One day, while Sarah Dunn was struggling with an elaborate decoration in her family's New York home, she heard an almost audible voice that asked, "What are you doing to decorate your heavenly home?" That marked the beginning of her passion to convert people to Christianity, although it did not prevent her from marrying a worldly businessman, Colonel George R. Clarke, some years later, after she had moved to Chicago.
Again God spoke to Sarah, and warned her about the time she wasted in social functions. She persuaded her husband (who had become a Christian) to visit the city slums, with their gambling halls, saloons and brothels. He went, but was more interested in making money than dealing with human wrecks. However, while he was on a business trip a thousand miles away, he felt the Lord Jesus stab him with sharp conviction that people matter more than money. He dropped to his knees and consecrated himself to God's service. Immediately he telegraphed his wife of his change of plans.
On his return to Chicago, he began to attempt to explain about Jesus and preach to the broken men and women of Chicago's slums. His friends considered him one of the world's worst preachers. And yet through his love and concern, lives were changed.On this day, September 15, 1877, Colonel and Sarah Clarke opened a mission on South Clark Street. In a space had once housed a tiny store, they set up wooden benches to seat forty people. As the Colonel wept and struggled to speak words that would change hearts, Sarah did her best to keep order among the noisy, obscene and drunken people who came in. The Clarkes saw it as a work of the Holy Spirit when many lives were changed.
Five years later, the mission moved to a bigger building that had been the Pacific Beer Garden. Dwight L. Moody suggested its new name. "Strike out the 'beer' and add 'mission'," he suggested. And so the Pacific Garden Mission got its name. Among those converted in its meetings were Billy Sunday, who became an evangelist; Mel Trotter, who was on his way to commit suicide when he wandered in; and Harry Monroe who became a powerful leader of the very organization that introduced him to Christ.
Moody considered the Pacific Garden Mission the greatest slum work in the world. He often preached there. The mission leaders kept their sermons simple. "...Nobody was ever too bad for Jesus to save. Amen, glory! You aren't saved because you're good; if you were good, you wouldn't need to be saved. But Jesus died for your sins. He paid it all, glory to God! Make him your savior tonight. Come down this aisle for prayer. Come just as you are."
And men and women did. Prostitutes, gangsters, alcoholics, gamblers. They would stand and tell in meetings how God delivered them from their sins and gave them a new life. Their testimonies to the power of Christ played a big part in winning others to follow Jesus.
The work changed its location again after many years, but the Pacific Garden Mission is still going strong. Its stories of people who were "unshackled" air as weekly radio broadcasts and have power to move hearts. Most observers would say God picked right when he chose Colonel and Sarah Clarke to work for him.
- Henry, Carl F. The Pacific Garden Mission. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1942.
- "Pacific Garden Mission." http://www.pgm.org/PGM_Home/pgm_history.html
Last updated June, 2007.