Happenings

Isabella Thoburn: A worthy tribute for Mother’s Day

May 2007    

Bishop James Thoburn’s sister, Isabella, who founded the women’s college in Lucknow, India, remembered their mother’s strict training which stood the family in good stead through hard times. Preferring a low profile but always ready to render Christian service, she was a pillar of strength, a worthy tribute for Mother’s Day. After her husband’s business failed, buying a farm on mortgage took time and effort to repay the debt.

‘FINALLY it was accomplished. It was when the harvest had been sold, and when the final payment was made, my father came home with two gold eagles (US$20) above the amount of the debt.

The announcement was made to the family, for every child had been made to feel that he shared the responsibility and so was allowed to share the pleasure.

Then father took out the two pieces of money and said, “We will give ten dollars to the Missionary Society for a thank-offering, and this,” he added, giving mother the other ten, “is for your new cloak.”

She held it thoughtfully a moment, and then giving it back, said, “Put this with the other piece for thank-offering, and I will turn my old cloak.” No personal desire of need was ever allowed to come in the way of the money due to the church or to God’s work, and, above the dues, freewill offerings were a delight.

My mother’s character was distinguished to her children, by truth, courage and helpfulness. There was no yielding of principle for any one’s praise or for personal advantage – no compromise for appearance’ sake. I cannot remember the word “fear” had any place in the household vocabulary. If it was right to go anywhere, go we must, in darkness or storm or danger. Not to go was never mentioned as a possibility, and so not thought of. No child of my mother’s ever thought of asking her to be allowed to stay at home from the district school a mile away, and if we were ever late the fault was not with her.

Happily, when it stormed over-much our kind father used to take us girls to and fro and our “old Bess” learned the way so well that with a triple load she would walk soberly to school, turn her round side carefully to the tree stump that answered for “mounting block”, and when we were safely off, go back home as straight as she came …

My mother’s perfect calmness to danger was remarkable. When we girls and the dogs thought there was a thief in the barn one night when there were no men about the place, she walked out in the dark, and in her natural voice asked, “Who is there?” When an escaped lunatic carrying an axe rushed into the house she met him as calmly as though he had been an expected guest, and so quieted him until help came.

When a neighbour had smallpox in a time and place where special nurses were unheard of, she took her turn at night watching, going and coming as though nursing smallpox was an easy matter and a safe thing to do. Whatever precautions she took, or danger there was in the case, was not talked about at home.

As soon as we children were old enough to be of any use we were sent to help wherever there was sickness or overwork. If we could only use a fly-brush or fetch a glass of water or help wash dishes, and so lighten labour for the hands needed at the sick-bed, we were sent to do that. I think all of us had had experience of night nursing among our neighbours when we were sixteen. We were somehow made to feel, although I cannot remember by what words, that we were debtors to all who were in need of anything we could give, whether of time, or service or money …’ – Gospel in All Lands, a Methodist magazine, Dec 1890, p. 559, slightly edited.

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

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