Rather than sticking to places with established Methodist societies, he often chose to visit settlements that Methodism hadn’t yet reached. “We must suffer with, if we labour for the poor,” he wrote to Wesley in March 1784, after describing the difficulties preachers met with in their travels: “being often obliged to dwell in dirty cabins, to sleep in poor beds, and for retirement [in other words, privacy], to go into the woods.” Yet how else would they find the people who most needed the gospel? “O how many thousands of poor souls have we to seek out in the wilds of America, who are but one remove from the Indians in the comforts of civilized society, and considering that they have the Bible in their hands, comparatively worse in their morals than the savages themselves,” Asbury wrote while in western Virginia (American Saint, 127).
I am struck by just how little Asbury concerned himself with his physical surroundings. Most modern residents of Asheville look around them at their house and see what comforts the house does not have instead of all the comforts that it does have. For instance, in my own home I can flip a switch and I instantly have a fire glowing in my fireplace, yet we often talk about how we have yet to purchase curtains for the downstairs. I imagine it isn’t that much different in your home either.
Yet, rather than concentrating on what comforts he didn’t have, Asbury saw his lack of comfort as a way of reaching more people with the gospel, writing to John Wesley in his comfortable London manse that “we must suffer with, if we labour for the poor.” That is one of the reasons why I think Room in the Inn, Habitat for Humanity, MANNA Food Bank, and other similar programs that our church supports are so important. It is not enough for us from a stewardship perspective to simply throw money at a problem and wash our hands of the situation, patting ourselves on the back for helping out. Like Francis Asbury, we must get our own hands dirty sometimes if we are to bring the gospel to places where it is needed the most.
We concern ourselves too frequently with our physical comforts, often at the cost of our spiritual well-being. Take some time this week to appreciate the comforts we all enjoy: a roof over our heads, food on our tables, comfortable beds in which to sleep. And, take some time this week to think about ways in which we might individually and as a church “suffer with, if we are to labour for the poor.” I, for one, vow to stop worrying about the comforts and luxuries I don’t have, and to be thankful for the things I do have–even toilets!