Happenings

Woman missionary’s first impressions of Fairfield School

Sep 2006    

The thoughts of a young Methodist woman missionary, Grace Webster’s, first impressions of Singapore, and her first day as a teacher at Fairfield School bear consideration. Apart from being captivated by the romance of a strange and wondrous tropical island, she shares her faith in the Lord to help her tackle a job that appeared almost too challenging for her.

Webster

‘I CONFESS that the night before arriving in Singapore held little sleep for me, and it was a moonlight night. You have never seen a tropical moonlight night, so do not see the picture, but we were passing by small islands, and light houses here and there flashed their message across the water, and over all shone with indescribable clearness the glorious tropical moon.

My cabin was so light that I could note the passing of the hours by my watch. But most of the time I had my head out of the port hole drinking in the wonders of the night.

We came into port about eight o’clock on the morning of June 8 (1914). Miss Mary Olson (Principal of Fairfield School) was at the pier to meet me. We saw my baggage loaded onto a bullock cart, and then climbed into a rickshaw and set out for Fairfield.

It was a strange sensation to be riding down the actual streets of a place that had so long played so important a part in my plans and dreams. I expected everything to be queer, and was so interested in discovering what kind of queer it was going to be that it almost failed to seem queer.

We came through a very ordinary part of town, as I have since learned, but it seemed beautiful to me. The people we were passing were quite a conundrum. Were they men or were they women? Some wore their beautiful black wavy hair waving over their shoulders, and others had it bound in a knot at the back of the neck, and they all wore skirts, but surely their faces were men’s. Miss Olson informed me that they were Tamil men. The Chinese were not such a puzzle to me, for I had grown accustomed to them in Hong Kong.

Finally we neared the beautiful new building of the Fairfield School. The school was in song, for we arrived just as they were having morning exercises. What a thrill it sent through me to hear blessed old gospel hymns issuing forth from a spot in this strange setting.

Nothing but letters from home could have kept me from immediately making my way to the singers. After reading my mail and corking up all the conflicting emotions, I could be held no longer, not even by breakfast, but went straight down to the spot, whence issued, “Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning, dear children, good morning to you.”

I arrived just in time to join the little group with bowed heads in singing, “Father, we thank Thee for the night and for the pleasant morning light.” At the close of the prayer, the little heads bobbed up and such a sight as met my eyes. A brilliant flower garden does not describe it.

Before me I saw a group of sixty or seventy little Chinese girls and boys arrayed in the brightest pinks, greens, blues and lavenders, and the girls bedecked in anklets, bracelets, necklets and most elaborate hair ornaments. But brighter than all the rest were the sixty or seventy pairs of black eyes turned upon me – those precious little tots. I could but wonder if they were to be mine …

I found myself launched into supervising a primary department of 200 children, with scarcely a familiar stone to stand on. It was mine to tell six teachers how to do a work in which I had never had any practical experience myself, and all under such new conditions.

Humanly speaking, it was all a great mistake, for I realised that I was altogether too small to fit the place. Yet God knew my size and knew the place and had, to say the least, allowed me to come when I was trusting Him for guidance. I held this fact ever before me, and standing there I could not worry … I know God can use me, whether that be in a large capacity or small, and just as long as He chooses to use me …’ – WFMS Quarterly Review, Jan. 1915, vol.22, no.1, p.4.

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

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