When John F. Kennedy and the men of PT 109 were rescued in the Solomon Islands, one of the crewmembers, Motor Machinist Mate William Johnston, went topside and gratefully sat beside his island rescuers.
He smiled. They smiled. He tried to talk, but what do you say? The islanders had been educated in a Christian mission. Johnston had gone to Bible school. Then they all grinned and began to sing: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” and they sang it all the way back to the American Navy base.
Ana B. Warner’s children’s song is engraved on our hearts, but few people know her story. Ana’s father nearly lost everything in the “Panic of 1837.” They were forced to move from their beautiful townhouse in New York and the family retired to a little Revolutionary War house on Constitution Island. It was just across the river from the Military Academy at West Point where her uncle had been the chaplain.
Ana’s older sister, Susan, continued to hold Bible classes for the cadets. Ana would pick wild flowers and give them to the soldiers to decorate their rooms. When the cadets graduated, the sisters kept up a lively correspondence with them. As the soldiers advanced in rank, they still remembered the two sisters who would row across the river and bring them back to their little home to study the Bible on Sundays. Today, the sisters are still honored at West Point. They are the only two civilians buried in the military cemetery there and their little home is maintained as a museum just the way it was in the mid-1800s.
The words to the song come from one of the many stories the girls wrote to help support their struggling family. In their book, Say and Seal, a beloved schoolteacher sang, “Jesus Loves Me” to a little boy who was very ill. Later, some of the stanzas were re-written by David Rutherford McGuire, and the chorus was written by the man who wrote the music, William Bradbury who wrote the tunes for ‘Tis Midnight and on Olive’s Brow, Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us, He Leadeth Me, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, and many more.
Here are Ana’s original words:
Jesus loves me! this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong; they are weak but He is strong.
Jesus loves me! loves me still, tho I’m very weak and ill, that I might from sin be free, bled and died upon the tree.
Jesus loves me! He who died heaven’s gate to open wide; He will wash away my sin, let His little child come in.
Jesus loves me! He will stay close beside me all the way. Thou hast bled and died for me; I will henceforth live for Thee.
Chorus: Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.