Superstition wields such an influence over the unconverted African native that everything else is held in subjection to it. Even the love of parents for their own children is well-nigh overpowered by it. Yet in every heart, however dark, there lies some degree of love for home and family, planted there by the Creator and Father of us all. Especially do we see this love manifested by the African mother toward her child. She will risk her own life in order to save the life of her child when some great danger threatens. And yet, when we think of the ignorance in which she is enslaved and of the superstitious customs which she feels bound to follow, her love may not appear to us to be love at all. Still, it is an avenue through which the missionary can work in helping to elevate the standards of the home.
If the mother is taught that wholesome food, clean water, and hygienic surroundings will mean less sickness in her home, with healthier, happier children, she will want these things, and will be willing to put forth an effort to get them. If fathers and mothers can be made to realize that "the very first victories are to be won in the home" ("Testimonies," Vol. VI, p. 354), it will mean that instead of fear, superstition, hatred, disobedience, and evil practices, there will be seen faith, love, kindness, purity, and prayer.
The work of the church and the work of the home are reciprocal. While the church inspires its members to right living and the making of better homes, the home produces the substance of which the church is made. Therefore, in order to have better churches, we must have better homes; and in order to have better homes, parents must be trained for this important work. Our work of this nature in Africa is known as Home Commission work, although it may not be just the same as the work of the Home Commission in America.
Most of our people here have no books, aside from their Bibles and songbooks. They do not have the inspiring Review and Herald, with its many helpful articles on the home, and the majority could not read it if they had it, because its language is foreign to them. They have been asking for a long time for something in their own language which they can study for themselves, to guide them as they endeavor to reach the standards upheld before them. We have had no money with which to pay the cost of translating and printing lessons; however, we have prepared a simple placard, containing "Our Aim" and "My Pledge," as outlined herewith, which each family may have to hang on the wall. On this placard we have outlined certain basic principles to be studied and put into practice, endeavoring to stress such things as pertain particularly to the African home. Brief comments on several points in the Aim follow.
Since, as we are told in "Ministry of Healing," "the family tie is the closest, the most tender and sacred of any on earth" (page 356), and inasmuch as there is no sacredness attached to marriage by the heathen, and sometimes but little by those professing Christianity, we felt that (I) "Upholding the sanctity of marriage and the ideals of the Christian home" should come first in our aim to develop better homes, and closely associated with that, (2) "Teaching the principles of Christian living and Christian homemaking." (3) "Helping parents to sense their great responsibility to teach their children to form right habits, while young" is not easy to do. It means that good habits and right ways must first be developed in the parents before they can teach them to their children. (See Deut. 6:6, 7.)
(4 and 5) "Teaching the proper care of the body" involves much for a native shortly removed from heathenism. There are other ways in which the body is defiled besides with tobacco and alcohol. (6) Infant mortality in Africa is great. In some sections it is estimated to be as high as seventy-five per cent. Although the African wife feels disgraced if she does not have children, yet with the unhygienic care 'which children receive, only the fittest survive. Bow often we have seen a poor mother come bringing her sick baby to the mission with the sad story of how she has had two, three, or perhaps four other children who have all died about the time they reached the age of this one. Now she fears this one is going to die also, and what can she do?
Many of the natives live on an impoverished diet consisting chiefly of corn-meal mush. (7) "By teaching simple cookery and the relation of food to health and happiness," much can be done to help correct their diet. We try to teach them to prepare good, wholesome foods, and not go to the other extreme of teaching them to make fancy dishes which may be less wholesome than their original diet.
Africans have very little money with which to buy clothes, but they love to adorn their bodies just as much as do their more civilized brothers and sisters. (8) "By upholding the Bible standard in regard to clothing" (I Peter 3:3), we teach them that clothing should be used as a covering and protection for the body, and not simply for ornamentation. (9) By conducting institutes for mothers and fathers; by organizing study groups in the churches, with inspection of homes and villages; by holding parents' meetings at camp meeting; and by carrying on a girls' training school in each of the six union fields, where the girls are taught the principles of homemaking before they are married, we are endeavoring to help the native people to attain to a higher standard of life.
By signing the pledge, each wife and mother promises to do her part in upholding home standards. It requires strong faith to break away from heathen customs and influences, especially when there are those in the family who insist upon carrying them out. The wife is required to obey her husband, but when it comes to matters of conscience, if she is a Christian and the husband is not, she realizes that "we ought to obey God rather than men." Some of our African women are noble examples of steadfastness to the truth in the face of severe punishment for refusing to violate some of its principles, such as by brewing beer for their husbands, breaking the seventh commandment, and desecrating the Sabbath.
The children are responsive and are interesting to work for. How they love coming to camp meeting with their parents, especially if there are to be separate meetings for them! Yet many times they have to be denied this privilege, as well as the privilege of Sabbath school. Somebody must stay at home to guard the cattle and goats from straying away, and to keep the baboons from destroying the gardens. The babies always come to Sabbath school strapped on their mother's back, but the older children, who need its influence so much, are often left to look after things at home.
The heathen live in constant fear of the spirits. They worship them and offer sacrifices to them, not through love, but through fear. They have many superstitious ideas, one of which is that charms strung about the body will serve as a protection to them. Since they attribute sickness to some evil spirit which enters the body, they are always trying to forestall the spirits and keep them away. If sickness comes in spite of their efforts, they subject the body to the most inhuman devices of torture in order to drive out the spirits.
I once inquired concerning a boy in Central Africa not long ago whose face was so badly scarred from burns about his eyes that he could scarcely see. I asked what caused this awful accident and was told, "He was very sick when he was a baby, and that is where the witch doctor burned him to drive out the spirit that was making him sick."
I also saw a baby whose back was covered with what appeared to be a sort of garment made from thin strips of skin on which were laced such trinkets as animal claws, snake rattlers, certain pieces of bones, small flat stones, nails, safety pins, empty gun shells, etc. As I beheld the mother, standing apart from the crowd and hugging her babe to her breast, I was attracted by the strange collection hanging down the child's back. I wondered if this could be her idea of beauty, and asked through my interpreter why she had put all these things upon her child. The answer I received was, "She does not want her baby to get sick." And who could blame her ?
Poor, ignorant mothers, how my heart goes out to them in sympathy as I see them groping about in the dark, and yet pleading for light. Surely we must do all we can to help them!