God Commands Me!

“Should I tell you I do seriously think of leaving my native dwelling, my friends and companions for ever; would you upbraid me?” Harriet Atwood asked her sister in a letter. “[God] now offers me an opportunity of visiting the Heathen.” She then poured out the great conflict of her heart—the choice between living a normal life at home among friends or accepting the proposal of Samuel Newell, an aspiring missionary. Samuel was bound for India with Adoniram Judson; and in the year 1811, a life of missions was practically exile.

As Harriet struggled, friends accused her of wanting nothing more than adventure and a great name for herself. “But God commands me!” she rejoined. “I would not oppose it. . . lest I should be found fighting against God, discouraging missions, and preventing the Gospel being spread among the Heathen.”She accepted Samuel’s proposal, and they departed with the Judsons for India in February 1812. In June they reached Calcutta, but as the East India Company was “violently opposed to missions” they were ordered to leave. While awaiting passage, Harriet described what was then known as Bengal. She wept to see the people worshiping dumb idols. “Miserable wretches!” she wrote. “O that American Christians would form an adequate idea of the darkness which covers this people! Do Christians feel the value of the Gospel?”

The Newells left on a ship bound for the Isle of France, whose governor favored missions. Harriet gave birth to a girl who lived only five days and was buried at sea. They arrived at the Isle of France, but Harriet had already contracted tuberculosis, and her health rapidly declined. “I have never regretted leaving my native land for the cause of Christ,” she told Samuel. And on the evening of November 30th, Harriet passed away, just nineteen years old.

Her many writings were later sent to America where they were published. Harriet was the first American to give her life in missions, and her memoirs were so full of truth and passion for God that many people were brought to Christ; and many went to the foreign field, having read Harriet’s dire entreaty:

“As we value the salvation which a Savior offers; as we value his tears, his labors, and his death, let us now seriously ask what we shall do for the salvation of the benighted heathen. If we are not permitted to visit them [ourselves]…yet we can ardently pray for them. And not only pray for them, but by our vigorous exertions we can awaken a missionary spirit in others.”

Quotations from Memoirs of Mrs. Harriet Newell