Dwight Lyman Moody (1837—1899), known as D. L. Moody, was an influential American evangelist and publisher in the 19th century. He was born the seventh child in a family with nine children in Northfield, Massachusetts. His father died when D. L. was only four years old, and his mother struggled to support the family. So children, including D. L., were sent away to receive room and board. At age seventeen, D. L. decided to move to Boston in search of work, but ultimately had to rely on his uncle who allowed him to sell shoes at his shoe store. During his time in Boston, the uncle required D. L. to attend church. So he attended a Sunday school taught by Edward Kimball. Kimball emphasized God's love for D. L. and by age eighteen, D. L. Moody had converted to evangelical Christianity.
D. L. Moody then set out to make his own fortune selling shoes in Chicago. However, his new found faith helped him realize that helping the poor was more important than amassing wealth. So he began a mission Sunday school in a Chicago slum in 1858. By 1861 he had left his business to concentrate solely on mission work. In 1862, he married Emma C. Revell, one of the Sunday school teachers at his mission. By 1864, the mission had grown into the Illinois Street Independent Church (now Moody Memorial Church). Besides his work at the mission-turned-church, D. L. Moody was also involved with the U. S. Christian Commission of the YMCA. This role allowed him to visit the battlefront of the Civil War nine times to deliver encouraging speeches and preach the gospel. After the Civil War, Moody continued his work in Chicago effectively combining social work and evangelism. He enticed children to his Sunday school classes by offering candy and pony rides, and he attracted German and Scandinavian immigrants by offering English classes and evening prayer meetings.
Unfortunately, the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871 destroyed D. L's mission church, his home, and the YMCA where he was president. He was determined to rebuild the church and the YMCA, so he traveled to New York to raise funds. During this trip, Moody felt he received a new call and a vision to evangelize the world in his generation. In the summer of 1873, he was invited to preach in the British Isles. He traveled with his family; his friend and musician, Ira Sankey, joined him on the tour. Two years later, D. L. Moody returned as an internationally famous revivalist. He decided to settle his family back in Northfield, Massachusetts where he had been born. Alternating between Europe and America, D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey held revivals for more than one hundred million people. They pioneered evangelistic techniques like canvassing neighborhoods door-to-door prior to a crusade, gaining the cooperation of local churches despite denominational differences, petitioning the philanthropic support of local businesses, and renting a large central building in which to hold the crusade.
While these techniques were incredibly effective, D. L. saw the need for training lay people in biblical studies to continue the work of evangelism. So in 1879, he opened the Northfield Seminary for Young Women and two years later he opened the Mount Hermon School for Boys. In the summer of 1880, in order to spread dispensationalism and fundamentalism, he held the first of many summer Bible conferences at his home in Northfield. Finally in 1886, with the help of Emma Dryer who had been overseeing a ministry in Chicago to specifically train women for mission work, D. L. Moody opened the Bible-Work Institute of the Chicago Evangelization Society (now called Moody Bible Institute). After establishing this school, he started the 61 Portages Association (now Moody Press) to publish and sell low-cost religious books and tracts. D. L. Moody continued to be a dynamic speaker, holding revivals and crusades in major cities, and even preaching until just months before he died surrounded by his family back at home in Northfield, Massachusetts in December 1899.
D. L. Moody is an example of a man who understood both the physical and the spiritual needs of the poor, who developed effective techniques to fill both kinds of needs, and who then left a legacy teaching future generations to do the same.
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