Part III: Harriet Tubman
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”[Exodus 14:13-15]
She was born Araminta Ross in Maryland, into slavery, sometime around 1815-1825. Her parents, Benjamin and Harriet, called her “Minty”.
And how she would eventually become to be called “Moses” is one of the most enthralling and richly satisfying stories you will ever hear.
I am more desirous than ever to experience Heaven. I want to sing around the throne with Joseph in Genesis, and Joseph in The Gospels. And all the Josephs I grew up in church with. But I also want to hug people. Not just family and close friends I had to say goodbye to in this life. People I never met but whose biographies have brought tears to my eyes and joy to my soul.
Harriet Tubman is one of them.
One reason I use the quote I use above is because it seems obvious to me from the passage that Moses was trying to get the people to focus on waiting on God. Which is often very wise. But, other times, people use waiting on God as a substitute for action.
Unlike the actual Moses from Exodus 14, Harriet Tubman was not one of those people.
The main part of her story is fairly familiar to many Americans I would guess. She was badly mistreated as a slave in Maryland and fled to the North. And then she chose not to hide out to try to live free with as much safety and security as possible. Instead, she eventually went back into the South despite a bounty on her head and rescued dozens of people through the Underground Railroad. Many were family, including her parents.
Some of the details of her life before her freedom are worth noting. First, Harriet Tubman was a believer and she prayed for her master to find Christ and to liberate her. Only when this didn’t work did she escape. And secondly, she was so brave and tough that one time her master was about to throw a weight at a male slave, and she stood in the way and suffered a cracked skull as a result.
But there are two stories within her big “Underground Railroad Conductor” narrative I want to highlight today because they are so legendary. I love telling people about these exploits because they are heartening and captivating.
One is of a trip she made leading a group on a chilly March morning. God told her to cross a river with no bridge. She motioned for the men at the front to go, so she could stay back and make sure everyone made it across, as a good leader would. But the big, strong men were scared to get in that cold water. So, she marched right to the front of the line and without hesitation or fear entered the water, up to her armpits, and waded across.
Another is of a time (and it probably happened more than once) when two men midway through their trip as fugitives into the North got scared and threatened to go back. Being in the business Harriet Tubman was she always kept a gun on her. She pulled it on them and, knowing any breakdown in her plan could jeopardize the whole mission, said, “Live free or die a slave.” And the men kept going.
Harriet Tubman was not only one of few women to escape slavery in the South, she was one of even fewer to become such a high-level leader in the Underground Railroad. This was because she was so competent at it. By her own account, she never lost a “passenger”. And she always gave glory to God for being so good at it.
There is zero doubt in my mind that Christians should care deeply for mercy, justice, and healing. That we should pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven instead of just praying to escape this chaotic and corrupt world. And that we should be the hands and feet and eyes and ears of Christ. Harriet Tubman was as sterling an example of all of these things as you will find in world history.
And as such I long to see her and hug her in Heaven.