CHAPTER I. INDOORS.

 

“Show good to the Good—the Responsive, And in rock that abideth you write it: Show good to the Bad—Unresponsive, In wavering water indite it.

Impressions abide, or impressions fade, As the heart is, so the impression made.”

AVVAYAR,

Tamil Poetess,

A thousand years ago.

 

 
FROM the Fight,” for it is a fight. A fight without one iota of the romantic. A downright real fight. And we are only soldiers ” standing in the ranks, having no right to think, no right to question, but the solitary right to do what the Captain says, come what may.”

 

But fight though it is, the battle is the Lord’s, and victory will come with the Morning.

It is not Morning yet.

See this. A village, bright enough to the outward eye, for here instead of wild jungle waste, we have a bit of God’s beauty let down on the sand—but a village enchained, enslaved, wrapped round in thick darkness.

There are temple fortresses there, and shrines, and idols, and idol cars. And the men and women and children, too, are stamped with the stamp of the devil-god, a mark painted clear on the brow. You pass through the streets, where no one will stop to think across to the life to come. You visit a house (a caste-house, where confession of Christ would mean the literal loss of all things), and find the women gathered within, waiting for you. And now what have you to do ? Tell the glad tidings gladly to hearts that are glad to hear ? That is ideal, truly, but the real is not like that. Not one is keen to hear. Not one is longing or hungry. They like you to come, it is true. You come as a break in the day. And they will listen a little —but care ? Ah no—not yet.

But you gather round the lamp, a pretty thing hung with flowers, and you try to find if they know what you talked about to them last time. Then you tell them a little more, and plead with them as you can—and then interruptions come. There is no shut door to them here ! For first the husband arrives and causes a general stir, and then the mother-in-law has something to say, and great is the fidget and fuss; and then a baby cries, and has to be petted and shaken ; and so it goes on, and you feel almost baffled ; for how can the Still Voice speak through such noisy restlessness ? Our voices grow weary enough, and our hearts grow wearier still, for it seems like fighting shadows, till the remembrance suddenly comes—Not shadow, but substance, the great grim substance of Satanic opposition. And then we take courage again — for the battle is the Lord’s.

The husband sees us home. He is like polished marble. Nothing seems to go in. He knows the truth, but meets it with a smile. Only the power of the Spirit can make that mountain flow. Our homeward way brings us through a crowd of idolaters. They are marrying their god and goddess. Torches blaze, and excited beings dance to the thud of the tom-tom. Incense thickens the air. The scent and the smoke, and the glare and the blare follow us far down the street. And we marvel at the patience of God.

* * *
A week later.

We have been there this evening again. May God help us to tell you of it, if by telling you we may help you to pray, as we want you to pray, as we need you to pray for us!

For to-night it was utterly sad. They had been worshipping—what do you think ? That lamp we chanced to mention before as being so pretty with flowers. We did not know what the flowers meant then—God’s desecrated flowers! Yes, they had prayed to the lamp, or to the light in it, rather ; they had used the very words we had taught them to say to our God if they wanted His help, a little prayer asking for light to enlighten their darkness—strangest of strange prayers surely, to pray to the light their own hands had kindled ! They had painted their foreheads then with the sacred ashes, and they were just fresh from it all when we came to talk to them.

The mother, who led the prayer, as she knew it best, sat near. She had her child in her arms, a dear little loving child. We asked her what she would feel if her little one ran away, and clung to some stranger woman, and would not come back to her. For answer, she clasped her close, and closer, and closer still. We tried to tell her then of the Fatherheart of God.

Oh, these Jericho walls of strong superstition and sin ! Sometimes it seems as though the soul is a city walled up to heaven, and a city roofed over, too, for the gentle grace of the Lord seems to fall upon cold grey slate.

Do you ever pray, as you pray for these, that the Spirit would create in them what is not there now — true soul-thirst after God ?

Do you pray that they may so know their need that the cry as of pain, the cry of life, may rise from hearts which are silent towards Him, still, silent—silent as death?

One afternoon we were visiting in the same caste village, the Village of the Lake. “Caste” —that word means much. “The one hundred and fifty millions of caste Hindus still present to Christianity an unbroken front, or very little broken, apparently.” In this caste village there is not one inquirer among the men, and only two among the women. To visit in that village is to fight the devil straight.

We had been at it for some hours, going from house to house, and from courtyard to courtyard, speaking to any who would listen, and looking, looking ever for one who cared to hear. We did not find one. ” We do not want your God, we do not want your Way”—all said it in one form or another, and this was all.

We had come to the last house, a goldsmith’s, wherein abode an old blind woman, a widow and a wife. Two of the three had never heard before, and the very words we had to use were unfamiliar. They had no wish to understand, which made it harder to explain. At last they went away, tired of even the novelty of “the foolishness of preaching.”

Where are the heathen who are “longing for the Gospel ” ? Oh, to see one, even one, in whose heart is a hunger and a thirst after God !

We were left alone with the wife. Something almost wistful in her dull and dreary face made us ask her if she were happy. Happy ! with no children and a husband like hers ? Then we told her more of Him W 7 ho is the Crown of our Joy.

She seemed to turn towards Him just a little then ; pushing out a hand, it seemed, in some poor timid fashion, to feel after Him in the dark. We could not be sure, but we trusted so, and left her with Him Who is not far from every one of us.

But oh ! the tempest which will burst upon her should this tiny flicker burn into a flame ! She must go through it all alone.

Two evenings later we went again. Yes, she had meant what she said that da)’; she told us she wanted to come to our Saviour—but she could not tell her husband. She dare not.

We stood with her in the courtyard, half in moonlight, half in shadow, the long fringed fronds of a cocoanut palm, all silver tipped, beyond the wall, and one glorious star shone far above. And she knelt with us as we prayed for courage for her, and faith. Suddenly she shivered, “My husband!” she said, “he is coming.” We had to go and leave her in her loneliness.

It is hard for the widows and wives; it is harder still for the girls. Here is one whom we often see, a girl for whom many have worked and prayed. She has faced the cost, and is ready now to confess her Lord in baptism. She has told her mother about it; and her brothers, to whom she owes all submission, know it too, though she has not told them herself, and are hurrying on a marriage by way of counter force. So it seems a case of “Now or never” for her. They are trying to frighten her, and shake her strange resolve, and we went to strengthen her in the Lord and the power of His might.

Her people knew we were coming, and were very excited and noisy ; but we walked straight through the crowd which had gathered in the courtyard—not a hand raised to stop us—to the inner room where, hidden behind half a dozen relations, the girl was waiting for us.

We had a good time with her, in spite of the noise outside. There was nothing at all between save a scrap of palm leaf trellis, so the hammering which the two brothers indulged in, with more than Indian energy, and the hubbub of voices— that, at least, was thoroughly Indian— seemed to break like rough waves round us ; but there was peace in the midst of it all, and the dark little room was light.

Then we talked to the mother awhile, and asked her to let her child follow the Master Who called her. But, no ! ” Would she destroy our caste and disgrace us all ? Ungrateful that she is ! Be baptised ? No ! Never ! Never ! ”

” Shall we speak to your brothers ? ” we asked. She hesitated a moment. It was bringing things to a crisis. But our God is a God of Truth, and all His work is above-board ; so, after a minute’s fear—for she knew far better than I what this open avowal might mean—she said very bravely, “Yes.”

These brothers—her father is dead—are practically all-powerful as regards her life and future. They are bitterly hostile, most bigoted Hindus. Earnestly asking for words, we went outside to the men.

They were very polite at first, and so were all the relations ; but soon they dropped disguise, and said what they meant, which was this:

” Baptised ! [That is always the crux, because it involves loss of caste]. She shall burn to ashes first. She may go out dead if she likes. She shall go out living— never 1 ”

And the girl inside heard it all.

We went back again to her. The glow of the little red fire lit up her eyes, and we saw they shone steadfast and strong.

Then we had to go away! If only we might have stayed and shared what might follow with her ! But no ; she must bear it alone.

Or if we could have taken her home—carried her off in the face of the whole street up in arms. But that would be kidnapping, a ” first-class ” misdemeanour. For the difficulty is this : We have not her horoscope, which would prove her to be of age to come to us. Her people have hidden it, and will not let her see it. We have no proof which would stand in the law courts, and though we believe her to be old enough to choose her own guardians (which is i the view the law takes of such matters), a hundred false witnesses would be ready to be bribed to swear she was not.

And so we can do nothing for her. Unless some interposition occur, she is doomed to marry a heathen, with all the involvings therein. And we are helpless to hinder. If one did not know beyond a doubt ” standeth God amid the shadows, keeping watch above His own,” one’s heart would utterly fail.

If this chapter closed here, the impression left would be either too dark or too bright. So, for the sake of truthfulness, I add a few words now.

The mother, who led the prayer to the lamp, using the words we had taught her to say to the Light of the World—Has she turned, and come to Him yet ? No ; she grows harder and harder. And now the house is closed.

The wife, who did seem to come—Has she gone on ? For a little while she did, but her husband frightened her back. One night she felt him stirring beside her; she opened her eyes, and saw a dagger gleaming. ” Turn Christian—and expect this! ” he whispered in her ear. She compromised then, and lost ground at once. “He that is stedfast . . . shall attain unto life.” She has not been a stedfast soul.

And the girl ? If we did not love her as we do, we might tell her story now. But we dare not expose her to the danger of print just yet. Satan seems to make a dead set upon anyone— more especially a convert—who is too soon “put in print.” But to the glory of our God we may say that He did deliver her. And He has kept her safe and true through all that has happened since. Her coming out has shut the caste houses for many a mile all round us, but He has worked behind the locked doors; and “with Him is strength and effectual working.”

So not too dark must our story be, for we are on the winning side ; and yet it must not be too bright, for few fight through to victory.

 

 

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