Romans 12:12 says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” On a frigid, January evening in the year 1636, a dark, thickly robed figure struggled out the doorway of his ramshackle cabin and trudged heavily through the woods. His tracks, wobbly, short, and shallow, betrayed his lack of strength as he labored through the snow. His name was Roger Williams and his mission seemed to be bursting at the seams. He had grown up in the crowded streets of London, England, but now he was alone in the unforgiving wilderness of North America. He had stood up boldly for a deeply held conviction, but now all his supporters seemed to be disappearing. Roger Williams was the pastor of the Church at the Salem Colony in the New World. He and his fellow British friends had sailed across the ocean to the new world in order to escape persecution from the state church. Williams was an outspoken advocate of the idea that people should worship as they choose instead of having the government dictate church attendance and what beliefs were acceptable. But after five years in North America, he found a similar oppressive situation among the colonies. After several heated debates with the colony leaders, the authorities tried and convicted Williams of sedition and heresy and sent the local sheriff to arrest him and take him back to England. But Williams slipped out of his cabin into the cold night before the sheriff could get there. The future must have looked very bleak for the bedraggled settler at this point. Could things get any worse? Here he was cornered by his own fellow colonists in the wilderness of a strange, new world. All his friends had apparently abandoned him. And now he was about to get sent back to England where there would only be more trouble.
He spent three months with the Wampanoag Indians until Spring came. Then Williams and a group of his followers bought a piece of land from the Indians and started there own settlement, calling their new colony “Providence.” He could never have known it then, but Williams’ ideas and determination would eventually give rise to some of America’s most cherished tenets of freedom. Freedom to practice religion according to one’s own conscience. His work inspired a nation of freedom because he was joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. And as we celebrate the founding of this nation today, we can still see his legacy.