The sun was setting over the crisp winter landscape of Bowdoinham Ridge, Maine. James White stood gazing out the window of the small meeting house for a long moment before turning on his heel and making his way through the crowd towards the door.
He had been preaching along the Penobscot River for the past few weeks and had just finished his speaking engagement here in Bowdoinham.
Once he reached the door he made a beeline for the hitching post where he had tied up his horse and began to check over his patched-up saddle and bridle.
He still had a long way to go.
His head snapped around in the direction of the voice and he raised his hand in greeting. It was one of the other preachers who had been speaking alongside him at the meetings that had just finished.
“Hello Brother,” James said with an easy smile as he tightened his saddle a notch
“James, are you hurrying away so soon?” the minister reached him, panting slightly to catch his breath.
“Yes,” James nodded as he untied the reigns and slung them around the horse’s neck “I’m afraid I still have a ways to go before I bed down for the night” he admitted.
“But why not stay the night with us. Surely you don’t want to be caught riding around the countryside on such a cold evening?”
James shook his head ruefully “I’d like to stay” he admitted “But I’ve already engaged myself to speak at Lisbon Plains tonight and I’ll need to get a move on if I want to make it there on time”
Reaching across to give the minister’s hand a firm shake, he grabbed the reins and hooked his boot into a stirrup. Then hoisting himself upwards he swung easily into the saddle and settled in.
There was a lot of hard riding ahead of him if he wanted to make it to Lisbon Plains on time. He had given them his word and James White was nothing if not a man of his word.
Pulling his horse around he began to make his way towards his destination. He had preached a hearty and energetic sermon in Bowdoinham and his clothes, slick with sweat, clung to his body. As he raced through the night the cold air whipped around him freezing his damp clothing against his skin. Lisbon Plains was only 16 miles away but they were long miles to the lonely, freezing preacher who raced past farmhouse windows alight with the warm inviting glow of roaring fires.
He could have stopped at any one of those farms to warm himself up and wolf down a hearty farmhouse dinner. The farmers would have been glad to shelter him for the night but he pushed the lingering thoughts away from his mind. He had made a promise and he intended to keep it.
As he kept riding at a feverish pace he realised that he would be late.
But at least I won’t disappoint them altogether he thought to himself. He was sure he could make it.
Unconsciously he dug his heels deep into the steaming flank of his faithful horse and managed to squeeze a bit more speed out of the tired animal.
Reaching the meeting place he jumped off his horse and looked anxiously around. Spotting a man lounging just by the door he hurriedly handed him the reins and asked him to mind the animal while he bolted into the meeting house.
He arrived just as the congregation was being informed that the speaker they had been waiting for would not be coming. Waving his hands frantically he shouted “No! Wait! I’m here!”
The congregation was relieved and delighted to see him and he mounted the pulpit, hastily apologizing for his tardiness and diving right into his sermon.
He was frozen and exhausted but it didn’t matter. He waxed eloquent as he delivered the message he had prepared with passion and his congregation soon forgot that they had been waiting for him in the first place.
After he finished his sermon and spent some time shaking hands with the congregation James made his way outside to find out what had happened to his horse. To his dismay, he found that the man he had left the animal with hadn’t taken care of him at all.
The man had slung the reins over a nearby hitching post and left the animal exposed to the elements without a blanket to keep him warm. The horse was shaking with cold. Fuming James untied the animal and gently led it towards the nearby stables to get it warmed up, fed and bedded down for the night.
During that first preaching circuit, James White spent four months on the road, later reporting that during the winter of 1842-1843 more than one thousand people responded to his appeals. When he returned home he was ordained as a minister of the Christian Connection Church, of which he was a member at the time.
James White’s first preaching tour was a preface to the years of ministry that were to follow. Years filled with the same kind of tenacious commitment to accomplish God’s work regardless of the difficulties that surrounded him.