Project Canterbury

Mary Bird in Persia

By Clara C. Rice

London: Church Missionary Society, 1916.

Chapter XI. "A Faithful Soldier and Servant" at Work and at Rest

MARY BIRD was considered "a magnificent missionary," but greater surely was the honour of being looked upon as a prayerful, humble, unselfish servant of Jesus Christ, with a single eye to God's glory. Need it be said that she had the utmost confidence in her Leader and Master, and believed absolutely in the ultimate triumph of the Cross? This led her to give a glad, quiet, calm service. She understood that

It is a comely fashion to be glad.
Joy is the grace we say to God.

She worked in a restful dependence on God, hence there was no waste of force, no friction--she asked no greater blessedness than work. Through all her years in Persia she waged a warfare with sin, superstition, and difficulty, yet her work was never an irksome obligation, it never overwhelmed her, nor did it ever become commonplace. She rejoiced greatly in the progress brought about by the work of others.

Her example while in England of never being off duty made lasting impressions on many lives, and specially on those of some who followed her to the mission field. In her work, her absolute and unflinching adherence to duty carried her through times of weariness and pain which were veiled from others; and what was enough to daunt many brave hearts only seemed to amuse her.

In all her work her desire was not to choose, but to obey. She had leanings to special places, to work with special people, to do special kinds of work, but she was always ready to be and do what those in authority advised, and in that way to carry out what she believed to be God's will for her. She was servant of all, like the Master she loved.

And then the grace of continuance was hers. "Unto her life's end" she carried the message of the love of God.

A few of her own thoughts about her life and service will show clearly the spirit that dominated her:--

"I know you will pray that I may always go to town remembering Whose servant I am, and be given tact as well as courage to witness for our Master, and that I may serve Him more faithfully and humbly than I do. I want to be always a loving, faithful messenger of the Gospel of Peace, and not be 'side tracked.' Sometimes lately it has been such a temptation to cut short the teaching, the sick ones need so much attention, and it is a difficult question to know what to give up. The Devil always whispers, 'Teach less to-day, tomorrow you will be less hurried,' and as I listen I know it is a lie--he will do his utmost to make it still more difficult to-morrow."

"May God forgive the sins and shortcomings of the past and make me a more faithful servant, wherever, and as long as He sees fit to spare me. May I grow more like my Master, and be consecrated in will, heart, and thought to His service."

"Living in a Moslem land where God's essence is spoken of as power, never as love, which is said to imply a degree of weakness, it is constantly forced upon one that both power and love spring from and are yet united in 'the fruit of the Spirit.' Where the Holy Spirit is denied to exist, or degraded to the rank of a prophet; and the Son of God Who came to reveal God the Father's love, is only acknowledged as human and not divine, there is not sufficient human love to make people devote their lives to philanthropy. But many make great and spasmodic efforts at 'works of supererogation,' which Persians speak of as savabs, for according to their number will be the place and dignity of the doer thereof in the next world. There is no verb 'to love' in Persian; 'to have a friend' is the expression. And no word for 'conscience.' I suppose they have never needed either, for fatalism deadens the former, and the latter has never been awakened. But Persia belongs to the King of kings and Lord of lords, and He will reign here in purity, justice, and love. What a contrast to this seething mass of moral and social corruption."

"As usual my plans are quite indefinite, but I am spared all the responsibility of the arrangements, which rest with the Committee, and I have only to try and be faithful in the little daily duties. Probably I shall be remaining in Yezd this winter. I really do not mind whether I stay here or go to Kerman, and the uncertainty does not worry me in the least. It matters not where my service is if it is in the place God has appointed, and where He will use and bless me. What I do feel is the strain of the fight with spiritual foes marshalled by the great Adversary, and we in the fighting line again ask that we may always be remembered at the Throne of Grace."

"Thank God that He has permitted me to be a stone-picker and ditcher. May streams of living water from Christ the Fountain-head flow through the mean ditches, carrying before them all that is denied, and causing life and verdure. 'Arabia shall blossom,' and I take it this promise includes all Moslem lands."

Four months exactly before her home call she wrote:--

"I feel how slow I am to learn. Nearly fifty-five years of a loving Father's discipline, and yet I am so imperfect; truly His love and patience are as marvellous as His almighty power. May my service be less marred by self and its imperfections. While God has permitted and enabled me to do a little weeding and ploughing, the 'left undone' is the prevailing feeling in looking back. May He pardon all, and commission and strengthen and guide me, that my furrow may be straight by the side of my Master's, if He should see fit to spare me for another year. God knows His own work best, and we can leave it all in His hands, and just go on day by day trying 'not to serve Him much, but to please Him perfectly.' Certainly only the victory of the Cross of Christ can bring permanent peace to these lands. May we be faithful soldiers and servants unto our lives' end."

During Mary Bird's last three years in Persia she wrote frequently to those with whom she had been associated in work in Liverpool. In one letter published in the localized "C.M. Gleaner," she shows very clearly what her ideas of service were:--

"Our Bible teaches us much about building, from a prophet's chamber to a king's palace, treasure cities for man, and temples for the Lord. Enormous numbers of skilled and unskilled labourers were employed, but the conditions of service show a strong contrast; on the one hand forced labour, resulting in sighing and bitter cries; on the other, willing service, resulting in joy and gladness of heart. Are we to be found in the forced labour party, grudgingly, of necessity taking part? Or are we among those who 'offered willingly,' whether skilled or unskilled workers? . . .

"The magnitude of the task before us is overwhelming. Half the inhabitants of the world still to be evangelized! We hear God's command, 'Go forward,' and the bitter cry of the nations. It will mean heavy service, great self-sacrifice, the daily taking up of our God-given cross; the being willing to be counted nothing that we may be used to win souls; fatigue of soul and body; but 'let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.' . . . Some workers may be called into their Master's presence-chamber before their field is ready to be reaped, but God is eternal and His purpose and work will not fail."

The following story is a picture of Mary Bird not "in the abstract," but "on duty" on a journey:--

"It was a glorious night, moon and stars truly ruling the night, and casting such a soft light on the bare desert and mountains. This district of Kermanshah has just been put under the charge of a Shirazi prince, a fine, polite young fellow of 26. He has a band of thirty foot-soldiers and twenty horsemen; six are wealthy Shiraz Khans, the rest are Baluchis. He has only just returned from Baluchistan with flying colours; his troop captured the robbers and stolen property, and he took a camp single-handed. Pie laughed like a boy over the account, for it really was an accident; his horse bolted, and charged into the robbers' camp; he fought hard, stunned and wounded fifteen men, and took the place. 'So that my horse got me my present employment,' he said.

"I told the Prince it was one of my greatest desires, which I feared might never be fulfilled, to die either in Baluchistan or Afghanistan. He looked down from his fine Arab horse to poor little me on my donkey, far too polite to laugh aloud, but with eyes twinkling with amusement, and said, 'Khánum, I don't think you are afraid, but you could never learn to fight.' 'Oh, yes, I could; I would not use a revolver or Martini, but it would be a hand-to-hand sword fight, and my sword is sharp.' His face was a study, every muscle twitching with laughter. 'I would rather ride across the desert with you. It is true there are robbers. I am afraid you would be cut down at the first stroke.' A trooper leant forward eagerly. 'Khánum, have you tried your sword? Were you not in Isfahan?' Evidently he had grasped my meaning. For a few minutes we talked of spiritual warfare. The prince listened respectfully and then said, 'Christians may win in that fight, Moslems do not; look at that band of pilgrims we are just going to overtake. Will they be conquerors after going to Mecca?' 'No,' I said, 'a visit to a dead prophet's grave cannot free them from the power of their enemy. Our risen, living, almighty Saviour has conquered in this fight, and He can and will give us victory by faith in His sacrifice, which was sufficient for the sins of the whole world, so that each of us--you, noble prince, and I--may fight under His victorious banner.' A fierce dispute arose principally among the Shirazi Khans as to our Lord's death and Resurrection, and I had no further opportunity of talking.

"Several times on the journey sick women and children have been brought from places twenty or thirty miles away for me to see them. When I asked how they knew I was coming they said the postman had brought news the foreign ladies were on the road. 'Yes, but it might have been some of the others.' 'Oh, but we asked if it was Maryam Khánum with the white hair!'

"The Prince has not been with us the last two nights, only seven troopers and seven foot-soldiers. We have had such talks, they are all dissatisfied, restless, seeing that other countries have more prosperity, and imagining it is because they have Parliaments and civilization. A Shirazi Khan, who, for the love of his prince, was wrongfully bastinadoed for three consecutive hours, and another, a Naib from Anar, who has joined the troopers, kept very close all the night before last. The former knew nothing of the Gospel, the latter surprised me by his thoughtful questions, especially about our Lord's Second Coming. I said, 'You have read the Gospel?' 'Yes,' he said, 'for seven years.' Last night he rode up to me, saying, 'I am a Christian like you.' Knowing such statements are often made to gain favour, I questioned him, and found he had been a reader and seeker after truth for some time; then a talk with Mr. Blackett had helped him greatly, and now he says, 'I know and own no other Saviour or Mediator but Jesus Christ; all the Imams and prophets are dead, they can do nothing for us.' The Shirazi Khan rode up and asked what we were talking about, and I told him it was of Christ being the only Mediator between God and man; he turned to the Naib, who explained fearlessly, and this led to a long talk on the Incarnation and Atonement. Later, I was much struck as he said, 'I have seen the Light. I don't want the darkness.' "

A fellow-worker writes: "It was wonderful how Mary Bird saw parables in nature. One day I was sitting with her by a mountain stream, which was rushing down joyously over the stones. Soon its course was diverted for irrigation purposes, but the water flowed just as gladly and freely down the new channel made for it. She turned to me, and pointed out how our lives ought to be like that water, glad to joyously obey the Master's will; wherever He may send us, or whatever He may order for us. She certainly carried this out in her own life, which was given over to the Lord Whom she loved so much, and was so ready to meet, when the call came."

Her own allusions to nature are many. Thus she wrote:--

"The clear rushing stream and lovely green trees and mountains on all sides of ever-varying colour, exquisite dawns, or 'lying sunrises,' as Persians call them--sunrises, sunsets, and silvery moonlight, make one exclaim, 'Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord,' I can see some of my favourite blue thistles high up where nothing else would grow, looking so fresh and beautiful, with their winged seeds ripening to be scattered far and wide. They are perfect emblems of what we should be, rooted on a rock, showing a beauty not our own, growing in the driest, most impossible places, yet with seeds of precious gospel messages ripening in the seed vessels of our hearts, ready to be scattered far and wide by God's great agent, the wind."

Her last letter to a friend says: "Do pray for me that I may grow in grace, taetfulness, courage, and love. I so much need them for the service God has entrusted to me. The demands on time and strength are great, but as my favourite motto says, 'Greater than the strength, need can never be,' for our God never has and never will fail us. One cannot tell how long or how short one's time of service may be, but may the last part be more to my Saviour King's honour and glory. I hope you will have a good holiday in Deh Bala."

Dr. Winifred Westlake, with whom Miss Bird lived during her last eight months in Kerman, gives the following account of the close of her earthly service:--

"After itinerating in Khabis in January, 1914, Miss Bird was looking forward to meeting, if possible, some of the Khabis ladies again. They had invited her to stay with them in their garden houses in the hill village of Sirj, to the vineyards of which the dwellers in the Khabis orange and date palm groves go in the summer-time. Miss Bird deemed August to be the best month for leaving Kerman and could not be persuaded to entertain the idea of trying to spend a certain number of the long, hot July days in the uplands of Sirj, some forty miles to the east of Kerman. However, in June the number of typhoid patients and the severity of their illnesses seemed about to preclude the possibility of change of air for any one in attendance on them until August. Nevertheless, convalescents made progress sufficiently well, and other work was arranged, so that by the end of July, or a little earlier, all the missionaries had, generally speaking, moved some fifteen or twenty miles away from the city. Miss Bird was the last to go. She was busy in the dispensary on August 1. The next day she dined at the Bank House, and was bright and interesting as usual. She seemed quite well, and said nothing of having had fever. On Monday, August 3, she was busy in the hospital, afterwards went to say good-bye to two convalescent typhoid patients, and then set off for her journey to the hills with the intention of reaching Sirj in three stages. After a tedious first stage, owing to the ill-fed, overworked load donkeys being unable to go up hill at even an ordinary walking pace, Miss Bird arrived at Dr. and Mrs. Dodson's camp at Deh Shaheb, and there it was soon discovered that she had high fever. Typhoid fever being suspected, all the necessary arrangements were speedily made. Dr. and Mrs. Dodson, Miss Petley, and I, together or in turn, tended her during twelve days in camp, and every advantage of loving care and ready skill available was made the most of. Appliances, such as a spring bedstead in an airy tent in the little vineyard, were not wanting. But Mary Bird's life work was ended. In a few days her cheerful acceptance of weakness and grateful recognition of all done for her gradually passed into delirium in which with failing powers she seemed to be still labouring fervently, teaching the people of the love of God very simply and clearly, and praying for herself and them; then came unconsciousness, and before dawn on Sunday, 16 August, 1914, her spirit was released from her mortal frame. At 7 a.m. the next day, Monday, she was laid to rest in the tiny Christian cemetery under the shadow of the hills outside Kerman city. Nearly all the Europeans then in town were present, also the hospital staff, Mohammedans, converts, and Armenians. Great was the sorrow, far and wide, when the news of the passing away of Khánum Maryam became known, but her memory lives on to inspire to devotion of life to the Master Whom she so faithfully loved."

A brave spirit has fulfilled its mission and been released. The world moves on unknowing, but its children, especially those of the land of Persia, have been blessed by her coming; and they who know and understand shall praise God reverently in her going; for, though she rests from her labours, her works do follow her.

He that loves not lives not;
He that lives by the Life cannot die.


Project Canterbury