And even as I write this, I hear the Lord saying, “Get out.” He simply wants me to go. He reminds me of my first trip to Russia, my first trip to Guatemala, to Honduras. And even to Mexico decades ago. Each time, He was there. Each time, He showed me my purpose. Each time, He showed me HIS glory.
If you’re like me today, this is for you. It’s a devotional from Elisabeth Elliot – and it reminds all of us of the beauty of the words, “Get out.”
Years ago I had the great good fortune to meet an unforgettable character whose biography is entitledThe Small Woman, and whose life story was told, after a fashion, in a movie called The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. She was Gladys Aylward. To hear this little creature of four feet eleven inches, dressed as a Chinese, tell her own story in a stentorian voice was a stunning experience. I remember how she took the microphone and with no preliminary nonsense whatever thundered forth, “I should like to read just one verse. ‘And Jehovah God spoke to Abram and he said, “Get out!” ‘ ” She told us the story of Abraham’s faith and his move into an unknown land. Then she said, “And one day, in a little flat in London, Jehovah God spoke to a Cockney parlor maid and he said, ‘Get out!’ ‘Where do you want me to go, Lord?’ I said, and he said, ‘To China.’ ” So Gladys Aylward went to China. And what a story that was–a train across Europe and Russia, a frying pan strapped to the outside of her suitcase, an angel’s guidance in the dead of night onto a forbidden ship, a breathtaking saga of one woman’s obedience to the call of God.
Some twenty-six centuries earlier, the word of the Lord came to a much more likely prospect than a parlor maid–he was the descendant of priests–and in a much more likely place than the city of London, Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. Isn’t it easier to believe that the word of the Lord might come to somebody in Anathoth than in London? Or in Urbana? The man was Jeremiah, appointed a prophet of the nations, but he was reluctant to accept the appointment. “Ah, Lord God,” he groaned. “Behold, I do not know how to speak for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to him, “Do not say ‘I am only a youth,’ for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you.”
God’s call frequently brings surprise and dismay, and a protest that one is not qualified. Jeremiah hoped he might get out of it by reminding Almighty God (in case Almighty God had not noticed) that he was too young. Gladys Aylward did not strike me as timid, but she might have called God’s attention to her limitations: she too was young; she was poor; she had no education: she was no good at anything but dusting; and she was a woman. In the case of both prophet and parlor maid, however, the issue at stake was identical. The issue was obedience. Questions of intellect and experience, of age and sex, were quite beside the point. God said do this and they did it.
What is the place of women in world missions? Jesus said, ”You (and the word means all of you, male and female) are my witnesses. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” And there have been countless thousands who, without reference to where they came from or what they knew or who they were, have believed that Jesus meant what he said and have set themselves to follow.
Today strident female voices are raised to remind us, shrilly and ad nauseam, that women are equal with men. But such a question has never arisen in connection with the history of Christian missions. In fact, for many years, far from being excluded, women constituted the majority among foreign missionaries.
Missionary, of course, is a term which does not occur in the Bible. I like the word witness, and it is a good, biblical word meaning someone who has seen something. The virgin Mary saw an angel and heard his word and committed herself irretrievably when she said, ”Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” This decision meant sacrifice–the giving up of her reputation and, for all she knew then, of her marriage and her own cherished plans. “Be it unto me according to thy word.” She knew the word was from God, and she put her life on the line because of it. The thing God was asking her to do, let us not forget, was a thing that only a woman could do.
The early history of the Church mentions other women who witnessed–by ministering to Christ during his earthly work, cooking for him, probably, making a bed, providing clothes and washing them–women who were willing and glad to do whatever he needed to have done. (And some of you who despise that sort of work–would you do it if it was for him? “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,” Jesus said, “ye have done it unto me.”) There was Priscilla, coadjutor of the Apostle Paul. There was a businesswoman named Lydia who opened her heart to what was said and then opened her home to those who said it. There must have been thousands of women like these who did what lay in their power to do because with all their hearts they wanted to do it. They had seen something; they had heard a word; they knew their responsibility.
In the conversion of the Teutonic peoples, women played an important role. Clovis, King of the Franks in the fifth century, made the mistake of marrying a Christian princess, Clotilda from Burgundy, and through her was eventually baptized. According to the Venerable Bede’s account, King Ethelbert of Kent made the same mistake in the next century, and his queen, Bertha, persuaded him to allow a monk named Augustine to settle in Canterbury. Within a year ten thousand Saxons were converted.
One of the earliest of those who were actually called missionaries was Gertrude Ras Egede, a Danish woman. Although violently opposed to her husband’s going to Greenland to try to find the remnants of the Church which had been lost for several centuries, she soon saw that her opposition to him was in reality opposition to God. She repented and went with her husband to what turned out to be a far cry from the ”Green Land” they had expected. It was a frigid godforsaken wasteland, where Gertrude Ras Egede died after fifteen years of hard work–generally called “labor” if a missionary does it. (We all know that missionaries don’t go, they “go forth,” they don’t walk, they “tread the burning sands,” they don’t die, they “lay down their lives. ” But the work gets done even if it is sentimentalized!)
Women in the United States began to swing into action for the cause of world missions in the beginning of the nineteenth century. There was a Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes founded in 1800, and a Miss Mary Well founded what was called the Cent Society in 1802 “for females who are disposed to contribute their mite towards so noble a design as diffusion of the gospel light among the shades of darkness and superstition.” There was a Fuel Society which paid for coal for young seminarians, a Boston Fragment Society which provided clothes for indigent mothers and their babies. Massachusetts and Connecticut swarmed with what were called “female missionary societies” by 1812, and by 1816 three Baptist wives, supported by these societies, were en route to Ceylon as missionaries. “If not deceived in our motives,” one of them wrote, “we have been induced to leave our beloved friends and native shores to cross the tempestuous deep, from love to Christ and the souls which he died to purchase. And now we are ready, waiting with the humble hope of being employed, in his own time and way, in building up his kingdom.”
I was surprised to learn that the Civil War strongly affected the progress of women in missions. It was an educative force in America, for through it women were driven to organize because of their pity for the fighting men and their patriotism. In the ten years following the war, scores of organizations, including many new missionary societies, were launched.
The nineteenth-century mind boggled at the thought of single women serving on a foreign field. A few widows were accepted, having supposedly profited by the guidance of husbands and therefore being more knowledgeable and dependable than single women could be expected to be. The first single woman on record who was sent to a foreign land was one Betsy Stockton and she was black.
Of Eleanor Macomber of Burma it was said, “No husband helped her decide the momentous question, and when she resolved, it was to go alone. With none to share her thousand cares and complexities, with no heart to keep time with the wild beatings of her own, she, a friendless woman, crossed the deep dark ocean, and on soil never trodden by the feet of Christian men, erected the banner of the Cross.” This is typical of the sentimental view of missionaries which makes most of us cringe. This description was written by a man, but don’t let his phrases “weak, defenseless woman” and “the wild beatings of her heart” blur the single fact of Eleanor Macomber’s action. Don’t stay home because you don’t like the image. True faith is action. Faith cometh by hearing, and results in doing.
I could go on listing what women have done to prove that they have had an important role in world missions. There were Mary Slessor of Calabar, Lottie Moon of China, Amy Carmichael of India, Rosalind Goforth of China, Malla Moe of Africa–of whom it was said that although she could not preach like Peter or pray like Paul, told thousands of the love of Jesus. And besides these names there have surely been tens of thousands of nameless nuns and other anonymous women who have done what God sent them to do–and they’ve done it without the tub-thumping of modern egalitarian movements. They had a place and they knew they had it because Scripture says they have.
You read in your Bible from Romans 12, “All members do not have the same function.” There is nothing interchangeable about the sexes, and there is nothing interchangeable about Christians. God has given gifts that differ. They differ according to the grace given to us. You and I, whether we are men or women, have nothing to do with the choice of the gift. We have everything to do with the use of the gift.
There are diversities of operations, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of personalities, but all are made in the image of God. As a woman I find clear guidance in Scripture about my position in church and home. I find no exemption from the obligations of commitment and obedience. My obligations have certainly varied from time to time and from place to place. I started my missionary work as a single woman with three other single women. There was no church, there were no believers, and there were no male missionaries. Later I was a wife and had to rearrange certain priorities in accordance with what I understood to be my job, as a wife, as a co-worker with my husband in the field, and later as a mother.
When my husband was killed by Indians, I found myself in some indefinable positions. There wasn’t one missionary man left in Ecuador at that time who spoke the jungle Quechua language. There was no one to teach the young Quechua Christians, no one to lead the church, no one but women to carry on where five missionary men had left off. The door to the Auca tribe had slammed shut for those men and was, to our astonishment, opened to two women. It didn’t look to me like a woman’s job but God’s categories are not always ours. I had to shuffle my categories many times during my last eight years of missionary work. Since coming back to the States I’ve had a career of sorts, I’ve remarried and been widowed again.
But it is the same faithful Lord who calls me by name and never loses track of my goings and reminds us all in a still, small voice, “Ye are my witnesses that ye might know and believe me and understand that I am he. ” There’s our primary responsibility; to know him. I can’t be a witness unless I’ve seen something, unless I know what it is I am to testify to.
And it is the Lord of the universe who calls you–women and men–and offers you today a place in his program. Your education or lack of it, your tastes and prejudices and fears and ambitions, your age or sex or color or height or marital status or income bracket are all things which may be offered to God, after you’ve presented your bodies as a living sacrifice. And God knows exactly what to do with them. They’re not obstacles if you hand them over. Be still and know that he is God. Sit in silence and wonder and expectancy, and never doubt that the Lord of your life has his own way of getting through to you to let you know the specifics of his will.
And if you know that you’ve seen something, you can add your voice to the host of witnesses like G. K. Chesterton who, in answer to the historical query of why Christianity was accepted, answers for millions of others: “Because it fits the lock; because it is like life. We are Christians not because we worship a key but because we have passed a door and felt the wind that is the trumpet of liberty blow over the land of the living.”