Abraham believed that angels help us find our mates. “The Lord will send his angel ahead of you,” he told his servant, “to help you find a wife for my son” (Gen. 24:7b). Many years later, the heavenly matchmakers (assisted by a London businessman) also brought together William Booth and Catherine Mumford, who became one of the finest tag teams in church history, founding the Salvation Army and helping hundreds of thousands of England’s poorest. Of the two, Catherine was smarter—and the better preacher. “It was she,” wrote Constance Coltman, “who turned an energetic, rather vulgar dyspeptic into one of the great religious leaders in the world.”*
William was born in 1829 in Nottingham. Catherine arrived the following year in a nearby county, growing up in a Puritan-like home. She had read the Bible through eight times before age 12, and she excelled in studies. But at 14 Catherine developed curvature of the spine, making her bedfast. She was also diagnosed with tuberculosis. But her sickbed became a study where she devoured theology and church history. She slowly grew strong enough to start thinking of marriage. “I could be most useful to God,” she said, “as a minister’s wife.” She wanted a man dark and tall, and she thought he should be a “William.”
Several years later, businessman Edward Rabbits, knowing both William and Catherine’s people, invited them to a meeting on Good Friday. Afterward he encouraged William to escort Catherine home. She later wrote, “That little journey will never be forgotten by either of us. Before we reached my home we both felt as though we had been made for each other.”
For a few weeks, the romance wavered. Despite a growing reputation as evangelist to the poor, William had no job, no income, and no home. Catherine’s mother viewed him unfavorably. Nevertheless they persevered and were married in London on June 16, 1855.
William preached a revival meeting on their honeymoon. The angels were smiling. The Salvation Army was about to be born.
Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away, But a woman who honors the Lord Deserves to be praised. Show her respect—Praise her in public for what she has done. (Proverbs 31:30-31)
* Quoted by Norman H. Murdoch in “The Army Mother,” Christian History, Issue 26 (Volume IX, No. 2), p. 5.