"You know, I couldn't sleep a wink last night!" declared one. "I was thinking about Mr. Gibb coming to appoint us to stations, and wondering what my senior worker will be like, and I got so worried I stayed awake all night!"
"You know the Lord is working it all out! We've been praying about it for so long! You shouldn't worry about it!" reproved another gently.
"Well, I tried, but the more I tried, the wider awake I got."
"You are foolish!" put in another. "Mr. Gibb isn't even coming until tomorrow, and then who knows how soon you will have your interview with him. It will take him several days they say, and your name begins with T."
"It's all right for you to talk!" retorted the first girl. "You have a sister out here, and you're taking it for granted that you'll be sent to her. Of course you're all right! But what about the rest of us who have to be separated, and sent off to live with entire strangers? How do I know whether my senior worker will like me or not?"
"You don't need to worry," put in the quiet voice of a girl who had not spoken before. "You are gay and lively, and everybody likes you. I'm quiet and awkward, and never know what to say. I'm sure my senior worker will be disappointed when she gets me!"
"Just listen to me a minute!" another voice spoke up. "I'll tell you the one way out of this difficulty. Everybody wants a congenial fellow worker. Well, there's only one way to be sure, and that is -- pick your own! That's what I'm going to do!"
"Don't be stupid!" clamored three or four voices at once. "Pick your own! Just as if we'd be allowed to pick our own senior workers! What are you talking about?"
"Just what I said. I'm picking my own senior worker! Of course I may not be able to do it right away -- I may have to live with one that Mr. Gibb picks for me for a year or two -- but I'm getting the one I've picked for myself in the end!"
At that juncture two girls jumped upon the speaker, and rolled her from the bed to the floor. "Just because you are engaged you don't need to think you are better than we are!" and the serious discussion broke up with a laugh.
* * * * *
With whom am I going to live and work for the next six months? For the next six years? For the rest of my life? Who will be the one I will see the first thing in the morning, and the last thing at night, and all the time in between? With whom will I sit down at the table three times a day? Who will be my fellow worker, my companion in recreation, the one who spends time with me at the Throne of Grace, pleading for souls, and for the upbuilding of God's Church? Yes, it's quite a question. For somehow, mission boards usually seem to recognize only one legitimate reason for allowing a missionary to choose his or her own fellow worker, and that one reason is marriage. Even married couples will probably be asked to take one or more younger workers into their homes; and if you are one who remains single, why, you will just have to let the superintendent, or committee, pick your companion and fellow worker for you.
When I was in high school it was one of my ambitions to learn to be at home in any environment. Whether a wealthy home or a poverty-stricken one, whether an American culture or the culture of some other group, I wanted to be able to live in that environment as though I had grown up in it. This ambition was no doubt laudable and its attainment is very useful to the missionary. I found later, however, that it does not quite go to the heart of the problem. My ambition at present is not so much to be able to live happily in any environment as to be able to live happily with any other missionary.
This statement may horrify some of my readers. If I had said I make it my ambition to be able to live happily with anyone, you would have had no bone to pick with me. But no, I must say, with any other missionary! Am I trying to imply that some missionaries are hard to live with? That class of God's devoted servants who have given up all to go for Him to the far corners of the earth? Let anyone else be hard to get along with, but surely not missionaries!
Well, missionaries (excepting some feeble folk like me) are the salt of the earth. At the same time, my experience on the foreign field leads me to the conclusion that it takes a good deal more grace to live happily with one's fellow workers on the foreign field than it does at home. Why? The reasons are varied. I think I can safely say that most missionaries are rather strong-minded. If they were not, perhaps they would never have gotten to the foreign field! They know what they want to do, and they know how they want to do it. Most missionaries will agree on the task to be accomplished; but what are the best means to accomplish it -- that is not always so easy to agree upon! The older worker may think the younger worker's plans wild and impracticable. The younger worker may think the older worker stodgy and in a rut. Perhaps both may be right. Happy the fellow workers who can learn to discuss their pet ideas without heat! Happy the fellow workers who can develop just the right combination of initiative and co-operation!
It is hard to realize how closely one is shut up to a fellow worker on the mission field. Probably there are no others of your own race in the place where you live. At home one can live with one group, work with another, and have special friends that are entirely apart from either group. On the field there is no one else -- no one who speaks your native tongue, understands your background, or has the same pattern of thought as yourself. Perhaps you are stationed with one other worker. Every human heart longs for some special friend; but this fellow worker may not be one you would have chosen for a special friend. Perhaps she has some mannerisms that are irritating to you. Perhaps you like dogs and she hates them. Perhaps she believes in being extremely economical and you like to spend money more freely. In some ways, as two single missionaries live and work together, the relation is as close as that between husband and wife; but in this case the two have not chosen one another. Of course the relationship is not established for life; and the missionary who finds herself paired off with an uncongenial fellow worker may console herself by hoping that a change will come soon. That frame of mind, however, is not exactly conducive to the sort of adjustment that would make for the most effective carrying on of the work.
Even married couples will feel this to a certain extent. A young married couple will probably have to live with an older couple for the first two or three years on the field. Owing perhaps to the shortage of men, and perhaps to other reasons, it even happens that sometimes a young married couple is sent to live for their "breaking-in" period with one or two older single lady missionaries! The initial period passes, and they are given a home and a work of their own. But they are not likely to be left alone long. Younger workers will be coming along, and most married couples are rarely without other workers living in their homes. Besides this, it is likely that the husband will need to be away from home for weeks and even months at a time, leaving the wife at home with the little ones and the junior workers.
The single worker feels the force of this even more strongly. Two good friends may be placed in a station together; or what is more likely, two who have been placed together may become especially good friends. The fact that they are good friends, however, cannot be a reason for placing them together, nor for leaving them together. Any of us would realize that. The placing of workers is determined by the best interests of the work. If, when the best interests of the work are considered, it seems right to place two special friends together, or to leave them together, well and good. If not, why, that's the end of it!
Not being able to choose my own fellow worker will present two possible difficulties for me. One is that I may be placed with someone who does not appeal to me. The other is that I may be separated from someone with whom I strongly desire to remain. The first difficulty is one that comes along now and then. Probably most missionaries, at one time or another, have had a period of living with someone with whom they did not seem to "hit it off." The second difficulty is, for the unmarried worker at least, of much more common occurrence. Over and over again it happens. Just when you and someone else have lived together long enough to rub off the rough corners, and come to a place where you really "fit," along comes an upheaval, and you are separated. We like to put down roots. We like to make friends and stay with them, but on the mission field frequent change of location and of fellow workers is the normal thing. New personnel is constantly being added, and older workers are constantly retiring. New stations are constantly being opened. And the single worker, time and time again, finds herself being separated from a fellow worker with whom she would prefer to remain permanently!
Some will notice that I have been using pronouns in the feminine gender. This is not without reason, since by far the majority of single workers on the field are women. And, as has been said, one of the hardest things the single woman worker must face is that she can never say to anyone, "I'm going to stay with you."
* * * * *
"What a negative sort of outlook!" exclaims someone; and we must thank that one for reminding us that there is a positive side. There is One whom we may choose for our Companion. (How amazing that I should be allowed to choose Him!) And it is just because we have already chosen the one Companion who will not leave us that we may not choose anyone else -- not even a husband or wife -- without reference to Him. As soon as we choose Him, then He does all our choosing for us.
According to old Oriental custom, marriages were arranged by parents with the aid of a middleman. Sometimes when things went wrong after marriage one of the couple, or both, would blame the middleman. When marriages are made after the Western pattern, there is no one to blame but oneself. Before I left America I used to think that marriages arranged by parents, through middlemen, must necessarily be unhappy. But after I had been on the field for a time I decided that in China the proportion of happy marriages among those outside of Christ was greater than marriages of those of the same group in America, even though almost all the marriages in China were made after the old traditional style! People who choose partners for themselves do not always choose wisely. Older people, with more experience, may make a wiser choice than the young people themselves would have done. It may be better to have a trustworthy middleman than to try to do the choosing oneself!
If this is true of an earthly middleman, how much more it is true of the One who chooses for us! The earthly middleman may do very well in many cases, but certainly he makes some mistakes. The One who chooses for us makes no mistakes. So whether it be a matter of accepting a fellow worker you would rather not have, or of letting go one whom you would like to keep -- remember the One who does the choosing for us makes no mistakes.