Audiences never tired of hearing Rodney Smith tell his story: I was born on the 31st of March, 1860, in a gipsy tent, the son of Cornelius Smith. When I got old enough to ask questions about my birth my mother was dead, but my father told me the place, though not the date. It was only recently that I knew the date. I discovered I was a year younger than I took myself to be.

It was while imprisoned for debts that Cornelius heard the gospel. Later he took his children to Latimer Road Mission where, as worshipers sang There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood, he suddenly fell unconscious to the floor. Soon he jumped up, shouting, “I am converted! Children, God has made a new man of me!” Rodney ran from the church terrified.

But at age 16 Rodney attended a Methodist meeting, went forward, and prayed for Christ to come into his own heart. Someone nearby whispered, “Oh, it’s only a gipsy boy.” But Rodney, undeterred, acquired a Bible, taught himself to read, and began preaching. His efforts came to the attention of General William Booth, and on June 25, 1877, Rodney attended a Salvation Army meeting. The general recognized him and said, “The next speaker will be the gipsy boy.”Trembling, I took my way to the platform, which, luckily, was only five or six steps off. When I reached it I shook in every limb. Mr. Booth saw I was in a predicament and said, “Will you sing us a solo?” I said, “I will try, sir”; and that night I sang my first solo at a big public meeting.

After his solo, Rodney coughed nervously and said, I am only a gipsy boy. I do not know what you know about many things, but I know Jesus. I know that He has saved me. I cannot read as you do; I do not live in a house as you do; I live in a tent. But I have got a great house up yonder, and some day I am going to live in it. My great desire is to live for Christ.

Thus began 70 years of remarkable, world-renowned evangelistic work.

Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ. All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. (Philippians 3:8,10a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). June 25.

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