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 II. The Work of Women at Home, for Foreign Missions.

"LET me write the ballads of a nation, and who ever will may make the laws!"

May we not say that it is the women who inspire the ballads, while the men make the laws?

The reign of Love is mightier than the reign of Law. Law touches the actions only; Love touches the springs of action. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." [Prov. xxiii. 7; iv. 23.] Touch the heart of England, and the life-blood will flow forth through every artery, and back again through every vein. And it is the women of England who influence the heart of England; if silently, so much the more surely.

Our thoughts on the "Supply and Training of Women for Mission-work abroad," have already [17/18] forestalled most of what might here be said, as to that part of Woman's Work.

Those thoughts may be roughly summed up in the following words. For the development of true life,--of Church life,--Home life--women are needed everywhere; women who have realised the ideal of that life: If needed everywhere, then abroad as well as at home. And if women of the right sort, with leisure for work, are not to be found on the spot, then they must be sent forth from the mother-land. Some must go.

And who? Not the useless members of Home and Church. Not those who have a distinct home-duty that none other can do for them; e.g. a wife or mother. But those who would be missed, wherever they have lived; and those whom God has called, by His special inward vocation, and by His co-operating Providence: giving them "a sound mind in a sound body," and circumstances that leave them free to respond to that inward call.

If we consider carefully, we shall find among. them four classes of women, willing to go forth for the Master, yet commanded to stay

I. Those tied by untransferable home-duties.

2. Those forbidden to go, by parents, or others in authority.

[19] 3. Those who, in whatever way, are not strong enough.

4. Those who are conscious of no vocation for this special form of work.

All these, from among even the small number of those whose wills are absolutely yielded to their LORD, so as to care little where or how they spend themselves for Him

Many more there are, less absolutely given up to Him, hitherto, and yet willing and able, in the strength of the Body of CHRIST, to do something. Power is needed, of every possible kind; physical, mental, moral, social, spiritual. And there are many in the Body of the Baptized, conscious of power in some way or other, and willing to put it forth, if under authority, and without much of that dreaded element, personal responsibility;--many such there are, who would be useless, if alone.

And every educated woman in England, whether she realise it or not is daily helping, or hindering, the work of Foreign Missions. For it is CHRIST'S work; one that cannot be ignored or neglected without sin; and it is not of men only, but of women also, that our LORD has said: "He that gathereth not withMe, scattereth."

[20] Women at home, then, have a manifold work for the Mission-field abroad. Let us ponder over it awhile, in detail.

I. Women of this generation train the next generation. The tone of thought and action as to Foreign Missions, fifty years hence, will depend, to an extent that can never be known on earth, upon the young mothers of the present day. In Sacred History, it is not without deep significance that the names of the mothers of Judah's kings are so often recorded.

Let us recall our own childhood; our nursery tales and pictures; the food and exercise provided for our imagination and affections; and then our school-room days, at home or elsewhere. Could we not tell each other of a lack never to be supplied, or of memories that can never grow cold, as to interest kindled, or unkindled, in Mission-work--by pictures and stories, and Children's Missionary Meetings or Guilds, and little plans for "helping the good Missionaries," such as GOD'S little children, still "glistening with baptismal dew," delight in If we were early taught to pray for Foreign Missions, has the habit ever wholly died away? If not, is that habit easy to acquire?

The inference is obvious. The only question for [20/21] each to ask herself is: "What am I doing, to help or to hinder the Church of the future, in this, her world-wide Mission?"

II. Women can influence general society,--their equals, in age and position, as well as little children. The more refined and cultivated they are, the greater will be their power over others. Mere "conversation "is a power, for good or for evil, compared with which the much-talked-of power of modern inventions is but a plaything.

Now, what are the ordinary topics of conversation,--apart from the way of handling them? There are some, indeed,that are better un-named; others, in which it were well for women to remember Apostolic teaching, and avoid intruding into things that they know not. Others again there are, which are mischievous simply from their utter folly; involving that "foolish talking and jesting, which are not convenient;" quite distinct from the innocent, light-hearted talking, as "children of the free," which Our FATHER will never blame.

But, while we talk fluently on topics of "general interest," how often do any of us dare to allude to "Missions," as to a topic that ought to be of general interest?

The Arctic Expedition, the Ashantee War--these [21/22] have their champions in abundance; among Eng land's Volunteers for these ventures, who is not proud to reckon a personal friend? But carry on the topic of "ventures for a noble cause," and speak of a friend or brother, fit for the highest posts in England, and yet, gone forth to be a "Missionary;" and who is not made conscious, that if the contemptuous wonder be unexpressed, it is chiefly through mere courtesy?

These things ought not so to be; and Christian women are responsible, to a great extent, for not suffering it so to be. We need not "drag in" the subject of Missions; but "a word spoken in due season, how good is it!"

To uplift the Mission-banner from the mire; to silence--if only by her own eloquent silence--the first word of ridicule or of ignorant impatience, this is within Woman's province; and the Master expects it of her. And then, by quietly-told facts, to turn this negative testimony to what is positive, and, GOD helping her, to win enthusiasm for the cause that in her watchful hearing has been put to shame,--is this too much for any Christian woman to do or dare for her LORD? "In the Name of our GOD, we will set up our banners!"

III. With a view to this, women are bound to be [22/23] well-informed, as Christians and as Church-women, of the progress of Church Missions.

It would be counted "ignorance," not to have heard of the Fiji Islands, and their late annexation. Is it a more pardonable ignorance, not to have heard of--many a new colony of the KING of Kings,--many a fair territory annexed to His possessions? Are we to live through our appointed term in the world's long history, and do nothing to correct the notion, hardly ever attacked at all, till lately!--that an "interest in Missions" is the amiable peculiarity of some Christians, instead of being the common interest of all?

IV. Women can use their pen, for Mission-work. Not as "authors," necessarily; though some might well expend on such a cause the powers bestowed upon them for the good of the Church and the glory of GOD; but in ordinary correspondence. A real habit, once formed, of trying to widen and deepen Mission-work influence, in any way whatever that the Master may point out, would soon exert its power over a woman's ever-ready pen.

Many an idle not; about--nothing at all, would, by degrees, give place to some gentle reminder of a far-off corner of the earth. We do not mean a "begging letter," but a word as from sister to sister, [23/24] just naming--as one who cannot help naming--the far-off brother!

Might not something be done, moreover, yet more directly and definitely, by a little forethought and combined, action? We have heard of an invalid who spends her long leisure hours in writing illuminated letters, exquisitely penned, full of holy and helpful thoughts, to soldiers in India. Other friends arrange as to the sending; hers is simply the willing and skilful hand; adding to the words of Christian sympathy some home flower, thoughtfully chosen according to the time of the year, and painted at the beginning of the letter, to bring back thoughts of "Home" and "Mother."

Could not some of our lonely Missionaries be remembered thus practically, in some way suited to their need; and especially in parishes which GOD has honoured by taking from them one of His own volunteers for "Foreign Service?" Could not some combine to send forth a stream of regular information as to home-life and work; thus quickening sympathies, and giving scope for that great law of action and re-action between the heart and the extremities, which rules the spiritual as well as the natural body? "Love chiefly grows in giving."

V. Women can "work." No-one can deny that [24/25] this is a fitting occasion for the special ministry of Woman.

Many agencies of this kind are already in operation: Working Parties, Work Societies, &c., where materials are given out, to be sold, here or abroad, when made up, for the friends of the Mission.

Details would be needless. Here, as in all other things, judgment is needed; that "right judgment" which our Church bids us pray for "in all things," and which the All-ruling SPIRIT of GOD will con descend to give us, even for the details of a Missionary Working Party. There will be difficulties; there may be mistakes; but the effort is none the less to be mad; where GOD points it out as suitable.

Might not work for Foreign Missions, in some such practical form, become a motive for little girls, in the often unattractive task of "learning to work?"

VI. To some women, among those whose Mission-work lies at home, is given a special calling; even that of yielding up--not themselves, but what is dearer than themselves--son or daughter, for Foreign Service in the KING' Army.

"Will you give me Coley?" That question, asked by Bishop Selwyn, of the mother of Patteson,--has it not become almost proverbial? We [25/26] cannot but suspect that the secret dread of such a question is keeping back many a Christian mother from opening her heart to CHRIST'S Commandment as to Foreign Missions. "I feel that I have brought it on myself," a mother has been heard to say, when her son had gone forth; "I brought him up with such a high ideal of Missionary work!"

And are not many, perhaps, kept back from honest prayer that "the LORD of the Harvest" will send forth more labourers into His Harvest, by the secret reservation, "Only, LORD, not my son--not my Pastor!"

VII. Women can show hospitality.--"A certain woman received Him into her house," has been written again and again, in the Record on High, concerning many a "Martha," and her receiving of CHRIST Himself, in those of whom He has said: "He that receiveth you, receiveth Me."

To have "lodged strangers "--for CHRIST's sake, not for mere kindness' sake--is a mark given by S. Paul of those eligible for a special office in the early Church. It is for the "Sarah" to provide for the strangers whom Abraham is not forgetful to entertain. Lydia, Europe's first convert to Christianity, welcomed to her house the first Missionary of the Church. Circumstances may have changed, in these [26/27] less simple days; but should not the Missionary's heart be cheered, when at home for awhile, by the manifestation of the same spirit? And is it not for "the glory of the same LORD," Who accepts, in every age, each kindness done to His servants as done unto Himself?

VIII. Women can pray.--This is the greatest work of all; the secret strength of all other work.

True, it belongs to men, as much as to women. Yet, in speaking of women's work, I would especially remind you that this is a work within your reach, at all times. The quiet intercession of many an invalid, the resolutely-dedicated time, taken out of a life of active service, for the great work of intercession for Missions, and united definite prayer together for special needs,--these weapons have a power in the whole Mission-army, which Eternity alone will fully reveal. "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of." There are those

"Whose prayers and silent efforts Heaven employs
To do the good, while others make the noise."

Many ways of working at home, for Missions abroad, have doubtless been omitted in the fore going sketch; e.g. distributing periodicals, collecting money, &c.; as well as giving money themselves, [27/28] according to their ability. Some who cannot go to the Mission-field in person, but who would be willing so to do, may have the means of enabling another to go, by providing; or combining with others to provide, what is needful for the cost of passage, outfit, and after-maintenance. Love is ingenious in self-sacrifice; fertile in resources; "strong as death!" Why multiply suggestions? "Charity never faileth."

One more way of helping forward the work of Missions abroad must, however, be definitely named, being less obvious, perhaps, than others personal faithfulness in home duties. The satirist must have no "Mrs. Jellaby" among our Mission-workers to hold up to ridicule,--a ridicule involving the holy cause which such a one caricatures. They must "guide the house;" they must "give none occasion to the enemy to speak reproachfully."

It must be made evident that their interest in Missions is based on principle, not on feeling; and that this principle rules nothing less than their whole lives. A holy self-restraint, the mark of the Cross, must stamp every common duty. The intelligence, as well as the affections, must be evidently enlisted. There must be no silly talk about "interesting natives," &c.;--no excited running [28/29] about to more Missionary Meetings than they can inwardly digest, while their own servants, and the obvious claims of those at hand, are uncared for.

Our women at home, if they would be "fellow helpers to the truth," must be "keepers at home;" they must learn something of self-mastery and self- sacrifice; that so their witness may have power, and those who see that their charity extends to the ends of the earth may also see that it "begins at home."

After all, the work is on; throughout all the world. For there is but one LORD; and "He is the Great KING over all the earth." "It is GOD which ruleth in Jacob,"--here, in the Church at home,--"and unto the ends of the earth." Even there, must be the "Kings' Daughters, honourable women."

If even the annals of Heathendom are often made bright by the story of Woman's devotion, and if the Spartan mother could add fortitude to her love, shall it not be reserved for Christian women to show--

"A fairer strength than this,
Strength linked with weakness, steeped in tears and fears,
And tenderness of trembling womanhood,
But true as hers, to Duty's perfect Law?"

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