RODNEY “GYPSY” SMITH

Born MARCH 31st, 1860

Wherever he went, the former gypsy Rodney Smith, had a dynamic preaching ministry. The pastor of a New York church wrote (and the church’s twenty-four board mem-bers signed): “We believe Gypsy Smith to be an evangelist, particularly called by God to His work, the possessor of rare gifts as an expounder of truth and as a winner of men.” 

RODNEY’S PROGRESS

Rodney was born in England in a gypsy tent. His family traveled by wagon from town to town, selling items they made by hand. Rodney was still a child when his mother died of smallpox. Her death impacted Rodney’s father. After a season of  grief, Mr. Smith attended a church service, intent on surrendering him-self to God. He came home a changed man.

God used a family visit to Bedford, England to reach Rodney. He was drawn to the monument of John Bunyan in front of the church the “Pilgrim’s Progress” author used to pastor. Rodney heard how God had rescued the famed pastor from sin and greatly used him. Rodney decided, “By the grace of God, I will be a Christian.” His opportunity came a few days later. He attended a church service where he publicly committed his life to God.

Rodney eventually felt called into the ministry. Having had no formal schooling, he first had to learn to read and write.

THE SALVATION ARMY YEARS

He got his start as an evangelist at age 17. William Booth invited him to join what would become the Salvation Army. He was always introduced as “Rodney Smith, the converted gypsy boy.”

When appointed to a town to conduct services, Rodney drew large crowds. He attracted many with his singing (a sample of which you can hear via the online resource below) . Over a five-year period, hundreds accepted the invitation for salvation at the close of his services. 

In 1879, he married Anne Pennock. Shortly after the birth of their second child in 1882, Rodney left the Salvation Army.  

EVANGELIST TO AMERICA

Rodney made his first trip to America in 1889. Calling himself Gypsy Smith, he boldly preached God’s word wherever opportunity allowed. He bore spiritual fruit in the United States just as he did in England. He totalled as many as 50 evangelistic tours of America, always with multitudes of listeners responding for salvation.  

Yet Gypsy Smith remained humble. On a visit to Boston, someone erected a sign calling him “the greatest evangelist in the world.” His first words to the congregation refuted the claim and he had the sign promptly removed.

A Gypsy Smith service in New York.

He ministered to a wide spectrum of listeners. Upon request he preached to a group of wealthy individuals that included John D. Rockefeller. He spoke to the students at Harvard. All classes of people attended his meetings. Whenever possible, he visited gypsy camps to open his heart to those he understood better than most did. 

 A LIFE OF COMMITMENT

Once he became a Christian, Rodney Smith had one consuming desire: to share the gospel. God granted it. For seven decades, he preached a direct message that called for an honest response. Two world tours took him to five continents. He died of a heart attack at age 87 in 1947 while traveling by ship for further ministry in America.

His ministry can be summed up by part of a letter from the pastor of a church in England- “You came a stranger, but soon worked your way into the hearts of the people, and hundreds of the worst characters in the town were converted to God.”

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LET ME KNOW:  How has Rodney’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped  you? I welcome your comments.

Bibliography————————————————————————————————-

  • Fisk, Samuel. 40 Fascinating Conversion Stories. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1993.
  • Reese, Edward, editor. Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies. Chattanooga Tennessee: AMG Publishers, 2007.
  • Smith, Gypsy. Gypsy Smith, His Life and Work. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1901. http://www.biblebelievers.com/gypsy_smith/index.html.

Learn more about Gypsy Smith’s ministry from the following resources———————–

Books (Available through Amazon.com)-

  • Murray, Harold.  Sixty Years an Evangelist: An Intimate Study of Gypsy Smith. London: Marshall, Morghan & Scott, 1937.
  • Smith, Gipsy. The Lost Christ.  Christian Life Books, 2003. (Reprint of one of his most famous sermons).

Online-

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About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
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