WILMORE, Ky. – Once Francis Asbury’s foot touched ground in America in 1771, the young country was never the same – nor was the area surrounding Lewiston, Maine.

In a new historical novel, “Midnight Rider for the Morningstar,” former Lewiston Sun city editor Mark Alan Leslie weaves the story of Asbury, a preacher who became more recognized than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or any other contemporary.

The country’s first circuit rider, Asbury established routes across the colonies and set the standard himself, riding 5,000 to 6,000 miles a year from Maine to Georgia and 60 times across the Allegheny Mountains, spreading the gospel deep into the wilderness. He became so well known that letters from Europe reached him when simply addressed: “Bishop Asbury, America.”

His travels to Maine led to Monmouth becoming the hotbed of Methodism in New England. In fact, the book is set in 1809 in Scarborough, with Asbury en route to Monmouth to oversee the second New England Conference hosted there. Staying with a family in Scarborough, Asbury recounts his life in America in a series of flashbacks to times when he was hunted by Indians, chased by highwaymen and even Revolutionary War soldiers, stalked by wolves, defied deadly yellow fever in Philadelphia and spoke out against slavery and liquor long before the anti-slavery and temperance movements.

“Francis Asbury has been a lifelong inspiration. ‘Midnight Rider’ tells his story in an exciting, exhilarating way that challenges the reader in an intense way,” said Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, former president of Asbury College and founder of the Francis Asbury Society.

“This book is about the zeal, the nonstop dedication of a man sold-out for Christ,” said Leslie, who was city editor of the Lewiston Sun from 1976-86. “There were times that Asbury’s body was so racked with pleurisy, rheumatism and other illness that he could neither stand to preach nor kneel to pray. Yet he refused to stay still, so they would strap him to his horse so that he could ride to his next destination to preach.”

In Asbury’s case, Leslie said, “truth is far greater – more dynamic, more exciting – than fiction, and just as dangerous. A bullet once meant for his head went through his hat and an arrow once grazed his head. He came that close to death, and more than once.”

Under Asbury’s leadership, Methodism grew from 600 to well over 200,000 by the time of his death in 1816,” Leslie added. “But the story of his life far eclipses the growth of any one church denomination. He exemplified Christ’s call to believers to ‘pick up your cross and follow me.'”

Asbury’s memory is enshrined by statues in Washington, D.C., Drew University in Madison, N.J., and at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky. His name is memorialized by Asbury College, Asbury Theological Seminaries in Orlando, Fla., and Wilmore, and what is now called DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and even the town of Asbury Park, N.J.

A Maine native, Leslie is a 1966 graduate of Brewer High School and 1971 alumnus of the University of Maine, with a degree in journalism. In 2000, he formed The Leslies – Media Consultants, a public-relations firm in Monmouth that handles clients across the country. He has won three national writing awards.

Leslie and his wife, Loy, have two sons, Richard of Auburn and Darek of Salem, Mass., and three granddaughters.

“Midnight Rider for the Morningstar,” published by Asbury Press in Wilmore, Ky., is available through bookstores nationwide. The ISBN is 978-0-915143-10-8.

People can read the first chapter of the novel and order a copy online at www.francisasburysociety.com/midnightrider.htm.

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