Down In Water Street Jerry Mcauley's Mission

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 6
"Madam, do you know Jesus?"
"Indeed, and who is He?"
This brief conversation on a stairway on Cherry Hill in the Fourth Ward of New York disturbed the drunken slumbers of Jerry McAuley. He lay almost senseless on the floor of his room a few feet away, trying to sleep off a debauch. The first question was timidly asked by a young lady missionary, and the second by a belligerent woman of ample proportions, who barred the way.
When Jerry heard the salutation of the missionary, "Madam, do you know Jesus?" he began to pull himself up from the floor. No one ever knows what that name will do, nor whose heart it will pierce, when mentioned in love. Jesus! Jesus!
Jerry was a hard-looking sight. He has often told how he had an old disreputable hat on his head and that it looked as if it had come out of a tar-pot. He wore a ragged pair of trousers stuck in the tops of his boots, a tattered red shirt, and, to finish the outfit, a murderous-looking face. As he staggered out onto the landing, the missionary was afraid of him, and ran down the stairs.
Jerry followed, and walking toward her said: "What was that you said to that woman? Whose name was that you mentioned? I used to know and to love that name once, but I've lost it."
Then tough old Jerry began to cry! The missionary saw that something had touched his heart, and she took him to the "Home for Little Wanderers" on New Bowery. There Jerry signed the pledge. Signing the prohibitionist's pledge was about as far as rescue work had advanced in those days. In Water Street the pledge has little importance, for they do not think that a bankrupt's signature amounts to much.
Jerry McAuley was born in Ireland and immigrated to this country at the age of only thirteen years. He was brought up by his grandmother, but soon got beyond her control and became a thief. At the age of nineteen, caught in such a felony, he was sentenced to Sing Sing prison for a term of fifteen years and six months.
In the prison chapel one Sunday morning "Awful Gardner," a noted prize-fighter and all-round ruffian whom Jerry had known prior to going to prison, was preaching. Gardner had been converted most wonderfully, and was now spending his life telling the story of Jesus to all whom he could get to listen to him.
Jerry looked up as he heard Gardner's voice. As Gardner went on, with tears streaming down his face, he told of the love of Jesus. Jerry listened with an open heart and was convicted of sin. To himself he said: "That man is in earnest."
Gardner told them that if he, though now notable and respected, had his deserts he would be down among them wearing the "stripes." He quoted a passage of Scripture that impressed itself on Jerry. When the prisoners were dismissed and Jerry was back in his cell, he searched till he found a Bible long hidden in the ventilator. Dusting it off, he tried to read; but in the dim light it was difficult.
Jerry never had a Bible in his hands before. He looked aimlessly to find the passage that Gardner had quoted, but he never found that particular verse.
However, he did find in that precious Book that Jesus died for sinners, and the Holy Spirit had already showed him that he was a sinner.
As the long Lord's Day wore on, the convicted felon got up and paced to and fro in the narrow limits of his cell. Now feeling his load of sin, he finally got on his knees and began to pray. How long did he pray? Until the light of heaven shone in his darkened cell, and into his much darker heart; and then it seemed to him that the blessed Savior appeared and told him that his sins were forgiven. Jerry could never be made to believe that it was not the light of heaven itself that had shone into his cell. In his joy he shouted and shouted: "I've found Jesus! I've found Jesus! Bless the Lord, I've found Jesus!"
The unusual commotion brought the keeper, and he threw the rays of his dark lantern on Jerry as he was praising God in his lowly cell. Roughly he shouted: "What's the matter with you?"
"I've found Jesus!" replied Jerry.
"I'll put you in the 'cooler' in the morning," the keeper said, and put down his prisoner's number.
Jerry said afterward: "The Lord made him forget it, for I was never put in the cooler for it."
This was Jerry McAuley's conversion. He immediately went to work in the prison for God with an ardor and courage that would put many missionaries to shame. At every opportunity he spoke to the man in front and the one behind, telling the burning news that was filling his soul: that he had found Jesus; that his sins were pardoned; and how happy he was in his new-found joy. At the table he was able to speak to the one on his right hand and the one on his left; but even with this limited opportunity a wonderful revival broke out in the prison as a result of Jerry's labors.
Missionaries of the city went up to visit the jail and every opportunity was given them by the prison management. Bible classes were formed of the converts, and wonderful work was done for God. Jerry was the center of all this activity. It resulted in his being pardoned by the Governor.
Then back to his old haunts came Jerry. No friendly hand was held out then as now, down in Water Street, to help the ex-convict to an honest and useful life.
So Jerry fell. Time after time, the Savior, by the Spirit's power, drew him back from the old sinful life, but each fall was harder and deeper. It was during this time of ups and downs that Jerry's reputation was made as a criminal. He became a noted river thief and with his chum, Tom Wilson, was a terror to police and all honest folks in his ward. Only after he had reached the depths of degradation did he, like the prodigal son, come to himself. He was naked before God, helpless and deserted by man. Then it was that the question was heard: "Do you love Jesus?"
In his most miserable state, the query fell on Jerry's ears. By the power of that Name which is above every name, the poor besotted ex-convict was drawn back, as he said, and saved "from the gutter-most to the uttermost."
It was soon afterward that Jerry's great life work opened up. In a little mission hall "down in Water Street" on the Bowery Jerry offered a helping hand to any poor human derelict who applied. His love for souls and deep sympathy for sinners were used of God to draw many to Himself. The judgment seat of Christ will show forth the scope of this labor of love.