Rescue Mission Pioneer

by Bernard R. DeRemer

Jerry McAuley (1839-1884) did not have a promising start in life. Born in Ireland, he grew up without attending school, instead spending much of his boyhood in "idleness and mischief." His father, a counterfeiter, left home to escape the law. Jerry suffered much harsh, even cruel, treatment.

At 13 he was sent to his sister in New York City. When he felt he could live by his own wits, he left her home. During this period, he recalled, "I earned what I could and stole the rest."

At 19 he was arrested for robbery, though he was not guilty of the criminal act charged to his account. At a prison chapel service, a message by a former confederate in sin powerfully spoke to his heart and brought deep conviction. Laboriously Jerry learned to read; then he dusted off the Bible and began to find in its pages "the joy and rejoicing of [his] heart." Soon he trusted Christ as his Savior and began a transformed life. He witnessed to fellow inmates, several of whom eventually were saved.

But, alas, the future was far from rosy. After his release, he wanted to do right but found adjustment difficult, and fellowship and support were sadly lacking. Soon he fell back into his old ways, oblivious to the warning that "The way of the transgressor is hard." Still, his conscience troubled him. He recalled the glorious days at Sing Sing when, despite being imprisoned, he had daily fellowship with the Lord and was serving Him joyfully.

Once while he was drunk he fell into the river and nearly drowned. Other escapades occurred. But through the prayerful, persistent efforts of friends, he finally came back to the Lord and to consistent, fruitful service.

He began work in a small way at the "Helping Hand" Mission, 316 Water St., New York, in October, 1872. Four years later, the old building was razed and a new three-story brick edifice was erected on the same spot, which became the McAuley Water Street Mission.

Through the influence of T. DeWitt Talmage, famed pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, he ministered at the Cremorne McAuley Mission, 104 W. 32nd St., located where the gospel was desperately needed.

A. S. Hatch described McAuley's public speaking as "often a curious mixture of pathos and wit, quotations from Scripture, and the vernacular slang of the class whom he addressed." Sometimes "refined and fastidious Christians" were "startled and shocked by the quaint and blunt speech[but] all this was signally blessed and honored of God to the salvation of men."

What trophies of grace resulted! Here in condensed form are a few testimonies of brands plucked out of the fire:

<![if !supportLists]>           <![endif]>"I am so glad this religion is free to allas good for the drunkard as for the moral manI was in prison Thanksgiving Day a year ago. But now Jesus saves me andtakes care of me"

<![if !supportLists]>           <![endif]>"When I first came in here I was a drunkardNow I am drinking from heaven and don't thirst any more."

<![if !supportLists]>           <![endif]>"When I came into this mission, two years and eight months ago, I was a poor lost drunkardI can't thank the dear Jesus enough for what He has done for me. He gives me peace and joy in my heart all the time."

<![if !supportLists]>           <![endif]>One had a strong appetite for drink and became dishonest as a result, then spent several terms in prison. "But I thank God I am a free man now in Christ Jesus."

After a short illness, McAuley went to be with the Lord in 1884. Perhaps early dissipation and neglect contributed to his untimely home-going at 45. His widow, Maria, continued to operate the mission for the next several years.

Today the New York City Rescue Mission, at 90 Lafayette St., carries on the work which McAuley pioneered. In a recent year, this group served more than 165,000 meals, provided 37,000 nights' shelter, and gave out thousands of articles of clothing. Of course the gospel is presented daily, as it has been for more than a century.

More than 300 rescue missions in the U.S. can be traced to the vision and dedication of Jerry McAuley. In a real sense, "He being dead yet speaketh."

Quotations from Jerry McAuley, His Life and Work, by A. S. Hatch.

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