Surely Goodness And Mercy

My name is Ebenezer Small and I have a story to tell. I was born in 1806 in Norfolk, Virginia. My parents had indentured themselves in order to come to America. My father worked in a cooper’s shop making barrels, and my mother worked, as a maid, in an inn. Their indenture time was for five years after which they would be free to do as they pleased.

Father had always had a dream of owning his own land. A place where he and his family could put down roots. As he worked, he listened to conversations pertaining to land that was available. He kept hearing about a place called Indiana. It was on the far edge of the wilderness. The southern part was supposed to be hilly and rocky, very similar to what he was accustomed to in England.

After my parents fulfilled their indenture obligations, they packed my two sisters and me up and we began the move. Father was so excited! We crossed into Kentucky, made our way to Louisville, and crossed the Ohio River into Indiana.

It was a wilderness for as far as you could see. A trace had been cut through the forest to help show the way. We saw bears, wolves, deer, and even a big cat jumped the trail in front of us. Mother was terrified, but I loved it. We were traveling together with other families and felt perfectly safe. After a week of travel, we found a place to our liking. We blazed the trees to show that the land had been claimed. There was a small river nearby, and we began clearing the land and erecting our cabin. There was absolutely nothing around us. No schools, stores, or churches in the area. We were on our own.

Father, in the evenings, helped me with my book learning and ciphering. I practiced my writing and numbers on a slate by firelight. I learned how to read using the family Bible. I loved the stories, but the Old Testament names gave me fits! I still can’t say Leviticus! It comes out Levisticus every time.

We were a God-fearing family. Our closest neighbors were, as a crow flies, eleven miles away. We would gather for a meeting twice a month. I loved it. It also got me away from farm work.

We were at the Fulper’s cabin, for our meeting, when it happened. We had just finished singing a hymn when the Holy Spirit came. The cabin got really quiet and I could sense something was going to happen. All of a sudden I felt a heaviness come over me. I had no idea what it was. I was scared!

“Ebenezer Small,” a voice spoke into my spirit.

I was really scared now!

“Ebenezer, I am calling you. I see that you have a tender heart. I am calling you to preach. Will you accept the calling?”

I can remember it as if it was yesterday. I was afraid but I was also excited. I had always loved to read the Bible and had given my heart to the Lord when I was eight years old. Being called to preach at age ten was totally unexpected. I remember answering, “Yes, Lord, but you will have to help me.”

“I will. I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t think you could do it. You are not ready yet. You have much to learn. You will know when the time is right.”

At first, I didn’t tell my parents. They knew that something had happened to me. They quietly waited for me to tell them. When that day came they were overjoyed.

“When will you start?” asked my father.

“When God says I’m ready,” I answered.

“You know that a preacher’s life is hard,” offered his mother, “especially in this wilderness.”

“I’m not worried. God will provide,” I answered.

I remember my first sermon. It was at the Fulper’s cabin, and there were nine people there. I was nervous at first but then the anointing took over and I was fine. I could tell that I had done well and was accepted.

At age eighteen the spirit spoke to me again.

“Ebenezer, you are ready. I have watched you grow in my word, and now I want you to reach out to other small communities. I will take care of you. You will have a circuit to cover across southern Indiana. There is something else. There are people I have asked to assist you. You will meet them very soon.”

I was able to procure a horse, saddle, saddlebags, and duster in exchange for some backbreaking work. I still cringe at the thoughts of splitting rails for fencing, and digging out tree stumps!

The day finally came when the Spirit released me. “I want you to go west to a little community that sits on the banks of White River. I want you to share my word there. You will also meet someone there who will help you. I have told them that you are coming,” the voice quietly said.

I packed my belongings, saddled my horse, hugged and kissed my family, and hit the trail. I prayed the whole way there for protection and arrived at my destination with no problem.

They were waiting for me. I was led to a cabin that had been prepared for the meeting. The people started arriving and I was introduced and began to preach. I couldn’t help but notice two young women sitting at the back of the cabin. I couldn’t help but feel that they were who I was supposed to meet. After the meeting, they approached me.

“Preacher Small, can we talk to you?”

“Yes, what is it?” I answered.

“God told us you were coming. He has called us to minister with you,” offered one of the women.

“Help me? How? And you have me at a disadvantage. What are your names?”

“My name is Surely Goodness,” replied one.

“And my name is Mercy Goodness,” answered the other.

“Your parents had a good sense of humor, what unique names and straight from the Bible. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it’s Psalms 23:6,” he smiled.

“Yes, Mother and Father wanted us to have names that people wouldn’t forget. We hated them when we were little, but now we couldn’t imagine being named anything else.” Mercy answered.

“How are you supposed to help me?” I had asked.

“We are to accompany you on your circuit. We know that it will be frowned upon. Two single women traveling with a circuit-riding preacher. But there are two of us, we will watch out for each other. God told us we can trust you,” answered Surely.

I remember how I felt. Here I was, starting my ministry, and now I was being trusted with the lives of two women, and preaching His word. I didn’t know what to say. The wilderness could be brutal. But who was I to argue with God.

“Are you ready for this? Not knowing where your next meal will come from or where you will lay your head?” I had asked.

“We know the risks. God’s Word and reaching the lost is more important than any hardships we may encounter,” answered Mercy.

“You will be ridiculed, scrutinized, and criticized wherever we go,”

“We know. We have thought about all of that.”

“Things will be said, hurtful things.”

“We know that also.”

“I will give you an answer in the morning. Be here at daybreak.”

They nodded yes, and I went off to a secluded place to pray.

“Lord, if this is of you then give me a sign, please,” I had prayed.

A calmness slowly crept into my spirit. I instantly knew that I had my answer.

“Thank you, Father, now lead us where you want us to go,” I had prayed.

So it began. We traveled all over southern Indiana, preaching the word. In some places, we were accepted and in others, we were asked to leave. Surely and Mercy caught the brunt of it. They were called every foul name you could think of and propositioned more than once, and I had to step in to keep them from being injured on more than one occasion. And what hurt the most was that it was pious people who thought they were doing the right thing when they abused the women. I scolded them from the pulpit, but it didn’t do any good. They claimed to be Christians and what they were doing was scriptural. We always prayed for them and forgave them, and went on our way.

Rain, snow, oppressive heat; none of it stopped us. Many the night that we slept on the ground in the rain. God always took care of us. We never went without a meal. Money was scarce in the wilderness, so the people supported us with fresh produce, chickens, venison, and fish. We were even given a pig one day.

We encountered highwaymen, robbers, and thieves. They left us alone. They knew that we didn’t have any money, so it wasn’t worth their while to rob us. We saw Indians several times, and we were never threatened by them. We saw animals everywhere. Bears, deer, packs of wolves, and from time to time we would see a wildcat. We learned to stand our ground and pray, and the predators would run the other way.

I remember the thrill of leading someone to the Lord. The smiles on their faces were what kept us going. Countless people were led to the Lord. We held baptismal services at every little community we visited. Everyone from miles around would come and watch. At every baptism, there would be someone saved as they watched the ceremony. I always knew to watch for them. It was a joy to behold.

I will never forget Surely and Mercy. They never married and stayed with me until I was forced to retire. Too much sleeping on the wet ground had wreaked havoc on my body. They did so much for me and the ministry. Always there when I needed something. Watched over the children, helped with the baptisms, and prayed for me. That was the most important thing. Sometimes I would get discouraged and they would lift my spirits with encouragement and love.

Now that I am retired, I think of them often. They have both passed away and are now resting with the Lord. I sit in my rocker and wonder if they would be remembered for their dedication and hard work. Little did I know that in the future they would not only be remembered in the scripture but also in a hymn.

Surely Goodness and Mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

April 29, 2021