|'Agonia' -- that word so often on St. Paul's lips,
what did it mean? Did it not just mean the
thousand wearinesses . . . and deeper, the
strivings, the travailings, the bitter
disappointments, the 'deaths oft' of a
missionary's life?|Rev. Robert Stewart, China.
THERE are worse things than martyrdom. There are some who are |simply murdered.| There is one who belongs to a Caste which more than any other is considered tolerant and safe. Men converts from this Caste can live at home, and if a husband and wife believe, they may continue living in their own house, among the heathen. And yet this is what happened to a girl because it was known that she wanted to be a Christian.
First persecution. Treasure, as her name may be translated, had learnt as a child in the little mission school, and when we went to her village she responded, and took her stand. She refused to take part in a Hindu ceremony. She was beaten, at first slightly, then severely. This failed, so they sent her out of our reach to a heathen village miles away. This also failed, and she was brought home, and for some months went steadily on, reading and learning when she could, and all the time brightly witnessing. She was a joy to us.
She was very anxious to come out and be baptised, but her age was the difficulty. When a convert comes, the first thing to be done is to let the police authorities know. They send a constable, who takes down the convert's deposition, which is then forwarded to headquarters. One of the first questions concerns age. In some cases a medical certificate is demanded, and the girl's fate turns on that; if we can get one for over sixteen we are safe from prosecution in the Criminal Courts, but eighteen is the safest age, as the Civil Courts, if the case were to proceed, would force us to give her up if she were under eighteen. The difficulty of proving the age, unless the girl is evidently well over it, is very serious. The medical certificate usually takes off a year from what we have every reason to believe is the true age.
One other proof remains -- the horoscope. This is a Hindu document written on a palm leaf at the birth of the child; but it is always carefully kept by the head of the family, and so, as a rule, unobtainable. When a case comes on in Court a false horoscope may be produced by the relatives; this was done in a recent case tried in our Courts, so we cannot count upon that. In this girl's case we got the Government registers searched for birth-records of her village, but all such registers we found had been destroyed; none were kept of births sixteen years back. So, though she believed herself to be, and we believed her to be, and the Christians who had known her all her life were sure she was, |about sixteen,| we knew it could not be proved. She was a very slight girl, delicate and small for her age. This was against her, and there were other reasons against her coming just then. She had to wait.
I shall never forget the day I had to tell her so. She could not understand it. She knew that all the higher Castes had threatened to combine, and back up her father in a lawsuit, if she became a Christian; but she thought it would be quite enough if she stood up before the judge, and said she knew she was of age, and she wanted to come to us. |I will not be afraid of the people,| she pleaded, |I will stand up straight before them all, and speak without any fear!|
I remember how the tears filled her eyes as I explained things; it was so hard for her to understand that we had no power whatever to protect her. It would be worse for her if she came and had to be given up. She was fully sensible of this, but |Would God let them take me away? Would He not take care of me?| she asked.
I suppose it is right to obey the laws. They are, on whole, righteous laws, made in the defence of these very girls. It would never do if anyone could decoy away a mere child from her parents or natural guardians. But the unrighteous thing, as it seems to us, is that the whole burden of proof lies upon us, and that in these country villages no facilities such as Government registers of birth are to be had, by which we could hope legally to prove a point about which we are morally sure. We feel that as the burden of proof rests upon us, surely facilities should be obtainable by which we could find out a girl's age before she comes, so that we might know whether or not we might legally protect her. Still more strongly we feel it is strange justice which decrees that though a child of twelve may be legally held competent to undertake the responsibilities of wifehood, six years more must pass before she may be legally held free to obey her conscience. Free! She is never legally free! A widow may be legally free; a wife in India, never! Hardly a single Caste wife in all this Empire would be found in the little band of open Christians to-day, if the missionary concerned had not risked more than can be told here, and put God's law before man's. But oh, the number who have been turned back!
One stops, forces the words down -- they come too hot and fast. There are reasons. As I write, a young wife dear to us is lying bruised and unconscious on the floor of the inner room of a Hindu house. Her husband, encouraged by her own mother, set himself to make her conform to a certain Caste custom. It was idolatrous. She refused. He beat her then, blow upon blow, till she fell senseless. They brought her round and began again. There is no satisfactory redress. She is his wife. She is not free to be a Christian. He knows it. Her relations know it. She knows it, poor child.
O God, forgive us if we are too hot, too sore at heart, for easy pleasantness! And, God, raise up in India Christian statesmen who will inquire into this matter, and refuse to be blindfolded and deceived. His laws and ours clash somewhere; the question is, where?
To return to Treasure, we left her waiting to come. A Christian teacher lived next door, and Treasure used to slip in sometimes, as the two courtyards adjoined. We had put up a text on the wall for her: |Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.| This was her special text, and she looked at it now; and then she grew braver, and promised to be patient and try to win her mother, who was bitterly opposed.
But oh, how I remember the wistfulness of her face as I went out; and one's very heart can feel again the stab of pain, like a knife cutting deep, as I left her -- to her fate.
You have seen a tree standing stark and bare, a bleak black thing, on a sunny day against a sky of blue. You have looked at it, fascinated by the silent horror of it, a distorted cinder, not a tree, and someone tells you it was struck in the last great thunderstorm.
Next time we saw Treasure she was like that. What happened between, so far as it is known, was this. They tried to persuade her, they tried to coerce her; she witnessed to Jesus, and never faltered, though once they dragged her out of the house by her hair, and holding her down against the wall, struck her hard with a leather strap. One of the Christians saw it, and heard the poor tortured child cry out, |I do not fear! I do not fear! It will only send me to Jesus!|
Then they tried threats. |We will take you out to the lake at night, and cut you in little pieces, and throw you into it.| She fully believed them, but even so, we hear she did not flinch.
Then they did their worst to her.
It was a Sunday morning. The Saturday evening before she had managed to see the teacher. She told her hurriedly how one had come, |a bridegroom| she called him, a student from a Mission College; he was telling her all sorts of things -- that Christianity was an exploded religion; and how a great and learned woman (Mrs. Besant) had exposed the missionaries and their ways, so that no thinking people had any excuse for being deceived by them.
Then she added earnestly, |It is the devil. Do pray for me. They want me to marry him secretly! Oh, I must go to the Missie Ammal!| And if we had only known, we would have risked anything, any breach of the law of the land, to save her from a breach of the law of heaven! For all this talk, between an Indian girl of good repute and her prospective husband, is utterly foreign to what is considered right in Old India. It in itself meant danger. But we knew nothing, and next day, all that Sunday, she was shut up, and no one knows what happened to her. On Monday she was seen again; but changed, so utterly changed!
We heard nothing of this till the following Wednesday. The Christians were honestly concerned, but the Tamil is ever casual, and they saw no reason for distressing us with bad news sooner than could be helped.
As soon as we heard, I sent two of the Sisters who knew her best, to try and see her if possible. They managed to see her for two or three minutes, but found her hopelessly hard. Every bit of care was gone. She laughed in a queer, strained way, they said. It was no use my trying to see her. But I determined to see her. I cannot go over it all again, it is like tearing the skin off a wound; so the letter written at the time may tell the rest of it.
|On Saturday I went. I went straight to the teacher's house, and sent off the bandy at once, and by God's special arrangement got in unnoticed. For hours we sat in the little inner room, waiting; we could hear her voice in the courtyard outside -- a hard, changed voice. The teacher tried to get her in, but no, she would not come. Oh, how we held on to God! I could not bear to go till I had seen her.
|At last we had to go. The cart came back for us, thus proclaiming where we were, and the last human chance was gone. And then, just then, like one walking in a dream, Treasure wandered in and stood, startled.
|She did not know we were there. We were kneeling with our backs to the door. I turned and saw her.
|I cannot write about the next five minutes; I thought I realised something of what Satan could do in this land, but I knew nothing about it. Oh, when will Jesus come and end it all?
|Just once it seemed as if the spell were broken. My arms were round her, though she had shrunk away at first, and tried to push me from her; she was quiet now, and seemed to understand a little how one cared. She knelt down with me, and covered her eyes as if in prayer, while I poured out my soul for her, and then we were all very still, and the Lord seemed very near. But she rose, unmoved, and looked at us. We were all quite broken down, and she smiled in a strange, hard, foolish way -- that was all.
|The cause no one knows. There are only two possible explanations. One is poison. There is some sort of mind-bewildering medicine which it is known is given in such cases. This is the view held by the Christians on the spot. One of them says her cousin was dealt with in this way. He was keen to be a Christian, and was shut up for a day, and came out -- dead. Dead, she means, to all which before had been life to him.
|The other, and worse, is sin. Has she been forced into some sin which to one so enlightened as she is must mean an awful darkness, the hiding of God's face?
|I cannot tell you how bright this dear child was. Up till that Saturday evening her faith never wavered; she was a living sign to all the town that the Lord is God. The heathen are triumphant now.|
I have told you plainly what has happened. God's Truth needs no painting. I leave it with you. Do you believe it is perfectly true? Then what are you going to do?