Sermon Illustrations

Mary Slesser (1848-1915)

when Mary was a teenager, she volunteered to help organize a mission in the slums of Scotland. Despite Mary's genuine and caring efforts, many of the people the mission was designed to help oppose the work because they felt it avoided the "real" needs of the community such as improving salaries and working conditions.

On the way to one mission service, Mary found herself surrounded by a gang that was fed up with the lack of "real" help the mission had given. The leader of the gang began swinging a weight hooked to a cord at Mary's head. The weight came closer and closer to her until it brushed against her face. But Mary stood her ground she remained completely still, looking ahead with courage and determination. Just as the weight was about to hit Mary with force, the gang leader stopped swinging it. He was amazed that a young church girl could show such courage. Maybe because Mary had endured terrible abuse at the hand of her father as a young girl, she had the strength to stand up to the intimidation of the gang.

At the mission, Mary learned to care for the outcast, the sick, and the poor. Her desire to serve God by loving others grew stronger as she reached out to hurting people and faced the challenges of working a mission in the slums of Scotland. Her compassion, wisdom, and strength grew, Mary felt God call her to reach out to people who were not her own. So she left her home in Scotland and went to serve the people of Africa. As she travelled to and through Africa, the courageous young woman had to come to terms with the fact that even she had fears. Mary had once refused to cross a field because there was a cow standing in it. Mary was also terrified of crowds and public speaking. Once when she was speaking at a mission meeting she stopped and asked all the men to get out of sight before she would continue. While travelling by canoe, Mary would lie in the bottom of the boat in terror or sing loudly to endure the voyage.

Despite her fears, Mary became an advocate for the women of Africa and stood up against some cruel practices of the Okoyong. For example, local customs demanded that a mother of twins be put to death, along with her twin children. Mary saved the lives of hundreds of mothers and their twins.

One evening, Mary heard the screams of an Okoyong woman tied to stakes on the ground. A man was preparing to scald her with boiling oil because the woman had given food to a starving slave man while her husband was away. The Okoyong laws demanded that the woman be punished for her offense. Mary ran to the screaming woman and put herself between the woman and the man holding the oil. The man danced around Mary, threatening to pour the oil. Despite the boiling oil and the size of the man, Mary stood her ground. The man back down, and the woman was saved!

Mary saved countless other lives, and she worked to end fighting between tribes and spread the message of Christ throughout Africa. By showing the courage to face her fears, Mary brought real and lasting change to African society and spirituality.

Adapted from, More Than Conquerors: Portraits of Believers from All Walks of Life, edited by John Woodbridge.

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