Although I married one of the best missionaries in the world, and although twenty of our more than twenty-seven years of life together have been spent in India, I still feel incompetent in the role of missionary wife. But my own experience, as well as that of those who have come under my observation, may be of help to those younger missionary wives who find themselves launched upon this unique career. When I was a child in Sweden, my mother would often repeat pertinent proverbs which, later in life, I found to be true. Translated, one of them goes like this: "You must learn as long as you live, and be spanked as long as you learn." Many of the "spankings" we get in life could be avoided and would be unnecessary if we would but learn our lesson from two or three experiences. When we fail in our endeavors, it is usually because we have not taken time to sit at the feet of the Master Teacher. He therefore has to give us the same lessons over and over.
Pastor A. E. Rawson of South India once said at a farewell gathering for some missionaries who were going home on furlough, "A missionary's wife must be a four-in-one wife." He then enumerated the qualities of love, courage, faith, and piety. Without these, true mission service would be impossible. Had I anything to do with the board who select the missionary recruits, I would caution them to scrutinize the potential missionary wife very closely for these four qualities.
It is often truly said that a wife is the making or the breaking of a man. The reverse is equally true,—the husband is the making of the wife. The two must be one in every sense of the word. The one must complement the other. The missionary wife whose heart is filled with the pure and undefiled love of God will surely be the making of her husband, and a help and blessing to everyone with whom she comes in contact. A missionary is only half a missionary if his wife is not with him one hundred per cent in everything he does.
We are told to "Sing praises unto the Lord," and so we do every Sabbath. And I believe with all my heart that God loves to hear us.
But I also believe that we should sing praises to our companions, and the "song" will lighten the burden, especially in the mission field where one man usually has to do the work of two or three. He is perhaps out preaching, or teaching in the school, or traveling, or treating the sick, or supervising projects of different kinds, and he comes home tired. With a sigh he says, "It's great to be home again where I can get a bath and a decent meal and have a good bed to sleep in. I believe I shall go right to bed after supper, I am so tired."
I hope that if the wife has been at home all day, or many days, with no one but the children and the native servant to talk with, she does not feel sorry for herself, thinking, "I wish he would visit with we a while." I hope she lets him go to bed and have a good rest.
The Indian wives worship their husbands. I am not advocating that we should worship ours in that fashion, but I am in harmony with the spirit of that young missionary wife in India who greeted her husband with, "Daddy, you stand right there, while I worship you." Then she threw her arms about his neck and kissed him, and put her arm in his while they walked to the table and sat down to the meal with their children. I am sure that loving greeting helped him to be more kind both in the home and out of it.
If we are not given to much speech, our actions can show our love and sympathetic understanding. I remember one young wife with four little ones. She was sweating over the ironing board, pressing trousers, "Really," I said, "I believe you are doing too much for that husband of yours. You have all these little ones to care for and have no help; I should think he could press his own trousers."
I will never forget the look she gave me, as she said: "My husband is a very busy man, and I certainly would not want to do any less for him than I am doing. I wish I could do more; looking after his clothes is the least I can do."
The busy missionary may never even notice that his clothes are in order, that the house is spotless, that he has his favorite dish for dinner, that his wife wears that dress he likes so much, or that the children's new dresses which she made, look adorable on them. At the moment he only feels that all-satisfying feeling of being at home. He may be thinking of Peter, the native evangelist. He sees him out there in his village, crushed up against the wall with hardly enough room in which to stand comfortably, while he teaches the Sabbath school lesson to ninety-five villagers in a little room meant to hold only half that number.
Finally he says: "Peter must have a new place in which to hold church, but there is not a penny in the treasury. I just talked to Brother — about it yesterday, and there is not an anna available. Do you think we could save about twenty rupees a month for a while so that we could build a little church over there for him? I know of a piece of land that we can get. Do you think we can save the money ?"
"Well," says the wife to herself, "I suppose this is where my new curtains go. Those hanging there have been in use nearly fifteen years. They can't be washed and mended much longer. Churches, however, are much more necessary than curtains. Peter must have his church."
And so they plan, the husband and the wife, and another church building is added to the few already there.
At another time, his thoughts are up in the Telugu country. "There is really no one up there whom we can ask to leave his work long enough to do the Harvest Ingathering work," he says. "Do you think you could?' And I happen to know that this missionary's wife was happy to sit down right then and there and plan out an Ingathering campaign with her husband. The next time he comes home, his thoughts may be down in Ceylon. "Do you remember that old teacher who was dismissed from the ____ mission after forty years of faithful service, because he joined the Seventh-day Adventists? They did not give him a penny in lieu of his faithful service. He is out canvassing now, and is having a hard time. I sent him ten rupees today. Do you think we could send him ten rupees once in a while?"
Another time his thoughts are in Kollegal. "Joshua's little schoolroom is too crowded, and those Brahmans are trying to raise the rent and are giving us other troubles. Losey and I have decided to raise the money somehow for a little school building." And what wife could expect a husband whose thoughts are ever on the progress of the work, to be interested in such paltry details of housekeeping as servants' quarrels, children's clothes, and food?