I was still engaged to the young man of whom I have already spoken; and after my healing, began to make preparations for the wedding. I was fully submitted to the Lord on the question of matrimony; but as my life had been running along in such a pleasant, even course, and as I had been having my own way in nearly everything, I felt that God was going to let me have my way in this matter also, when to my surprise, God made clear to me that I should not marry. He showed me that he had chosen me for himself, and that he had first right. He brought to my mind such scriptures as this: "Thy maker is thy husband; the Lord of Hosts is his name." As I submitted, the Lord did not leave me comfortless. He showed me that I was not able to fulfil both the mission he had given me, and the life that I had contemplated.
For so long a time now since my call to the gospel work I had been at home enjoying the companionship of my mother and of my brothers and sisters, doing the little things that God had given me to do, and feeling the approval of God upon my soul, I had failed to seek God earnestly to see if he would have me move out in active gospel work. In May of the year 1882, my brother Jeremiah, who had been out in the active ministry, returned home. One day he said to me, "Mary, did not the Lord call you to preach his gospel?" "Yes," I replied. "Has he not shown you that that is your future work?" "I thought he had in the past, but it is not clear now." "Do you want to know why it is not clear to you now?" My brother then showed me that I had not been as diligent as I should in seeking to know God's will in the matter, that I had taken too much for granted that the Lord would have me continue doing as I had been for the past seven years. He asked me to pray about going with him into the work at that time. I did as he requested; but, as I was not anxious for an answer, did not pray earnestly enough, and as a result, no answer came.
It was not long until Jeremiah asked me if I had prayed about my going with him into the work. I answered that I had, but when he asked me what the Lord had shown me, I was obliged to say, "Nothing." "Well," he replied, "As you are not decided I suppose I would better go right on to the meeting of the holiness association at Salisbury and not wait for you." Seeing that my brother was not satisfied with my answer, I again went to prayer. This time I called upon God with all my heart; and the Lord showed me that I could go into the ministry and be saved or I could stay at home and lose my soul.
Doubtless no young minister, no matter how consecrated he may be to the will of God, finds it easy to take his first step in gospel work. I was no exception to the rule. Twice already when I arose in the public assembly to bear witness to God's dealings with me, my testimony became an exhortation, and God spoke through me to the edification of the people; but I had so far done no preaching, and now that I had reached the decision to go with my brother into the active ministry, I was conscious of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I was glad to go in obedience to God, and on the other I hesitated to take the first step. Besides the natural human shrinking from taking the first step, I knew how Mother would feel about my going, and felt bad to grieve one who had been so kind to me. You must understand, however, that Mother's feeling about my going into gospel work was very different from Father's opposition of which I have already spoken.
At the time I broke the news to Mother, she was going through a severe trial. It was about a week after I had my talk with Jeremiah. "Mother," said I, "if you had a child that had been afflicted with a disease that had baffled the skill of all the physicians she had consulted, and finally one physician undertook the case and performed the cure with the consideration that your child should go and work for him whenever and wherever he wished; would you let the child go?" Mother said, "I know just what you mean. If nothing else will do, you may go." "Mother, as I go out into an unfriendly world, I do not expect to have an easy time; but I believe it would not be so hard to endure the buffetings of the world, if I could look back and think that my mother gave me up gladly to the Lord, who has done so much for me." We went into earnest prayer and God gave us victory over the trial. When a week later Mother accompanied me to the train, there were no tears in our eyes. Almost five years passed before I saw her face again.
Before starting from home, Mother had said to me, "Mary, here is a little change to buy your stamps and envelopes." As I reached out my hand, my brother said, "Mary do not take that money; Mother will need it. The Lord will provide you with stamps and envelopes." I thought, "Why does he talk that way? Even if he can trust God, I can't; and he ought to let me take the money." He knew better than I. The Lord provided all the stamps and envelopes I needed. Indeed, I do not remember a time that I had to wait long to write a letter for the want of stamp or envelope. As I exercised myself in trusting the Lord, my faith grew; so that I had no fear but that God would provide everything I needed -- my carfare, my clothing, and even a little money to give to the cause.
The first place my brother and I visited was Salisbury, Missouri, where a holiness convention was being held. A large concourse of people from all parts of the United States were assembled in the large new tobacco factory, which at that time had not been used. When we reached the place, the meeting had been in session for several days. A number of souls had been saved; but at the time of our arrival, not many of the people felt the power of conviction.
On the Sunday after our arrival, the minister who had charge of the meeting got up and said, "The Lord has not given me a message this morning, but he has given a message to some one here. If the person who has the message does not deliver it, he will be responsible." The pulpit was filled with ministers, and workers were sitting all around nearby. I was on my feet in a moment. I had a message from heaven -- burning words that went right into the hearts of the people. God made my tongue as the pen of a ready writer. The power of God was on me in such measure that I could hardly tell whether I was in heaven or on earth. Even old men bowed themselves and wept like children, and sinners came flocking to the altar. Thank God for the blessing and encouragement that he gave me in delivering this my first public message!
As soon as the service was ended, a merchant of the town came and invited me to his home for dinner. I wondered why he should ask me to dinner; but when he began to ask me all the difficult religious questions that he could think of, the mystery was explained. I felt my inability and ignorance as I never had before, and leaned heavily on God for wisdom. The scripture, "I will give you in that hour what ye ought to say," was fulfilled.
After a number of difficult questions had been asked, my host said, "I want to ask you one more question." Supposing that this question would be so difficult that it would be impossible for me to answer, I called on God more vehemently than ever. Then came the question: "If you should die now, without a moment's warning, do you know that you are ready?" I was agreeably surprised. That was an easy question to answer. "Yes," said I, with the utmost assurance. "I wish," said his wife, "I could say that"; and a lady who was present added, "I think I would have to pray before I should be ready."
In my early evangelistic work I met considerable opposition to woman's preaching, and at nearly every meeting I had to explain the Scriptural teaching on this subject. Nearly all opponents to woman's preaching fortified themselves with such scriptures as these: "It is a shame for a woman to speak in the church"; "Suffer not a woman to teach or to usurp authority," etc. The Lord helped me to successfully drive these opposers out of their false positions and to show them that they were misusing the Scriptures.
In this connection, too, I would call attention to 1 Corinthians 11:5, which gives instructions how a woman should pray or prophesy. If a woman be instructed how to prophesy, she surely is granted the right to prophesy. The New Testament definition of "prophesy" is: "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, exhortation and comfort." If, then, a woman be allowed to prophesy; that is, to speak unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort, she is granted all the privileges that any minister enjoys.
We read also in Acts 1:14 that after the ascension when the disciples gathered in the upper room, "There all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren," which scripture proves that there were women present at the Pentecostal baptism. After the descent of the Holy Spirit upon those assembled, Peter says (Acts 2:16,17), "But this is that which is spoken by the Prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams." We see then, according to the prophecy of Joel, that the daughters as well as the sons were to prophesy. According to Acts 2:4, they all spake as the Spirit gave them utterance. Does not the "all" include the women present? Was not their speaking as the Spirit gave utterance the act of a minister in preaching?
In Romans 16:1 Paul says, "I commend unto you Phoebe, our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea." Is not the servant of the church the minister? When they used to tell me that this scripture means that a woman could serve the church only by doing temporal work, such as cooking for ministers, etc., I would answer, "If the inference of this scripture is that a woman can serve the church by doing temporal work only, the preachers are not doing their duty, because in the second verse the Lord commanded the other ministers to assist Phoebe. If then the women's only service be to cook for the ministers, the ministers, if they would obey this scripture, should certainly help the women cook."
Before going to our second meeting, at Sturgeon, Missouri, I had learned that the women in that place were not allowed to preach. On my arrival I asked some of the women if the sisters had liberty. "Yes," said they, "to pray and sing, and to testify a little." "Well," said I, "I can't sing; but I can pray, and 'testify a little.'" I learned that during this meeting a petition to license a saloon in the town had been drawn up and that a number of the women in attendance at the meeting had signed the petition. During the latter part of the meeting God's Spirit fired my soul to preach the Word, but I had no opportunity. I counseled with some of the ministers about it and received conflicting advice. Some said, "Sister Cole, you know the restrictions; you would better not preach." Others said, "Go ahead, Sister Cole: God will see you through." On the last night of the meeting, whenever I would decide to speak, God would bless my soul; but when I would decide to keep still, it seemed as if I should be paralyzed. One brother made a remark that had a strong tendency to keep me from speaking that evening: "If you get up on the last night of the meeting," said he, "it will look as if you were taking advantage of the man who has the meeting in charge." Finally, after two of the brethren had spoken for a short time, I felt clear to take the floor, and God spoke through me in power.
I reminded them of the petition to license the saloon for the purpose of damning souls, and sending them to hell, and spoke of the women's names that had been signed to the petition to license the saloon. "From childhood," said I, "I have heard that woman is the downfall of this world. She is now offered the opportunity to destroy souls, but it is a shame and a disgrace to any town that its women are not allowed to preach in the church to help save souls. Before I came to this meeting, I knew the restrictions; but I made up my mind that if I was thrown into the furnace of trial, I would go into that furnace praying for the one that had put the restrictions upon me."
The power of God wonderfully attended the message. At the close of the meeting, a wealthy gentleman, the one who had denied women the privilege of speaking, came and wanted to shake hands with me. "May the Lord bless you," said I, extending my hand. "I believe the Lord blesses you," he answered. I replied that he did. I was told later that on the next day he told certain persons on the street that doubtless that little girl was relieved since she had got her mouth off.
At the time of which I now speak, I had never heard a woman preach. My own preaching had been done by God's power and under his anointing. At about the time the Sturgeon meeting closed, I heard of a woman preacher some forty miles away, and felt quite anxious to meet her. In company with my brother, I went to visit her and found a dear saint of God who had been used much in the salvation of souls. She had taken a severe cold, which had later settled on her lungs; and at the time of our visit, her affliction had developed into consumption, and she was growing rapidly worse. It seemed that her faith could not grasp God's promises for healing.
We wanted to help the sister all we could, but I had been working very hard, washing and ironing, and was feeling quite exhausted; so much so, indeed, that I did not feel like sitting up while my brother was talking to her. As I was lying on the couch trying to rest, my brother said, "Mary, is there anything you want from the Lord?" "Nothing," said I, "unless it be rest." "Well," said he, "if you can take the Lord for it, he can rest you in an instant." The words were scarcely uttered before my faith grasped the Lord; I was rested from head to foot, jumped off the bed, and fairly bounced up and down with joy, feeling as though I had never been tired. The sister for whom we had been praying, remarked, "That gets away with my faith." "Do you doubt my having been tired?" I asked. "No." "Do you doubt the Lord's resting me?" "No; but I never saw it on this fashion."
That afternoon we took the train for Jefferson City, Missouri. After we arrived at our destination, my brother hunted a place for me to board while he went about sixty miles into the country to get a team and wagon to take us to our new field of labor, there being no railroads in that direction.
After a day or two, the lady with whom I boarded learned that I was a gospel worker. "If I can get a congregation together," said she, "will you talk to them?" I told her that I would. The people come together, and I asked some one to lead in prayer, but no one made any response. Finally they said that there was a man across the street who could pray, and asked if they should call him. The man came in; he and I led in prayer, and the Lord gave me a message. After the service was over, different ones came and congratulated me, saying, "It was a grand message; you highly entertained us," just as if I were an actress and they came for no other purpose than to be entertained. A number of those present were professors of religion; but I doubted whether there were any possessors.
For a time the woman with whom I was staying seemed quite suspicious of me, but God helped me to live so that before the week was out she had perfect confidence in me, and sometimes left her house in my care all day. I helped her what I could about her housework; and at her request, held as many as three cottage meetings during the week. God gave me favor with the woman; for when I went away she charged me only half the usual price for my board and lodging, and even gave me some presents. She did not know that I paid her all the money I had; but the Lord knew all about it, and saw to it that she did not charge me too much.
My brother had now come with a team and wagon. Accompanied by the owner of the outfit, we started on our difficult journey to our new field of labor. The roads were very rough and rocky, and we met with some hardships. We tried to camp out one night, but the mosquitos were so bad we had to resume our journey as soon as we could see to travel in the morning. Before we reached our destination, our provisions well-nigh gave out. At the end of our journey we had nothing left but a little stale bread and some bacon. Having no chance to cook anything, we made our last meal on dry bread and raw bacon.