A Commentary on Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton
“’The Lord told me to do this. I said, ‘Oh Lord, I can’t—don’t ask me—take somebody else.’ But Tubman also reported that God spoke directly to her: ‘It’s you I want, Harriet Tubman.’” (pg. 82)
Harriet Tubman was a missionary, and not your typical missionary. Harriet was a fugitive slave with the Underground Railroad who later served as a spy with the Union Army. She didn’t choose to become a “missionary”, rather she was chosen. In fact, many who knew her would say God chose her for that role. Through her lifetime, she encountered many of the same issues and situations missionaries face when answering a calling.
Harriet Tubman oftentimes raised her own funding. Even in her later years, William Seward (United States Secretary of State, 1861-1869) was visited by Harriet many times for donations to her various projects. Harriet was generous to a fault so much so that William Seward said, “You have worked for others long enough…If you ask for a donation for yourself I will give it to you, but I will not help you to rob yourself for others.” During her time as an Abductor for the Underground Railroad, she often spent the summers working at a resort to save up money for her trips into slave territory to bring more slaves to freedom. Between this and her later years of championing the causes of women and the elderly, four things occurred to me:
- Our support is dependent upon churches and individuals. We raise up capital to serve in the role we feel God has chosen for us. Like Harriet, our roles may involve public speaking or other influential people advocating for our cause to get more funding. Perhaps, we may even publish books or writings to build up awareness of our causes with this act helping us to raise further funds.
- False narrative was a problem back then, too. In some of the accounts in the book, enthusiastic abolitionists wanted to showcase what was happening in a way that would emotionally tug at people’s souls, causing them to give more. Near the end of Harriet’s life, when she needed more money, an author wrote a biography of her which was an exaggerated work. It sold and provided some extra cash for Harriet.
- Other lessons from Harriet’s life, such as her adoration of John Brown, remind me to stay obedient to the Lord. John Brown was an extreme and charismatic abolitionist. He even made his own manifesto to create his own country and planned a battle in which he died. Harriet wanted to join him in that battle, but she reported that God didn’t want to her to go. Harriet’s work might have been compromised and her life prematurely ended had she joined John Brown in that battle.
- When Harriet discovered John Tubman’s remarriage, the rage became a more practical anger. John refused to see her. “She did not give way to rage or grief, but collected a party of fugitives and brought them safely to Philadelphia.” (pgs. 82-83). Right now, we live in an age of rage. Instead, we ought to look at practical ways to process our emotions during this time of history. Harriet didn’t spend her time complaining about John or wallowing in self-pity. She did something whether through service or donation.
As Supported Staff with WorldVenture in Digital Disciple-Making, I’m finding ministry a practical outlet for the uncomfortable time we are living through. I can’t change the circumstances we are living in (social unrest, worldwide shut downs, etc), but I can change how I act, how I serve, and instead process that grief and discomfort through helping and encouraging others online. Even my financial partners have taught me about generosity in that I hope to live a generous life myself no matter the circumstances.
Thank you, Harriet Tubman, for living a courageous, selfless life and for loving others well.