Constance Padwick

Constance Padwick began working with Temple Gairdner in Cairo in 1916, and after his death she wrote a biorgaphy of him, having previously written a biography of Henry Martyn. She was a missiologist—a mission strategist—and she was convinced that biography was the most effective means of presenting not only an inspiring and sacrificial lives but also mission methods and theories that would challenge others to become involved in Muslim missions. She had a broad understanding and involvement with Islam from her experience in Egypt and later in Palestine, Sudan, and Turkey.
Padwick was born and raised in Sussex, England in 1886. She was active in the Student Volunteer Movement as a youth, but it was not until she visited Palestine when she was in her mid-twenties that she developed her life-long concern for the Muslim world. Her desire to serve abroad was initially denied due to health problems. For five years she worked in the home office of the Church Missionary Society, and finally after she had proven herself on a short-term assignment, the CMS agreed to sponsor her as a missionary—a career that extended over most of four decades.

Her primary ministry involved writing. In addition to editing the Orient and Occident (relieving Temple Gairdner of that enormous task) she wrote a wide variety of materials for Muslims. But she was far more than a writer. She was an effective organizer. It was she who “inspired and became the energetic mainspring of the Central Literature Committee for Muslims,” which sought to coordinate the scattered mission efforts to provide literature for Muslims. [William Richey Hogg, Ecumenical Foundations: A History of the International Missionary Council and its Nineteenth Century Background (NY: Harper, 1952), 325.] The director of the CMS in Africa praised the “remarkable ventures in the field of literature which owe so much to the genius of Temple Gairdner and Constance Padwick.” She, like Gairdner had been, was critical of much of the existing literature—literature that was often “filled with the spirit of disputation rather than of worship and love, and apt to hammer rather than to woo and win.” [Gordon Hewitt, The Problems of Success: A History of the Church Missionary Society, 1910-1942 (London: SCM Press, 1971), 314-16.]

In addition to writing biographies and literature for Muslims, Padwick wrote for Christians in the West. She lamented that the church had too long ignored the Islamic world. The all-pervasive theme that runs through her writing is that it is obligation of the church to reach out to Muslims. There were many, however, who believed that the Islamic world was essentially a lost cause. She did not sidestep the issue: “Can it be right, when in mass movement areas souls are pressing into the Kingdom, for when we cannot find shepherds,” she asked, “can it be right in these circumstances to send men and women to an Islam that consistently rejects their message?” [Constance Padwick, “North African Reverie,” International Review of Missions, 17 (1938), 351.]

Her response was unequivocal and without apology:

The church through long centuries showed not only the negative of neglect but the positive of hostility and retaliation. Therefore are we bounden (as members of that Church of Christ whose communion and solidarity is not limited to those contemporary with us on earth) to go, not in superiority but in penitent love to the Muslim, to make what loving reparation is allowed us to the heart of our forgiving Lord and to the unforgiving Muslim world. And this duty lies upon us, inescapable, whatever are the opportunities of joyful service elsewhere. [Ibid., 351,]

Padwick’s vision was to develop a mission strategy that would effectively resonate with Muslims. Others before her had held high that same vision, but primarily with an apologetical approach. She emphasized a relational approach, though other missionaries had emphasized that as well. One proponent of this principle was Agnes De Selincourt, who gave an impassioned address at the second mission conference on Islam in 1911 in Lucknow. She particularly challenged women missionaries to reach out to upper-class Muslim women.

We need to give a larger place in our missionary plans to what has been well termed the Ministry of Friendship. It means infinite expenditure of time and sympathy and love to place ourselves alongside of these women, to enter into their lives, to share their aspirations in so far as these are rightful; it means willingness also to lay ourselves open to not a few snubs and repulses. In many ways it is harder than contact with the poorer classes, who often quickly and gratefully respond, and do not so speedily pull us up by their hot resentment the instant we show the cloven hoof of our fancied superiority and behave as if we had come to India to “work among them,” rather to love them and seek their friendship.” [Agnes De Selincourt, “Signs of Progress in India,” in Annie Van Sommer and Samuel Zwemer, Daylight in the Harem: A New Era for Moslem Women (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1911), 57-58.]

As she studied Islam and mission outreach to Muslims, Padwick became convinced that one of the most effective means of building bridges between Christianity and Islam was through a common spirituality. Her work that best offers insights into this realm is Muslim Devotions. It is a compilation of Islamic devotional writings, the understanding of which she believed was essential in the task of communicating the gospel with Muslims.

Much of Padwick’s mission strategy was conveyed through her biographical works. In addition to her full-length biographies of Henry Martyn and Temple Gairdner, she wrote a lengthy biography of Lyman MacCallum, entitled Call to Istanbul. Here she emphasized what she believed to be the very foundation of effective ministry. In the introduction she wrote: “The significance of Lyman MacCallum’s life, and the reason why it should be recorded, lies in his behaviour. . . . He differed radically from most of the missionaries . . . in that he did not feel, and indeed was essentially not, a foreigner among the Turks.” She quoted a testimonial to him from a Muslim Turk—a testimony that she hoped would stand as a model for all missionaries: “I came to know one Christian who did away with the chasm which separated us from all Christians. He filled it in completely and made the path absolutely level. I have tested him for years. I came to believe that if there could be one such real Christian, there must be many more. I love him and in his person loved all Christians.” [Constance Padwick, Call to Istanbul (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1958), ix.]

The title of one of Padwick’s many articles was “Lilias Trotter of Algiers.” Trotter (1853-1928) was a contemporary of Padwick’s—one she admired greatly. Like Padwick she had been a mission society reject due to her ill health, but she refused to be hindered in her calling to reach Muslims with the gospel—despite the temptation to pursue her life-long love of art. Raised in an affluent home in home in London, she traveled to Venice where she studied under the noted artist, John Ruskin. But she was convinced that her talent was one she must sacrifice for her call to missions—though she would continue to paint throughout her years in North Africa. Padwick opens her biographical sketch of Trotter with the words: “There is a peculiar loveliness about the artist-saints.” But was it worth the sacrifice? Padwick asks and answers that question:

Her gift to Algeria was two fold: the creation, with her much-loved comrades, of an evangelistic band of some thirty members scattered in fifteen stations and outstations, and the creation of an evangelistic literature, chiefly in leaflet form but none the less noteworthy for its story-parables with their human freshness and the note of oriental beauty in colour and line.

These things were the outward and visible achievement of her life, and the inevitable question arises, were they worth while? Had they, when all was said and done made the slightest dint on the Moslem life of North Africa? . . . Her journals drive home the . . . impression of soul after soul led Christward just in time to die. Again and again did Lilias Trotter heard from dying lips in a Moslem household some phrase like “Jesus has all my heart.” [Constance Padwick, “Lilias Trotter of Algiers,” International Review of Missions, XXI (1932), 124-25.]

Most of the missionaries to Muslims were not artists and writers and scholars as Martyn, Zwemer, Gairdner, Padwick and Trotter were. They were, except for Zwemer, Anglicans who held scholarship in high regard. But large numbers of missionaries in the Muslim served as simple evangelists or were involved in humanitarian endeavors and gave little thought to the religious tenets of Islam. Lillian Trasher, whose connections were with the Assemblies of God, is an example. She broke a marriage engagement to serve as a missionary in Egypt, and during her half century of tireless labor, beginning in 1910, established an orphanage and through the decades reached out to more than eight thousand homeless children. Her work was widely regarded among the people, as was evident at the time of her death. “As the gilded horse-drawn hearse carried Lillian Trasher’s earthly remains through Assiout to the cemetery, people everywhere wept. In every window, every balcony the procession passed, people stood remembering this great woman who had loved so deeply and given so much.” [Louise Walker, “Lillian Trasher: Mother to Thousands in Egypt,” Unpublished manuscript (Springfield, Mo., 1986), 1.]