Personal Recollections of British Burma and Its Church Mission Work in 1878-79.
by the Right Rev. J. H. Titcomb, D.D.
First Bishop of Rangoon
Sustaining the continuity of events--Hope for Maulmain--Visits and arrangements for a chaplain--The event concluded--My Bengali friends again--Fresh interviews--Tamil Church Council meeting--Efforts to raise up a spirit of self-reliance and independence among them--Amusing anecdote in relation to the baptism of a Karen infant.
lest I may be charged with dulness by allowing these pages to assume the appearance of a mere diary, I shall now cease for a while the narrative of consecutive events, and gather up new threads of incidents which have been already noted, in order that their interest may not be broken.
For this purpose I must carry my readers back to the difficulties of our ecclesiastical position in Maulmain. It will be remembered how anxious I was to obtain a resident chaplain for that place. At last a reasonable hope dawned upon me that if I could only prove sharp enough to seize a passing opportunity before it slipped, this great object might be achieved. The circumstances were these: having accidentally heard that the Additional Clergy Society of Calcutta, had, through some misunderstanding with the English inhabitants of Akyab, resolved upon removing the Rev. S. Myers from Burma and transferring him to Bengal, I immediately seized the golden opportunity of endeavouring to secure him for my own work. I therefore wrote off promptly to the Secretary of the A.C.S. entreating him to suspend all action in the matter until I had visited Maulmain, and discovered whether that station would agree to guarantee the necessary stipend for his ministry. A reply was returned from the secretary, kindly complying with this request. Here was truly a rift in the clouds, a streak of morning light!
Of course I hastened as soon as possible to pay another visit to Maulmain, setting myself to call upon all its church inhabitants--household by household--for the purpose of explaining my object and of preparing them for another public meeting. Retaining the most vivid recollections of the last meeting, I went, even at this juncture, with some amount of apprehension. The old spirit, however, did not reappear; I had gained the people's confidence. Consequently when the circumstances were fully explained, when Government assistance was promised, and when it was seen that no more favourable opportunity would ever occur of obtaining a chaplain, it was unanimously resolved to guarantee the necessary monthly sum for securing Mr. Myers's services. Truly did I bless my heavenly Father that He had thus answered my prayers in a manner so unexpectedly and successfully. I did not forget, indeed, that Maulmain1 s gain was Akyab's loss; yet as that loss was inevitable, I felt that a good piece of generalship had been achieved, and that Akyab with the whole wants of Arakan must be dealt with afterwards.
My visits to Maulmain, however, were not yet over. On the 6th of November I went there once more, for the purpose of making final arrangements. On this occasion a committee was formed fairly representative of all classes, one which engaged to see that the monthly guarantee should be regularly raised, besides undertaking that a pony and gharrie should be provided for the new chaplain. Nor was even that the close of the matter. The auspicious day at length arrived when Mr. Myers came from Akyab. With this gentleman, after he had stayed for a short time at my own house, I went finally to his place of destination. Need I add that we were cordially welcomed, and that I returned to Rangoon with a heart full of gratitude for having been thus made the instrument of putting an end to the spiritual destitution of Maulmain?
Let me now gather up another thread of my past story reverting to my Bengali inquirer, who still continued to visit me.' He was certainly no hypocrite. He made no attempt to curry favour with me by pretending to be a Christian when he was not. At the same time he was so evidently becoming an admirer of the moral teaching of the New Testament, that I could not but hope for his ultimate conversion. I remember one day paying him a visit at his own house, in which those Bengalis resided whose inquiries had terminated so unsatisfactorily. I discoursed with them (for they all spoke English) on the general principles of integrity and justice, by which the British Government was endeavouring to rule India. These they fully admitted. I then contrasted it with the state in which India had been placed under Mohammedan rule, and showed them how Christianity alone made the difference. About a week afterwards they paid me a return visit, when I conversed with them again on the subject of religion, trying to explain to them that Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, as well as all other forms of heathenism, were but local religions, or at the most only oriental, instead of being adapted for, and addressed to, the wants and sympathies of the entire world; whereas the Gospel of Christ was a message of peace and love to all mankind, and was suited to the aspirations of every human heart. One of them then asked if it were not possible to live as a Christian in secret, for, said he, "the open confession of Christianity subjects us to social banns which cut us off from all we love on earth." My answer may be imagined. I could not but tell them that the love of Christ was stronger than any other love, and that, if they really did secretly believe, the time would come when they would have courage enough to give up everything in this world for His sake. Alas, it was "a hard saying," nor were they able to bear it. Nevertheless they were extremely polite, and went away quite contented with their interview. As for my own more especial inquirer, he remained with me in continued private conferences, and although he made no distinct profession of faith, yet he was never satisfied unless I prayed with him at each interview, in order that he might learn what was really truth. At last he had to leave Rangoon for Calcutta on the marriage of a sister, when he informed me that he was now in secret a Christian, only could not be baptised during the life of his mother, since he was sure it would break her heart. Are there not many such cases among the Hindus of men who are "not far from the kingdom of God"?
Resuming another of my broken threads, I come back to the affairs of the Rangoon Tamil Church. These were always a subject of great anxiety to me, the more so at present, because, by the removal of Mr. Colbeck to Mandalay, they were left very much under my own immediate care. I had become strongly impressed with the necessity of endeavouring to make this Church more self-reliant and self-supporting. At this time, although they had now an ordained minister of their own race, they were doing little or nothing toward the payment of his stipend. I therefore invited their Church Council to my house for a conference upon the subject, asking Dr. Marks and Abishekanathan, to be also present. At this meeting we exhorted them as to the Christian duty of every Church, however poor, of making efforts in the direction of its own sustenance, illustrating it by arguments from Scripture, and ending with the proposal that they should call a meeting of their members and agree to pledge themselves to the raising of half their pastor's stipend. I also preached the following Sunday to them on the same subject. The result was eminently satisfactory, and will, I trust, be the means of raising a higher tone among these Tamils, and of strengthening their Christian faith. How greatly they needed this treatment was afterwards seen by the springing up of a grievous quarrel among them--a quarrel which was not only very difficult of settlement, but had scarcely even subsided before I left Rangoon. Yet was it not so with the Apostolic Churches? Who can expect the regeneration of a heathen community to be consolidated and perfected without these occasional outbreaks of the old Adam? Is it reasonable to judge them harshly, when even we ourselves in Christian England, after an inheritance of the Gospel for centuries, are guilty of so many dissensions and schisms?
I conclude this chapter with an amusing anecdote of something which happened in the Karen Mission shortly after my late visit to Toungoo. The Rev. T. W. Windley informed me by letter that, when going up to one of the hill villages, a Karen mother brought him a little girl to be baptised. On saying to her "Name this child," she replied, "The Bishop" (or Bisher, as the Karens pronounce the word). Mr. Windley remonstrated with her, remarking that it was not a name fit for a girl, and informing her that she must find another name. Following the custom of her people, however, who generally name their children in connection with some event contemporaneous with their birth, this woman persisted in saying that, as the Bishop had so lately been among them, and they had all been so pleased with his visit, she had a right to call her daughter by his name. In short, she stoutly refused to alter it. What was to be done? Mr. Windley hesitated for a few moments, and then suddenly remembering that the word "Nan" was a female appellative among the Karens, hit upon the brilliant idea that the child should be named "Nan Bisher;" so she will, I suppose, be ever known as "Female Bishop." Such is the affectionate simplicity and vigorous self-will of these mountain tribes!