RODNEY (GYPSY) SMITH
1860 - 1947
Rodney (Gypsy) Smith, 1860-1947,
was born in a tent, raised on a Gypsy camp,
never attended a school - not even for a day!
For years, Rodney Smith did not know when
he had been born. He was the son of a Gypsy;
they had no records and would not have known
how to read them if they had. "A good
aunt of mine took the trouble to get some
one to examine the register of Wanstead Church
(England), and there found an entry giving
the date of the birth and christening of Rodney
Smith. I discovered that I was a year younger
than I took myself to be. He was born on this
day, March 31, 1860.
While he was still young,
his mother died, and event that made a deep
impression on the boy. Living all together
in a wagon, he had seen his mother come to
know Christ just days before her death. All
the knowledge she had to go on was a Christian
song she had heard many years before as a
child and a few words her husband had overheard,
but not understood, while locked in jail.
The power of the Holy Spirit made that little
knowledge sufficient and she died singing.
Rodney himself was a mischievous
boy, a poacher, a liar, a thief--and a successful
salesman. His quick tongue and quicker legs
got him into and out of scrapes.
Rodney's dad Cornelius had promised his mother
to reform. Always loving to his children,
he did his best in his own strength, but of
course it wasn't good enough. He knew it wasn't,
either, and his children thought he was going
mad, so great was his distress over his soul.
He and two brothers, Rodney's uncles, learned
about the forgiveness that is in Christ at
a Methodist meeting. Immediately their lives
changed completely. The three began to preach.
Thrown into jail one night, for innocently
hitching their horses in a town that wanted
no gypsies, they sang and prayed into the
night, converting the jailer's wife by their
testimonies to Christ.
Rodney's older brothers and
sisters got saved, too; but Rodney held out
longer than they did. He had seen the transformation
in his father, but had not made the decision.
Since the rest of his siblings had been saved
in the order of their births, he felt that
he was holding up his younger sister from
following Jesus. On a visit to Bedford, England,
he saw the statue of John Bunyan and longed
to become a great man like the tinker who
wrote Pilgrim's Progress.
"I remember one evening
sitting on the trunk of an old tree not far
from my father's tent and wagon. Around the
fallen trunk grass had grown about as tall
as myself. I had gone there to think, because
I was under the deepest conviction and had
an earnest longing to love the Saviour and
to be a good lad. I thought of my mother in
heaven, and I thought of the beautiful life
my father, brother, and sisters were living,
and I said to myself, 'Rodney, are you going
to wander about as a gypsy boy and a gypsy
man without hope, or will you be a Christian
and have some definite object to live for?'
Everything was still, and I could almost hear
the beating of my heart. For answer to my
question, I found myself startling myself
by my own voice 'By the grace of God, I will
be a Christian and I will meet my mother in
heaven!'" He knew the date of his second
birth before he knew the date of his first!
He traced his conversion
to that moment. At seventeen years of age,
although he was barely able to read, He was
converted in 1876 and, the next year, was
invited by General William Booth to join him
in evangelistic work. He served as an officer
with the Salvation Army until 1882. He then
began ministering as an itinerent evangelist
working with a variety of organisations all
over the world, becoming an evangelist in
high demand. Thirty times he visited the United
States and twice he preached his way around
the world. Once in Paris, he converted 150
society people to Christ. The gypsy boy became
a cosmopolitan in the kingdom of Christbut
particularly in Britain and America. 'Gypsy'
was a very zealous and successful evangelist
whose ministry occasionally experienced revival
power. ! He influenced the lives of millions
of people for God through his powerful preaching.