Difficulties missionaries face

Mar 2008    

Pioneer Methodist missionary W. E. Horley, who faithfully and successfully served the Mission for 40 years, penned this telling critique of the difficulties which missionaries faced, and still face. This may perhaps give us a better understanding of what missionary work entails.

‘LET us look at a few of the difficulties which surround the missionary …

First, difficulties because of the climate. Very few can stand the constant drain upon the reserve forces of their system owing to the persistent, continual, never-changing steaming heat of Malaysia. The monotony of it actually becomes depressing.

A perennial summer isn’t a Paradise whatever stay-at-home Westerners may think. One can get a surfeit of sunny weather just as one can get a surfeit of sweet things … The first year or two in the tropics is alright, but after the second year, a person begins to feel “limp”, like a collar with all the starch gone out of it, and then his work becomes a drag and his nerves suffer, and alas! even his temper also, and some become as hot and choleric as the curry they eat… Another great difficulty which faces us is the diversity of language.

I should say that nowhere on the face of the globe is the diversity of languages so great as in Malaysia – no less than half a dozen or more Chinese languages with endless sub-divisions, and Malay, Tamil, Bengalee, Cingalese and Japanese.

No sooner has a worker mastered one Chinese dialect than he finds that to be really efficient he needs to acquire two or three others. In one service that we know of, no less than three Chinese dialects are used. I have seen two Chinese meet together and as they couldn’t understand the other’s dialect, they spoke in Malay, the lingua franca of the Malay Peninsula.

Another difficulty which presents itself is that of the shifting character of most of the population. They are here today and gone tomorrow. They come from China to make money and having made a few hundred dollars they return home, or if they live in the Native States they go from one tin mine to another. Thus our numerical strength remains stationary and one is apt to get discouraged, but often our loss is another’s gain, and I have heard good news from China concerning some who were converted in Malaysia and who are now “fighting the good fight of faith” in China. So to encourage us, we are reminded of the truth – “one soweth and another reapeth, but God giveth the increase”.

Another great difficulty is our lack of trained native evangelists. How can we expect men who have no training in speaking, conducting divine service, with little or no education, to make efficient evangelists? Not that I limit the Holy Spirit’s power and unction, but my contention is that the Holy Spirit can do more with a trained sanctified man than with an untrained though sanctified man … If the heathen are to be won for Christ it will have to be done mostly by native agencies.

Then we are sometimes hindered, though, thank God, but rarely, with “cranks” and their “crankiness”. The idea has been sometimes fostered at home that if a man is a failure as a minister, well, he will do for the foreign field. We need the best. The most learned, the most enthusiastic, the most practical, sanctified, common sense men for the foreign field. Men and women who are cranks, who have foibles and idiosyncrasies, who are not blessed with common sense, ought to stay at home.

The voyage out won’t change them and the climate and difficulties here won’t improve them. We have known of “cranks” who wouldn’t wear sun hats because it was the same sun which they had in New York. They soon found out their mistake and the Missionary Society had a heavy return transit to pay on “Returned Empties”.

I have met with others who thought it a sin for a missionary to play golf, tennis or football, and who took exercise themselves in long-chairs, rather than mix with the world, afterwards wondering why they suffered so much from it. What crankiness to think that in neglecting one’s body we are practising holiness …

Then, perhaps the most important and greatest difficulty is that we become so engrossed in our service for the Master that we neglect communion and soul culture with Him. Our work must not crowd out our waiting upon God for the endowment of power, nor our times of silent meditation before the Lord.

The manna from God’s Word must be gathered daily or the spiritual life will suffer. The fire will soon go out from lack of fuel if we neglect the gathering of it. Christ must be conceived as not only for us, but in us …’ – MM, January 1902, pages 37, 44, edited.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.


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