnify the infinite grace of God as bestowed upon him, that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my Sunday School class; and I think that the committee of the Mount Vernon Church seldom met an applicant for membership more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of Gospel truth."
Today, there is a plaque commemorating the spot on Court Street in Boston where Duey -- Dwight L. Moody -- was converted in 1855. From that day on, the restless boy would grow up to be an entrepreneur with extraordinary outcomes.
One of the early “schools” that D.L. Moody started was in an abandoned saloon. He got the saloonkeeper to allow him to hold meetings in the run-down building. In that meeting, according to his old Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball, he saw a man holding a candle, while Moody held an African-American boy near him, trying to read to him the story of the Prodigal Son. "A great many words he could not read, and had to skip," Kimball said. "I thought, if the Lord can ever use such an instrument as that for His honor and glory, it will astonish me.” Well, Mr. Kimball would end up being astonished.
As a result of Moody’s tireless labor, within a year the average attendance at his “school” was 650 people, while 60 volunteers from various churches served as teachers. It became so well known that newly elected President Lincoln visited and spoke at a Sunday school meeting, on November 25, 1860.
After the Civil War started, Moody became involved with the United States Christian Commission of the YMCA, and paid nine visits to the battlefront, being present among the Union soldiers after the Battle of Shiloh and the Battle of Stones River. He also entered Richmond, Virginia, with the troops of General Grant.
On August 28, 1862, he married Emma C. Revell, with whom he had a daughter, Emma Reynolds Moody, and two sons, William Revell Moody and Paul Dwight Moody.
The growing Sunday school congregation needed a permanent home, so Moody started a church in Chicago, the Illinois Street Church. In October 1871 the Great Chicago Fire destroyed Dwight's church building, as well as his family dwelling and the homes of most of his church members. Many had to flee the flames, saving only their lives, and ending up completely destitute. Moody, reporting on the disaster, said about his own situation, "I saved nothing but my reputation and my Bible."
In the years after the fire, Moody's wealthy Chicago supporter John V. Farwell tried to persuade him to make his permanent home in Chicago, offering to build a new house for Moody and his family. But the newly famous Moody, also sought by supporters in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere, chose the tranquil farm he had purchased next door to his birthplace in Northfield, Massachusetts. He felt he could better recover from his lengthy and exhausting preaching trips in a rural setting. There, he was no longer restless.
Northfield became an important location in evangelical Christian history in the late 19th century as Moody organized summer conferences there, which were led and attended by prominent Christian preachers and evangelists from around the world. It was also in Northfield that Moody founded two schools (Northfield School for Girls, founded in 1879, and the Mount Hermon School for Boys, founded in 1881), which later merged into today's co-educational, nondenominational Northfield Mount Hermon School.
In addition to starting schools, colleges and institutes, including the Chicago Bible Institute - now known as the Moody Bible Institute - Moody traveled the globe educating people in many countries and evangelizing un-counted numbers of people across the globe about the gospel message.
Dwight L. Moody visited Britain with long-time friend and musician Ira D. Sankey, with Moody preaching and Sankey singing. Together they published books of Christian hymns. Moody greatly influenced the cause of cross-cultural Christian missions after he met Hudson Taylor, a pioneer missionary to China. He actively supported the China Inland Mission and encouraged many of his congregation to volunteer for service overseas.
He preached his last sermon on November 16, 1899, in Kansas City, Missouri. Becoming ill, he returned home by train to Northfield. He died on December 22, 1899, surrounded by his family.
Today, the restless, uneducated country lad is best known as an evangelist, educator, publisher, and church-planter. As D.L. Moody gruffly said to a critic one day, “It is clear you don't like my way of doing evangelism. You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
And as for Edward Kimball, well, he’s best known as the patient and surprised Sunday school teacher to a young, restless man pursuing his call in life. One wonders what would have happened if Edward Kimball never met D.L Moody.
And this is why, Legacy Matters...
Featurette No.12 (c) www.legacyletters.xyz
Legacy Matters! A featurette on interesting individuals and brands, that have stood the test of time and will entice you to be intentional and purposeful about your own legacy. Join us and create! Tell Your Story.