I learned about the Boston bombings yesterday while I was writing about my ancestors surviving British and Indian attacks near their Pennsylvania home in 1778. Just like the people who attended the Boston Marathon, my fifth-great-grandparents only wanted to enjoy life.
But sometimes things happen that we can’t foresee. God does not give us a crystal ball to view what lies ahead of us.
But what God does give us is the ability to seek His wisdom when we’re caught in the crossfire of evil.
God’s word tells us: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
My ancestor, Colonel John Kelly, was a godly man who lived by his faith and the Word of God. In July, 1778, when fellow settlers in a nearby fort were surrounded by 300 warring Indians and British, Colonel Kelly, a Revolutionary War officer, quickly assembled a small group of militia and drove off the aggressors.
I like to think that the scripture from Isaiah was going through the Colonel’s mind when he gave his orders to the brave – but vastly outnumbered – men he commanded. The Colonel and his men had every reason to fear: they were a group of no more than 30 facing 300 — but fear did not stop them from helping their friends and neighbors. Rather, God gave the ordinary men the courage and ability to fight evil and win.
The Colonel’s story is timeless: God’s help never wavers when we keep Him the focus of our lives. Yesterday, when bombs exploded in Boston, brave people ran toward the explosions to help the injured. Their own lives were at risk; no one knew if another bomb would explode in their midst.
Wherever we are, in whatever situation we face, we can confidently go forward – without fear – knowing that God is with us and will provide the courage and skill we need to persevere and win against evil.
But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31.
IN GOD WE TRUST – TO HIM BE THE GLORYRead More
Sometimes I just don’t know what to do. Should I speak up or be quiet? Should I let someone else do the work or should I step forward?
Sometimes, if I am to be honest with you, I ascertain what the cost will be to myself if I engage in a particular activity. What is the risk? The price I will pay?
You see, the older I get, the less inclined I am to participate in challenging situations. It’s easier for me to be complacent.
My pride takes over and I justify my lack of involvement by believing that I’ve already done my part. Let someone else do the work, I think to myself.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but half the time it doesn’t even occur to me to pray about the situation.
Am I describing you, too? Oh, dear.
I’m reminded frequently of a man who didn’t think like this. My inclination to slink away from an issue would embarrass him.
He would not be proud of me. And knowing that I would dishonor him spurs my conscience into life.
John Kelly’s parents died when he was still a teenager. He could have thrown his hands up and claimed that he had gotten a bad deal, that someone owed him something. Heaven knows, we’ve all seen people do that.
In 1769, he took his inheritance and moved into the Pennsylvania wilderness where he purchased land and married Sarah Poak.
The property was heavily forested and with only hand tools and a steely determination, John gradually cleared enough land for him to farm.
John and Sarah were happy. They loved and worshipped the Lord, and He blessed them with a good marriage, healthy children and a prosperous farm.
One day, John heard rumblings from his neighbors. I can picture him, jaw clenched, listening to the reports of trouble. He kept quiet, though, and continued working his land.
The rumblings from the East got louder and John could no longer sit on the sidelines. You see, everything he knew and loved was at stake: his land, his country, his way of life. The stakes were high.
Either he took a personal stand or he risked losing all he had at the hands of other people.
John picked up his Pennsylvania long rifle and kissed Sarah and the little ones. Sarah held the baby in her arms as she and the children watched him walk away, not knowing if he would ever return to them. But knowing that he had to go.
John traveled to Philadelphia where he was a member of the Constitutional Convention. At the close of the convention, John joined the Revolutionary War Militia. He was a natural leader and was soon commissioned a Major. The Militia and the Continental Army spent a wretched winter at Valley Forge. The place where American men, freezing and starving, boiled shoe leather for food. John was there.
The fate of the new country lay in the hands of General George Washington, the Militia and the Continental Army. If they failed to defeat the British Army, every American’s hope of independence from England would be gone.
And the Militia and Continental officers? Hung. For treason. By the British Crown. Talk about pressure.
George Washington’s response? That is, his usual daily response, was to focus on Almighty God. Washington knew that God was the One in charge. That he served God and not himself or anyone else. Many people in the American Colonies at that time shared the same belief. A regular church-goer, John Kelly shared the same belief in God and His Sovereignty.
On Christmas Night, 1776, Major John Kelly climbed into one of the boats on the bank of the icy Delaware River with General Washington and the other soldiers.
Before they even crossed the treacherous river, a fierce winter storm pounded them with sleet and snow. Once across, the wet men marched all night in bitter temperatures to Trenton.
John fought at both battles at Trenton and distinguished himself during the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. Upon reaching Princeton, Washington and his men engaged in battle with a unit of British soldiers. The main British Army, led by General Cornwallis, was enroute to Princeton at the time.
Only a wooden bridge that crossed the flooded Stony Brook stood between Cornwallis’ men and the Americans. John and the men assigned to him were ordered to chop down that bridge.
If Cornwallis’ group crossed that bridge, Washington’s smaller army wouldn’t have had much, if any, of a chance. The entire American Revolution could have been finished right there at Princeton. And every man present knew it.
When the British fired bullets and cannon balls at the men on the bridge, John’s men ran away.
But John stayed. He had a responsibility. To George Washington. To the American military. To his fledgling country. To his family. To himself. To God.
While the British fired everything they had at the bridge, John stood alone on it with an axe. As he chopped the last timber on the bridge, a cannon ball landed near John and he fell into the swollen Stony Brook Creek. He was swept away by the swift, icy current.
Some of his men saw his body float downstream, but they could not go after him. The battle required that they stay and fight.
Besides, they knew that if the bullets and cannon fire hadn’t killed Major Kelly, the fast-moving freezing water certainly would. No one could survive that.
No one without a faith, that is. But by God’s grace, John not only survived, he managed to capture a British soldier on his way back to the Americans.
At the end of the Battle of Princeton, John Kelly was promoted to Colonel, and was asked to return to the central part of Pennsylvania to fight the British and Indian uprisings. This was where John’s farm was located.
Things were awful at home, John discovered. Friends and neighbors had been brutally massacred and those who had survived were living in utter terror. John put his wife and little children in a boat and sent them down the Susquehanna River to the safety of Philadelphia.
Some would argue that John had done enough, that it would be alright if he let someone else take over.
Who would speak badly of him if he chose to do no more?
But the job wasn’t finished. The Colonel wouldn’t quit. He stood his ground, even though the British and Indians sought to kill him, and fought to protect the area’s settlers. On those occasions when he and the Militia arrived too late, they buried the dead, many of them his friends.
It is said that John Kelly would never ask another to do what he himself could do.
When the Revolutionary War ended, Colonel John Kelly returned to his farm and resumed his life with Sarah and their children. He sat in Pew 33 of the Buffalo Crossroads Presbyterian Church, and served for many years as a magistrate in his county. When he died, the entire area knew they had lost a great man. A true American man.
I like to visit Colonel Kelly’s grave. I often take my daughter, Megan Kelly, and I am always acutely aware of the man I’m descended from and the legacy that continues in me and my children. My daughter understands the solemn responsibility of bearing his name. My son understands that he, too, has a responsibility to continue supporting the God-fearing country that the Colonel played a part in starting.
When I watch the news and see the shape our precious country is in, I wonder who will step to the plate to help our nation get out of this mess.
Should I sit here and say nothing? Do nothing? Should I call or email my representatives in Washington and my state legislators in Richmond and tell them what I think about their decisions? Or should I let someone else do that?
Someone else will do that, won’t they?
Perhaps I should talk with others and encourage them to be vocal, to use their rights as an American citizen to be heard. But I could offend someone. I could make myself look bad if I spoke out. Well, that didn’t seem to be a worry for Colonel Kelly or George Washington or their contemporaries.
Should I wait for someone else to speak?
Someone else will speak, right? I mean, the right people will come forward. Won’t they?
And God. Will God shine His face on our country again? Because, unlike in the Colonel’s time, I don’t see God’s importance and sovereignty being proclaimed. I don’t see our leaders praying and focusing on God first.
After God gave the promised land to the Israelites, they eventually turned their backs on Him. And their misery began.
God could do that here. Perhaps He’s already started.
Photograph of Col. John Kelly Historical Marker by Cynthia Howerter © 2011
If you think this article is worthy of being read by others, please ask people to read it. Pass this article around. Pass this article around our nation. May it stir every true American heart. In this time of great trouble in our nation, may we take back our wonderful country with the help of God our Father. And may we, like George Washington, always turn first to God in all we think, say and do.
Respectfully, Cynthia Howerter, Descendant of a True American Man
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
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