Rodney Smith, Gypsy Evangelist

Dan Graves, MSL

Rodney Smith, Gypsy Evangelist

For years, Rodney Smith did not know when he had been born. He was the son of a Gypsy, had no records and would not have known how to read them if he had. "A good aunt of mine took the trouble to get someone 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, an event that made a deep impression on him. 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 Christ's forgiveness in 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.

Rodney's older brothers and sisters got saved, too; but Rodney held out. He had seen the transformation in his father, but had not made his own decision to follow Christ. 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 its 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!'" Thus Rodney knew the date of his second birth before he knew the date of his first!

Rodney traced his conversion to that moment. He was just seventeen and barely able to read when William Booth invited him to preach. He did so with increasing success, 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 was instrumental in converting 150 society people to Christ. The gypsy boy became a cosmopolitan in the kingdom of Christ!

Bibliography:

  1. Smith, Rodney. Gypsy Smith; his life and work by himself. New York, 1907.
  2. "Smith, Rodney (Gypsy)." Schaff-Herzog encyclopedia of religious knowledge. New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1911.
  3. Various internet and encyclopedia articles.

Last updated May, 2007.

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