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India and the Church
Being Impressions of Some Members of the Mission of Help

Edited by E. Priestley Swain

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1923.
New York and Toronto: Macmillan, 1923.

Essay VII. The Social Application of Christianity, by Jessie E. Higson, Warden of the Josephine Butler Memorial House, Liverpool.

The message of the Mission of Help to India must necessarily have had many different aspects, carried as it was by men and women of very different experience and outlook. There had been other Missions of Help of the same character, but never before had women been invited to share in such an adventure. That in itself led to special developments, and gave to the history of the Mission certain characteristics, though the small band of six women was in no way adequate for the great opportunities which met them at every turn.

In writing of this side of the Mission I feel it can best be described by Julian of Norwich: "Wouldst thou learn thy Lord's meaning in this thing? Learn it well. Love was His meaning." Whatever may have been our ideas regarding our message before we arrived in India, once there they were gathered up into a great longing to convey the knowledge of the Love of God in the face of Jesus Christ to those whom we met, and to call out in them a responding love which would show itself in service where the needs and opportunities are so great. Few of us can have any doubt [135/136] as to the importance of the part women are being called to play in the progress of the world, and nowhere is this more marked than in India. Whether amongst English or Indian women we were constantly reminded of Ruskin's words: "Wherever a good woman goes, there is home." And no tribute of admiration or gratitude is too great for the many homes we were privileged to share where all that is best in home life is kept by those brave women who make "a little bit of England" just where they are for the men to whom it means everything.

This is no easy task, and it was here we had first to ask ourselves: "What message do we bring?" Beneath all the gay courage, the social life of clubs, dances, games, sport, there are depths of unsatisfied desire--unexpressed longings, anxieties, hunger of mind and spirit, which met us in most unexpected places. If life is more full of colour and freedom in the East, it also holds sudden tragedies, unexpected reactions, as well as the long days of separation from children, and between husband and wife. Nowhere could it be more vital that women should hold high the standard of strong, pure love--in the home, and in individual relationships.

The Englishwoman has held a revered place in the mind of India as a type of all that is noble and good. As India's daughters develop and come to the larger life of education and national service, it is all-important that this ideal should be maintained in so far as it is the Christian ideal of womanhood. It is greatly to be regretted that cinema films should ever depict to Indian audiences stories which lower the English standard of womanhood and home life generally. Who [136/137] can estimate what such an ideal means to our men in the Army and Civil Service in keeping alive in them all that is best, in maintaining a social life which shall be truly recreative. What application had our message here? Could it meet the demands of circumstances so entirely different from the old home life? Had it anything to say to the demands of this vital existence, to the ordinary men and women of the clubs, of the cantonment, and the loneliness of the isolated planter and his wife? To many it was a real surprise to find that we included them in our appeal, and that unless we believed in the application of the teaching of Jesus Christ to our social relationships, we had no message for the world outside. All human love, friendship, the interdependence of men and women, must form a part of that which is energised by the revelation of the Love of God, and transformed by His Spirit. Many are surely withheld from associating themselves with the fellowship of the Kingdom of God, because they have never realised that the "good news" has any application to the ordinary everyday relationships which form the basis of life. The longing and passion, the heartache and separation, the problems of parenthood, the joys as well as the difficulties of such relationships, have for so many been considered as things apart. Into all these the Mission found an entrance, not easily at first, but as confidence was established with an increasing welcome, which humbled those who were thus trusted with the sharing of many lives. Nothing less than the Infinite Love of God could satisfy the hunger of these lives; nothing less than the Human Heart of Jesus could understand their needs; nothing less than the invincible power of the Spirit could give [137/138] the dynamic sufficient to guide them aright. "I am come that they may have life," was a new evangel to many when they found that life bringing a new sense of values into everyday things.

There are those who question whether there is any hunger of the spirit amongst the men and women who form the ordinary social life of to-day. Those of us who believe the divine spark in every soul responds to the attractive power of goodness had ample proof in the experience of the Mission that this hunger does exist, though often unexpressed.

Beneath the veriest ash there hides a spark
Which, quickened by love's breath, may yet pervade the whole
O' the grey, and, free again, be fire, of worth the same
Howe'er produced, for great or little flame is flame.

As that flame is fanned into fire by the breath of the Spirit, whatever the problem of home or individual life may be, it finds its answer.

It was inevitable that the application of our message could not stop there. The aspirations of self-sacrificing service are writ large over the history of English men and women in India, and the most casual visitor cannot but be impressed by that faithful and efficient service in military and civil life, and in the great missionary enterprises. It is given so simply, with so little self-advertisement, often receiving so little recognition, yet full of great responsibilities. And again we were forced to ask ourselves, in face of this faithful service for the Empire, with all its complex difficulties of the present time: "What message have we brought regarding the still wider question of service for the Kingdom of God?" If "love be His meaning" for the individual, how should it apply to the great [138/139] social problems of India, and what contribution can be made by those whose hearts have been fanned into new energy? It was not for us with our very limited and superficial knowledge of life in India to suggest detailed ways of service. We could but speak of general conditions and make an appeal for service, especially to the women, believing that to them has been entrusted a great opportunity of leadership in India. Very true it is that of some it may be said, "You shut yourselves within your park walls and garden gates, and you are content to know that beyond them there is a whole world in wilderness--a world of secrets which you dare not penetrate--and of suffering which you dare not conceive." There are special difficulties of climate, health, constant furloughs, etc., which make irresponsibility an easy thing; but love will never seek to evade responsibility because of difficulties however great. To touch the Christ with one hand is to be impelled to stretch out the other in service for others, for love must find expression.

In every club where we spoke of this joy of service, at every meeting where the larger life of fellowship was discussed, the practical question always followed: "What can we do?" It was not difficult to indicate where some outstanding needs lay, though the details of how the work should be carried out had to be left to some of those who knew more of India's difficulties.

The cry of the children--whether Indian or Anglo-Indian--is great, and those who have begun Infant Welfare Work in India are only at the beginning of a gigantic field of service, where many recruits are needed. Problems of education call aloud for sympathetic understanding. The onward march of Western thought [139/140] cannot be stopped, but the need for teachers and schools is great, as has been pointed out elsewhere in this book. Some system of after-care in the schools, especially amongst the Anglo-Indians, might give many a boy or girl the necessary chance in life, without which they must inevitably sink into the general squalor which forms their environment. How to get a living at all seems an almost impossible proposition for many young Anglo-Indians, who, whatever their faults or failings may be, are a part of the permanent community of India to-day. There can be no real progress of the Kingdom which does not take into account this pitifully submerged section of the community, and to begin with the children is one way of hope.

There is no space in one short chapter to deal with the even more difficult problem of that nether world from which the average woman is carefully shielded, and for which men and women alike are loth to accept any responsibility. But who that has walked through certain streets and thoroughfares in the large cities of India, with seeing eyes, can forget the responsibility laid upon them for a condition of things which could not be tolerated by any man or woman unless they were prepared to defend evil? Thank God, there are women in India, English and Indian, who refuse any longer to shelter behind the walls of their own comfort and ignorance of things as they are, but who are demanding that light and knowledge be brought into these dark places. There are men also who are recognising their responsibility in allowing commercialised vice to continue, and who refuse to adopt a double moral standard. Nothing was more remarkable during the [140/141] Mission than the large number of English soldiers and Indian students who attended some of the special meetings on behalf of social purity. A great work waits to be done in rousing public opinion, in bringing facts to light, so that houses of ill-fame shall be no longer recognised as necessary, much less used by Englishmen.

In this great campaign for right thinking, women can lead the way, with a burning indignation for their sisters, of whatever nationality they may be, who are thus enslaved, and a resolute refusal to believe that such degradation is necessary for any man.

Efforts are also being made for the redemption of children, and other young lives, caught in the toils of the evils of immorality. We would ask that all those who are engaged in this great work of protection and restoration may have the fullest possible support in a work which tests the courage of the bravest. At present such work is little known and recognised in India, but if the strongholds of evil are to be attacked, the help of every right-thinking man and woman is needed here. On this question all may unite, of whatever creed or nationality, who in any way care for the things of the spirit and recognise its supremacy over the body. It is hoped that one result of the Mission may be more definitely organised work for social purity by trained workers to help forward the existing work and to widen its usefulness, especially by means of educational work and by creating public opinion. Necessary legislation may do much, but right thinking can only be brought about by steady, persistent teaching amongst men and women of all classes. Much of this evil arises from want of knowledge of existing [141/142] conditions, and an amazing ignorance regarding the whole question of sex, and much preventable suffering waits to be removed by those who will be brave enough to ally themselves to those who are working for this cause in wise and carefully thought out ways. It is a problem on which no Englishwoman can look unmoved, if only for its effect on the young Englishman who must face the horrors of the power of suggestion by an evil which can be felt with an intensity which is indescribable. Probation work and prison visiting amongst young offenders call for volunteers, and offer a wonderfully interesting sphere of service to those who are ready to make the necessary venture.

There is so much service which might be described as a ministry of friendship. Whilst there is a spirit of wonderful camaraderie in the English community, it is possible to find instances of great loneliness. The soldier's wife needs real friendship in the strangeness of cantonment life, and much might be done to give her more interests, and to help her in all the difficulties of bringing up small children in a foreign climate. The long line of barracks is a strange contrast to the home life from which she comes, and the preparation she has for this change is scant indeed. The young man going into business in the great cities does not always find himself welcomed into the best homes, and there seems to be real need for an organised fellowship in the Churches, so that strangers may find themselves sought out, and drawn into vital Church life. It is hoped that the fellowship formed in Calcutta at the Cathedral after the Mission may be really useful in this way. The Calcutta League of Women Workers, which has already a membership of over 100, has [142/143] before it a most useful scheme of work. In a leaflet which has already been circulated in Calcutta, the Committee states:

"The League is an attempt to form a central organisation for all women who are ready to give their services to some form of social work. A register has been formed for work that is required and work that is offered. It is hoped that this central organisation will prove its worth, and eventually become an advisory council in the interests of all women and children.

"The encouragement of all educational schemes and interests, particularly those which have in view the uplifting of Indian and Anglo-Indian women and children, so as to enable them to support themselves, is another aim which the League will always keep in view. Great efforts will be made to improve the status of the shop-girl and others of her class in this city. As social organisers and leaders of girls' clubs, as employers and as teachers, we have not always understood the needs of the working girl, and as a nation we fail her badly. This is a question to be thought out and faced alongside those which should ultimately prove the girls' salvation, such as better education, recreation, and housing, etc., remembering always that the young girls of to-day are the future mothers of the race.

"It is self-evident to every right-thinking person that a great deal of legislation will be required in the near future to improve the health and social conditions of the people, and it is hoped that the League will be able to influence public opinion in this direction and prove themselves to be such a body whose advice may be sought after and valued by those in authority."

[144] In Madras a Guild of Social Service was formed which hopes to undertake similar forms of service. In addition to this, at least nine branches of the "Wives' Fellowship" were started and linked to the home organisation. A special message has been sent through the Overseas Secretary from the Executive Committee:

"We do realise that the Fellowship cannot be organised in India as in England. But perhaps it may be an even stronger Fellowship, since it must chiefly depend on the purely spiritual bond of mutual prayer, and of ideals sought and realised in the service and through the love of Christ. We have always wished to emphasise this purely spiritual side of our Fellowship more than any other, and we feel that it is in this way that the link with India and the growth of the Fellowship over there can especially bring in to us new strength and power. The members must always be scattered far and wide by the force of circumstances, but they will carry with them, if our Fellowship is a reality, the sense of its support and the power of its prayers.

"We also greatly hope that we may find ways in which the Fellowship here may be of use to members in India by helping them in finding schools and holiday places for their children, and so giving practical effect to the sympathy we all feel to this hardest part of all the white woman's great burden of sacrifice in India--the agonising separations that haunt life out there."

All these means of binding women together for service should be a real help in meeting some of the peculiar difficulties of social service in India, and is giving permanence to it by filling up the unavoidable absences caused by frequent changes and furloughs. [144/145] The greatest difficulty so often seems to be that of leadership. There are many who would gladly help in various kinds of social service if there were more trained and experienced leaders. It is to be hoped that such may be forthcoming in increasing numbers; some system of women messengers who would travel about the dioceses to speak on subjects of special interest would be of very great value. There is so much goodwill which lacks direction and stimulus, and the linking up of those who should care for and help each other would make for much strength and encouragement. The loneliness of many of those engaged in the great missionary enterprises might be immensely lightened if they were drawn into the fellowship of a community who look upon their work with the admiration and understanding which would give it an honoured place in the whole scheme of progress. So many men and women in the cantonments and cities know little of the heroic lives lived by their own kith and kin in the slums of these cities or in the remote villages. To go with these missionaries into their work and see India from within would surely open a door of interest and romance so near to them, and yet to a great extent unknown.

No one going to Calcutta for the first time can fail to be impressed by the great beauty of the Maidan, across and around which the surging life of the great city sweeps in a wonderful mixture of East and West. The fine Cenotaph, so like the one in Whitehall, is a constant reminder that we are linked to our heroic dead and to India by unforgettable deeds of sacrifice and heroism which pledge us to responsibility. In thinking of our own ways of service we dare not offer [145/146] less than they did, though it may be given in very humble ways, but the spirit must be the same.

The greatest contribution which can be made by Englishwomen in India as elsewhere must ever be through their own personalities, by the spiritual uplift which they give in the home, in social life, in public service. No amount of organisation for social welfare, however excellent in itself, can bring about that which alone satisfies human need. Just in so far as she carries with her those spiritual qualities to whose influence men will ever yield, so will woman be the greatest force in bringing about a better social order and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

One Women's Fellowship in India has thus expressed its desire for such a spiritual outlook: "We desire that the Women's Fellowship be a gathering together of women who will first weed out of themselves all that is contrary to the ideal, and subsequently by their influence better the society to which they belong; that we who join the Fellowship may examine ourselves honestly for the thing that is keeping us from the ideal, such as laziness, unjust criticism, moral cowardice, disloyalty to religion, and endeavour to consecrate not only our work, but our thoughts and speech to the service of Christ; to obliterate self in our sympathy and understanding of others; to try and not shrivel up under sneers and misunderstandings, but to go out and meet them with the love and power of God within us. It would seem that if this Fellowship became a spiritual band of strong, silent workers, not depending wholly on meetings, debates, and organised schemes for well-doing, but in feeling that our unity consisted in the knowledge that each member in the Fellowship [146/147] to which we belonged had, on joining, consecrated herself to God, in this way the difficulty of what might be called ' officious ' interference in the good work already begun would be overcome, and also distance would be no hindrance. Wherever we were we could all carry on the purpose of the Fellowship, however scattered the members might be."

If this be the spirit underlying all the service which the Mission sought to call out, there can be no doubt of its effectiveness. The message of the Mission was the compelling call of love; to follow Him "Whose service is perfect freedom," and in Whom alone lies the solution of India's problems.

What is the beginning? Love. What is the course? Love still.
What is the goal? The goal is Love on the happy hill.
Is there nothing then but Love, search we sky or earth?
There is nothing outside Love hath perpetual worth.
All things flag, but only Love--all things fail or flee,
There is nothing left but Love, worthy you and me.

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