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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Fellowship (among believers) (10/11/07)

By Joy Faire Stewart


“Jonathan!” I screeched as I surveyed the observation platform where the night before I had placed my prized milk-crock for the milkman to fill.

My beloved husband came running down the aisle of the chapel car tripping over hymnals that had fallen from beneath the pew-racks when the car was uncoupled from the passenger train.

“Someone stole my milk-crock,” I wailed unable to control the sobs. What else could I expect from a town like Devil’s Lake, North Dakota? I was unsympathetic to the town’s spiritual needs at the moment.

The crock had been a gift from my mother when we left Minnesota to begin our missionary service aboard the Messenger of Life chapel car.

Seeing that I was physically unharmed, Jonathan sighed with relief. “Evangeline, I thought you had been scalped.” He started to laugh, but seeing my despair, took me in his arms.

“I think God is giving me the title of tonight’s message...`Thou shalt not steal,’” he said more to himself than to me.

Our missionary journey had begun two months earlier in Fargo, North Dakota. As the Northern Pacific passenger train took the chapel car into various communities, townsfolk met us with much anticipation, anxiously waiting to hear the gospel.

For many, it was the first time in years they had fellowship with other believers since leaving their homes and moving west. Each time the Messenger of Life’s bell rang, calling worshipers to service, the chapel car was filled to capacity. Our congregations were a motley mix of souls... farmers, farm wives, cowboys, gamblers, shopkeepers, drifters, and ladies of the evening, all sitting on the wooden pews sharing hymnals as the overhead chandelier cast shadows on the wood paneling of the coach.

The Messenger of Life crossed the Dakotas into Montana, stopping in many towns along the railway. Often there would be two or three saloons in town, but no churches. I would read Bible stories to the children each afternoon. As I played the pump organ, they loved to sing Jesus Loves Me.

In the front part of the chapel car was our living area. We had upper and lower berths, a large wardrobe locker, a writing desk, and shelves. The kitchen was equipped with an Adams & Westlake stove, copper-lined sink with a tank overhead, sideboard, and a small china closet. The lavatory was such that at times I wished I had never left Minnesota.

The chapel car was lit by tallow candles, allowing night services to be held, which was a blessing to those who could not attend the two or three services held during the day. Above each window were panes of stained glass reminiscent of the churches many believers had left years before.

There wasn’t a baptistery in the coach, so Jonathan baptized new believers wherever there was enough water for submersion... rivers, water holes, rain barrels, or horse troughs.

In many towns, he officiated at weddings and funerals. In Forest River, North Dakota, we arrived a day after a family had lost their eighteen-month-old baby to a snakebite. It was comforting for them to have Jonathan conduct a Christian service.

When circus or theater cars were coupled to the Northern Pacific passenger train transporting the chapel car, we had to vie for the crowds at each stop. To overcome this distraction, we tried to stay a town or two ahead of the circus.

On the return trip to Minnesota, six months after beginning the mission, we stopped in many towns we had been unable to minister to earlier in the year.

One memorable stop was to revisit Devil’s Lake, North Dakota where we found new converts spreading the gospel and building a church. A box supper auction to raise funds was held the Saturday evening we arrived. The shops in town closed early, including the saloons. Families came from miles around to join the festivities. The sheriff and local cowboys bought most of the boxes and stayed for the singing service.

The last morning we were in Devil’s Lake, I stepped out on the observation platform and could not believe my eyes. There by the door was my cherished milk-crock, brimming with beautiful wild flowers.


Ex.20:15 (KJV)

For information about the chapel cars, see:

This Train is Bound for GloryThe Story of America’s Chapel Cars
by Wilma Rugh Taylor & Norman Thomas Taylor
Copyright 1999 by Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0851

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This article has been read 989 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Dee Yoder 10/19/07
Oh, this story is right up my alley-the prairie and an unusual take on the topic. I think it's perfect! I love the characters, the information, and the way the topic is introduced. The ending is...well...perfect, too! (You might as well go right on into the baptism scenario connected to this story, too. That would make me very happy. (: )
Joanne Sher 10/21/07
You have done a wonderful job of capturing the life on a chapel car - which I'd heard of but knew very little about. You've definitely piqued my interest - may have to use your "bibliography" there. Enjoyed this very much.
LauraLee Shaw10/21/07
This is a WONderful story! I was interested from start to finish.
Lisa Graham10/21/07
Very well-told story based upon a fascinating subject. You've captured "life on the rails" in such a vibrant way that the reader can picture each scene, and experience the feelings in such a strong connection with the main character. You matched the topic perfectly!
Beckie Stewart10/23/07
I liked all the information given, but I think I would have like to hear more of why the milk jug was returned and felt like I was told more about fellowship instead of shown it.
Jan Ackerson 10/23/07
Well, this was something I'd never heard of before! Thanks for this fascinating glimpse into history.
Deborah Engle 10/23/07
Love it!
william price10/23/07
Really kool. I like learning new things as I read. Great wrting as well. Superb reader interest. God bless.
Betty Castleberry10/24/07
I wasn't familiar with chapel cars, so this was a teaching piece for me as well as entertaining. Thanks for sharing this.
Sara Harricharan 10/24/07
Wow! This was very interesting. I can honestly say I've never read anything about your topic-the chapel cars. Great voice, very engaging. ^_^
George Parler 10/24/07
A very unique take on the topic, not to mention an intriguing and educational read. Very nice.
Marty Wellington 10/25/07
Well, I love history and since I'd never heard of the chapel cars, I'm glad you shared it with us. This wonderful period piece captured my imaginationnd and held my interest. Congratulations!
Mariane Holbrook 10/25/07
I'll bet everyone who read this uttered the same "Awwwww" that I did at the end. What a lovely story. And once again, it shows that God cares about the small things in our lives, which is what prompted Him to move on the heart of the one who "borrowed" your very special crock. Very well- deserved win!
Sheri Gordon10/25/07
Congratulations on your highly commended. This is a really good story, and very good writing. Excellent take on the topic.
Lisa Holloway11/01/07
This was really interesting and well told. The situation and reactions at the beginning with the milk crock made the couple feel real to me. Congratulations on a well-deserved win!
Linda Roth11/01/07
This is fascinating. I had a great-great grandfather who was a circuit riding preacher, but I had never heard of chapel cars.
Helen Dowd11/22/07
You are a great story-teller, Joy. Thanks for this interesting itinerary of your work. Loved the surprise ending...The re appearance of the milk jug! God bless you in your ministry....Helen