A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

by Dae Powell, 21 June 1989



Many of my family have been strangers in this and other lands.  Although I've some genealogical lines that lead to Nobility, I find I'm particularly drawn to the Servants.  I come from a family of devoted servants.  As I think on my ancestors, a simple hymn always comes to mind -- "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief."

A poor wayfaring Man of grief
Hath often crossed me on my way,
Who sued so humbly for relief
That I could never answer nay.
I had not power to ask his name,
Whereto he went, or whence he came;
Yet there was something in his eye
That won my love; I knew not why.

My mother grew up in southern Nebraska.  Her maternal grandmother was a farmer's wife — simple, but compassionate.  She reared 12 children to maturity and named them in succession for a letter of the alphabet from Archie to Loretta. Not only because of the Great Depression, but with so many children and leasing the land they farmed, portions were meager.

Once, a downtrodden beggar approached the rear to the farmhouse.  He asked if he could have something to eat, as it had been days since he'd had anything substantial. My great-grandmother, Florida Ellen LUCKY, opened both the Dutch doors and bid him enter.

While she prepared him some food, my mother, a young lass visiting for the summer, said, "But Grandma, he's so dirty!"

Grandma Lucky replied, "Yes, on the outside!  We don't know what he is like on the inside, do we?"

The man ate in grateful silence and thanked them afterward for the meal.  As he turned to go, Grandma Lucky asked if he'd like to shower before he left.  He declined, but thanked them again graciously. 

My mother told me that story when I was a lad. She'd never forgotten that experience, and neither have I.

Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
He entered; not a word he spake,
Just perishing for want of bread.
I gave him all; he blessed it, brake,
And ate, but gave me part again.
Mine was an angel’s portion then,
For while I fed with eager haste,
The crust was manna to my taste.

My father's grandfather served as a Medical Missionary to China for nearly 35 years for the Methodist Church from the 1890s into the Twentieth century.  Indeed, my grandmother was born in Nagasaki, Japan, during the Boxer Rebellion in China.

Their family made many difficult journeys through the Chengtu slopes and valleys.  As a doctor, he treated thousands of Chinese each year who were suffering from disease and injuries.  He designed and constructed a hospital which has stood over 100 years. There are many Chinese who revered Dr. Harry Lee CANRIGHT.  He was a man of adventure, charisma and great conviction.  There were many who politically opposed any Western intervention in China, no matter how much good they brought to the people. Political corruption was also commonplace.

On one occasion, the village's water supply became polluted and many fell sick and perished. Dr. Canright boiled the water and stored it.  He treated wounds with it and used some for drinking water.  Fleeing local police, a man who bitterly denounced the Americans came to my great-grandfather's hospital.  He was parched and would have perished.  Who would question the American family if they denied him help? Indeed, who would even know?  The man would die shortly from the impotable water he had drunk.  But no.  Dr. Canright gave of his family's water supply and nursed this enemy to health.  He prayed for him and asked of him nothing.  The man was healed, and though not "converted," he later prevented his political faction from destroying the enclave which sheltered this American family.

I spied him where a fountain burst
Clear from the rock; his strength was gone.
The heedless water mocked his thirst;
He heard it, saw it hurrying on.
I ran and raised the suff’rer up;
Thrice from the stream he drained my cup,
Dipped and returned it running o’er;
I drank and never thirsted more.

Eatontown, New Jersey, September 1976.  I was Charge of Quarters, "CQ," at Fort Monmouth Headquarters.  We caught the tail-end of hurricane Belle that had come north from Dixie.  I had never experienced a hurricane before then.  This was only my second time to pull CQ duty on this post.

My young daughters, Kristin and Erika, were with me, enjoying television and food from the Mess Hall.  We had a storm watch which then became a storm warning and then became all too present.

Calls came in from local authorities, the police and fire departments, asking for help with some people who had become homeless.  Long Branch and Asbury are nearby beach towns and some of the homes there were destroyed.  I helped coordinate military efforts at securing temporary lodging and meals for the local unfortunates.  We fought heavy winds and torrential rains in a community unprepared for such disasters. Over 400 homeless were sheltered and cared for that night.

The sacrifices that the men and women under my charge rendered were commendable.  I was invigorated throughout the entire night.  Everything and everyone was completely accounted for by morning.  I awoke the girls after being relieved and went home to rest.  Then it hit me full force: In all the activity and rescue, I'd forgotten to remove my "hard" contact lenses.  I had worn them for 12 hours longer than I should have.  It was extremely painful removing them.  My eyes throbbed and I couldn't even see across the room.

I had the telephone operator call the Medics and told them what happened.  They were overworked with the multitude from the night before, but they remembered me.  An ambulance was sent; I was treated with some pain killer; and bandages were taped across my eyes.  I had the girls call our Home Teacher for a healing blessing.  He was there in 20 minutes.  The Relief Society provided a dinner for us that night.  What a blessing! 

Serving the servant

But ... what a dinner.  It was spaghetti and I was blind! Kristin and Erika howled with laughter and delight as they tried to feed me. They were used to me feeding the babies, not the other way 'round.  And when it was done, I was filled and needed a shower and laundry desperately.

’Twas night; the floods were out; it blew
A winter hurricane aloof.
I heard his voice abroad and flew
To bid him welcome to my roof.
I warmed and clothed and cheered my guest
And laid him on my couch to rest;
Then made the earth my bed, and seemed
In Eden’s garden while I dreamed.

My great-great-grandfather, Francis Washington POWELL, is another of my ancestral heroes. He was the youngest of 11 children. He was elected to the office of Justice of the Peace 3 times, and had also filled the offices of clerk and treasurer of Adams Township in Coshocton County, Ohio.  He was the first Free Soil or antislavery man there, and voted that ticket when there were but 4 or 5 others of like mind in the township.  During the Civil War in the United States, he had 15 nephews in the Union Army, 5 of whom lost their lives.  He had reared 2 of those nephews as his own children after his brother and his sister-in-law died in an accident. He also ran the "underground railroad" which helped move hundreds of ex-slaves to freedom.

He went 3 times to the battle front to bring home the remains of 3 of his nephews. He risked his own death to care for his family, alive or dead.  He took a ball while retrieving Freeman POWELL in North Carolina, but he pressed on and succeeded.

His memory and spirit lives on in our family.  He was a moral man with a courageous heart.  He served his community and family well.  For 18 years he was a Sunday School teacher, too.

Stripped, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
I found him by the highway side.
I roused his pulse, brought back his breath,
Revived his spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment—he was healed.
I had myself a wound concealed,
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart.

Returning to my Great-grandfather CANRIGHT, let me relate one story of Chinese martyrdom as a sample of what happened in those days.  It is the story of Chu Da Yea (Chu, his regular name and "Da Yea" is a term for endearment similar to our "Daddy").  He was a direct descendant of the Nestorian Christians who established churches in China in the 15th Century, and he was the first to join the Methodist Church in Chengtu.  Later there came a telegram to my Great-grandfather Canright that the Ti'en Ku Chow Christians had been massacred.

It came to pass that the Boxers drew a cross on the floor in front of the altar and told Chu he would be spared if he would step on it.  When he refused, they cut off his hands. But still he refused and he was put to death.  The leaders of the mob drank some of his blood, thinking it would give them "some of the courage he had exemplified."

Some of the surviving Ti'en Ku Chow Christians reached Chengtu, all of them more or less wounded, but all inspired by Chu's martyrdom.

In pris’n I saw him next, condemned
To meet a traitor’s doom at morn.
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed,
And honored him ’mid shame and scorn.
My friendship’s utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill,
But my free spirit cried, “I will!”

Many of my family have stood fast in their beliefs.  They were dedicated to each other and to their God.  They were true servants.

Many of us volunteer on the Internet for RAOGK or as Hosts or to perform lookups for others. We serve our families, communities and our religions. What is service?  Is it sacrifice?  Yes, sometimes.  Is it unselfish? Aye, often.  But it seems to me that it is ever an act of love.  However great or small, it is the attitude as much as the action that is important.  And when love and faith are combined, superior service is made manifest.

Mosiah 2:17 reads, “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; That ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”

This hymn, "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief," was inspired by Matthew 25:31-40.

Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in His hands I knew;
The Savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name He named,
“Of Me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not, thou didst them unto Me.”

Develop an emotional relationship with your ancestors. Share their stories with your families. Serve them well with your fine example. And let it be said of all of us, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”

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