Traditionally, people had to enter the church building in order to hear God’s Word preached in 1865. That changed one day when William Booth was invited to hold a series of evangelistic meetings in the East End of London. It was a tent meeting in a Quaker graveyard. The services were an instant success.
His popularity as a religious leader spread throughout London and he attracted followers who were dedicated to fight for the souls of men and women.
Drunkards, thieves and prostitutes were among the first converts to Christianity. He preached the gospel message of hope and redemption, his goal of course was to lead people to Christ and get them involved in a church for further spiritual guidance so they could grow in their new faith.
In the spring of 1879, the newly named Salvation Army in London was very small and all the workers knew each other personally. Eliza Shirley, a 16-year old, joined the Christian Mission and was appointed as an evangelist at one of the “stations.” At first, her parents were skeptical.
Eliza’s father was an experienced silk weaver and sought employment in the United States. He found work in Philadelphia and sent for his wife and daughter. Eliza expressed her desire to begin a work in America after hearing from her father how ungodly Americans were. She got permission from General Superintendent William Booth, and the rest, as they say, is history!
The Salvation Army came to the United States. Eliza began the work with Booth’s blessing. Captain Elijah Cadman, her superior officer, gave her 100 penny song books to take with her. Little is Much when God is in it!
When they reached Philadelphia, Eliza’s mother shared her desire to begin Army work. They walked and prayed for an affordable meeting place, settling on an abandoned chair factory. The whole Shirley family worked together to get the place cleaned up and ready for the opening meeting.
They put up posters announcing “TWO HALLELUJAH FEMALES.” They didn’t have any standard uniforms, drums, or any of the usual bling that attracted crowds, but people flocked out of sheer curiosity to their open air meetings. I’m sure the words used on those posters brought out the curiosity in folks… lol.
The police told them they couldn’t gather out on the street anymore, so they found a vacant lot several blocks away, but no one followed their march to the hall.
God has the most creative way of providing for His own. A tar barrel fire was set by some boys on their lot. When the Shirleys saw the lot filled with people watching the firemen, they went ahead with the meeting! Reddy, the worst drunk in the area, walked over to the hall. Others followed him over just to see what would happen to him. Well, Reddy was converted and the news not only reached the local papers, but people were burning up the phone lines spreading the news up and down the coast! For once the gossip was a good thing.
The Salvation Army was becoming a household name. Shortly after the Reddy conversion, the Shirleys opened up another hall in West Philadelphia. Eliza’s father was given a choice by his employer to keep his job or keep the Salvation Army. He chose to keep the Salvation Army and lost his job.
When General Booth became aware of the situation, he promoted the Shirleys to captain and promised to send George Scott Railton to America to take charge.
Eliza’s father died in a fatal accident a short time later, but Eliza and her mother continued in the work.
Eliza married Captain Philip Symmonds. They had four children and a good long life.
Philip and Eliza retired in Chicago. Eliza became an ardent fan of the Chicago Cubs.
I love this part of the story…
As Eliza was on her deathbed, the Cubs were in the final games of the World Series. She was drifting in and out of consciousness, alternately praying and asking how the Cubs were doing.
When word came that Eliza Symmonds had been promoted to glory, there was a moment of silence in the stadium in honor of this gallant lady.
Little is much when God is in it… if you go in Jesus’ name. 🙂