The Poor Man’s Penny


On the 3rd of October, 1893, [the Secretary of the] Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in the United States found in his mail an enclosure, the only contents of which was a small envelope, on which was written “FOR THE LORD.” “Given by an inmate of the Montgomery County, Pa., Almshouse.” On opening the small envelope we found one cent. In the absence of all information as to who was the giver, or by whom sent to us, a lively interest was awakened. Thoughts came to us: In this humble offering we seemed to see a veritable gospel mite; all that the giver possessed, and we looked upon it as a holy thing. The idea was suggested to us that it was a seed; that by planting it, with God’s blessing upon the offering of the poor it might grow into a tree whose fruit should be for the healing of the nations.

In faith the precious seed was planted. It was announced to the church, with the request that it be made to grow to at least sixty dollars that for one year a candidate for the gospel ministry in our school of the prophets in Sendai, Japan, might be supported. But God’s thoughts were higher than our thoughts. Responses were almost immediate, so that in a very few weeks the specified sum was exceeded, and the objective figure was advanced to an amount sufficient to support a student a full three years-course in the Theological Department.

From time to time, as the fund enlarged, the fact was announced in the church papers, specifying the figure reached. One of these announcements fell under the eye of the person who, anonymously, had sent the one cent to the secretary. It filled his soul with gladness, and he hastened to furnish the history of the fruitful mite.

He had been pursuing his educational course in an institution located a few miles from the Montgomery County Almshouse, and he, with some of his fellow-students, had been visiting this home of the poor, and conducting religious service for their benefit. On one occasion when about to leave, as was his custom, he was giving the inmates a good-by hand-shake, when he came to the last one, a poor colored man sadly afflicted with an incurable ailment, and extended his hand to him. Before taking it he gave him the one cent with the words, “Here is something for the Lord. It isn’t much, but I feel that I ought to give something. I had a good bit better give it to the Lord than spend it for other things.” For a number of months the receiver was greatly embarrassed to know how to dispose of this sacred trust, for such he regarded it. At length he concluded to send it to the Secretary of our Board.

At the time of receiving the cent Mr. A. Judson Walter, for that is the gentleman’s name, did not know the name of the giver. Subsequently, about the last of December, 1894, he again visited the almshouse, and found the person still there. He ascertained that his name is Isaac Bruce, at that time in his 34th year. He told him of the growth of his humble gift. He listened with deep attention, and remarked: “Did the cent do all that?” To which Mr. Walter replied, “No, the cent didn’t do it all, but with the blessing of God it started a train of circumstances that have brought about this great result.” Before leaving the poor fellow handed Mr. Walter a nickel to be added to the growing fund. Our latest information reports him still living. It is but a few weeks ago that the photograph was taken from which the cut of him on page 31 was engraved.

After the beginning of the year 1895 the fund continued to grow by frequent contributions, large and small, and we were looking hopefully for the realization of the proposed $180 for a full three years’ course in the Theological Department, when a large contribution, made by some devoted souls, placed the amount in hand considerably in excess of our figure. Then it was that the resolution was taken to strive to reach the sum of $1,000 for the endowment of a perpetual scholarship in our Tohoku Gakuin in Sendai, Japan. Nor was that resolution destined to failure. The announcement of this resolution seemed to touch the Christian sensibilities of our people, so as the result of a continuous inflow of gifts, the secretary was afforded the joyous privilege of reporting to the Executive Committee, at its meeting in September, 1895, that the $1,000 mark had been more than reached, and the perpetual scholarship was formally established.

Sixty dollars a year is the amount designated for the support of a student. The $1,000 would provide that income in the way of interest provided a safe investment at six percent could be secured. But in view of the fact that first-class investments frequently yield but five percent, the Executive Committee ordered that the fund should be held open to realize, if possible, $1,200, thus insuring the desired income. On December 26, 1895, the sum reached was $1,204.62. Shall the Almshouse One Cent Fund now cease to grow?

Thus has God honored and blessed the offering of the poor. Poor Isaac Bruce, when he gave that one cent “For the Lord” gave more in the eye of God, than many another who brought a princely gift to His altar. A succession of native ministers will go forth, in Japan, to preach Christ and Him crucified, in consequence of the divine blessing upon that one cent, and how many souls will be gathered into the fold of heavenly bliss, through their ministry, eternity alone will unfold.

–Tract of Dr. S. N. Callender

Reformed Church Almanac and Year book, 1897, pg. 31, 32