But there is something positive that emerged from this shameful and horrendous account, which I learned from author Carolyn Ross Johnston as she reviewed her book, “Voices of Cherokee Women,” one Sunday afternoon.
The answer to the question of “Why did so many of the Cherokee Indians convert to Christianity?” is revealing and somewhat surprising.
When the Removal began, there were four Baptist missionaries who pledged themselves to walk along with the Cherokee people on their journey to Oklahoma. They suffered with their brothers, ate or did without — sharing the hardships of those they walked with. They gave spiritual and physical support to everyone they could reach — the sick, the elderly, the children, the women. For those reasons, the people looked to these Christian missionaries, who led them to trust in Christ. And their Christian faith came on down through the generations. The people on the Trail of Tears did not walk alone because someone had love and compassion.
Paul had this concept of compassion. He said “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;” (1 Corinthians 9:19-21 KJV).
And he commended the Thessalonians for their understanding of suffering. “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen ...” (1 Thessalonians 2:14).
In 1 Corinthians 12:26, Paul wrote, “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:41), “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” When it comes to sacrificing our own comfort, Jesus said to go beyond what is required.
Those missionaries did not have to walk along with the Cherokee people as they made the long, arduous trek to Oklahoma. They could have chosen to stay in the comfort of their familiar territory — in their homes and churches. But they didn’t. They had a compelling call. And it was love and compassion that constrained them.
Paul knew personally what is the constraining force: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
When the love of Christ is the compelling factor, nothing will hinder our obeying God. A willing mind and a compassionate heart will make all the difference in our relationships with our fellowmen.
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:15).