Hannah More wasn’t an ordinary woman. Her church family missed an opportunity.
Hannah memorized every word of the Bible’s New Testament. Transformed by the words of Jesus, in 1841 at 33 years old, Hannah moved from her family’s Connecticut farm to what is now Oklahoma. She went to minister as a teacher to the Cherokee and Choctaw people, forced by the United States government from their tribal lands onto a reservation. While there she became fluent in their languages and formed deep bonds that opened the door for her to share the gospel.
At age 42, Hannah sailed from North America to West Africa. Here Hannah served for 6 years in Sierra Leone. She worked as a teacher and preacher among the survivors of the slave ship La Amistad. In 1839, the ship’s crew were overtaken and killed by the slaves. The slaves were later captured by an American ship, and after a legal battle in the United States, 35 were sent to live free, but in poor conditions in Sierra Leone.
At age 51, Hannah returned to the United States to teach, and then serve as principal of a women’s seminary in Maxville, Kentucky. The Civil War soon pushed her north, where two years later she met Seventh-Day Adventist evangelist and missionary Stephen Haskell.
Stephen shared Adventist books with Hannah. She took the books with her on another mission to West Africa. As Hannah came to believe in the biblical Sabbath and other Adventist teachings from the Bible, she was dismissed by the Protestant missionary organization that had sponsored her.
At age 58, Hannah’s health had become poor. She left Africa and landed in Lancaster, Massachusetts, where she was baptized as a Seventh-Day Adventist. The next year, Hannah traveled to Battle Creek, Michigan. There she hoped to find employment in the growing Adventist community.
Hannah was not welcomed by the Adventists in Battle Creek. She was unable to find a job or a home among members of the newly established denomination. Hannah was described as “out of fashion.” Suffering from poor eyesight, blind in one eye, she wore large glasses that magnified her eyes. Greying hair, and style and manners better suited to her missionary work with disadvantaged people, Hannah didn’t fit in well to the relatively refined society of Battle Creek.
Hannah was eventually taken in by a Baptist friend in northwest Michigan.
Adventist church founders, James and Ellen White were on a trip away from their Battle Creek home when Hannah had arrived at the center of the Adventist movement. Hannah corresponded with James and Ellen when they returned home, which led to pledges from them to help her relocate to Battle Creek after winter. Sadly, Hannah became ill and died before spring arrived.
Reflecting on Hannah’s death, Ellen White wrote:
In the case of Sister Hannah More, I was shown that the neglect of her was the neglect of Jesus in her person. Had the Son of God come in the humble, un-pretending manner in which He journeyed from place to place when He was upon earth, He would have met with no better reception. (Testimonies for the Church 2.140)
Encounters with Jesus are a frequent occurrence for each of us. We don’t recognize it at the time. My prayer for myself and our church family is that we don’t miss those opportunities to offer hospitality, help and comfort. That opportunity was missed by the Battle Creek church when they could have been a blessing to their sister, Hannah More. In return the church would have been blessed.
When the young Adventist church was sending out its first official foreign missionary, Ellen White later wrote: “Oh, how much we need our Hannah More to aid us at this time in reaching other nations” (Testimonies for the Church, 3:407)
Jesus calls us to look for people in need and to serve them as if they were Jesus Himself. Sometimes we may be so focused on our special message, we forget to do our special work:
““Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:34-40, NLT)