Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Dead man's witness

William Raws' Christmas past is bearing fruit in the present

Issue: "2008 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 13, 2008

William Raws was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The bartender pronounced it. Raws' only friend left in the world, he knew a dead man when he saw one, and he saw one that day in his Germantown, Philadelphia, saloon, the pickled remains of a 29-year-old underachiever stumbling through his swinging doors for the last time: "Bill, I'm afraid you're a gonner" (Monitoring the Movement of God: A History of America's Keswick).

Three decades earlier, William Raws had been brought into a promising world by Christian parents in Australia. He became a Sunday school teacher, librarian, and artist with paintings hanging in the Royal Academy of Art in Manchester, England. He married a socialite, who came with the surprise dowry of a galloping addiction. Their downward spiral burned through money, manor, and matrimony, and exacted the tragic death of their little girl. The "geographical cure" finally led to the United States.

"One day, fairly dying from the effects of rum, unable even to keep hot rum brandy on my stomach, I staggered penniless to my room . . . a poor dying drunkard, a swearing, lustful, sinful man, I cried unto God. He heard my cry and saved me. For days and nights thereafter I could neither eat nor sleep. I was on the verge of delirium tremens. . . . But peace came at last and victory through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (William Raws).

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Be gone, ghost of Christmas past.

Raws and the new wife God graciously gave him started a rescue mission. Men got saved in it, and Mr. and Mrs. Raws decided these men needed transitional assistance. They bought the old saloon where the bartender had once played taps over Bill. (They kept the swinging doors.) They implemented a schedule of Bible reading and work. Open-air evangelistic meetings drew thousands.

Welcome, ghost of Christmas present.

Raws began to ask God for a place in the countryside to build a Colony of Mercy where men just escaping addiction could experience freedom in a setting of spiritual nurturing. Someone told him about a property in New Jersey's pine barrens. Raws turned his rescue facility ("Whosoever Gospel Mission") over to John McIntyre, another brand snatched from the fire. As Raws' family and seven men from the Mission unloaded the pump organ from a wagon on the 400-acre New Jersey property, they all stopped to sing "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name."

That same evening, the group gathered for devotions, after which they took inventory of their capital situation, each disgorging the contents of his pockets on the table. Altogether it came to $1.87. They claimed Philippians 4:19 as a promise: "And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

Lavish your gifts, Christmas future.

They needed $100 to seal the deal on the property. Raws would walk two miles to the post office every day, hoping-then wearily walk back to the Colony. On the day of the signing, no money in his pocket, he decided to saddle up the horse anyway and drive to Whiting to meet the owner and lawyer. They ate lunch. They came to the table-but the owner was missing a particular paper. A new date was set.

Anything is possible with Christmas.

One day a man mistakenly got off at the junction where Raws made his daily pilgrimage, and had a long wait till the next train. The station agent suggested Raws tell the man a little about his project. Afterward, the stranger thanked Raws and went on his way. Within a week, a check arrived from a firm in Clayton, New Jersey. It contained $100. Raws had not mentioned to the mysterious traveler the amount he needed for settlement.

There is no doubt that Raws was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I related. He was deader than a doornail, spiritually speaking. But the ghost of Christmas future held two visions in his cloak. Bill's bartender was not altogether right in his decree. The shadows he saw were not of things that will be but only things that may be.

This Christmas, 39 men will feast on turkey and on Christ at the Colony of Mercy. For by His bruising we are healed. By His dying we will have Christmas again.

If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to aseu@worldmag.com.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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