Part III Early Days In The Foreign Field

The early pages of this book recorded the setting out of a small party of pioneer missionaries upon what proved to be an enterprise destined to yield far-reaching results. This chapter, which is the last, again takes up the story and tells of a century’s trials and triumphs in the foreign field.

In the plague-stricken city of Baghdad, an ambassador of Christ stood by the death-couch of his young wife. Within two years of leaving their home in Exeter, and less than eighteen months in this cesspool of disease and iniquity, her course was run. This tragic event, which cast two motherless boys into the lap of the unveiled future, marked the laying of the first stone in a missionary structure which in the hundred years that have since passed on, has grown to dimensions stretching almost from pole to pole. The toilsome years amid the arid sands of Persia—truly virgin soil where spade had not yet penetrated—though productive of meagre fruit, were testing years which brought through the fire of affliction, Anthony Norris Groves, who, under the guidance of God, may rightly be regarded as the founder of our far-flung missionary enterprise.

The tortuous journey from Baghdad to India, where his efforts in the Gospel met with happier results, impressed Groves with that country’s need and its vast possibilities. He returned to England in the hope of creating an interest in the carrying of the Gospel to other lands. In this he was successful, and from Barnstaple there went forth to India in 1836, our first missionaries: William Bowden and George Beer, with their wives.

From that seemingly small beginning, mission stations sprang up in many parts of that vast country, giving impetus to the great work of evangelisation, which quickly spread from the East to the five continents. It was fitting that the occasion of a hundred years’ missionary service should be marked by a time of united thanksgiving. Thus, on the first three days of April, 1936, a great concourse of upwards of four thousand Christians assembled in Narsapur, West Godavari District. Most of our missionaries were present, and about twenty delegates arrived from various parts of India. Elaborate preparations had been made for the housing and providing for so large a number, and the meetings were held in a large pandal erected for the occasion. At first it was feared that torrential rain—an unusual occurrence at that time of the year—would mar the proceedings, but God wonderfully answered prayer in suddenly driving away the storm clouds.

An interesting feature of the Convention was the reading of an historical survey of the work during the past century, from the arrival of Bowden and Beer up to the recent times. The mention of these notable names recalls the fact that descendants of those pioneers have, during that long period, found a place in the ranks of missionaries in India, and among those present at the centenary celebrations was C. J. Tilsley, a great-grandson of Mr. and Mrs. W. Bowden, representing the fourth generation of missionaries. “With those who welcomed the friends in the large meeting on 1st April,” writes Mr. A. Naismith, “was Vasa Kottayya, a nonagenarian Christian of Narsapur, the son of one of the early converts from the weaver caste, and the only survivor of the second generation of the converts who came out in the lifetime of the pioneer missionaries. Mrs. Beer, now in her eighty-second year, the only surviving missionary of the second generation, was also present.”

One cannot leave India without mention of the indefatigable labours of the veteran Handley Bird, whose impressive appeal at the London Missionary Meetings, on the occasion of his last visit to this country, is still remembered.

With the departure of the first missionaries from our assemblies on that memorable day in the spring of 1836, the machinery was set in motion. Across the country the Macedonian call was wafted on the winds of hope. That call was taken up. To Spain there went forth Robert C. Chapman, scattering portions of the Scriptures, when that priest-oppressed country was closed to the Bible. Those who have read The Bible in Spain will appreciate some of his experiences and triumphs. Later, Hoyle, Blamire, Fenn, Payne and others, landed on that inhospitable shore. Years of hardship and persecution had its reward in the establishment of assemblies in many of the Spanish provinces.

What ultimate result the recent civil war will have upon what has already been accomplished by those who have borne the brunt of long years, cannot yet be known. One of the tragedies of unhappy Spain has been the desperate position into which the civilian population was suddenly plunged by the horrors of civil war. This chaotic state, for the time being, closed every door to the Gospel; native brethren were compelled to take up arms, while missionaries had to flee to the coast where ships were waiting to take them to safety. A pathetic figure amid the ruins of a life’s work was the veteran brother Henry Payne, who, after braving the contrary winds of religious difficulties and persecution amongst the Spaniards for sixty-five years, was obliged to quit Barcelona, that hot-bed of revolution, and take refuge in a homeward-bound British vessel. Peering through the mists of uncertainty, it is difficult at this distance to predict what the outcome will be now that the war-clouds have passed. “One thing seems clear to me,” said Mr. Payne, not long before his Home-call in 1938, “and that is that Spain has lost all confidence in the Church of Rome. Many still believe there is a God; but they have been kept in ignorance of the Bible, and the tendency is towards infidelity, and this points to what we now see: utter strife and confusion leading on to the acceptance of Antichrist.”

In Italy, light was to come from within. The conversion of an Italian nobleman in a somewhat unusual way took place. This brought Count Guicciardini, the new convert, under the close observation of the Romish Ecclesiastical Authorities and exposed him to a tyrannical persecution. Rather than submit to the power of Rome, the Count chose to go into exile, and sought a haven of refuge in England. Here he met young Rossetti, a countryman of his own: a political refugee and an unbeliever, of whose conversion he became the instrument. How the two exiles increased in the knowledge of the Scriptures and prepared themselves for the evangelisation of their native land, to which they returned in the face of bitter opposition, is one of the marvels of missionary enterprise. The first Italian assembly was formed in the year 1846, when the Lord’s Supper had to be observed in secret. It was not until 1871, when religious tolerance was announced in Italy, that services could be held openly, and six hundred Italian Christians came together in one building to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. Men and women from the home country, among whom the names of Cole, Anderson and Honywill are remembered, have kept the light burning amid the darkness and superstition of that land of Romanism.

Other continental countries were reached and a testimony commenced, not infrequently under widely different circumstances. Men were raised up who had indeed been called of God. Thus in Belgium, some eighty years ago, an unknown Christian, A. M. Gaudibert, from the South of France, who came to reside in the industrial centre of Charleroi, was the means of establishing an assembly there, from which fourteen other assemblies have since been formed. Space forbids the mention of pioneer work in the broad mission field extending from the shores of Portugal to the Eastern frontier of Russia, a country so closely associated with the devoted labours of Dr. Baedeker.

While Groves was pioneering in the East, a young clergyman sent out from England as Rector of a parish church in British Guiana, became exercised as to the simple New Testament method of worship. He gave up a lucrative living and a manse, that he might devote his life and energies on lines which an independent study of the Scriptures had shown him to be the true way. Thus Leonard Strong, unaware of the historic Movement in Britain, was not only meeting, in like manner as we are to-day, with native Christians whom he had led into the light, but was laying the foundation of a missionary work which spread through the West Indies, where assemblies continue to the present day.

The distant Orient was still under the cloud of superstition and darkness with few to carry the light, when, about the year 1861, a Presbyterian minister residing in Penang, came under the influence of the Holy Spirit as to the truth of worship. This spiritual experience was deepened by the arrival of Alexander Grant in the city. He, too, had had his mind enlightened and his vision enlarged. The meeting of these two men, Chapman and Grant, and the severing of ecclesiastical ties which hitherto had restricted their outlook and activities, resulted in the founding of our present missionary work in the Straits Settlement, and afterwards in the Federated Malay States.

Since its doors were opened to the Gospel, China, with its four hundred millions, has claimed the lives of many heroes of the Faith. But God has honoured their labours in establishing mission stations in many parts of that vast empire, where, despite avalanche after avalanche of war and rebellion, which have devastated that unhappy country, there still remain those faithful to the cause of Christ, amid untold persecution. So many names are associated with China and the Gospel that one can mention but a few: Dr. Parrot, Dr. Case, Robert Stephen, H. C. Kingham, with their wives, and Miss Gates.

During the terrors of the “Boxer Rising” in 1900, when over a hundred missionaries belonging to various missions were ruthlessly killed, and about twenty thousand native Christians were brutally put to death because they refused to deny Christ, Mr. and Mrs. Kingham and their little daughter were the victims of an infuriated Chinese mob, while Miss Gates had an amazing escape from death.

Evangelisation in the priest-ridden continent of South America, since our first missionary arrived with the Gospel in the second half of last century, has met with encouraging results. God has indeed honoured the efforts of His labourers in that almost measureless vineyard, and to-day thousands of believers of many colours and nationalities meet together in happy fellowship. The work of such pioneers as Ewen, Payne, Torre, Jenkins and Clifford, in face of religious bitterness and persecution, shall ever remain a monument to the power of the Gospel over the darkness of Romanism.

With the Home-call in 1936, of James Clifford, at the close of forty years’ service for the Lord in South America, there passed on yet another stalwart of the faith.

“Don Jaime, as every one knew him,” writes a fellow-worker, “was known and beloved from the Bolivian border in the North, right to Montevideo, one hundred miles beyond Buenos Aires up the River Plate; over a thousand miles! He had a knowledge of the Scriptures that enabled him always to minister and refresh, and build up the saints, with such ministry as was invaluable. When Tucuman was full of malaria and the work needed a helper, Don Jaime and his devoted wife willingly volunteered, and always after he was known as Don Jaime de Tucuman; and many souls were led to the Saviour.”

And what of Africa, that vast continent of heathen darkness? David Livingstone revealed to the world the density of that darkness, and had turned aside the long grass of centuries which covered the untrodden paths leading to unreached tribes—paths that were soon to be traversed by another Scotsman. It was in the summer of 1881, at the immature age of twenty-three, that Frederick Stanley Arnot set out alone upon his long journey—a journey which was to end thirty-three years later, when he had traversed thirty thousand miles under the African sun. After seven years’ pioneer work, during which time he journeyed from Durban on the east coast to Benguela on the west seaboard, often stricken, down by sickness and encountering almost insurmountable difficulties, the intrepid missionary returned home bringing with him the story of Africa’s desperate need. The response was spontaneous, in less than ten years, over sixty missionaries from assemblies in Britain went out to the Dark Continent, Stations were established across the great country, upon what is now known as the “Beloved Strip,” and thousands who never before heard the sweetest Name on earth, were won for the Saviour. But those early days claimed many noble lives, and while the great structure was going up, the long, long trail from the coast line to the interior, was marked by a chain of graves. The loss sustained was grievous but the light continued its course, and to-day the triumphs of the Gospel are a living witness where once the savagery of heathendom held sway.

The Jubilee of 1931, when seventy missionaries assembled from many parts of the “Beloved Strip” to commemorate the setting out for Africa of F. S. Arnot, revealed what the coming of the Gospel had accomplished during the passage of those fifty years—years which had witnessed the horrors of the slave caravan, and the brutal atrocities of native practices (the demonic issue of fetish worship), being supplanted by the Living Word. Looking back upon that dark picture as it was presented to those pioneer missionaries, braving the dangers of the fever-laden swamps, in those days when medical science in its fight against tropical disease was yet in its embryonic state, one can but faintly comprehend the tremendous difficulties which had to be overcome before a single soul could be reached. To-day across that great belt of African soil, may be seen mission stations from which over one hundred and seventy missionaries radiate. There are now several thousands in Church fellowship. The work, which has attained to a very efficient standard, is fourfold: evangelical, medical, educational, and industrial. Through the schools, literally thousands have been won for Christ.

Regarding medical work in the foreign field, one cannot speak too highly of the devoted services of the doctors, who, while healing the body, have a rare opportunity of giving heed to the soul of the patient. As an instance of the amount of medical work carried on at one station, it is stated that during one year there were twenty-seven thousand four hundred attendances at the dispensary, three hundred and seventy-seven patients were seen in camp, and more than two thousand and seventy injections given, while four hundred and twenty-five operations—more than half of them on eyes—were performed.

But the fruits of to-day were only attained by the arduous toil and patient sowing of those hardy pioneers, who had few of the advantages enjoyed by the present-day missionary. Looking back: what a story!—“Years spent doggedly pushing ever forward with set purpose and unflagging zeal, pressing through thorny forests, crossing- flooded rivers alive with crocodiles, trekking through waterless deserts, winning the confidence of hostile tribes, overcoming the innumerable obstacles, with pitifully slender material resources, but rich in faith and. trust in the Lord, arriving at last at the capital of the chief of the Garanganze country!” Such was written of Arnot the pioneer, and such since then is applicable to many of our unknown missionaries who, unseen and unsung in some remote corner of the great vineyard, are content to labour on.

Nor would we forget the labours of those faithful ambassadors toiling in the obscure habitations of the earth and on the distant islands of the sea, They form part of the great army of nearly a thousand missionaries who have left home and friends for the Gospel.

God has indeed blessed and prospered the work in the foreign field since that almost forgotten day over a hundred years ago, when the little missionary party sailed down the Thames for the East, little realising that a page was being written in the history of a world-wide missionary enterprise, which has been used of God in carrying the Gospel to almost every clime and nation.

    “God speed the day when those of every nation,

    ‘Glory to God’ triumphantly shall sing;

    Ransomed, redeemed, rejoicing in salvation,

    Shout ‘Hallelujah!’ for the Lord is King!”