Gypsy Smith was one of the most loved evangelist of all time. When he would give his life story, crowds overfilled churches and auditoriums around the world. His trips across the Atlantic Ocean were so numerous that historians disagree about the exact number.

Rodney Smith was born in a Gypsy tent in Epping Forest, six miles outside of London, England. He received no education. The family made a living selling baskets, tin ware, and clothes pins. His father, Cornelius, played a violin in the pubs, and young Rodney would dance and collect money for the entertainment.

Rodney was still a small boy when his mother died of smallpox, leaving six children without their mother. He never forgot seeing his mother buried by lantern light, at the end of a lane, in the forest.

One day, his father, Cornelius, was invited to attend a gospel meeting at the Latimer Road Mission. Cornelius brought all the children along. The gospel was preached, and at the invitation the hymn, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” was sung. Cornelius fell to the floor with conviction. 

Soon, however, he jumped up and said, “I’m converted! Children, God has made a new man out of me and you have a new father.” Rodney ran out of the church thinking his father had gone crazy. Soon after, Cornelius’ two brothers got converted and the three formed an evangelistic team and went roaming the countryside preaching and singing the Gospel. “The Converted Gypsies”, as they were known, were used in a wonderful way from that time forward. Cornelius lived until the ripe old age of 91.

Rodney’s conversion, at age 16, came as a result of several things:

  • The witness of his father
  • Hearing the reading of Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Meeting D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey
  • A visit to the home of John Bunyan

Standing at the foot of the statue of John Bunyan in Bedford, England, Rodney gave his heart to Christ. He vowed to meet his godly mother in Heaven.

A few days later, Rodney walked the aisle to make his public profession of Christ. It was  November 17, 1876.  As he came, someone whispered (within Rodney’s hearing)  “Oh, it’s only a gypsy boy.”

He got a Bible, an English dictionary, and a Bible dictionary. Not only did he get them, he carried them everywhere he went – causing many people to laugh. “You don’t know how to read” they said. “Never you mind,” he would say, “one day I’ll be able to read them and…I’m going to preach, too. God has called me to preach.”

He taught himself to read and write and began to practice preaching. One Sunday afternoon, he went into a turnip field and began to preach to the turnips. He would sing hymns to the people he met and became known as the singing gypsy boy.

One day, William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) noticed the gypsies and realized that young Rodney had a promising future and asked the boy to be an evangelist for the Mission. In his first sermon he said:

“I am only a gypsy boy. I do not know what you know about many things, but I know Jesus. I know that He has saved me. I cannot read as you can. I do not live in a house as you do: I live in a tent. But I have got a great house up yonder, and someday I am going to live in it. My great desire is to live for Christ and the whole of my life to be useful in His service.”       

For six years he served on street corners and mission halls all over England.

Since he was teaching himself to read, he was not very confident with his reading. This was the plan that he used. “I went on reading slowly and carefully until I saw a long word coming into sight. Then I stopped and made some comments, after the comments I began to read again, but took care to begin on the other side of the long word.”

He was married in 1879 to one of his converts and they enjoyed a fruitful ministry together with the Salvation Army. It was during this time that the name Gypsy Smith took hold, and the name for which he was known ever after. His eight assignments with the Army produced 23,000 decisions for Christ, with crowds of up to 1,500 in attendance at his meetings.

In 1889, he left England for his first trip to America. He came here not knowing a soul. He had nothing with him except his credentials from friends back home. These he used to introduce himself to the church leaders.

A church in Brooklyn opened up their pulpit to him for a three week meeting.  The 1,500 seat auditorium was packed each night and 400 people came to know the Lord. His second trip to America was in 1891 where he experienced a great revival. It was in Ocean Grove, New Jersey where he filled a 10,000 seat auditorium.

At 87 years of age, Gypsy Smith was very tired and ill. Thinking that the sunshine of Florida would be good for his health, he made his 45th Atlantic crossing. Three hours out of New York he died aboard the RMS Queen Mary in the Isolation Ward stricken by a heart attack.

Here is the testimony of Gypsy Smith: 

“I didn’t go to your colleges and seminaries. They wouldn’t have me….but I’ve been to the feet of Jesus where the only true scholarship is learned. The way to Jesus is not by Cambridge and Oxford, Glasgow, Edinburg, London, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Socrates, Plato, Shakespeare or the poets…its over an old-fashioned hill called Calvary. I’m God’s messenger from the gypsy tent. It’s the message that’s important, not the messenger.”

In the latter years of his life, Vance Havner said to him: “Gypsy, I heard you preach . . . over fifty years ago–my how you blessed my heart then. I have never forgotten it – but again tonight, how my heart was warmed and thrilled! Gypsy, tell me – what’s the secret?” Gypsy answered, “Sir, I have never lost the wonder of it all.” It was this simply statement that gave birth to the wonderful hymn written by Al Smith…

I Have Never Lost the Wonder of It All

1. Once so aimlessly I wandered ’round the tangled paths of sin.
All about me seemed so hopless, Doubts and fears without, within.
Then a voice so kind and gentle Spoke sweet peace unto my soul.
Gone my days of sin and wand’ring, Since the Savior made me whole.

[Refrain] I have never lost the wonder of it all.
I have never lost the wonder of it all!
Since the day that Jesus saved me
And a whole new life He gave me,
I have never lost the wonder of it all!

2. Now my life is full of gladness, all my days are filled with joy.
I no longer walk in sadness, happy songs my lips employ.
For I’ve learned the wondrous secret only those in Christ can know.
‘Tis the peace of sins forgiven – Joy that makes my glad heart glow.

[Refrain] I have never lost the wonder of it all.
I have never lost the wonder of it all!
Since the day that Jesus saved me
And a whole new life He gave me,
I have never lost the wonder of it all!

Enjoying the Journey

Enjoying the Journey exists to evangelize the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ, encourage pastors and local churches, and equip believers to walk with God and serve Him each day. Through audio, video, and print resources we are seeking to preach the gospel, teach the Word of God, and reach this generation for Christ.

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