By Lydia Kaiser
As we contemplate the impact of a pandemic in our century, it’s interesting to see the connection between an epidemic in 1914 and how God worked through lives in that time, resulting in reaching generations of children with the Gospel.
Today, I’ll tell you a story starting from the mid-1800s of how God worked through two humble men, an epidemic quarantine, and a small colored booklet without any words to reach generations of children with the Gospel.
The Impact of Dwight L. Moody
Despite only having a 6th-grade education, Dwight L. Moody was a hard-working young man who rapidly became successful in Chicago in the shoe sales business, while volunteering much of his time at the YMCA. As his burden for young people grew, he began his own Sunday school in a poor neighborhood and eventually gave up his business to minister to the uneducated and the homeless. Today, the name of D.L. Moody often invokes images of a powerful orator facing huge crowds at revival meetings, but his true heart is reflected in an old photo of him with a group of bedraggled street children looking like something out of Charles Dickens’ book, Oliver Twist.
Moody had no curriculum except the Bible, so he adopted the use of a colored illustration begun by Charles Spurgeon. It was a short booklet with dark, red, and light colors used to explain sin, Jesus, and salvation to children. Moody then added a gold (or yellow) page to help children learn more about God’s character, His great love for them, and His desire to be their friend both on earth and for all eternity in Heaven, after his experience with these destitute children showed him that a Gospel presentation needs to start with the person of God and His love for them.
God blessed Moody’s humble faith and he went on to become a great evangelist, author, and founder of churches and Bible colleges. However, it wasn’t until years later that a biography of his life helped a struggling Christian named Jesse Overholtzer.
The Early Life of Jesse Overholtzer
Jesse was raised in a denomination that practiced salvation by works. At age twelve he was under conviction to give his life to Christ, but was sadly told that he was too young to accept Christ as his Savior, so Jesse began to live for himself, instead. After a time of sowing wild oats wasting years of his life, Jesse eventually came under conviction again. He practiced religion and even became a minister, but battles with temptation and doubt about his salvation plagued him for years, and though he worked even harder to obey God and flee temptation, he still remained miserable. He knew that something vital was missing. Slowly, some key events brought him to a better understanding of salvation.
The first of these was a biography of D.L. Moody that unsettled Overholtzer. How was this imperfect man used so powerfully by God? “I saw Moody had something which I did not have — the Holy Spirit’s presence and blessing on his life and ministry.”
This realization, along with the faithful witness of others, began to soften Overholtzer’s heart and drove him to God’s Word. When his family was quarantined for 13 weeks in 1914 for scarlet fever, he used that time to dive into deep Bible study. It was then that the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to the sufficiency of grace. He saw it was Christ’s righteousness, not his own, that made him right before God. Trusting in Christ alone, Overholtzer found joy and peace. Now he felt God’s blessing on his preaching and evangelism. “I now had a Gospel — Good News — to preach. I now had a testimony to give.”
Later, Overholtzer read a quote of Charles Spurgeon in which the pastor stated that even children as young as five were able to come to faith in Christ. Struck by these words and remembering how he had been turned away at age twelve, Overholtzer conducted his own experiments and saw proof that children could come to saving faith and even lead others to Christ.
Founding Child Evangelism Fellowship®
Convicted and inspired by a new calling, Overholtzer went to Chicago to solicit the help of Moody Bible Institute in the founding of a new ministry to children, Child Evangelism Fellowship. There, he became affectionately known by children as “Mr. O,” and was thrilled to witness the beautiful simplicity of child-like faith. One summer, he led 5,000 children on the streets of Chicago to faith in Jesus using his own adaptation of The Wordless Book, first originally used by Spurgeon and Moody. Adding the green cover to the booklet, Overholtzer taught children how to grow in their faith.
Now, for over 80 years since its founding in 1937, God has been using CEF® to bring the love of Jesus Christ to children around the world. With workers in countries across the globe, CEF had personal, individual ministry with more than 16.4 million children last year — helping to not only bring children into a right relationship with God, but to disciple them in His Word and establish them in Bible teaching churches so that they can become mature in their faith.
The Wordless Book and a Lasting Impact
Both Moody and Overholtzer understood the importance of giving children the gospel. Both acknowledged their own weakness and cast themselves fully on the grace of God. And both understood that receiving the gift of salvation and serving the Lord requires humble faith.
God’s power worked mightily through them, and his power can also work mightily through today’s believers.
Want a copy of the same powerful tool Moody, Overholtzer, and CEF has used to share the gospel with children around the world? Sign up to get a free digital copy of The Wordless Book here, or fill out the form to request a free physical copy of The Wordless Book to be mailed to your address.
Since its founding in 1937, Child Evangelism Fellowship has reached hundreds of millions of children around the world with the message of salvation by grace through faith.