Far-Reaching Aftershocks

Definition:  Aftershocks are earthquakes that follow the largest shock in an earthquake sequence. They are smaller than the mainshock and within 1-2 rupture lengths distance from the mainshock. Aftershocks can continue over a period of weeks, months, or years.

But 115 years? 

My husband David and I work with my brother and sister at a location far from San Francisco, California. The sandy soil and oak forest of the Bible Witness Camp in Pembroke Township, Illinois have little in common with the city on the west coast of the USA–except for one very brave woman.

Born into wealth and privilege on July 26, 1880, Jewel Pierpont traveled with her parents in Asia as a child.  When she was nine years old her family visited missionaries in Korea; Jewel heard the plan of salvation, and received Jesus Christ as her personal Savior.  Just five years later, at age 14, both her parents died.  She married shortly after—maybe around age 16.  Her husband, Joseph Ford, represented the USA in Asia—perhaps India.  They continued to travel abroad, but San Francisco provided their home base.  The couple was blessed with one son, Mark. 

April 18, 1906 changed everything.  A 7.9 magnitude earthquake shook the city and started fires that burned for four days.  Mrs. Ford lost her husband and son that day.

Orphaned, widowed, bereaved, and depressed, Jewel had to find work to support herself for the first time in her life. By World War I, her photographic memory had been discovered and she served her country by memorizing documents for the government.  By the end of the war, she was living in Chicago and her healing heart found nourishment in church fellowship and memorization of Scripture.

Children in the housing developments called the “projects” (built to help provide homes for large the migration from the south), caught Mrs. Ford’s attention and her heart.  In the early 1920s, she and a friend, Miss Martha Seeberger, purchased a storefront at 3142 South State Street, moved into the apartment above, and began Sunday School and weekday Bible classes for the African American children there.  Basing the ministry on trusting only God for resources (George Mueller’s work with his orphanages in Great Britain strongly impressed her) and for protection, she lived heart and soul for Jesus and for the children on the city streets in that area.  Having started the Bible Witness Mission in her early 40s, about 20 years later, Mrs. Ford heard from a friend that there was rural property about 50 miles south of the city that would be perfect for a camp for the children—giving them a chance to enjoy the country for a week or so in the summer.  Friends of Jewel Ford helped out with the purchase in 1946. In 1947, the first summer Bible camps were conducted and continuously since then, the property has seen children and young people (and adults) hear about the best news in the world—that God loves them and sent His only Son to pay the penalty for all their wrongdoing by shedding His blood on the cross in Israel about 30 A.D.  He proved that He is God’s Son by coming back to life three days later.  Hundreds walking through that little storefront were introduced to God’s love letter to them:  the written word of God.  They had the opportunity to believe and follow Him.

Wounded in the earthquake, Jewel P. Ford’s legs pained her all the rest of her life.  Through that pain and in spite of the rejection of her wealthy relatives when they found out how she chose to serve the Lord, she tirelessly invested in the lives of the children from the poor housing projects in Chicago for over 30 years.  The country property birthed another vision.  Growing older, her body developed problems that she told very few others.  She knew this would be someone else’s work.  So, she prayed.  She prayed specifically for a family to move to the campgrounds and minister to the local community there.  Each summer as she took campers to the country, she noticed more small houses appearing as the population grew.  Although they had met her around 1949 at their church in Illinois, my parents invited Mrs. Ford to speak at their missionary women’s group in Michigan in 1954.  In their home after the meeting, Marshall and Lizetta Williams listened as she repeated the request for a family and specified “with children.”  From that moment at their kitchen table, that pastor and his wife began in earnest praying for a family to go to the camp.

September 22, 1955 found our family moving to Pembroke Township to answer that prayer.

Mrs. Ford passed away the very next day shortly after her 75th birthday.

Marshall and Lizetta served the Lord here until their days on earth ended in 2002 and 2010. Hundreds of young people found eternal life and purpose for living. Children, youth, and adults still find Jesus at Bible Witness Camp. 

What if San Francisco’s devastation had not shaken Jewel Ford’s life in 1906?

What “earthquake” has rocked your world?  Loss of loved ones and dreams?  Suffering that seems not only mean but meaningless?  Cling to Jesus.

Don’t miss the redemptive aftershocks God has in mind for you.  He has a work specifically prepared for you to do. Draw close to Him in your pain and know that your life matters in the big story He is writing.

By Rebecca McMillan

As a child of God, blessed with rich spiritual legacies in my family and in my husband, David's family, I want to tell "of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it." Psalm 22:30-31


  1. Wow, Rebecca, this is such an incredible story! I look forward to hearing the rest of the story as it unfolds. What a beautiful beginning to your ministry. My prayers are with you as you share God’s faithfulness to the next generation!

  2. Thanks Becky for that really moving post. I can see how God was preparing David for this work through his time growing up in the Congo. His parents were real servants of God as were yours. Pam and I remember with great fondness the days we spent with you and your family. One of the highlights of that stay was when your kids had left to put your grand children to be and the four of us were able to spend quality time together while washing up all the dishes. God Bless you both.

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