Project Canterbury

 The English Church Mission in Corea:
Its Faith and Practice

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1917.



"After the men, the women. What is the Mission doing or proposing to do about women workers? . . . . Probably each of the priests would gladly welcome the presence of a body of Sisters, or other women, resident and working in his district. The expense alone, however, of such a course would be prohibitive. Moreover, the larger the ' foreign' staff and the bigger the 'foreign' plant the more natural the conviction on the part of the Corean that the presence of the ' foreign' missionary is an essential and permanent factor in the life of the Church. And it must never be forgotten that the primary reason for the presence of 'foreign' workers in the Mission Field is not that they (after the first few years) should do the work themselves, but that they should fit and prepare natives of the country to be missionaries to their own people." So wrote Bishop Trollope in 1915, and it is this aspect of the work which now demands our attention.

It is very interesting to look back over the past twenty-five years and to trace, even cursorily, the growth of the sisters' work amongst the women in Corea. Even in that conservative country the position of women has greatly altered.

When the Sisters of S. Peter began their work in the tiny 8-ft. by 8-ft. rooms which formed the first Mission hospital, many difficulties had to be overcome. It says much for the confidence inspired by the work at the men's hospital that husbands allowed their wives to come at all to the foreigner for treatment, and at first it was difficult to get them even as out-patients. Very strange must have been the feelings of the Corean women as they submitted to the ministrations of the foreign women, whose methods. and customs they could not understand, nor sometimes approve of. Each side had to learn not only how to get over the language difficulty, but also the difficulty of ignorance of each others' customs and ways of looking at things generally. That such lasting work among the women of Corea has been established, points to much patience and trust on the part of both sides.

It is now some years since the Sisters gave up the hospitals in Seoul (Corean and Japanese hospitals having in the meantime been established in the city) in order to devote themselves to evangelistic work. The work which began in so small a way has developed far, far beyond anything that the most vivid imagination could then have pictured as likely or even possible.

It may now be classed in five divisions--

1. The Orphanage at Sou Won.

2. S. Mary's Hostel (or in its Chinese characters, Holy Mother House) for Christian girls attending the Government School.

3. The Yang-Tok-Won (i.e., The House for Cultivating Virtue) for training widows and young women.

4. The training of women catechists.

5. Itinerating for evangelistic and pastoral work.

1. The Diocesan Orphanage, or Ko-hai-Won = Hall of. Bereaved Children.--Though the tending of tiny, delicate babies, many of whom had been literally picked out of the gutters where they had been thrown to die, seemed rather like the proverbial "last straw" to the small and already overtaxed hospital staff, it was quite impossible to refuse to take them in. Later a small Corean house close by the hospital was opened for babies and little children, and by degrees the Orphanage became an integral part of the work, but a separate department. As the children, grew to an age for lessons a school was opened for them in the Orphanage. It was a most touching sight to see these now happy little ones sitting on the floor round their teacher, a devout old Corean. Having spent many years in teaching the Sisters he was now using his gifts for these little ones of the flock of Christ, the Master he himself had at length learnt to know and love.

Years went on and the Orphanage became more and more known for its excellent and diligent training of girls. After a sound but simple education up to the age of fifteen, they then received a year's training in all the household duties of a wife. Many demands came to the Sister-in-charge for her girls as wives for Christian men. Such a marriage often means that the girl goes far away, possibly to the house of a heathen mother-in-law, where she will have to bear witness for Christ amid the great difficulties of heathen surroundings. For even if the husband is a Christian, Corean custom puts the bride under the rule of his mother. The Orphanage is always looked upon as a home, even if girls can But rarely return, but return they do when they can, to visit it and display their babies.

With years the Orphanage became a home for others beside little children. This was the only house in the Mission where a Christian girl from a distant home could live when attending the Government School, or where a young Christian widow, homeless and despised on this account, could find a refuge. In 1913 it was considered advisable to move the Orphanage from the city to the healthier country surroundings of Sou-Won. A sorting out of these various elements became necessary, and the work in the city is now confined to two important departments--(1) the Hostel for girls attending the Government School and (2) the Training Home for widows and unmarried women.

2. Holy Mother House, or S. Mary's Hostel.---it should be necessary to provide a home where girls can live whilst attending classes at a public school is a very remarkable instance of the development in the customs of Corean women. When the Sisters first arrived in the country, not only was no woman allowed to be seen in public, but also no women except of the highest rank could read, nor were others supposed to be able to learn. It was said that the Sisters' first Corean teacher quite broke down and required some days' rest to recover from the strain of teaching women who could read and think!

But now education for women is becoming general, and under the Japanese this means something more than playing at learning. In Seoul the Government School is divided into three sections. The lower section takes children from seven years old and has a course of four years, unless any child when she enters knows enough Japanese to begin in the second room. At the end of this course the scholars receive a certificate; they will have had a very adequate education and then leave. The second section takes girls who know no Japanese and are too old to begin in the lower school. This section has a course of three years, during which time they have a simple education and are thoroughly trained in all kinds of needlework, embroidery, and flower-making, with a good deal of painting, drawing, and designing, as well as the use of the sewing machine. The idea of this section, which includes women up to thirty years of age, is to enable them to earn a living when they leave. The third section is for girls who know Japanese and who desire a higher education. This also is a three years' course. If, however, they wish to be teachers, they add yet another year in which they are taught to teach. During this fourth year they are taught to play the harmonium and to teach drilling.

Could such an event as the following (March, 1916) have been ever imagined a few years ago? "The first set of girls from' the Hostel have graduated this week and are leaving the Hostel. To-day was the breaking-up of the school, the day on which with great formality, in the presence of the Governor-General and many hundreds of people, the girls received their certificates. One of the Hostel girls is the head of the school, and she received the first batch of certificates. It must have been a trying ordeal. She had to walk up the huge hall and bow low before the Governor-General, then turn to the other side of the platform and bow to the masters and mistresses of the school, then up one step and bow low to the head master. It is a pretty custom that the whole class stands whilst the head-girl receives their certificates, and each time she bows to the head master they all bow too, because they too are receiving their certificates through her. Then she went up yet another step, and with eyes cast down and arms extended received about sixty of these certificates, beautifully written and illuminated. She then backed down one step, in exactly the same position, arms extended with the certificates laid on them and head slightly bent, bowed to the head master, backed across the platform and down the other step, and bowed low before the Governor-General, then again to the masters and mistresses. Then very slowly she walked down the hall to her place. All in absolute silence, not even the slightest sound of congratulation. This, however, impresses the Corean mind much more than our form of prize-giving would."

The girls find the school work and the competition most interesting. The teachers are very kind and show great interest in the girls, but they are great disciplinarians and give much work which must be done, possibly in order to correct the natural laziness of the Corean girl. This, however, creates a difficulty in the Hostel life. Our girls are amongst the few Christians in a school of 600 girls, and in the keenness of competition and the absorbing interest of a full school life and many "home lessons," there is a danger lest they should put aside their religious duties as of secondary importance, and by so doing, of course, injure their spiritual life. So that religion may have also a prominent aspect, the Hostel girls who graduate are required at home to pass a religious examination, and if they pass it they receive a certificate from the Bishop. It was not considered right that they should graduate in secular subjects only, especially those girls who are qualifying as future teachers in the Mission schools.

What do these girls do with their lives when they leave the Hostel? The greater number will, of course, marry and others will become teachers in the Mission schools. More recently one has desired to attend lectures at the hospital preparatory to beginning her training as a nurse. Time alone can show what other developments await the Corean girl. One thing is certain, the old life is vanishing never to appear again.

3. The Yang-Tok-Won = The Hall for Cultivating Virtue.--This division of the Sisters' work, though at present small, is one that may have far-reaching results which at present can only be guessed at. This house, with its high-sounding name, was opened in June, 1914, partly for Christian women of good character whom either widowhood or desertion by their husbands had left without protection and support, and partly for others who, though of marriageable age, had for one reason or another never entered into that holy estate. Here they are gathered in safe from the harm which surrounds the unprotected woman in Corea, while custom allows a widow to be carried off by anyone and hardly recognizes an unmarried woman as being respectable. In the Yang-Tok-Won they are taught how to work and to support themselves. They live under a simple rule, and their religious training occupies the first place. They receive no pay, but in return for their work they are fed, clothed, and lodged, and the six women (all that can at present be accommodated) form a very sunny, happy, little family. They are trained in laundry work, but their principal occupation is needlework, which covers a wide range--Church embroidery for copes, chasubles, surplices, albs, making and mending of clothes, knitting, etc. They chiefly work for their own Missions, but have also made vestments for two priests in China. This needlework is not only an occupation and training for them, but the payment for, the orders is very necessary for the continuance of the scheme, as the funds otherwise available cover only about half of the cost of feeding, clothing, and housing six women. So far, however, it is paying its way.

The whole scheme is, of course, at the present stage experimental, but as it is nearly three years old at the present time there is a happy augury for the future. Some of the residents have returned to the world on suitable matches being found for them; but there is a residue who seem to prefer the sheltered life of the Yang-Tok-Won, and we are not without hope that it may thus prove the germ of a novitiate for a religious community of Corean women. Meantime, it provides shelter, protection, and religious training for some who otherwise would be in a very sad position.

4. The Training of Women Catechists.--In any Mission the training of men and women as teachers of the Christian faith to their own people is recognized as a work of vast importance and of vast difficulty. In any country a teacher, if he is efficient, must get behind the mind of his pupil, but when, as in Corea, the pupil is Eastern and the tutor Western it takes a very long time before the East and the West can find a meeting point. Such a point having been found and the pupil having embraced Christianity, he becomes anxious to tell his "good news" to his family and friends. A further difficulty comes in, for he must be taught how to convey to others the knowledge he has gained for himself. Books of instruction for the Corean Christians are now so common that it is hardly conceivable to the new-comer to the Mission that there was once a time when not only all the religious books for the use of the Mission had to be written, but the very words had to be found in which to convey such truths as Holiness, Faith, Sin, etc.

From the early years of the Mission men catechists have been trained, but the training" of women for such work amongst their own sex meets with many difficulties. The younger women who would naturally be chosen for this work are not available, as they are fully occupied with the many household occupations which devolve on them. Custom, moreover, will not allow them to go freely about the country, nor indeed would they receive attention or respect did they attempt to teach, youth being thought nothing of in Corea. So the only possibility was to use older women, and having taught them as best can be to send them out. This has been done for many years, but at length it has been found possible to do what has always been desired, viz., put the training of women catechists on a definite and systematic basis.

Before beginning her work as a Mission teacher a woman comes to Seoul for a three months' course of training in what she has to teach and how to teach it. In addition all these women teachers assemble once a year in Seoul for a month of devotion and instruction, and the Sister who has charge of their training sees from year to year a development of powers of mind and soul, whilst the women themselves are keen over learning.

The daily programme of the last of such gatherings, when nineteen women came together, is of much interest, showing as it does the high standard to which they are expected to rise. They go through the course with keen enjoyment, and only regret is heard when the month comes to an end.

6.30 a.m.--Mattins.

7 a.m.--Holy Eucharist.

9 a.m.--Meditation.

10.30 a.m.--Intercessions followed by First Study. One fortnight this is on the Old Testament, the second fortnight it is on the New Testament.

2.30p.m.--Second Study. The first fortnight it is on the Church's yearly cycle, the second fortnight on the Holy Eucharist. [NOTE.--These lessons were given first by the Sister, and each day one of the women had to give again the previous day's lesson.]

6 p.m.--Evensong.

7.30 p.m.--Third Study. The Acts of the Apostles.

9 p.m.--Compline.

Notes of the lessons had to be copied between the service and instruction.

The women who come to learn in this way are, as a rule, too old to make really good teachers, but one great object of this month's teaching is to deepen their own spiritual life and to make them better women. If these nineteen women do so learn ways of prayer and get instruction in the Bible and in the teachings of the Holy Church, and go back to their work with fresh zeal to meet the many difficulties of their work, they must have an influence for good on those they come in touch with. After all the old proverb, "Actions speak louder than words," will always hold good. They are not daunted by difficulties which might deter any who were not really keen--such as the travelling difficulties. Last time they came together two of them came through water up to their waists from the bad floods they encountered, whilst eleven were detained three days on the road as the railway was washed away.

Incidentally, it may be of interest to note what this month's instruction demands of the Sister who trains the women. She prepares and gives about eighty lessons, and though each lesson is planned long beforehand, each one requires immediate preparation before the holding of the class.

The women who come in this way are, of course, the guests of the Mission. They are lodged and fed free of charge all the time that they are in Seoul.

5. Itinerating.--From time to time during the year the Sisters visit in the different districts, but they are not able to go as frequently as they would wish. It will readily be seen, therefore, how important is the work of the women catechists who carry on the teaching in between the visits of the Sister. The usual plan is that the visiting Sister makes a stay of as many days as she can give--perhaps as much as three or four weeks at a central station. Here she will hold classes of many kinds and give much individual instruction; there are enquirers to answer and help, catechumens to be prepared for baptism, confirmation candidates to be instructed, communicants to be taught and encouraged. Help, too, must be given to the Bible-women in any difficulty of their work; living amongst the people, often in one of their houses, they do what may be called parish work. Sometimes, alas! there are grave matters to be enquired into--quarrels amongst the Christians which cause a scandal, or there are lapses from faith or virtue when the offenders must be remonstrated with and be brought back to repentance and right ways. If we are inclined to wonder at the falling away of those who have perhaps not been very long baptized, let us taken into 'Consideration the appalling pressure of the heathen atmosphere in which the converts live. To quite understand what that means it is necessary to have lived in a heathen country; it cannot be estimated really by those who have only lived in a Christian country. The presence of evil is indeed active and may be truly felt. .

From this centre, villages and hamlets where there are any Christians are visited. Often they are many miles distant, and if beyond walking distance then it is necessary to ride. Chair coolies are more difficult to get than a few years ago, and so chairs are much more expensive. Consequently, the alternative of riding has to be adopted. The luggage is put on the pony and you sit on top--a practice which has this great advantage, that you know where your luggage is and have no anxiety as to when it may arrive. As the Sister gets near the village to which she is going the Christian women and children come out in clean garments to meet her, and to conduct her to the house prepared for her and the woman catechist who accompanies her. Food is prepared and eaten, and then work begins; conversations, instructions, consultations go on, often up to a late hour at night, as often the women cannot come until late in the evening. In each such villages there are women to be taught, to be prepared for Baptism, Confirmation, or Holy Communion; or there may be those who want to learn, to be encouraged and taught. Once again the difficulties of "parish work" are encountered, perhaps intensified by the peculiar circumstances of the district.

Occasionally the Sister's visit is timed so that she may help during the time of a "parochial Mission," such as is held from time to time in one and another centre by the Corean clergy, under one of the English priests. The time table of one such Mission was as follows :--

7.15 a.m.--The Holy Eucharist offered by the English priest, followed by a Meditation.

9 a.m.--Children's service with instruction, by one of the Corean deacons.

2 p.m.--Special service for women, with preaching by the two deacons.

3.30 p.m.--Evensong.

7.30 p.m.--A regular "Mission service" for Christians, not for heathen; so the subjects were "Repentance," "Sin," "Confession," "Satisfaction," "Holy Communion," and "The Passion."

Two catechists spoke very eloquently each night. They had been told their subjects some time before and had worked them up well. On the last night there was thanksgiving. In the mornings the three Biblewomen had met the Sister and consulted with her about women who needed looking up. They then went off to their work in different directions, whilst the Sister looked after the women on the spot.

The length of each visit depends on circumstances, but the Sisters try to give as much time as possible to this very Important work--a work which of necessity must grow and become more and more important as the Christians scatter from one part to another.

It must be borne in mind that for the future all work among Corean women and girls will fall to the care of the Sisters. Until this year (1917) there have been a few other English women workers who have lived in some of the outlying centres and shepherded those women and girls with whom they were able to keep in contact. As the opportunities of a resident worker must be in some ways different to those of an occasional visitor, this account would seem incomplete if it omitted any description of the work till recently carried on by resident workers principally in the districts of Kanghwa and Paik-chun.

In each of these places there is a house near the central church where two or three Englishwomen have hitherto lived in close touch with their Corean neighbours, superintending the whole of the women's work in the district. The "district" includes all the outlying village churches and chapels attached to the central church, with a radius of from fifteen to twenty miles. The native women catechists worked under the superintendence of the English workers and accompanied them on their visits to the distant villages.

To understand the work it is necessary to know something of the life of the women in these country places. Following the patriarchal custom, as has been already explained, a newly married couple does not set up a new home, but the bride is taken to become an inmate of her father-in-law's house. There she is completely subject to her mother-in-law, and is expected to do the greater part of the work of the house.

The result of this custom is that it is difficult to teach young women unless their mothers-in-law are really anxious for them to become Christians. The English worker calls at the house, which she has perhaps walked eight miles to reach; her visit is welcomed by the whole household. She is taken into the women's living-room and seated in the place of honour--on the floor just over the fire. The old mother sits beside her, children crowd round, and neighbours appear in the doorway. But where is the young woman who perhaps she has come specially to see? She is in the kitchen preparing food for the visitors, and though the Englishwoman might, with tact, assure her hostess without offending her that she did not wish for food, the Biblewoman with her would need some after her walk. It would be unheard of for the elder woman to do the work and set the younger free, so there is nothing to be done but to wait patiently till the meal is prepared and the daughter-in-law is free. Classes for young women are best attended when held in the evening, when the work for the day is done.

The younger women are, as a rule, easier to teach than the older generation. Most of them can now read and write, accomplishments which were thought quite unnecessary for women a few years ago. Quite in the country villages, at a distance from any town, the young women and even girls have still had no opportunity of learning.

But though the Corean countrywoman is so unlearned in the usual acceptation of the word, she is well instructed in the duties of the house. She cooks the food, makes and washes the clothes and bedding, works in the fields, spins and weaves the cotton and silk, and is generally a good embroideress. Each house possesses land, a man's wealth being reckoned by the size and number of his fields. In them are grown the indispensable rice, various kinds of grain, beans, cabbage, turnips, pepper, tobacco, cotton, and hemp. The preparation and use of all these are work for the women. They often also keep silkworms. One of our Christian girls in a village near Paik-chun showed her English teacher a pale blue silk jacket she was wearing, and told her that it was made from silk from their own silkworms which she had spun, woven, dyed, and made up herself.

The autumn is the busiest time of the year for women. Then the harvest of all kinds is gathered in and stored,, the year's supply of kimichi, or pickled cabbage, made, and the winter clothes prepared. It is, therefore, difficult to arrange for the winter classes to begin before November and to get in the requisite time for baptismal study before Christmas. A class, for most of the women in the villages, does not mean an hour given up out of the day's work, but a whole day, or perhaps two. It entails a long walk to the town with the baby tied on the mother's back. Many ol our women have walked fourteen or fifteen miles to the baptismal classes. The carrying chair, a covered kind ot box shut in with a door in front, is not often used except by a bride or in case of sickness. There remains only walking and, with many rests by the way, this necessarily takes a long time.

The usual method is to leave home as soon as possible after the morning meal and to arrive at the woman catechist's house about mid-day. If the class is in the afternoon there is perhaps time for the mid-day meal first, or it may be that on arrival the class is already beginning. If the class is in the evening the afternoon will be spent in resting and learning from the catechist as much as possible in preparation for the coming instruction. If the distance from home is great the night is spent at the house of the catechist, but if it is not too far the catechumens-trudge off again when the class is over.

Every Corean house has a room for men and one for women where visitors can be entertained. Though these rooms are small their accommodation seems to be unlimited. There is little furniture, only a chest or two against the wall, and the sleepers lie on the floor. The bedding consists of a wadded quilt, and a block of wood serves for a pillow. As the floor is heated, a covering is all that is necessary. In their own homes they have bolsters, the ends of which are often elaborately and beautifully embroidered. Besides the catechist's house, there is a women's room in the English workers' compound where the women from a distance can sleep. These rooms are especially in request at the Church festivals, when all come in to make their Communion.

Girls' schools have been most important as a means of giving the children daily religious instruction and bringing them under the personal influence of the English teachers. Heathen children attend our schools as well as the Christians, and in more than one case have been the means of interesting their parents in Christianity. In some of the villages the Christians have opened little schools for their children. In those villages where there is no school the parents will sometimes send their children to the central school, boarding them with a Christian family or in the schoolhouse.

Now that the Japanese are taking up the question of education in Corea so vigorously, they are making it more difficult for us to keep our schools. Government schools for girls as well as those for boys are now started in every town, and, as the Mission schools must conform to the Japanese standard, it has been found better in some cases to close our schools and send our children to the Government school. Where this has been done the children coming in from the villages are still boarded in a Christian family and kept under Christian influence.

In the Mission schools the teaching is all in the Corean language and the children learn to read and write the native script. They also learn the Chinese characters, which are used both by Coreans and Japanese for official and scholarly writing. For example, the value on coins and stamps is in the Chinese character, whilst the names of railway stations are written in the Chinese largely and conspicuously in the centre and, in smaller writing, the Corean rendering on one side and the Japanese on the other. It is necessary to know a certain amount of Chinese really to understand the meaning of our religious terms. Chinese bears much the same relation to Corean that Latin does to English.

In the Government schools the teaching is in Japanese, which the children are thus obliged to learn. At present Japanese is of little use to women in the country. It is true that railway and post office officials are now Japanese, but, as there are no railways in the districts we are considering, and the women seldom travel far from home and seldom if ever go into a post office, they do not come in contact with them. Coreans still send letters almost entirely by hand. Anyone going from one place to another is entrusted with letters by all who wish to send in that direction. A schoolgirl writing an essay on the post office said, "The use of the post office is that we can send letters secretly without anyone knowing."

The Japanese are establishing doctors all over the country, but Coreans have not yet much confidence in them and do not care to go to them if they can avoid it. No doubt in the future there will be more intercourse between the two races, but at present Corean women come little in contact with any Japanese.

The Coreans are taught to care for and beautify their churches. To this end the country girls and young women have learnt to embroider and make up vestments and the necessary furnishings of the church. They are quite eager to do this work, and will give up hours of the day to it. When there is any needlework to do for the church, all that need be done is to ask for volunteers and plenty will be forthcoming.

On one occasion, when a green frontal and vestments were being made by the elder schoolgirls, two little girls of eleven years asked if there was nothing they could do. They said they did not like being left out when the other girls were working for the church. They were given two alms-bags which they not only embroidered, but made up entirely themselves.

They have also been taught to wash the church linen in English fashion. The Corean method of laying the linen on a stone in a stream and beating it with a stick would prove very disastrous. The native washing is a great feature of the country. Coreans, both men and women, wear clothes of white cotton; these are taken to pieces and remade every time they are washed. Coloured clothes are redyed after washing. The further one penetrates into the country the fewer coloured clothes are seen. Children are always dressed in bright colours, but it is only quite young married women who wear colours. An older woman may wear dark blue or black, but seldom any other colour, and is generally to be seen in white.

A young woman from Kanghwa went as catechist to Paik-chun. She arrived in coloured clothes and her jacket was of silk. This would have been quite correct in Seoul, and in Kanghwa only considered rather smart. But at Paik-chun it was thought that she could hardly be respectable to dress in such a way, and, lest she should bring discredit on the Church in the eyes of the heathen, she had to be told that she must dress in white cotton like the other women of the place.

It is always a little difficult to send a woman from one place to work in another. She does not quite understand the manners and ways of thought. It is, therefore, usually found best to choose the most suitable woman in the place, send her to Seoul to be trained, and then let her return home to work among her own people.

In this choice of women catechists many difficulties arise. Of course, the first qualification must be that she is an earnest Christian and zealous to teach. Besides this she must be able to read and write so that she can read the courses of instruction for the various classes, and she must supervise and keep the rolls of communicants, catechumens, etc.

A catechist must be a woman who has the respect of all her neighbours of whatever class. The distinction of classes is still much observed among the country people. Though the yang-ban may be amongst the poorest, living in a small house of only one room and a kitchen, tilling his own land while his wife and daughter-in-law do all the work of the house, they will keep their position and are treated with the respect due to their rank. In the same way a low class woman, whatever her position, could never have any weight or authority amongst her neighbours.

Christians mix freely with one another and dispense with much of the old exclusiveness, but the class distinctions still remain.

It is impossible to define the whole of the work amongst women. Enough has been said to show that greatly varied as it is and very interesting, in spite of many disappointments, it is full of encouragement.

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