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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

Many of these deaconesses are educated women


it are constantly at work. The

great massing of the population together, with the unequaled increase in the wealth of the people, make the contrast of riches and poverty striking and obvious. The west of London, with its vast wealth, its homes of refinement and elegance, and its appliances for the enjoyment of art, science, and literature, is separated from the poverty, the degradation, the misery, and the sorrow of the East End by a gulf as great as that which separated Lazarus from Dives. It is difficult for those who are at ease, whose lives, to use Wordsworth's felicitous phrase, are made up "of cheerful yesterdays and confident to-morrows"--it is difficult for such even faintly to apprehend the dullness, the drudgery, and the hardships of those who, even at the best estate, are obliged to live in such surroundings. The vast metropolis a few years ago was for a short time shaken out of its lethargy by a voice that would be heard, when _The Bitter Cry of Outcast London_ was published. "Few who will read these pages have any conception of what these pestilential human rookeries are, where tens of thousands are crowded together amid horrors which call to mind what we have heard of the middle passage of the slave-ship. To go into them you have to penetrate courts reeking with poisonous malodorous gases arising from accumulations of sewerage, refuse scattered in all directions, and often flowing beneath your feet; courts, many of them, which the sun never penetrates, which are never visited by a breath of fresh
air. You have to ascend rotten stair-cases, grope your way along dark and filthy passages swarming with vermin. Then, if you are not driven back by the intolerable stench, you may gain admittance into the dens in which these thousands of beings herd together. Eight feet square! That is about the average size of many of these rooms.... Where there are beds they are simply heaps of dirty rags, shavings, or straw, but for the most part the miserable beings find rest only upon the filthy boards.... There are men and women who lie and die day by day in their wretched single room, sharing all the family trouble, enduring the hunger and the cold, without hope, without a single ray of comfort, until God curtains their staring eyes with the merciful film of death."[93]

Such are the places where the deaconesses of East London go in and out from morn to eve, like angels of mercy, succoring the miserable and unhappy, often rebuking vice, and encouraging with friendly words those who are worn and discouraged in the battle of life. Here they nurse the sick, hold mothers' meetings, start evening classes for working young men, and gather the children of all ages in every kind of class that can interest and instruct them. They are always ready to provide for individual cases that they meet. If they find a friendless young servant-girl who is out of work, they send her to the servants' home, where, for very little payment, sometimes nothing at all, she can be taken care of long enough to give her fresh courage and strength. Then she is aided in seeking a situation, and so she is saved from the innumerable temptations to vice and misery that are sure to assail her if she stands alone.

Many of these deaconesses are educated women, gladly devoting their whole life and energies to the work, and who with "food and raiment" are quite content. Nothing but a strong indomitable faith in God's love and promises can stand the strain of such work. But if there is the faith and love to deny self and dare all "for the love of Christ and in His name," where can such rewards for labor be found? The dull streets become filled with friends, sodden countenances brighten, the little children come with loving faces and gladdened hearts, and the deaconess is recognized as interpreting to the hearts of these weary, forlorn, helpless people the love of God who, when He came upon earth, shared the burdens that belonged to His humanity. He came as a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, and it was the "common people" that heard Him gladly. The deaconess, in her distinctive dress, is becoming a well-known figure in the east of London, and not only protected but recommended by her garb, she visits the lowest parts of the city without danger. Just such deaconesses are needed in the cities of America. The cities of the United States are increasing as wonderfully as the great cities of the Old World. With the surplus population of Europe pouring in upon us by the hundreds of thousands annually our country is doubling in numbers every twenty-five years; and the growth of the towns absorbs a larger proportion of this multitude than does the country. The cities attract the immigrants because there they find others of their own nationality. In some cities there are whole foreign colonies where the people speak a foreign tongue, read foreign newspapers, and have very few interests in common with the people of the land in which they live. They continue the same customs and the same habits of thought that belonged to them in the Old World. Examples of such colonies are found in the thirty thousand Poles in Buffalo, and the sixty thousand Bohemians in Chicago.


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