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Winning Her Last Soul
by Colonel Edward H. Joy

This is a selection from the unpublished manuscript,
'Our Fathers Have Told Us',
some early-day stories from The Salvation Army

Close upon fifty years ago the story of Captain Laura Flavell ‘winning her last soul’ thrilled the entire Army world.  Doubtless there are Army homes where old-times count among their treasures the picture of the event as conceived by a famous artist of the day.  Salvationists of these times should be told of it, - a deed of womanly heroism in ‘the hour and article of death’ as we used to say.

Laura Flavell was one of a party of New Zealand Salvationists who had been attending our International Congress in London.  All had gone well on the homeward voyage, and it was now only a matter of a few hours before the home shores would be reached.  The trop was been full of happy comradeship, friends had been made, and the seed of the Kingdom had been sown in many a quiet chat on deck or in cabin.  Now the nearing coastline indicated that the morning would bring reunion and home.

There were four Salvationists on board, - Captain Laura Flavell; Staff-Captain Paul, another New Zealand officer; in the stokehold a Salvationists foreman; and in another part of the vessel a Salvationist lassie-soldier.  The two first named share a cabin with a young woman, and the custom was, just before retiring to their berths, to read a portion of Scripture, and have a few words of prayer together.  As the Staff-Captain closed her Bible, she read, as if by chance, “Be ye also ready!”

The wind was howling, screaming through the rigging with weird and terrifying noise, and as they lay in their berths the passengers could hear the swish, swish of the water alongside the ship.  Just the kind of a night to enkindle dread in the mind of anyone unprepared.

Laura Flavell slept peacefully through the tumult, as peacefully as if she had been in her home on shore, - like an innocent babe in its cradle.  All was as still as it could be in the cabin where the three had committed themselves to the will of God.

“But at midnight cry went forth!”  With a shock that awakened every passenger the fated ship had struck on the rocks of the Barrier Reef, just six hours’ steam from her home port.

In a moment all was confusion.  Darkness was over all.  But in the little cabin, on the dangerously moving floor, the three women knelt for a few moments of prayer, and then hand in hand, as best they could, they crept to the wind-driven, wave-swept deck, wither their terror-stricken fellow passengers were making their way.

The shrieking of the wind, the roaring and tossing of the waters, the shivering of the doomed vessel, and the almost impenetrable darkness of the night, were enough to strike terror into every heart, and it was a small wonder that the cries of the frightened passengers added to the dreadfulness of the hour.  For a moment Captain Laura clung to the railing of the vessel, but a dashing wave drove her from that frail hand-hold, and she clasped the rigging, where she hung, swaying to and fro with the slipping, sliding vessel.

Presently there arose, above the noise of the storm, a sweet, clear voice.  It was Captain Laura and her comrade singing of the Refuge from every storm:

“Jesu! Lover of my soul. Let me to Thy bosom fly.”

Amid the howling of the tempest a wonderful peace seemed to be present.  For a moment the terror-stricken passengers ceased their sobbing and calling.  The song went on:

“While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is night!”

A woman who was standing nearby said, “Oh, pray for us!  Pray for me!”  Letting go of her own rope of safety, the Captain places her arms around the dear creature and prayed that God’s peace – that which was filling her own soul – might come to this distressed woman.

“God is with us now,” she cried, and the sound of her cheering word rand through the noise of the waves.  “If you have not trusted Him before, trust Him now; He Blood will cleanse you!”.  And again  a song arose, this time it was:

“My Father, God, is at the helm, Tho’ waves and storms my soul o’erwhelm,
My Father, God, is at the helm!”

For twelve long hours the two Army women were speaking to the passengers about their souls, alternately comforting, pleading, praying, and singing.  Occasionally they would catch hold of the icy rigging, and then let it go to touch some despairing one and kindle hope.

About mid-day a rope was passed ashore, and the intrepid seamen who, all through the night, had been trying to make a way of escape, called on the passengers to make use of this means of reaching land.  The rope hung over the boiling rock-torn waters, and was scarcely less horrorful than the battered deck.

Captain Laura’s turn came.  Clasping the rope with her poor, torn, benumbed hands – no other way could be devised – she smiled at her companion and said: “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee!”, and then began her perilous journey.

Those on land watched with many anxiety.  Would she accomplish it?  Could such a frail creature hold on while the cruel waves dashed over her, the rope sagging into the waters?

A rush of sea compelled her to loosen her hold, but she caught the line again.  A second time this happened, and again she seized hold, but the third time a tremendous wave took her, and Laura Flavell ‘passed through the waters’ to gain a Heavenly Shore.

Staff-Captain Paul was among those who were saved, and some of those who in the midnight storm had been pointed to Christ by Captain Flavell, they also were among the little company reaching safety, but her body was found on the rocks, - with not a bruise upon it, only a heavenly smile which not even the engulfing waves had been able to take from her lovely face.

Thirty-four souls were called upon to stand before God that night from the decks of the ‘Wairarapa’, but today, though the number is diminishing, there are still those in New Zealand who could tell you how Laura Flavell’s last song brought them to the sure Refuge, which is Jesus Christ!









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