Rain.... mud.... crowds.... tents.... sermons.... lectures.... chalk talks.... Chautauqua, NY, 1875. A memorable year it was for those who took two weeks out there summer to come to this Christian camp for Bible teaching and ministry training. Among one of those people was Mrs. Isabella Alden, a talented writer and pastor's wife who would capture the events of that particular year in a heart-searching novel that is still read today.
In Four Girls at Chautauqua, we see the Chautauqua meetings of 1875 through the eyes of four girls who are very similar in many ways, and yet alike in one particular: their need for the Savior. Ruth Erskine is the only daughter of a very wealthy American couple; she is a rich, respectable, fashionable young woman with the personality of a leader. Eurie Mitchell is an exuberant, indifferent, fun-loving, middle-class Hedonist. Flossy Shipley is a petted and spoiled, mousie girl who always does things because "they're doing it." Marion Wilbur is an independent, no-nonsense pragmatist and a "self-professed infidel".
The four girls decide to retreat to Chautauqua Bible Institute, just for fun. Of course, they could care less about the preaching and the lectures, but the thought of getting away and camping in the woods together sounds exciting to them. Once they arrive, however, they find themselves totally out of their elements. Not only do they lack the comforts they are used to at home, but also they also feel obliged to attend the meetings and lectures that everyone else seems so eager to hear.
Mrs. Alden tactfully and colorfully follows the events of that year at Chautauqua as she shows the work of the Holy Spirit in each girl's heart. Through the preaching from the pulpit or through the quiet ministry of private individuals, God draws the girls to Himself, one by one.
For years my mom and Amanda had been trying to convince me to read this book. Perhaps it was disinterest, perhaps it was my silly quirk of not caring for the late 1800's writing style (the woman with the ruby lips and the face like the moonlight; the sainted child's dying words; that stuff); perhaps it was a combination of the two. However, I finally decided to read it and found the 19th century "sentamentalism/emotionalism" very, very limited, and the message of the Word of God very, very exalted! I was extremely blessed! To read examples of how God works on the different heart "soils" was exciting and encouraging. We may easily become discouraged when a person sits under the preaching of God's Word regularly and remains untouched, but Four Girls at Chautauqua is a reminder that God can change anybody's heart, even the most dormant, even the most skeptical, even the most distracted by fashion and friends. His Word never comes back void!
Not only was I encouraged in this manner, but I was also challenged, as were the girls in the book. For instance, after Flossy's conversion, she comes under conviction for wasting her time, money, and mind on useless things-- kid gloves, for instance-- instead of using those things for the Lord's purposes. At first when I read it, I thought, "Kid gloves? So what?" Then the Lord opened my eyes and helped me to understand the lesson-- these days we probably wouldn't waste money on kid gloves because those don't mean anything to us, but we might waste money on a Starbucks frappachino, new movies, or the latest namebrand fashion. Anything besides the Lord can become an idol to us-- so it has been in every era. I realized, with Flossy, that I must put God first before those things; I must embrace His purposes and follow His will, rather than wasting it on things that do not matter, things that will fade away, things that will one day "collect dust and be forgotten".
Like the four girls at Chautauqua, we eat have to make a choice: will we serve and die with the world, or serve and live with our Creator and Redeemer? I highly encourage you to read this book! You will be blessed and encouraged as I was to live a life fully devoted to Jesus Christ!
Four Girls at Chautauqua has been reprinted by and can be ordered from Keepers of the Faith.