Yesterday (Sabbath) was a delightful day, but it seemed very short. The Lord help us in our weakness, and cause the dark clouds to rise from all your friends. The God of consolation heal the wounded spirit of your poor sister, Mrs. Stoddard. I have never seen the death of the righteous—only by hearing have I heard of it. The Lord be with you more and more.
Others, written during the same period, are as follows:—
Sorrower for us, who hast also become as a stranger to us!—Now we know your anxious love for us. We have no doubt that He who directs not according to man's thoughts has directed you to be away from us much this year. We had thought that it would be a very pleasant year; but the Lord has ordered it as he pleases, and let us say, "His will be done." We know that he does all for our profit. What a comfort this is to us who have given our all to the Saviour to do with us as he will!
It is very hard to look at your vacant place; but we thank God it is not made vacant by death. Though not with us in body, we believe that you are, in spirit, and we rejoice that you can do as few can, for the sick. The Lord be with you, who are the second in anguish, and strengthen your weak body. The prayer of your pupils is ever for your life. We have no words with which to comfort you; we can only say, "The Saviour, with whom you are better acquainted than we are, give you comfort."
What can we say to you, dear Mrs. Stoddard, who are shrouded in a cloud that is very dark? We know it is very hard for you to look on the great vacancy that is made in your dwelling. But do trust in the Lord; he will bring light out of darkness. We feel for you, plunged in a sea of sorrow, in the deep places of sighs. Our eyes are every hour upon the door, expecting what we shall hear from Harriette; and our prayer is, that if it can be the Lord's will, she may be brought back to you; but every letter increases our anxiety. We understand not the Lord's dealings this year, except this: we know that he does all things for the profit of our souls.
The writer of the following was at that time a teacher in the Seminary, and a striking illustration of the elevating power of a good education. Formerly a female who was either lame or deformed was so despised, that she could never hope to be the head of a family: she was doomed to drag through a miserable life, the object of universal neglect. But Hoshebo, though a fall in early youth had shattered her ankle, and the ignorance of native surgeons made her a cripple for life, yet because of her education was as much esteemed as before she would have been despised, and is now the wife of Meerza, our native helper at Saralon. Miss Fiske might have filled up her school with such, but, with a wise foresight, selected her pupils with an eye to their future usefulness among the people, as well as their own personal advantage.
When I understood from Miss Rice, that you would not meet your loved flock next Sabbath, I felt that I could not let all your absence pass without giving you an account of my charge. I have been sitting with them, as I do every Saturday evening, to search out their spiritual state; and I have good news to tell you of one for whom you, and also others, have been very anxious—Esli, of Takka. I noticed her changed all this week; but last night I saw a great breaking down under Mr. Cochran's preaching. She came out in anguish of soul. I then saw her alone, and found her contrition still increasing. I know this is not evidence that she has passed from death unto life; but I rejoice that she is visited by the Holy Spirit, and I trust she will become a Christian. I am anxious for her and for all the girls of my room. I look for the gentle shower that shall make the withered plants like the fresh springing grass. Though you are absent, we know well that you carry every one of your flock in the arms of love to Him who can do all things, whether you are far away or near to us. The girls send up many petitions for Harriette. We fear much when we recall your former going to Seir. How glad should we be to hear of indications that she will recover. Peace and love to Mrs. Stoddard.
More than a year after this, Miss Fiske left Oroomiah, and at Salmas, on her way home, met her dear pupil Sanum, the wife of Joseph. Having no other place for devotion, they retired together to an orchard for the parting prayer. In a subsequent letter, Sanum thus beautifully alludes to it:—
"O, the remembrance of that bitter separation! and of those prayers, when the green grass was watered with our tears! How could I have borne it, but for the recollection of Him who prayed and wept in the garden of Gethsemane, and whose kneeling upon the tender grass was for the comfort of our souls!"
The gratitude of the pupils to their teacher extended also to her aged mother. Seldom have they written a letter to Miss Fiske, in America, without its message of kind remembrance to the parent who gave up her daughter, as Hannah gave up Samuel, to be the Lord's; and several wrote letters to her separately. From among these we select the following, written by Raheel (Rachel), of Geog Tapa, Sept. 10th, 1859:—
MY DEAR GRANDMOTHER HANNAH: Though I have never seen you, yet I must write to you, for I love all Miss Fiske's friends as I do my own, and especially yourself. I want to thank you for all your love to me. Blessings have thus reached me which were not given to my early sisters. When it was a great reproach for a girl to learn to read, God had mercy on us in that he poured such love into your heart as made you willing to send your daughter eight thousand miles, by sea and land, to show our people the great mystery that had been previously hidden from their eyes—that there is salvation for women. They used to dwell much on those words of Solomon, "One man among a thousand have I found, but a woman among all these have I not found;" but now they see their mistake, and that Christ died for women also. Many thanks for your patience all these years. I know something of it from the feelings of my own mother, for if she did not see me for five months during term time, she would mourn that she had not seen her daughter for so long.
It was certainly a sacrifice for Christ to come into this world, and deny himself; and it was also a sacrifice for the Father to send his Son, when he knew all the sorrows and wounds there were in the cup which he was to drink in this world of sin.
You will see your daughter much changed from what she was fifteen years ago; but I am confident that when that day comes, which will be longer than any day we have seen in this world,—when He whom the Jews could not bear to hear called king, shall sit upon his throne, judging the world,—then all troubles, sorrows, and separation from friends will appear to the Christian as the small dust of the balance; and I think that it will especially seem so to you, when you see a band of Nestorian girls on the right hand of the Redeemer, whom you, through your daughter, were the means of bringing there. Yes, justly might they have been left to dwell with Satan forever; but instead of that, they will have joyful life with Christ in his kingdom.
I can never repay your love; but there is one so rich that he can give you what man cannot, and I ask him to reward you in heaven.
Is there another Miss Fiske in your country? We can hardly believe it. I hope that I shall see her again, but it is difficult for me to expect it.
It is very pleasant for me to write to friends, and especially to my own dear mother, Miss Fiske. I should never be weary if I wrote to her every day; but I thought that this time she would like to have me write to you, and I trust that you will live to receive it.
Please give my love to Martha, and also to Mrs. Stoddard and Sarah, and tell them that our hearts are with them.
From your granddaughter, whom you have not seen,
No reader of the Bible needs any description of Oriental mourning for the dead. The rent garments and sackcloth (2 Sam. iii. 31), loud weeping and wailing (ver. 32), protracted lamentation as for Jacob (Gen. 1.10 and 11), and for Moses (Deut. xxxiv. 8), and the hired mourning women (Jer. ix. 17, and Matt. ix. 23), were to be found nowhere in greater perfection than among the Nestorians. It is very difficult for us, in this land, to realize the force of such habits; but it required much grace to break over them; and even now, when the Christian heart grows cold, it is apt to return to the old ways. One day, in 1845, the whole school were going to attend a funeral. When the time came, one of the pupils requested to be excused. "Why? are you sick?" "No." "Why not go, then?" "I do not wish to tell." But another said, "May I tell you alone?" "It will be a great shame if we do not all weep. We all think we can do it but Sarah, and we are afraid her tears will not come; and so, lest she bring reproach upon us, we do not want her to go." The heart of the teacher sunk within her, as she found that she was about to lead a company of mourning women to the funeral. She asked them how they could make themselves weep. "O, when we go to such places, we call to mind all the sad things we ever knew, and so we weep; but if the tears do not come, we leave very quickly."
But grace has wrought a great change in this matter also. In the journal of Yonan, we find the following entry: "At the close of afternoon service, I had a Bible class with the women: this was followed by a prayer meeting. Then Munny came to see me: she has buried a little child recently. It is a matter of joy to me, that these women can lift up their eyes and see their children with the dear Saviour, and feel that they have treasures in heaven. I asked her, 'Did you ever do any thing for your little girl that you remember now with gratitude?' 'Many times I carried her with me to the stable, and knelt with her upon the straw in the manger, to ask blessings on her.' 'Christ was in the manger, and perhaps there your daughter was consecrated to him.'"
In another place, we find him asking Esli,—the wife of Joseph, of whom he had just said, "Her little daughter has died recently, and her heart is broken,"—"When your child died, did you weep and wail as your people do?" and she answered, "No."
Nazloo, of Vizierawa, a pupil who hoped she took Christ for her Saviour in 1849, and graduated in 1853, within less than a year after her conversion was summoned to the death-bed of her uncle; and scarcely had she returned to her studies before she was called to the bedside of her father. For three days she watched with him incessantly, by day and by night. Those who were present were greatly moved by her tender care of him. During the whole of his sickness, she never failed to improve every opportunity to point him to Christ. Even to the last, she begged him to look to the Lamb of God and live. And when he died, with his head resting on her hand, though she had no evidence that her efforts were successful, her wonderful calmness, under so severe a stroke, led many to feel that she possessed a source of consolation to which they were strangers. But her cup was not yet full. A few days passed, and she hastened once more to her afflicted home, to find her mother entering the dark valley. Others wept aloud, but she pointed the dying one to Jesus; and supporting her in her loving arms, she seemed to plant her feet in the cold waters of the river of death, and commit her departing mother into the hands of Him who could bear her safely to the other side. So sensible was her mother of the benefit she and hers had received from the school, that when the teacher came in, she beckoned her to her side, and said, with difficulty, "God is not willing I should be a mother to my daughters any longer. I commit them to you: they are yours." She soon fell asleep, as was hoped, in Jesus. After this, Nazloo was in the school most of the time till her marriage. As a teacher, no one could have been more faithful: her religious experience was very marked, and she labored wisely for souls. She still lives to show how God can make grievous afflictions yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness in his people.
In this connection, we cannot omit another letter, written by Hoshebo to her teacher, in 1860, on the death of her son Absalom. It is dated Saralon, where she and her husband Meerza reside.
DEAR MOTHER: I received your letter just before I received a bitter stroke from the never-erring hand of my heavenly Father. Many thanks for your loving remembrances of me. I cannot reward you for one of a thousand of the good things that you have shown me, so unworthy. I have many thoughts of you, and of those pleasant days that we passed together in that blessed school. I am very sad when I think that perhaps I may never, in this house of my pilgrimage, see your face, which makes others to be exceeding glad.
Dear mother: like a daughter distressed, who would find a little rest by falling into the kind arms of her mother, I come to tell you what has pierced the heart of your poor child. It is true that you are so far from me that I cannot lean on your kind breast, and let you lead me in prayer to the Father who has afflicted me; but with a feeling like that I write you. Beloved, you used to write me that I must take good care of my dear and tender babe, Aweshalom. Perhaps I did not fully do as you told me. But one thing I know: the Lord, who loves little children, was not willing that I should keep him. And I believe that he will take better care of my dear child than I could. You must know that I am deeply wounded and crushed by the death of Aweshalom. My tears cease not. His first birth was October 14, 1858; his second and spiritual one, April 23, 1860. His life with us was a pleasant one, and he made our lives very sweet and delightful; but now he has gone to heaven, while we remain on the earth. He lives the new life, while we die daily. He is strong, while I am weak. He has grown beautiful, in the light and image of the Saviour, while I am pining away. If you have heard what a child he was, you will not wonder at my sickness since his death. My husband is greatly afflicted in the death of this, our first, our only child. We find no comfort except in casting our wounded souls at the feet of the Saviour, who was tempted that he might heal our wounds. It seems, sometimes, as if our comforters were far from us; but our Saviour is very near to help and comfort.
Our work has been as last year. My husband has taught in the Seminary at Seir, coming here to preach on the Sabbath. I have taught a school of eighteen boys and girls here. Before vacation, my babe sickened, and rested in Jesus. Since that time, I have had fever, and am still very weak.
Five in the village, besides ourselves, are communicants. My father and brother are among them. I trust that my mother and brother's wife will soon unite with us. The work of the Lord in the village goes forward better than formerly. I try to talk and pray with the women alone, and they are more ready to have me do it, which makes me to rejoice in the Lord.
Give my loving peace to my dear grandmother Hannah. Though with the eyes of this mortal body we have not seen each other, nor have I any hope that we shall, the Lord her God help me, that we may meet on the blessed hill of Zion above. I believe, my mother, that you will remember your weak, unworthy lamb, when you bow before the throne of mercy and grace. Perhaps this is the last letter you will receive from me, for death seems very near. Receive loving peace from the priest [her husband].
Your true daughter,
Jesus has seemed to be almost bodily present, taking up these lambs in his arms; and the mothers have not feared, for they felt sure that under such a Guardian it was well with their children.
Perhaps bereaved missionary mothers In Persia do not realize how much their patient suffering has done for their poor Nestorian sisters. The short lives of those twenty missionary children, who lie in Persian graves, were a precious offering to Christ. They were all missionaries, and did not go home till their work was done. Each one had a place to fill among the instrumentalities employed by the Master to promote his kingdom in Persia. There was no waste in the breaking of those alabaster boxes of precious ointment. Nestorian parents looked on, to learn how to lay their children into the arms of Jesus, and become more Christ-like themselves. No years of mature toil have been more blessed than the years of those thus early called home; and in this truth their bereaved parents may find abundant consolation. There are influences too deep and silent to be fully understood; but they are none the less real and powerful; and the mother who to-day misses the little feet, the loving eyes, and the pleasant voice, which God had lent to gladden her earthly home for a season, may rejoice in the assurance that her loving submission to a Father's hand is teaching a lesson to the people whom she loves, such as they could never learn from words.
During the revival of 1846, a little child of Dr. Perkins died; and as the missionaries laid it away, in the hope of a glorious resurrection, it helped them to point others to him who is the Resurrection and the Life. It was buried on a snowy Sabbath day, and the faces of the young converts, who stood in silence around the grave, showed that to them the associations of death were no longer fearful. Turning away from the cemetery, Mr. Stoddard, feeling that he could not be separated from those young disciples even in death, said, "Do you not hope that you shall rest here to rise with these to everlasting life?" Little did they who heard him know how soon that cemetery at Seir would become more sacred as his own resting place. [Footnote 1: See Nestorian Biography, page 242.]
Before leaving this topic, we insert a letter from Sarah, daughter of Joseph, a former pupil in the Seminary, and the oldest of four sisters. The death of little Deborah seemed to draw her heart very closely to her Saviour, and she now sleeps by her side, doubtless understanding better the meaning of those arms of love that here she believed "folded her little sister in his own bosom."
"What word of fitting love can I write, and how tell you what God has done? We are afflicted, for he has taken from us our dear little Deborah. She was only two years and seven months old. We mourn; and yet are comforted; for we know that He who loves little children has taken her into his own arms, that we may love him more and better praise his glorious name. She did not leave us to go to a stranger. The dear Saviour, we think, has made her happier than we could; and now we dwell much on this scripture, 'Prepare to meet thy God.' Deborah was very sick, and suffered much; but when she died, there was a pleasant smile on her little face. Then she rested from sorrow, and Jesus folded the little Iamb in his own bosom."
PROGRESS AND PROMISE.
BENEVOLENCE, EARLY MANIFESTATION OF.—PROGRESS.—REVIVAL OF BENEVOLENCE IN APRIL, 1861.—INTEREST OF PARENTS FOR THE CONVERSION OF THEIR CHILDREN.—PEACE IN FAMILIES.—REFORMED MARRIAGES.— ORDINATIONS.—COMMUNION SEASONS.—MISS RICE AND MISS BEACH.— CONCLUSION.
The pupils were early trained to form habits of self-denying benevolence. In 1844, the day scholars made as many as fifty garments for poor children. Early in 1845, when some mountaineers came to beg money for their ragged children, the question was put, "Who will give her own clothes and wear poorer ones till she can make others." Many responded at once, and she who gave her best dress was deemed the most happy. Some even wept because they could not do the same. In a letter written December, 1848, the pupils say, "The last day of the term was monthly concert. We had a good time of prayer, and then a collection, which went up to thirty-two sahib korans—(seven dollars.) We hope this will be increased, and used for sending the gospel to the poor people of the mountains."
They were accustomed to devote several hours a week to sewing for some benevolent object. At the close of one term the articles thus prepared were sold for sixteen dollars, and the proceeds sent to Aintab to pay for teaching women there to read.
The same virtue was assiduously cultivated in the people. Deacons John and Yonan had for some time been urged to take up a collection at the monthly concert at Geog Tapa, but they dared not try; not that they did not wish it, but they feared that the people, in their poverty, might take offence at the innovation. At length, on the first Sabbath of 1852, John preached on the subject, and a few korans (worth twenty cents each), were contributed. The first Sabbath of February it was Yonan's turn to preach there. So he prepared himself thoroughly on this subject,—Miss Fiske had read with him the prize essays on Benevolence, published by the American Tract Society,—and, carrying his map into a crowded church, he spoke at some length about missions in various parts of the world. His account was well received. Then Bibles were distributed through the church, and the readers were called on to read passages previously selected, showing, first, the antiquity of benevolent contributions; secondly, that the poor were to give as well as the rich; and thirdly, that the blessing of God was promised to the benevolent. The readers were scattered all over the church, and the people listened with great attention. Then several spoke on the subject, and the elders of the village gave the work their hearty approval. Afternoon came, and as the time for meeting drew near, old and young were eagerly engaged in getting ready their contributions (in Geog Tapa the monthly concert is held on Sabbath afternoon), and as many as two hundred came together. There were remarks and prayers, and while the missionary hymn was being sung at the close, the collection was taken up, amounting, in money and cotton yarn, to more than fifteen korans. One sick boy, who had heard what was going on, rose from his bed, and crept in to deposit his little coin. Instead of spending their saints' days in idleness, as had been the custom, many now wrought on those days to earn money for giving, saying to objectors that it was better to labor for the spread of the gospel than to be idle for Satan. Mr. Stoddard attended the March concert, with some idols from India, and so interested the people that the collection amounted to more than twenty-five korans, thus the good work went on.
After this the spirit of benevolence steadily increased, and instances of marked self-denial were not wanting. It shows at once their poverty and their disposition to do what they could, that at the monthly concert a basket was passed round along with the contribution box, to receive eggs from the little children and such as were too poor to give any thing else. Crosses of ivory or silver were often found among the contributions.
One day, a man was seen to take a silver coin out of his purse; and as the missionary went on to describe more of the condition of the heathen world, a second and a third was taken out, and held in readiness for the collection. At another time, a woman, whom she had not seen before, asked for a private interview with one of the ladies of the mission; and when alone, besides requesting prayer that she might become a Christian, she took out a gold ornament, the only one of any value that she possessed, which had been handed down as an heirloom in her family for several generations, and said she wanted to give that to send the gospel to others, only no one must know who gave it. The ornament was sold for four dollars and fifty cents, and the woman, in less than a year, became a useful Christian. Sometimes the amount of interest might be measured by the number of silver coins manufactured into buttons that were found in the contribution box; for when their feelings were aroused, the women cut off the fastenings of their outer garments, and cast them into the Lord's treasury.
But the most remarkable revival of benevolence occurred in April, 1861; and we condense the following account of it from a long letter of Yonan to Miss Fiske and Mrs. Stoddard:—
"The prayers and tears of our missionary friends have, this winter, received a joyful reward from our Father in heaven. We were told that the first week in January would be devoted by all Christians to prayer for great things, and my heart was never so enlarged before. It seemed as if Persia, nominal Christendom, and all the heathen were under the power of prayer; as if the Christian's measuring-line was stretched round the four corners of the earth. One day the missionaries met, as usual, for prayer in Dr. Wright's large room. It moved me much, and I said to my companions, 'They are praying for us while we are idle.' They said, 'It is good that we spend this half hour in prayer every day.' We did so. On the Sabbath, I went to my village, Geog Tapa, and mentioned these things to the people at the evening meeting. The Lord opened the mouth of Abraham, who said, 'Brethren, in these places we are always idle—let us meet for prayer half an hour before sunset.' They did so. The clouds over our heads seemed loaded with blessings: still they did not descend. Mr. Cobb and Mr. Ambrose had talked with me about commencing in our village to support preachers in the mountains. So did Mr. Labaree last week. I told him of our poverty. He said, 'I am grieved for that; but begin with some little thing.'
"We went to Geog Tapa the last Sabbath in March. John gave notice, as it was the gospel Sabbath, [monthly concert is so called], of the contributions for our brothers in India. In his sermon he said that much of our poverty is from our indolence. Last year our collection was fifteen tomans. [A toman is about two dollars.] If we had more zeal, we might raise twenty, and that would support a preacher in the mountains. At once Guwergis cried out, 'I will give one.' I said, 'We will support one preacher and two schools among ourselves, and if any thing is over, we will send it far away.' Priest Abraham approved of this. Then all the brethren in the congregation began to speak. 'So is good.' 'Thus we will do.' John would have stilled them; but I said, 'Perhaps God is blessing your preaching; let them speak.' Praised be God's name forever; in a moment every obstacle was swept away. Had we known that God was so near, we would have bowed our heads before him. Now Aib Khan cried, 'I give one toman;' and 'I,' said Priest Moses, 'twelve korans;' and another, 'I two monats.' [A monat is seventy-five cents.] Moses now took out his pencil to write. The Malik said, 'I have often thought that I would put a gold imperial in the box [four dollars and fifty cents]; write that.' I then said, 'My family of eight souls hear preaching all the year, and three or four attend school. I am a debtor; write for me three tomans—it is not too much.' When God pleases, excuses flee away; high prices and oppression were not thought of; we were lords of wealth. Moses then said, 'I am troubled that I remain to the last; but we are three brothers in company, and I know not whether they will act through me, or each one for himself.' One brother cried out, 'Our agent and I, five korans more.' Another man then said, 'I also am at a loss on account of my brother;' and his brother replied, 'Four monats.' These things made brotherly love very firm. Guwergis now cried out, 'Women, where are you? In the wilderness women gave their brazen mirrors.' I said, 'Holy women, to-day ends fifteen years of the prayers of Christianity among us. Speak!' [It was fifteen years since the revival in 1846.] One replied, 'I half a monat;' and 'I a head-dress;' 'I a silver ornament;' 'I my earrings;' and so on. A widow said, 'I have kept my husband's coat till now; I will sell it, and give half the price.' And others made similar responses. Isaac, a poor old mountaineer, gave two korans; and another said, 'I have nothing but the mat I sit on: I give that.' It was a new one he had just finished. A mother said, 'I have nothing now, but I will give the work of my hands this winter—a tope [ten yards] of cotton cloth.' A pilgrim said, 'When I was in Jerusalem, an Armenian and a Russian bid against each other, and the Russian prevailed, giving five hundred tomans to the Greek convent. If they had such zeal for error, we ought to have more for the truth.' And one unaccustomed to come to church gave the fruit and prunings of fifteen rows in his vineyard. [The prunings of the vines are sold for fuel.] We were in the church about four hours. Time was given for all to contribute, and then we spent a season in joyful song and pleasant prayer.
"The report of what had been done spread quickly through the village, and my mother-in-law sent word that she would give a hundred and twenty-eight pounds of raisins. At evening meeting, the house was full. Benjamin said, 'Brethren, the teacher of our school was one day explaining the verse, "Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn;" and Mr. Stoddard, who stood near, added, "But the Nestorian oxen eat from the straw of America." That word has worked in my heart ever since. I trust that, hereafter, we will eat our own straw.' That night we lay awake a long time for joy. In the morning, before I was up, my uncle and his wife came and promised a load of wheat [five bushels]; and when passing through the village, a woman put an ornament in my pocket to sell for the cause.
"Monday we came to the city for the gospel day [the concert is held there on Monday], and every one who met us remarked our glad faces. In the meeting, after Mr, Coan spoke, John opened a bundle of the gifts, and Moses described the scenes of the day before. I said, 'One toman led to sixty in our village yesterday: perhaps it will lead to hundreds more. Many times the good in the heart of the Christian comes up into his mouth, and then goes back; but when the power of God prevails, it not only comes into the mouth, but comes forth and abounds.' Priest Moses arose, and said, 'As long as a man is sick, it is no shame if he does not walk; but if the blood walks well in his veins, and he becomes fat, and still lies in bed, every one reproaches him. We have grown fat; and how long shall we lie under the quilts?' Priest Yakob added, 'For twenty-five years we have said, "Let the Lord go before;" and now that he has come, let us wait no longer, but give.' He gave two tomans, and others followed. Mar Tohanan's wife gave a toman of ornaments, and almost every girl in school from one koran to three or four. Isras, of Degala, gave fifteen tomans and a new vineyard that he had recently bought. Guwergis, who had already proposed to plough the field the second time, now rose, and opening his hand, said, 'If a man thrust his hand into a pile of gold, and give of it to God, is it a great thing when He has filled his hand with the blood of his Son, and given it to us?' Sagoo, of Gulpashan, said, 'My father gave each of my two sisters thirty tomans. When Hannah died, hers became mine. I give it for the bride's veil; [The kingdom of Christ is here spoken of as the bride], also a silver watch.' One who had only two or three sheep promised one of them. My little girl, Sherin, had asked, a few days before, for a new dress. She now sent word to me that she would do without it for a year, if I would give the money for the gospel. I cannot fully describe the spirit of the meeting: we went out wondering and congratulating each other at having witnessed such a pleasant sight. At the evening meeting one said, 'I heard in the market what you were doing; I give a gun, the price of which was seven and a half tomans.' Some gave for themselves, and others for their wives and children. Moses gave four monats for his brother's children. There were tithes and sixths, fifths and fourths, thirds and halves, of crops of hay and grapes. Priest Abraham said, 'We say a thief will never own a house. Did you ever see one that had wealth? We are thieves, and therefore are so poor. We have robbed God. I will give a tithe of my vineyard.' Another replied, 'And I of every thing.' And a man, who had before given one quarter of his vineyard, now gave the half. A widow, who had nothing but a cow, pledged a hepta [four pounds] of butter. A poor man, who has a few fruit trees in his yard, promised ten heptas of apricots. Guwergis spoke up, 'We have butter: what shall we cook in it for the bride?' A woman answered, 'I give four heptas of rice;' to which her husband added two. [Footnote 1: See page 209.]
"Mar Elias now kissed us much; he put nineteen korans into John's hand, saying, 'As yet I have not grown indifferent.' And Mar Yohanan said, with tears, 'The crown of the bride remains for me. I give thirty tomans.'
"In our village, besides the tithes, seventy tomans were collected, and in the city two hundred and fifty. I hope the whole will go up to five hundred or more. I stand amazed. I can think nothing but, 'I am a miserable sinner.' The glorious God has gone before us in mercy. For two or three years our village was going down; we were at variance and in trouble; but Immanuel has met us with a blessing, a hundred fold beyond our expectation. It is the beginning of a great work for future generations. I know that the joy of heaven is awakened in the joy of blessed Mr. Stocking and Mr. Stoddard. I want to fly to them and talk with them about it, but this veil does not allow it. You, too, will want to fly to the people that are so dear to you. I trust that this pouring out of such a spirit will be the door of many blessings. We have had a scarcity for seven years, so that wheat is six times its former price. Our people are poor and sorely oppressed. From the depths of their poverty they have given: I never knew them before. If all were Christians, what might we not see? Perhaps the poor widows and orphans, who have contributed for our good, have been discouraged; but truly their gifts have not been sown in vain among our people. I believe at the last day you will see fruit according to the word of Jesus—thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. The time is not far off when every converted Nestorian will go to ten Mussulmen to teach them the word of God.
"Pray for us more than ever, for many are the enemies of Nehemiah and ruined Jerusalem. Our hope is in God. He has begun, and he will finish."
The pledges then made have since been fulfilled, with very few exceptions, and that not regretfully, but with a heartiness truly affecting to those who knew their poverty. In July, 1861, the mission resolved to furnish no teacher for a school—except in new villages—where a part of his support was not assumed by the people. The Barandooz congregation, in the spring of 1862, cheerfully assumed the burden of their schools; and some have also expressed a readiness to aid in the support of their pastors. A number of pupils, in both Seminaries, contribute liberally towards their support.
In bringing to a close these glimpses of the changes wrought by grace among the Nestorians, we must not pass by the number of pious parents who now aid the missionaries by their prayers. While, in the early days of the Seminary, its teacher was left to pray alone for her pupils, before she left, in 1858, she rejoiced to know that two thirds of them had either a pious parent, or other member of the family, who prayed for their salvation,
One cold morning, in 1856, a pious mother walked three miles through the snow, to inquire if there was any interest in the school. "Why do you ask?" replied the teacher. "I have thought of you continually for two or three days; and last night, after falling asleep, thinking about you, I dreamed that God was visiting you by his Holy Spirit. So, when I awoke, I arose and baked, and hurried here. I am so anxious about my daughter! Can I see her?" She was told that her daughter was among the inquirers the evening before, and sank down where she stood, weeping for joy. The heart of the teacher grew strong in the feeling that the mothers were wrestling with her. The mother passed into an adjoining room to see her daughter; and a missionary brother, who came in just then, could not restrain his tears as he listened to her earnest intercessions, saying, "This is more to me than any thing I have seen in Persia." After that year, some parents, when they came to the Seminary, were never willing to leave till they had prayed with their children. A father once wrote, "Yesterday I invited some Christian friends to my house, and had three prayers offered for the school; and while praying for you, we felt our own sins very much, and cried to God to save us from their power."
Nor were the pupils wanting in interest for their impenitent parents. During the long vacation in 1850, Hanee, who used to spend several hours a day in prayer for her mother, so pressed her with entreaties to come to the Saviour, that one day she roughly replied, "Enough! Enough! Stop your praying and weeping for me: you will weep yourself blind." "O mother," was the beautiful reply, "it seems as though I would gladly become blind, if thereby you might be brought to Jesus."
Perhaps the effects of grace were nowhere more conspicuous than in the effects it produced in those great households already described. Let us first look in on the hinderances they occasioned to a life of piety. Yonan writes, in his journal of March 7, 1858, "Widow Hatoon is a devout woman, and tries to erect the family altar in her house; but it is very difficult. She often collects the readers in the neighborhood on Sabbath morning, to read the Bible with her family. I asked her, 'Do you pray with your children? They have no father; they are left in your hands, and God will require them of you again.' 'I do; but I find it very hard in our house: we are all in one room, our beds very near each other, and there is no separate chamber: when about to retire, I gather them together behind a quilt, and talk and pray with them.'"
Again he writes, "Hatoon, the wife of Sarhoosh, is a member of a large family. Three of the women in the house, and one of their husbands, fear God; but the older members of the household are very wicked, and even violent in their opposition. She is much troubled about family prayer. While the devout ones engage in worship at one end of the room, the rest, at the other end, talk, laugh, and revile."
Yet, even in such households, grace reveals its divine power. We find Yonan putting this question to a communicant: "Do you and M. live pleasantly together?" M. was her sister-in-law, in a household of more than thirty souls. "She is a little quick tempered," was the reply; "but I try not to trouble her, and to have our love perfect that we may be a good example to the rest." Yonan prayed with her, and asked if he could do any thing for her relatives. "Dear brother in Christ," she replied, "in the name of the Lord Jesus, our precious Saviour, I beg you to pray with my husband: it maybe God will bless him." "My sister, God will bless him: this your anguish shall be turned into joy." "My own heart was moved," adds the narrator. "I saw my own love very little, compared with hers, and felt my unworthiness very much."
The change in their social condition was beautifully illustrated by a little incident in the Seminary, in 1849. One of the older pupils had been betrothed; but when the ring of betrothal was brought, to be placed on her finger, she could not be found. After long search, her gentle voice was heard in the most retired part of the building, imploring the blessing of God to abide with her in that new relation. Only those who had seen the rioting and folly common on such occasions could appreciate the change.
The marriage of Mar Yohanan, in 1859, was a step in the work of lifting up woman to her true position. Formerly, marriage had been deemed something too unholy for a bishop; and the consequence was the general degradation of the sex. The entrance of the gospel corrected public sentiment on this point; and that act of the bishop only gave expression to the popular conviction that marriage is honorable in all, even the highest and holiest, nurturing some of the loveliest graces of the Christian character. The event for a time caused some stir among the enemies of the truth; but it soon died away, and the old ascetic views of piety are passing away with the social degradation in which they had their origin.
About the same time Yohanan, whom we have seen laboring in the mountains with his estimable wife, was ordained to the work of the ministry without any of the mummeries that had been added to the simple usage of the New Testament; the venerable Mar Elias uniting with the missionaries in the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Two months later, six more of the most pious and best educated young men, who had long deferred ordination through aversion to the old forms, followed his example; among them our mountain friend Oshana, Deacon John, of Geog Tapa, and Deacon Yakob, of Sapergan. Marriage ceremonies and entertainments have long been improved, and the revelling of former days on such occasions is going into deserved disuse among the more enlightened.
In the year 1858, the people of Memikan left off keeping their fasts, on the ground that they tended to nullify salvation by grace through Jesus Christ. Formerly this would have brought down on them, the wrath of the patriarch, their village would have been devoted to plunder and the torch, and themselves to death or exile; but now it caused scarce a ripple on the current of events—not that men did not see the drift of things, but they allowed it to have free course.
There is another sign of the times that calls for more special mention. Other missions in Western Asia had been forced by persecution to the early formation of churches. They had to provide a fold for the lambs driven from their former shelter. Here there had been no such necessity; yet the converts longed for a more spiritual observance of gospel ordinances.
The mission had hitherto celebrated the Lord's supper by themselves, and with one or two exceptions, no Nestorian had witnessed its observance. There had been some thought of admitting them; but nothing had been done, till, in the spring of 1854, three of the converts, who had been reading an English treatise on the subject, asked one of the ladies of the mission to intercede with the gentlemen to allow them to be present. She informed Mr. Stoddard of their request, and he encouraged them to go forward. The matter was laid before the mission, and it was concluded that a few of those judged most fit for admission to the ordinance should be invited to partake.
The first communion to which the converts were admitted was celebrated in September, 1854, in the large room on the lower floor of the Female Seminary. Eleven Nestorians partook with the missionaries, and three of them were women, who had graduated there. After the service, some of the men went up stairs and sat down without speaking. Miss Fiske, not knowing the cause of their silence, and fearing lest they might have been disappointed by the simplicity of our forms, did not venture to allude to the subject, till one of them asked, "Is it always, so when you commune, or was this an unusual occasion?" "Why, did you not enjoy it?" "Not enjoy it! Jesus Christ himself seemed almost visibly present; it was difficult to realize that it was not the Saviour in person who presided at the table. It must have been just such a scene when the ordinance was first instituted in Jerusalem; and I could not get rid of the inquiry, 'Shall one of us go out like Judas and betray him?'" It is a significant fact that those most accustomed to mediaeval forms, when regenerated by the Spirit, relish them the least; and the more spiritual they become, the more they crave the simple forms of the New Testament, because they draw the least attention to themselves, and fix it most completely on the Saviour.
In January, 1855, as many as seventy of the converts, after careful examination, were allowed to partake; and once every four months the privilege was renewed, with an accession of from twelve to thirty communicants each time. These were occasions of unusual interest. Several days were devoted to religious meetings, and even in midwinter pious people made long journeys, and crossed bleak mountains on the snow, to attend them. One woman, Hoimar, of Salmas, travelled sixty miles, through deep snow and piercing cold, to be present at this ordinance in January, 1858. [Footnote 1: See page 171.]
In June of that year, the better to distinguish those entitled to this privilege, before the sacrament all entered together into solemn covenant with God. The whole number received up to that time was two hundred and forty-nine; at the close of 1861, it had swelled to five hundred. As the meetings became too unwieldy, and it was inconvenient for so many to come so far, the ordinance was administered at Seir also, in September, 1858; and here providentially another end was secured, for as Dr. Wright was then too sick to distribute the elements, some of the natives had to perform that service. In June following, a very interesting communion was observed at Memikan; Yohanan and his wife crossing a high mountain, even then covered with snow, to bring their little child for baptism. Next year, the ordinance was celebrated in every village where there was a sufficient number of hopeful converts to justify its observance. Thus has God led his people, step by step, in a way that they knew not, till now there are all the essentials of a church at every place where God has raised up members of the body of Christ. They enter into covenant with him and with each other. They keep his ordinances, and grow in grace, in knowledge, and in numbers. They may take one step farther. Since this last sentence was written, the converted Nestorians have proceeded even to the adoption of a creed and directory for worship.
Did the limits of this volume allow, it would be pleasant to dwell at length on the labors of Miss Mary Susan Rice, who joined Miss Fiske in November, 1847, and has ever since toiled diligently, and without interruption, at her post. Since the return of Miss Fiske she has entered into all her labors, both thoroughly and successfully. Her fifteen years of toil will never be forgotten by those who have been privileged to receive her instructions, both in and out of the Seminary. They form an important part of the instrumentalities God has employed to bring woman in Persia to the knowledge of her Saviour. A mass of her correspondence now lies before the writer, which he has read with much interest; but to quote from it would only be, reproducing scenes already portrayed. It is not necessary to describe the laying of each course of brick in the walls of the spiritual temple.
One sentence, however, now arrests my eye, which I must quote, because it shows how the Saviour was preparing her for the sole care of the school, that has devolved on her ever since, owing to the protracted illness of Miss Aura J. Beach, who was sent out to her assistance in February, 1860. Writing to her predecessor, three years ago, she says, "O, what a relief to roll the burdens, which we cannot bear, upon the strong arm outstretched to help, and feel that, like sinking Peter, we shall be sustained amid raging billows!"
Labor among the Nestorians is becoming more assimilated to labor at home. Instead of the national peculiarities conspicuous at the outset, different from our own, and prominent because so different, things begin to move in familiar orbits, because they set out from similar conditions and tend to like results. In proportion as the gospel advances in its work, the distinguishing characteristics of a people fall into the background, to give place to those spiritual features common to the work of grace in every land. The river is most picturesque high up among the mountains, while its stream is yet small and many obstacles oppose its course; after it glides out from among the hills into the open plain, it moves with larger volume, but in a more monotonous current, to the sea.
May the work of God advance, till this unity of all nations in Jesus Christ shall every where replace the diversity and hostility under which to-day creation groans, till in the placid surface of such a river of life the Saviour shall see his own image reflected, as it is from the sea of glass above!