When in Rome do as the Romans do" was another of my mother's proverbs. The homes, the people, the food, the customs, the climate, the seasons,—everything is different in the mission field, and a missionary wife must adapt herself to all of these. A certain brave missionary wife who came to India was prepared to live in mud huts and ride in bullock carts, but was agreeably surprised to find this unnecessary. She said: "Missionary life almost loses its glamour for me. I came prepared to live in a mud hut, and here you have real houses to live in. And you even have motorcars in this city. I thought we would have to ride in bullock carts most of the time, when we wanted to go anywhere." This is much better than expecting to have the agreeable living conditions we had in our homeland, and then complaining because things are not as we would wish them.
"What can't be cured must be endured." But I venture to say that most missionaries can make themselves and their homes quite comfortable if they try. The wife who comes to the mission field and almost feels cheated because there is a good house to live in, makes the best kind of missionary wife. Brother and Sister Rawson and their children live in jungle villages months at a time. She has been a wonderful help in instructing the women for baptism. Besides conducting a school for her own children, she has taught sewing, nursing, and homemaking to the village women.
I well remember one young wife who was itinerating in the jungle villages with her husband. All day long and half the night she was surrounded by curious women and children. They would feel of her hair, pull out her hairpins, and lift up her dress to see if she were white underneath. They would ask her why her shoes were higher at the back than at the front. They would watch her eat with a fork, and make remarks about its being both dangerous and inconvenient to use such an implement. She had no privacy night or day. She fastened up some sheets around a tree so that she could have a bath, but to her consternation she learned that someone in the branches had been watching her ablutions, and reported afterward to the villagers that she was indeed white all over. This wife has grown gray in service and is still in India.
Sometimes I feel that I want to run away from unpleasant things and tasks. However, by running away one does not accomplish the task; it is still there to be done. God gives one courage to perform even the most unpleasant duties. I often think of an experience of Brother and Sister E. D. Willmott when they were down in the Tinnevelly district. They took turns sitting by the bedside of their first-born, nursing him 'day and night, not knowing he had diphtheria until it was too late. There was no doctor to help, no other missionaries to go to, no one to stay the hand of death. And when Brother and Sister Willmott laid their little son down to his last rest, how wonderfully courageous they were as they looked up to God and said: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the Lord." No one knows what it is to go through an experience like that except those who have gone through it. But such can better appreciate what God felt when He gave the supreme gift for mankind. Wondrous love on the part of the Father! Wondrous courage on the part of Him, the Only Begotten!
Whenever I think of the courage of missionary wives, I also think of that courageous sister missionary of ours over in China, Mrs. John Oss. There she was, traveling around by every means of conveyance, from the wheelbarrow and dandy to the motor and steam car, gathering funds for a hospital. The angels who followed her saw her go in to see that notorious robber chief. They, too, passed the armed guards and the inner courts of his well-fortified palace. They saw how the chief, after he had received her card, arranged his knife and his guns to have them handy and to produce an awesome effect. They saw how he extinguished his opium pipe and laid himself on his bed before he asked the servant to let her be admitted. When she came in, he greeted her with: "My pipe has gone out; please light it for me. The matches are over there." She lit his pipe. "Now sit here and tell me what you want."
Then our sister took out her book of pictures showing our work for the poor and suffering in China. She described the benefits of a clinic and a hospital. She appealed for a large gift with which to build one, and talked about God. "It is God who has given you power to get wealth. He loves the poor, but He also loves you and wants you to belong to Him. You are His child whether you acknowledge it or not, for in Him we live and move and have our being. He has given to all men life and breath and all things," she said. The robber chief looked at her in profound thought a long while, then he rang the bell. A servant appeared. "Call my cashier," he ordered. The cashier appeared at once. "Please write a check for one thousand dollars for this lady. She will go with you and tell you how it is to be made out."
That is the story somewhat as Mrs. Oss told it to me herself when I visited her in Shanghai about six years ago, and she said: "I was not afraid; I knew God was with me. It is His work, and I go on His errands." The angels and God alone know the far-reaching results of a visit and a gift like that.
In the Harvest Ingathering work in India, God has encouraged me in a marvelous way. Once I was in Ootacamund, in the beautiful Blue Mountains (Nilgiri Hills) in India. It was the first time that Harvest Ingathering work on a large scale was to be done there. This city is the summer residence for the governor of Madras, and the legislature of the Madras Presidency is located there. Maharajas and princes from all over South India also have their summer residences among the cool summits of these hills. Upon coming up to this place I said to God: "The work is Thine. Should I start at the government house? If so, give me a text, Lord, that I may know if it is Thy will." After the prayer I opened my Bible at random. Fathom my joy as I read: "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." The governor of the Madras Presidency gave me a good start, and all the other government officials also contributed something for the work. Every day before I started out, I held up my empty hands to God, and He filled them with gifts for His treasury that His work in South India might increase.
Another missionary's wife in South India has spent several seasons in the Ingathering work, and thousands of rupees have been gathered into the treasury by her. I refer to Mrs. E. L. Gardner. I am sure she could write a book on her experiences, but people whose hands are filled with constant and loving service for others seldom have time to write books. Ordinarily this sister lives at the Malayalam Seventh-day Adventist high school in the heart of the Malayalam country. For months she sees no other white woman.
She and her husband are the only white people for mile's around. At the school she is busy instructing the girls in the prenurses' course and in domestic duties, and in training future workers' wives. During vacation, and sometimes during school session, too, she is out in Harvest Ingathering work. What a busy life of usefulness is hers!
There are several others who could be mentioned by name, who are examples of good missionary wives, but the story would be too long. The work that a wife performs from morning till evening, year after year, sinks into oblivion and is forgotten even by members of her own family, but we are assured by the Spirit of prophecy that even these obscure everyday tasks, if performed as unto the Lord, will be rewarded probably just as much as some of the great tasks that are heralded to the ends of the earth. "Lord, increase my faith, hold my hand, remind me of Thy promises, and help me to walk with Thee today. Show me my duties and help me to be a blessing today." This is a fitting morning prayer for every missionary wife.
Sometimes a wife may be a real problem to her missionary husband, especially if she forgets that love "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." I know of one young wife who telegraphed her husband every time the baby had a stomachache: "Come, baby ill, worried." Of course the baby was as well as ever by the time the husband reached home. His work was interrupted and his usefulness hampered many times because of his wife's faithlessness. I use that word advisedly.
Missionaries' wives should be different from the common crowd. God has called them to a holy work. The world should see Jesus in them, and they should be the most pious people on earth. How well I remember when bobbed hair and sleeveless dresses were frowned at among us as a people. But I wonder how many ministers nowadays call attention to the thousands of dollars that are spent each year by God's people at the beauty parlors for permanent waves, hair setting, etc. I am sure that the money the professed people of God spend yearly in these places would be sufficient to pay the yearly salary of at least a hundred native workers in the mission fields. We should think of the poor—our own brethren in India and in other parts of the world—who never know what it is to have a real meal, possibly not even once a year. I believe that those who deny these the bread of life as well as physical bread by using the means entrusted to them by God for needless adorning of themselves and their homes, for fine furnishings and expensive cars, will be held accountable to God in the day of judgment.
My husband and I were traveling and working in the poorest part of Travancore one year. The country had been ravaged by malaria, famine, and cholera. We visited hundreds of homes, and in every one someone was sick ; in some homes all the members of the household were lying on the floor writhing in pain. There was not a soul to give them a cup of cold water or to prepare a little rice gruel. We visited many of our believers' homes, and in one but found a sister lying on her straw mat covered only by the smallest rag of a sari. As she saw us, she rolled the straw mat around her and said: "I am much better now, but I have been very ill. It is indeed good of you to come to my lowly hut." As we knelt in prayer for this sister, my heart went out to her in greatest pity and tears flowed. There was not a chair, or bench, or table, or 'flower, or picture, or a window, or even a door—just an opening to enter. The sole furnishings of the but were three stones upon one of which stood an empty earthen pot, and the straw mat on the earthen floor. Her roof of palm leaves was thin, and you could see the sky in places.
There are more than a hundred dwellings in Travancore like this one, in which our poor believers live. They come from the poorest class, and are outcastes and untouchables to some people, but nevertheless they are God's children, and I am sure there are no dearer children to Him than these. One of these sisters said to me:
"We have been starving, simply starving. The rain failed for two years, and of course our tapioca did not grow. One little root had to suffice for one day for the six of us. Then there were days when we did not have even one root. Our millet failed, and there was no rice to be had. When water had to be measured out by the coconut shellful, the suffering was intense. But God heard our pleading, and a little rain came. We are still here, and we are very thankful for the help the mission has given us. We want to be faithful to God, so that we can live with Him in the earth made new."
And I believe they will be faithful.