Abigail and the pickpockets

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From the book “Sister Abigail” by Clara S. Feidler – slightly adapted.

          In any big city the elderly and the handicapped may be at a disadvantage, experiencing great physical and economic hardships, not to speak of spiritual need. One century ago that was very much the case in Buffalo in the United States of America. In 1901, a recent widow, 42 years of age, Abigail Luffe, better known as Sister Abigail, arrived in Buffalo from England. She had grown up in Bristol, with her parents attending the meetings where George Muller was an elder. What she learned there, though a very young child, remained with her for the rest of her life. She loved the Lord and his work and had set her heart on going to China as a missionary, but when her Lord closed that door, He opened another one – it led to Buffalo. With a few helpers she looked after many needy folks in her home. But, as this story shows, God used her in the most unexpected ways!

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          One winter’s evening in 1910, Abigail’s visit to someone in need took much longer than she had anticipated. Darkness had fallen when she finally got away, so, as she hurried homeward, she rested in faith that the delay was part of God’s plan for the day, for had she not committed the day to him?
          

When she reached the corner of a certain street she quickened her steps, remembering the street was poorly lit and she’d have to pass two vacant lots. Just as she reached this dark place, suddenly her hands were pinioned behind her back and a husky voice said, “What d’you have in that bag, lady?”
          

With a cry to God for help, and given back the use of one hand, Abigail held up her Bible, “I will give you this”, she managed to say, “it is the most valuable thing I possess, for it says that ‘God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever… that whosoever… whosoever…’” Being paralyzed with fright, she lost the power of speech, yet made another effort, “that whosoever believeth…” When she tried to finish the Bible verse a third time, the thief was so enraged that, grasping her by the neck, he shook her as a cat would a rat, then pushed her off the sidewalk into a snow bank, and disappeared into the darkness.
          

Abigail, though trembling, hurried home… There the others were soon mobilized to help pray for the unknown assailant. But… does it pay to pray? Four years passed by. Abigail still had the robber on her prayer list; she still expected fruit from the Word that was sown.
          One day in the spring, she and a helper had to go some distance to a store. She hoped that on the way back they could call on a friend. This young girl, though often invited over, would invariably come up with the excuse that she didn’t know how to get to Abigail’s house. So, taking a small card with two printed Scripture verses, she added her name, her address and what public transport to take to get to her home. Folding this up, she tucked it into her coin purse. God knew, even if Abigail didn’t, who would read that little card!

When the shopping was done, it was really too late to make that visit, so they boarded one of the cars, in use at the time for public transport, where the passengers placed the right fare in a box at the front. As Abigail reached up to drop her fare into the box, she was jostled by two men next to her, but she paid no attention.
          

Back at home, realizing that a few more things should be bought, she opened her bag to get her coin purse, but it was gone… Not much had been lost and she didn’t worry over it – Abigail truly believed that all things work together for good to them that love God.
         

 The next morning, during devotional time, someone rang the doorbell. The helper who went to answer the call returned to say that a man wished to see Abigail. Thinking he might be a book agent, and being very busy that morning, she sent word to request that he make his errand known to the helper. But the man replied that he must see Mrs. Luffe and see her alone. At that he was admitted to the small sitting room.
          

As she entered the room, he asked, “Did you lose your coin purse yesterday?” “Yes”, she replied, “but what do you know about that?” The man gave her a sudden, sharp look. Then he asked, “Were you held up on Tracy Street one night about four years ago?” Abigail, greatly astonished, answered, “Yes, but what do you know about that…?” “Well, lady”, he replied, “I am the man that stole your coin purse and I am the man that held you up. Yesterday I took your purse when you reached up to put your fare in the box. But I have come to give myself up, and I want you to call the police. I am through with this life.” Abigail’s shock, hearing this confession, can hardly be imagined.
          

The man went on excitedly, saying, “I have two buddies. When we steal a purse we quickly empty the contents into our pockets, and throw the purse away. Then, when we get home at night, we put the day’s takings together and divide it up. When I emptied the contents of your purse, instead of taking out a folded bill, as I thought, I found this paper”, and he held up the little card on which Abigail had written her name and address. “See what I read: ‘Whosoever (in bright red ink) – that means you.’ ‘For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ It shot like a bolt of lightning through my mind, but then, turning it over, I saw this, and holding up the card again, he read, ‘Whosoever – that means you’ – ‘Whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire’.”
          

“Well”, he continued, “I thought that card was about to burn a hole in my hand. I’ve been in hell all night… I can’t get away from that word; it’s God speaking to me. I’ve come to confess to you, and let you call the police and give me up”.
          “Give you up to the police?”, questioned Abigail.
          “Yes. I’m a thief and a robber. I’ve made my living stealing, and I’ve robbed you.”
          “No”, said Abigail, “I can’t do that. God has spoken to you”.
          Taking her Bible and opening at the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, she read:
          

“And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now, Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though He heard them not. So when they continued asking him, He lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted himself up, and saw none but the woman, He said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
          

Laying down the Bible, Abigail asked, “Do you think I could condemn you, or give you up to the law? I too, am a sinner, and there is only this difference between us: I am a sinner saved by the blood that Jesus Christ shed for my sins. But you also can be saved by that sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary.”
          “You mean, He really did all this for me? Did He die for me?” the man cried.
          “Yes, for you!” And there in that little room, this thief received the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.
          

Then Jacob, for that was his name, told her his life-story. He was the only child of Christian parents. His father died when he was very young. A guest visiting at his home, when he was a little boy, had taught him sleight-of-hand tricks. He became quite expert in taking things from people’s pockets after which he’d ask the person for the article. How he enjoyed seeing the person’s surprise at finding the article gone. He then taught these tricks to two of his friends. The three of them became so fascinated that, at ten years of age, they ran away from home. For many years they made their living as professional pickpockets. He had seen his mother only very occasionally during those years, yet her prayers had ever followed him.
          

He told Abigail, that on the night when he attacked her four years previous, when she began to say “whosoever”, it brought his mother before him, for she used to teach him that Bible verse. It angered him so much, he had really wanted to kill her when he pushed her into the snow bank.
          

But God was watching – a mother’s prayers for her criminal son were yet to be answered…, and Abigail was the instrument He was to use for that purpose.
          

Once he’d told his story, Jacob said that he must go and tell his two companions what had happened to him. After that he planned to leave them and look for a job in order to start an honest life. So, returning to his friends, he told them as best he could the story of the Cross, and how all his sins had been taken care of by the blood of Jesus Christ. “Well”, they said, “you taught us to serve the devil and you brought us into this life. But if it ain’t good enough for you, it ain’t good enough for us.”
          

Jacob brought them to Abigail, and now she told them of God’s love for sinners, and that Christ had died for them too. Both of them received him as their Savior. As many as received him gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12). Now the three were anxious to know what to do with the money they had in the bank, about $300, as they could not return it to the owners. Abigail suggested they use it in helping other young men whom they might seek to bring to Christ.
         

 “Jacob and his brethren”, as she lovingly called them, soon left the city and its temptations to find work in the country. For a number of years, at irregular times, she heard from them. They were all working and earning an honest living, and… winning others to Christ!
          

Then, in April 1918, Abigail received a phone call, asking her to come to the railway station and meet some soldiers on their way to France. What joy to find “Jacob and his brethren”, all dressed in uniform! They had enlisted to go to the front of World War I as ambulance drivers. Her joy was even greater when she realized they were consciously going as ‘soldiers of the Cross’! The last dramatic months of the war were upon them… Would God be able to make use of his servants in those horrific circumstances?

image003          The Sequel – as told by Abigail herself.
          

Not long after the war, as I was traveling from Hamilton, Canada, back to Buffalo, a gentleman, a lady and a little child sat near me on the train. I noticed that the man had lost an arm and a leg, no doubt, in the war. Noticing that the little one was restless and the mother looked weary, I offered to have the child on my lap for a while. Taking out of my bag a round mirror with a text printed on the back – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” – John 3:16, I gave it to the child to amuse her. After a while she dropped it. When the mother had picked it up and examined it, she said to her husband, “Why George, this is just like the one the man gave you in France!” He got his own from his pocket to compare the two. After a few moments of silence, he said, turning to me,
          “Excuse me, Madam, is your name Love?”
          “No”, I answered, “it is Luffe”.
          “Well, Madam, do you live in Buffalo?”
          “Yes”, I replied.
          “Did you ever know a man by the name of Jacob?”
          “Yes”, I said again.
          “Mrs. Luffe – he went on – let me tell you something, Jacob saved me in France, and hundreds of others. He would go down into the trenches where the men were wounded and dying and speak into their ears the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that if they believed that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to die on the Cross of Calvary for them, they would have eternal life with him.

One man said, ‘I have paid the supreme sacrifice’. But Jacob told him there was only one ‘supreme sacrifice’. That was the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on the Cross of Calvary. Believing this, he would be saved. Ever after he told each one to whom he spoke that the only supreme sacrifice was the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary. Then, one day, Jacob was struck in the arm by a shell. Physicians made every effort to save his life, but he died, serving his country and his God.”

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