Most of us know something of Dwight L. Moody. He was a gifted evangelist who introduced countless thousands to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And Moody Bible Institute, a training center for Bible students, was established in his name. Moody had a particular heart for the underprivileged children and gained his first ministry experience by conducting a Sunday school program in one of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods. And in addition to his work in Chicago, he established separate schools for underprivileged boys and girls back home in Massachusetts.
But in order to understand Moody, one has to understand his childhood. He was born in 1837 in Northfield, Massachusetts. At the time, Dwight was the youngest of seven children. His father was partial to whiskey and the family was never more than a few steps away from their creditors. His father died of what appears to be a massive heart attack at the age of forty-one. A short time later, Dwight’s mother Betsey gave birth to twins so there were now nine children to support. Four days after giving birth, and still confined to her bed, Betsey had to ward off Ezra Purple, one of the creditors. Dwight would have no recollections of his father and he would never have the opportunity to continue his education.
Dwight’s son would later say that such memories “always made Father’s heart vibrate with sympathy for those who were in want.” It would have been understandable if Moody had suffered emotional troubles or grew up with a sense of bitterness. But instead, he chose to respond with sympathy and determined to help underprivileged children receive the education he never received.
We live in a self-focused, therapeutic culture. And many claim a victim mentality because of the experiences in their past. It is easy to focus inward or wallow in self-pity. But Moody’s story is a reminder that our past doesn’t have to determine our future.
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