|Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.|
Motto of the Hwochow Bible School.
|Cornelius halted at a doorway in a long, low
wall -- the outer wall of some villa courtyard, it
might be supposed -- as if at liberty to enter, and
rest there awhile. He held the door open for his
companion to enter also, if he would, with an
expression, as he lifted the latch, which seemed
to ask Marius, |Would you like to see it?| Was he
willing to look upon that, the seeing of which
might define -- yes! define the critical
turning-point in his days?| -- WALTER PATER.
WOMEN'S BIBLE TRAINING SCHOOL
WHICH TELLS HOW A LINK WAS ESTABLISHED BETWEEN WESTMINSTER AND HWOCHOW BIBLE SCHOOLS
AMONGST the courtyards which constituted our new premises was one into the walls of which was inserted a stone, engraved with the words in Chinese and English: |Women's Bible School. Erected by the Congregation of Westminster Chapel, London. Jesus said: 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.'|
The women's rooms had never been large enough to hold those who were anxious to come, and now at last suitable premises were going to make possible the fulfilment of a long-cherished plan -- that of giving adequate training to suitable women.
It seemed a long step from the days when, freely roaming around the villages, we taught some of these women the very first character they knew, spelling out with them the text: |God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.| The next step had been attendance at a station class for twenty days, sometimes repeated yearly but never leading to advanced work. In our new premises we divided the students into three groups: Firstly, those attending a ten days' course, who served as training-ground to a second group of more advanced women who had passed the initial stage, and who now entered for the two years' course of Bible training and practical experience as evangelists. Thirdly, a picked few who, having received more regular teaching, were able to continue their own studies and help to superintend the work of the juniors, especially on the practical side, meanwhile giving a considerable portion of their time to aggressive evangelistic work.
Foremost amongst these was Mrs. Liang, mother of Ling Ai, the headmistress of the girls' school. Strong, true, a woman of no ordinary ability, little escaped her penetrating glance. It was in middle age that she first heard the Gospel, an indirect influence of the opium refuge work; for Mrs. Liang had never smoked opium, nor had any member of her family. A neighbour, however, had, and on her return from the Refuge she produced with pardonable pride the copy of St. John's Gospel which she had bought, and better still, could read. It was hard for Mrs. Liang to see the former degraded opium smoker ahead of her in learning, and she persuaded her husband to give her the needed help. She borrowed the book and started at the first chapter. She had not been to the Mission House nor had she seen the missionaries, but before she met them she had met their Lord. It was but one more proof that |the words I speak unto you they are spirit, and they are life,| and the Holy Spirit illuminating the written pages brought home to her its meaning. |He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,| she read, and how can I say what took place? She tells me that she was convicted of sin, and that she found her Saviour.
[Illustration: WOMEN'S BIBLE SCHOOL.
Mrs. Hsi on the left, sharing a book with Miss French. Mrs. Liang on the right, sitting at Miss Cable's left.
To face page 160.]
Intercourse with Miss Jacobsen was soon established, and under Mr. Cheng's influence her husband also believed. Mrs. Liang was baptized, her own feet and Ling Ai's were unbound, and the latter became a pupil in the girls' school.
Mrs. Liang herself lived quietly at home until the year 1900. At that time the local Boxer leader was a near neighbour of hers, and he was prepared to kill these well-known adherents of a foreign religion. On recovering consciousness, however, from the trance which preceded the issuing of inspired orders, he uttered the surprising words: |Return each to your own place; let each busy himself with his own affairs.| Not daring to disobey his followers scattered, and the small group of Christians was safe. Ling Ai has described the experiences of those days in the following words: |For months we were as those whose hair is bound around the neck, not knowing at what moment we should be called upon to die, but after our deliverance we united in saying: 'We have been under the shadow of the Almighty.'|
When we came to Hwochow Mrs. Liang, realising our difficulties, was one of the first to come to our assistance, and quickly endeared herself to us by her thoughtful, kind, practical ways.
To the work of preaching she gave herself with unusual energy and devotion, so that to-day there are few women in Hwochow who do not know her, and scarcely a courtyard that has not been visited by her.
Assisting Mrs. Liang is Mrs. Bah, who the first time I saw her refused to have any intercourse with us. She was the senior wife of a wealthy man who had died early, leaving the two widows to arrange matters as best they could. The younger one smoked opium, but was the proud possessor of a son who by law was the property of the elder wife, but it was obvious that to the younger was due the honour of introducing a son and heir to the house.
The fact that Mrs. Bah the younger at last became a Christian and left her evil habits, did not make the elder woman more friendly, though she had in time to confess that life was easier for both under the new conditions. After some time the Christians of the village received her permission to use a cave in her spacious court for worship, in return for their offer to put it in repair. |It can do no harm,| she argued, |and repairs are badly needed.| Every evening they met to read the Bible and pray, and Mrs. Bah, prompted by curiosity, took her spinning to within earshot. She understood little, but the reiteration of the words |Heavenly Father| puzzled and interested her. |If it really be the Heavenly Father whom they worship,| she reasoned, |they should be in the best room.| The thought grew upon her until a change was effected, and to this day Mrs. Bah's guest-room is the village church. She soon left her spinning-wheel to join the worshippers and gradually came to the triumphant belief, weak at first, but taking slow shape, that |the attitude of the soul to its Maker can be something more than a distant reverence and overpowering awe, that we can indeed hold converse with God, speak with Him, call upon Him, put -- to use a human phrase -- our hand in His, desiring only to be led according to His will.| This was the spiritual story of Mrs. Bah.
I could tell of many others and the theme is tempting, for by so many and such varied paths have these comrades travelled. To mention only our youngest student who at the age of sixteen, member of a heathen family, heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ from an elder sister, a patient of the Women's Opium Refuge. She determined that as far as in her lay she would be a Christian. Yielding to her wishes, her parents engaged her to the son of a believer. After her marriage, when her entrance to the Bible School was suggested we demurred, but agreed to her attending a station class, only to discover that once more the Spirit of God had accomplished that of which we knew nothing. This young woman, who had only heard the Gospel from a sister who herself did not believe, had been truly converted. Reference to the curriculum in Appendix A will make it clear that the subject which has the pre-eminence is Bible study. The students prepare the books there mentioned, and during the years they are with us cover also the course indicated by Dr. Campbell Morgan's Graded Bible, which Miss French has translated for their use.
The instruction of inquirers in the village centres is undertaken by those women evangelists who have completed their course. In places to which they are invited by the local church they hold classes of ten days' duration, following the course of study as in the central station. By this means a large number of women are under instruction, and heathens are brought in contact with the messengers of the Cross.
City and village visiting forms an important branch of the training, and last but not least, classes taken under criticism, when it falls to the lot of the missionary to ask the questions which might occur to a heathen audience, and to impress upon the students the necessity of clear presentation of the Gospel. It is desirable that they should express the things which have gripped them in an individual way, not adopting a Western colouring but using to the full their Eastern knowledge: |Originality is like a fountain head; orthodoxy is too often only the unimpeachable fluid of the water company.|
The prodigal son, for example, naturally smoked opium in the far country, and the Chinese pictures so represent him. It was not, as we have supposed, in her confidence that oil would be supplied that the widow's faith was exemplified, but rather in her willingness at Elisha's command to go forth on a borrowing expedition when she was already so deeply in debt.
We are sometimes treated to illustrations truly Eastern in character, as the following example will indicate. It was accepted by the audience as a solemn exhortation, as was the preacher's intention, the missionaries being the only ones present to whom the humorous side was evident. The subject was the importance of a whole-hearted acceptance of the Gospel, and the foolishness and uselessness of a half-hearted belief. A man, we were told, was begging by the roadside; he was very ill, and a passing doctor had pity on him, and gave him some medicine which the man promised to take. Questionings, however, arose in his mind as to the reliability of the said doctor, and yet he could not but take the drug, as he felt so ill. A compromise was decided upon, and he took half the dose. For a few hours he felt wonderfully well, and rejoiced in his restored condition; towards night the pain was more acute than before, and he was at his wits' end. How he regretted his folly, for his illness was certainly more serious. A few months later the same doctor, travelling over the same road, met the same man now reduced to a bag of bones.
|What!| said he; |are you not the man to whom I gave medicine last time I came this way?|
|I am,| he replied, |and I have been much worse ever since.|
|Worse!| exclaimed the physician; |how is that?|
|I only took half the dose,| said the man; |I did not venture to take the whole.|
|Alas! alas!| he replied, |how terrible! Your illness is the result of parasites attacking your vitals. That medicine would have killed them all. Had you taken the full dose you would have been well; had you tasted none there would have been hope for you. You took a small dose, and the parasites were sent to sleep, and later, when the effect of the drug had gone over, they awoke more lively than ever. Having once tasted of the drug and experienced its effect, nothing will induce them to be trapped a second time. Return home, and prepare for a lingering death.|
In the moral drawn, the folly of an endeavour to serve two masters was made clear -- a truth which all present felt to have been powerfully interpreted.