|No Church is fulfilling its responsibilities to God, or preparing itself for its best and most
effective work, which does not regard itself in
some respects as a great Training School for
Christian workers.| -- Rev. A. SWIFT.
|And He gave --
Some indeed to be apostles,
And some prophets,
And some evangelists,
And some shepherds and teachers, --
With a view to the fitting of the saints
For the work of ministering,
For an upbuilding of the body of the Christ.|
The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians.
RELATING HOW WE SOUGHT TO ENCOMPASS THE WORK, AND THE WORK ENCOMPASSED US
THE events of 1900 resulted in an extraordinary quickening of interest amongst those who had a contact of some kind with Christianity. We very soon found ourselves quite overwhelmed by the many openings and opportunities which presented themselves on all sides. Hitherto untouched villages begged for a visit, idols were destroyed by those into whose homes we had never penetrated, leaders in the Church were begging us to devise some means by which the women might be taught, fathers were prepared for any sacrifice so that their daughters might be received as scholars.
For some time, at vast expenditure of strength, we attempted by travelling in different directions to spend, at any rate, one or two days in the various centres we were begged to visit. Each month we became more strongly impressed with the fact that the work of evangelisation was being carried on with tremendous aggressive force, not by us, but by the native Church, we being unable to even follow up the openings made by them.
Such a mass movement afforded an unparalleled opportunity, provided sufficient teaching were given to establish and build up in the faith those who believed; but if left to itself, this large numerical increase might prove a serious menace to the spiritual life of the Church. We had to seriously consider our ways. Should we contribute our small part to the widespread preaching of the Gospel and visiting of those who had already heard through the Chinese evangelising agencies, or should we leave to the Chinese Church the responsibility of propagating itself, reserving ourselves to |preparing saints for the work of ministering|?
Chinese Christians going from place to place spread the Good Tidings more effectually than we could hope to do, and where such conditions exist, it is surely an indication that the people of the land should hear the Gospel first from the lips of their own countrymen. Moreover, the Government was seriously considering the establishment of girls' schools, and we had to decide as to whether the work amongst the young should be an unimportant branch of our scheme of missionary activities, or whether our schools should be established with the object of becoming training-centres for Christian helpers.
We were faced with this fact: unless we trained some Christian teachers, the education of the young would be in the hands of heathen; no small matter when the exalted position of the teacher in China is borne in mind; and the, if possible, more urgent fact, that unless we seriously prepared some Chinese missionaries we should go from year to year, decade to decade, with no trained Chinese staff. The material was there, and the Chinese Church was supplying young men and women, earnest devoted servants of Jesus Christ, who, given the training and granted the blessing of God, could do a work which it would be impossible for the most earnest Westerner to accomplish. Chinese of the Chinese, with neither linguistic nor climatic difficulties, understanding the minds of the most subtle of people, they enter their work with a flying leap which we may envy, but cannot attain. The Holy Spirit will deal with them as He does with us, and recognising them as fellow-workers together with God, we shall cease to hinder them by perpetual criticism and doubt. Faults they will have, as we, and while of a different order, who shall say that these failings make them in God's sight more unfit for the work of preaching the Gospel than ours have made us?
We therefore accepted the form of ministry which pressed with strongest necessity on us, and from the free and irresponsible life of the itinerant missionary, accepted the calling of teachers, and allowed ourselves to be tied to the numberless claims and responsibilities of institutional life. In addition to the girls' school, a plan was formed whereby we agreed to accept married women for terms of varying length -- twenty to thirty days -- as far as possible classifying them according to ability and previous knowledge. The teaching was graded from the first elements of Christian doctrine to fairly advanced New Testament classes. From amongst the first groups of women who came to us, it was evident that some were capable of receiving a far more advanced training, and the zeal they exhibited in teaching the little they knew on their return home, promised future usefulness. Two small rooms in our own living-court supplied the only accommodation for these station classes, and as each group scattered it was almost immediately replaced by other eager inquirers.
A small inner court containing two good rooms was set apart for the use of the girls' school. Every term brought an increase in the numbers, and it was soon evident that more suitable accommodation was essential if we were to meet the growing need. Though we knew it not, the necessary provision was already made. We sat together one evening in a shady spot adjoining our premises, sharing our home letters; we opened one to find it contained a cheque from a friend who could know nothing of our need, marked: |For use in any necessary buildings.| The very spot on which we sat, later on proved to be the site of the John Holt Skinner Memorial Court in the new school buildings. By the next term Chinese rooms, providing for the accommodation of sixty, were erected; the old school-court was given over to women's station classes, and we saw scope for the realisation of our wildest dreams. The work amongst the men was increasing in a similar proportion. Mr. Wang, who was in charge when we arrived at Hwochow, was now appointed Deacon of the Church, and afterwards Elder. We soon recognised in him a man of no ordinary influence. Like Barnabas, he was |a good man filled with the Holy Spirit,| and like him might well be called the |Son of Consolation.|
The large numbers who were baptized upon profession of faith each year entailed many responsibilities -- new families to be visited, more visitors to be received, marriages and funerals to be attended. Cases of persecution, real or supposed, called for many hours of patient listening, and, withal, the constant stream of city women who desired to inspect all that was going on, parents to see children in the school, friends and relatives of opium patients, who lost no chance of visiting the member of the family under treatment, changed the once quiet house into a beehive of activity.
In many Shansi houses there is a large, well-built room, open to north and south, which is set apart for the observance of the prescribed family rites connected with ancestral worship. Here are the wooden ancestral tablets, image of the soul and tangible symbol, erected to the memory of the deceased, affording thereby a fixed object for filial piety. This room on our compound was dedicated as a church for public worship; enlarged once, and again the second time, it still proved too small for our growing congregation.
The strain attendant on such a rapid development was severe, but each year found us supplied with increasingly able help from our Chinese co-workers. We found ourselves driven to the practical testing of the principle: |When the pressure of the work is too heavy, then extend the work,| and we found it to be sound and workable. Each term some extra responsibility was thrown off on to the shoulders of willing helpers, that we ourselves might be free to undertake fresh enterprises.