school? Just like you, I was told many stories about Moody and his accomplishments. It was not until I read the book, The Life of D.L. Moody — A Passion for Souls, that I had a better understanding of our
school’s founder. He became more than an idea — more than just a portrait in Alumni Hall or a statue whose cold nose you grab. Moody became alive — a person with desires, hopes, and fears — just like you and me. Instead of celebrating his successes, I want to focus on the struggles and obstacles of his early years and how he became the reason we are here today.
Moody was born in 1837. He had eight siblings. His father died when he was four years old.
Because of his father’s debt, the family lost almost everything they owned. Moody went to
school periodically between the ages of six and 10, his only formal education. At 10, his mother
sent him away to Greenfield to do chores for other families. “I didn’t sleep much that night,”
Moody later wrote, “I cried a great deal. The next morning after breakfast I took my little
bundle and started.” At 17, he went to Boston to look for jobs to support his family. Dissatisfied
after working there for two years, he boarded a train to Chicago, where he toiled as a shoe
salesman. By the time he was 23, he gave up his business and became a full time minister.
What do you think about these early years? Clearly, Moody overcame many obstacles before he
was well known. From a young age, he had grit and a strong work ethic. This work ethic was
manifested in two ways. First, he was a lifelong learner. Due to his lack of formal education, he
taught himself to become a better speaker and writer. He would take notes during other
people’s sermons. He was constantly asking other ministers what certain Bible verses meant.
He equipped himself to preach to millions of people in his later years. Second, he did his job
wholeheartedly and to the best of his ability, whether as a businessman or a minister. He began
his ministry working tirelessly with homeless children others had ignored. Later, when he
worked for the YMCA, it was said that he had the energy of three people and gave 15 to 20
hours a day to the work.
With such a humble background, how did he attract tens of thousands of people to hear his
sermons? How did he have the strength to found four schools, a church, and Moody
Publishers? Whenever I read the biography of a great person, I am most interested in the
person’s early life. When Moody was a young man, did he have any idea of all the millions of
lives he would change? Probably not. Instead, he began by changing his own life and helping
Reading Moody reminded me of the following quote by Gandhi.
“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as in being
able to remake ourselves.”
Here’s another version of this mindset . There is a Chinese idiom, 一屋不扫, 何以扫天下 (yi wu
bu sao, he yi sao tian xia), based on the story of a 15-year-old boy, Chen Fan, who never cleaned
his room. His bed was unmade. His trash can overflowed. His clothes were strewn all over the
floor. Sounds familiar? One day, his father went to his room and asked why it was so messy.
Chen Fan answered, “Great men should sweep everything under heaven; why bother caring for
a room?” His father replied, “If you don’t sweep one room, how could you sweep the whole
world?” This story encourages people with big dreams to start with the small things that they
can immediately change. Another Chinese idiom goes: 千里之行， 始于足下 （qian li zhi xing,
shi yu zu xia); a journey of a thousand miles starts with your first step.
These sayings reflect Moody’s life well. He helped his mother pay off their family’s debts while
supporting himself as a shoe salesman. When he gave up his business to work as a minister, he
did not choose to work for a well-established church in a wealthy community. He felt humbled
by his lack of theological training and started his ministry on the streets, working with
homeless children and those identified as “dangerous classes.” Moody loved those children and
was passionate about the souls of people. He clearly understood that “faith without action is
You are privileged to be at Moody’s school, a school that was originally designed for people
without privileges. What are the implications of Moody’s stories for all of you? As young
people, you must focus on what you can do right now as students in addition to dreaming big
dreams. You are often asked to make a difference and to be leaders, but first, consider changing
yourself and becoming your own leader.
What does that mean? Leading yourself begins with a sense of responsibility. This means
finishing your homework even on evenings when you are preparing for a performance. Leading
yourself means being proactive. When you have a long paper, make a plan for the phases of
your research, drafts, and proofreading. Leading yourself means discipline. This means getting
up and doing your seven o'clock workjob or going for the run in your training plan even when
you would rather lie in your bed.
Did I say discipline? Two years ago I had a visitor in my Chinese II. Mr. Marshall Horwitz,
Class of 1971, spoke to my students. Having made many trips to rural China and Mongolia to
provide free dental care to thousands of people, Mr. Horwitz talked about how his NMH
experience helped shape his character. He said that some of the subjects you learn here may
not be relevant to your life later. However, the discipline you learn at NMH will carry you far. I
couldn’t agree with him more. You might not use a foreign language, or math, or science, or an
art skill in your future. However, if you have the discipline to manage your academic and
personal life well here, you will be successful in college and beyond. Mr. Horwitz began to
study Chinese when he was 44 years old and he eventually became fluent. Later, he even
learned Mongolian. He has obviously benefitted from lessons in discipline he learned at NMH.
Related to discipline are your work ethic and perseverance. These are the qualities that I value
most. As a person who matured in the countryside of China, I only had six years of formal
English education. By the time I was working for the international department at a Chinese
university when I was 30 years old, I had almost forgotten everything I learned. One day,
meeting an American teacher from the airport, I could not understand anything he was saying.
In my embarrassment, I realized I needed to pick up my English. I quickly made a plan. I
reviewed the English grammar and vocabulary that I had learned in school. I watched an
English TV channel every day after lunch when others were taking a nap. I practiced with
teachers and students from the U.S. and Australia. I found time to sit in English classes. I
became fluent in English after a year. Three years later, I came to the US to teach at a college.
To improve my written English, I read academic articles and went to the writing center all the
time. I created a long document recording and categorizing all the errors I made. If I could
learn enough English to be speaking to all of you today, you certainly are able to achieve
whatever you set your mind to with hard work and determination.
I would like to start my final point with an anecdote. In 1847, little Moody and his brother
trudged 13 miles over frozen ground to Greenfield. There, Moody met the childless husband
and wife he was to live with all winter. After a week of milking their cows and doing their
chores, the 10-year-old boy was overcome with homesickness. He found his brother and told
him that he was going home. His brother replied, “Dwight, come out and take a walk with me.”
They went out onto the street, and his brother told him about an old man who gave a
brand-new penny to every new boy that came to town. Moody found the old man, who put his
trembling hand on Moody’s head and gave a few words of encouragement. The man then
reached into his pocket, and indeed, gave the boy a brand-new cent. Moody never forgot that
act of kindness and how it took the homesickness out of him. The boy stayed in Greenfield and
Moody’s relationship with students was inspired by his humble background and childhood. He
remembered the old man in Greenfield — the way he had looked him in the eye and offered
words of hope — and he set out to do the same for Northfield and Mount Hermon students. He
knew that most of them were poor, lonely, and neglected. Many of them were from faraway
places. Native Americans, Africans, Asians, and Europeans were enrolled at the Northfield and
Mount Hermon schools—even in the late 1800s. Moody treasured all of them. In spite of his
busy schedule, he tried to spend as much time with students as possible. When he was at the
schools, he gave rides to students in his cart, invited them to have meals in his home, played
games, and sang songs with them. Moody even took sick students into his home. One treat they
always counted on was his declaration of an unscheduled day when classes were canceled and
everyone climbed a nearby mountain. Yes, Moody invented Mountain Day. He imparted his
blessings whenever he was here, and the students never forgot him.
To show your kindness, are you willing to give a penny to someone? Do you pay attention to
neglected people? Do you hold the door open for others? If you pick up a lost wallet, would you
find its owner? Sometimes, even a smile can lighten up someone’s day. Kindness is contagious.
Moody’s kindness is already a part of you. I hope that you will pass this kindness to someone
There is an African proverb, “if you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk
together.” When he was 23 years old, Moody was doing well in his business and had a large
sum of money in the bank. Surely, he was walking fast. But he decided to give up his business
to walk with others. In doing so, Moody was answering life’s most persistent and urgent
question: “What are you doing for others? ” He has changed millions of lives for the better in
his time and even in ours. He has set a good example for all of us. Now, let us continue his
May you walk far!