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Have We No Rights by Mabel Williamson

CHAPTER 8 The Right to a Normal Home Life

|After marriage a lady worker continues to be a missionary in active service and her changed status will afford new opportunities for service. She will need rightly to apportion time to language study, home duties and her calling as a missionary. This will require changes in outlook and habits, but if the responsibilities of married life have been prayerfully accepted the varying claims on time and strength will not result in a permanent conflict of loyalties.

|The establishing of a Christian home should be for the glory of God and the spread of the Gospel. One danger to be avoided is that of missionaries becoming so absorbed in their home as to neglect an active ministry amongst the people to whom they have been called. It is the mutual responsibility of both husband and wife to see that each does not hinder the other from fulfilling his or her ministry. Where there are children, it is recognized that new responsibilities are involved, but care should be taken that family claims do not monopolize the time and energies of either parent. Children who grow up in an atmosphere of loving yet firm discipline are not only a joy to their parents but an asset to the work of the Gospel. But when children are over-indulged or uncontrolled, whether on the field or at home, serious harm to God's cause as well as to the reputation of the Mission may result.|

-- The Overseas Manual of the
China Inland Mission
Overseas Missionary Fellowship
(1955), p.22.

What a wonderful thing is a Christian home! What a privilege to be able to establish, among thousands of darkened, pagan homes, one that is truly Christian; and to be able to live out the love of Christ in actual family relationships before people who know nothing of it!

This privilege has not been given to me. The Lord has not led me in that path. And yet, as I have observed many young couples on the mission field, and older ones too, I have been able to see a little of the price they have had to pay. The outsider, looking on, saw only the love and blessing that radiated from these homes. But as I lived in some of them, I found that these young couples were faced with constant problems, and even frustrations, and I wondered whether or not I could have overcome all obstacles in the gallant way in which they did.

Shall we take a look at the sort of thing a young married couple on the mission field has to face? We will call them John and Mary, and make them just ordinary folk who meet the kind of situations most young missionaries meet.

* * * * *

A home of her own -- that was what Mary longed for. She and John had been married a few months before leaving for the field, had studied for a term in language school, and now were living with an older married couple until their acquaintance with the language and the customs of the people was enough to warrant their being sent to a station of their own. Mary found the language easy, but John found it hard; and they had been on the field for more than two years before their desire for a home of their own was realized. It was just as well for Mary that she was quick with the language. Little David was born when they had been out only a year, and looking after David meant that she had several hours less each day for study than John had.

When they finally got to their new station, they were surprised to find that long, uninterrupted hours for language study, which they still needed, were almost impossible. There was a little church in the place to which they had been sent, and of course they wanted to do what they could, with their limited language, to help. They found a language teacher, but he was not as good as their previous one. Mary had a girl to help her in the house, but she was untrained, and for the first few months Mary thought that it was more work training her than it would have been to do the work herself. They had many visitors, both Christians and others. John loved to sit and talk with the men who came, and although his facility in the use of the spoken language developed, the progress he made in the book work required by the course of study was extremely slow. Mary often longed to shoo the men visitors out the door, lead John into his study, set him down at his desk, and shut him in with his books!

With the care of the baby and the responsibility for the home devolving upon her, it was a good thing that Mary did enjoy study. She often said that she thought the Lord gave her, as a young mother, special help with the language, because He knew how much she had to do! Because she was so busy, however, she often sat up later at night over her books than was good for her health, and she became tired and worn out. The flu came along, and she was an easy victim. Poor John! He had to be nurse, housekeeper, and baby-tender, all at the same time. The thing that worried Mary the most about being ill was that she was keeping John from his studies.

Mary was not entirely back to normal health when David's little sister was born. What a darling she was! Before her illness, Mary had been giving a short Bible talk at the women's meeting every other week; but now it seemed impossible to find time for the hours of preparation such a talk entailed. Because of her slow recovery it was finally decided that she and the children must go to a hill resort earlier than usual that summer. When she returned, she was horrified to realize that it had been six months since she had given a message in the native language.

She was feeling much better in every way, however, and settled down to |get back into the work.| The girl who helped her had developed nicely, and now the two children could be entrusted to her care. In spite of John's slowness at the language, he had always been able to make himself understood, and the little church was growing. With his encouragement, they had started a preaching band, and went to nearby towns and villages with the Gospel. Sometimes they stayed away for several weeks at a time. They insisted that John accompany them; and indeed, he would not have been happy anywhere else. But more and more Mary found herself left alone at home with the children. Where was the happy home that she had wanted to establish for John? He was as dear and as kind as ever when she saw him -- but he was away so much! And during the times he was at home, there were often visitors to see him. On evenings when there were no visitors she always longed to say, |Come and sit in the easy chair, John, and we'll have a cozy time together,| but her Puritan conscience usually overcame the promptings of her heart, and instead she would look at the clock and say brightly, |Oh, there's still time for you to get in an hour or two of study! Isn't that nice!|

The time passed rapidly. John did persevere with his language study, and very slowly got off the required examinations. Mary never had as much time as he did for study, but she usually kept ahead of him in the book work. She did not dream of trying to rival him in his knowledge of the spoken colloquial! At first she used to save up her problems for him to deal with, but she found that when he returned from a country trip he was always so tired that she did not like to burden him, and soon she was struggling alone with most of them. The children grew rapidly, and usually kept in health, although there were several occasions when they had serious illnesses. At such times she would realize afresh that, although the nearest fully qualified doctor was several days' journey away, the Great Physician was always near!

When David was four, two new missionaries, fresh from their term at language school, were sent to be with them -- two bright, happy girls, whom Mary welcomed with all her heart. The care of the larger household took more time, but she did not grudge it. One was quick at the language, and one was slow. When the discouraged one would come with her troubles, Mary would comfort her by telling her that John had been slow too! The two girls became very fond of the children. Mary was almost overscrupulous about not allowing them to disturb the two, who were supposed to be giving all their time and effort to language study. The quick one, Alice, raced through two language exams, and then had a week in the country with the women's evangelistic team (organized a year previously, Mary being one of the chief promoters). It was what Mary had longed to do herself ever since the band was started, but -- well, she had her babies! After all, they were the most precious children in the world! But when Alice returned, bubbling over with the novelties and thrills of a week in the country (fortunately she was not afflicted with a delicate digestion, and could eat anything with relish -- and comfort!), poor Mary, had all she could do to |rejoice with them that do rejoice.| Afterward, in the privacy of her own room (John was not at home, and the children were asleep), she finally let go, and the sobs came -- stifled by the bedclothes, so that the children would not be awakened.

And then it was time for furlough! The homeland seemed strange at first, but they soon got used to things. Everyone was extremely kind, and showered them with gifts. The meeting with loved ones and friends was all that they had expected; but the strain of living with their children in other people's homes (even though they were the homes of their own dear ones) made things difficult. The relatives constantly petted the children, and discipline became a problem. Finally they were able to get an apartment of their own for a few months, and David started kindergarten. John was constantly in demand as a deputation speaker, and he traveled back and forth, speaking in many places. Sometimes Mary thought, with a sigh, that she saw less of him on furlough than she had on the field!

Certainly they were having a wonderful time at home, but still it would be nice to get back to the field again! Then, with the thought, came a stab of pain -- for she knew that when that time arrived it would mean sending little David off to school. The school for missionaries' children was a long way from their part of the field, and the most they could hope for after that was to have David during the summers, and on their furloughs. Her little David! Going so far from home, among strangers! Perhaps she could keep him awhile, and teach him at home. If only the leaders of the Mission were not so strict about insisting that all children of school age be sent to the school for missionaries' children! What did they know of a mother's love for her little boy? But before this thought was fully formed, her heart was reproving her. Of course they knew. Most of them had children of their own. It was all for the children's good. She had no training for teaching, and look how busy she had always been! Wherever did she think she would get time to teach David?

Besides, her mind ran on, David needed to be with other children of his own age and race, and to get the |give-and-take| that school life provides. Kindergarten had already been a help. And on the field there were so many other difficulties! While they were still there, she had tried her best not to let David feel that he was different from, or superior to, the children he played with; but she just couldn't let him do all the things that they did. And he had always wanted to know, why -- why couldn't he wipe his nose on the back of his hand, as all the other children did? Why did he have to go to bed at a certain hour, when all the other children stayed up as long as they wished? She certainly had never said, |It's because you are an American, and we are different,| but somehow David had seemed to acquire that sort of attitude, and to feel that he was superior to the local children. She still remembered how helpless she had felt in trying to deal with the situation!

Well, it did seem that sending him away to school would be necessary if he were not to grow up proud and overbearing. Then too, she remembered the day she had to spank him because he had become angry and shouted at one of his little playmates in very filthy language. Where had he learned those words? (He had picked up the language, good and bad alike, without even trying!) She wouldn't even have known what the words meant, but she had overheard the Bible woman scolding him, and had gone out to see what was wrong. The Bible woman hadn't wanted to tell her, but she would not be satisfied until she did. No, if her boy was going to learn filth like that by being inland with her, there was no help for it -- he must go to school. |Dear Lord,| she prayed, |You know what's best, and I suppose he's got to go; but, oh, Father, it's like tearing my heart out to send him!|

The time came. John and Mary went back to the field. David went off to school, bravely choking down the sobs, but with a pathetic, lost look in his eyes that stabbed his parents' hearts. They tried to forget it, and to rejoice in the thought of soon meeting again the dear group of Christians in their old station. But, no! A sudden call came, an urgent call to a hard place, in an entirely different part of the field. After much discussion and prayer, it was settled. There was no chance to go to their old station, even for a visit. Soon they were far away, among strangers, living in two rented rooms, and trying to straighten out a very difficult church situation, the like of which they had never before experienced.

* * * * *

Stories end, but life goes on and on. And the human mind always seems to magnify the present difficulties, and glamorize the possible future. John and Mary thought that they had it rather hard their first term, and that the second would be easier; but when the second term actually began, and they looked back on the first, they thought it had been nothing but child's play!

Looking at that first term objectively, we can see that John and Mary really did have a relatively easy time. For one thing, they lived in only two places all that time. For one reason or another missionaries often have to move time and again. Someone who is doing an absolutely indispensable job breaks down and must go home on furlough, and you are the only one who can take over. Or the work is being expanded, and the older workers are scattered farther afield as new ones come in. Perhaps there is a war, and your station is in the fighting area, and you have to evacuate. Whatever the reason is, suddenly you find yourself in the midst of breaking up your home, packing and moving, and then settling in a new place, finding new people and problems with which to get acquainted, and perhaps a new dialect to learn.

Other things had been comparatively easy for John and Mary too, that first term. They did not have any fellow workers who were |difficult.| It was not their lot to start work in virgin territory, or where the people were unfriendly. They did not get into any difficult church situations. The church people were eager to co-operate with them, and quick to profit by their teaching and example. Even in the matter of health, they did not have a more than average amount of illness. And the story of their accomplishments during that first term could truly be used as a model for the young missionary's emulation!

This is not to say that John and Mary had no difficulties. Difficulties are the normal thing on the mission field, and they had their share. But they met their difficulties, and they made good. How? Chiefly by giving up some of their |rights,| and foremost among the rights they gave up was their chance for a normal home life. There was rarely an evening when John was at home and without a visitor; and if such an evening came, he spent it at his books. Later he was away from home for days and weeks, so that the home had to function without the father much of the time. John had to give up his right to spend a normal amount of time with his wife and children. Even Mary could not spend as much time with the children as she would have liked, nor arrange things for them as she might have wished. And then, after the first few years, their home was not theirs alone. Most of the time they had other people living with them. All the way through they had to put the Lord's work first, and their home second.

Yet was not this attitude of self-sacrifice the thing that made their home a real Christian home? If they had put their home first, not the work -- if that home had become a self-centered thing, a thing enjoyed for its own sake -- would it not have failed to be what they wanted it to be? A home that is absorbed in itself is not a truly Christian home. John was willing to be away so much, and to sacrifice so much, because his love for his Master was the all-consuming passion of his life. It was for exactly that reason that his presence -- and even the consciousness of his absence, and the reason for it -- did bless that home. John and Mary gladly took others into their home, really wanting them, not because they did not appreciate having their own home to themselves, but because their concern for the work was greater than their natural desires. They counted the cost, and sent their child away from them, away to school, because they knew that it was best for the child and best for the work. Love for Christ was greater than love for home, or for children, and greater even than love for each other. If they had held on to their right to home, and given it first place, that would have meant losing it -- losing the Christ-centered home that they wanted. But in giving it up they found it -- found a home that truly showed forth the love of Christ, because that love was the compelling force of their individual lives.

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