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
Breaking up of the rains--Extraordinary Confirmation in three languages at one time--Burma Bible and Tract meeting--Day of Intercession for Missions--Opening of our Schoolroom in Kemmendine--Commencement of Church Service in Thonzai--Rangoon Church Diocesan Conference.
THE recital of our Mandalay catastrophe has carried me away from the chronological point of my personal narrative. It was now about the time when we were expecting the rains to cease, and the cool weather to begin. Alas for human blindness! The rains were not heavy, nor were they constant, but neither were they cooling. On the contrary, I never felt Rangoon more oppressive, and we all agreed that the end of this Burmese monsoon formed the most trying season of the year. Even the nights as well as days were steaming.
It would be wearisome to describe the frequent cases of interest which I found in preaching to the Burmese boys at St. John's College, but I must record the 1st of November, when, within the octave of All Saints' Day, I had the privilege of baptising eleven children, and of receiving their parents to Holy Communion. In all this I could not but see the proofs of an uprising and consolidating influence over our native Church. I must chronicle also another fact toward this desirable end. I had frequently heard Dr. Marks complain that many of his baptised pupils left the College for situations in different parts of Burma, where they were cut off from all Christian worship and every influence for good--scattered in the jungles like sheep without a shepherd, having no relationship with Christian brethren, and in danger of losing all the savour of their religious life. I, therefore, suggested to him the desirableness of forming some kind of union, or brotherhood, by means of which these exiled members of the body might find some association-ship with ourselves. He replied that he had often thought of the plan, but had never found time to work it out. These two living sparks of zeal, however, soon lighted up into a flame. Rules were agreed upon, and a society was formed under the title of "The Guild of St. John the Evangelist." Great interest was excited among the Christian boys of St. John's; and not a few of the ex-pupils who were scattered in jungle homes about Burma gladly asked for enrolment as members. Once every month we used to meet for prayer in the College Chapel, and then hold conference together in the dining-hall on subjects of practical interest, which bore on the difficulties and temptations of the Christian life under local circumstances. The young men themselves took part in these discussions. I am, therefore, not without hope that, through the infinite mercy of God, it may answer our designs, and eventually help toward unifying a native Burmese Church.
In reviewing these past scenes from my daily journal, it is marvellous how one event appears now to have succeeded another. No wonder the time passed so quickly and happily. It was November 17, another memorable Sunday in Rangoon, when we held a Missionary Confirmation, which was of a striking and most interesting character. Its peculiar feature consisted in the fact that natives of three separate peoples were all confirmed in one service, necessitating its conduct in three distinct languages. Thus the first hymn was sung in English for the Eurasian candidates, the second in Burmese for the Burmans, the third in Chinese for our Chinamen candidates. I delivered two brief addresses, which were slowly delivered sentence by sentence in English. After one sentence had been uttered thus for the ears of the Eurasians, it was translated into Burmese by Dr. Marks for the ears of the Burmans, and then a third time into Chinese, by the Chinese catechist, for the benefit of the Chinamen. In this way we went on, sentence by sentence. Of course it had all been carefully constructed beforehand, with a special view to the process, otherwise it would have been a failure. By these means, however, the whole went well, and all became thoroughly intelligible. During the laying on of hands, when the Eurasians came forward to be confirmed, I repeated the appointed words in English, which required no supplement. But when the Burmans came forward, two and two together, after again repeating it in English, Dr. Marks followed it in Burmese, while I still retained the imposition of hands. The same course was pursued by myself, and the Chinese catechist as interpreter. I then concluded with the appointed Benediction in Burmese myself. The number of candidates was sixty-nine, of whom twenty-seven were Chinamen, twenty-five were Burmese, and seventeen Eurasians. In this way we were enabled to realise in a greater measure than we had ever felt before, the visibility of the Church Catholic and the true organic unity of Christian brotherhood. May the Spirit of God be ever mighty within these converts to preserve them faithful to their vows!
Two days after this we held our anniversary meeting of the "Burma Bible and Tract Society," in which my friend Dr. Marks took part, feeling, in common with myself, that, as all the Bibles and tracts which we employ so usefully in our Missions are entirely due to the American printing presses, it was a noble and generous, no less than an honest and just return, to assist the Society in its great work. Hitherto these anniversary meetings had been very thinly attended; I, therefore took occasion when preaching the Sunday previously to exhort attendance at this proposed assembly. The appeal succeeded. A large accession of new visitors plainly showed that greater interest was being excited. Among these there were no fewer than five officers of the British army, one of whom observed to me, on leaving the room, "I had no idea there was so much good going on." How, indeed, can men know this, unless they take the trouble to learn it?
As an illustration of the influence which these tracts exert on the Burmese (for they are all great readers) let me adduce the following. "A few months ago one Buddhist became very angry with another because he had asked him if he ever read any of the Christian tracts. He felt insulted, and turning to him said, 'Do you think we are all fools here? We know something of English laws, and do you think we are ignorant of the new laws of God?' He then put down his cigar, and took a half-worn tract from his pocket, and began to read, saying, 'I tell you this God must conquer. I know it, and you will know it too, if you will only read and think.'" There are many in this position. They read and are half convinced; and the time will come when they will be converted.
November 30th (St. Andrew's Day) brought us to the "Day of Intercession for Missions," when, in the morning, at 8 A.M., I celebrated Holy Communion and preached at St. John's, and in the evening, at 6 P.M., in the Pro-Cathedral Church. This was a joyful day to me, for I had heard that the Bishop of Winchester had commended this, the daughter diocese, to his clergy for their Missionary offerings. Dr. Marks brought me the news, which he had read in the Guardian newspaper, and, in a few days, I had a letter from the good Bishop himself. All I could say was, "The Lord be praised." "Qui confidunt in Domino sicut Mons Sion."
A few days after we had also a time of rejoicing in the opening of our new school at Kemmendine. Dr. Marks brought with him Mr. Scott and his St. John's choir boys. My own daughters also, and many Burmese were present. Among these were several Christian ladies, who, after our preliminary service of prayer and song, joined with us right heartily, as their English sisters did, in handing tea, cake, and bread and butter to the children. It was a most interesting sight to behold these women, elegantly dressed after their Burmese fashion, and glittering with diamonds, of which they are all so fond, yet performing this act of loving-kindness with as much gentleness and tenderness as if they had been Christian ladies from their infancy. I could only inwardly exclaim, "O si sic omnes!" It was a good beginning for Mr. Bernard; and I feel sure that, if any of the managers of the Christian Knowledge Society, to whose liberality we were indebted, could have been present, they would have mingled their own songs of praise with ours. This school, which began with only three pupils the next morning, has now within it twenty-five. Let us trust that it will go on and prosper more and more.
Two other topics, and then I shall have closed my record for the year.
The first of these will afford an illustration of the manner in which English residents in the smaller stations of India are left without any religious ministrations. It must be understood that Government can only afford chaplains for the largest towns. These chaplains, under Episcopal guidance, are directed to pay periodical visits to other places of more than ordinary relative importance. But, alas, in consequence of the smallness of the staff, there are many stations too insignificant even to command that amount of attention.
Hence, many places exist in British Burma where our fellow countrymen might go from year's end to year's end without any rites of the Church, were they not undertaken, as far as possible, by some resident officer of the Government. Thonzai, a village on the Prome line of railway, was such a place. Receiving a letter, however, from Captain Forbes, Deputy-Commissioner of the Irrawaddy district, telling me that, if I would come and inaugurate services some Sunday for the few English residents in Thonzai, he would afterwards continue them himself, I gladly availed myself of the invitation. This place is interesting also, from the fact that one of its Burmese Government officials is a decided Christian, a pupil of St. John's College; and that, in his zeal and liberality, he has opened a Christian school entirely at his own expense. It was closed at the time of my visit, but it is doing a useful work. I merely mention this that my readers may see how the Gospel is slowly, yet surely, penetrating into Burma, not only by our direct Missionary labours, but by their reflex influences.
The remaining topic is of more general interest. It was in December that we held our first "Church Diocesan Conference" to which I have already alluded. Opened, and concluded with proper Church services, it was held in the Assembly Booms on two successive days, and proved in some measure, I trust, that the Church was alive to a proper sense of its duty. This I had urged in my own sermons on the preceding Sunday; endeavouring to show that the organisation of a new diocese among the English of British Burma required them to rise to a new sense of their responsibilities; and that, as good Churchmen, they were bound to support their Bishop in his endeavours to consolidate and expand the work of the Church. Our first subject was "Charity Organisation" locally considered. The next was on "The best method of providing a more adequate supply of clergy for British Burma," On the following day we discussed "Orphan Asylums for British Burma," and "Our Diocesan Mission Work." The meetings were fairly well attended, and comprised, among readers of papers and speakers, many of the most influential persons in the province. Upon the whole, I believe I am expressing the general sense of public feeling when I say that this great venture of appeal for the help and co-operation of the laity was a success. Rangoon had been so long practically left to itself in Church matters, that its corporate Church life required generating. The conference was a first step toward it, and I trust it will not have been taken in vain.