Moses persevered, says Hebrews 11, because he saw him who is invisible. The word persevere comes from the prefix per meaning “through” and “severe”—to press by faith through severe circumstances. Consider, for example, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, missionaries to native Americans in the American Northwest.

Marcus, born in New York in 1802, was converted and eventually joined a Presbyterian church. He studied medicine and felt God calling him as a missionary physician to the Indians of the West. His girlfriend, Narcissa, shared his burden, and on the day after their wedding they set out for Oregon. Narcissa became the first white woman to cross America; and she was awed by the splendor of God’s creation. Her heart was in a vast adventure, and there, somewhere between Elkhorn and the Loup, she became pregnant.

After 2,000 rugged miles, the Whitmans reached Oregon, settling down among the fierce Cayuse. Marcus built a hut for himself and his pregnant wife, and on December 10, 1835, they moved in. Daughter Alice was born three months later.

Marcus and Narcissa worked themselves to exhaustion building a mission compound, developing agriculture, treating the sick, and sharing their faith. Unbelievable hardship and sorrow overwhelmed them. They became overworked, tired, and sometimes discouraged. Relationships with other missionaries deteriorated. Worst of all, little Alice, one day during her second year, wandered away while her dad was reading, fell into a nearby stream, and drowned. But the Whitmans pressed on, ministering selflessly to orphans, to the diseased, to the disinterested, and to whoever would listen.

Their passion cost them their lives. In 1847 several Indians died during an outbreak of measles, and Marcus was blamed. Late on a dark fall day, the mission was attacked by a band of Cayuse. Marcus and Narcissa died by tomahawk, with a dozen coworkers. But the gospel had been planted on the American frontier by a couple willing to remain faithful through severe circumstances. They had persevered, seeing him who is invisible.

Because of his faith, Moses left Egypt. Moses had seen the invisible God and wasn’t afraid of the king’s anger. His faith also made him celebrate Passover. He sprinkled the blood of animals on the doorposts, so that the first-born sons of the people of Israel would not be killed by the destroying angel. Because of their faith, the people walked through the Red Sea on dry land. (Hebrews 11:27-29a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Dec. 9.

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