A heart-wrenching true story, titled “Freddie’s Christmas,” appeared in the Pentecostal Evangel 91 years ago this week. “Freddie” referred to Frederick Arthur Graves (1856-1927), the noted songwriter who became an early leader in the Pentecostal movement.
“Little Freddie” began life as the son of a tailor, in a family of four boys and one girl. The family had weekly devotions and worship, and the children were taught to love and trust God. Freddie’s father worked long hours, going door-to-door to find work measuring and making clothes for men and boys. Eventually the work became too much, and he became sick and died. Freddie’s mother was frail and tried to care for the children by herself, but within three years she developed tuberculosis and also passed away. The children were farmed out to different homes.
Freddie was taken in by Mr. Hollis, a man who was “honest in his dealings with his neighbors but who was godless.” It seemed that he wanted a boy for the sole purpose of helping with chores on the farm. Freddie was given many tasks to do on the farm and worked very hard, but often he was sad. After saying his prayers, he would climb into his bed in the attic and “cry himself to sleep in his loneliness and homesickness.”
Mr. Hollis was very unkind to Freddie, often making the hapless young boy think it was his own fault that he became an orphan. Whenever cookies and other treats were shared among Mr. Hollis’ other children, Freddie was left out because he was “only an orphan.” When Christmas arrived, the children hung their stockings by the fireplace, and they had to beg their parents to let Freddie also have a stocking. Finally, the parents let Freddie put up a stocking next to the other ones.
Bright and early on Christmas morning, the other children gleefully opened their stockings. But Mr. Hollis told Freddie that he could not touch his until all the chores were done, so he bravely trudged through the snow and cold to milk the cows and feed the calves and chickens. After the chores were completed and everyone had finished breakfast, the man finally gave Freddie permission to open his stocking. “Freddie sat down on the floor and began very carefully to take out the shavings in the top of his stocking — on and on he went still taking out shavings clear down to the toe. Not one thing in all that stocking but shavings!”
Freddie’s heart almost stopped beating — and then Mr. Hollis began to roar with laughter, slapping his knee and saying to his wife, “That is the best joke I’ve had in a long time!” And he continued to laugh.
Freddie slowly picked up every shaving and ran to the barn as fast as he could. He climbed up into the hayloft, out of sight, and sobbed for a long time. Finally he talked with God and felt God’s comfort and peace, despite the circumstances. As it began to grow dark, he remembered there were more chores to be done, so he climbed down and faithfully went to work doing his chores. As he worked, the Lord enabled him to forgive the man who had been so mean to him.
Not long after this incident, Mr. Hollis began acting strangely and became increasingly moody and unhappy. (Some whispered it might be because of his cruelty to the poor orphan boy.) Then one day he went out to the barn and hung himself. Freddie, who had known much heartache and grief himself, was able to whisper words of comfort to the widow in her loss. Later, she hugged him and told Freddie what a comfort he had been to her.
The Lord helped Fred Graves to be a blessing, despite all the hardship he had borne. Years later he became a minister of the gospel, overcoming significant difficulties and receiving healing from epilepsy. He obtained ministerial credentials from Christian faith healer John Alexander Dowie in 1899 and transferred his ordination to the Assemblies of God in 1916.
Graves’ testimony inspired him to write numerous songs, including “He Was Nailed to the Cross for Me,” “He’ll Never Forget to Keep Me,” and “Honey in the Rock.”
Frederick A. Graves’ Christmas testimony reminds us of the hardships faced by early Pentecostals, and also illustrates how God can bring beauty from tragic circumstances.
Read Vina P. Graves’ article, “Freddie’s Christmas,” on pages 6 and 13 of the Dec. 19, 1931, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “A Child is Born,” by Ernest S. Williams
• “The Meaning of Christmas,” by C.H. Spurgeon
• “When Sankey Sang the ‘Shepherd Song’ on Christmas Eve”
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.