Friday, April 25, 2008

Women of the China Inland Mission: Nellie Marchbank

More on this topic here.
"Am so tired – Oh, for someone to understand, someone to lean on just for a little while to feel real human sympathy. But there is more need to sympathise than to get sympathy. Oh, Master, at such a time, Thou art the One I need." (1895 Diary, Nellie Marchbank, after seven years in China. She was leading the CIM work in Guixi.)

The Guangxin River area was one of the CIM's most successful areas of church-planting, and all the key players were single women. Most had little education; previously many had been clerks, dressmakers, governesses. Nellie had come from a poor Scottish family, and did not arrive on the field until after her widowed mother passed away. Nellie was nearly 30 – older than most of her colleagues. Only three years after leaving her work as a household servant, however, she found herself the senior missionary in her district in China.

Back in England and in his travels around the world, Hudson Taylor was praying and calling for 1000 more workers. Nellie soon found herself supervising six of them. Her responsibilities continued to increase. During her 35 years in China 37 women of many nationalities were trained by serving alongside her. They traveled from village to village (often in wheelbarrows!) tirelessly teaching and ministering to men, women, and children. They worked side by side with Chinese "Bible women" and other local Christians. Thousand heard the gospel because of their ministry, and hundreds responded.

While the CIM missionaries may have, at times, felt they were at a disadvantage because they were all single women, it was clear that their status had significant advantages as well.

"...Missionaries and nationals worked together in teams as brothers and sisters. If missionary men had been around, oriental culture decreed that the nationals would have deferred to them. The missionary women, however, provided someone with experience and wisdom who could be consulted, but still allowed the local leaders to take responsibility in the local churches." (Valerie Griffiths, Not Less Than Everything, pp. 117-118)

Not only did the work prosper more because it was entrusted to single women, but their safety was also increased, not decreased, by the fact that there were no Western men present. When anti-Western riots ransacked the town, Nellie wrote, "our peace and our safety lies (under God) in the fact that we are women." (quoted in Griffiths, p. 121)

I love the way God uses people with different kinds of personalities, breaking out of our expectations and ideals. Consider what Geraldine Taylor (married to Hudson Taylor's son Howard) said when she and her husband visited Nellie (then aged 60). Geraldine wrote,

"We had never imagined anything like the station and work we found in Kweiki. And it is all the expression of this woman's soul. How well I remember meeting her for the first time 30 years ago. I wondered then whether she would ever learn the language, and get in touch with the people. I little realized then that she was already far more of a missionary than I. She had been out a few months longer, but was so reserved, that I, taken up with dear Katie Mackintosh – my ideal of all a missionary should be – was wholly unconscious of the depth and power..." (Griffiths, p. 129)
Probably the apostle Paul said it best:
"Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (I Corinthians 1:26-30)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog post. My daughter was adopted from the Social Welfare Institute in Guixi, and I am now very excited to get this book to learn some history about the city. BTW, we are from Colorado also.

- John

Marti said...

Lots of adopted kids from China in Colorado, seems like! Thanks for writing, John.

The e-magazine I write for is doing a special edition on China (particularly, resources for learning about or praying for China) next week. Check back on Wednesday or Thursday at