Jarena Lee

Jarena Lee (1783–185?), who was to become a dedicated evangelist, endured a difficult childhood. She felt strong conviction about her sinfulness as a young girl, and was often tempted to commit suicide. In her twenties, during a sermon, the Lord convicted her of the specific sin of hatred towards someone who had hurt her maliciously. The moment she told the Lord she forgave not only them, but also everyone who had hurt her, Jarena’s joy was so great that she stood up and proclaimed to the Methodist congregation she was attending that the Lord had saved her.

Some time later she heard a voice commission her to ministry. She records the encounter in her autobiography: “‘Go preach the Gospel!’ I immediately replied aloud, ‘No one will believe me.’ Again I listened, and again the same voice seemed to say, ‘Preach the Gospel; I will put words in your mouth, and will turn your enemies to become your friends.’”1 To make sure she was not being deceived, she prayed, and was shown a vision of a pulpit and a Bible. The next night she preached in her sleep so loudly she woke up everyone in the house. She spoke with Richard Allen, but he would not give her permission to preach, saying Methodism did not call for women preachers.

In 1811 Jarena married Joseph Lee. Soon she contracted a severe illness, but even in the midst of this, she writes, “I wished to go from one end of the earth to the other crying, ‘Behold, behold the Lamb!’ To this end I earnestly prayed the Lord to raise me up, if consistent with his will.”2 Through a dream, which was confirmed in the place of prayer, she received the promise that she would recover, which happened shortly afterwards.

Six years later five people in her family, including Joseph, died. Left with two very young children, she found herself again burning with a desire to preach the gospel. One Sunday, she recalls, “…I sprang, as by an altogether supernatural impulse, to my feet, when I was aided from above to given an exhortation on the very text which [the preacher] had taken.”3

This convinced Richard Allen that she was indeed called to preach. Within the week Jarena held her first meeting. Only five people came, but two of them broke out in weeping as she spoke. The next week several more came. “One whole seat of females, by the power of God, as the rushing of a wind, were all bowed to the floor at once, and screamed out.”4

Jarena began to respond to calls from various places to preach and saw God’s hand at work in her ministry. She considered herself just a simple tool for Him to use as He pleased.

Here by the instrumentality of a poor coloured woman, the Lord poured forth his spirit among the people…there were lawyers, doctors, and magistrates present, to hear me speak, yet there was mourning and crying among sinners, for the Lord scattered fire among them of his own kindling. The Lord gave his handmaiden power to speak for his great name, for he arrested the hearts of the people, and caused a shaking amongst the multitude, for God was in the midst.5

As a woman preacher she experienced persecution, and out of concern for the souls of her persecutors considered leaving the Methodist denomination. Through an encounter with a friend, however, she was convinced to continue on in her preaching. “I felt a greater love for people than ever. It appeared to me that [the persecutors] erred through ignorance of my desire to do them good; and my prayer was that nothing but love might appear in my ways, and actuate my heart.”6

Jarena continued to preach for over thirty years to gatherings of black and white men and women. Jarena testified concerning her own life:

…In my wanderings up and down among men, preaching according to my ability, I have frequently found families who told me that they had not for several years been to a meeting, and yet, while listening to hear what God would say by his poor coloured female instrument, have believed with trembling—tears rolling down their cheeks, the signs of contrition and repentance towards God. I firmly believe that I have sown seed, in the name of the Lord, which shall appear with its increase at the great day of accounts, when Christ shall come to make up his jewels.7

Jarena Lee was an anointed evangelist whose life was marked by faithfulness and humility. Jarena Lee pursued evangelism with fervency and sincere compassion for the lost. Despite personal illness, the tragic loss of family and sustained persecution, Jarena persisted in her desire to tell others of Jesus. She humbly allowed the Lord to use her in evangelism, acknowledging His anointing and faithfully preaching with boldness.

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1. William L. Andrews, ed., Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women’s Biographies of the Nineteenth Century (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 35.
2. Ibid, 40.
3. Ibid, 44.
4. Ibid, 45.
5. Ibid, 45–46.
6. Jarena Lee, Religious Experience and Journal Of Jarena Lee, Giving An Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel (Philadelphia: printed by author, 1849), 25.
7. Andrews, 37.

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