Oriental Village Work

How can our message impact even those who are not even aware they are human beings?

By JOSEPHINE HOLMES, Former Missionary to the China Division

Seventh-day Adventists have just one message, the message of salvation from sin and death, to give alike to the most sophis­ticated individual in the world or to the poor peasant woman who may not even be aware that she is a human being. But while the mes­sage is one, the methods of approach and the manner of giving it must vary with the circum­stances. The spirit of Paul manifest in his words, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some," should be the attitude of every messenger for Christ.

There is one fact that should never be over­looked by' the one commissioned to carry the gospel to people who are living in less fortunate surroundings than he is accustomed to. And that is the fact of the equality of all mankind. Psalms 33 :14, 15 sets it forth clearly. "From the place of His habitation He [the Lord] looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fash­ioneth their hearts alike."

The village women of China, regardless of the social standing of their families, have very few opportunities to contact the outside world or develop their own personality, except through the influence of Christianity. Although in the large cities there is a very definite progressive movement, both among Christians and among those who may not have a personal knowledge of Christ, the village women, even of the most respected -families, have little knowledge of what takes place beyond walking distance of their own homes.

It is not hard for the missionary woman to attract attention in an Oriental village. Human curiosity will cause a group of native women to gather around her. But the real problem is to adapt herself to her surroundings, and to adapt the message to their comprehension and needs. The ideal way is for her to be in such close sympathy with them that they will forget she is not one of them, and center their interest in the message she has to give.

But before she can shift the center of interest from herself to her message, it is necessary to lead her hearers to feel that she is just a nor­mal human being very much like themselves. Sometimes it is necessary to receive a great deal of personal attention that may seem strange, but it is all a part of giving the gospel. If the women are permitted to feel her hair, take her hand and scrutinize it carefully, and examine her clothes, they will tend to become better acquainted with her. A genuine interest in them and their families also helps to remove any feeling of strangeness between the village women and their guest.

The food the guest eats is always an item of intense interest. If she will sit down with them and eat the same food they have prepared for their families, using the same utensils they use, they begin to feel at once that she is not so different from them. To refuse or hesitate to do this will certainly cause loss of prestige. Food is an item of universal interest to women, both because of their own needs and because they must prepare it for their families. There­fore a guest in a far-off land must take a thoughtful and wise attitude toward the native foods.

Clothes are also of vital interest to women everywhere. If the woman missionary will permit her wearing apparel to be carefully ex­amined, and answer patiently any questions that may be asked, she will help the natives. If she is really wise, she will dress as nearly as pos­sible like those with whom she associates. She will also prove her ability to use her hands, for Oriental women of all classes are intensely practical. Seldom could a scholastically trained woman compete with Oriental village women in hand sewing, but they do enjoy watching her knit. They recognize knitting as a very useful art and desire to master it. They also very much appreciate having their own handwork admired, and truly most of them are real gen­iuses with the needle. All these things tend to build up a common interest and mutual un­derstanding.

It is always a source of gratification to vil­lage women to feel that their guest is quite at home and at ease in their surroundings. The wise guest will reply to any questions about her home, that it is very much like theirs. She will find points of similarity and make them prominent. If someone is present who speaks of outstanding differences, she will let every­one know that those differences are immaterial to her. She will put everyone at ease by a comfortable, happy, unafraid attitude.

The woman missionary has come to tell the wonderful story of salvation. All her contacts should lead to the one great objective of mak­ing known the Creator and Ruler of all the earth. Truly He has created alike the hearts of all the inhabitants of earth. It is only a matter of looking past the superficial and into the heart to gain a mutual understanding and establish a common sisterhood. Then heralding the "good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" will be very much simplified.

Jesus, in praying for His disciples, made this request, "Sanctify them through Thy truth:

Thy word is truth." And Paul says, "We through the patience and comfort of the Scrip­tures might have hope." It is impossible to build a strong Christian character or maintain a bright hope through these trying days with­out personally studying the Scriptures.

This fundamental truth is the same the world over. If the Oriental village woman is to be "strong in faith," she must be able to search the Scriptures for herself. But in the interior villages of China, the majority of women who have not been under Christian influence are not able to read. Until the last few years in­- tellectual training for them has been considered unnecessary. The majority of younger women, however, are very eager to learn to read if someone will offer to help them and give them the necessary encouragement. Herein lies a real opportunity for the missionary woman.

The Christian Literature Society of Shang­hai has put out. some very useful books for women who are just beginning to learn to read.

It is profitable for us as a denomination to use some of their books, but we find that we must have our own to teach the third angel's message in its fullness. Since the very early days of our work in the interior we have had one or two little books, and in the last few years there has been real progress in this direction.

In China, as in America, the Sabbath school is the door of the church. So it was the Sabbath school department that began putting out more simple literature for the uneducated. In a short time we had a very creditable supply.

The first book to be used by those who had no knowledge of the written language had just one sentence on a page and the characters were about an inch square. The first 'page had on it the foundation stone of Christianity : "God is love." Each page thereafter had a simple statement of an outstanding doctrine. For ex­ample, one page contained these words, "'The dead know not anything,'" and another, "Jesus said, 'I will come again.'" As the page was read, the fuller meaning of the doctrine was explained.

After the first book had been mastered, the student was ready to begin the study of the simple Sabbath school lessons. Each lesson contained the memory verse and about ten sen­tences summing up the principal thoughts of the lesson for the week. Those lessons were very popular. Often after a woman had learned to read quite freely, she still chose to study the simple Quarterly. Using that, she was able to read the entire lesson through each day and really fix the thoughts well in her mind.

Other simple books on Bible doctrines, health principles, sanitation, and child training fol­lowed. The Home Commission put out mate­rial similar in content to the material used in America. The Christian mothers showed a very keen interest in it, and the influence was felt throughout the field. Even the grand­mothers found it interesting and helpful, and many of them enrolled in the classes that were conducted. The little child playing on a mat at the door of a hut on the bank of the Yellow River lived a happier, healthier life because of those classes.

The ultimate goal of each of the women con­verted to Christianity was to be able to read the Bible for herself. It took several years for the average woman to reach her individual goal, but hundreds of women have done it. Where once it might have been said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," now they may say, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." And with light come comfort, hope, and courage. The former things that are the natural result of a heathen religion have passed away. Life in this world has much more value and meaning, and there is the hope of immortality in the world made new.

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By JOSEPHINE HOLMES, Former Missionary to the China Division

August 1943

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