Nearly two hundred years ago [now, of course, something over 200 years ago: Editor] — 1784 was the precise date — there was born in an obscure village in Wales a girl whose zeal for the Word of God was destined to leave its mark on world history. Mary Jones’ parents were poverty-stricken tuberculous weavers in Llanfihangel. Life was hard in that poor cottage and luxuries of the smallest sort unknown. But there was godliness.
From her earliest days Mary loved to hear the telling of Bible stories. It is difficult to know how accurately these were told by her parents, for there was no Bible in the house, and if there had been, no ability to read it. Nor, as she grew older was there opportunity for Mary to attend school. Llanfihangel had no school. But when she was ten, opportunity came to go to school at Abergynolwyn three miles away. Of course Mary had to walk. No school bus in those days!
And she was far too poor to own a pony.
She was a quick pupil, and before very long was being used as unofficial auxiliary teacher (unpaid) to instruct younger children.
All this time she had no Bible, but as her eagerness to know the Book grew so also did her determination to have a copy of her own. A relation of the family, Mrs. Evans Evans, who lived two miles away, had a Welsh Bible and was willing for Mary to go as often as she wished in order to read it. So, almost daily, Mary walked those four miles for the pleasure of reading the Scriptures.
But she must have a copy of her own! And this meant eager disciplined self-denying saving for a long time. She took on any additional activity which might add to the meager store of pennies she was setting aside. She chopped wood for old Mrs. Rees, she looked after the neighbors’ children, she spent long hours hemming sheets. And it was a great day when Mrs. Evans Evans gave her three chickens, for even at the pathetic prices ruling then, eggs meant more pennies.
That first year’s saving yielded the princely sum of one shilling! The next year, two shillings and seven pence — and Mary looked forward with shining eyes to the day when she would have a Bible of her own. But then her ailing father fell more sick than he had ever been, and what little money Mary was able to get had to go towards keeping the home going. However, she never relaxed her efforts or her determination. So it took six years of dedicated labor before there was money enough for that long-coveted copy of the Scriptures. But now there was the money, where to get the Bible? There was no bookshop within miles of Llanfihangel. Mary was told that Mr. Thomas Charles, a minister in Bala, would probably help her. So one day, with a little bread and cheese to help her on the way, she walked barefoot by lonely paths through the mountains more than 25 miles to the home of Mr. Charles. There, in the minister’s study, tired, pathetic, strained, but eager as ever, Mary held out her money and asked for a Bible. “But I have only one spare copy,” he said, “and that is already earmarked for someone else.” But then he heard her story, and in his mind’s eye saw her, dogged and footsore, walking those endless miles through the mountains. “No matter,” he added, “you shall have it. Others can wait till I get a further supply.”
So next day, with a springy stride, Mary returned home with her precious Bible, pausing now and then to rest a while and to use the opportunity to read from the Scriptures, a lamp to her feet, a light to her path.
And there the story of Mary Jones ends. No more is known about her.
Her legacy to the world
But not long after this, in 1802, at a meeting in London Mr. Charles told the story of Mary Jones and her Bible, and pleaded for the founding of a society to print the Bible in Welsh. The idea met with immediate approval. However, one member of the company, with more vision and faith than the rest, stood up and declared with passionate emphasis: “But I say, if for Wales, why not for the world?”
The proposal was taken up with acclaim. Two years later The British and Foreign Bible Society formally came into existence, with the avowed objective of making the Bible available in all the tongues of Babel. In 1814 the Bible Society of the Netherlands was formed. Two years later came the American Bible Society. Today they are the United Bible Society, operating on a massive scale with the financial help and support of Bible-minded people everywhere. How many millions of Bibles have been printed during that one-and-a-half [now two] centuries?
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations.”
Mary Jones never had the slightest inkling of the mighty work her simple single-minded zeal for the Scriptures would set going. In this sophisticated, materialistic twentieth [twentieth-first] century, how many bring to the Bible a fraction of the reverence and zeal which took Mary Jones through the hills to Bala?