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Sallie Holmes & the Work of The Holy Spirit in Mission
In the light of Pentecost Sunday, I want to outline an unusual example of the Holy Spirit’s power and provision for His missionary servants with a focus on the life of Sallie Holmes.
Landrum and Sallie Holmes were appointed as missionaries to China by the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board in 1858. They arrived in China in January 1859. In 1860 they started the Southern Baptist’s missionary work in North China. But in 1861 Landrum was murdered by Taiping rebels. Only a month and a half prior, Sallie and Landrum’s little daughter Annie died. Shortly after Landrum’s murder, Sallie discovered she was expecting another child. It was a boy whom Sallie named Landrum after his father.
There was, understandably, strong pressure from Sallie’s family to return to the USA. But Sally believed two truths about the Holy Spirit.
Firstly that He leads God’s children. Sally understood that the Holy Spirit was leading her to stay in China, not to return home.
Secondly that He would give her the strength and the passion for souls to be faithful to her call. Before leaving the field 20 years later in 1881 she had only returned home once, in 1867 for reasons of her son’s health. She served Jesus for over 20 years in China after losing a daughter, a husband, and while raising her son as a single mother.
Sally deeply needed the help of the Holy Spirit. When her child and her husband were taken in such a short time, Sally wrote in a letter home in November 1861:
“I wonder if my heart is broken. I hardly know how I do feel. I feel miserable all the time and in agony often. But I know it only seems to be so, and that it really is best just as God has willed it. As far as I know myself, I think I feel unconditional submission to God’s will, entire confidence in His love and wisdom, a sort of undefined sense of gratitude to Him for doing what He knows best, though it seems so different to me.”
What an amazing balance of both brutal honesty about the impact of her agonising loss and yet at the same time a deep and determined Holy Spirit-inspired faith in the Lord’s overruling!
Sally did not deny the almost unbearable pain in her heart, but she processed it before the Lord and chose to drop the anchor of her faith into Him in the midst of this typhoon-like storm of grief. Thus Sallie stayed in China. Her work was amazingly far-reaching. She engaged in visiting hundreds of villages for evangelism and teaching. It was said that “Mrs Holmes and her fellow missionary Mrs Crawford were tireless in visiting in the city and neighbouring villages, giving the Good News in season and out of season.” It was estimated that Sallie and Martha Crawford had taken the gospel into “hundreds of villages and thousands of homes.” In the first six months of 1876, Sallie visited 118 villages. One writer commented that Sallie had covered “as many as four hundred villages in a year.”
Amid this process, she mentored a young missionary lady who had arrived after her. The young recruit went with Sallie on those trips to the rural villages. She once wrote that at the end of the day, she “was so weary” that she “could scarcely sit up, but Mrs Holmes chatted as if she were fresh. “On the following day, after finishing about sunset at the eleventh village of the trip, the recruit had had enough and returned to the inn. Sallie, however, continued across the creek to one more village. Her enthusiasm did not seem to wane.”
The young recruit was named Lottie Moon. Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon (December 12, 1840 – December 24, 1912) is arguably the most influential Southern Baptist female missionary in history. Wikipedia says: “Lottie Moon has come to personify the missionary spirit for Southern Baptists and many other Christians as well. The annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions has raised a total of $1.5 billion for missions since 1888 and finances half the international missions budget of the Southern Baptist Convention every year.”
Sallie Holmes ignored her family’s pleas to return to America after her husband’s murder. The result was that untold numbers of Chinese rural people heard the gospel. Sallie’s faithfulness to her call to missions also set a standard that inspired Lottie Moon, who in turn caused many to reach out to the ends of the earth.
What a reward for Sallie, a faithful missionary servant of the Lord Jesus. What powerful evidence of the reality of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a missionary.
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