let us talk to the women; in such cases I find
silent prayer the best refuge. In other places the
people welcome you, but will listen to anything
but the Doctrine of Jesus Christ; and this is
harder to bear than anything else I know."
Anna Gordon, China.
"Let the people that are at home not care only to
"It is a fight making its demands upon physical,
"Have I painted a discouraging picture? Am I
WE got this photograph that day in December which we spent in the friendly Brahman street. "There is not another woman in the town who would stand for you like that!" said the men, as she came forward, and, without a thought of posing, stood against the wall for a moment, and looked at the camera straight. Most of the women were afraid even to glance at it, but she was not afraid. She would not stay to talk to us, however, but marched off with the same resolute air. For Brahman widows as a whole are by no means an approachable race. Sometimes we find one who will open out to us, and let us tell her of the Comfort wherewith we are comforted; but oftener we find them hard, or hardening rapidly.
[Illustration: There is nothing to say about it except what is said in the chapter. There is nothing much to look at in a Brahman street. But that single simple street scene represents forces which control two hundred and seven million minds.]
It is too soon to write about any of those who have listened during the past few months, but we put this photo in to remind you to remember those who are freer than most women in India to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, if only they would let His love have a chance of drawing them. We have been to the various towns in this and the upper curve of the mountains, but we have not reached the lower curve towns, or half of the many villages scattered close under the mountains, and, except when we went out in camp, we have not of course touched those farther afield.
There are only five working afternoons in a week, for Saturday is given up to other things, and Sunday belongs to the Christians; and when any interest is shown, we return again to the same village, which delays us, but is certainly worth while. Then there are interruptions -- sometimes on the Hindu side; festivals, for instance, when no woman has time to hear; and on ours, and on the weather's, so to speak, when great heat or great rain make outdoor work impossible. Theoretically, itinerating is delightfully rapid; but practically, as every itinerating missionary knows, it is quite slow. There are other things to be done; those already brought in have to be taught and trained and mothered, and much time has to be spent in waiting upon God for more; so that, looking back, we seem to have done very little for the thousands about us, and now we must return to the eastern side of the district, for some of the boy converts are there at school, and there may be fruit to gather in after last year's sowing.
But I look up from my writing and see a stretch of mountain range thirty miles long, and this range stretches unbroken for a thousand miles to the North. I know how little is being done on the plains below, and I wonder when God's people will awake, and understand that there is yet very much land to be possessed, and arise and possess it. Look down this mountain strip with me; there are towns where work is being done, but it needs supervision, and the missionaries are too few to do it thoroughly. There are towns and numbers of villages where nothing is even attempted, except that once in two years, if possible, the Men's Itinerant Band comes round; but that does not reach the women well, and even if it did, how much would you know of Jesus if you only heard a parable or a miracle or a few facts from His life or a few points of His doctrine once in two years? I do not want to write touching appeals, or to draw one worker from anywhere else, -- it would be a joy to know that God used these letters to help to send someone to China, or anywhere where He has need of His workers, -- but I cannot help wondering, as I look round this bit of the field, how it is that the workers are still so few.
We have found the people in the towns and villages willing to let us do what we call "verandah work" when they will not let us into their houses. Verandah work, like open-air preaching, is unsatisfactory as regards the women, but it is better than nothing.
We spent an afternoon in the street this photo shows. It is a thoroughfare, and so we were not forbidden; but even so, we always ask permission before we walk down it. Such an ordinary, commonplace street it looks to you; there is no architectural grandeur to awe the beholder, and impress him with the majesty of Brahmanhood; and yet that street, and every street like it, is a very Petra to us, for it is walled round by walls higher and stronger than the temple walls round which it is built; walls built, as it seems, of some crystal rock, imperceptible till you come up to it, and even then not visible, only recognisable as something you cannot get through.
Our first day there was encouraging. We began at the far end of the street, and after some persuasion the men agreed to move to one side, and let us have the other for any women who would come. Nothing particular happened, but we count a day good if we get a single good chance to speak in quietness to the women.
Next time we went it was not so good. They had heard in the meantime all about us, and that we had girls from the higher Castes with us, and this was terrible in their eyes. For the Brahman, from his lofty position of absolute supremacy, holds in very small account the souls of those he calls low-caste; but if any from the middle distance (he would not describe them as near himself, only dangerously nearer than the others) "fall into the pit of the Christian religion," he thinks it is time to begin to take care that the Power which took such effect on them should not have a chance to perform upon him, and, above all, upon his womankind. So that day we were politely informed that no one had time to listen, and, when some women wanted to come, a muscular widow chased them off. We looked longingly back at those dear Brahman women, but appeal was useless, so we went.
In one of the other Castes, the Caste represented by this row of men, we found more friendliness; they let us sit on one end of the narrow verandah fronts, and quite a number of women clustered about on the other. They were greatly afraid of defilement there, and would not come too close. And they had the strangest ideas about us. They were sure we had a powder which, if they inhaled it, would compel them to be Christians. They had heard that we went round "calling children," that is, beckoning them, and drawing them to follow after us, and that we were paid so much a head for converts. It takes a whole afternoon sometimes simply to disabuse their minds of such misconceptions.
I heard this commercial aspect of things explained by one who apparently knew. A kindly old Brahman woman had allowed us to sit on her doorstep out of the sun, and bit by bit we had worked our way to the end of the verandah, which was a little more shaded, where a girl was sitting alone who seemed to want to hear. The old woman sat down behind us, and then an old man came up, and the two began to talk. Said the old woman to the old man, "She is trying to make us join her Way." (I had carefully abstained from any such expression.) The old man agreed that such was my probable object. "What will she get if we join? Do you know?" "Oh yes; do I not know! For one of us a thousand rupees, and for a Vellalar five hundred. She even gets something for a low-caste child, but she gets a whole thousand for one of us!"
[Illustration: A Shepherd-Caste house of the better sort. We would give a great deal to get into this house, but so far it is closed. You can see straight through to the back courtyard where the women are, where we may not go. The old man is typical of his class, a thoughtful man of refinement of mind, but wholly indifferent to the teaching.]
They were both very interested in this conversation, and so indeed was I, and I thought I would further enlighten them, when the old woman got up in a hurry and hobbled into the house. After that, whenever we passed, she used to shake her head at us, and say, "Chee, chee!" No persuasions could ever induce her to let us sit on her doorstep again. We were clearly after that thousand rupees, and she would have none of us.
In the same village there was a little Brahman child who often tried to speak to us, but never was allowed. One day she risked capture and its consequences, and ran across the narrow stream which divides the Brahman street from the village, and spoke to one of our Band in a hurried little whisper. "Oh, I do want to hear about Jesus!" And she told how she had learnt at school in her own town, and then she had been sent to her mother-in-law's house in this jungle village, "that one," pointing to a house where they never had smiles for us; but her mother-in-law objected to the preaching, and had threatened to throw her down the well if she listened to us. Just then a hard voice called her, and she flew. Next time we went to that village she was shut up somewhere inside.
Often as one passes one sees shy faces looking out from behind the little pillars which support the verandahs, and one longs to get nearer. But it does not do to make any advance unless one is sure of one's ground. It only results in a sudden startled scurrying into the house, and you cannot follow them there. To try to do so would be more than rude -- it would be considered pollution.
Only yesterday we were trying to get to the women who live in the great house of the village behind the bungalow. This photo shows you the door we stood facing for ten minutes or more, first waiting, and then pleading with the old mother-in-law to let us in to the little dark room in which you may see a woman's form hiding behind the door.
But we could not go to them, and they could not come to us. There were only two narrow rooms between, but the second of the two had brass water-vessels in it. If we had gone in, those vessels and the water in them would have been defiled. The women were not allowed to come out, the mother-in-law saw well to that; never was one more vigilant. She stood like a great fat hen at the door, with her white widow's skirts outspread like wings, and guarded her chickens effectually. "Go! go by the way you have come!" was all she had to say to us.
The friendly old man of the house was out. A friendly young man came in with some rice, and began to measure it. He invited us to sit down, which we did, and he measured the rice in little iron tumblers, counting aloud as he did so in a sing-song chant. He was pleased that we should watch him, and it was interesting to watch, for he did it exactly as the verse describes, pressing the rice down, shaking the iron measure, heaping up the rice till it was running over, and yet counting this abundant tumblerful only as one; then he handed the basketful of rice to a child who stood waiting, and asked what he could do for us. We told him how much we wanted to see the women of the house, but he did not relish the idea of tackling the vigorous old mother-in-law, so we gave up the attempt, and went out. As we passed the wall at the back which encloses the women's quarters, we saw a girl look over the wall as if she wanted to speak to us, but she was instantly pulled back by that tyrannical dame, and a dog came jumping over, barking most furiously, which set a dozen more yelping all about us, and so escorted we retired.
This house is in the Village of the Merchant, not five minutes from our gate, but the women in it are far enough from any chance of hearing. The men let us in that day to take the photograph, and we hoped thereby to make friends; but though there are six families living there (for the house is large; the photograph only shows one end of the verandah which runs down its whole length), we have never been once allowed to speak to one of the women; the mother-in-law of all the six takes care we never get the chance. One of the children, a dear little girl, follows us outside sometimes, but she is only seven, and not very courageous; so, though she evidently picks up some of the choruses we sing, she is afraid of being seen listening, and never gets much at a time.
These are some of the practical difficulties in the way of reaching the women. There are others. Suppose you do get in, or, what is more probable in pioneer work, suppose you get a verandah, even then it is not plain sailing by any means. For, first of all, it is dangerously hot. The sun beats down on the street or courtyard to within a foot or two of the stone ledge you are sitting upon, and strikes up. Reflected glare means fever, so you try to edge a little farther out of it without disturbing anyone's feelings, explaining minutely why you are doing it, lest they should think your design is to covertly touch them; and then, their confidence won so far, you begin perhaps with the wordless book, or a lyric set to an Indian tune, or a picture of some parable -- never of our Lord -- or, oftener still, we find the best way is to open our Bibles, for they all respect a Sacred Book, and read something from it which we know they will understand. We generally find one or two women about the verandahs, and two or three more come within a few minutes, and seeing this, two or three more. But getting them and keeping them are two different things. It is not easy to hold people to hear what they have no special desire to hear. But we are helped; we are not alone. It is always a strength to remember that.
Once fairly launched, interruptions begin. You are in the middle of a miracle, perhaps, and by this time a dozen women have gathered, and rejoice your heart by listening well, when a man from the opposite side of the street saunters over and asks may he put a question, or asks it forthwith. He has heard that our Book says, that if you have faith you can lift a mountain into the sea. Now, there is a mountain, and he points to the pillar out on the plain, standing straight up for five thousand feet, a column of solid rock. There is sea on the other side, he says; cast it in, and we will believe! And the women laugh. But one more intelligent turns to you, "Does your Book really say that?" she asks, "then why can't you do it, and let us see?" And the man strikes in with another remark, and a woman at the edge moves off, and you wish the man would go.
Perhaps he does, or perhaps you are able to detach him from the visible, and get him and those women too to listen to some bit of witnessing to the Power that moves the invisible, and you are in its very heart when another objection is started: "You say there is only one true God, but we have heard that you worship three!" or, "Can your God keep you from sin?" And you try, God helping you, to answer so as to avoid discussion, and perhaps to your joy succeed, and some are listening intently again, when a woman interrupts with a question about your relations which you answered before, but she came late, and wants to hear it all over again. You satisfy her as far as you can, and then, feeling how fast the precious minutes are passing, you try, oh so earnestly, to buy them up and fill them with eternity work, when suddenly the whole community concentrates itself upon your Tamil sister. Who is she? You had waived the question at the outset, knowing what would sequel it, but they renew the charge. If she is a "born Christian," they exclaim, and draw away for fear of defilement -- "Low-caste, low-caste!" and the word runs round contemptuously. If she is a convert, they ask questions about her relations (they have probably been guessing among themselves about her Caste for the last ten minutes); if she does not answer them, they let their imagination run riot; if she does, they break out in indignation, "Left your own mother! Broken your Caste!" and they call her by names not sweet to the ear, and perhaps rise up in a body, and refuse to have anything more to do with such a disgraceful person.
Or perhaps you are trying to persuade some of them to learn to read, knowing that, if you can succeed, there will be so much more chance of teaching them, but they assure you it is not the custom for women in that village to read, which unhappily is true; or it may be you are telling them, as you tell those you may never see again, of the Love that is loving them, and in the middle of the telling a baby howls, and all the attention goes off upon it; or somebody wants to go into the house, and a way has to be made for her, with much gathering together and confusion; or a dog comes yelping round the corner, with a stone at its heels, and a pack of small boys in full chase after it; or the men call out it is time to be going; or the women suggest it is time to be cooking; or someone says or does something upsetting, and the group breaks up in a moment, and each unit makes for its separate hole, and stands in it, looking out; and you look up at those dark little doorways, and feel you would give anything they could ask, if only they would let you in, and let you sit down beside them in one of those rooms, and tell them the end of the story they interrupted; but they will not do that. Oh, it makes one sorrowful to be so near to anyone, and yet so very far, as one sometimes is from these women. You look at them, as they stand in their doorways, within reach, but out of reach, as out of reach as if they were thousands of miles away. . . .
Just as I wrote those words a Brahman woman came to the door and looked in. Then she walked in and sat down, but did not speak. Can you think how one's heart bounds even at such a little thing as that? Brahman women do not come to see us every day. She pulled out a book of palm-leaf slips, and we read it. It told how she was one of a family of seven, all born deaf and dumb; how hand in hand they had set off to walk to Benares to drown themselves in the Ganges; how a Sepoy had stopped them and taken them to an English Collector; how he had provided for the seven for a year, then let them go; how they had scattered and wandered about, visiting various holy places, supported by the virtuous wherever they went; and how the bearer would be glad to receive whatever we would give her. . . . She has gone, a poor deaf and dumb and wholly heathen woman; we could not persuade her to stay and rest. She is married, she told us by signs; her husband is deaf and dumb, and she has one blind child. She sat on the floor beside us for a few minutes and asked questions -- the usual ones, about me, all by signs; but nothing we could sign could in any way make her understand anything about our God. And yet she seems to know something at least about her own. She pointed to her mouth, and then up, and then down and round, to show the winding of a river, and signed clearly enough how she went from holy river to holy river, and worshipped by each, and she pointed up and clasped her hands. There we were, just as I had been writing, so near to her, yet so far from her.
But the greatest difficulty of all in reaching the women is that they have no desire to be reached. Sometimes, as on that afternoon when the child came and wanted to hear, we find one who has desire, but the greater number have none; and except in the more advanced towns and villages, where they are allowed to learn with a Bible-woman, they have hardly a chance to hear enough to make them want to hear more.
Then, as if to make the case doubly hard (and this law applies to every woman, of whatever Caste), she is, in the eyes of the law, the property of her husband; and though a Christian cannot by law compel his Hindu wife to live with him, a Hindu husband can compel his Christian wife to live with him; so that no married woman is ever legally free to be a Christian, for if the husband demanded her back, she could not be protected, but would have to be given up to a life which no English woman could bear to contemplate. She may say she is a Christian; he cares nought for what she says. God help the woman thus forced back!
But, believing a higher Power will step in than the power of this most unjust law, we would risk any penalty and receive such a wife should she come. Only, in dealing with the difficulties and barriers which lie between an Indian woman and life as a free Christian, it is useless to shut one's eyes to this last and least comprehensible of all difficulties, "an English law, imported into India, and enforced with imprisonment," an obsolete English law!
We have no Brahman women converts in our Tamil Mission. We hear of a few in Travancore; we know of more in the North, where the Brahmans are more numerous and less exclusive; but there is not a single bona fide Brahman convert woman or child in the whole of this District. There was one, a very old woman; but she died two years ago. We may comfort ourselves with the thought that surely some of those who have heard have become secret believers. But will a true believer remain secret always? We may trust that many a dear little child died young, loving Jesus, and went to Him. But what about those who have not died young? I know that a brighter view may be taken, and if the sadder has been emphasised in these letters, it is only because we feel you know less about it.
For more has been written about the successes than about the failures, and it seems to us that it is more important that you should know about the reverses than about the successes of the war. We shall have all eternity to celebrate the victories, but we have only the few hours before sunset in which to win them. We are not winning them as we should, because the fact of the reverses is so little realised, and the needed reinforcements are not forthcoming, as they would be if the position were thoroughly understood. Reinforcements of men and women are needed, but, far above all, reinforcements of prayer. And so we have tried to tell you the truth -- the uninteresting, unromantic truth -- about the heathen as we find them, the work as it is. More workers are needed. No words can tell how much they are needed, how much they are wanted here. But we will never try to allure anyone to think of coming by painting coloured pictures, when the facts are in black and white. What if black and white will never attract like colours? We care not for it; our business is to tell the truth. The work is not a pretty thing, to be looked at and admired. It is a fight. And battlefields are not beautiful.
But if one is truly called of God, all the difficulties and discouragements only intensify the Call. If things were easier there would be less need. The greater the need, the clearer the Call rings through one, the deeper the conviction grows: it was God's Call. And as one obeys it, there is the joy of obedience, quite apart from the joy of success. There is joy in being with Jesus in a place where His friends are few; and sometimes, when one would least expect it, coming home tired out and disheartened after a day in an opposing or indifferent town, suddenly -- how, you can hardly tell -- such a wave of the joy of Jesus flows over you and through you, that you are stilled with the sense of utter joy. Then, when you see Him winning souls, or hear of your comrades' victories, oh! all that is within you sings, "I have more than an overweight of joy!"