Elise Sandes, the daughter of an Irish gentleman, had six sisters and two brothers. Even as a child she was often concerned about the great mysteries of life and death, knowing that she must exist, she feared God, but did not love Him, and the thought of her many sins filled her with dismay. She was a very clever child, with an imaginative mind and studious nature.
In her earliest years she was rather delicate, so that much play and few lessons fell to her lot, yet so keen to learn was she that she remembers reading books and writing letters before entering the schoolroom.
Strange to say, the little boy who became the famous Lord Kitchener lived on the next estate, and the two children destined to do so much for the British Army often played together.
When she was about eight years of age, the great ’59 Revival swept the North of Ireland, and a work was begun which by the time Elise was ten years old had spread to the South. A young man converted in Dublin through hearing J. Denham Smith preach came full of love and zeal to stay with friends near Elise’s home in Kerry. He commenced meetings in the kitchens of farmers’ houses on the estate. Elise heard these meetings discussed, and that this young man said you could be sure you were saved, and sure of going to Heaven when you died.
Little Elise longed to go and hear him, for this was what had troubled her all along, as to where she would spend Eternity. Great was her joy to hear that a children’s meeting was to be held in a nearby church, and that she was to be taken to it. How well she remembers that day! The text chosen was 1 John 4:10 “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” This was good news for Elise Sandes. God loved her-in spite of all her sins. How new and wonderful it seemed.
“Herein is love,” said the preacher. “If you want to seer what real love is, you must look here: Not that we loved God! No. When we were His enemies, and fought against Him, and hated Him, He loved us, and so loved us that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
How sweet this good news was to Elise. He sent Jesus to take her place, to be punished for her guilt, to die in her stead. And Jesus did it? How she longed to thank Him. If He were only on earth again, she would go to Him, and clasp His feet, and ask Him to forgive her, and hear Him say: “Thy sins are forgiven Thee,” How happy she would be.
The meeting closed, and the congregation sang “Rock of Ages.” At the third verse Elise suddenly thought: “Surely Jesus is here, although I can’t see Him. He will hear me,” and she said from her heart:
“Nothing in my hand I brig,
Simply to Thy Cross I cling:
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Vile, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”
After the service the young preacher came to where she sat, and laying his hand on her shoulder, asked: “Do you love Jesus?” “Yes,” she answered. “Why?” he asked again. “Because He loved me and died for me,” she replied. And thus early Elise Sandes had her name written in the Book of Life.
Soon after her conversion she was sent to a French school in Dublin. Here her one desire was to win her fellow – students for Jesus. The girls had to walk out two by two every day in the charge of a governess. This was the opportunity that Elise used to speak to her companions. She used to pray every day that the Lord would arrange which girl she would walk with. Being compelled to converse in French made it all the harder, but the brave and clever girl never ceased to plead with her companions to yield to the love of Jesus.
Very lonely she felt at times, away from home and her dear friends, missing sorely the Revival meetings, and standing alone for God amongst a crowd of heedless, worldly girls. Standing one evening by an open window, whilst the girls amused themselves by dancing, she heard the sweet strains of a Revival hymn floating on the still evening air. “Where could it come from? Who was singing? Were the questions that rushed to her lips. She soon found out that a few Christians held meetings in a wooden hall quite near the school, and she immediately begged permission to attend. Madame kindly allowed her to go, accompanied by a governess, and after a time others were persuaded to join them, and several decided for Christ at these meetings.
During the rest of her schooldays that bare wooden room was to her the very gate of Heaven. Here she first knew the joy of leading souls to the Saviour, and found that she would willingly yield her whole life for this joy. She had found an object worth living for, life henceforth was full of intense interest and joy, for she was a coworker with God.
Soon a great sorrow fell upon her. It was nearing Christmas, and Elise was jubilant at the thought of home-going once more. She had had her usual letter from her father that morning, and was hurrying to a class in which she hoped to win a prize, when a governess touched her arm and said: “Elise, a lady wishes to see you in the drawing-room.” “Oh, I cannot go now,” she replied. :”Yes, go,” the governess replied. Elise noticed that her eyes were filled with tears. As she hastened to obey she wondered could it be bad news? Her father? But no, she had his cheerful letter in her pocket at that moment. No, it could not be that. Standing by the window was a young lady whom Elise knew slightly. Wondering still, she noticed a telegram in her hand, and asked: “Is anything wrong with my father?” Nervously opening the telegram, she read: “Stephen Sandes is dead. Break it gently to his daughter.” The lady put her arms around her, cried over her, and did all she could to comfort her, but it seemed to Elise as if there could never be for her again a happy day. The young lady’s name was Marie Fry, one who was to become a link in the chain of events which led to Elise Sandes’ great lifework.
When Elise returned to school after the funeral, she spent many happy hours in Marie Fry’s seaside home. The thoughts of both these consecrated girls turned to work for God, and many were the plans made to help and lead others to Jesus. At this time regiments of British soldiers were stationed in many parts of Ireland, and Marie Fry was moved with compassion to see how young lads, some only eighteen years of age, were drawn away into bad company, and fell deeper and deeper into sin. A lover of children, she contrived together a number of drummer-boys into her own home, taught them to sing hymns, and read the Bible with them, encouraging them to ask questions.
Elise running in one day was surprised to find her thus occupied. She was not over-pleased, for in those days soldiers had few friends. But very soon her interest was aroused and together they worked and prayed for these precious souls. But Marie Fry had only time to begin the work before the Lord called her Home, and Elise felt more than ever a call to befriend the British soldier who, apart from the foe on the battlefield, had to contend with the onslaughts of sin in the barrack room.
By this time Elise was finished with school, at home, and with plenty of time on her hands. Miss Fry before she died had asked Elise to befriend a Christian soldier stationed near her home in Tralee. Elise and her mother visited him and invited him to come and see them. He did so, and Miss Sandes talked to him about his companions. He promised to come again, and in a few days brought two more with him. One of these men could not read. Miss Sandes volunteered to teach him, and so her life work commenced. Soon her pupil learned to spell Bible verses, not only in his head but in his heart, and he found Christ as his Saviour.
The regiment was removed to Cork, and Miss Sandes on a visit there met again those Christian soldiers. They told her how sorely they missed the room she had for them in Tralee, that there was no place outside barracks for men who wanted to keep straight to spend their evenings. Then they told her of man after man that she had known in Tralee led astray in Cork. And then a vision came to her. The vision of a Home, full of light and gladness and music, free from blasphemies, and horrible songs, a home where men would find warm, human hearts ready to welcome them, a Home where they would hear of the only One Who could free them from sin and make their lives glad and useful and victorious.
For such a Home Miss Sandes prayed for two years, and then God answered. A friend secured a house for her. It was a very plain, ordinary dwelling-house, but the rooms were bright and cosy, and the soldiers loved it well. A few friends sent in all that was needed to furnish it, and a lady helper offered to accompany Miss Sandes there.
On the ground floor was a coffee-room, and the constant clatter of cups and saucers there, the steady steps of soldiers coming and going, their merry, ringing laughter, were the sweetest of music to the lady’s ears. She had also a reading-room , and a meeting-room, where many souls were directed to Christ, and some testify to finding life in the old Home in King Street, Cork.
In 1891 the second Home was founded in Belfast, then others followed in quick succession. The work spread in India, and the latest reports show nineteen Homes in Ireland, India, and the latest and largest at Catterick Camp, Yorkshire. Many willing lady helpers came to help Miss Sandes, and gave life-service to lead men into the paths of salvation and virtue.
So small beginnings often lead to great things. A gentleman who knew Miss Sandes when a girl said: “If I had been asked to select out of all my acquaintances one of the most unlikely girls to do any public work, I would have chosen you.” Yet this retiring girl, upheld by Christ, has aspired to and accomplished a wonderful and lasting enterprise for God and men. Is this not a lesson to all girls as to what the Lord may accomplish if they yield themselves to Him?