The Native Christian Mother
July 2, 1925 — Sixth General Missionary Conference of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
Mr. Chairman and Christian friends, it is certainly a great pleasure to be in a gathering of this kind, a gathering where Christian men and women are collected to study as to how the Gospel of Christ should be spread throughout the land of Africa. It has been many, many years since the Gospel has been brought into this country, and we felt that something great has come to us, something wonderful; in fact, many people left their homes and embraced Christianity, because they felt that it was the best life that any man or woman can take up. We are gathered here this evening with many men and women who have sacrificed their homes and their loved ones in order to carry the Gospel of Christ to the world that needs Him. Many and many a time in the countries across the sea, people sing: “From Greenland’s icy mountains.” They even sing: “Waft, waft, yo winds….” meaning that the gospel should be spread throughout the world.
And so to-night we feel grateful for these men and women who stand up here and speak about the women of Nyasaland, the women of Zululand, the women of Swaziland, and the women of other places on the continent of Africa.
We have been asked to say that something about the native Christian woman. Now, in order to speak of the native Christian woman, it is necessary to start with the heathen woman. You have already heard how she has been brought to the Cross: you have heard how it is necessary to train her children, and to train her to come and be a living witness in the Church of Christ. The native Christian woman has not been so successful in her work as a Christian because she has been brought out of the land of Egypt, the Egypt of heathenism and darkness; and, as Mrs. Murray has said, she has just been brought out and no one has thought of the one thing that was needed, and that thing was the necessity of holding her in that life. She did not get that. She got enough of playing, she got enough of singing, but what she needed was something to hold her and her offspring in the light of Christianity and civilisation.
We come to you this evening with the trials of a Christian mother. We know that when she starts she means well. But as time changes, so do people change. And this woman has changed because she is living a new life in a new world. When she started she only had to look after herself, and she only had to study, to know that this was Sunday, and that she was to go to Church; that she was to put away her beads and her bangles; that she was to do away with her skins for dresses and to put on the garb of Christian people, the Europeans. After that she finds that she is not able to control her little ones; she is not able to control her children. She lives in doubts and fears because of the surroundings in which she lives. The children go out to the mission school, meeting with other children, and they come home having learned many lessons which come to the mother as a shock because she knows it is not part of her training. What then is this poor woman to do? She tried to teach; she tried to follow them up; she tried to lift them up; she tried to get them into Church, but it is impossible almost to keep them in Church, because of the new life that has come into the time in which this woman lives.
What one is struck with is this, that in being Christianized and civilized the European has gradually gone hust the other way. He brought us out of Egypt, but in bringing us out of Egypt he goes back to Egypt! What I mean is this, that Sunday is no longer a Sunday. It is a day for tennis, football, cricket, anything; and our sons and daughters imitate that life. They leave the Sunday school, they leave the Church, they leave their homes, because the Europeans are doing that. How can we then as Christian mothers train and keep our children saved with surroundings of that nature? As they see these white-funnelled gentlemen going pit with their rackets they follow suit. They do the same thing. That is the life; they are civilized.
We had the old-time religion, and I wish we could have kept it. The old-time religion which did not discourage the woman, the Christian woman, but which interested, lifted her up, with her children and her husband, and the Church, and everybody! And as we had been meeting in gatherings of this kind, what a blessed time we would have had in this country! What a blessed Christian life we could have lived as Christian mothers in this country! How we need the leadership of real Christian women in this country! How we need to be close to them; how we need them to lead us and to show is the right way, instead of having us think that, after all, there nothing in the Christian religion because of the things we see.
Now the early missionaries in this country knew what they were doing. They studied us; they lived with us; they moved among us. Even the wives of our missionaries were with us. They taught us the in the Sunday schools; their daughters taught us in the day schools. And in that way we were inspired to keep up that life, because they were as pillars. They led us, and we knew that we had to follow in their steps because they were living the right lives. But to-day what happens to us? I won’t say all — and some of our missionaries will pardon me — but how many times when we go to visit one of our missionaries to find, when we knock at the front door, somebody tell us “Go round to the kitchen.” Well, as a matter of fact, we did not want to go to the kitchen; we wanted to see the missionary about something. We wanted to talk to him. We have something on our heart; we have some little troubles; we want to see him and speak to him. And then somebody tells you: “Go round to the kitchen.” And don’t you think it is a shame for a missionary to come out of the kitchen door to see some of his members – instead of inviting him inside? Even if he made a little corner in his home that would have been better than telling one to “go round to the kitchen.” What does it mean? That very thing is responsible for the more than 140 native churches in this country — that spirit. That is what has brought about this great split in the churches. It was not so with the early missionaries. They were our mothers, they were our fathers. They were with us in our picnics: they were there. They helped us to understand what a picnic is, what it meant. In our Sunday schools they were there. They taught us how to sing the Gospel songs, and they showed us how the Christian mother was able to hold her children.
To-day the differences that have come about have brought us from our farm homes, from our kraals, into these industrial centres, because we were said to be a people not very fond of work. And so to do away with that idea, our husbands and our boys had to come to Johannesburg, and to Kimberley, in search of employment. Now that we are here, the conditions are again different. People say “Well, how did all these natives get into these towns?” People say “Why don’t they go back into their kias? What do they want in these towns? Well, now, we were avoiding being called lazy people, and so we came up to these industrial centres, and here we are. And I believe we are here to stay. It won’t be very easy us out of here because we have nowhere to go any more. And therein lies the great problem of the fall of our sons and daughters – the want of bread. The want of bread! Destitute people, homeless people, people without anywhere to live. It is not an easy thing to keep a starving man in the church. There was a time when you could tell him to pray. But if I kept on praying while other people were tilling their lands and raising their grain, and I depended on prayer, how much bread would I have at the end of the season? I have got to work and pray. I have got to do something; I have got to work. So the people came up here to work, and here they are. But the work is different. They are in contact with all classes and all types of people, and they are not able to keep up. They fall away. You find women selling liquor because they have got to keep up their homes. They have to pay high rents – something they knew nothing of before. And they begin to drift out of the churches. And your “Go round to the kitchen” drives them still further away, because they would come and ask for assistance.
And then when these Christian women come here, they have their certificates from the ministers in the different towns in the Cape, in Natal, in the Free State and they find here they have nowhere to go. They have got to depend on themselves. Nobody knows what to do with them. Nobody knows anything about them. And there has been a greater even among our women “How is it that the modern missionary is so different from the old-time missionary?” I can remember the day when even if a girl was going to get married, the missionary had to be consulted; the missionary had to be told that this girl was going up north, that she was going to work; or that this boy was going up to Kimberly, that he was going to work. He knew where these people were going and he gave recommendations, letters, to his IMENAS, so that these people could be kept in touch with.
But it is not so to-day. People have no time for anybody who is in trouble; people have no time or anybody who is in distress. And do you wonder at the great changes that are taking place? Do you wonder that our people are changing so fast that they call this Christianity a “white man’s Christianity” and not theirs? They say it, and they mean it, and many many times they can prove why they say it. Well, now, what are we to do with these people, because we need you to help us to do away with these thousands of heathen people in our country. We need you.
Now the liquor question becomes one of the great problems of to-day. The liquor question is a very peculiar one, inasmuch as the Law takes very great care that the native must not get into the saloons. He must not get any liquor. Somebody is looking after him, he must not get anywhere near the saloons. So that there is a very high wall put up between the native and the saloons. And yet there are invisible windows which the Government can’t see through which the liquor comes t the native. People who are Christians, people who belong to churches, people with big names, they manage to get this liquor and give it to the natives so that they may sell it. And it is quite a great encouragement for these women, and they sell this liquor at the expense of the lives of their children. No woman who is a liquor seller will be able to save her children; she cannot. All classes of men get into her house, and men don’t always see eye-to-eye with women in this matter. The man is satisfied as long as he sees the money; some men are like that. Indeed, I don’t think it is only the black man who is that way, but there are other people besides the black men who don’t see eye-to-eye with their women-folk.
It is a blessed thought, although there are so many stumbling blocks in the way of the Christian woman, to know that there are still some faithful women in the church of God. (Hear, hear). O, there are still some women who hold up the banner of the Cross! And many a time when they have been discouraged, when people have felt that there was no good in going to church any more, these women have banded themselves together and organized themselves in order to keep the Church of God alive.
You can all very well know, my friends, that in the church of to-day everything is affected. People talk more about prayer than they act it. And as was said: “Don’t talk religion, don’t pray, live it.” People don’t live the Christian life. People like to talk to you: it is so nice to talk about it. It is so nice to say: “What a fine sermon we had!” or “What a fine address we had from that missionary from Nyasa!” But it is altogether a different thing when it comes to ne practised. What we need is people who understand the Gospel, who understand how to live it, who understand how to take it to these women so that they may save their homes and their children. Now as you know, many a native woman has married into families that knew nothing about the Gospel, people who were practically heathens. But because they had the word of God in their hearts, they changed those families and made them follow in the footsteps of Christ. How much we need that today! Well, how much encouragement do we get? To-day, even if a woman wishes to lead an honest life, and wishes to earn an honest living, how can she – with all these houseboys monopolizing the work that should be taken up by the woman – and nobody to support her. People who are Christians say: “I don’t like the native women. They don’t know how to work; they are so slow. They don’t know how to do the work properly. I prefer having boys in my house.” How many from the Cape would say that? They know that in their houses they never saw boys walking about in bedrooms making up beds. So that I am made to think, many and many a time I have thought, that it is not only the native who is lazy, but that there are other women besides the native who are lazy.
We are very pleased with the spirit of this conference, and we are praying earnestly that something may be done to make the non-observance of Sunday a crime; that if anybody was seen with his racket, and his football clothing, on Sundays, he should be arrested and punished. If anybody were seen taking small native boys with their caddiebags – I think they call them – on the golf links on a Sunday, that man should be punished because he should encourage those young boys to go to Church and to go to Sunday school. We hope this conference will pray for us, and that out of it will come volunteers, young men and young women, who will give up their lives to the saving of the native people of this country. And that they will encourage and train the native woman and the native girl; train them so that they may be of service to their own people. Because it does not make any difference what we say or what we do, but that is coming: that the native must be trained to work among his own people. That does not mean to say that we are rebelling against the churches that have made us what we perhaps are to-day. But we feel that we have got to do something. We don’t want you to feel that we don’t want you to be with us, or that we want you to go back to your own country. We don’t mean that. You are here to stay, and you are going to be here with us. We have got to live side by side in this country. The only thing is that certain arrangements must be made in order that we may live peaceably together.
And the Christians, we hope and trust that you will live that life. I see many faces in this meeting here to-night that I know I will meet to-morrow and the next day and next month. I hope you will be just as you are to-night. I know that many times when I meet ladies — and gentlemen, too — in Pritchard Street, or Eloff Street, sometimes you see them looking on the other side. Now just remember this, and when we meet just look this way. And in that way we will live peaceably together. And our mothers, our Christian mothers, will learn the lesson that we so much need. We need Christian women, the Europeans, to have conference with native women. An occasional conference, so that we may know each other; all denominations, as we are met here; to-night. And in that way you will find that the Spirit of God will work better among us, and there will be more unity, and here will be more good feeling, and there will be none of this that is called “The White Man’s Christianity.”
Source: The Evangelisation of South Africa: Being the Report of the Sixth General Missionary Conference of South Africa, held at Johannesburg, June 30 to July 3, 1925 (Cape Town: Die Nasionale Pers, Beperk), 1925, pp. 127-134.