Christianity has spanned roughly two millennia and in that time, many Christians have gone before us who inspired us to do great things for the kingdom of God, not always by being extraordinary, but by being obedient to God where they were.
Their examples are needed now more than ever. We can look to these great women and men who through their fierce love for God were able to shape the world they were called to.
William Wilberforce began his political career at the age of 21. He was one of the brightest minds in the British parliament in the late 18th century. In his mid-20s, he became an evangelical Christian, and a few years after that, he was recruited into the abolition movement in England.
For 20 years, Wilberforce campaigned in the parliament against the slave trade until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. His work didn’t end there, however. He continued to campaign to completely abolish slavery until his health began to fail. He died just before the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was passed in England.
Born in New York in 1897, Dorothy Day made her mark on the world by starting the Catholic Worker Movement and she fought for workers rights her entire life. She started out as a journalist, lived a rather bohemian lifestyle and settled in San Francisco.
She explored Catholicism while being mentored by a nun in her neighborhood and converted as an adult. After seeing the working conditions of the poor and homeless, she founded the Catholic Worker newspaper. She wrote frequently about the injustices perpetrated on the poor and spent her whole life being marked as a political radical. Her faith in God never wavered but grew stronger until her death at the age of 83 in 1980.
William Booth was a Methodist preacher during the height of the Industrial Revolution. He was passionate about evangelism and would often visit London’s east end to preach the gospel to the poor. Among the destitute and impoverished, he found his calling.
In 1865, Booth formed the Christian Mission Society which soon became the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army soon mobilized into poor regions across London, establishing poor houses, homes for the homeless, job training centers and missions. Booth firmly believed that the gospel manifested itself in love for fellow man, seeking to relieve the misery of earth. The Salvation Army soon spread across Europe and the rest of the world. They continue to spread William Booth’s message of Christ’s love through service.
St. Francis of Assisi
In 1206, a young man by the name of Giovanni Bernadone made a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He was taken by the breathtaking lavishness of the church, but he could not ignore the contrast between the opulence of the basilica and the destitution of the beggars outside its doors.
Giovanni exchanged clothes with one of the beggars and he himself begged for alms. He soon took on the name Francis and founded a religious order devoted to not only helping the poor but giving up all worldly possessions to live with them. St. Francis’ legacy continues to this day as Jorge Mario Bergoglio took on his name when he was named pope in March 2013. He specifically took on the name of St. Francis for his legacy in helping the poor.
St. Basil of Caesarea
Basil, the bishop of Caesarea, is known to this day as one of the most prominent voices of the ancient Christian faith. Ordained as bishop in 370, he had long preached social justice in his sermons. Soon after becoming bishop, he put his authority into action, establishing soup kitchens, hospitals, hospices and poorhouses throughout the region. He also criticized the authorities who failed to administer justice in society.
St. Basil ardently defended the truth of the Christian faith as well as being generous toward the poor. In one of his infamous sermons he stated, “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”
Freelance writer, blogger, full-time husband and father of three. Zach is also co-founder of Theologues.com, a website for Christians to grow in learning about their faith. You can find him on Twitter or his blog.