To keep a soldier always in the firing line, or in the front trenches, would, under the terrible strain of modern warfare, he a crime and a folly inconceivable. The rest camp and the periods of furlough at home enabled the men of our armies to fight and endure and conquer in the Great War. And does not the same principle, although on a lesser scale, apply to the missionary in foreign lands? As one has well said, "The missionary is like the feet of the Church-- he is down in the dust and the clay; but when he moves forward the whole Church moves forward." Yes, he is down in the dust and the clay, fighting against a dry and choking absence of spiritual life and spiritual sympathy; fighting against the moral filth of the heathen mind, which seems to surround him like boggy clay. Is it fair to leave such men year after year, year after year at their lonely posts, with no period of rest and of spiritual refreshment? Does it make for good work? Or does it mean that these men struggle on desperately and bitterly, the iron of neglect having entered into their souls, with weapons blunted and limbs tired, knowing that their work is inferior, eating out their hearts, dissatisfied with themselves and others?
This need of spiritual refreshment, of change, and of relief is not peculiar to the missionary clergy. Perhaps it is felt most deeply by those in charge of small country parishes at home, or by those in charge of some European settlements in the colonies. The spiritual deadness of it all! The banalities of a small life amongst semi-educated people! How hard it is to pray with all the soul, to preach with a stirring of the heart, to work consistently and hard--and yet to see no result! To keep this up month after month, year after year, and to find no answering power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those amongst whom he ministers, and to find his neighbours as disheartened as himself! These men need relief and change even more than the missionary. A man who has been in charge of a small agricultural parish of this sort, and who in twenty years--many are thirty or more at the same post--has not grown slack or tired, nay, who has even progressed in his own spiritual life, stands out as a daily miracle of the power of the risen Christ.
The missionary can wander from station to station. If things are bad at one station, and failure seems to crown his work, he will find at the next much encouragement and hope. He covers much ground, and something is always good. He has the prayers of those at home and the romance of the work behind him. He feels that he is at the beginning of things, and carries with him a great vision of the future. But even he needs rest and change!
"The Church is a hard mistress," said the manager of a cattle ranch to the writer, as in answer to some questions he learned the conditions under which her ministers worked. "Few commercial houses are greater sweaters; it must be hard to keep one's soul alive under such conditions." "Yes," said the writer, "a hard mistress, it is true, and that is why we love her so."
The provoking thing is that these conditions could so easily be altered and life made more joyous and free. What a new lease of life would be given to a man could he be offered a change of work after ten years' service in one place, and freedom from the cares of finance! Imagine a missionary adequately supported upon some system--perhaps that of the linked parish--but adequately supported, and given proper transport if his district be a large one! The work to be done is so pressing, and the money so little that the missionary himself of necessity becomes a sweater, starving his teachers and catechists and over-working his horses, and carrying on his schools with tattered books and under miserable conditions! And then the question of relief. Can there be no system of foreign service for the Church at home? The gain in experience would be as great to the clergy of the Home Church as to those in the foreign field. The alternative before the missionary should not be--"Either I remain my lifetime here and struggle with the work as best I can, or I leave it and no one will take it on. Should I take a holiday, no one can be found to take my place, even for a few odd months"--and that is often, or, indeed, most often, the position now--"and to leave this district unsupervised is to court disaster and to ruin the work of years."
If home ties call him back to the motherland he has to put them behind him sternly and almost cruelly. If he goes no one will come out to take his place! At any rate, there is no provision made, no certainty, and he or others must find a volunteer (no easy thing to do once out of England), though in his heart he feels that others should take their place in the front trench work, and do their share in carrying out the Master's standing orders to make disciples of all nations.
These thoughts came to the writer's mind when he returned from a six months' furlough in England, and felt the immense uplift for future work as well as the memory of the happiness and rest that such a time brings.