This is the second post for 31 Days of Missionary Sunday School. Chick here to view the previous article.
Today I pulled out my Nook and reread the short biography* (only 80 pages) on the life work of Stephen Paxson, Sunday school missionary. It’s a fascinating—and amazing—story of God’s work through one individual (see the last paragraph). Stephen Paxson truly modeled principles, which he had to figure out on his own, of a missionary Sunday School.
He was born in 1808 into poverty, was lame, had a stutter, and was uneducated. On his first day of school, he was so excited he could not even state his name or age because of his stutter. The children laughed, and the stern teacher sent him home with a note to not come back until he learned to talk. He never had a chance to go to school again. Yet, he had a bright inquiring mind that drove him to ALWAYS BE LEARNING. By looking at shop signs and asking questions, he taught himself the alphabet and how to read haltingly.
He married and began a family. He was very sociable, and he also yearned to have books, but the thought of God was not in his heart. He was fond of worldly pleasures, and especially of dancing despite being lame.
In 1830, Stephen’s oldest child Mary was sent by her mother to a Sunday school begun by the American Sunday School Union. Mary persuaded her father to attend one Sunday in response to a challenge to BRING A FRIEND. Though Stephen had never attended a Sunday school before, the superintendent asked him to substitute in a class of teenage boys! With the boys’ help, he made it through that first class. He attended for four years without missing a Sunday, was converted, and united with the church where his wife attended. HIS LIFE WAS TRANSFORMED THROUGH BIBLE TEACHING! Life took on new meaning as he began to study with diligence and success.
Because of his newfound PASSION, he soon determined to help other destitute people have the same experience. On weekends he began to visit various school-houses within reach to start or revive a school. His influence extended for miles around so that he was called on for assistance in Sunday school work all over nearby counties to TRAIN THE VOLUNTEER LEADERS.
In 1848, God provided for Stephen’s desire to give more than one day a week to planting Sunday Schools. The American Sunday School Union employed him as a Sunday School missionary in the Mississippi Valley. When he came to a neighborhood where there was no Sunday school, he made PERSONAL CONTACTS by visiting each family to INVITE them to an organizational meeting, INSTRUCT them in the best methods of conducting a school, and to PROVIDE CURRICULUM through the Sunday school libraries purchased by the community.
Stephen took advantage of any opportunity to TALK ABOUT SUNDAY SCHOOL. While passing through a town one Fourth of July, he was invited to give a patriotic speech. He explained that was not what he did, but he would give them a Sunday school speech. After a rousing speech, he asked the enthusiastic crowd for one person from each small settlement where there was no Sunday school to give him their name and the name of their school house. Then he PUT HIS PLAN INTO ACTION! Armed with the list of 30 names, in a few short weeks he had a flourishing school in each of them.
On return visits to the Sunday schools to ENCOURAGE AND ASSIST LEADERS, Stephen Paxson often found the fledgling Sunday schools had LED TO NEW CHURCHES. Despite his many personal sacrifices of being away from family for long periods, low pay, facing opposition, or difficult travel conditions, he knew his mission was resulting in TRANSFORMED LIVES. Over and over in later years, he encountered pastors and successful business men who said, “I was one of the boys you enlisted to come to that new Sunday school and it changed my life. Thank you, Mr. Paxson.”
Over a forty year period, Stephen Paxson crisscrossed the Mississippi Valley in a horse and buggy. He started 1314 Sunday schools containing 83,405 pupils and teachers, besides encouraging and aiding 1767 other Sunday schools with 131,260 pupils and teachers.
*Read the whole story and be inspired: A Fruitful Life: a Narrative of the Adventures and Missionary Labors of Stephen Paxson, by B. Paxson Drury.
Marie Clark has served as Bible Teaching & Discipling Team Leader for the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists since 1996.