-- The Overseas Manual of the
I carefully spread a large handkerchief on the desk to keep my arm from sticking, took up my pen, and began painstakingly to practice writing the intricate Chinese characters before me. Every few minutes I stopped to wipe the perspiration from my face.
"How about going out to Uncle Wong's with me?" My sister had come into the room. "The pastor's wife intended to go with me, but now she has company and can't go. It will give you a good chance to practice talking Chinese, so the time won't be wasted -- as far as your study goes, I mean."
We got our umbrellas, palm-leaf fans, and tract bags, and started off. The sun was beating down, and the temperature certainly was higher outdoors, but the breeze gave an illusion of coolness, and the pleasant country road upon which we soon entered was enough to make up for a little extra heat. The two miles were quickly covered, and we found ourselves greeted effusively by Mrs. Wong and her daughter.
"Imagine you two teachers coming out here today, when it's so hot! We are entirely unworthy of such consideration! Why, you might make yourselves ill, not being used to such heat in your honorable country! Do sit down and rest! This bamboo bed here in the shade of the house is a cool spot. Daughter, get the teachers fans. Oh, you have brought them with you! Yes, fans are indispensable in this weather! Quickly start the fire, daughter, and heat water for tea! Oh -- " a sudden thought struck her, "we have no tea leaves in the house! Daughter, you run to the neighbors and borrow some. Don't go to any of these folk nearby. They are all poor and probably wouldn't have any. Go to Fourth Aunt's, over in the other end of the village."
At home we always kept a crock of cooled boiled water on hand, but here there was nothing like that; and drinking unboiled water was as unthinkable to her as it was to us. We protested vigorously that we would just as soon have "white tea" (boiling water) as tea made with leaves, but Mrs. Wong would not hear of such a thing. Suddenly an idea struck her.
"Oh," she said, "I know something much better! Daughter, just run to the garden and pick some cucumbers! They'll be better than hot tea anyway, and quench one's thirst just as effectively."
The daughter ran off. After a few minutes the big son came along with two brimming buckets of cold well water and poured it into the stone water butt, which had been almost empty. "Do you prefer to wash your faces in cold water or hot?" Mrs. Wong asked.
"Oh, cold, please!" we both replied, already feeling in anticipation that cold water on our hot faces; but Mrs. Wong, conscience-smitten, was already lighting the fire. "Oh, I shouldn't have asked such a foolish question!" she rattled on. "Of course cold water won't remove perspiration. No, no, it's no trouble. It will be warm enough in just a minute."
The hot water was ladled into the basin, and Mrs. Wong looked inquiringly around the room. I poked my sister. "She's looking for a washcloth," I whispered in English. "Quick, tell her we have one, or she'll be putting their already used one in!"
Fortunately the family washcloth hadn't been discovered by the time ours was produced; and we proceeded to wash. I, being the younger, dutifully allowed my sister to use the water first. "Don't wash too close around your eyes," said my sister in an aside to me. "Someone in the family might have sore eyes, and there might be germs on the basin."
After we had finished with the basin of hot water, Mrs. Wong took advantage of it, having found her own washcloth in the meantime. Just at that moment the daughter returned with her apron full of cucumbers, and politely offered a large one to my sister. Her mother quickly snatched it away.
"As big a girl as that, and you don't know anything about hygiene!" she reproved, sternly. "You haven't even washed them!"
As the cucumbers were being washed with the cold well water, I thought to myself that they were probably no more germ-free after the bath than before. Unboiled water from shallow wells is not necessarily free from germs. I said nothing, however. After the daughter had finished scrubbing the cucumbers, the mother got a knife and carefully peeled two big ones. Then she handed them to us. Her own she did not bother to peel.
"We Chinese are very unhygienic," she apologized. "Of course you wouldn't eat cucumbers without peeling them!"
What would she have thought if she knew that to our minds neither the washing in cold water nor the peeling made them safe to eat? I glanced at my sister, who was usually very particular about seeing that all raw fruits and vegetables were scalded before eating, and was astonished to find that she was placidly and unconcernedly munching her cucumber. She and Mrs. Wong were already striking up a lively conversation about something else. I followed her example, and found the cucumber very refreshing.
"How can you be so particular about scalding things at home, and then go out to the country and eat unscalded cucumbers?" I asked, as we were wending our way home.
"Oh, we couldn't possibly offend Mrs. Wong by refusing to eat what she had to offer us!" was my sister's reply. "We certainly ought to be as particular as we can when we are in our own home; but when we are guests, and it's a question of offending someone -- well, I think the Lord looks after those cases!"
* * * * *
Teacups! Beautiful Kingtechen china of the thousand-flower pattern, thin and exquisite; or perhaps just a rough earthenware cup, with the handle missing. Everywhere we went in China we found teacups. Everywhere we went the first thing we were offered was a cup of tea. Fragrant tea, bitter tea, hot tea, cold tea; tea served in hand-painted china, tea in an earthenware bowl -- whatever the cup was, we lifted it to our lips and drank. What was the first thing we thought of as we tasted the tea? Whether it was pleasant or otherwise? The kindness of the one who offered it to us? Or the dangers that might lurk on the edge of that cup? For tea, even very hot tea, cannot be expected to sterilize the rim of the cup; and who knows who used it previously, or what dangerous disease he might have had? It had been washed, of course, or at least rinsed out, but --
"Don't the Chinese scald their dishes when they wash them?" you ask. Well, do you? "M-m-m, not always, but the danger is much less in America," you say. That may be true; but it is hard to realize the danger of infection in one's own home, wherever it may be; and even those who live under what we might call unhygienic conditions are no more conscious of the danger in their own homes than you are in yours. I used to think, sometimes, that the most dangerous thing we met with in China was just an ordinary teacup, and that the germs that lurked on its rim were more menacing than tigers or bandits. (Let me hastily add that in all my fifteen years in that country, and having partaken of tea from ten thousand teacups, more or less, in many places and in many homes, I am still quite alive, and in good health and spirits!)
"Now, that wouldn't worry me!" you think cheerfully. "I'm just not particular!"
I am sorry, but that is not at all the conclusion I want you to draw from the above remarks. I am giving no one license for not being careful. No child of God should feel at liberty to disregard what he knows to be the rules of good health, just because he feels like it, much less the man or woman on the mission field.
* * * * *
The cook comes in with a basket of foodstuffs fresh from the market. The young missionary spots a particularly luscious plum, picks it up, and takes a bite.
"Mary!" a scandalized senior gasps. "Whatever are you thinking of? Eating that plum without scalding it first! You'll likely get cholera or typhoid and die!"
Yes, in most mission stations the rules of hygiene are adhered to very strictly, and it would be a hardy junior worker who could come through alive without observing them.
Perhaps several years have gone by. You are in charge of the home yourself, and the "discipline" relaxes a bit. Perhaps you even resort to washing your fruit in cold boiled water instead of scalding it, because scalding does spoil it so! Then the younger workers are sent to you, and you become the head of a new family. One day, suddenly, one of them gets a violently upset stomach. Is it cholera? The nearest hospital is two days' journey away. You catch your breath, and go ahead caring for her the best you can with your limited medical knowledge, a constant cry going up from your heart to the only One who can help, to Him who is the only all-sufficient One! If you are fortunate your junior recovers. From that time on, all the fruit that appears on your table will be thoroughly scalded.
* * * * *
This is not a chapter on missionary health. It does not purpose to instruct you in the rules of hygiene. Rather it inquires into attitudes. Is the missionary to be as particular as he can about everything (fussy, some may call it), or should his faith be great enough so that he overlooks the rules of the doctors? Or perhaps, are there times when the one attitude is desirable, and times for the other?
The Lord of the harvest has sent us forth. A dead laborer, or even a sick one, is not much use. It is surely our duty to take all sensible precautions, and whenever possible to use the safeguards to health with which modern science has provided us. We have no right at all to disobey the rules of hygiene just because we happen to feel like it. But on the other hand, when those among whom we are ministering, people whose training is different from ours, who have no conception of modern hygiene, out of the love in their hearts provide us with things to eat and drink, surely then is the time to say with Paul, "asking no questions for conscience' sake" (I Cor.10:27). Surely in cases where adhering strictly to the rules of hygiene would hinder the fulfilling of our commission, we can trust the One who sent us forth to look after us.