Death, imprisonment and persecution did not quench the zeal of an explosive group of sixty early Quaker missionaries
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MOST of the first group of Quaker missionaries were weavers, tailors, serving-girls or shopkeepers. Many of them were in their twenties, some their teens, a handful over forty. Few had any real education, let alone theological training. They relied on the infilling of the Holy Spirit the 'inner light' that Fox knew and preached - and burned with faith and zeal for Christ. This group became known as the 'Valiant Sixty'.
Their main targets were London, Bristol and Norwich, at that time the three largest cities of England. Teams consisting of one more experienced and one younger pioneer were sent to each city. Other teams went here and there as they felt guided.
Everywhere they proclaimed new birth in Christ and turned people from lifeless religious traditions. They invariably caused uproar.
The meetings had grown so large that they had to meet (summer or winter) in an orchard.
John Camm had tuberculosis but laboured in Bristol until he had no strength left. On his arrival in the town he had been attacked by the mob, but by the time he died in 1656, the meetings had grown so large that they had to meet (summer or winter) in an orchard.
Richard Hubberthorne, undersized and rather frail, was put in the stocks at Cambridge (a town where two Quaker women had also been publicly flogged) and jailed at Wymondham in Norfolk. He never reached his destination of Norwich and it was left to 18 year old George Whitehead to pioneer the work there in the face of implacable hostility.
Elizabeth Fletcher was from a more comfortable background than many, but left it all when she was filled with the Holy Spirit. With another sister she was set upon by a gang of students at Oxford and so badly beaten that she never fully recovered. After a brief service in Ireland, she died of her injuries, aged 19.
George Harrison was a fearless evangelist. He once ran after John Lilburne, a well-known political figure, and told him he was too proud for God's grace. The mortified Lilburne said later that he felt he had been boxed on the ears; he repented and became a Quaker! Harrison, however, soon afterwards died a martyr's death, beaten up and stoned by the mob at Haverhill.
In the new colonies of America it was worse: the death penalty was used against Quakers. Any ship's captain landing them in Boston faced heavy fines. Nevertheless Dorothy Waugh, a Quaker serving-girl, felt the Lord call her to go. Nobody would take her. Undeterred, she found that another Quaker owned a small vessel, so she gathered some companions and set sail. With no seafaring experience and in a craft not intended for Atlantic crossings, they nonetheless reached America and began a work there.
Spirit prompted her to evangelise the Sultan of Turkey, whose armies and pirate fleets terrorised Europe
Mary Fisher went one stage further. She felt the Spirit prompt her to evangelise the Sultan of Turkey, whose armies and pirate fleets terrorised Europe. She duly set off for Smyrna but was sent back by the British consul, who thought she must be mad. Mary persevered and set off, alone and on foot, to Adrianople. The grand Vizier, amazed at her audacity, arranged an audience, and the servant-girl from Welby preached the gospel to the entire court. The Sultan was not convinced, but Mary, her mission accomplished, refused lavish presents and walked home.
The ranks of these first pioneers thinned fast. Hubberthorne and Burroughs died of disease in London's Newgate Prison. Howgill died in jail at Appleby. Soon there was only a handful of the original Sixty left, mostly in prison. William Dewsbury spent nineteen years in Warwick jail. And yet soon after they fell, new ones arose. These were often friends they had won through their preaching and pain, men and women who now carried the torch forward.
The noted Puritan, Richard Baxter, gave the Sixty a grudging tribute when he wrote of how, in an age where many Christians were cowed by fear and met in secret, "many tumed Quakers because the Quakers kept their meetings open and went to prison for it cheerfully."
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God's trouble maker