Dwight Moody’s life in Christ began when he left the hardscrabble soil of northwestern Massachusetts. Leaving behind his grinding labor as a farm hand, the restless teen moved to Boston, where he found employment in an uncle’s shoe store. Moody’s godly relative provided room, board, and a day job to his seventeen-year-old nephew with one condition: he must faithfully promise to attend Sunday school and church every week.
Young Moody kept his promise, and Uncle Lemuel Holton witnessed the answer to his prayers. Dwight heard the gospel story from his Sunday school teacher, Edward Kimball, who one Saturday stopped by Holton’s shoe store where he found Dwight alone. Moody never forgot the day Kimball came behind the counter “and put his hand upon my shoulder, and talked to me about Christ and my soul. I had not felt I had a soul till then.” Moody stood astounded by the presence of this man who had known him only a few weeks yet wept over his sins. Years later Moody said, “I don’t remember what he said, but I can feel the power of that man’s hand on my shoulder tonight.” Within a few months, the young shoe store clerk surrendered his life to Christ and expressed a willingness to repent and be mentored in the faith by Edward Kimball and a few other men in Boston’s Mount Vernon Congregational Church. The young convert admitted that he soon found himself in “a conflict with my will. I had a terrible battle to surrender my will, and to take God’s will.”
Late in life D. L. Moody told his oldest son, William, that he had “always been a man of impulse. Almost everything I ever did in my life that was a success was done on impulse.” Leaving the family and moving to Boston in 1854 was impulsive. And so was the decision in autumn 1856 to leave Boston and travel a thousand miles west to Chicago—a fast-growing little city on Lake Michigan. The Windy City did not exist until 1830, but by the time of Moody’s arrival the population had reached 84,000. Four years later the rapidly growing gateway city to the West had burgeoned to 112,000.
Moody moved to the booming Midwestern metropolis on impulse but God had clearly gone before him to open the way. The impetuous New Englander expressed an ambition to acquire assets of $100,000—a fortune by any standard in an era when most working men earned no more than a dollar a day. Soon after his arrival, the determined New Englander began to prosper by selling boots and shoes and investing his profits in Chicago’s lucrative real estate market. Before Illinois’ favorite son Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, Moody boasted he was debt free, had saved more than $12,000, and continued to watch his income grow higher with every passing month.
Despite his ambition to earn money, Moody purposively pursued his walk with the Lord. Soon after his arrival in Chicago, he began rooming and taking meals in the house of “Mother” H. Phillips. Mrs. Phillips not only housed and fed Moody, she held him accountable to pray and read his Bible daily and attend services at First Baptist, her home church. But Mother Phillips did more than mentor Moody; she encouraged him to assist her in city mission work. Thanks to the witness of this godly woman, Moody began an outreach to a growing throng of street children—thousands of impoverished boys and girls who roamed the streets and alleys of the neighborhoods where the lowest social and economic classes lived.
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