Project Canterbury

Mary Bird in Persia

By Clara C. Rice

London: Church Missionary Society, 1916.

Chapter X. Mary Bird as a Friend and an Inspiration

WE have seen Mary Bird in varied ways proving herself the friend of the Persians, but others also laid claim to her friendship, and were inspired by it.

Many were proud to call her "friend," and to her own people, especially her mother, her relationship was not of love only but of friendship and fellowship. In her letters to her mother there were no extravagant expressions of love and devotion, but there was sweet solicitude, and a deep understanding, expressions of new and ever-growing needs, and constantly widening views of what her mother had been and was to her. A few extracts must suffice here.

"I often wonder if you realize what your weekly letter means to me. The weighed-out, thought-over, prayed-over comments on the work here are very helpful, and then my weekly 'Crumbs of Comfort' I need sorely. How can I thank you enough for all you have granted me during these years abroad and how many others have cause to thank you too!"

"How can I thank you for another year's love, prayer, advice, intercourse? I used to think a mother was most needed and valued in childhood; now I have learnt one cannot appreciate the gift, one of God's best, until one is grown up, and has entered into the companionship, as well as protection, of the parental love."

"I think one realizes more fully than ever the preciousness of a mother, a Christian mother, living in this land. The very backbone of English greatness is its Christian home-life. Look what this land is without that! I always feel parents must gain a clearer insight into God's fatherhood than we can, who have not experienced either the greater joys or sorrows of a parent's heart."

"It seems to me the ripe experience of older life must enable the Christian to bring forth the 'more fruit' that will bring glory to our God and King; and, darling, you know you are my special minister. No one preaches such loving, helpful sermons to me as you do, and many a passage is passed on to friends, European or Persian. May I be enabled to follow you as you have followed Christ. I am trying not to be anxious about you, but as the beautiful Persian phrase expresses it, 'to place you in God's Hand.'"

Her father's influence had been great on her life, and he was often in her thoughts.

"Yours and dear father's example have nerved me to fresh effort many a time, and can never be forgotten. I can hardly realize this will be the seventh anniversary of his death; it seems but yesterday we heard him say, 'Good-night till the morning.' What a glorious dawn that was for him, with no cloud of earth to come between him and the Sun of Righteousness! Where there is no sun I suppose the flight of days and years must pass unnoticed, except for the ever-increasing experience of God's love, goodness, and glory, to the limit of which even the redeemed in glory can surely never attain. I often wonder if those who have gone before will be permitted to teach those who follow after, or whether they will minister to those who during this present life never had the opportunity of hearing of a Saviour's love. How father would rejoice in such a ministry. But time alone will reveal the mysterious joys beyond the veil, enough for us to know our loved ones are for ever with the Lord. 'At even-time it shall be light.' May you have the glorious golden rays of the sunset hours, to cheer you along what might otherwise be a shadowed part of the road; so that you may go forward, assured that the intensifying shades of glory and beauty are the reflected rays of the perfection of it on the other side."

In 1901, at the time of Dr. Harriet Bird's marriage, her sister, she wrote:--

"Will you tell me quite candidly what you feel about my return home? I am sure the Fifth Commandment was purposely placed first in the list of those concerning man, and immediately after those relating to God. I know you gave me up fully, gladly, for God's service in Persia, but if you would like to have the poor old spinster daughter with you, I am sure it will be truly God's service to minister to my dearest mother, as well as my delight. Much as I love the work here, still I am ready for this fresh ministry, and you know all the interests of missionary life have not made me forget or cease to care for the home life."

She went back to this home life for a time, and the love which almost amounted to reverence, and "the exquisite devotion of mother and daughter" were apparent to all who knew them.

Her old home life always held many memories of delight; and her gratitude for the thoughtful love of her own people for her finds constant expression:--

"Loving memories are very precious, and I do pity those who have not got them. I think no one can have such happy memories as I have."

"Truly my childhood is rich in lovely memories of all kinds, the fragrance of which is ever new."

"I never can thank God enough for allowing me the high privilege, and you all for sparing me for a missionary life. Oh, that I were a better messenger, swifter to carry the glad tidings, and with more winged words to tell them!"

"It is nice that it is the family's loaf that feeds me, only I often fear that I have Benjamin's portion!"

"I find my boxes are just like Elizabeth's bag in 'Swiss Family Robinson.' I have only to wish for a thing and there it is. What a spoilt child I am. But I do thank God for the gift of such a mother, brother, and sisters, and pray that He will reward you abundantly, for it is not in my power to make any return. I am trying to be less fussy and crotchety; forgive me for being so much so in the past."

"The years fly so quickly; sometimes it seems ages since I heard your voices, and a longing will come for one more sound of them. But, after all, how much closer is the union of interest, of love, of work for the same Almighty Father, even with separation, than that of dwelling together under one roof with nothing in common with one another."

Mary Bird's general friendliness did not exclude special friendship, though her unselfishness kept it in check; and, like most great souls, she had "friends." Naturally little can be said of this in detail; the later extracts will give many sidelights. She wrote:--

"Oh, for wisdom to do the right thing! Not even friendship must come between us and our service for the Master. I have found that though sometimes the 'dearest friend' cannot realize or enter into all I feel, yet afterwards he or she does, and the temporary misunderstanding has made union all the sweeter. Still, in a deeper sense, the imperfect human soul can never perfectly understand, nor the other perfectly explain, so that it rests with the All-perfect One, Who needs not the faulty explanation, to know all, and satisfy the inexpressible longing of each heart."

"I loved to think it was only God's atmosphere that was hiding you from my sight, and that in Him we are as closely united in love, sympathy, prayer, and thought for each other as ever."

Though no one could have been more anxious for harmony with those she worked with, her work generally lay on a different and wider plane, hence much of it she did alone. But she entered fully into the lives of others, and "Birdie," as they loved to call her, was the one to whom every one went for advice, help, and encouragement. She was aware of this, and wrote:--

"About my attitude as regards my fellow-workers, I will try to be very watchful; the responsibility of being senior is great. I do try to lead and advise, never to drive or order my co-workers, whether younger or older. For one thing, I think God has granted each his or her special gifts, which, if the lines of work are too closely laid down by a senior, may never have room for development, and therefore much talent and power be wasted. I am sure God does not want us all to work in one line, but rather to fit into one another, that His perfect plan may be accomplished; but the thing is to do this without knocking the corners!"

"It seems to me women living alone, or even together, get into ruts and narrow little ways much sooner than men, and generally find it harder to give and take, though, of course, there are grand exceptions to the rule. Whatever one's calling in life may be, it will have its disadvantages as well as advantages, and if we want the work--be it what it may, secular or religious--to go forward, the aim must be kept steadily in view. I believe a prayerful effort to do this helps one to think less of trifles; and definite, usually separate duties, are a real help and interest."

How far Mary Bird was a friend and an inspiration to her fellow-workers, and especially to those with whom she lived, is best told by themselves.

"It is indeed a privilege to have been one of her friends."

"She was like a mother to me. Although so busy, she was the one we always turned to in distress of any kind. ... It was impossible to be pessimistic where she was, she never expected the worst till it came, and it did one good, like medicine, to hear her cheery, ringing laugh."

"I think it was God's crowning goodness to send me such a sweet woman to work with out here. He gave me Mary, to the delight of my life. She was so bright and full of energy . . . with her bright, merry eyes, the very life and soul of all the work here, Persians and Europeans alike leaning on and loving her."

"Mary Bird's 'brimming years' are an inspiration, for she worked largely without strain, and came home often unwearied and gay in spirit after a long day's toil, and the jaded air that most of us feel after long hours of work was rarely seen upon her. This was partly because she had that child-like nature, and royalty of inward happiness, that is a special charm and rarity in grown-up folk."

The objective of all her dealings with others was to give rather than take. As she brought so much sunshine to other people she could not keep out of it herself; but she would have given more joy to those who loved her if she had allowed them sometimes to minister to her. In this she wronged them. "Birdie" was always ready to nurse those who were ill, to prepare dainty dishes, and to put in stitches for others. She had a large correspondence, and always time for other people, and for "one thing more"; but it was at the expense of her own health and strength; her days were full, and so extra work had to be done by night. She never liked others to take trouble for her, but always felt her obligation to them. Life was a responsibility, and she was afraid of letting it be "too self-indulgent." Those who knew her will smile at this expression, but it was her own.

Mary Bird's humble mind would shrink from a laudatory account of her life and work, nay, more, from any record at all. Yet she would surely forgive these pen pictures from those who knew and loved her during her years in Persia, if she felt they might in any way inspire others to love and care for her beloved Persians. She never evaded what to others might seem the burdens of life, and so she never missed the blessing, but often was able to share her double blessings with others. May it be so now! During the last few months men and women from consulates, government, bank, and mission houses have written freely and with remarkable agreement of Mary Bird, and of what she stood for to them. Europeans abroad know each other well, and their testimonies can be relied upon.

Others among the missionaries have written as follows:--

"She has left a fragrant memory behind, and an inspiration to others to try and follow her example of unselfish devotion and earnestness. All the Persians who knew her, even strong Mohammedans, acknowledge that she lived near to God."

"She lived the fullest life of all the people I have known. She was extraordinarily broad in her point of view, and her perceptions were wonderful, and yet her broad sympathy and humorous knowledge only seemed to strengthen her in her absolute devotion to duty."

"She had a strong personality, impressive in its earnestness, unique in method, charming in its persuasiveness, and attractive in its sense of humour."

"Her devoted and self-sacrificing life has left us a very wonderful example. We may feel that hers was a standard not easy to be lived up to ... still it is none the less instructive, and something to be striven after. One felt that her life was indeed a living sacrifice."

"She worked as if the time was short, and the very best must be made of opportunities given. . . . She had a most helpful spirit of hopefulness, always trying to think and find out the best in every one, and refusing to be cast down or depressed by difficulties."

"Miss Bird was one of my wife's, and I think I can say one of my own greatest personal friends. Nothing upset her so much as when one tried to get her to do less work; certainly no worker that I have ever met could do the amount she did in twenty-four hours."

"She was so humble minded and ready to accept any new idea, or learn from any one ... at the same time her experience . . . made her invaluable as an adviser and helper."

"Her frailty was overmastered by her will to serve, to spend and be spent for the Master. Her flesh was truly overcome by her mighty spirit."

"The men's work will keenly miss the help she gave, as she read in the wards . . . besides helping in some anaesthetic work. . . . How empty her place will be, and how many more of the same sort are needed everywhere!"

Those who wrote thus, it may be urged, shared her calling and were prejudiced in her favour. So we turn to what others outside the mission circle say, people who met her socially at those rare intervals when she was "off duty"; those whom she lovingly tended in times of illness; those who saw her going about the dusty streets and lanes of the city! Such were often constrained to send through her help for the sick and needy, which otherwise they would never have given. They believed in her as a judge of character and trusted her discernment.

"My husband and I were always greatly impressed by her personality; she had a firmness and decision of character rare to find combined with such lovableness. An interesting talker, she took a broad outlook, and was always ready to discuss from different points of view. She had wonderful qualities."

"We used to talk and marvel over the unique little woman, with so frail a body, and such an untiring spirit, ability, and courage all so splendidly devoted to her Master's service."

"Her unselfish devotion to her work was the admiration of every one, and the European colony, outside the Mission, both in Yezd and Kerman, looked upon her as an ideal missionary. All loved to have her in their homes."

"You could never talk to Miss Bird without hearing something interesting."

"She was full of humour, and her severe labours never daunted her sense of fun and desire to make others happy. She always saw what was best in people, and so helped them to live up to her idea of what they were. Her love of souls was so deep, yet it did not obscure her thought for their bodies."

"Though non-missionary people were rarely privileged to see much of her, I have the feeling that she is an old and dear friend. She came to see me to say good-bye, just a day or so before setting out on the journey from which she never returned; and I have a very vivid picture of her dainty little figure under the shadow of a great vine, as we sat and chatted, under the cloudless sky, and looked over to the glorious girdle of the eternal hills. . . . There was no European in Kerman who heard the news of her death without the sincerest grief. I wish I could give you a more adequate idea of what Miss Bird meant to all of us; pen and ink are feeble media to convey the respect and affection which are evoked by a personality like hers."

"Truly she was a saint who made it easier for others to believe in God."

And finally, one who held high authority in the Church which is in Persia, writes:--

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of her in a friendship of more than twenty-three years. I pray that Persia may be blessed by having other missionaries like her, humble, prayerful, zealous, self-denying, courageous, instant in season and out of season. She being dead yet speaketh, calling us all to consecrate ourselves fully to Christ's service."

Not for herself, 'twas "In the Lord"
Her calm heart leaning on His word.
His love the joy which made her strong,
In darkest night, her quiet song,
Through all her life, one undertone
That whispered softly--"Not your own."


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