Saturday, October 19, 2013

October 12, 1925 - Niangara

In which Ralph and Coralee share some stories of the field, and discuss the difficulties of dealing with doctrinal, personal and political differences within the mission. 


October 12, 1925

Dear Home-folks,
Today we had a good stack of letters come to us, and among them letters from you, besides about a dozen birthday cards for Coralee, so you see this was a red letter day for us. Getting a bunch of letters from home like that is like going on a good spree – it’s great while it lasts, but oh, the morning after, when your conscience and your wife urges you to make up for it by writing back. I’m in that stage now, so I hope you will give me your sympathy. [Personal portion redacted.]

First of all I must send a vote of thanks to those concerned for the packages that have arrived recently. These include wool shirts and socks, shoes and khaki trousers for myself, and shoes, stockings, khaki outfit for Coralee, besides various toilet articles, and CANDY for both of us. Everything was splendid, and arrived in perfect condition. The shoes were large as you feared, but by adding a generous wad of cotton to the end of my toes, and adopting a modified Charlie Chaplin gait, I find them very comfortable. They came none too soon too, for the only other things I had with me were some white canvas shoes and your old army boots, so you can be sure the shoes were most welcome. The heavy shirts too are just great and have been put to good use already on trek. No comments are necessary about the candy – we’ll leave that to your imagination.

Chief Manziga
Since returning from Aba to Niangara(1) I have had some very good times out on trek with Whitermore. We visited the territory of the three big Azande chiefs of the Niangara district north of the Uele River(2) and were well received nearly everywhere, although at one place we received our first experience of open opposition by Roman Catholics. But no matter, we have good reason to believe that some souls were saved, and so came away happy. Incidentally, we had some experiences with bikes at which we can laugh – now! On the first day out we fixed 11 punctures in one and 6 in another of Whitermore's tires and 4 or 5 in mine. These were chiefly due to thorns and long sharp grass seeds, for we were riding through tall grass country. A few days later, as we were nearing our destination for that day, the village of a great chief, Manziga (3); I had a blowout which entirely ruined my back tire. We had been travelling along a circular route and were nearing Niangara, so that at this time we were about twenty miles from home. I thought I would have to walk home, but this chief is the possessor of the only horse in many miles around - about the second one I have seen in Congo– and he offered to let me ride him home. This steed was a young stallion that shied at every little thing including my glasses, and so it was with some misgivings that I climbed aboard and set sail for home. A boy ran ahead to take the horse back and all went well until we arrived at a river about three miles from home, when the boy explained that the water was too high for the horse to get across (some ship!). I knew I could never coax the beast into a canoe, and so I had to walk – secretly glad of the rest it would afford me. [Personal portion redacted.]

Next time you have to go to the dentist don’t kick if your machine (automobile)  is not working and you have to wait for a street car. Recently it became necessary for me to see a dentist in order to avoid losing one of my front teeth. The dentist is about 90 miles away at Poko. As there is a motor road between Niangara and Poko we are not allowed to travel with porters, and the round trip by motor truck costs about $45.00, the trucks go only about once a week and you have to sleep somewhere on the road to wait for another truck to transfer to in order to get to Poko. So the only thing left to do was to go by bicycle without porters. Fortunately the road was fairly good so that I could make it in two days each way, and got back to Niangara within a week after starting. The dentist said that if I had waited another week the tooth would very likely have been lost. So you see we are lucky to be able to get to a dentist at all. Curiously, when I was on the way there and still a few hours out I met a runner with a letter for me from the dentist. There was a native on the station who had had an acute abdominal condition for about six days, another with a badly infected hand, and a number of others who needed attention, and so they wanted me to come to Poko for these cases as soon as possible. They figured that Coralee would come with me and by motor, and I suppose they thought that since we were Americans a little thing like $90 for the trip wouldn't faze us a bit. Anyway, they were mighty much surprised to see me pop in the day after their runner had left to call me for it takes a fast runner four days to get to Niangara, and of course they didn't know that I had come for my teeth. The man with the abdominal trouble had died a few hours before my arrival, but the other patients still needed attention and so did my teeth, so the trip was well worthwhile, and I was mighty glad there was a dentist within reach.

[Personal portion redacted.] You know that ever since we have been on the field (not that we started it) there has been some sort of trouble or other, both on the field and among the home committees as well. During our stay in Ibambi we had ample opportunity to learn lots of things about this work, its methods or rather lack of method, and its director, that you don’t read about in the magazine. When the trouble with Lowder [4]was on, we were new out and did not understand the whole situation and were shown things chiefly from Mr.Studd’s viewpoint. Now, while we do not agree in the least with the method of Lowder’s attack and believe he did some very unwise if not unkind things at that time, yet we have learned that he had some very good reasons for some of the criticisms he made of the work. We admire Mr. Studd for the great work he has done and the sacrifices he has made, but we have seen another side of him which makes it very difficult to work with him to say the least. He boasts that the Holy Spirit alone is the Guide and Leader of this work, and speaks often of humility, yet I know of no one more domineering and self-willed than he. If anyone dares disagree with him he is a marked man and sooner or later feels that he is not wanted. If he is bested in an argument a favorite method is to resort to sneering sarcasm. And so I could go on at length, but I know it is an easy matter to talk of someone else’s faults, while there are plenty of our own that need to be eradicated; yet I am not doing this for the pleasure of the gossip, but because you need to see the other side of the picture if you are to understand what I am trying to get at.

We used to argue a little about a certain question of doctrine (5)  in Ibambi, but soon realized the truth of the fact that there is little profit in arguing doctrinal points (except for the study it stimulates) and so rested content with making known our conviction and letting it go at that. Incidentally, Mr. Studd once wrote a letter to the American Council in which he made a sort of masked reference to this point, and so I and some others wrote them explaining our stand on the question, (and our view was directly opposite to Mr. Studd’s) and we all received the reply that if we had not believed as we did, the American Council would never have sent us out to the field. But the real point is that once one openly disagrees with Mr. Studd on this question the person who disagrees soon feels that he is unwelcome, senses a lack of real cordiality in his relations with Mr. Studd and certain of his disciples, and before long finds himself in a back seat, so to speak, as regards his position on the field. This has been true not of ourselves only but in the case of at least six other Americans as well.

That is one point. Another is this. The conviction has been growing on us gradually that the Field Director is not over-keen about having a real honest-to-goodness medical work on the field. At least he has lent little or no assistance in establishing that sort of thing. He is glad enough to have a doctor on the field who will run all over the show to see sick missionaries, and then be content to limit his station work to a simple superficial type of work because of lack of proper equipment – housing particularly. There seems to be a sort of deadly fear out here of having anything good, for fear it will not look enough like sacrifice, or perhaps that it will seem too much like we are settling down permanently in one place, or some such idea. Now I’m not speaking about our own house or food or clothing, but when it comes to caring for sick folks it seems to me that the best you can get is none too good. But to suggest a brick building here, for instance, comes near to rank heresy. About six weeks ago we wrote to Mr. Studd that we would return from Aba to Niangara on a certain date and that we would await word from him as to when to return to our proper work. We have now been back in Niangara – the only station in the mission where a doctor is NOT needed since there is a government doctor here – we have been back here for over a month and have never had a word as to when to leave. This in itself, it seems to us, is one indication of how much our services are wanted. I forgot to mention that as soon as we reached the field we were promised a better building for the medical work, but whenever the subject was brought up later there was always some evasion. The present building when only a year old was so dirty and leaky that it was hardly fit for natives to sleep in much less to operate in; and so all operations or special treatments had to be done in our own house. I believe that the work of a nurse and doctor out here is not exclusively medical to be sure, but I also believe that the better and more efficiently the medical part is done the greater will be the opportunity to reach the native who would not otherwise come in to hear the Gospel. Even the news that a motorcycle was on the way met with very little enthusiasm, to put it mildly.

Another little source of irritation is the spirit of petty jealousy toward Americans on the part of some of our English friends. Many of them seem to have the idea that if one is American he is almost sure to have lots of money. This is a small thing it’s true, but it is just one of the things that help to make the American feel that he is not welcome. It seems too bad that mere difference in nationality should be so keenly felt in a place like this, but we can’t get away from the fact of it. I remember that before we left home some of you expressed the fear that we might run into something like this; since then we have learned that you were right. [Personal portion redacted.] Thus far there have been no difficulties whatever with the American Council, even though Miss Brandon (6) and, I believe, one other are English. We have experienced nothing but genuine love and loyalty toward us on their part and cannot speak too highly of the splendid way in which they have stood by us and helped us in every way. But we are afraid that even they do not have a correct conception of the real conditions out here. If they did, I believe there would be many resignations.

Well, we could go on raving like this all evening, but what’s the use? Just let us say this, we are not the only ones who feel like this. The Pontiers are going home after three years of service, and they are going to resign as soon as they reach home and get a chance to explain matters to the Council. One of the new candidates in America, who had already had her farewell meeting, has already resigned, and the other has been delayed from sailing because of the illness of a relative, and is expected by friends out here to resign too. The Whitermores and the Kiesslings are also “fed up”, and are speaking of resigning, although they have taken no definite steps as yet. The Kirks, who are home on furlough, told the council that they too would not return to the field unless radical changes were made out here first. They were assured that better times were coming and so have tentatively withheld their resignation. Hipp, according to latest reports, still contemplates returning to the field after his furlough, in spite of the treatment he received here. And now as for us – what would you say? At present we can only say this, that we too feel very much inclined to resign from the mission, although we don’t feel that the right moment to take this action has arrived just yet. We may wait here another month and then if Mr. Studd doesn’t send us word as to where to go we will probably return to Ibambi on our own responsibility and then resign. However our minds are not fully made up; we just want to prepare you for what may happen. Then comes the question as to what we would do next in case we did resign. Two possibilities present themselves. One is to go home and begin life all over again; the other is to apply for admission to another mission out here. The latter course seems to both of us as the right one, and if we did this there is practically only one mission that we could consider, the Africa Inland Mission. (The South Africa General Mission, and Sudan Interior Mission are British, and most of the denominational missions are squabbling over the question of modernism and fundamentalism and seem unstable at the present time.) This (AIM) appeals to us particularly because we happen to have seen something of its work and people during six weeks stay at Aba, because of their need of medical workers and their attitude toward medical work, and because they are at least chiefly American and have the good sense to keep American and English separated on their own stations. Furthermore, we saw that a real soul-saving work was going on at Aba. On the other hand, we are not blind to the fact that they also have had serious internal troubles in the past, and so may yet have in the future, and we also recognize the fact that we would not necessarily be stationed at Aba should we be accepted, and that all stations might not be like Aba to work on. Yet we know that the spirit and methods of the A.I.M. are far nearer to our ideals than those of the H.A.M. But all these things are as yet only vague speculations of the future and so need not be enlarged on now.

{Personal portion redacted.] And now for a little bit of more interesting news. While at Poko I heard a faint rumor that my motorcycle is now at Buta, a little over 200 miles from here. On the strength of this, I have written to Buta asking that it be forwarded immediately to Niangara, and so it’s possible that I will have it within a few weeks. Incidentally, while at the Poste I inquired as to the price of gasoline and learned that it was about $1.75 per gallon! Lubricating oil 50¢ a lb. So you see, with a combined family income of $34.00 a month, and sugar at 30¢ per lb., inferior canned butter $1.00 per lb., poor flour at 50 lbs. for $10.00, and sweetened condensed milk 45¢ per can equivalent to one quart when diluted, there will be very little “joy-riding” around the country on the Indian! No wonder travel in a motor truck costs 25¢ per mile. Of course we don’t live on these things exclusively, but they are more necessary at Niangara than elsewhere because things like chickens, eggs, and other native products are very hard to get here.

Please note change in directions for sending packages.  It is now cheaper as well as quicker to send them via the Nile rather than the Congo river route, so please address future packages as follows: Niangara, Cairo, Rejaf and Aba, c/o Metaxis & Macris. Letters should be Niangara, via Cairo, Rejaf and Aba, but of course not “c/o Metaxis & Macris”. Thus they will reach us quickly no matter what part of the H.A.M. territory we may (be) in, and also in case we should go to the A.I.M. The reason that it is now cheaper is because transportation along the Nile route has been very greatly increased recently, and now parcel post service comes all the way through to Aba, and is expected to soon come through to Niangara. This will eliminate all handling charges of agents and the only charges on our end will be for duty, which is usually small compared to handling charges. When we say that it is cheaper to send this way now we mean cheaper at this end, i.e. for us. It is best to still include on packages “c/o Metaxis & Macris” because parcel post is not yet actually established as far as Niangara but only as far as Aba, and so for the time being M&M would have to handle parcels from Aba to Niangara. On the other hand, there is no harm in doing so, for in case Parcel Post does come through to Niangara, the order “c/o M&M” will be automatically ignored and parcels sent through by the postal service exclusively.

Now to answer a suggestion of yours in your last letter. Your scheme for getting questions answered is a grand one and shows real business genius, and we will be very glad to contribute our part, of course leaving out the “two-bits” feature. Meanwhile I have already answered one question which might be on the minds of some, showing that gasoline – or petrol, or essence, according to whether you are speaking American, English, or French – is after all to be classed among the precious minerals.

Another question that might still be a cause of anxiety to some concerns our fierce struggles with wild and ferocious beasts. During the past eighteen months I have personally seen four crocodiles, the noses of three hippopotami, one antelope, snakes, monkeys, and parrots. They all fled in mortal terror at sight of my face! The following are typical of our experience and acquaintance with leopards, buffalo, and elephants. A few weeks ago while on trek, we slept at a village to which a headman had moved because his own village had been destroyed by elephants. Travelling the next day, we neared this old village and ran across very fresh elephant tracks in the path. Soon we came upon a woman working in a field who said that three elephants had passed by during the night and were now down at the stream just a little beyond. We wanted to go down to have a peep at them but the black men with us turned pale at mention of it, and so as our path happened to turn at a right angle just there, we followed our path rather than our noses or inclinations. At another village a few days later, the chief informed us that he had killed an elephant eight days previously. This time we “followed our noses” and found the elephant, several huge baskets-full of him all nicely cut up into four-inch cubes of the consistency of a balloon tire. At the next village when about ready to go to bed, we heard two shots and rushed out to see the excitement, only to learn that two of the chief’s “soldiers” had shot at a leopard that was prowling around the chief’s house. At midnight I was awakened by a most peculiar throaty noise just outside our rest-house. As I stirred slightly, I heard the thud of heavy paws scampering away, and lighting a lantern went out to investigate and found the tracks of what was probably the leopard which had made its appearance earlier. A few days ago Whitermore heard that there were hippos a few hours up the river, so he went up in a canoe with some natives to investigate.  He saw no hippos, but shot a crocodile, and then went on the trail of some water buck. Next morning he succeeded in shooting a large buck, as big as a mule, and so today we are going to enjoy some roast venison, thanks to Coralee and the steam cooker. All the boys and workmen are elated over their share of real animal to eat, and we are expecting that soon our supply of cathartics will be seriously invaded. The animal’s intestines were given to some women near the scene of the hunt, and they were overjoyed, for had they not received the near best part, next to the heart?

Well, now a part of my job has been completed, and you will notice that we have said nothing of our work, for at present we have no work. Hope we will have better news to report before very long.

With love,
Coralee and Ralph

  1. Approximately 200 miles.
  2. Uele River (a very large river)
  3. The reason for the lack of horses is disease, and expense related to keeping the horse healthy.    
  4. We cannot identify this missionary.
  5. My mother’s note on this letter: “C.T. Studd did not believe in the eternal security of the believer; Kleinschmidts and the others felt strongly that the Scriptures taught that a person’s salvation was eternal and depending on the integrity of God the Father not the frail strength of a man’s faith. EKM” This paragraph deals with the doctrinal difference. The paragraph following it deals with a procedural disagreement. 
  6. Another unidentified missionary. 

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