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Importance of the Wives of Missionaries

by Richard Lovett

In no department of Christian work is the choice of a life-partner more important than in the mission field. The two have to live together under circumstances which test to the uttermost every weakness of body, of temper, of spirit, of faith. On the other hand, in hardly any other walk of life can a woman by her health, her tact, her sympathetic support, and her wise and zealous co-operation, be such a true helpmeet to her husband.

The annals of the London Missionary Society are rich in records of the noble and successful and devoted lives of the wives of missionaries. And yet in the vast majority of cases these lives do not make much stir, they seldom receive, except from the few who really know the facts, their due meed [reward] of appreciation and gratitude, and although they are often 'succourers of many,' their deeds are not well in the public eye.

On the other hand, the same records show not a few cases of lives crippled or even ruined by unsuitable and incompetent wives. Most frequently the failure is on the side of health. So often does this occur that not a few missionary administrators now think that the medical standard should be inflexible, and that if the slightest sign of weakness is present the bar to foreign service should be absolute. This has always been a matter of great concern and of great difficulty to missionary boards. Perhaps the chief change of recent years is a different inclination of the balance. Whereas if there was a slight doubt, it was usually given in favour of allowing the woman to go abroad, now it is frequently given against that course. And in our judgment this is wise, and had it been acted upon more rigidly in the past, much sorrow and failure and unnecessary expense would have been avoided.

But great as are the hindrances to mission work caused by ill-health, these are as nothing to those sometimes caused by defective moral and spiritual quality. The woman who goes to the mission field with a man, and is yet not in fullest accord with him as to the great work and purposes of his life, inflicts a grave injury upon both him and the cause dear to his heart. Every mission can show such cases. They naturally do not figure in reports, but now and then the fruitlessness of a promising career is due to the fact that his life is linked to one who cannot govern her tongue, or who will not throw herself into her husband's work, or who cannot live at peace with others. And the worst of such cases is that they often seem beyond the reach of cure, and inflict a daily crucifixion upon those who have to endure what is incapable of improvement.

From James Chalmers: His Autobiography and Letters by Richard Lovett. 4th ed. [London]: The Religious Tract Society, 1903.

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