This week, I was humbled twice with reminders that the people of God must be about the work of Isaiah 58:6-7 in response to the great grace that the Lord has shown us. In the examples that I saw this week, I was struck with the need not simply to honor the work of those saints of yesteryear but to take up similarly costly work today in service to the King today. Both stories tell of people who personally gave up their lives in some capacity to show mercy to one person at a time. Is there at least one needy person in your life currently to whom you are intentionally showing mercy?
Wednesday, several of us from the local church led and participated in a weekly Bible study in the community where, this week, we had the privilege of meeting the Hon. Keith Leenhouts. A humble man, Judge Leenhouts, did not talk easily about his accomplishments. This Christian judge dealt with those guilty of misdemeanors in his court in the 1960s. In an era when judicial philosophy often stopped with punitive treatment, this judge founded the Volunteers in Probation program in which he recruited volunteers to mentor those who needed not only punishment but correction and support. The results were astounding, with the criminal recidivism rate in his community being some ten percent of that in another community of similar size, nature, case load, and resources that did not use volunteers. He went on to promote similar models in many parts of the country, author books, and work with men such as Chuck Colson on similar initiatives in prisons. He noted that his motivation for his service flowed from his favorite verse, Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” He observed that, humanly speaking, what caused changed lives were the efforts of volunteers to invest in the lives of the guilty – a huge commitment on the part of the volunteer. And, he noted that it was most often Christians were the volunteers in his programs. Believers, saved by grace through faith, will seek to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.
Thursday, many Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church members and other guests attended a presentation at the Southfield Public Library by historian Rochelle Danquah who is a commissioner of the Michigan Freedom Trail Commission. Rochelle’s careful research has established the Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church as a stop on the Underground Railroad. While the church has long suspected that members were directly involved, we did not know for certain until we were approached by Rochelle. Southfield’s second pastor, J.S.T. Milligan (1826-1912; served Southfield 1853-1871) spearheaded this movement, which was entered into because of strong biblical conviction that human slavery based on race was unjust. Both he and his father had been active in the movement in the years prior to J.S.T. accepting the call as Southfield’s pastor, as is documented elsewhere.
In 1895, J.S.T. Milligan wrote: “…I was first settled as pastor in Southfield, Michigan, 16 miles from Detroit, in a good but retired community of people, mainly abolitionists, and had in my house or in my congregation always a supply of escaped slaves. They would come to Detroit from Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri, and sometimes singly, sometimes in groups of from two to ten into the keeping of the faithful, who either sent them to me or to Canada fro [sic] shelter and employment.
They frequently returned to me from Canada when wages were low and workers superabundant. Slave-hunters often came clear to Detroit in pursuit of valuable slaves. J. Sella Martin, a slave from Alabama, was pursued to Chicago and then to Detroit and a reward of $1,000 offered for his capture. He was six weeks in my house, and was the [smartest] man I have ever met. I put him through a theological course in that time. He afterward became a very eloquent Baptist minister in Boston…”
Rochelle has established a webpage documenting the church’s involvement in the movement, and she is further researching Southfield RP’s Underground Railroad story and the story of others RP Churches whose rail-lines fed into southeastern Michigan.