The main object of zenana work for women is to get right at the hub of things and evangelize the home. Other branches of missionary work, such as educational and evangelistical, take the different members of the home out of the home, as it were, whereas the zenana work, or more correctly, the home-evangelization work, takes Christianity right into the home to enlighten, to cleanse, to break down prejudice, and to unify.
How many an earnest Indian man has studied Christianity and believed it, and yet has been held back by either the thought of opposition from the women in the home or by the actual opposition itself. Though the women may be degraded to the very lowest rank in the home, yet they are the most important factors in all its workings, especially in its religious phases. All the superstitious forms and ceremonies which constitute the main part of their religion are fanned and kept alive by the women of the home, and could they be evangelized so as to forsake these forms, it would naturally follow that soon their old religion would crumble and decay, for it has no life-sustaining power in itself.
In this home-evangelization work, the children and youth constitute a very strong challenge to earnest effort. It is astonishing at what a tender age the babes in the home will lisp that name which is above every name, and point out the loved form in the Bible pictures with their tiny baby fingers. They are unwilling to allow a single Bible lesson to pass till they have seen Jesus. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings halt Thou ordained strength." Then there are the youth. How often do the youth fresh from school gather round the Bible pictures and rehearse the different Bible lessons they have heard in the mission schools. And the mothers listen with proud pleasure, and baby brother and sister with childish awe.
Can we not get a vision from this of one way to break down prejudice against Christianity and build up strong favorable impressions? Thus when the father comes in contact with the message, either in the outer world or by reading, he finds in his home harmony and preparedness. The great object of home evangelization work is that an energizing, life-giving gospel current should flow continually through these fetid homes, and that the life of the worker may be such that by her truthfulness, love, forbearance, and self-denial, she may in some humble measure translate the life of the Master into language so powerful and eloquent, yet so simple, that the most ignorant can understand.
But regrettably, when any branch of Missionary work is under discussion, the question naturally arises, "What fruit does it produce?" For many reasons, zenana work does not help very materially to swell actual cold statistics. Perhaps most of the fruit of zenana work is hidden with Him who keeps that which is committed to Him till that day.
Difficulties of Zenana Work
There are many things which effectually hinder a Mohammedan woman from forsaking all and stepping out into Christianity. If she is under sixteen, she is a minor and cannot legally do it. If she is a married woman, she cannot legally leave her home without the consent of her husband. When you take into consideration that the age of sixteen is considered the most suitable age for marriage, you will understand that there is a very small percentage who can take this step without getting into legal difficulties themselves, as well as involving those who are sponsoring their cause. Another factor which makes it hard for missionaries to bring out women from their homes is that offices such as that of city magistrate, etc., formerly held mostly by Europeans, are now in the hands of Indians. Naturally, when any trouble arises over a woman's leaving her home on religious grounds, they are not backward in favoring the men and their own religion.
But the home-evangelizing work goes steadily forward, having for its seal: "The Lord knoweth them that are His." The gospel is brought into many homes. The name of Jesus and the thought of His soon coming are very precious to many, and they often speak of their loving Saviour in a more worshipful way than they do of their own prophet. Many have been taught reading and writing, and other simple subjects, and are given elementary health reform hints. Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, and as the constant dripping of water finally has its effect on the hardest stone, so results are seen in hearts hardened by generations of vice and sin.
At present India is in a transition stage, and this has brought about a tremendous change of outlook in the world of women. Education for women and for girls is a topic which is now occupying newspaper columns and engaging public attention. Early in the morning the streets are thronged by motor lorries and handcarts which are taking girls to the numerous schools that seem to have sprung up like mushrooms. The more orthodox, who are not yet willing to send their girls to school, engage Indian teachers who come daily to teach their girls. There is no difficulty now in getting into the homes. The great problem is how to keep the spiritual teaching from being swamped by the secular and the orthodox. Be this all as it may, a worker for Moslems has aptly said, "Until the gospel replaces the Koran, Moslems will remain much as they were in spite of reforms."
One of the most influential members of the Moslem community in North India, a man who has devoted the greater part of his private means and practically his whole time to promoting the cause of family education, writes thus, emphasizing the fact that the importance of work for women is now coming very much to the front:
"The Mohammedans of India should aim at transforming themselves into a more organized community, and should concentrate their individual and collective efforts upon useful enterprises. In the true Mohammedans, I include women. Any scheme or organization of Mohammedans in which women are ignored is against nature and is therefore doomed to failure. Biologically they play an important role in the maintenance and preservation of the race. Sociologically they are the foundation of family life, and furnish one of the strongest motives for the development of the altruistic virtues which play a prominent part in the progress of nations.
"In the estimation of those working in Moslem lands, the subject of the development and education of women is considered the most vital one in the whole Moslem question, while the Moslem question itself is considered the most important one before the Christian church today. It is true, absolutely true, that the fight is an uphill one. With all their might should the workers emphasize this fact—India has not yet been won. The citadels of Hinduism and Mohammedanism frown down haughtily on our desultory attacks. What then? Have we no soldier spirit in us?"
Shall we say, like some of Nehemiah's builders when difficulties loomed ahead, "The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish ; so that we are not able to build the wall"? Or shall we not rather say with grand old Nehemiah himself, whose courage only rose with danger, "Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight"?
A Call to Prayer
Among the many important resolutions passed by the Conference on Missions to Moslems held at Lucknow some years ago, there is none of greater importance than this call to prayer:
"The conference, being convinced that the present apparent inability of the Christian church to deal effectively with the great problem of the evangelization of Mohammedans is due above all else to the weakness of the prayer life, alike in the home churches and the branches of the church which are springing up in foreign lands, calls urgently upon Christendom to have far larger recourse to the great weapon which has been put into her hands by our High Priest, and to endeavor largely to increase the number and devotion of those remembrances of the Lord, who will 'give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.' "
"We have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do : but our eyes are upon Thee."