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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

DAILY ENCOURAGEMENT TUESDAY - CLASSIC TESTIMONIES… Elizabeth Fry.

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. – Revelation 12:11.

"You are born to be a light to the blind, speech to the dumb and feet to the lame."


Eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Gurney heard this prediction with wonder.
Had not her friend Deborah Darby gone too far? Members of the Society of Friends, commonly called "Quakers," accepted that the Holy Spirit spoke to them through one another. But Deborah's words seemed overly bold for an age which did not allow women much scope of action. Earlier that same year Elizabeth had fallen under conviction in a meeting led by a Quaker from the United States. So deep had been the impression that she had wept in the carriage most of the way home where she confided to her diary, "Today I have felt that there is a God." Yet no compelling sense of purpose had come to her.

Nor did it now. Nonetheless, she made herself useful where she could, starting a Sunday School with one boy. It quickly grew to eighty. She provided the poor with food and clothes and read to them from the Scriptures. When banker Joseph Fry proposed marriage the following year, she hesitated, hoping for illumination from the Lord. As nothing specific was forthcoming, she accepted the offer. She bore him ten children. Not until after the tenth was born did Elizabeth glimpse her mission.

In 1817 her brother-in-law Thomas Fowell Buxton, a Member of Parliament, suggested she visit the women's section of Newgate prison. Crime was on the rise. English prisons were overcrowded. Perhaps some remedy was possible.


Friends cautioned Elizabeth not to go. The female prisoners were so violent that they would snatch clothes off visitors' backs, heckle them and steal their valuables. The governor of Newgate himself dared not approach them. But the mother of ten determined to take action. This was just the challenge she craved. Having visited a prison before, she wasn't to be frightened off. Had not the Lord commanded us to remember those in prison? She entered Newgate, refusing even to take off her watch, which, incidentally, was not stolen.

Nothing had prepared her for what she found. Hundreds of drunken, rag-clad women crowded into four rooms built for half their number. Innocents awaited trial side by side with hardened prostitutes and thieves. Children, whose only fault was to have nowhere else to go, might have envied barnyard animals their stables. Babies born in prison squalled in nakedness.
The turnkeys (who made their income "shaking down" prisoners) sold a few amenities- and even sold booze. Bathing utensils were scarce. Lice swarmed in clothes and hair. The daily ration of food was one small loaf of bread per person. There were no medicines. Sick women were dumped on dirty straw without so much as a bed. Death by "prison fever" (Typhus) was common.

Discipline was nonexistent. Bullies ran the wards. Fights and curses erupted freely. Many of the women strutted around in men's clothes. Even the tough male prisoners, who mingled with the women during the day, were appalled at their behavior.

Elizabeth made her appeal through the babies. Surely the women desired better than this squalor for their little ones! Indeed they did! But they had no income, no education, no discipline, no hope. Elizabeth promised help and they listened respectfully, recognizing her plain dress as a religious uniform.

Drawing on her own resources and the funds of others, Elizabeth gathered supplies and formed committees. She organized classes in knitting and sewing. Soon the women were able to sell their piecework, earning a little money for soap and food. After fierce haggling she obtained a room for a school. The best educated among them was designated to teach. Each day Fry read aloud to them from the Bible, hoping that the salvation story would sink into their minds and convert them. A few sought Christ's pardon and lived with new peace.


The Quakeress convinced the prison authorities to appoint matrons in place of male turnkeys for the women. With steely determination, she enforced rules upon all, rules which the prisoners themselves voted on. She had them elect leaders to keep order among themselves. Soon Newgate's female wards evidenced unprecedented decorum. The transformation was so extraordinary that world leaders heard of it and consulted her.

At that time many convicts were transported from England to Australia. The system was especially brutal to women for the ships were not fitted to accommodate them. Destitute when at last they reached Australia, many women resorted to prostitution to survive. Elizabeth agitated for reforms. Meantime, for twenty years, she and her committee visited every transportation ship before it sailed, ensuring that the women had cloth and thread so they might make articles on the long voyage which they could sell in the colony when they arrived. Thanks in large part to her efforts, the transportation was exposed as an inhumane institution and, shortly after her death, outlawed.

Elizabeth's reforms prompted other advances. Theodore Fliedner, a young German pastor, imported her ideas to Germany. To succor needy ill women, he trained nurses. Elizabeth, impressed by the idea, founded the Institute of Nursing Sisters to work among the poor. The nurses were given rudimentary training at Guy's Hospital. One of these sisters nursed Elizabeth in her last illness. She died at age 65. Her actions, spurred by faith, fulfilled Deborah Darby's vision: she had become a voice for prisoners who could not speak for themselves.

Are you willing to do whatever it takes, and give your all, to win the lost to Christ? Then like, Elizabeth Fry, put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water, and dare to follow Jesus wherever He leads you?

Loving Father, I thank you for the life of Elizabeth Fry, and I pray that anyone reading this may be inspired by her testimony to give their life to you, and that you would use them in the same way, as you used Elizabeth. By the power of the Holy Spirit, help me to be a person of like faith, that I may bring glory to your name. In the wonderful and mighty name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Be encouraged.
GBYAY

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