Greetings dear Friends! This is Pendle Hill, once again, with Another Quaker's View.
During the mid-1600's, all of the major population centers in England were to the south and east. London was the largest city of the period, with a population of 500,000. Bristol and Norwich had about 30,000 inhabitants, each.
At the time, the northwestern corner of England was easily overlooked by the rest of the nation. People from this remote region were often identified by their "back country" ways and their "rough" manners. However, this proverbial backwater served as the first major stronghold of the Quaker movement.
After hearing the message of George Fox, many Seekers in this region ended their 'search' and became the most passionate of Friends. They established meetings for worship in their own neighborhoods and then reached out to society at large.
Francis Howgill and Edward Burrough went to London. John Camm and John Audland went to Bristol. Elizabeth Fletcher and Elizabeth Leavens went to Oxford. Richard Hubberthorne and George Whitehead went to Norwich. Dozens of Friends left their homes in the hill country to broadcast the Quaker message.
The men and women who carried the Quaker message abroad became known as the Valiant Sixty. They were the most ordinary of people -- farmers, tradesmen, and shopkeepers. Yet something extraordinary propelled them into action.
Of this "extraordinary something," Francis Howgill wrote:
"The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us, and catch us all, as in a net, and His heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land... the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement and great admiration, insomuch that we often said to one another, with great joy of heart,'What? is the Kingdom of God come to be with men? And will He take up His tabernacle among the sons of men, as He did of old? And what? shall we, that were reckoned as the outcasts of Israel have this honor of glory communicated amongst us, which were but men of small parts, and of little abilities in respect of many others..."
These people "of small parts and of little abilities" became the spearhead of an ascendent Quaker movement. They left behind their families and all that was familiar. Often, they suffered beatings and imprisonments for their troubles. But their message spread.
Friends traveled to Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Quaker emissaries made their way to Holland, Germany and North America.
The story of one Friend, Mary Fisher, exemplifies the unflinching spirit of the Valiant Sixty. Her first missionary journeys were across England. When she arrived in York, she was thrown into prison. In Cambridge, she was the victim of mob violence and then publicly flogged.
In 1655, Mary Fisher traveled to the New World. Her journey took her to Barbados and then to Boston. The Puritans of New England searched through her luggage and confiscated all of her books. These were then burned in the marketplace.
Mary herself was then thrown into prison. The window to her cell was covered over -- leaving her unable to communicate with anyone who might be sympathetic to the Quaker message. She was even strip-searched to see if her body bore any marks of witchcraft. After five weeks as a prisoner, she was placed aboard an outgoing ship and told never to return.
And now we get to the amazing part.
In 1657, when she was 35 years old, Mary felt called to bring a message from God to the Sultan of Turkey. A more exotic destination could not be imagined.
After traveling across Europe, the young woman finally arrived in Smyrna (a city within Turkish territory). However, a protective English Consul in Smyrna tried to spare her any further danger. He in placed her on a ship bound for Venice.
Fortunately (?), bad weather forced the captain to seek haven in Greece. Once the ship landed, Mary resumed her journey. She went straight to Adrianople, where the Sultan was encamped with his army.
After arriving in Adrianople, Mary needed someone to introduce her to the Sultan. At first, no one was willing to do this. If Mary should happen to offend the monarch, then she would lose her head -- along with whoever had dared to provide her with access!
At last, the Grand Vizier arranged a meeting. Since Mary had said she was bringing a message from God, she was treated as an ambassador. The whole court was assembled to receive her.
After pausing for a moment of quiet worship, Mary delivered her message. In conclusion, she asked the Sultan if he had understood. "Yes," he replied, "every word!" And he agreed that it was Truth.
Although there is no evidence the Sultan was changed by this encounter, others most certainly were. The simple message of the Valiant Sixty extended the Quaker movement across the barriers of class or ethnicity.
Here are some questions to consider:
1. What gave the Valiant Sixty so much courage? What made it possible for these humble people to accomplish so much?
2. Do you think we underestimate what God would and could do through us today?
3. Have you ever felt led to do something dangerous or uncomfortable? How did you respond?
4. What message do people need to hear today?