sovereign counsel of God and to say constantly
that it transcends and surpasses all that we can
do and all that we can expect, yet He does not
bring the season of refreshing without engaging
His children to help Him. The splendour of the
grace may sometimes conceal man's effort, but it
never cancels it." -- Rev. ELVIT LEWIS.
THE DRAW NET LET DOWN INTO THE SEA
AN ACCOUNT OF FRESH EFFORTS TO REACH THE MULTITUDE AND BRING THEM TO DECISION
METHODS in mission work are many, and the diversities of gifts bestowed by the one Spirit are manifest in the striking variety of means put forth to bring to a knowledge of Christ the people of the lands in which the members of His Church are called to work.
The teacher rejoices to see the change brought about by discipline and regular life in those committed to his care. The doctor, exercising his gift, succeeds where others have failed in establishing confidence and friendly relations which prepare a road for those who follow. The itinerant missionary sacrifices the comfort of a settled dwelling to carry the Gospel to those who dwell outside the radius touched by the central station.
By the exercise of his peculiar gift, each expresses the longing that in the hearts of the people he sees around, without God and without hope, may take place that greatest of miracles called conversion. Nevertheless, every missionary has ever to guard against a most subtle and deadening influence which may be likened to poisonous gas in the enemy's country, lulling him to a condition wherein the idolatrous practices of the people around, instead of stirring him to greater activity, come to be regarded as customs of the nations amongst whom he lives, deplorable but interesting practices.
The horror experienced on first seeing men bow down to wood and stone may give way to a complacency which ceases to expect an immediate response to the quickening and convicting power of the Spirit of God, and philosophises on the gradual emergence of light from the kingdom of darkness. The deadening of that vitality which drives a man to the seeking of the lost is one of the master-strokes of the enemy of souls, and one which no man doing spiritual work can afford to ignore.
The sense of this urgency, and a great desire that our Chinese fellow-workers might realise the fullness of their vocation as evangelists, emboldened us to move in what was then a somewhat new direction so far as North China was concerned, by the holding of a six days' Mission for women in our new church in the spring after its dedication.
Miss Gregg of Hwailu, in the Province of Chihli, when travelling through Shansi some years previously had conducted meetings for schoolgirls in several stations, upon which the blessing of God manifestly rested. From that time plans were being matured in the minds of the missionaries at Hwochow for a Mission to women in that city at the earliest possible date. The erection of a church building which could hold the number expected made that dream a possibility. The city and villages were visited by the women evangelists, placards were posted on the walls, and every effort was made to widely advertise. Prayer was offered throughout the Church that God would so prevent us in all our doings that we might see His salvation.
The men gladly undertook the arrangements for catering, made necessary by the fact that women cannot go to the shops to buy food for themselves, and this department was splendidly managed. We prepared to receive three hundred guests, and about three hundred and fifty took advantage of the invitation, who, with schoolgirls, Bible School students and helpers, provided a resident congregation of little short of five hundred. They came long distances on donkey-back, in carts, or even walking many miles.
Large numbers of heathen, attracted by the unique sight of so large a concourse of women, swelled the numbers at the daily evangelistic meetings, and it was an inspiration to see the new church packed with women and girls quietly and reverently listening to the Gospel message. A room was set apart where silence was observed, that those who wished to do so might pray without fear of disturbance. A band of helpers was appointed to teach the passage for the day, and outside the church in an adjoining court was a book-stall, and here a brisk trade was done in hymn-sheets, gospels, and block-printed texts.
The elder scholars, anxious to do their part, acted as stewards; each one had charge of some part of the building, so that should a baby cry and threaten to divert attention, she could carry the small offender to an adjoining room and keep it there until such time as it was prepared to enjoy the larger gathering. One of the "old girls" took charge of small children, and managed her creche so successfully that we were undisturbed by the younger portion of the community.
Each morning before seven a gong sounded and all assembled for prayer. After breakfast a short Bible-reading was given, the subject chosen being the sevenfold "I Am" of St. John's Gospel. These meetings were simple and evangelistic, and many testified to blessing received as they saw afresh all the wealth laid up in Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
It was to the eleven and four o'clock meetings that the crowds gathered. While the congregation was assembling a choir of schoolgirls sang hymns, and after reading of Scripture and prayer by a Chinese lady, the address was given by Miss Gregg. The women listened intently as she talked, and illustrated her remarks by objects so familiar. The fan used for winnowing the grain is, I think, now never used by those who attended without the thought asserting itself afresh that thus He will separate the wheat from the chaff.
This Mission accomplished all that we had hoped. Christ the Redeemer was revealed to some who, in obedience to the wishes of the head of their household, had passively substituted Christianity for that system of idolatrous observances which had constituted their religious life.
Christ the Master laid His claim upon some who had believed, but never served.
Even heathen women, listening to the earnest, convincing words, were startled to a realisation that the offer of salvation with which they were faced compelled a decision on one side or the other, that the detached view with which they had hitherto regarded Christianity could no longer be maintained. Amongst the schoolgirls were some, daughters of Christians, who were in precisely the same position as girls in a homeland. They neither doubted nor questioned, but they now realised that the whole matter had assumed a personal aspect, and the individual spirit was summoned to an audience with its Maker.
The Evangelists, Bible women, and ripe Christians amongst us suddenly saw the fields white, and every dilatory thought which suggested the perennial excuse: "There are yet four months and then cometh the harvest," was silenced in a sense of immediate urgency: "I must be about my Master's business." This gathering affected a wide area, for our visitors came from the counties of Hungtung, Chaocheng, and Fensi, now all gladly welcomed by the Hwochow church, and missionaries from those districts came to share with us in the campaign.
* * * * *
Six years have passed, and once more a Mission for women is advertised to be held on the occasion of an idol procession which brings thousands into town from the neighbouring villages. This time our own evangelistic band was sufficiently strong to undertake the speaking to an audience almost entirely composed of heathen, who now heard, not from a foreigner, but from their own people, of the Truth as it is in Jesus. Once more we saw decisions made and the evidence of the working of God's Spirit.
Thus was a further step taken in aggressive work amongst the women, and a further impetus given to the self-propagation of the Gospel, and to the fulfilment of the prophecy of Pastor Hsi that even Hwochow should see a Resurrection morning.