Project Canterbury

Sisterhood Life and Woman's Work, in the Mission-Field of the Church

By the Right Rev. Allan Becher Webb, D.D.
Bishop of Grahamstown.

London: Skeffington & Son, 1883.

Chapter I. The Supply and Training of Women for Mission Work Abroad.

Is there need, in the Mission-field, of women specially devoting themselves to the service of the Church? At least as much as in England; and relatively, much more.

We have not at our disposal, there, a supply of disengaged women who have leisure for Church work. Therefore, we need women who can give themselves--whether distinctly as "Sisters," or pledged in some other Way, at least in will and purpose, for a time--to the work of GOD and His Church, under the Bishop. Otherwise, women may be poured into our colonies, but they are sure to be absorbed by marriage.

Far from desiring to depreciate the good which they may do in this condition of life, I only wish that the immense influence which they will exercise in it, for good or evil, could be more deeply [1/2] impressed on them. But, as to any distinct and definite work for the Church which can be en trusted to them, they are lost to the Bishop, with few exceptions, upon their marriage. This must frequently be the case, at home: but it is far more so in colonial life, where domestic affairs, the care of children, &c., demand all the energies and health of most women in the upper classes; obliged, as they are, to do almost everything themselves, which at home would ordinarily be done by servants. There is no time or strength left, to place at the disposal of the missionary.

What, then, are the wants to be supplied by such devout women?

First, that of GOD'S honour--As "women professing godliness," their mission will be to express the life of the Church,--which is the Bride of CHRIST, and His Mystical Body,--in its heavenward aspect; to exercise, as it were, the power of the burnt-offering. So shall the King have pleasure in the beauty of His daughters, whose life is one of union with GOD, of power with GOD, and of witness for GOD, for His absolute right to all that men have and are. So shall there be a perpetual memorial going up, and the LORD shall be entreated for that land.

Secondly, that of Man's good--As the "merciful [2/3] women,"--so our natives would call them, they extend the mission-work of CHRIST, in good works, such as education, personal influence, teaching, visiting, nursing, and ministering, even as the holy women also did in the old time. We know that home is the centre and fountain of social life; and woman is the centre of home. Such as the women are, such are the homes, and such the civilisation and the Christianity of society. To reach that centre, to purify it and consecrate it for the Kingdom of GOD, is woman's special work.

If so, is not woman forsaking her true place, by leaving home and country to work elsewhere? Yes,--if that "home" were not itself only a part of a larger circle; the family of man, and the family of GOD. But our LORD'S own answer to the question, "Who is my neighbour?" forbids us to think of narrower limits to our duty. And therefore, to "do my duty in that state of life to which it shall please GOD to call me," may involve more than at first sight appears. It may involve helping to plant the "home" of GOD'S Church, in foreign lands. And for this, women are needed. Therefore, women must go. There must be a supply.

This supply will depend upon three things. (a) Upon a high view of Mission-work, as the King's [3/4] own service, pervading the Church; based, not upon sentiment, but upon principle. (b) Upon GOD doing our Church and our people the honour to call a sufficient number of her daughters to this work; and upon their hearkening to His call. (c) Upon the dedication, or at least consent, of parents; for--unless perhaps in some very exceptional case--no child should go forth without a father's blessing, and a mother's loving, albeit tearful, prayers. We know that it is easier to give up ourselves to any trial or suffering, than to give up another whom we love.

The first of these conditions can be promoted by informing the mind of the Church at large; and the others, by prayer to the LORD, Who holds all hearts in His hands; Who gives the word, and "the women that tell the tidings are a great host." The hearty acceptance of the truth of the rights of GOD and the glory of His Kingdom will make a parent become as Hannah, who "lent unto the LORD" the child which she had receive from Him, and who, in not withholding, was doubly blessed.

What principles are to guide Christian women, in offering themselves for Mission-work abroad?

Foundation truths must be firmly laid; not only as to the salvation of their own souls,--which, of [4/5] course, must be set free from the burden of sin and from the fear of death, before healthy work is possible,--but also as to the claims of GOD and of our neighbour.

(a) The claims of GOD.--It must be a matter of course, a realised and acknowledged fact, hat GOD has an absolute right, as our Creator and our Redeemer, to dispose of us, body, soul, and spirit, as He chooses. We must face the fact that we are not our own. The will, as well as the understanding, must embrace it. The affections must say, "Amen" to it; so that the service may be no servitude, but the offering of a loving and intelligent child.

(b) The claims of man.--We must recognise our relationship to others, in GOD, as our Creator and our Saviour. He created all. He died for all. Man is one family. CHRIST died, "not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of GOD that were scattered abroad." Therefore, as in an earthly family the sound must care for the sick, even at the risk of their own ease, health, and convenience,--as the best and most useful at home, must be sent forth, and go willingly, to the absent sick member,--so it is also in the Family of GOD. We must act on the truth of [5/6] our brotherhood. One of us must be sent by the others, with consent of all, to the one who needs most love.

This being understood, the only question is this:--and it is the question asked by the LORD GOD Himself: "Whom shall I send?"--"Who shall go?"

To clear the way, ask first--Who shall not go? (a) Clearly, those who are useless at home; e.g., those who, through a discontented, unloving spirit, "do not get on at home." They are little likely to be useful, abroad! "If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil?" (b) Those whose home duties are unmistakeably fixed by GOD'S Providence;--e.g. a wife--a mother--the only daughter of aged parents, &c. (c) Those who forget that we can be nowhere on earth quite at home or perfectly happy; or who suppose that there will be a conscious blessedness or perpetual excitement in Mission-life, to correct the monotony of existence.

(d) Or those, if any such there be, who would magnify themselves rather than GOD, by doing great things; those who seek for importance,--to be made much of, where much may depend upon them.

Yet I would not dismiss secondary motives, if not [6/7] sinful. They may lead up to the perfect Will of GOD. Nor would I--GOD forbid!--discourage any who have but the "one talent" to offer, as to position in life, education, natural abilities; the individual offerer and her offering are accepted, and GOD may choose to make His power specially visible, through her lack of power; but we do not give our best, in this case, as a Church.

Who then shall go? (a) Those who will be missed at home; women who have honestly tried to do their duty in that state of life to which it has hitherto pleased GOD to call them; women of practical good sense, as well as devotion; aye, and women, too, who might have this world,--wealth, and honour, and all the culture and the delights of this age; who would have to leave houses and lands, and brethren and sisters, for CHRIST'S sake and the Gospel's. (b) Those who have a vocation for such a life. Need I say that there is such a thing as a "vocation" for individuals, as well as for the Church collectively? There are good works prepared for each of us to walk in. We are sent into the world for a definite purpose in the Kingdom of GOD.

"But how shall I find out," it is asked, "if I have a vocation?"

[8] I. Surrender the will absolutely to GOD, afresh and be ready to accept the issue; crushing, in the Name of JESUS, all cowardly desire for convenient ignorance as to your possibilities of usefulness. Place yourself at the disposal of the great King.

2. Meditate on such passages as Isaiah vi. Take trouble to find out GOD'S Mind, as to Missions,--His point of view, in the light of the Word of GOD. Alive and attentive, be ready to catch the answer, through even the smallest and stillest voice, to your appeal: "Speak, LORD, for Thy servant heareth."

3. In the same attitude of listening and of expectation, silently watch GOD'S Providence. Notice especially any side which He seems to "hedge up," saying, Thou shalt not walk thitherward.

4. When your own fixedness of will has been sufficiently tested, by a time of silent waiting and seeking guidance of GOD only, then consult what ever guide He may have provided for you. Tell everything; the balance of duties; your defects; your points of conscious power; your state of health, in body and in nerves.

5. If advised to regard yourself as called to the work, give special time to prayer, that your parents, [8/9] or others whom you are bound to consider and consult, may love God better than they love you, and give you up to Him, if He asks it of them.

6. Then wait the issue, as silently as possible. Do not "break through." Respect GOD'S own ordained bounds, in aspiring to a life of closer union with Him through self-sacrifice. And then "The meek shall He guide in judgment"

The vocation being clear, and the Providence clear, the next step is actual preparation for the new duty.

In some ways, all foreign Mission-work demands the same qualities;--personal devotion to GOD being taken for granted.

I. All such work demands fair health, unshattered nerves, and that general equableness of spirits which so largely depends upon the physical state. A morbid mind or conscience is unfit for such work as this.

2. It cannot be too much impressed upon us, that the education and mental discipline which help most to build up the typical character of Woman are also the best for those called to any unusual work. For in whatever measure a woman becomes unwomanly, so far exactly is her usefulness as well [9/10] as her charm impaired. She can lose no grace naturally belonging to her without losing at the same time power, influence, and capacity for the work for which she was formed. We all know what that work was:--to be a "help-meet" for Man. I say this of the unmarried, as well as of the married; and no training can be good, in which this her calling, as "the fulness and mysterious complement" of Man's nature, i not kept in view.

But in this her supplementary character, carefully directed, there need not be feebleness; on the contrary, there should be fortitude. In the inspired picture of "the virtuous woman," the quality which is made most prominent is strength. "She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms; strength and honour are her clothing." How far this ideal of the valiant woman, which the wise man has drawn, is from any approach to what is commonly called a "strong-minded woman," will be seen by studying the details. And, indeed, I could desire no better training for a Mission-worker, than one which would enable her to carry out the details and follow the example of "the virtuous woman For, under the simpler and harder conditions of life which exist in far colonies, she must, indeed, be like the "merchant's ships bringing her [10/11] food from afar; rising while it is yet night, and giving meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens; looking well to the ways of her household, and eating not the bread of idleness." Almost all the details in which this womanly strength is set forth are exactly those in which skill would be found most useful, in a Mission.

There is, first, the cunning and industrious hand. Perhaps only a woman can understand the education of the needle, and the real moral discipline involved in learning to use it skilfully: for practical Mission purposes, what an excellent training is provided, in learning to do "plain work" exquisitely well! It gives even a mechanical education to the fingers, making them apt tools for all other work, such as is needed in cooking, nursing the sick, &c. "She maketh fair linen, and selleth it." No one can properly overlook that which he is incapable of doing well himself, if necessary; though it is also true that many do that well; which they have not the power of making others do for them. It may be almost impossible to supply this power by education, where it is naturally lacking but it is a quality most necessary for women employed in Mission-work, and one which ought to be carefully trained and disciplined. We all know that it is [11/12] far easier and less troublesome to do a thing one's self, than to multiply power by getting many others to do the same thing well. Still, it is exactly this administrative faculty which is most valuable, in the lands where there are many untrained hands, and few that are trained.

3. All work in the Mission-field abroad needs some practical knowledge of common things; and, what is still more important than any one branch of practical knowledge, a readiness to observe and to learn and to do anything whatever that may have to be done, in the often unexpected contingencies of work abroad. To quote the Scotch proverb,--"Can do is easily carried about."

But, at the same time, it is well that some distinct branch of work should be mastered; the choice being determined, to some extent, by the place in view. For India, where native servants are abundant, it is specially desirable that ladies working in the Zenanas should be clever in fancy work, and have a talent for music, &c. For South Africa, where the climate is much better, but the lack of good servants proverbial, a lady must be prepared to do everything for herself and a good deal for the household.

One of the great hindrances to a really missionary spirit among Colonists in that part of the world, is the almost absorbing claim of household duties. Mind and soul alike are in danger of paralysis, through the undue and yet unavoidable proportion of care for outward things. Thus, the whole standard of mental and spiritual attainments is lowered. There is no appetite for mental food, or for spiritual ventures.

To meet this lowered condition of intellectual and moral life, Christian women--the more highly cultivated and refined, the better--must learn to understand that life, and to share it, so far as its lawful and necessary claims are concerned. They must share it; not so as to sink to the level of its unspiritual materialism, but in order to raise it and glorify it. They are to manifest,--after the example of the Virgin, blessed among women, to whom the Angel of GOD was sent at uncouth Nazareth,--the compatibility of rude household work with the spirit of recollection and adoration. They are to carry on the Mission of the Eternal SON, Who took part in flesh and blood, that we might become partakers of the Divine Nature. For others' sakes as well as their own, they must be able to turn their hand to anything. And, of course, the more they learn [13/14] in England, the more serviceable will they be yonder.

5. Some may be so conscious of some special gift of God, that they may find in this their land-mark. They have, e.g., always felt most at home with the sick, or with children: and they judge rightly that this is their own "pre pared" path, whether or not they see as yet whither it may tend. Music will be of use, every where; and so will Drawing, so far as my experience goes.

If the matter is determined, communication should be held, as soon as possible, with the Bishop for whose Diocese they are desirous of offering themselves; or with his Commissary.

In most cases,--not in. all,--I should myself re commend residence for a time in some Community; in order that, among other reasons, the adaptability for living and working with other fellow-workers may be tested.

In all cases, I should urge attention to a rule of life, and especially a rule of meditation and devotion, so necessary where the outer life will be very distracting.

I should earnestly recommend some intellectual [14/15] training in systematical theology and Church history, in order to meet inquiries.

I should require the assurance of thorough, hearty, intelligent loyalty to the Anglican Church, to guard against restlessness.

I should warn any applicant of the temptations likely to arise from the withdrawal of much sustaining power in the way of religious activity and excitement, around us here; and I should warn her against a craving for much demonstrative sympathy.

I should prepare her for the necessity of retaining a high standard and aim, and a noble ideal of what Mission-work and Communities of Mission- workers should be; but, at the same time, of being at peace in the midst of much actual imperfection many petty, prosaic, common-place, and harassing trials.

The virtues that I should bid her cultivate would be hope, patience, and endurance; as well as, of course, unwearying love and sweetness of temper.

But--to end as we began--for one work or another, women are needed. They have their own place and work, in CHRIST'S Church militant here [15/16] on earth; a work which the Clergy can no more do, than women can do the work of the Clergy. In the "one Body," "all members have not the same office;" nevertheless, even those members which seem to be the most feeble are "necessary."

But, in her feebleness, Love shall be the secret of Woman's strength

"The citadel,
Of courage and heroic fortitude,
Which in the centre of a woman's heart,
Is stablished, whatsoever outwardly
Of doubt or womanly weak fear prevail.'

If only, with a true heart, each one will listen to the call of GOD Almighty, "Whom shall I send?" it will be from those whom He chooses that the answer shall come--"Send me!"

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