I was in the CIM Mission Home in Vancouver, B. C., an accepted candidate. In two more weeks I was to sail for China, the land where three of my sisters were already laboring as missionaries. One had been out for six years, had been married while on the field, and was almost ready for furlough. The other two sisters had been out a shorter period. They were both single, and stationed together. That day I had received a letter from them written from a little hill resort operated by our Mission, where they and others had gone to escape the worst of the summer heat. Now, for missionaries, a summer resort is the most common place for a romance to develop! The letter was a gay description of their life there, and ended with the following sentence:
|There are thirty-three of us here now: seven married couples with nine children, nine single ladies, and one single man! There is one more single man expected, we hear, but even at that, I'm afraid there isn't much hope for us!|
The dinner bell rang, and I hurried down. But who was that elderly couple in the old-fashioned clothes? Perhaps I had been told that they were to arrive that day, but if so I had not remembered it. They were introduced all around the circle -- missionaries who had just come from China! We sat down, and I found myself beside the lady.
|What did they say your name was?| she asked, apologetically. |I have such a time remembering names.|
I told her, and she immediately pricked up her ears. |Williamson!| she said. |Don't you have a sister in China?|
|Yes, I have three there,| I replied.
|Well, isn't that a coincidence! When I was in Shanghai I heard -- no, you couldn't have heard it yet, for the news was just out -- I'm sure it must have been your sister! Anyway, just before we left Shanghai there was a great hubbub about the news of a new engagement, and I'm almost certain -- Dear,| turning to her husband, |who was it that we heard was engaged, just before we left Shanghai?|
Her husband did not remember. |Well, I'm almost sure it was your sister, anyway!| she declared.
|My sister! But it couldn't be!| I replied rather dazedly, thinking of the letter I had just received. |Which one? What was her first name?|
Unfortunately she could not remember that, nor did she know that there were two Miss Williamsons in China. And as for the name of the man -- she had no idea about that, either. The whole thing seemed extremely vague, and altogether unlikely, and I dismissed it from my mind.
A week later I received another letter from my two sisters. To my amazement I read the news that the younger of them had just become engaged to the single man who had arrived at the hill resort the day after the previous letter was written!
After I had partly recovered from the shock, my mind went back to what I had heard of the courtship of my married sister, also in China. The man who later became her husband was stationed at a place a thousand miles from where she was. They had been very slightly acquainted when they were in Bible institute in America, six or seven years before. Suddenly he started writing to her, and after two or three letters, asked her to marry him. When she went down to Shanghai for the wedding, practically all she knew of him was from his letters.
The other sister, who went with her at that time, told me later that when they went to the railway station in Shanghai to meet the expected groom, who did not arrive until the day after they did, she almost had heart failure. After they went to bed that night she could not go to sleep for thinking, |What if she shouldn't want to marry him, now that she's seen him! I'm sure I wouldn't!|
Succeeding days set her mind at rest, however, for it was quite evident that the promised bride did want to marry him -- and so it turned out all right after all!
* * * * *
|What a strange family you come from!| you say. |Your sisters rush into marriage in such a precipitous way!|
No, not at all. Such courtships are fairly common among missionaries. The reason for this is obvious. There is very little opportunity on the mission field for becoming acquainted with eligible persons of the opposite sex. Unless the missionary is prepared to give up his calling in order to marry, his range of choice is necessarily limited to other missionaries; and missionaries, when at work, are usually widely scattered. Most of our mission stations had only one household, with only two, three, or four missionaries. Obviously, it would not be very likely that two single workers of opposite sex would be included in the group; to say nothing of the fact that such an allocation of workers would normally be considered highly unconventional! Usually single women workers were sent to one station, and a man (or men, if there were that many) to another. Missionary travel, except for going to a summer resort, was usually confined to one's own district, and missionaries working outside that district met very infrequently.
Another factor that must be taken into consideration is the restriction which local custom puts upon social mingling of the sexes in heathen lands. Most missionaries live in near contact with the people, and it is only right that they should do so. The missionary who prefers to withdraw from the people is not likely to make many converts. Local people, both Christian and heathen, are encouraged to come freely into the missionary's home, and much of his work may be done by just such quiet contacts. The missionaries come in as strangers. They present a new way of life. Is it any wonder that, as much as is possible, everything that they do is watched? Sometimes the watching is in order to criticize; sometimes it is in order to imitate; but always they are watched. If what the watchers see seems good to them, they may give themselves to the One about whom the missionaries preach. If they see things that offend them, they may stumble and turn away. Because of this, local conventions must be taken into consideration; and in many heathen lands what we would call only ordinary friendliness between two persons of opposite sex would be looked upon not only with disapproval, but even with suspicion.
Mission rules in regard to such matters are usually very strict, as the following quotation from The Overseas Manual of the China Inland Mission Overseas Missionary Fellowship (1955) will show!
It is important that the missionary in his daily life among Eastern peoples should maintain a standard of dignity and courtesy which is essentially Christian and not merely Western. It must be remembered that a careless disregard of local conventions will give offense to nationals whose good opinion is of value, and may prove a serious hindrance to the progress of the Gospel. Great care should be taken particularly by lady workers when extending hospitality to missionary brethren or vice versa, lest any action lead to misunderstanding and injury to the work. Engaged couples should also be especially careful of their deportment, remembering that they will be setting a standard of behavior for young Christians no longer bound by old conventions and looking, perhaps, for guidance to their missionary
friends.... Engaged couples will not be designated to work in the same center (pp.21, 22).
So, between the limitation that a narrow circle of eligible acquaintances sets, and the restriction entailed in conforming to local custom, young missionaries may often feel that the chance for any normal kind of romance is snatched from them. Small wonder that the summer resort and the post office, the two avenues of courtship left open to them, are speedily utilized, and that engagements are often made on what would seem at home to be too short acquaintance! If you knew that you had only a few weeks in which to become better acquainted and do your courting, and that when those few weeks had passed each would return to his own station, with no opportunity of meeting again for at least another year, perhaps you would speed things up too!
If the choice of a life partner were a matter to be decided purely |on one's own,| then this sort of situation on the mission field might lead to many a tragedy. Thank God, that is not the case! After all, He is the One whom we want to make the choice for us, and He can be depended upon. Certainly any young missionary should make this a matter of definite prayer. If God has chosen the two for each other, He will see to it that they meet; and He will bear witness in their hearts as to His leading, so that they need not hesitate or fear. If we set our hearts on some certain thing, irrespective of whether or not it is His will, disaster will result. If we commit the matter entirely to Him, and trust Him to work out His own perfect will, we can go ahead, with confidence, knowing that the union (if He indicates it) will be as the path of the just, that |shineth more and more unto the perfect day.| If anyone doubts this, let him look at any missionary couple. In spite of all the difficulties and dangers, the percentage of happily married couples must be greater among missionaries than it is anywhere else!
To any thinking young person, another problem, not yet discussed, must be evident. If there are twice as many single women as single men on the mission field (and there are), some of the women must either marry men who are not missionaries, and so leave the field, or else remain single. The shortage of men on the mission field is often deplored, and it is true that in many cases the work would be better off with a larger proportion of men. I shall always remember, however, hearing one of my sisters say: |Before I came to the mission field I thought that the reason there were more women than men on the field was that more of the women were wholly consecrated to the cause of Christ; but after I had been out for some time I changed my mind. Now I believe that God calls more women than men because more women are needed.|
The army of unmarried women missionaries on the field is there, not because there happen to be more women than men on the field, and, since we do not believe in polygamy, some were left over; but because there is a work that they can do that no one else can. Most men need wives, and the fact that a man has a wife and family is more of a help than a hindrance in most types of missionary work. A man missionary can leave his family for weeks or months, and even though married, he can engage in the arduous itineration that is often necessary. But a married woman missionary, as soon as she becomes a mother, is bound to her children, and that usually means that she bound to her home. She can engage in missionary work in the place where she lives, but she cannot travel easily. She cannot go out for weeks or months with a women's evangelistic band. She cannot go from church to church, holding Bible classes for the women. In many places, when teams of men workers go about, the women are left almost untouched. There must be women workers to reach the women. There is plenty of work for the married woman missionary to engage in; but there are certain types of work which her responsibilities will not allow her to undertake.
|That's the type of work I want to do!| declares one young woman. |To spend weeks and months in the country villages, living in the people's homes and really becoming one with them -- that's the only work that counts! I shall never be married.|
|Oh,| says another, |I'm sure there is much work a married woman can do that would be impossible to the single woman. Anyway, I wasn't cut out for a spinster! It doesn't matter if there are only half as many men as women; some of the women get married, and I'll be one of the 'some.'|
Well, friends, both of you are wrong. It's not up to you to say what sort of work you want to do, and it's not up to you to say whether you will be married, or one of the single crowd. Since most girls want to be married, it is a good thing for each to face the possibility that God might, for a reason, want her to remain single; but that does not mean that I am encouraging anyone to take a vow of celibacy! I know of one young woman missionary who told various fellow workers, and even some of the local Christians, that she was never going to get married. The Lord began to deal with her -- at the same time that a young man was laying siege to her heart! She finally surrendered to the Lord, and gave up her cherished dreams of the kind of missionary career she had mapped out for herself. A few years later she was a happy missionary wife and mother!
Most of the above is particularly directed to young women, but it may apply to young men as well. In a limited number of cases it may be necessary for men to remain single, particularly those who engage in pioneer work of a sort that would be impossible for women. This probably means giving up anything that could rightly be called a |home.| Even where two single men are together, |batching it| is usually a sorry business; but when the call of the Lord comes, He will give grace. In that respect it is much easier for women. Two unmarried women can live together and make a home that seems like a home; most men do not seem to have that gift!
The advantages and disadvantages of the single woman missionary, as over and against those of the married woman (or vice versa) are often debated. The single woman certainly has the advantage in being able to give all her time and energy to the work, though the married woman can give help to married women in a way that an unmarried woman cannot. It is not a matter for anyone to decide arbitrarily. Remember that |each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that| (I Cor.7:7). Whatever God has called us to do, we can do. Each state has its own blessings. When one sees the |trouble in the flesh| (I Cor.7:28, K.J.V.) that bringing up children on the mission field entails, it is almost enough to make one feel that the single state is the easier. It is easier in some ways, of course. Yet remaining single is not easy either. Every human heart longs for someone to |belong to,| and perhaps the hardest thing that the single missionary has to face is that she can never, never say to anyone, |I'm going to stay with you.|