Emma Whittemore and Door of Hope

Published Apr 28, 2010
Emma Whittemore and Door of Hope

Money, servants, parties, balls-- Emma had it all. Her wealth allowed her to attire herself in dresses that glittered with diamond dust. She and her husband Sidney mingled with New York's elite, but were unaware that anything was missing in their lives.

One day, Emma's friend, Miss Kelly, persuaded her to come hear an evangelist speak at the YMCA. In one of those coincidences that suggest the hand of God, Sidney also went to the meeting. Emma later said, "My husband had been ignorant of the fact that I was in the building, and I had not the slightest thought that he would be present." Both were stirred by the message and went forward to make "firm resolutions to live a different life." Miss Kelly called on Emma again. Would she go with her to Water Street to hear Jerry McAuley? McAuley, an ex-convict and reformed drunkard, had opened a mission in a rough area of New York City. Sidney was reluctant to allow his wife to visit the dance hall where McAuley preached, but one night he agreed to accompany her to a meeting.

"Never can that night be erased from my memory," wrote Emma. "From the time we got off the car at Roosevelt Street, each step opened up some new horror." She heard curses, saw fighting, police abuse, and women dragged off to the station. The smells in the dance hall were vile, for it was crowded with "sin-bedraggled people." Jerry's gruff voice hollered at them to have a seat in the front. "We had not been accustomed to that kind of treatment..." said Emma. She went on to add that Sidney spoke condescending words about the poor people gathered in the hall.

No Longer Smug and Superior
"As the meeting progressed, however, God got such possession of him and later of myself also that we were both held in painful silence as we were convicted of our useless lives. We no longer felt superior to the 'poor creatures'...but actually hung our heads in shame."

Jerry preached, people sang, the meeting was thrown open for testimonies. Badly dressed slum tenants leapt up, praising the Lord that they were kept from sin daily amid terrible temptations. Emma and Sidney saw "that these people were truly transformed and possessed the genuine thing and not the veneer that characterized some professed Christians in the social circle that had engrossed our time and thought." Overcome by emotion, Sidney stood and requested prayer, a tear trickling through his fingers as he hid his face in his hands. He was such "a stiff Presbyterian and had been so very conventional" that Emma was astonished.

"I thought he had never appeared nobler or braver in my eyes. I could not let him stand alone. Where he would go, I would go." She rose and stood beside him. Jerry called them to kneel with others at the mourner's bench. A motley group surrounded them, including "a drunkard, a thief and a tramp on my husband's side, and on my side one or two poor women..." With the drunkard they prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner-- for Jesus' sake." The Spirit of God witnessed to their spirits that their prayer was heard. "We arose with a holy determination, born of God himself, to henceforth live for his glory and praise. From that night I date the giving up of a worldly life..." Eager to see souls won to Christ, Emma and Sidney could frequently be found at Jerry's mission-- the place they said they would visit only "this once." There Emma learned how to show practical love and give her testimony.

The Miracle of Healing
It was a miracle that Emma was even able to attend the meeting at Water Street. Years earlier she had broken one of her lower vertebrae in a fall. For twelve years she lived in severe pain, and was often bedridden. When her suffering was at its peak, she had to be carried up and down the stairs. Her condition became so bad that she declared she would "rather die than live." At that time, A. B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, was proclaiming healing. Emma became interested enough to attend his meetings, but was so skeptical that she walked out the first time she attended a service. Her own pastor tried to keep her from believing in divine healing, and for a time Emma ridiculed the notion. Yet she found herself returning to Simpson's church, listening to testimonies, and speaking with the preacher. Finally, she decided to settle the matter to her own satisfaction. For four days, she shut herself away with her Bible.

Alone in her room at the close of the fourth day, she committed her body to God for healing. "He enabled me to claim healing upon the authority of His Word." She waited for His promise to come to pass. When her little son assured her that God would do what He said He would, she got off her bed, determined to believe that God could heal her and relieve her suffering. The next evening, as she prepared for bed, she found herself in a position that had caused her agony for the last twelve years. This time she felt only a bruised sensation. In joy, she cried aloud, "O Lord, I'm healed, I'm healed."

Anything But That!
One evening, she spent some time "alone with God, earnestly inquiring of him" what she was to do now that she was healed. "Suddenly the girls on the street came to my mind so forcibly that it was not difficult to almost imagine I could hear the tramp of numberless feet going straight to damnation." But the thought of working with these hopeless women horrified her. "Oh, anything but that!" she pleaded.

A deep hush of shame came upon her heart, "and in the stillness which followed, He caused me to realize that there was in my heart a serious lack of love..." If she disobeyed, she would lose a great chance to serve God and be blessed. She sensed that God was promising her He would make provision to meet every need. She agreed to do the work and began that very evening.

"The horrors we witnessed nearly overpowered us. Often after such nights of tramping the streets, have I dropped upon my knees as I reached home and in tears cried out, 'Oh, Lord, I cannot, I cannot see these fearful sights again! It simply breaks my heart.'" Although the work was heartbreaking at times, God always gave Emma the strength to continue.

A Door of Hope for Fallen Girls
If girls were to be rescued, homes were needed. On October 25th, 1890, Mother Whittemore's first Door of Hope opened in a house belonging to A. B. Simpson. Emma vowed that she would never go through normal channels to raise funds, but rather tell every need directly to God. She did not even mention her home's needs to her own husband, Sidney. Once she hinted of a need and the money was immediately supplied, but afterward funds dried up. She apologized to God and funds came again. Needless to say, that was the last time she even hinted at a need. Yet unsolicited donations came at just the right moment, time after time, to meet the needs of Door of Hope, confirming to her that God was at work.

Within four years, Door of Hope had helped 325 girls. Emma's first concern was to enable them to know the power of Christ in their lives as she had experienced it. Welfare agencies might bring girls out of dens of vice, she said, "but only Jesus can get the vice out of the girls." Her second goal was to see them active in efforts to convert others. Delia Loughlin, formerly a violent "underworld" figure, led 100 of her earlier associates to become Christians.

Door of Hope soon went international. By Emma's death in 1931, there were 97 homes in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Africa, Japan and China. Emma showed what a woman can accomplish when her devotion switches from balls and diamond dust to Christ.

Facts to Ponder:
  • Believe it or not, at one time, Emma was such a timid woman that she hardly dared ask for a spool of thread!
  • The Whittemores became key leaders in the Salvation Army and the International Union of Gospel Missions.
  • Emma's Door of Hope homes offered clean beds, were orderly and controlled with discipline. There was plenty of good food and lots of love. She called on doctors to provide medical advice when needed.
  • Recently, Door of Hope programs have offered G.E.D. certificates and care for mentally challenged street people.
  • Maria McAuley, Jerry's wife, taught Emma how to work with women and took her to her old hangouts. Without that coaching, Emma would not have known how to begin her work.
  • Emma wrote a bestseller, Delia, the Bluebird of Mulberry Bend about Delia Loughlin, a woman transformed from violence to love.

A. B. Simpson convinced thousands of men and women to follow Christ, founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance, published more than seventy books, edited a weekly magazine and wrote gospel songs. What was the secret of his success? "I am no good unless I can get alone with God," he said.

Born in 1844 on Prince Edward Island, Canada, Albert gave his heart to Christ when he was fifteen and decided to enter the ministry. From the start, he pastored large churches. In Louisville, he led city-wide prayer meetings of 10,000 people that led to church renewal. He himself was physically healed.

God then sent him to New York, where he had great success among immigrants. He founded the Christian Alliance to encourage people to live out their Christianity and become more like Christ. To encourage mission work, he founded the Evangelical Missionary Alliance. Later the two merged as the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Albert did not set out to create a new denomination. However, he felt compelled to leave his own church when its leaders, fearing that they would be overwhelmed by foreigners and the poor, decided not to allow immigrants to become members.

Jerry McAuley was the kind of person most would call "impossible." Born in Ireland in 1839, he was raised by his grandmother because his mother could not or would not care for him. He had no idea who his father was. Eventually his grandmother gave up on him and sent him to live with relatives in New York. He soon ran away and lived on what he could. Then, when he was nineteen years old, authorities convicted him on trumped up robbery charges, and he was sentenced to fifteen years in Sing Sing prison.

The event that transformed him from an "impossible" case to a soul winner was the testimony of a former friend who became a Christian. Desperate for hope, Jerry began reading the Bible and tried to pray. Finally one night what he believed was a supernatural presence appeared in his cell and a voice said, "Son, your sins, which are many, are forgiven." Even then, McAuley did not change all at once. He still drank hard and fought hard. But when he was pardoned by Governor Horatio Seymour, Jerry McAuley began to work for God. He saved money and opened the Water Street mission in New York City to reclaim men like himself. Set in an old dance hall, it was the first rescue mission in the United States.

An Incident from Emma's Day
"[A pitiful fifteen year old] had been betrayed and then cruelly deserted and would have been left utterly friendless, unwilling to relinquish her baby. After a brief conversation, I informed her that we had not thought of taking children. Before I could explain any further, big tears flowed down her face as she said: 'Oh, I'd rather walk the streets and starve with my baby in my arms than to have a place to stay and give him up. Every place I've been refuses to take me because I have a baby, but I just won't give him up. I love him too much to let him go.' "I concluded it was no time for talking, so I simply replied: 'Well, dear, let us kneel together and ask what the Lord wants us to do.' With my arm around the trembling shoulders I could somehow better appreciate the depths of the motherly love that was in her heart even though she was only a child herself...I offered fervent prayer in her behalf and before arising from our knees, the matter was settled. I pressed a kiss on her cheek as I said, 'Hannah, dear child, I'll take you both. You may bring your baby.' Throwing her arms around my neck and weeping with joy, the child-mother explained, 'Oh, then I can, I can have my baby, my own dear little baby!'"


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