Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Most of my writing relates to church history and missions, now and then giving that writing a personal touch as in the Postscript to From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions. Near the end of this final section, I refer to stories of those who felt called to become missionaries but never fulfilled that calling. Here are the final paragraphs of the book:
Following her high school graduation her life was busy and eventful. Bible college, Christian liberal arts college, university, marriage, family, teaching career. One followed on another. But as the years slipped by, the prospect of embarking on an overseas missions career became less and less a reality.
One of those stories began in the 1950s in a farming community in northern Wisconsin. The setting was a summer Bible camp where missionary Delmer Smith of the Christian and Missionary Alliance was the featured speaker. There in the rustic pavilion under his moving messages a thirteen-year-old farm girl caught a vision for missions, and at the closing meeting she stood to commit her life to God as a foreign missionary. Through her high school year that followed, foreign missions was her life’s goal. Nothing, she vowed, would ever deter her.
Following her high school graduation her life was busy and eventful. Bible college, Christian liberal arts college, university, marriage, family, teaching career. One followed on another. But as the years slipped by, the prospect of embarking on an overseas missions career became less and less a reality.
Only three miles away from her childhood home another young farm girl was growing up—her cousin, Valerie Stellrecht. They attended the same schools and the same little country church. Valerie, too, felt called to foreign missions. She, too enrolled at the St. Paul Bible College to prepare for her life’s calling. And she, too, longed for marriage and family. But her sense of calling to the foreign field came first. Valerie graduated from Bible college and soon thereafter bade farewell to her family and loved one sand set out alone for Ecuador, where she continues to serve today with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Two young women whose lives paralleled each other’s in so many respects. Two young women who felt called to foreign missions. Valerie went. I stayed home.
And now the rest of the story. . . .
In my latest writing, I tell the story that I've kept secret for many years. As I say in the previous paragraphs, I feared that I would end up a single missionary. I fell in love without asking questions and married a man who said that he, too, was called to be a missionary. When he finished seminary he served as pastor of two churches and taught in a Bible College. The marriage ended after 19 years, much of it colored by black and blue bruises, defended with a black and white Bible. I wonder how many missionary wives have stories that are not so different from mine.
Zondervan has a blog here that contains a lengthy excerpt.
Zondervan has a blog here that contains a lengthy excerpt.
Posted by Ruth A. Tucker at 5:54 PM
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
This book available March, 2016.
One of my favorite subjects to research relates to women in Christian history. Just when I think I know a lot on the topic I discover new and intriguing stories, thanks to the many women (and men) who are finding this area of study worthwhile pursuing. Their plowing through original sources and publishing their work has been invaluable to me.
There are other books on the market that offer profiles of women in church history, but most of them present an idealized perspective. These women were real, warts and all-----and there are plenty of warts in this volume. Proof that God works with people just like me.
Posted by Ruth A. Tucker at 5:23 PM
Monday, December 18, 2006
I wrote this book nearly two decades ago in an effort to fill the huge gender void in missions history. During the modern Protestant era women sometimes numbered more than two thirds the overseas missionary force. Yet, they have been forgotten in the pages of history books.
Some of the most fascinating memoirs I have read are those of missionaries and particularly women missionaries. Many of the biographies of these women turn them into super-saints, but when they are allowed to speak for themselves they are more likely to be themselves and admit their failings.
Yet, it is hard to get into the heart and mind of our missionary sisters a century ago. In many ways they looked and acted so differently than we do today. Here are two of the best known missionary heroines of generations past decked out in full regalia. Imagine packing clothes like this for China and Africa. But that is what they did.
Charlotte "Lottie" Moon, who served for decades in China with the Southern Baptist Convention before she died in 1912 of starvation. That's a story in itself. Stay Tuned.
Mary Slessor, who went to Africa and took up the mantle of David Livingstone in 1875, two years after he died. She was an explorer and evangelist and her legacy lives on in Nigeria today.
This is Mary Richardson Walker, nineteenth-century missionary to Oregon, who kept a fascinating diary.
Here is a wonderful link to her story.
MISSIONARY WOMAN’S MEMOIRS BANNED!
Those are the headlines of 40 years ago. Well, maybe there were no such headlines. But there should have been. Many Christians were very upset about a controversial book published in 1966—so controversial that some Christian bookstores refused to carry it. The title: No Graven Image by Elisabeth Elliot. The book was actually fiction, but it was Elliot’s way of telling her experience as a missionary in South America through the life of Margaret Sparhawk.
So shocking were some of the stories Elliot wanted to publish that she dared not write them as an actual memoir. Yet, this memoir stands as a symbol of missionary writing from a feminine perspective.
In many ways, missionary men through the generations have had more professional status invested in their work than have women. Women historically have been sidelined in missions as in other ministries and professions. At various times in history they have outnumbered men and have conducted more evangelistic outreach than their male colleagues. But they have not been the main characters in the written histories and their work has sometimes been marginalized.
Without the “career-investment” that men have, women have had less to lose by telling the story of mission work like it really is. Indeed, a wide survey of missionary memoirs show women offering honest accounts of mission ministry that has otherwise frequently been sanitized by a veneer of God-talk.
These women writers one after another have allowed themselves to be vulnerable in painting a sometimes messy picture of their own character and of their missionary work. These raw memoirs have much to say to us in the 21st century.
Isobel Kuhn sheds light on marriage—especially the struggles of two people in a remote area living together day after day without reprieve. She allows other women to dare share their behind-the-scenes stories—stories that say, Hey, I’m not the only one that struggles in my missionary marriage.
Kuhn tells about a raging disagreement with her husband over employing household help. “Hot with temper,” she writes, “I put on my hat and coat and walked out of the house down through the town and out onto the plain, angry resentment boiling within. I wasn’t going to live in a house where a lazy servant was condoned and given preference over the wife! . . . For hours I walked blind as to direction, not caring what happened to me, but just determined to get away from it all.”
There were other issues as well. Regarding ministry, Kuhn writes: “Part of the heartache of all missionary work is the bright promising convert who turns out to be a mere puffball, crumbling like a macaroon under the least pressure.”
Dorrie Van Stone’s memoirs tell the heartbreaking story of a young boy not adjusting to MK boarding school and the decision to leave the work in Irian Jaya because of that. “Burney still clung to me, and I had to pry him forcibly away,” she wrote. “That was like pulling away a part of my life. Lloyd and I knew that such a decision could not be justified—how could we be separated from our children when they needed us most? . . . Yet paradoxically, we also knew that God had called us to the Baliem Valley.”
Helen Roseveare, missionary doctor to the Congo tells of being taken captive by the Simba rebels. She tells of the terror of rape—and the unexpected awakening to sexual desires. Mabel Francis tells of her desire for marriage—especially when the task seemed way to big for one person: “I thought, ‘Well, now, if I was married, I could follow on with my husband.’” But the Lord spoke to her and “the whole thing passed out of my life like a cloud passing away. . . . The thought of marriage has meant nothing to me since that time—nothing.
Mildred Cable tells of how she and her two partners were ridiculed when word got out that they were requesting to be relocated for ministry in the Gobi Desert. “Some [were] saying in more or less parliamentary language that there were no fools like old fools. . . .To a good many people it had seemed just plain foolishness. Why leave this important and successful school work to go off on some harebrained scheme of roaming over vast deserts looking for a few isolated tent dwellers and remote villages, where there were literally tens of thousands of people near at hand, all needing to hear the Gospel?”
Missionary memoirs are not just fascinating reading. They challenge us as we struggle with issues in our own lives—and they also challenge us to write our own open and honest stories about family and ministry in faraway places.
THE CHINA TRIO
Mildred Cable (1878-1952), pictured
Eva French (1869-1960)
Francesca French (1871-1960)
These three women worked together for many years. They were wonderful missionaries with an inspiring story of their dedication for Christ and His great commission.
From an early age Mildred wanted to be a missionary in India. However in 1902 she went to China . Eva French was already there, she had joined the China Inland Mission before the Boxer rising of 1900 in which many Christians were killed. Her sister, Francesca joined them later on.
The three women worked in China for nearly twenty years, setting up schools and a rehabilitation centre for opium abusers. But they began to feel the need to take the Gospel to new areas where the missionaries had not been to.
In 1923 the three women went to Kanchow, travelling on the Silk Road and evangelizing as they went. There they trained Christians and travelled throughout the region holding tent meetings. But they knew that their destination would be the Gobi desert, a most inhospitable place with few inhabitants who were scattered throughout the area.
In 1926 they returned to England and their story caught the public imagination. Less than two years later they returned to the Gobi desert and stayed until they were forced to leave in 1936 during a time of political uprising. They had survived in a hostile environment and successfully proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the region.
The three women returned to England after 36 years in China and worked for the British and Foreign Bible society for the rest of their lives. SEE source.
March 22, 1928
The China Trio, Return to Share the Gospel in the Gobi.
Christian History Institute.
In 1923, the China Trio, three English women, veteran missionaries, all of them, headed for Gansu Province in Central Asia, carrying with them a cartload of Bibles and literature. Their aim was to visit every city of the Gansu Province located beyond the Great Wall. They knew that other women missionaries were in the hands of bandits, but went anyway. Before their adventure was over, they would endure hunger, thirst, pain and sleeplessness; they would be robbed, arrested by a warlord and stoned. They would live lives of gruelling adventure and make journeys that no other European woman had made.
The China Trio. Used by permission of OMF.
Evangeline French was the oldest of the three women. In her youth she had both daring, rebellious and angry. One day she had exploded to her amiable sister Francesca, "If I could take upon myself the world's misery, I would--and jump into the sea with it."
"Eva, there is no need to do that. It was done long ago, on the cross," responded Francesca.
Her sister's reply sobered Eva. Two weeks later, she slipped into a chapel, sought Christ and began to change.
Mildred was the daughter of a draper. As a young woman she had heard a missionary speaker tell of China's spiritual need, and become eager to serve as a missionary. She studied nursing and chemistry, sure that healing hands and practical skills would open doors of witness for her. The young man she was to marry dumped her when she stayed true to her determination to go to China.
Francesca was last of the trio. Although she was the quietest of the three, she once debated the witty Catholic journalist G.K. Chesterton, who joked that she ought to be burnt as a heretic for opposing him. Trained as a nurse, she was sensitive and sympathetic.
They traveled slowly, visiting China's people in their markets and homes, speaking to as they could, turning every conversation to Christ and "gossiping the gospel." They cooked over camel dung.
The three women had been in Gansu for only a few days when Dr. Kao, a Chinese Christian who had moved to Gandjou so that he could act as a witness in that pagan city, sent them a letter pleading for their help. Years before, they had heard him speak and decided to honor his invitation.
After great hardship they arrived. Dr. Kao and the Gandjou Christians had begun praying for weeks that the Lord would send experienced Christians to them. Now three had arrived. Dr. Kao made the Trio an offer. If they would stay and teach the Christians of Gandjou, the Christians would send a band of men and women with them to spread the gospel in the surrounding region. The Trio agreed.
Thus began one of the most extraordinary gospel adventures in history. Five or six times over the next thirteen years, the three women visited every oasis town and village that lay outside the Great Wall in the province of Gansu. Everywhere they went they saw the terrible effects of opium and proclaimed that God could deliver people from the drug. They gave lessons in the phonetic alphabet, treated diseases and astonished everyone by rescuing babies who had been thrown away.
Returning to England in 1926 for a vacation, they traveled down the old silk road. On this day, March 22, 1928, the trio returned to China and settled again in Sudjou. But in 1936, all foreigners were ordered out of the city. Tired and old, the three admitted that their work in China was over. They said their final farewells and returned to England, rejoicing that this time they were able to travel part of the way by air. Over the years, Mildred and Francesca had recorded their adventures in books--twenty altogether.
Mildred was the first to die in 1952. Eva lived to be ninety, and during her last illness, Francesca slept on the floor beside her to care for her. Scolded for sleeping on the floor, Francesca replied, "I've been sleeping on floors all my life." She outlived her older sister by only three weeks.
1. Anderson, Gerald H., ed. Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. (New York: Macmillan Reference USA; London: Simon & Schuster and Prentice Hall International, 1998).
2. Cable, Mildred and Francesca French. Through Jade Gate and Central Asia: An Account of Journeys in Kansu, Turkestan and the Gobi Desert. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1939).
3. Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith. (New York: Harper, 1956).
4. Gordon, Ernest. A Book of Protestant Saints. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1946).
5. "Missionary and Feminist Icon." (www.christianityandrenewal.com/archdec2001d.htm)
6. Platt, W.J. Three Women: Mildred Cable, Francesca French, Evangeline French. (London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1964).
October 23, 2006
Mildred Cable's Northwest China
"The Gobi Desert" — written by English missionary Mildred Cable and first published in 1942 — is an account of travels in northwest China during a very different era. The book, which describes Cable's journeys through Gansu and Xinjiang (then still called Turkestan) between 1923 and 1936 is filled with descriptions of the Turki (Uyghur), Mongol, Tungan (Hui), Kirghiz (Kyrgyz), Uzbek, Tibetan, Russian, and Qazaq (Kazakh) people who each ethnically dominated their own small region before the post-liberation hyper-influx of Han migrants. The book is a fun read, both for its humorous descriptions of local peoples and for its politically incorrect "heathens-just-don't-understand" moral tone. Here, for example, is an excellent description of Xinjiang's Uyghur donkey drivers:
For local journeys, or when, owing to the perishable nature of the cargo time is of great importance, the Turki with his drove of little donkeys is the man. He is met on every road of Turkestan, always hustling his beasts through a cloud of dust and lashing them right and left to keep them up to speed. He is a great burly fellow, dressed in loose clothes which increase his bulk, and his baggy trousers are stuffed into high leather boots. His chapan (coat) is tied in with a thick belt, and he wears a round hat with a sheepskin border which mixes with his loose hair to form a shaggy frame to the weather-beaten face.
He mainly conveys melons, early vegetables and fruit — apricots, peaches, grapes and pears according to the season.... He knows no organization of travel life, but pushes on from stage to stage with restless energy. When the donkeys must be fed he drives them to an inn-court, tosses the panniers from their backs, carelessly throws fodder into the manger, pulls some hard cakes of bread from his own food-bag and sits down to a meal of bread soaked in tea. Being a Moslem, he will buy nothing from a kaper (infidel), so himself carries what he will need to eat on the road.
The donkeys are small and cheap, so he is careless of life and sacrifices them in large numbers to his passion for speed and his reckless output of strength. He will use dangerous short-cuts over which no other class of transport-man will venture, and in bad weather many beasts die by the roadside. This does not trouble him... He will normally do five full stages in three days and nothing may stand in his way, but when the goods are handed over and he can lodge in a Moslem inn he enjoys twenty-four hours of sheer luxury. There is hot, greasy pilau to eat, women to wait on him, and long carefree hours of sleep to enjoy before he starts again on the hectic return journey.
I'm not really sure that all that much has changed during the past eighty years, although donkeys are probably more expensive. Uyghur womens' contempt in general for Uyghur men — which has been conveyed to me on numerous occasions — was already quite evident in the 1930s:
The foundation of the Turki home is undisguised gratification of sensuous pleasures. The man comes home to sleep, and all the relationships of the home centre on his use of those hours of darkness. On that score he is master, and tyrannical in his use of power, for the male creation has unquestioned right of dictatorship in the Turki world. He has too many children to be deeply attached to any one of them, and when a child dies its death brings him little sorrow. As to a sick wife, the sooner she goes the better. Family relationships bring him so little of the chastening which refines and purifies character that is is not suprising that men of the Turki race remain, as their wives always declare them to be, "mere animals."
What I most want to share with you, however, are some of the pictures reproduced in "The Gobi Desert". There aren't many historical photographs of Xinjiang and northwest China available online, so I though I'd do my part here:
The original photo captions, from left to right and top to bottom are: A Turki girl; The tower of Sirkip; The inn courtyard (showing Mildred Cable); A Mongol woman at her tent door; The great facade was pierced with innumerable openings (showing Cable at the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang); The worst of the desert stages were over; The horns of an ovis poli (Marco Polo sheep); One of the Khan's men; A family of Qazaqs; The city gate at Tunhwang.
The funniest aspect of Cable's narration is her frequent reference to her activities as a Christian missionary. Once can only imagine the gratitude of the desert woman in the quote below:
We were once asked to share the meal of an isolated family whose only water-supply oozed through the sand and collected at the bottom of a deep pit. For grain they were reduced to a ration of bran... steaming it carefully over a fire the desert woman made a palatable meal, which she generously shared with us. We in our turn taught her how to thank God for daily food.
Cable also can't help but remind us that the terrible plight of so many Turkis, Tungans, and even Han Chinese could easily be relieved by acceptance of Jesus Christ. Here, she describes a Uyghur fasting ritual:
For forty long days the only occupation of the fasting man was to say his ritual prayers and to enumerate the ninety-nine attributes of Allah.... I stood there awhile and let my imagination picture the stones falling ceaselessly through forty long days from the weakening fingers of this man who knew all the ninety-nine names for God but had never learnt the one which would have changed everything for him — God is love.
Ah, missionaries. You've got to give them an A for effort, but an F for cultural sensitivity. Anyway, enjoy the photos.
The Trio and Topsy
Penge, South London, February 5, 1998...
The funeral of an elderly woman, daughter of a Mongolian Chief father and a Tibetan mother. An unusual event in itself, even for our cosmopolitan capital. Her story was, by any account, a remarkable one.
No one knows exactly when Topsy was born, but at just three weeks old, she was taken from the Tibetan foothills and sold to a childless Chinese couple living in Suchow, at the far western end of the Great Wall of China. She seemed a good buy, until it became clear that she was deaf and consequently dumb. Then, when a natural son was born to the couple, Gwa-Gwa (Little Lonely) was turned out to beg.
It was this beggar girl, "with rags tied round her anyhow" who came knocking at the door of three missionaries some time in 1925. She was about seven years old, and her legs were badly bitten by roaming dogs. In her silent world, she did not hear them bark, as other children did, so could not escape.
As she was to reflect afterwards through mime, this was the first time in her life that she had received kindness. For the first time in her life, someone said "Come!" and not "Go!"
Mildred Cable and Evangeline and Francesca French had an itinerant ministry in Bible teaching and evangelism in towns strewn across the Gobi Desert. Gwa-Gwa would forlornly follow their cart for as long as she could keep up with it when they went on their trips, and visit their courtyard daily while they were away, glad of the soup provided for her at the missionaries’ request, and longing for their return.
"The Trio" as these women became known, were concerned for her, as her adoptive mother, an opium addict, would beat her hard. With help and advice from local Christian friends, they eventually offered to purchase her for ten cents. This was a massive undertaking with lifelong implications. But for now she had clothes to wear, a bed to sleep in, and "three mamas" to look after her.
Gwa-Gwa was no longer "Little Lonely" and the Trio called her Ai-Lien (Love Bond). However, this was difficult for her to lip-read, so it was shortened to "Topsy." In due course, she would need a British passport, and UK citizenship. This was eventually procured for her under the name Eileen Guy, the nearest equivalent sound to her Chinese name. She would also need to adopt a new culture when the missionaries came home, and to learn to lip-read in a new, different, and difficult language. Each of these aspects of Topsy’s life could be a story in itself.
The Trio were spirited women; spurred on by passion and conviction... "PC" missionaries! Their deep devotion to Christ comes out clearly in their spiritual autobiography Something Happened (Hodder and Stoughton, 1933).
Eva French had been an outrageous child, so frequently courting death that the family had carefully, if painfully, resolved that it would be better for no one to risk their own life in saving her. She was to describe herself later as "the fervid nihilist, the incipient communist, the embryonic Bolshevist, known to her world as Evangeline French."
When finally despairing with herself and with the world, she confided in her sister, Francesca, "I wish I could take everyone’s misery onto myself, and throw myself in the sea." As her sister pointed out, there was no need, as Christ had already done that. It stunned the family when Eva became a Christian, and soon afterwards expressed her desire to serve Christ in China.
During the selection process, there was some doubt as to whether she should be allowed to sail on health grounds, and Hudson Taylor intervened, accepting personal responsibility for her to go to North China, where the climate would be less exacting. She arrived in Shansi in 1893, seven years before the Boxer Uprising, and nine years ahead of Mildred Cable.
Mildred Cable was an adventurer from childhood, though family and teachers tried to repress this spirit in her, so she could give all she had to her academic studies. In her early teens, a mission was held in Guildford, and she went to the first meeting. However, with fears that "anything might happen" she wasn’t allowed to go back, until her pastor made a special request to her parents that she be permitted to attend the closing meeting that Sunday afternoon. Here she was converted.
A year or two later she was on vacation when a message arrived from this same pastor to say that a missionary was coming to town and would be speaking on the work of the China Inland Mission. Something inside made her return early, to be there. The missionary wore a text embroidered on her collar, which Mildred felt was rather embarrassing for the south of England, and she told her so!
A year later, Mildred announced her decision to serve in China, and visited the mission’s Candidate Department while still at school. She went on to study human sciences at London University. As she was nearing the end of her course, the Boxer Uprising brought terrible news of the slaughter of "foreign devils," including 58 missionaries and 20 children from the China Inland Mission. The missionary who had visited Guildford, now a friend, had been the first to die.
Then the man to whom Mildred was engaged, and who had been as committed to China as she, wrote to say that he would not marry her unless she decided not to go there. This almost broke her. Her final exam was the following day; she didn’t sit it. Instead she shrank into a period of isolation. But as news crept through that the mission was now sending people to China again, as the Uprising had subsided, she sailed in 1901, letting "the curtain fall upon the past."
Francesca, four years younger than her sister, loved music and the arts, read widely, and had the skill of persuasion in discussions. Their eldest sister married shortly before Eva left for missionary training, and the very day after she left, their father died. So the family of five at home was quickly reduced to two, and Francesca went to live with the mother. The girls had been schooled in Geneva, and their move to England had been difficult for them.
Francesca and her mother moved to Richmond, Surrey, and began to attend an evangelical church for the first time. That summer, Francesca went to the Keswick Convention, returning a week later with a new grasp of spiritual things. She loved the Sunday sermons: "Every time he [Evan Hopkins] came into his pulpit, his heart was indicting some great matter. There was never anything slovenly, commonplace or trivial about his preaching."
Francesca was made missionary treasurer, but this was not considered a success, as she actively dissuaded people from giving unless they really wanted to. "Missionary subscriptions fell off appallingly." When her mother died, Francesca took herself away for a few months to consider what she should do next. Her sister was shortly due home for furlough, together with Mildred. They asked her to join them.
When Mildred had first worked with Eva, senior people expressed concern that the partnership could not work. Both were too strong-willed. Too individualistic. They would be like the immovable object and the irresistible force. And now it may have seemed that their friendship was too close to admit a third party, but this was not so, and together this threesome became the legendary Trio, the "threefold cord which could not easily be broken." They first returned to the school Mildred and Eva had run in Hwochow, now with 200 pupils. Then in 1923, four years before Chiang Kai-shek became China’s leader, they began their nomadic mission to the tribes of the Gobi. Brave women for an all-demanding task. They were the first missionaries to go to the region since the Nestorians in the sixth century.
Writers and influencers
There have been an unusual number of gifted writers in OMF's history. Mildred Cable and Francesca French were among the best known in their day. They were shrewd in their observations of trends and of human nature, drawing out spiritual lessons, and using them to illustrate scripture.
Their best-known children’s book, The Story of Topsy, was not without its didactic note, affectionately put:
"She really was very happy, and life would have been perfect, she thought, if only she could always have her own way about everything. But that could not be, for now she had to find her place in a picture where there was a background of home, and while the solitary Topsy had looked quite all right as an isolated beggar-maid, the great big TOPSY in the pretty picture looked very ugly."
The missionaries continued their writing after they returned to Britain, while working for the Bible Society. They completed 20 books, for adults and children, many going into eight or nine editions within the first five years. (Virago Press, the feminist publishing house, reissued The Gobi Desert in 1984.) Their fluency, imagination, and sheer authority commanded a wide readership. Biography, history, apologetics - all came across with a sense of warmth. These women loved Christ, and wanted to grow a deeper love for him in their readers.
Oliver Barclay in his book Evangelicalism in Britain 1935-1995 (IVP) comments on the "continuing source of spiritual challenge and encouragement" brought by OMF's books and magazine in and around the war years. No doubt the names of Cable and French were among those in his mind.
The Trio were well-known and admired, and huge crowds would gather to hear them at public meetings on their furloughs. By 1935 the situation in Central Asia was worsening, and they resolved to return, though they knew it may be a fairly brief last tour. Kingsway Hall in Central London was jammed full. An account of that meeting in China’s Millions, August 1935, tells its own story.
"With no sense of incongruity, humour and gravity blended together, the Lord being Lord of all. ...Miss Eva French, having thanked friends for their overflowing love, centred her remarks around a question she had been frequently asked, namely 'Are you not thrilled to be going back?' Picturing conditions of the Gobi, its stony floor, the filth of its inns, the hard bread and unappetizing food, the uncertainties of life, the rumours, the brigands, etc., these things, she said, made poor thrills. But contacts with needy souls, the evidences that kind deeds did bear fruit, were thrills worthwhile. But the only true thrill was to be able to say, as the Master did, 'I delight to do thy will.'
"People had asked if Topsy was thrilled at going back to her native land, but Topsy’s bitter experiences in the land of her birth were poor preparations for being thrilled at the prospect of return. But there were a few things that Topsy wanted to say, and though she had been born deaf and was consequently dumb, she had been taught to know about 500 words. At Miss French’s invitation, Topsy then rose and said 'goodbye' and 'forget-me-not,' waving her hand as she did so. Topsy will not be forgotten, and the memory of her will speak for her people.
"Miss Cable immediately transported us to the realities of the Central Asian roads. In spirit she had been there while her companions had been speaking. She almost felt the desert grit. At home, all was for speed, but the ancient roads, with their three miles per hour, were better suited for the great business of preaching the gospel. Christ had joined himself to two discouraged disciples on the road, and the talk had been about great things. The great question of the road was 'Whence do you come, and whither are you going?' Think what you lose by your speed, she said. You can’t talk of these great and everlasting subjects when speed is the passion."
The reporter then added,
"What a traveller puts in his hand-luggage could not fail to be a revelation, and Bunyan was her choice."
The Trio were returning to the most inhospitable desert in the world. They had already crossed it four times, and were under no romantic delusions of excitement. They would once more pack and repack their ramshackle cart, the Flying Turki, to get in as many scripture booklets as it could hold, along with their bare living essentials. They knew what it was to face terrors from brigands and threats of death from the fearful General Ma, the 19-year-old "Baby General" who had assumed power in many places, and they had seen friends executed. They knew what it was to be shrivelled by thirst, taunted by mirages, and blown senseless in windstorms.
The Trio’s suffering is reminiscent of the apostle Paul’s and as reluctantly recounted. They shared in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering in a way which is given to few of us. Mildred Cable died in 1952, and the French sisters within a month of each other in 1960. Now Topsy is reunited with her "three mamas."
Julia Cameron © OMF International (UK)
My parents were missionaries in Belgium where I was born. When I was a few months old, we came to the U.S. and lived in Germantown, not far from Philadelphia, where my father became an editor of the Sunday School Times. Some of my contemporaries may remember the publication which was used by hundreds of churches for their weekly unified Sunday School teaching materials.
Our family continued to live in Philadelphia and then in New Jersey until I left home to attend Wheaton College. By that time, the family had increased to four brothers and one sister. My studies in classical Greek would one day enable me to work in the area of unwritten languages to develop a form of writing.
A year after I went to Ecuador, Jim Elliot, whom I had met at Wheaton, also entered tribal areas with the Quichua Indians. In nineteen fifty three we were married in the city of Quito and continued our work together. Jim had always hoped to have the opportunity to enter the territory of an unreached tribe. The Aucas were in that category -- a fierce group whom no one had succeeded in meeting without being killed. After the discovery of their whereabouts, Jim and four other missionaries entered Auca territory. After a friendly contact with three of the tribe, they were speared to death.
Our daughter Valerie was 10 months old when Jim was killed. I continued working with the Quichua Indians when, through a remarkable providence, I met two Auca women who lived with me for one year. They were the key to my going in to live with the tribe that had killed the five missionaries. I remained there for two years.
After having worked for two years with the Aucas, I returned to the Quichua work and remained there until 1963 when Valerie and I returned to the U.S.
Since then, my life has been one of writing and speaking. It also included, in 1969, a marriage to Addison Leitch, professor of theology at Gordon Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts. He died in 1973. After his death I had two lodgers in my home. One of them married my daughter, the other one, Lars Gren, married me. Since then we have worked together.
THE FOLLOWING MATERIAL IS A LECTURE I DELIVERED AT OMSC IN THE SPRING OF 2010:
B-Team: Women in Missions 1910-2010
Ruth A. Tucker
The B team is a team of all your second string bitches . . .
the ones u dont take out in public.
In sports terminology, women in missions have played second string. They were on the B-team, unless they formed their own teams—teams that would be quickly forgotten or ignored in the missions Hall of Fame. They were not “stragglers and uncoordinated losers” (another Urban Dictionary definition). Indeed, the female missionary—in both offense and defense—was formidable, surely not the “weak, defenceless [sic] woman,” portrayed by Daniel Eddy in Heroines of the Missionary Enterprise. She was not the one who ducked or fumbled or dropped the ball. But she was nevertheless one of the second-string bench-warmers.
The date: December 24, 1912. The setting: Kobe, Japan. Here a tiny American woman was taking her last breaths. Her mind was “seriously impaired” and she weighed barely fifty pounds. Accompanied by a missionary nurse on her way home from China to America, she died aboard ship in the Kobe harbor.
Charlotte Diggs “Lottie” Moon (1840-1912) had served faithfully in China for some forty years as a Southern Baptist Missionary—though never as a starter or captain of the team. Her first assignment was that of being “tied down to the petty work of teaching a few girls.” If she wanted to play serious ball she knew she would have to form her own team. “What I hope to see,” she had written, “is a band of ardent, enthusiastic, and experienced Christian women occupying a line of stations extending from P’ing-tu on the north and from Chinkiang on the south. . . .”1 Such a team never materialized, but she recruited native Chinese men and women to join her and soon had the most effective Southern Baptist ministry in China.
In 1888, by shaming Baptists (in comparison to the far more generous Methodists), Moon had initiated an annual Christmas offering to fund overseas missions. But the offerings in her estimation hardly demonstrated real sacrifice. So she could not have selected a better day—Christmas Eve—to die. Indeed, her death by starvation was perhaps more protest against tightwad Baptists back home than it was sacrifice for her Chinese neighbors dying amid famine. An outspoken woman, she had rebuked her supporters for not digging deeper into their pockets for the needs of China. Her death was her final reproof. The message was loud and clear. The response would reverberate down through the decades. Southern Baptist women would rise up en masse to collect funds in memory of their hero—“one of the most unselfish saints God ever made.”
Before her death funds had trickled in but in the century since offerings increased each year, eventually topping one hundred fifty million dollars with a grand total of more than a billion and a half raised for missions.
“Numbers, numbers, oh, how they value numbers!,” wrote Kanzo Uchimura in 1926, referring to Americans and their perspective on religion.2 There will be some numbers in this paper but stories will reign over statistics.
In reflecting back over a century of women in missions since Edinburgh 1910, it would seem natural to begin not with Lottie Moon, but rather with Helen Barrett Montgomery and the fifty-year Jubilee Celebration of the Women’s Missionary Movement that had began in 1860. But in many ways that celebration was a highpoint that would never be replicated. Montgomery was heralding an ecumenical women’s movement comprising more than forty female agencies, thousands of women in the field, and millions of women supporters on the home front—the likes of which has never been equaled. But in the years that followed the movement for various reasons steadily declined.
Women’s involvement in missions, however, would remain very strong—though played out in a different context. The 1912 death of Lottie Moon was a powerful symbol that pointed to the future of women’s missionary work—women raising money and working in the trenches of evangelical denominations and faith mission agencies but excluded from boardrooms and think tanks and denied leadership positions.
Those unfamiliar with the history of women in missions might not find such a second-string status surprising; after all most women in America were denied the right to vote until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But it takes very little digging to discover the remarkable roles women played in overseas missions before the demise of the Women’s Missionary Movement in the early decades of the twentieth century. Before we can understand the period following 1910, it is critical to understand why there was so much reason for celebration in 1910.
Due to the limitations on length, this paper is focused primarily on American Protestant women in overseas mission, particularly those women who filled the ranks of evangelical denominational and faith mission agencies in the middle decades of the twentieth century.
In American Women in Mission, Dana Robert compares the two major mission events of 1910: Edinburgh and the Woman’s Jubilee. The former, she writes, “has gone down in history as the summary point of nineteenth-century missionary activity and as the starting point for the twentieth-century ecumenical movement. . . . “ Forgotten has been the Jubilee:
Its grassroots unity from the bottom up had an immediate effect on far more Americans than Edinburgh’s ecumenics from the top down. Yet the Jubilee of 1910, and the movement it symbolized, was forgotten precisely because it represented a popular groundswell rather than an elitist intellectualism, because it involved women rather than men, and because while the issues with which it was concerned have endured, its organizational base eroded over time.3
Helen Barrett Montgomery and the Women’s Missionary Movement
More than any other individual, Helen Barrett Montgomery is associated with the Women’s Missionary Movement in its heyday surrounding the Jubilee celebration. Her credentials are impressive. She was an author, scholar, social activist, New Testament translator, denominational president (Northern Baptist Convention), and mission leader.
Her book Western Women in Eastern Lands (1910) was heralded as the symbol of the fifty-year Jubilee. Here in the last chapter we find the oft-quoted summary of those fifty years:
We began in weakness, we stand in power. In1861 there was a single missionary in the field, Miss Marston, in Burma; in 1909, 1948 of them from the United States. In 1861 there was one organized woman’s society in our country; in 1910 there were forty-four. Then the supporters numbered a few hundreds; to-day there are at least two millions. Then the amount contributed was $2000; last year four million dollars was raised. . . . 4
In describing the Jubilee as a “popular groundswell” in comparison to the elitist intellectualism of Edinburgh, Robert certainly was not suggesting that the women were intellectual lightweights. In fact, the educational focus was one of the most remarkable aspects of the movement. During the Ecumenical Missionary Conference in 1900, women leaders from many of the forty female agencies that had arisen in the previous four decades met together. They took seriously the problem Montgomery had identified:
We have done very little original work. We have made very few demands upon the brains of the women . . . There is no reason why the State Federation of Women’s Clubs should have a higher average of intellectual caliber in the papers that are presented before them than a State meeting of Woman’s Missionary Societies.5
What they were most lacking was “knowledge.” What they most needed were educational materials and training. To meet this need the women formed the Central Committee for the United Study of Foreign Missions—an ecumenical educational organization, the likes of which has never before or since been seen. Among their seemingly fanciful dreams were extravagant plans to publish a yearly volume on missions and to conduct regional training courses across North America. The training courses began in 1904 with the first Summer School for Foreign Missions at Northfield, MA. By 1917, there were twenty-five such schools with nearly twelve thousand women and girls enrolled; and over the years, the Central Committee published books each year, some selling more than one hundred thousand.6
But the very success of the Women’s Missionary Movement led to its demise. In 1910, as the women were celebrating in America, a conference was being convened in Edinburgh where delegates made strong appeals for the merger of women’s agencies with their denominational boards. And that very year the mergers began, with the Methodist Episcopal Church (South) leading the way.7 So amidst the Jubilee Celebrations, there were dark clouds looming on the horizon.
A decade earlier at the Ecumenical Conference in New York, Montgomery had spoken forcefully against merging the women’s agencies with denominational boards. Indeed, the criticism of separate women’s agencies was, according to Montgomery, “one of the surest signs of the abounding vitality” of the movement. “They say we are robbing Peter to pay Paul”—that the “opulence” of the women’s work was taking away from the denominational mission boards.8 But despite Montgomery’s opposition, the female agencies one by one in the decades that followed merged with denominational boards.
Playing Second String: Women in Mid-Century Missions
Developing parallel to the Women’s Missionary Movement was the faith mission movement that rose up alongside denominational mission agencies. Hudson Taylor is often cited as the father of this movement, having founded the China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1865. Forty years later at the time of his death there were some 850 missionaries serving under the CIM banner.
The faith mission movement began to gain momentum in the late nineteenth century and would become the granddaddy of the overseas mission enterprise of the twentieth century. Like the CIM these independent missions opened the doors to single women and lowered educational requirements. Taylor’s first party of fifteen missionaries included four married couples and seven single women. Early mission teams sent out by the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM), the Africa Inland Mission (AIM), the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) and other faith mission agencies also included significant numbers of female missionaries.
Like Taylor, many of these mission founders and mission statesmen were vocal supporters of women missionaries. Fredrick Franson (1852-1908), who founded TEAM in 1891, offered his encouragement with colorful flare:
There are, so to speak, many people in the water about to drown. A few men are trying to save them, and that is considered well and good. But look, over there a few women have untied a boat also to be of help in the rescue, and immediately a few men cry out; standing there idly looking on and therefore having plenty of time to cry out: “No, no, women must not help, rather let the people drown." ”What stupidity!9
Franson’s single female missionary recruits often carried on their work with similar flare. Norwegian immigrant Malla Moe (1863-1953), having graduated from his 11-day evangelist course in Chicago, was deemed sufficiently prepared to serve as a missionary in Swaziland. She began her work there with five other missionaries, a single man and four single women. She soon retained the help of Gamede, an African male assistant, and continued in the work until she died fifty-six years later. The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton holds her letters and documents. The archives website describes her traveling ministry:
In 1927 [after “the mission had seriously considered not allowing her to rejoin them because of her dominating behavior”] Malla began a house wagon ministry as a concession to her physical attrition at age sixty-five. With the assistance of a driver, leader of the donkey team of eight pairs, and girls who did the cooking, Malla began systematic journeys into untraveled and unevangelized areas, setting up camp and working within a radius of eight miles. The wagon ministry traveled through Swaziland and then into Tongaland. Gamede, her life-long helper, also joined her on this mission.10
One of the most colorful stories about Malla Moe came in a letter from a co-worker. Moe had confronted a Swazi man and “told him she was going to pray till he got saved.” The next day when they encountered each other again, he ran the other way with her hot on the trail. “She shouted to him to come back and grabbing him by the arm pulled him down into the grass and prayed mightily to God to save him from Satan and hell. It was more than he could stand. He wept and prayed and got saved.”11
Not all single women enjoyed the freedom to evangelize as did Moe. Dana Robert tells the story of Anna D. Compton who joined AIM in 1902. She had previously conducted evangelistic ministry among lumbermen in Pennsylvania, but arriving in Africa she was met with disappointment. She initially rationalized her situation: “So, perhaps, by saving Mr. Hurlburt’s time by letter writing and teaching the children, I may be really accomplishing as much as if I were engaged in more direct Gospel work.” But she went on to confess: “I have an intense love for evangelism, which makes it harder for me to do secular work.”12
Another early-twentieth-century mission leader who strongly affirmed women in evangelistic outreach was A.B. Simpson, founder of the C&MA. Among the single women who were known for their remarkable service was Mabel Francis (1880-1975). In the summer of 1909, just one year before the Edinburgh Conference, Francis sailed for Japan. In 1913, her brother joined her in the work, and together they planted twenty churches. Later her widowed sister joined her—a partnership that lasted nearly forty years together: Mabel as evangelist, Anne as teacher.
During the Great Depression when other Alliance missionaries were forced to return home due to shortage of funds, Mabel and Anne stayed on, subsisting on meager gifts sent by family and friends. Too poor to purchase a bus ticket, her mode of travel was bicycling. “O Lord,” she remembered praying, “where are the men who ought to be riding these bicycles up and down these trails?” In the early years she envied any woman missionary who had a husband.
You see, when I was so discouraged and the job seemed so terribly big, I thought, “Well now, if I was married, I could follow on with my husband, and there would be something doing, but what can a little person like myself do?” I just felt so hopeless!
And then the Lord said, “You are on the wrong track. I have a plan for your life and it is not for you to be married. . . . Well, you know the whole thing passed out of my life like a cloud passing away, and that was many years ago. The thought of marriage has meant nothing to me since that time—nothing!13
The bombing of Pearl Harbor was a turning point for the sisters. Initially they were confined to their home under house arrest but spent most of the War in an internment camp. “As months and months went by, our food in the camp became worse and worse,” she recalled, some days barely nothing at all.14 Following the war she focused her attention on humanitarian endeavors. For this work and for her long years of service in Japan, the Emperor in 1962 bestowed on her Japan’s highest civilian honor: membership in the exclusive Fifth Order of the Sacred Treasure. The award had come after a furlough in America. She had returned to Japan to continue her ministry. She was eighty-three.15
Among the single missionaries sponsored by independent faith agencies, there are several common themes running through their lives, including a desire for marriage, an independent spirit, and longevity. Malla Moe died at ninety, Mabel Francis at ninety-five. Maude Cary (1878-1967) died at eighty-nine, having served with the Gospel Missionary Union (GMU) in Morocco for more than fifty years.
Born on a Kansas farm, Cary inherited a quick mind and independent spirit from her mother, an accomplished musician who had trained at the Boston Conservatory of Music. After studying at the GMU Bible Institute in Kansas City Missouri, she sailed for Morroco with four other missionaries. Language training was a difficult time for her—not because the language was too difficult (as was so often lamented by missionaries) but rather because she grasped it too quickly. Outscoring her closest male competitor, she was accused of vanity and duly “prayed daily for cleansing from the sin of pride.” But her problems related to more than language skills. She had written an “unspiritual letter,” failed to regularly pray with her Muslim contacts, was guilty of too much “gaiety, friendliness, laughter,” had a “tendency to idle talk” and to “pride of dress.” She was told to make preparation to return home to Kansas—a threat that was later retracted.16
Maude Cary’s experience was not unusual. Other single women encountered similar circumstances. The very qualities that made them supremely capable for missionary service were viewed with suspicion by their weaker sisters and were threatening to their male colleagues. In her book, By Searching, Isobel Kuhn tells of applying for mission candidacy to the China Inland Mission. On the basis of a personal reference she was charged with being “proud, disobedient, and likely to be a troublemaker.” Though “conditionally” accepted, her departure for China was delayed, allowing the council time to keep an eye on her. She was promised that if she “conquered” her problems she would be “fully accepted.” Dr. Helen Roseveare similarly was nearly denied candidacy because of the council’s judgment that she was “proud, always knowing better than others, unable to be told things or warned or criticized, difficult to live with, and so on.” Later while serving in the Congo she confronted the issues and a junior male missionary appointed her supervisor to head up the medical complex she had built from the ground up.17
Roseveare was convinced that the solution to her problems lay in finding a husband—preferable a surgeon. She returned to England with that goal. She bought new clothes, permed her hair, and even resigned from the mission (Worldwide Evangelistic Crusade). It worked, or so she thought. When the doctor discovered her designs to turn him into a missionary, he ran scared and she confessed that she had made a bloody mess of her life. She returned to Africa in 1960 and settled back into medical work and returned to England several years later but not before being held captive by Simba Rebels and repeatedly raped.18
Like Roseveare, Maude Cary longed for a husband to be her partner in the work. George Reed, the only single male on the field, was the object of her affections and they had an understanding—at least as she understood his intentions. But as the years passed her hopes dimmed. Still single on her thirtieth birthday, she chose “Seek Meekness” as her motto because Reed wanted a humble wife. Six years later when he transferred to the Sudan, she knew for certain that a marriage between them would never occur.19
Cary’s long decades of ministry in Morocco, as has often been true of missions to Muslims, bore little fruit. She returned home for furlough after twenty-three years with little progress to report. Upon returning to the field, there was a fragile spirit of optimism with the news that two young men had professed faith. But health issues and other matters decimated the mission force in the years that followed. With the outbreak of World War II, the doors were closed to Morocco. The only GMU missionaries remaining on the field were four single women, two of them having just arrived. Determined to keep three stations open, the new arrivals worked together on one station and Cary and her experienced colleague each worked alone on a station. Following the war more missionaries arrived and Cary, at seventy-one was assigned, with a young woman, to begin ministry in El Hajbe. Some time later the mission established a Bible institute with an opening enrollment of three students, two of whom came from El Hajbe.20
Before the Bible institute was dedicated, however, Cary had returned to America for medical treatment. At seventy-four she returned to Morocco and continued on in the ministry for three more years.21
The odds of finding a husband on the mission field were probably little better than being “killed by a terrorist” (the marriage odds of women over forty, suggested in “The Marriage Crunch, Newsweek, June 5, 1986). So we should not be surprised that Maude Cary’s life does not have a fairy-tale ending. Nor does that of Eliza Davis George (1879-1979), though she beat the odds of getting married in her late thirties while serving as a missionary in Liberia.
Eliza Davis George
She had actually beaten bigger odds than that when she was accepted to serve as a missionary by the Texas Baptist Convention as the first black woman so commissioned. The daughter of slaves who had worked their way up to sharecropping, her acceptance was a dream come true. Arriving in Liberia in 1914, she was assigned to establish a trade school with the help of another single missionary. Soon there were dozens of boys enrolled and people coming from the surrounding region to hear the gospel. According to a website devoted to her ministry, “One hundred fifty souls were saved in the first meeting.”22 It sounds too good to be true. Indeed, it was. She was ill-prepared to supervise a mission complex and conduct a broad-based mission program. That she saw any success at all is truly remarkable, particularly considering her lack of home-based support.
Indeed, news from home was not good. The Texas Baptist Con¬vention had separated from the Na¬tional Baptists, who were in charge of the work in Liberia, putting Eliza’s ministry in limbo. Then word came from the Convention that her work in Africa was being terminated. Rev. and Mrs. Daniel Horton would take over her leadership of the Bible Industrial Academy and the newly planted churches. It is hard to imagine that such a decision was not influenced by underlying racism and sexism, but her work was hardly a model of structured organization and fiscal responsibility. She was impulsive and independent, insisting that she answered to God alone.23
Feeling vulnerable and utterly alone, she made a critical decision that would haunt her for years to come. She agreed to marry Thompson George, a native of British Guyana who was working in Liberia with a Portuguese company. She had previously shunned his advances, but now he seemed to be the only solution her problem. Turning her work over to others who knew nothing of her people and her tireless labors was more than she could endure. She would marry a man she did not love. Thompson George joined her in the work, but his alcoholism and his desire for sexual intimacy created problems. Yet, despite marital conflict they remained a couple, often traveling together to conduct revival meetings.24
In 1939 after more than twenty years of marriage he died, freeing Eliza from the bonds of a bad union. By 1943, Eliza was supervising four substations in addition to the mission complex, receiving a small stipend from the National Baptist Convention. But she was now approaching her sixty-fifth birthday, and the Convention insisted she return home and turn the work over to others. The die was cast, but she refused to leave Liberia. From that point on, she worked “by faith,” supported largely by “Eliza Davis George Clubs” in the United States. By 1960 there were twenty-seven churches in her Eliza George Baptist Association and she continued on in the ministry into her nineties. Before her death at age one hundred, she was honored by Liberian presidents for her service to the country.25
Summing Up Second-String Missionary Women
There is an almost endless stream of second string missionary women. I recently read God’s Vagabond: The Autobiography of Sadie Custer. Custer died in 2007 at age ninety-six, having served for some forty years as a missionary—a career that began in 1936 when she sailed to China, as she matter-of-factly reports, “with forty other missionary ladies,” only twenty of whom were with the CIM. These twenty soon joined with others, and soon “52 young women of many different nationalities settled into life at the Yangchow language school.”26 It seems as though faith missions are simply swarming with single ladies—the vast majority of whom have no published memoirs. Their stories are “unclaimed treasures” (a 1958 description of single lady missionaries). Their letters and journals are waiting to be claimed and mined and published.
The four women discussed above—Malla Moe, Mabel Francis, Maude Cary, Eliza Davis George—all ministered within American fundamentalism in the mid decades of the twentieth century. They each served more than forty years on the field and they all had very independent and significant ministries despite gender restrictions. By the end of the 1970s at the time of Eliza’s death, however, the mood in America was changing. The Reagan era spurred an already ongoing backlash against women’s rights—a backlash that was felt by single women in faith missions. Indeed, during the 1970s and following, faith mission agencies that had previously welcomed single women began scaling back their numbers.
Yet single women continued to make significant contributions especially through their writing. Women like Sadie Custer poured out their hearts in memoirs and diaries. Others excelled in Bible translation. William Cammeron Townsend, founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, loved to tell the story of Loretta Anderson and Doris Cox—how the chief of a South American head-hunting tribe had told him: If two men had come to my village I would have killed them. If a man and woman had come, I would have killed the man and taken the woman for a wife. But when two girls came, what could I do but build them a house?27
Elisabeth Elliot (b. 1926) reigned supreme as the premier missionary writer of the last half of the twentieth century. As the most vocal of the five widows of the “Auca Massacre” in Ecuador in 1956, she emerged to tell the story. Her books, including Through Gates of Splendor, Shadow of the Almighty, The Journals of Jim Elliot, No Graven Image, and These Strange Ashes have had a profound impact on evangelical missions and all but No Graven Image are still in print. In fact, Through Gates of Splendor has forty customer reviews on Amazon with a five-star rating.
Both No Graven Image (fiction, 1966) and These Strange Ashes (1975) speak profoundly of the life and ministry of the single woman missionary. In the latter, an autobiographical work, Dorothy, Doreen, and Barbara, Elisabeth’s partners stationed among the Colorado Indians, “badly wished to be married,” one of them in a serious relationship with an Ecuadorian man. Elisabeth herself was pining over Jim Elliot who was stationed in a far away jungle. Elliot confesses her lack of concentration and productiveness:
But what perversity of my nature was it that made me put off the language work. . . . I would hie myself over to the study and sharpen pencils. I would find that the desk was littered with scorched bugs from the lamp the night before and would have to set about a major cleaning operation. I would rearrange file cards and dash off a few letters. . . . The awful truth was that I really preferred housekeeping. I loved order and neatness and organization but did not like to concentrate. After an hour or two of sheer effort of will power to stick at the job, I was relieved when I had to go back to the house . . . [for] lunch.28
When things go terribly wrong in the village and in her own translation work, she questions her call to missions wondering if she is on a fool’s errand. But Elliot’s novel, No Graven Image, articulates far greater doubts—so much so that it was criticized by many evangelicals and was not offered in some Christian bookstores. Margaret, a missionary among the Quichua Indians of South America, is portrayed as dedicated and conscientious but generally ineffective in penetrating the ancient native culture. Indeed, more than ineffective. The most controversial story in the book is when Margaret gives a native man with a severe infection an injection of penicillin that causes his death. In her despair, she cries out to God:
O ineffable, sardonic God who toys with our sacrifices and smashes to earth the humble, hopeful altars we have built for a place to put Your name! Do you mock me? Why did You let him die? Why did you let me kill him? O God! I came to bring him life—Your life—and I destroyed him in Your name.29
In this novel Elliot, as Margaret, also used her razor sharp pen to etch a drawing of her missionary colleagues—not so subtle cynicism that was anything but flattering. She described a field council meeting that was all too familiar—especially the pointed picture of gender relationships:
There was a hail-fellow-well-met spirit among [the men] here, but they seemed to see only one another; they acknowledged the presence of women, but without looking any of them straight in the eye. The women on their part—young, pregnant wives, single women with hope in their eyes, overweight older ones, attractive and unattractive—looked as though they had sacrificed much for the cause of Christ, and, stabbed with shame, I thought, Who am I to be their judge. God looks on the heart.30
In many ways Elliot, “conservative evangelical grand dame” (as one reviewer describes her), represents the last of the single women missionaries, the rugged individualist who stood on the shoulders of Amazons—Lottie Moon, Mary Slessor, Amy Carmichael, and others. Indeed, the era of the evangelical missionary heroines ended with Elisabeth Elliot. Hers was a household name—wife of Jim Elliot, though her marriage to him extended barely two years of her decade-long missionary career.. No one has come along to fill her shoes. Now in her mid eighties, she continues to live just north of Boston, her speaking and writing career only a memory.
In reflecting back over women and the Faith Missionary Movement we do well not to forget Margaret in Elliot’s fiction. That story ends with Margaret killing the patient, but more often faith missionaries of both genders were key to the healing process. The Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy of the early twentieth century did not separate social gospel from proclamation as is often claimed, particularly in overseas missions. The mission of these missions was often that of proclamation, but the reality was very different. On the field—especially among tribal peoples—missionaries like Margaret were the norm. They were heavily involved in many aspects of the social gospel.
1980s to the Present
Through the 1980s and since, single women have continued to serve in overseas missions but their numbers have declined. There are various reasons for this, not the least of which is a fundamentalist turn in some faith mission agencies and in the Southern Baptist Convention—a turn that severely restricts women in ministry. According to Catherine Allen the IMB (International Baptist Missions) was “strongly recruiting women as missionaries and was encouraging women already there to take a proactive role in strategizing.” But since the fundamentalist takeover in 1993, the focus has been so narrowed to proclamation and church planting (the domain of men in the Southern Baptist Convention) that “many women have been displaced from productive roles.”31
In 1993 Adrian Rogers a leader of the fundamentalist takeover publicly proclaimed that the WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union) must be “hard-wired” to the SBC instead of continuing on in its independent supportive role. In 1995, after the WMU refused to bow to his demands, the president of the IMB sent forty thousand letters to SBC ministers denouncing the WMU’s course, likening the organization to an adulterous woman. At the same time the SBC was setting in place its “family amendment” that stated wives must "graciously submit" to their husbands—resulting in the resignation of some missionaries.32
Elsewhere there were similar trends. Paula Harris, associate director of Urbana 2000, wrote: “Women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who are moving up the ladder, are having difficulty securing responsible positions in mission agencies.” She cited a retreat for EFMA (Evangelical Foreign Missions Association) board members that offered only one plenary session presented by a woman, the topic being “What Mission Leaders' Wives Need To Know." Another topic appropriate for women is prayer. “We focus on prayer,” explains Lorry Lutz, coordinator of the AD2000 women's track, “but women can do a lot more.”33
So on this the one-hundredth anniversary of the Jubilee Celebration, is there anything to celebrate about women in missions? There are some good signs. Women will be far better represented in Edinburgh 2010 than they were in 1910 and some faith mission agencies, including SIM, Interserve, and Frontiers, have made a concerted effort to offer women equal opportunities, though such agencies are a minority. Perhaps the most significant development in recent decades regarding women in missions is the remarkable ministry of non-western women—mostly married—in mission outreach. Ann Kim, a former student of mine, is just one example. Born and raised in Korea, she and her husband Yeon-Jeong, served effectively for many years in the Philippines—until other Korean missionaries began swarming into the region. They then asked to be transferred to Nepal where Ann is the director of a school and orphanage, and Yeon-Jeong heads a seminary.
It is appropriate that this brief study should conclude with a reference to the legacy of Lottie Moon, though not specifically a legacy of fund-raising through the annual Christmas Offering. Rather, a legacy of ministry in China. After making the arduous voyage to China only to discover that her assignment was “the petty work of teaching a few girls,” she was angry. “What women want who come to China is free opportunity to do the largest possible work,” she wailed. “What women have a right to demand is perfect equality.” Later, when she was permitted to move to Pingdu and conduct evangelistic work, she was in her element, as her words convey: “Surely there can be no deeper joy than that of saving souls.”34
Today the church that Lottie Moon planted more than a hundred years ago in Pingdu is an expanding congregation with several daughter churches throughout the region. The senior pastor, Wang Xia, is not only a fourth-generation Christian, whose ancestors were some of the original believers in Pingdu, but also a woman.35
1Cited in Irwin Hyatt, Our Ordered Lives Confess: Three Nineteenth-Century American Missionaries in East Shantung (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 113.
2 Kanzo Uchimura, “Can Americans Teach Japanese in Religion?,” Japan Christian Intelligencer, 1 (1926), 357-61, cited in Walls, “The American Dimension,” 2.
3 Dana L. Robert, American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1996) 256-57.
4 Helen Barrett Montgomery, Western Women in Eastern Lands: An Outline Study of Fifty Years of Women’s Work in Foreign Missions (New York: Macmillan, 1910), 243-44.
5 Cited in Patricia R. Hill, The World Their Household: The American Woman’s Foreign Mission Movement and Cultural Transformation, 1870-1920 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1985), 143.
6 R. Pierce Beaver, American Protestant Women in World Mission: History of the First Feminist Movement in North America, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1980), 157; Louise A. Cattan, Lamps Are for Lighting: The Story of Helen Barrett Montgomery and Lucy Waterbury Peabody (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1972), 38.
7 Hill, 167.
8 Cited in Kendal P. Mobley, Helen Barrett Montgomery: The Global Mission of Domestic Feminism (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009), 206.
9 Fredrick Franson, “Prophesying Daughters” (Unpublished Paper, Stockholm Sweden, 1897), 2.
10 Papers of Petra Malena "Malla" Moe - Collection 280, http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/GUIDES/280.htm#4.
11 Letter from Grace Sanders, February 10, 1940, Moe Collection 280, box 2, folder 5, Archives of the Billy Graham Center, quoted in Alan H. Winquist, “Scandinavian-American Missions in Southern Africa and Zaire,” Unpublished paper delivered at the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, Illinois (June 1986), 14.
12 Cited in Robert, 216-17.
13 Mabel Francis, One Shall Chase A Thousand (Harrisburg: Christian Publications, 1968), 48.
14 Ibid., 77.
15 Robert L. Niklaus, et. al., All for Jesus: God at Work in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Over One Hundred Years (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1986), 201.
16 Evelyn Stenbock, “Miss Terri”: The Story of Maude Cary, Pioneer GMU Missionary in Morocco (Lincoln, NE: Good News Broadcasting, 1970), 30.
17 Isobel Kuhn, By Searching (Chicago: Moody Press, 1959), 120; Helen Roseveare, Give Me This Mountain (London: InterVarsity Press, 1966), 52.
18 Alan Burgess, Daylight Must Come: The Story of a Courageous Woman Doctor in the Congo (New York: Dell, 1975), passim.
19 Stenbock, 60.
20 Ibid., passim.
23 Lorry Lutz, Born to Lose, Bound to Win: The Amazing Journey of Mother Eliza Davis George (Irvine, CA: Harvest House, 1980), passim.
26 Lorraine Custer Czarneke, God’s Vanguard: The Autobiography of Sadie Custer (Littleton, CO: Lammermuir House Publishers, 2006), 26ff.
27 Clarence W. Hall, Adventurers for God (Nw York: Harper & Row, 1959), 119.
28 Elisabeth Elliot, These Strange Ashes (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), 44-45.
29 Elisabeth Elliot, No Graven Image (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 170-71.
30 Ibid., 70.
31Wendy Murray Zoba, “A Woman’s Place” (August 4, 2000), http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/august7/1.40.html?start=4
32 Bob Allen, “Adrian Rogers Retiring as Pastor,” (September 14, 2004), http://ethicsdaily.com/news.php?viewStory=4712
33 Zoba, Ibid.
34 Hyatt, 104-5, 115.
35 Church founded by Lottie Moon leaves small temple for new building” (June 5, 2006), http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/1181/119/
Posted by Ruth A. Tucker at 11:49 AM