Missionaries’ letters to mothers

I have mentioned here many times the impact that reading missionary biographies has had on my life. Some of the tenderest letters I have ever read were from missionaries to their parents either after having answered the call to the field or after having left for the field. As a Christian parents, we want what the Lord wants for our children, yet our humanness would want our children close by. In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to include a few excerpts of these letters honoring parents.

Jim Elliot:

From his journal: “We left our moorings at the Outer Harbor Dock, San Pedro, California, at 2:06 p.m. today. Mom and Dad stood together watching at the pier side. As we slipped away Psalm 60:12 came to mind, and I called back, ‘Through our God we shall do valiantly.’ They wept some. I do not understand how God has made me. I didn’t even feel like weeping, and don’t, even now. Joy, sheer joy, and thanksgiving fill and encompass me.”

From his first letter to his parents after leaving: “I surely praised God for the way you both took my going. It is true that I know very little about how you feel at seeing me leave. All I understand is that it must be very keen, deep, and closely linked with all that this life involves for you. I pray for you whenever you come to mind, asking the ‘help that is from God’ for you both. You are as well a constant source of praise for all that you have given of yourselves for my sake. The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable, and perfect.”

Hudson Taylor:

From his biography, The Growth of a Soul, by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor: In the light of present privations [his mother] saw with painful clearness all that life in China might bring. And he was her only son.

Ah, that shrinking of mother-hearts! God only who made us fully understands. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” how shall He not fathom the depth of even that anguish. Yes, He has borne it too. God Himself suffered most for a sinning, sorrowing world, and He does not forget. He knows all it costs to give up home and loved ones and go alone to earth’s dark places to lay down life itself, it may be, in seeking souls for whom the Saviour died. And He knows too the sacrifice of those who cannot go, but send their dearest…and with bleeding, thankful hearts look up into His face…saying truly, “I have nothing too precious for Jesus.”

[Hudson] did not blame this mother that for a moment she seemed to waver. It is only “through the Eternal Spirit” such sacrifices can ever be unreservedly offered. And for the passing hesitation we may well be thankful, seeing it called forth the following, that might not otherwise have been written:

Do not let anything unsettle you, dear Mother. Missionary work is indeed the noblest mortals can engage in… We certainly cannot be insensible to the ties of nature, but should we not rejoice when we have anything we can give up for the Saviour? You would be far more unsettled if I were to turn away from this work, and if the Lord were to withdraw His restraining grace and I fell into sin in consequence, would you not? It is all of His mercy that I am preserved from many of the pitfalls that ensnare other young men.

As to my health, I think I never was so well and hearty in my life. [He then goes into great detail about his eating habits.] I am enlarging on these trifles, thought they are not worth writing about, because I know they will interest you and perhaps help you to feel more settled about me…

Continue to pray for me, dear Mother. Though comfortable as regards temporal matters, and happy and thankful, I feel I need your prayers…Oh Mother, I cannot tell you, I cannot describe how I long to be a missionary; to carry the Glad Tidings to poor, perishing sinners; to spend and be spent for Him who died for me. I feel as if for this I could give up everything, every idol, however dear.

Think, Mother, of twelve millions — a number so great that it is impossible to realise it — yes, twelve million souls in China, every year, passing without God and without hope into eternity. Oh, what need for earnestness in the Church and in individual believers!

Oh, it is a noble, an honourable calling! I feel my utter unworthiness and unfitness for it. I want more of the Divine life, more of the Spirit of God to make me a faithful servant and witness. Oh for more grace, love, faith, zeal, holiness!…

I must conclude. Would you not give up all for Jesus who died for you? Yes, Mother, I know you would. God be with you and comfort you.

Amy Carmichael:

Amy Carmichael’s father had passed away, and Amy, as the oldest child, was a help to her mother in many ways. She had also become something of an “adopted” daughter to a friend of the family, Robert Wilson, also affectionately know as “Fatherie” or “theD.O.M.” (Dear Old Man). These two factors made her hesitate, at first, in accepting the call to the mission field. It must be remembered also that in that day both the communication and travel situations would make mother and daughter feel even farther away (in fact, if I remember correctly, once Amy got to India she never returned home, though her mother did visit her there.)

She wrote to her mother:

My Precious Mother,

Have you given your child unreservedly to the Lord for whatever He wills?…

Oh may He strengthen you to say “Yes” to Him if He asks something which costs.

Darling Mother, for a long time as you know the thought of those dying in the dark — 50,000 of them every day, while we at home live in the midst of blazing light — has been very present with me, and the longing to go to them, and tell them of Jesus, has been strong upon me. ..

But home claims seemed to say “Stay”, and I thought it was His Will; it was perhaps til yesterday. I can’t explain it, but lately the need seems to have come closer, and I wrote down a few days ago…why I am not going.

1. Your need of me, my Mother.
2. The great loneliness it would mean to my dear second Father.
3. The thought that by staying I might make it easier for others to go if He called.
4. My not being strong.

But in His sight are these four things worth staying from those poor heathen for? You have given me three-quarters up as it is. My dear old Fatherie is the Lord’s wholly, he would not let me kept out just for him. The other two things surely I could trust about. Still, they seemed to say “Stay”.

Yesterday suddenly the impulse came to have a good talk with my dear Fatherie…and after it I went to my own room and just asked the Lord what it all meant, what did He wish me to do, and, Mother, as clearly as I ever heard you speak, I heard Him say,

“GO YE.”

I never heard it just so plainly before.; I cannot be mistaken, for I know He spoke. He says “Go”, I cannot stay.

Mother, I feel as if I had been stabbing someone I loved. It is Friday now, I could not finish this yesterday, and through all the keen sharp pain which has come since Wednesday, the certainty that it was His voice…has never wavered; though all my heart has shrunk from what it means…the certainty is there…nothing but that sure word, His word, could make it possible to do it, for until he spoke, and I answered, “Yes, Lord”, I never knew what it would cost.

These are the verses He gave me…”If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.” “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

“To obey is better than sacrifice.”

Many difficulties have risen in my mind, they seem very great, the “crooked places” seem very crooked, but it seems to me that all He asks is that we should take the one step He shows us, and in simplest, most practical trust leave all results to Him.

Mother, I know that very few of our friends will think I am right. Those who don’t know the Shepherd’s Voice themselves will be quite sure I am very wrong and mistaken, but He has said, “Walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” He knows, and He won’t let me disnonour Him by making a mistake and following my own fancy instead of Him. If it is so, He will show it to me, but if it is His Will, I must do it.

There isn’t much of gladness in this letter, I’m afraid, but I don’t feel anything except sore at the pain this must bring to my loved ones.

Good-bye, my Mother. May He come very near to you and strengthen and comfort you.

Your Own Amy

P.S. Some of these things may cross your mind as they have mine.

What about leaving my God-given Father who does seem to need me a little? Cannot I trust Him to care for him? If He tells me to leave him, He won’t let him suffer. Clara Bradshaw met Hudson Taylor once, and he prayed, “Show this child of thine what blessing she is keeping from her own father” — by staying when He had called her.

If I stayed, might I not keep those dearest to me from God’s richest blessing? But this is a very hard bit to think of, I can hardly face it steadily yet.

“Health” you will think of. He won’t let that hinder if He has said, “Go”. Then as to the money — I don’t see clearly, but I believe He will show us about that. If He does not, I will take it that that means “stay”, for He could not mean me to let you suffer wrongly. But I think soon the boys will be able to help.

Forgive me for the length of this post, but I can’t leave out the response of Amy’s mother:

My Own Precious Child,

He Who hath led will lead
All through the wilderness,
He Who hath fed will surely feed…
He Who hath heard thy cry
Will never close His ear,
He Who hath marked Thy faintest sigh
Will not forget thy tear.
He loveth always, faileth never,
So rest on Him today — for ever.

Yes, dearest Amy, He has lent you to me all these years. He only knows what a strength, comfort and joy you have been to me. In sorrow He made you my staff and solace, in loneliness my more than child companion, and in gladness my bright and merry-hearted sympathizer. So, darling, when He asks you now to go away from within my reach, can I say nay? No, no, Amy, He is yours — you are His — to take you where He pleases and to use you as He pleases. I can trust you to Him, and I do — and I thank Him for letting you hear His voice as you have done. I shall not speak of your dear loving letter or my feelings. How weak we are. But He knows our frame, and remembers. “Go ye” — my heart echoes. “Oh send forth Thy light and Thy truth, let them lead me — let them bring me into Thy holy hill and to Thy tabernacles”, met my eye as I opened my Bible — do you see what the holy hill and tabernacles meant to me in this connection? I never saw it before — and then in the next page comes, “Therefore God has blessed thee for ever.” All day He has helped me, and my heart unfailingly says, “Go ye.” He only knows what this means and will mean to me — to you — to us all. I dare not think — but His grace is sufficient, Amy. Let us keep our eye on Him — and then no wave will swamp us — and He will bear us up in His arms. Oh, isn’t is strange we are not more cheerfully willing followers — to think of His wonderful everlasting love to us, and how little He ever asks in return. Amy, darling, today I got a moment’s glimpse of it all, and how small this life seemed. When we are dying, how very little will it seem that He has asked us to give up for Him. So, my precious Child, I give you back into His loving arms, saying from the depths of my being, “Take her, dear Lord — Thou wilt take the most loving care of her, use her in Thy service and for Thy glory now and where Thou pleasest, for Christ’s sake. Amen.”

For dear Mr. Wilson I feel so much, perhaps more than for myself, but God has his happiness in His keeping. He cannot and will not make a mistake. All other points are minor and must wait — the one thought has been enough today. One step is all that I am equal to — all else will be clear. “The Lord is mt Shepherd, I shall not want.” “Goodness and mercy shall follow me” — and those who trust — “all the days of my life”, and we shall all gather from the north, south, east and west in His home above, and will cast our crowns at His feet, saying “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing.” Til then may we each one be found faithful.

Ever my darling child’s loving Mother.

For days, it seems to me now, the Lord has been preparing the way, Amy, for your letter.

From Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton

You can read more about Amy Carmichael’s mother here.

8 thoughts on “Missionaries’ letters to mothers

  1. Barbara…this is wondeful!!! I linked to you today for this entry and have copied the letters from Amy and her mother for my post, with credit to you. Amy Carmichael’s book, A Chance to Die, is one of our favorites. My daughters have read it and they will love this. Amy’s story has impacted all of us. Thank you for your post!


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  4. Thanks for posting this on SI today. I am preaching from 2 Timothy 1 tomorrow about the influience Timothy’s Mother and Grandmother had in his life. I will use some of this tomorrow as examples.

    Thanks in Christ,

  5. These are beautiful. It is one of my favorite things to read in Missionary stories as they are such a testament to what a Godly mother can be.

  6. Pingback: mother on mother's day « snapshots of life with Cheng Leng :)

  7. Pingback: how to pray "thy will be done" « Notes from my heart

  8. Pingback: 31 Days of Missionary Stories: Amy Carmichael and Singleness | Stray Thoughts

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