Passion for God’s Word Changes the World by George Guthrie

In 2013 while on research leave at Tyndale House in Cambridge, UK, I had a chance to examine the holdings of the British and Foreign Bible Society personally. The collection, housed in the Cambridge University library, was curated by a friend of mine. In addition to very old copies of the Bible (including first editions of Tyndale’s New Testament!), there were shelves of translator notes and Bible’s from missions contexts around the world. And there too was Mary Jones’ Bible, which I held in my hand.

A little over 200 years ago, Mary Jones lived in a beautiful valley on the southwest side of Cader Idris mountain in Wales. Mary was a hard worker around the home, while her parents worked as weavers of wool. The little girl, 8 years of age, kept busy sweeping, scrubbing, digging, weeding, dusting, taking care of the chickens and bees, and mending. Her parents, Jacob and Molly Jones, were simple, godly people who took their little girl to church and taught her the stories of the Bible from her earliest years. These stories had to be taught from memory, since the family did not own a Bible in the Welsh language. Such Bibles were very scarce and most could not afford them. Yet, Mary loved the Word of God with a passion unusual for her age and longed to be able to read it for herself.

One afternoon Mrs. Evans, the wife of a farmer who lived nearby, came to the Jones’ home to buy eggs. While there, Mrs. Evans, struck by how much Mary had always loved the Scriptures, told the little girl, “When you learn to read, you can come to my house anytime you want and read our Bible.” When Mrs. Evans left, Mary cried out to God, “Dear Lord who gave bread to the hungry folk in Bible times, and did teach and bless even the poorest, please let me learn and not grow up in darkness.” For the next two years she waited, went to church, did her work around the home, and longed to learn to read. One night her father came home from selling wool in Abergynolwyn, a village about two miles from their home, with the news that a school was about to open in that village, and Mary would be able to learn to read and write. The school was being opened by a man named Mr. Charles, from the town of Bala, to help the poor children of the area. Three weeks later the school opened and Mary enrolled. She still had to do her work before breakfast and after returning home in the afternoon, but she applied herself to her studies and she learned to read.

Mary saw Mrs. Evans at church one Sunday and reminded her of her promise made two years before. Earnestly, the little girl asked the good woman, “Now that I have learned to read, and have Bible lessons to prepare every week, could I come to your house on Saturday afternoons to read and study your Bible?” Mrs. Evans gladly agreed, and Mary faithfully studied, week after week. She even committed whole chapters of the Bible to memory and would share them with her parents at home.

About this time, Mary Jones started longing for her own copy of the Bible and decided to work whenever and wherever she could to earn extra money towards buying one. Over the next six years she worked odd jobs, selling eggs from her own chickens, given as a present by Mrs. Evans, gathering wood, mending, or helping with smaller children. Since she had to keep up with her school work, her Bible study, and her jobs at home, her little savings grew slowly. Yet, after six years she finally had enough money to buy a Bible for herself.

The closest place Mary could purchase a Bible was from Mr. Charles of Bala, the same man who had paid to start her school, who had gotten copies in Welsh from London. Mary was told that the man had most likely already given or promised all the Bibles he had, and Bala was a town over twenty-five miles away. Yet, Mary was determined. So very early on a breezy spring day in the year 1800, Mary Jones began to walk, barefooted, all the way to the town of Bala.

Thomas Charles was a godly man of about 50 years of age, who did a great deal of ministry throughout Wales in those days. When Mary finally arrived in Bala, she found her way to a Methodist minister, David Edwards, who in turn took her to see Mr. Charles the next morning. Mr. Charles asked her about herself, her family, and her knowledge of the Bible, and he was impressed. He was amazed at her love for the Scriptures and her patient endurance in saving for a Bible of her own. Yet, he sadly told the young lady that all the Welsh Bibles he had received from London last year had been sold months ago, except for a few that had been promised to friends who must not be disappointed. He further told her that the Bible Society in London had no plans to print more Welsh Bibles. At this sad news, Mary dropped into a nearby seat and began to sob. Great, hot tears rolled down her face.

Yet, the little girl’s passion for the Word moved Mr. Charles. Her anguish over not having her own copy of the Bible went straight to his heart. His own voice broken with emotion, Mr. Charles rose from his seat, placing a hand on the head of Mary Jones. “My dear child, I see you must have a Bible, difficult as it is for me to spare you one. It is impossible, yes, simply impossible, to refuse you.”

Mary Jones went on to live a productive life of ministry. She memorized chapter after chapter by heart and continued to study for her Sunday School lesson. As she grew older, she ministered faithfully to those around her. But the impact of her life was much more far reaching. In 1802 Mr. Charles visited London and, moved by his experience with the girl, spoke to the Religious Tract Society, telling the story of little Mary Jones. Out of that meeting the British and Foreign Bible Society was established in 1804, founded for the spread of the Scriptures around the world. And so Mary Jones’ passion for God’s Word is still changing the world even today.