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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER III Humdrum

Things As They Are by Amy Wilson-Carmichael

CHAPTER III Humdrum

|A missionary's life is more ordinary than is
supposed. Plod rather than cleverness is often the
best missionary equipment.|
Rev. J. Heywood Horsburgh, China.

|Truly to understand the facts of work for Christ
in any land, we must strip it of all romance, and
of everything which is unreal.|
Miss S. S. Hewlett, India.

THERE have been times of late when I have had to hold on to one text with all my might: |It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.| Praise God, it does not say |successful.|

One evening things came to a climax. We all spent a whole afternoon without getting one good listener. We separated as usual, going two and two to the different quarters of a big sleepy straggly village. Life and I went to the potters. Life spoke most earnestly and well to an uninterested group of women. After she had finished one of them pointed to my hat (the only foreign thing about me which was visible -- oh that I could dispense with it!). |What is that?| she said. Not one bit did they care to hear. One by one they went back to their work, and we were left alone.

We went to another quarter. It was just the same. At a rest-house by the way I noticed a Brahman, and went to see if he would listen. He would if I would talk |about politics or education, but not if it was about religion.| However, I did get a chance of pleading with him to consider the question of his soul's salvation, and he took a book and said he would read it at his leisure. And then he asked me how many persons I had succeeded in joining to my Way since I began to try. It was exactly the question, only asked in another form, which the devil had been pressing on me all the afternoon. After this he told me politely that we were knocking our heads against a rock; we might smash our heads, but we never would affect the rock.

|Rock! Rock! when wilt thou open?| It is an old cry; I cried it afresh. But the Brahman only smiled, and then with a gesture expressing at once his sense of his own condescension in speaking with me, and his utter contempt for the faith I held, motioned to me to go.

Outside in the road a number of Hindus were standing; some of them were his retainers and friends. I heard them say, as I passed through their midst, |Who will fall into the pit of the Christian Way!| And they laughed, and the Brahman laughed. |As the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, unto this day.|

We walked along the road bordered with beautiful banyan trees. We sat down under their shade, and waited for what would come. Some little children followed us, but before we could get a single idea clearly into their heads a man came and chased them away. |It is getting dark,| he said. |They are only little green things; they must not be out late.| It was broad daylight then, and would be for another hour. Some coolies passing that way stopped to look at us; but before they had time to get interested they too remarked that darkness was coming, and they must be off, and off they went.

We were left alone after that. Within five minutes' walk were at least five hundred souls, redeemed, but they don't know it; redeemed, but they don't want to know it. Sometimes they seem to want to know, but however tenderly you tell it, the keen Hindu mind soon perceives the drift of it all -- Redemption must mean loss of Caste. One day last week I was visiting in the Village of the Red Lake. Standing in one of its courtyards you see the Western Ghauts rising straight up behind. The Red Lake lies at the mountain foot; we call it Derwentwater, but there are palms and bamboos, and there is no Friar's Crag.

That afternoon I was bound for a house in the centre of the village, when an old lady called me to come to her house, and I followed her gladly. There were six or eight women all more or less willing to listen; among them were two who were very old. Old people in India are usually too attached to their own faith, or too utterly stupid and dull, to care to hear about another; but this old lady had been stirred to something almost like active thought by the recent death of a relative, and she felt that she needed something more than she had to make her ready for death. She was apparently devout. Ashes were marked on her brow and arms, and she wore a very large rosary. It is worn to accumulate merit. I did not refer to it as I talked, but in some dim way she seemed to feel it did not fit with what I was saying, for, with trembling hands, she took it off and threw it to a child. I hoped this meant something definite, and tried to lead her to Jesus. But as soon as she understood Who He was, she drew back. |I cannot be a disciple of your Guru, here,| she said; |would my relations bear such defilement?| Being a Christian really meant sooner or later leaving her home and all her people for ever. Can you wonder an old lady of perhaps seventy-five stopped at that?

The little children in the Village of the Warrior are not allowed to learn. The men of the place have consulted and come to the decision. The chill of it has struck the little ones, and they do not care to run the chance of the scolding they would receive if they showed too much interest in us. The mothers are as friendly as ever, but indifferent. |We hear this is a religion which spoils our Caste,| they say, and that is the end of it. In the great house of the Temple Village they listened well for some weeks. Then, as it gradually opened to them that there is no Caste whatever in Christianity, their interest died.

How much one would like to tell a different story! But a made-up story is one thing and a story of facts is another. So far we have only found two genuine earnest souls here. But if those two go on -- ! Praise God for the joy on before!

We went again to the potters' village and sat on the narrow verandah and talked to a girl as she patted the pots into shape underneath where the wheel had left an open place. She listened for awhile; then she said, |If I come to your Way will you give me a new seeley and good curry every day?| And back again we went to the very beginning of things, while the old grandfather spinning his wheel chuckled at us for our folly in wasting our time over potters. |As if we would ever turn to your religion!| he said. |Have you ever heard of a potter who changed his Caste?|

Caste and religion! They are so mixed up that we do not know how to unmix them. His Caste to the potter meant his trade, the trade of his clan for generations; it meant all the observances bound up with it; it meant, in short, his life. It would never strike him that he could be a Christian and a potter at the same time, and very probably he could not; the feeling of the Caste would be against it. Then what else could he be? He does not argue all this out; he does not care enough about the matter to take the trouble to think at all. He has only one concern in life -- he lives to make pots and sell them, and make more and sell them, and so eat and sleep in peace.

But the girl had the look of more possibility; she asked questions and seemed interested, and finally suggested we should wait till she had finished her batch of pots, and then she would |tell us all her mind.| So we waited and watched the deft brown hands as they worked round the gaping hole till it grew together and closed; and at last she had finished. Then she drew us away from the group of curious children, and told us if we would come in three days she would be prepared to join our Way and come with us, for she had to work very hard at home, and her food was poor and her seeley old, and she thought it would be worth risking the wrath of her people to get all she knew we should give her if she came; and this was all her mind.

She had touched a great perplexity. How are we to live in India without raising desires of this sort? It is true the Brahmans look down upon us, and the higher Castes certainly do not look up, but to the greater number of the people we seem rich and grand and desirable to cultivate. The Ulterior-Object-Society is a fact in South India. We may banish expensive-looking things from our tables, and all pictures and ornaments from our walls, and confine ourselves to texts. This certainly helps; there is less to distract the attention of the people when they come to see us, and we have so many the fewer things to take care of -- a very great advantage -- but it does not go far towards disillusioning them as to what they imagine is our true position. We are still up above to them; not on a level, not one of themselves.

The houses we live in are airy and large, and they do not understand the need of protection from the sun. The food we eat is abundant and good, and to them it looks luxurious, for they live on rice and vegetable curry, at a cost of twopence a day. Our walls may be bare, but they are clean, and the texts aforesaid are not torn at the corners; so, whatever we say, we are rich.

Identification with the people whom we have come to win is the aim of many a missionary, but the difficulty always is the same -- climate and customs are dead against it; how can we do it? George Bowen struck at English life and became a true Indian, so far as he could, but even he could not go all the way. No matter how far you may go, there is always a distance you cannot cover -- yards or inches it may be, but always that fatal hiatus. We seem so undeniably up, far up above them in everything, and we want to get to the lowest step down, low enough down to lift lost souls up.

[Illustration: |I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.| The vessel the potters are making here is worth about a halfpenny, but it is perfect of its kind. The moulder never lifts his hand from it from the moment he puts a lump of shapeless clay on the wheel till the moment he takes it off finished, so far as the wheel can finish it. If it is |marred,| it is |marred in the hand of the potter,| and instantly he makes it again another vessel as it seems good to him. He never wastes the clay.]

On and on, if they will let us, time after time, by text and hymn and story, we have to explain what things really mean before they are able to understand even a fraction of the truth. The fact that this girl had thought enough to get her ideas into shape was encouraging, and with such slender cause for hope we still hoped. But when after some weeks' visiting she began to see that the question was not one of curries and seeleys but of inward invisible gifts, her interest died, and she was |out| when we went, or too busy patting her pots to have time to listen to us.

Humdrum we have called the work, and humdrum it is. There is nothing romantic about potters except in poetry, nor is there much of romance about missions except on platforms and in books. Yet |though it's dull at whiles,| there is joy in the doing of it, there is joy in just obeying. He said |Go, tell,| and we have come and are telling, and we meet Him as we |go and tell.|

But, dear friends, do not, we entreat you, expect to hear of us doing great things, as an everyday matter of course. Our aim is great -- it is India for Christ! and before the gods in possession here, we sing songs unto Him. But what we say to you is this: Do not expect every true story to dovetail into some other true story and end with some marvellous coincidence or miraculous conversion. Most days in real life end exactly as they began, so far as visible results are concerned. We do not find, as a rule, when we go to the houses -- the literal little mud houses, I mean, of literal heathendom -- that anyone inside has been praying we might come. I read a missionary story |founded on fact| the other day, and the things that happened in that story on these lines were most remarkable. They do not happen here. Practical missionary life is an unexciting thing. It is not sparkling all over with incident. It is very prosaic at times.

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