It was 1837 and many families in Branch County, Michigan were starving. Thousands of New Englanders had poured into the "Michigan-Toledo Strip" but there was a problem they had not foreseen. First harvests are poor in virgin soil and supplies were running out. In addition to that, few people had the resources to make the long journey to obtain flour.
In June 1937, it is recorded that a man named Ira Purdy, who had a good team was approached by a man while he was hitching up his team to go look for some flour for his starving neighbors. The man begged him for food as his family was starving and were ill. Mr. Purdy immediately gave the man a bushel of wheat with which he had intended to feed his team on the journey and told him to take it and feed his family. Then he set off on his quest.
Ira Purdy traveled all the way to Indiana with no luck. Eventually he found a peck of oats and further on, a mill with some wheat. He asked the miller if he had a ton of flour ground. He did not but the after looking in the bins he determined that he had enough wheat on hand for a ton of flour but as it was noon on Saturday, it would not be ready until Monday. Why? Because the owner of the mill refused to allow it to operate on Sundays.
Ira told the miller his story. His neighbors were starving. They were weak and sick. If they did not get food soon, they could die! This was a desperate situation! The miller, was filled with compassion and began his task.
Soon afterwards, the boss of the mill came in. When he heard the story his response was completely different.
We can't get it out before Monday morning. We don't grind Sundays; it's agin my principles.' Then, turning on his heel, he walked off, and, while wrapped up in his self-righteousness, was willing to leave a whole neighborhood to suffer with hunger rather than to help them.
I am very glad the miller ignored his boss' orders. He told Mr. Purdy to take care of his team and bring his bags. He would work all night if he had to and that is exactly what he did. Early the next morning, 2,000 pounds of flour was loaded into the wagon. Ira Purdy paid him $100.00 and headed off with his precious load.
Ten days after he had started on his journey, he arrived home and distributed 40 pounds to each family in the vicinity. Some families lived as far as 10 miles away but that didn't matter. There is no doubt Ira saved a number of people from starvation.
I came across the story of Ira Purdy this evening while doing some research on my great-great-great grandfather, Stillman Elwell. While I can't say for sure whether or not Stillman and his family which included his infant son (my great-great grandfather) received flour from Ira Purdy but it is very likely. You see, this same book revealed to me that they were not only neighbors, they were probably also friends because this same book mentions that Stillman Elwell came to the area with Ira Purdy.
The kindness and generosity of two men, Ira Purdy and an unnamed miller in Indiana may have very well made a difference in whether my great-great grandfather lived or died and that trickles down to me. This causes me to wonder how many more lives did they touch besides the people who were there that day? For example, tonight I also learned that my great-great-grandfather's older brother had several children who became doctors. How many lives did that impact?
I think you get my point. We need to respond as Christ would, not like the Pharisees or other religious leaders. We also need to remember that our words and deeds may not be restricted to the moment. They may be part of a "ripple-effect" that has an impact on future generations.
Story source: “History of Branch county, Michigan, with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers” by Johnson, Crisfield, J.B. Lippincott @ Co., Philadelphia, 1879, pp 341,342