A Song and a Sailor

John Newton was born almost 300 years ago, 1725, into a seafaring family in Liverpool, England. His father was the captain of a trade ship traveling the world, leaving his wife and son alone most of the time.

His mother was a godly woman whose faith gave her life meaning. She died of tuberculosis when John was 7, and he recalled that his sweetest memory of childhood was the soft and gentle voice of his mother singing or praying.

His father married again, and John left boarding school at 11 to go to sea with him. He easily adopted the vulgar life of seafaring men, even though he always remembered his mother and her faith.

He reckoned that religious faith could be important, he recalled many years later, “but, I loved sin.”

John’s father retired when he was 17 and his father made plans for him to work at a sugar plantation in Jamaica. John thought he knew better, and went to work on a merchant ship sailing to the Mediterranean Sea.

A year later, while he was on shore leave to visit friends, John was what they call “Shanghaied”, kidnapped and forced to work for the Royal Navy on the HMS Harwich.

Nobody likes to be kidnapped and force to work, so John deserted, tired to run away, but he was soon captured, put in chains, and dragged back to the ship, where they tied him to a post and beat him as an example for any others that thought about disobeying.

John was so mad he wanted to kill the Captain, and jump overboard, he later said, “The Lord had by all appearances given me up to harsh judgements. I was capable of anything. I had not the least fear of God, nor any sense of a conscience. I was firmly sure that after death, I should merely cease to be.”

The Harwich traded him to a slaving ship, bound for West Africa to take aboard human cargo. John later reflected, “At this period of my life,” “I was big with mischief and, like one afflicted with a disease, was capable of spreading a sort of sickness wherever I went.”

John´s new captain liked him, and took him to his home on an island off the African coast, where the captain had conveniently married an African duchess. She had quite a mean streak was jealous of John. She didn’t like him from the start. While they were in Africa, John got sick, and the captain had a boat loaded with people that he had to get to England and colonies of Great Britain because he wanted to sell them as slaves. They set sail without John.

John was left in the duchess’ care and the ship had barely sailed out of sight when the mean duchess threw John into a pigsty, and left the already sick man to die. John did not die, but was kept in chains and fed slop. He got so sick and infected that he went blind for a while.

This part of the story reminded me of the story of the prodigal son, eating the pig’s food and reflecting on the bad choices he had made, wishing he had heeded his father’s wishes.

Word spread through the area that a black woman was keeping a white slave, and many people came from far away just to make fun of him. They threw rotten limes and stones at him, mocking his misery. He would have starved, but the people that the mean duchess had kidnapped to be sold as slaves shared their food with him while they waited to be shipped to the Americas.

Five years passed and the captain returned. When John told how he had been treated ,the duchess called him a liar, and the Captain got mad at him for talking bad about the duchess.

When he was finally went back to work on the ship, everybody on the ship felt free, and even encouraged to be mean to John. He ate only the worst food, if he got to eat at all. John would later recall,”The voyage quite broke my spirit,” “and the effects would always stay with me as a needful reminder of wages and sin.” While I was working in the slave trade, I never gave a minute of thought about how wrong we were to buy and sell other humans, or anything else we wanted to do.

Miraculously, in 1748, he was rescued by a sea captain who had been hired by Newton’s father to search for him.

Now here I want to mention the difference in the prodigal son story. John’s father didn’t just sit at the window looking down the road. John’s father went out searching and asking everyone he could think of, “Will you help me find my son?” He offered rewards and hired men to do nothing but find his son.

On the way home, the ship encountered a huge storm and almost sank. John woke up in the middle of the night and saw the ship filling fast with water rushing in.

With what he was sure was his last breath, John called out to God. After he called out, the cargo got loose, floated up and plugged up the hole where the water was coming in, the ship was able to drift to safety.

John was overwhelmed with the thought that God´s mercy remained steadfast, even after his life of hostile indifference to the Gospel.

The wanton sinner, the arrogant blasphemer, the mocker of the faith of others, was driven to his knees. “My prayer was like the squawking cry of ravens, and still, the Lord listened.”

John arrived back in England to reflect on the mercies God had shown him, despite his sinful life. He started going to church again, and with much repentance and belief in God’s mercy, he was baptized. He got a job and studied languages and the Bible in his spare time. He became a well known speaker with his testimony. In 1757, he applied to be a priest, and was ordained in 1765. He worked with a poet friend and they wrote a few songs together.

On Christmas day of 1807 he died at the age of 82, leaving many testimonies to the miracles of God. One of his last writings, started like this: “I commit my soul to my gracious God and Savior, who mercifully spared and preserved me, when I was an sinner, a blasphemer and an infidel, and who delivered me from that situation on the coast of Africa into which my stubborn wickedness had plunged me.”

His testimony, set to music, would become one of my favorite songs.

He called it Faith’s Review and Expectation. We call it Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see was the real story of a real man.

Who wrote your favorite songs? I hope you want to know more about them now. 

How many times has one voice changed the world?


EDIFY, the simplest definition is “TO LIFT UP”  I hope you will come to know why I chose that title, it’s open for suggestions if anyone has a better idea, and I would welcome any and all  feedback on any part of my writing attempts .  My story is about a little girl named LINDA.

Linda was the daughter of a young preacher that didn’t have his own church yet, so they had moved several times in Linda’s young life.   Linda was a beautiful child.  She had a heart shaped face that was framed with the softest golden brown curls, and almond shaped green eyes that could make you forget what you were saying.  She was beautiful inside and out, and she was always able to make new friends quickly.  Soon after Linda moved to a new school, even the most rich and popular kids wanted to be her friend.

The school year had already started when Linda and her family moved to the small town of Maysville, Oklahoma.    Linda had been at her new school for a few weeks and found herself  growing more and more curious about this one little girl that would always sit at her desk with her head tilted down. The girl’s hair made a kind of curtain that hid her face almost completely.  She would be the last to go outside for recess, and usually the first one to go back to class.

One day Linda asked her new friends about the quiet little girl.   ” OH! You talking bout ol’ Chicken Neck?”, they snorted and laughed.  “Cousin IT!”, I’m sure another one laughed.  “Just look at her! She’s weird.”     ” Look at how she dresses!” “Nothing but handmedowns and homemade handmedowns.”

Truthfully, I never knew exactly what was said, but apparently, they didn’t have any thing good to say!

That same day, just a minute or two after the bell had rung to go to recess, the little girl was peeking through her hair, waiting for the other kids to leave the classroom. She tried to avoid the mean things they would say and do to her if they got a chance without the teacher seeing them. The group seemed to be taking longer to go out that day.  She had seen Linda walk away from a group of girls – but, then, she realized that Linda was walking directly towards HER!

Panic and dread washed over the little girl, “OH NO! ” she cried silently.    Attention was seldom a good thing in her world, and she cringed as Linda walked closer.

Linda walked up to the desk and looked down at the little girl and asked, “Do you want to play with me?”

The little girl quickly looked over to see if the group was already laughing at her.  Was this just one more mean joke at her expense? Had tormenting her turned into some kind of rite of passage for newcomers?

She studied the group, they weren’t giggling. They weren’t even looking in her direction. Yet.  She worried that it must be a pretty good prank and they didn’t want to give away the punchline too soon.

Her eyes searched Linda’s face for a motive, as she asked, “Why?”   Why she wondered?  Why would that pretty, popular girl want to play with ME, the poorest and most unpopular girl in the class?  This just wasn’t making any sense at all!

I braced myself for the answer, and I will never, ever forget how Linda looked me straight in the eye, with those beautiful green eyes of hers, and said, “Because I don’t think you are as bad as they say you are.”

We went outside and played jacks, and that’s how I got my very first friend.

Linda made me feel like I had a value to somebody besides my Mom, just because she gave me a chance.  I had sang those songs, Jesus loves me, loves the little children, all the classics. yeah yeah yeah…  I had been taught we were supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves,  I just hadn’t seen very much of it.

Linda WALKED the Talk.  Instead of joining the group to kick me while I was down, she stood against the crowd.  Linda lifted me up and treated me like I was worth something.  She really acted like she knew, that Jesus loved me too – and Jesus would want her to be kind to everyone…. even me.

Even me.

Linda moved again, just before school was out for the summer, and although I never saw her again, I think of her often, because that little girl, and her small act of kindness changed my life forever.  It’s been many years since I met Linda, my hair is turning silver and I’m still trying to be like Linda when I grow up.

Friends are family that you get to choose, and they are more precious to me than gold.

What I want you to learn from my story is this, no matter how little you are, you can always lift up another person.

A smile of acknowledgment and recognition that says “Hello Friend.” can lift the human heart like nothing else can. A smile of acceptance to a stranger that says, “Hello, I see you and like you already ” can change someone’s day for the better… maybe even their life.

I know y’all would never pick on another kid, but would you stand up, and be a friend to the one being picked on?

Small acts of kindness go a lot further than you will ever know.

Pass it on!