|29 March 1842 in Bangor, Wales.|
|26 April 1926 in Wandsworth, England.|
|Charles Baeyertz (1843-1871) 16 October 1865 in Melbourne, Vic.|
|Charles Nalder Baeyertz (1866-1943)|
|Marion Cecilie Baeyertz (1869-1952) (moved to England)|
|Emilia Aronson was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Bangor, North Wales, in 1842. She suffered chronic ill-health as a child, and was withdrawn from school at 13. She came to Australia in 1865 to recuperate after a nervous breakdown following the fatal illness of her fiancé. (Interestingly, a Jewish couple on their honeymoon travelled to Australia on the same boat, Empire of Peace — Louis and Bertha Monash, parents of Sir John. They described it as a |
miserable tub!) However 4 months on a sailing ship, and life in Australia, restored her health completely, and she was later to fulfil schedules of large meetings with only short periods of respite in between—and indeed lived to the age of 84.
In Melbourne, after a year of balls, concerts and theatre parties, she married Charles Baeyertz. He was a bank manager, a committed Anglican, and they were married secretly at Christ Church, Hawthorn. As a result she was cut off from her family (she had a brother and sister in Melbourne), although she did not then convert to Christianity. In fact she wrote
Before we were married, I exacted a promise from my husband that he would never use any religious arguments as I was determined to live and die as a Jewess.Theirs was, according to the account, a very happy marriage; they moved to Colac on the edge of Victoria’s Western District and had a son and a daughter.
Despite her husband’s promise not to speak to her about religion, she was influenced by his life and faith, and decided to be christened at the same time as her baby.
She was later confirmed, believing she should be part of the faith in which she intended to bring up the children. However, she was aware that she had no belief that Christ was divine, and felt that to attend Communion was the rankest hypocrisy. In fact she suffered some agony of soul over the whole issue.
At this stage of her life Mrs Baeyertz would have seemed the epitome of a woman at the centre of a woman’s sphere. She had a loving husband and two beautiful children, she had dutifully
turnedto his faith, and
through all this time at Colac she was a constant attendant at church, assisting in special ways, and taking part in every ordinary effort made in the general work.She was even presented with a
handsome silver tea and coffee servicein recognition of her services.
However, she felt no real peace of heart about her state of faith, and following the shock of her husband’s fatal shooting accident, resolved to be ready to meet him in heaven. Her conversion experience resulted from her reading the gospel of John, which convinced her that Christ was God, and made a profound difference to her life. Her biographer contrasts the empty social life which she had prior to this event with the activities in which she now engaged. She was moving gradually into the sphere of church and philanthropic work. Her activities changed from what might be called
physicalsupport of the parish church, to a more personal,
soul-winningapproach. After moving to Geelong in about 1871, she undertook visiting in the gaol and hospital; she took up regular house-to-house visiting (holding her commission
not from the vicar of the parish only, but from her loving Lord); and she taught a large class of senior teenage boys in Sunday School.
That she was well aware of what society expected of her is evident from a paragraph in the Biography which reads,
In spite of all this outside work she never neglected her home or her children. From the first she had had a deep sense of the responsibility of motherhood, and nothing was ever permitted to interfere with God’s first charge to her — her home and little ones. Her boy was her constant companion, when not working.
Later her biographer emphasises that she did not contemplate preaching tours away from home, especially not overseas, until her son was married and settled. There are two instances given when her daughter was very ill and Mrs Baeyertz pleaded with God to spare her, particularly mentioning the comfort she had been as a baby when her husband died. Her daughter appears to have remained unmarried for some years and accompanied her mother on speaking tours.
There are hints that her son did not entirely agree with his mother’s lifestyle, as when she left Australia the Biography states
He was the child of many prayers, and her heart was strained to its utmost tension as she bade him farewell. No eye but God’s, no ear save His, saw or heard all that passed in those last sad moments. It is not for us to try to picture that interview.He is not mentioned in her will.
Another step in her life during this time in Geelong was the occasion of offering her first prayer in public. It gives a picture of the constraints women might feel at audible participation in religious or public activities, especially when it is remembered that Mrs Baeyertz was active in other activities where she needed to be articulate. It was at a prayer meeting for mothers held in the Presbyterian manse, and after a struggle she consented to read out a prayer, which she would prepare at home, at the next meeting. However
when her turn came to pray she discovered, to her dismay, that the light was too dim for her to see the written letters. An awful sense of nervousness came over her, so that the dim lines danced in a maze before her eyes. What should she do? She had begun, so could not break off abruptly without an attempt to fulfil her promised word. She thrust the paper prayer into her pocket, looked straight away to God, talked to Him as a yearning child would to a parent and speedily forgot everything else.Thereafter she had no more qualms. Perhaps the problem this gifted and active lady felt at praying in what was hardly a
publicmeeting gives us.
It was also in Geelong that she had what would now be called a charismatic experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which she felt gave her the power and strength to undertake her later ministry. It does not seem to have been accompanied by any manifestations such as speaking in tongues, but after this she found far more effectiveness in her ministry. Repeatedly she affirmed that any power in her words was from God alone, and that He gave her the words to speak.
Her next move was to Melbourne, where she was asked to be a missionary to the Jews. Two aspects of Mrs Baeyertz’s circumstances gave her freedom which other women did not have: she was a widow in comfortable financial circumstances, and she had been Jewish. She was often advertised as
the converted Jewess. This latter gave her the advantage of being already rather unusual, if not an object of some curiosity, and her behaviour could be to some extent explained away on this basis if necessary.
The Jewish ministry was not successful (in fact she received death threats), and she soon began work among factory girls. At first she held meetings in the dinner-hours; by 1878, at the instigation of the Secretary of the YWCA, large night meetings in the Assembly Hall. Hearing of her successes, with many girls experiencing an evangelical conversion, ministers began inviting her to their churches, wanting to see the same results there.
It was at this stage that she crossed the line between what was acceptable, even expected, of a Christian woman, and what could cause notoriety. By now she had left behind the more acceptable church-based activities, and even the more philanthropic ones such as hospital visiting. That she was well aware of the problems is evidenced by her perplexity as to whether to accept these invitations:
she was not clear in her mind as to her right to attend mixed meetings … great darkness of soul came over her … she began to wonder if…it was God’s mind for her to take mixed meetings, and whether her refusal had caused God to give her this darkness to force her to face this great question as in His sight.She sought the advice of a friend who lent her a book, through which it seemed to her that
the Spirit clearly revealed to her what the mind of God was on this matter, as regarded herself, and kneeling down, she gave up her reputation to God. She told Him she was willing to be misunderstood by all the world if only she had his smile.
This conviction was tested quite soon with an invitation to speak at a Congregational church. She was rather horrified to find the whole church packed, and three ministers present!
The three men before her were tall, big men, and with their long, black coats, their solemn faces, and their huge white starched ties, they appeared like sons of Anak in her path.However she felt filled with the peace of God and was able to give the message she believed she had been given, with the result that there were
two vestries filled with seekers after salvation. From that time invitations to speak in various churches flowed in faster than she could fulfil them, and she was now fairly launched upon the world as an Evangelist for God.
Later in the Biography the Rev. A J Gordon of Boston is quoted as saying,