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Have We No Rights by Mabel Williamson

CHAPTER 5 The Right to Privacy

|There were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.| -- Mark 6:31

|But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them.| -- Matthew 9:36

I had just come back from a strenuous month in the country. Mr. and Mrs. Sprightly, the young married couple who were in charge of the mission station, and I were relaxing around the tea table. I told about the work I had been doing, and answered interested questions. Finally the talk drifted into lighter channels, and Mrs. Sprightly told a funny incident she had witnessed the previous day in a courtyard down the street when she had been out for a walk with her little boy.

|I always like to have Sonny with me when I go out,| she concluded, philosophically. |When he's along I can stick my nose in anywhere I like. All I have to do is to say, 'My little boy wants to see what that is,' and I can wander into their courtyards, or even into their houses, and nobody thinks anything about it!|

Curiosity is a common trait, and especially so among those who are uneducated and unsophisticated. Missionaries often find those to whom they go frankly curious. But, strangely enough, there is something in many of us that rebels against having one's private life a matter of common knowledge! The one who has grown up without becoming acquainted with the meaning of the word privacy, on the other hand, may find it impossible to understand why the missionary desires to be alone once in awhile!

* * * * *

The young missionary hears the sound of Chinese music from somewhere up the street. To her ears it is weird and unintelligible, but the children at their play instantly recognize the tune, and raise their voices in a shout.

|The new daughter-in-law is coming! The new daughter-in-law is coming!|

A friendly youngster pokes his head in at the missionary's door. |Wouldn't you like to come and see the new daughter-in-law?| he asks politely. |The sedan chair is just arriving. Hurry!|

|But -- dear me!| protests the missionary. |Whose home is this new daughter-in-law coming to? Is it a family we are acquainted with?|

|Oh, that doesn't matter!| the boy assures her. |Why, everybody goes to see a new daughter-in-law!|

The missionary, reluctantly allowing herself to be pulled along by the hand, finds it even as the child has said. Crowds of children, and older people too, are swarming in at the open gateway through which has just passed the gaily decorated sedan chair. Though the courtyard is fairly commodious, it is packed with people, talking, gesticulating, pushing to get a better vantage point from which to view the bride when she alights. The groom and his parents are graciously welcoming invited guests, entirely unconcerned about all the hubbub. The bridal chair is set down to a great popping of firecrackers, the appointed welcome committee of several girls and one older woman draws the curtain and assists the bride to her place in the yard, and the ceremony proceeds. After it is completed, the bride is escorted with much formality into the house, and to the bedroom prepared for her, where she is seated upon a bed resplendent with red satin quilts. Then the guests, invited and uninvited, pour into the room. They subject the bride and her clothes to an interested and careful scrutiny, commenting upon everything, with much joking and laughter. As soon as one group gets tired and takes its leave, another is ready to push in and view the |new daughter-in-law.|

|The poor girl!| says the missionary. |She looks ready to drop! When will they ever leave her to herself?|

Not until late that night -- and the same performance will start again early the next morning. Why, if there were not a continuous stream of visitors for three days, the wedding would be thought rather a flop!

* * * * *

The day had been a busy one. The first visitor had appeared before breakfast, a precursor of a seemingly never-ending stream. There were uneducated country women, whose curiosity could only be satisfied by going through every room in the missionary's house and minutely examining each article that met their eyes. There were those who were educated and formally polite, and dexterously steered the conversation into other channels every time we endeavored to present the claims of Christ to them. There were Christians, some coming with their troubles, others with plans for forwarding the work of the church, and still others with requests for us to set a time when we could go with them to call upon their unsaved friends or relatives.

Finally at four-thirty, after we had ushered out a couple of callers, we returned, for the first time that day, to an empty room.

|Come, quickly!| I said to my sister. |Let's go out for a walk before someone else comes!| I felt as though I would go crazy if I did not get away -- away anywhere, just so it was a place where we could be alone. We hurriedly slipped out the back gate, around the pond, through the back streets, and out the city gate.

|Which way do you want to go?| my sister asked.

|Oh, just anywhere into the country,| I said immediately, |where there aren't any people!|

My sister stood stock-still, looking at me in amazement. |Aren't any people!| she repeated. |Aren't any people! Where in China do you think you'll find a place where there aren't any people?|

I stood still and looked around me. The flat countryside was dotted with villages, and crisscrossed with paths. Farmers were busy plowing their tiny fields. Coolies in groups of two and three were returning home from the city, scattering in all directions along the many footpaths. People, people everywhere, even out there in the country! These were the people whom I had come to China to seek; yet if I could only get away from them for a few hours! If there were only some wooded gully or mountain thicket where I could be out of sight of everyone! But there were no mountains; the country was as flat as a tabletop. I mentally searched the familiar countryside for a place of refuge. Good, fertile land, cut up into tiny fields; well-kept crops, with not a weed anywhere; here and there a little grove of trees -- surely in among the trees we could be out of sight! But no! There was no undergrowth, no weeds, not even any fallen leaves. All had been gathered, carefully dried, and put in the fuel pile. Why, if a strong wind came up in the night, the owner of the trees would rise from bed and hurry out to sweep up the precious leaves as soon as they fell, just so no unscrupulous neighbor could come and steal them before daylight! And all the lower branches of the trees had long since been trimmed off for fuel. A grove of trees would hide me from the sight of no one, and there was no better place.

The full force of an unpleasant fact suddenly hit me, a fact that I had never before completely realized. There was absolutely no place that I could go to be alone! The best that I could do was to go home to the mission station, into the house, up to my room, and close the door. Even then, who knew how soon someone would call me?

Then, in a flash, a little story I had read in a magazine long before came to my mind. A friend dropped in to visit a busy mother. The family was large and poor, and they lived in only one room. It seemed to the visitor that the one room was swarming with children. The mother met her with a beaming face.

|But how can you be so happy,| asked the visitor, |when you can never get a minute to be alone? How can you find quiet even to pray?|

|It used to trouble me,| was the quick reply, |until I found out the secret. When things get too much for me, I just throw my apron up over my head, and I am all alone with the Lord.|

Dear Lord, forgive me! I thought. What about that poor mother? And what about the Lord Jesus? He wanted solitude just as we do, and He went with His disciples across the lake to an out-of-the-way spot to be quiet. The multitudes heard where He was going and followed by land. When He stepped from the boat, there were thousands upon thousands waiting for Him. How did He react? Was there anger in His heart, or resentment, at never being allowed to be alone? No; for it says that when He saw the multitudes, He welcomed them (Luke 9:11). Dear Lord, give me that same heart of love for the multitudes!

* * * * *

Privacy and solitude are good things, no doubt -- in moderation. Most missionaries get less of them than they would desire. There are probably few missionaries who have not been irritated at one time or another when their houses and their persons were subjected to amazed, or delighted, or even half-contemptuous scrutiny by the curious. Can't they have the decency to keep out of what is my own private business? the missionary thinks. Yet if we belong to the day, if we are children of light, why should any act of ours, or anything belonging to us, need to be hidden in the dark? This is not to recommend a needless parading of things that normal people prefer to be reserved about. Let us remember, however, that people must come to know us before they can accept our message, or before our testimony has any value to them. Why should I desire to keep hidden anything that has to do with myself -- if the sharing of that thing might help to draw someone to the Saviour?


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