Samuel Stearns and Roenna Clark Day: Founders of the “The Lone Star” Mission

Samuel Stearns and Roenna Clark Day: Founders of the “The Lone Star” Mission

One bright day on 23 August 1835 in the village of Homer, New York, about thirty miles south of Syracuse, near Lake Ontario, a young bride greeted her soon-to-be husband, Samuel. They entered the little Homer church together to take their vows and began a legacy that has endured until the present day.
The handsome young groom, Samuel Stearns Day, was born in a hamlet in Ontario, Canada, in 1808 to Jeremiah and Submit Day, two devout Baptists. He was reared in Sunday School and, upon his conversion, was baptized by the Branch Church (now Leeds Church). Upon his graduation and after two years of teaching school at the Brick and Stone schoolhouses, Samuel enrolled in 1831 in the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution in New York, founded by Baptists in 1819. Four years later, international missions captured his heart and he was ordained and appointed as a missionary to India by the American Baptist Board of Foreign Missions.
His bride, Roenna Clark, was born on 12 October 1809 in Stoddard, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, to Thomas and Rhoda Kenney Clark, strong Baptist families for many generations. Roenna had followed the ministry of William and Dorothy Carey, who had sailed for India in 1793, and of Adoniram and Anne Hasseltine Judson, who set sail in 1812 and were now in the same region, ministering in Rangoon. Soon after God called Roenna to missions, she found her soul-mate in Samuel, who was already bound for a new mission in the south of India.
On 22 September 1835, less than a month after her marriage, Roenna was fighting debilitating seasickness and heart-rending homesickness aboard the sailing ship, the “Louvre.” Later letters from shipboard relate how Roenna and her new husband were anticipating their church planting work with the Telugu people and enjoying the company of twenty-two other missionaries, including Lewis Shuck and E. L. Abbot and their wives, all onboard for the 150 days between America and India.

They arrived in Calcutta on 5 February 1836. The Abbots left to travel to Burma, and the Days departed for Vizagapatam (which they called Vizag) to learn the Telugu language. In July of 1836, Roenna bore the first of their seven children, all of whom were born in India. This son was Howard Malcolm Day. Once they could speak Telugu fluently, they moved to Chicacole (present-day Srikakulam) to work among the people there, and Roenna opened a school, their first ministry outreach to the community. Samuel often traveled, preaching and teachng in Madras (Chennai), translating Scripture into Telugu for the American Baptist Tract Society and the Madras Auxiliary Bible Society, and baptizing new converts.

In March of 1840, Samuel and Roenna felt compelled to move to Nellore, about 110 miles north of Madras, where tens of millions of Telugu people lived without any opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It was in Nellore that Roenna started a new school on her front porch, where she taught three pupils the first day. Soon, this school grew to become a boarding school, where more than 230 children lived. They opened several day schools as well, with 270 more pupils enrolled by the year 1850. As Roenna taught school, Samuel worked on Bible translation from English into Telugu with London Bible Society missionaries, Rev. Stephen Van Husen and his wife, who had joined them. Many Telugus became Christians and were baptized in Nellore and a church was organized. Telugu were called to ministry, trained in theology and peaching, became pastors and missionaries to their own people.

Five years later, both Samuel and Roenna fell gravely ill and sailed home to America to recuperate. Roenna’s health did not allow her to return to her beloved India, but Samuel returned with Rev. Lyman and Euphemia Davis Jewett in 1849 for another five-year term. In this chapter, Samuel and Lyman worked to revive the church and mission, and Euphemia continued the work of the schools that Roenna had so effectively organized.

Samuel Day left India on 7 May 1853 because of recurring illnesses that threatened his life. He then worked as missionary agent for the American Baptist Missionary Union for almost two more decades, traveling frequently to raise funds for the mission in India. He died of heart failure on 17 September 1871 at Homer, New York, where he and Roenna had retired. Roenna died a decade later, on 19 May 1881. Their third child, Mary Marilla Day, also became a missionary to India, her childhood home. She opened a boarding school for children in Madras, which she directed for thirty-two years, continuing the work of her parents.

The ministry that Samuel and Roenna began in 1840, named “The Lone Star” mission because of its isolation, was the only one in the entire region of the Telugus of southern India. Samuel died before he heard the news, but in 1878, Roenna rejoiced to hear of a great awakening that God brought to the region, where 2,200 people were born again in one town, and 3,536 in a neighboring town in a three-day period. The Ongole Baptist Church (seen above), which Samuel and Lyman had planted, had 12,004 members that year.

The Convention of Telugu Baptist Churches now numbers 1,214 churches with almost 845,000 members. It operates educational institutions, hospitals, health centers, and one theological seminary, with five degree colleges, eight junior colleges, fourteen high schools and fourteen primary schools. These churches have Sunday schools with an enrollment of some 72,000 children each week.

The school that Roenna began on her porch, with less than a handful of children, became a boarding school recognized for excellence, where thousands of children were educated each year. Most students were born again and many hundreds of pastors were trained there. We celebrate the steadfast devotion, compassion, and quiet acts of service of Roenna Clark Day, "mission mother" of the Lone Star.

-Karen O’Dell Bullock
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