Rosa Young's book, "Light in the Dark Belt," is a great inspiration to me. Her story is a great example of Hebrews 12.1: "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us."
She was born in 1890 in Rosebud, Alabama. Her father was an African Methodist pastor. Her mother was a woman of high moral character and a great encouragement to her. She, along with so many in the post-war south, lived through great poverty. She describes the huts and cabins in which people lived, the ragged clothing, and the poor table fare eaten from tin pans and buckets with fingers.
Worse than this was the spiritual and educational situation of the people. Here is her description of the spiritual conditions:
I knew something was wrong with the kind of religion my people had, but I did not know what was wrong about it. I desired a better Christian training for myself and my people, but I did not know where to find it. The religion of my people was a mere pretense, a kind of manufactured religion. Those who belonged to church were no better than those who did not. In most of the homes the so-called Christian families as well as the unbelievers lived in envy, strife, malice, prejudice, bitter hatred, yea, hellish riot; in covetousness; in adultery and fornication; in theft and lying.
In hundreds of homes the Bible was never read, a prayer was never spoken, and a Christian hymn was never sung. The whole family lay down at night and rose the next morning, and each went out to do his work without saying a word of thanks to God. Sin was looked upon by most people as a small thing. They held divine services in their churches twelve times a year, on the average once a month. No one took the time to teach them Christian hymns; they sang old plantation songs during their services.
Rosa was a good student who loved learning. With encouragement and help she was able to graduate from Payne University in Selma, Alabama in 1909 to become a school teacher. She advocated relentlessly for education and worked hard to raise the educational standards of the children in southern Alabama.
The 1914 Boll Weevil infestation of the Alabama Black Belt (named for the soil color) wreaked havoc and made Rosa's educational efforts difficult. But this proved to be a blessing in disguise. Rosa wrote to Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute for help. He wrote back telling her that his funds were exhausted, but that she should contact the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in St. Louis. They might be able to help. They sent Rev. Nils J. Bakke, who began helping Rosa with her education and mission efforts. Along with help from other pastors, Rosa eventually founded 30 Lutheran schools and 35 Lutheran congregations.
I am especially impressed and encouraged by Rosa's concern for the Bible and true doctrine. She was not a missionary with a lot of zeal and very little doctrine. Like the Apostle Paul, she was both zealous and devoted to the truth of God's word and particularly to the Gospel message of forgiveness in Christ, crucified and risen. Rosa's method was to go out and visit. She wrote,
Visiting is the key to success in mission work. It unlocks the door of opportunity where you may enter many a home and tell the people the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
During the summer months, when I was not teaching school, I made it a rule to visit every home in the community and also in the adjacent communities, both Lutheran and non-Lutheran. I made a list of the names of the people who did not belong to, or attend, any church. Such people I called my mission-material, and I endeavored by the help of the Lord to get them into my Church. As it was summertime, I would find the people mostly in the fields. Many times they worked miles away from their homes; but no matter where they were or who they were, men, women, or children, I would find them and deliver my Bible message to them.
I hunted lost souls for Jesus somewhat as I hunted for money to build and maintain my first school. I endeavored to tell this Bible message to every person I saw that day. No matter how long it took me to work up to the point in our chat or conversation where I could deliver my Bible verse, I would deliver it. When I had told my message to one person, I would proceed to another. I walked in prayer all along the way from one person to another, asking the Lord to bless the message of His Word as I delivered it.
I think what I will remember most about Rosa is a comment by one of her relatives. After Rosa had recovered from an illness and was preparing to continue her work, her relative asked: “Are you going back to tramping again?” To which Rosa replied: “Oh, don’t call it tramping! I am going back to save souls for Jesus.”