Call of a Coward

As Marcia Moston worked on laying slate stones for a patio outside her comfortable New Jersey home, a sudden thought came to mind. Her husband, Bob, was on a mission trip to Guatemala. What if he returned home saying their entire family should go back? Marcia brushed the thought off as absurd.

But two days later, that’s exactly what happened. The mission Bob had helped needed a couple to oversee a home for widows and orphans, and he felt God was calling his family to the job.

Marcia tells of her family’s experiences following God’s call in Call of a Coward: The God of Moses and the Middle-Class Housewife.

Marcia didn’t eagerly jump at the chance to go to a Central American country.

Years earlier we had pledged to follow the Lord wherever he led, but after ten years of marriage, my fervor had settled around me like a cozy comforter on a winter’s night. Zealous promises made on a beach under a starry sky lay buried under the security of paychecks and health insurance. Bob’s return from his mission trip with the conviction that we go to Guatemala unleashed a torrent of fears that shattered my tidily defined world (p. 17).

They were already heavily involved in Christian work. Guatemala was dangerous with rebel activity. What about their ten-year-old daughter, Lily?

Adamant as I was about not going, a glaring contradiction in my theology nagged me. I wondered how I could so easily believe in Someone who created the universe, parted the Red Sea, and rose from the dead, but not trust him to take care of my daughter (p. 18).

God kept working on Marcia’s heart until she finally surrendered. Then the family prepared to drive all the way from New Jersey to a Mayan village in Guatemala. Marcia tells the story of their journey, time in Guatemala, call to a small pastorate in Vermont, and the joy of leading several mission trips back to Guatemala. She writes with with both humor and conviction that God calls and works in and through His people today.

Marcia’s writing first came to my attention in columns for The Write Conversation. I enjoyed what she had to say and her style, and I loved the title of her book. So I bought it and finally read it.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

Those kicking and screaming death-throes moments when you realize you aren’t and you can’t are God’s opportunities to show you he is and he can (p. 34).

Saying grace before eating took on a whole new importance for me. A blithely spoken, “Lord, bless this food” came to mean a seriously earnest, “Kill it, purify it, and give me the grace to eat it” (p. 36).

It’s a noble thing to say you would lay down your life for a loved one. It’s quite another if you are called upon unexpectedly to share your last bit of chocolate (p. 90).

The hepatitis had left us with about as much energy as a sloth on sedatives (p. 121).

Later, I found out that my sister in New York, who had no idea where we were at the time, had woken up that same night we were in the town of the sorcerers, with an urgency to pray for us (p. 133).

The downside of a miracle is the predicament required to precipitate it. That’s also the very place where faith grows (p. 155).

Reflecting on the biblical admonition that any works not built on Christ would be burned, I imagined the glow filling the eastern horizon of heaven as my works went up in a bonfire if I didn’t stop throwing myself pity parties (p. 162).

I looked at the engrossed, saucer-eyed faces and breathed a silent prayer of thanks for being witness to this “first” in someone’s life, for the privilege of bearing words of life (p. 181).

You can find an interview with Marcia here.

I’ve always identified with Moses’s list of excuses why he couldn’t possibly answer God’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. And I identified with Marcia’s trepidation as well, and was encouraged by how God answered and enabled her. 

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Hudson Taylor and Maria

Imagine a group of expats working in China in the 1850s. Two of the young people fall in love. The young man asks the girl’s guardian for permission to marry her—and receives a resounding “No.”

This was Hudson Taylor’s experience. He had come to China as a missionary in 1854. He had been interested in someone else back in England. After a lot of correspondence and angst, he finally accepted the fact that this woman would never consent to go to China.

A few years later, he met Maria Dyer. She and her sister were orphans under the care of a single lady missionary in China. As Hudson and Maria grew attracted to each other, Hudson sent a letter to Maria’s guardian requesting Maria’s hand in marriage.

The guardian, Miss Aldersey, not only said no: she stood over Maria while requiring her to refuse Hudson and request him to never broach the subject again.

Part of Miss Aldersey’s objection was that Hudson was not a “gentleman” by the standards of rank at that time. But more than that, Hudson was unwittingly and not on purpose a polarizing figure at the time.

Anti-foreign sentiment was high in China then. Just the presence of Europeans could start a riot in some areas. On top of that, their foreign ways were a distraction. Once while Hudson was speaking, a man watched him in rapt attention. Hudson thought the gospel was finally breaking through to someone. But the listener questioned him, not about his message, but his jacket: why in the world did it have decorative buttons that didn’t fasten to anything, and what a silly waste was that.

Hudson decided to dress as a Chinese. He shaved his head except for a patch at the back to have extension woven in for the long queue fashionable at the time. He dressed in the style of a Chinese teacher.

And it worked. He could move about freely, and the Chinese were not immediately put off by him. It didn’t take them long to realize he was a foreigner, but his integration into their way of life went a long way toward furthering his mission. In later years, his dress and demeanor also helped establish the fact that he was not trying to establish an English church or convert people to English ways, but to Christ.

But much of the European community found his actions eccentric or even harmful.

By the Victorian standards at the time, Hudson couldn’t just rush over to Maria’s house to talk things out or ask her to meet him at a coffee shop. But as God arranged things, they found a few moments alone together while at a mutual friend’s house. When he found that Maria did love him, he felt he could pursue their engagement.

John Pollock tells their story in Hudson Taylor and Maria: A Match Made in Heaven. He begins with Hudson’s salvation story and leading to China, then he details their work together.

I love the passages describing Maria’s influence on Hudson. “Her religion had been more orderly; she served to steady Hudson’s faith while he deepened hers” (p. 113). Furthermore:

Maria tempered without quenching his zeal, was largely responsible for the common sense and balance characteristic of Taylor at the height of his powers. She made him take holidays. Under the influence of her less mercurial yet gay temperament he shed those moods of melancholy; he could discuss every matter with her and forget to be introspective. He became more assured, grew up.

Though his was the finer intellect, Maria had a more thorough education. She improved his cumbrous style, teaching him to write good English though she never cured him of split infinitives.

Together they had such a reservoir of love that it splashed over to refresh all, Chinese or European, who came near them (p. 114).

Hudson Taylor had not intended to start a new mission agency. But while home in England recovering from some physical problems, he wanted to recruit more people to go into the interior of China. Most missionary effort was on the coast, leaving the biggest part of the country unreached.

The agency under whose auspices Hudson had come had failed him miserably, leading him to resign them while still in China.

Between the new recruits and Hudson’s experiences, the necessity for a new mission agency became apparent. The pressure on Hudson was excruciating until finally, after a friend’s sermon, he realized:

If we are obeying the Lord, the responsibility rests with Him, not with us. Thou, Lord! Thou shalt have the burden. All the responsibility lies on Thee, Lord Jesus! I surrender. The consequences rest with Thee. Thou shalt direct, care for, guide me, and those who labour with me (p. 141).

Thus the China Inland Mission was born. Taylor needed those assurances for the rocky path ahead.

One of Hudson’s mottoes was “Move man, through God, by prayer alone.”

In later years Hudson said, “As a rule prayer is answered and funds com in, but if we are kept waiting the spiritual blessing that is the outcome is far more precious than exemption from the trial (p. 125).

Another of his principles was this:

Pray ye to the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth labourers unto the harvest.’ Taylor decided that the divine method of riding missionaries did not lie in ‘elaborate appeals for help, but, first, earnest prayer to God to thrust forth labourers, and, second, the deepening of the spiritual Life of the Church, so that men should be unable to stay at home‘ (p. 128).

Although I don’t think this was meant to be a theme in Pollock’s book, one factor that stood out to me was that many of Hudson’s main problems were not with anti-foreign sentiment or the government: his most trying problems came through other Christians. The criticism of his Chinese dress, the division over his proposal to Maria (one of the leaders refused to give him communion over the issue!), the new recruits grumbling and fussing like the Israelites in the wilderness, dissension in the ranks, people spreading disinformation, and armchair commentators from afar touting uninformed opinions about everything he did, all weighed on him. He tried to be gracious, and he was not above rebuke or correction. But a lot of the opposition to his work and methods was fleshly and burdensome.

I also noticed with him as with Jim Elliot, whose story I reread a few weeks ago, that in their twenties, they were not at their most mature state (who is at that time?). For instance, in Hudson’s youthful zeal, he “suffered scruples about putting on a life jacket” during a storm at sea because he felt it showed “lack of faith in God’s power to intervene.” In later years, “he laughed at such extravagance. ‘I believe I can trust the Lord in some respects as much as I ever could, but I am a good deal modified in some of my views and do not think it right to neglect proper precautions'” (p. 84). But they still had a willingness to do God’s will no matter the cost to themselves and to think outside the box. They both grew in wisdom with more experience of walking with God.

After a particularly lengthy and trying period in his early days, he wrote to someone:

At home, you can never know what it is to be alone—absolutely alone, amidst thousands, as you can in a Chinese city, without one friend, one companion, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men—of those you wish to benefit, your motives not understood or respected—thus to learn what it is to have nowhere to lay your head, and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit—His holy, self-denying love, which led Him to suffer this and more than this—for me; this is precious, this is worth coming for (pp. 81-82).

Sadly, Hudson and Maria only had twelve married years together. Pollack ends the book a little abruptly right after Maria’s death. He has a recommendation elsewhere in the book for the rest of Hudson’s life story. I had not read the one he mentioned, but I’ve read others. the classic is a large two-volume set written by Taylor’s son and daughter-in-law (though Pollock asserts that the daughter-in-law revised and left out some things, it’s still a great set). Even though I was familiar with much of Taylor’s life, I was blessed by going over parts of it again in this book.

Though this book was originally written in the 1960s, the style of writing seems much older to me. But the book is easily readable and well worth one’s time.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
InstaEncouragements, Booknificent, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Laudable Linkage

I was going to wait until next week to share these since I only had a few – but last time I did that I ended up with a very long list the following week. So here’s a fairly short list of posts I found interesting this week, and thought you might, too:

My long time “real life” friend Debbie blogs at Purple Grandma, and we share a love of missionary books. When my own kids were young and then recently when I compiled a list of missionary books for children, I noticed there were none for toddler/preschool age. The earliest missionary books were early-reader chapter books. So Debbie compiled some of her own just for general reading or family devotions, etc., that she is beginning to share on her blog. I really enjoyed the first about Jennie Atkinson and look forward to reading more.

Ringing in the New Year. “The character of your life won’t be established in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. Your legacy will be shaped more by the 10,000 little decisions you make in 2014 rather than the last-minute resolution you’re about to make….That’s a lot of moments. Too many, in fact, to accomplish successfully on our way. No wonder we settle for one big resolution instead of a day-by-day resolutions. But here’s what makes 10,000 little resolutions possible – GRACE. Relentless, transforming, little-moment grace.”

2 Year Bible Reading Plan. I love reading the Bible through, but trying to do it in a year always seems rushed to me.

Food Is Not Your God. I’m not into the whole foods movement as a movement, though I agree they are better for us, but it seems some kind of emphasis about food sweeps through the Christian community occasionally. I appreciate the balance and focus of this post.

Communicating With People Who Have Dementia.

Saw this at Bobbi‘s – quite moving:

Happy first Saturday of the new year!

Missionary Books for Children

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When I was making a list of Christian missionary biographies that I have read and benefited from and could readily recommend, it occurred to me that I ought to make a similar list of missionary books written for children. It has been a long time since I read missionary books for children, but I read several both for my own and for gifts for nieces and nephews. But though many of these are still in print, they are not recent, so if you have any to recommend, please feel free to list them in the comments. Some of these are true stories, some are fiction based on true stories, some are biographies, a few may be totally fiction.

These I haven’t read personally but I know enough about the publisher and/or author to believe they would be good:

In addition, though these aren’t written specifically for children, I think they’d be easily understood by children. An older child could probably read them alone, but these books might be especially fun to read together as a family:

  • Cowboy Boots in Darkest Africa by Bill Rice (I read this to my boys during the brief time we home schooled and they enjoyed it quite a bit.)
  • Mimosa by Amy Carmichael

In fact, probably a great many on my original list could be read as a family, but I would definitely hold off on Peace Child and Spirit of the Rainforest as they are quite graphic, though not gratuitous.

There are probably some I have forgotten, and there may be some newer ones that are good as well. Most of these are as adventuresome as any fictional story your children might read with the added benefit of examples of Christian faith and action that glorifies God and draws people to Himself.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Join Us Reading Through Gates of Splendor in June

Reading to Know - Book Club

Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club has been featuring classics this year, trading off between adult and children’s classics. Carrie asked several blog friends to choose a book for each month. I was honored to be asked, but had a hard time deciding on which of multitudes of favorite books to choose. Finally I decided I wanted to include a missionary classic, which is one of my favorite genres, and Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot seemed recent enough and its story well-known enough that I felt it would be accessible to anyone who wanted to read it.

Through Gates of Splendor was, I believe, the first missionary book I ever read, sparking a lifetime of exploring other missionary books and Elisabeth Elliot’s writing. I’ve read it multiple times since. I listed it among the 98 Books That Have Enriched My Life and Books to Read Before You Die. It’s the story of how five men and their families came to minister together together among Indians in Ecuador, how they became interested in what was then known as the Auca tribe, fierce warriors who killed any outsiders (as well as their own tribesmen), how they determined to try to reach them, how they went about it, how they were killed, and how a wife of one man and sister of another were eventually given the opportunity to live with this tribe.

It’s not just fascinating for the sake of the story: it’s fascinating to read how each of these very different men and their wives came to know the Lord and then felt called to their particular field. These men didn’t know, when they went to the mission field, that they would be martyrs, though once they began to consider reaching the Aucas, they knew it was a possibility. But they each gave their lives to God to use in any way that He saw fit, and their faith and walk with Him is inspiring.

Some like to watch the films of books along with or after reading, so you might be interested to know there is a DVD called Through Gates of Splendor here (it seems to be also on YouTube here), narrated by Elisabeth Elliot, using footage that she, Nate Saint, and Life Magazine had taken. Also several years ago the film “End of the Spear” (linked to my thoughts) came out. The book is much deeper and fuller, and some have various problems with the film, as I discussed, but it’s okay if you want to see a general visualization. I would highly recommend Beyond the Gates of Splendor: it is a documentary made fifty years after the events of the book. Here is an excerpt:

At the wrap-up post at the end, I’ll have some other resources for those who might want to read more about those involved in this story which has been used by the Lord in remarkable ways.

If you’d like to join in the Carrie’s Book Club to read it, just leave a note at her place saying so, and at the end of the month she’ll have a post where all those who read it can post comments or links to their own blog post about it. That’s one of the most fun parts of this book club: discussing the book we’re reading with others.