It has always impressed us as cause for great thankfulness that the Chinese authorities allow such unrestricted freedom for carrying on all kinds of mission work. This liberty is especially valuable where large crowds assemble, as at fairs and theatricals. To reach such large assemblies of people is a door of wondrous opportunity, the fullest advantage of which, it is to be feared, is by no means being taken.
"The importance of this work cannot be emphasized too strongly at the present time. It is a work that brings the heralds of the cross into immediate contact with multitudes composed of all classes, and even of both sexes, and free contact is the first essential to evangelization."
The importance of this work cannot be emphasized too strongly at the present time. It is a work that brings the heralds of the cross into immediate contact with multitudes composed of all classes, and even of both sexes, and free contact is the first essential to evangelization. An account of how this work has been carried on in one field, together with some of the results seen and lessons learned, may be of interest.
In North Honan there is a great annual fair which continues for fifteen days. It is idolatrous, and as it attracts six or eight hundred thousand persons annually, it seems to be a providential opening and a great opportunity. Since the chief deity is a goddess, large crowds of women are drawn to it, so much so, indeed, that an American traveller who was passing through was heard to exclaim: “I never saw so many Chinese women in my life.” To meet the opportunity offered by this fair a strong force of workers is sent every year; on one occasion the number, Chinese and Canadian, men and women, was no less than seventy-six. The men preached in five places daily and the women in two. Such work, it is felt, cannot fail to convince the people that Christianity is a living, aggressive force, and it is with this in view that the same work is carried on at the smaller local fairs, at one of which, to cite a single example, there were as many as six bands of workers—three of men and three of women. The Christian women now go freely to testify at fairs, and there have been times when additional valuable opportunities have been given them through invitations to heathen homes. If all classes of Chinese are to be reached, and that speedily, there can be no doubt that full advantage must be taken of this method of evangelizing. More than this: not only is contact gained with all classes, but through this method all parts of this vast empire can be reached. By fair, or theatre, or market the most inaccessible hamlet in the land can be influenced. Than this, then, there can be no readier method of carrying the Gospel to “every creature.”
The importance of this work is enhanced by the fact that many are in a more receptive mood than at other times. Religion is mixed up with the business or pleasure at most of these fairs and theatricals, and as many attend with the religious idea uppermost in the mind they are more apt to be arrested and startled by the proclamation of the truth. Some of the leading helpers and other Christians testify that their first interest in Christianity dates from fairs which they attended with a special religious object and at which they first heard the Gospel preached. A fact of an opposite nature that further enhances the importance of this work is that at such fairs the prevailing sins of China are openly and flagrantly committed. It is not necessary to go over the list; anyone who has attended a great fair, with eye and ear open, knows how many schools of iniquity are to be found there. And at such a time the preacher can call attention to these body and soul-destroying agencies with peculiar power.
Some results which might be mentioned are:
The cause and purpose of the living God are made widely known. Without any desire to disparage other methods of mission work it is believed that this kind of work has done more to extend a knowledge of the true God throughout North Honan than would have been possible in any other way. At one of the out-stations of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission there is a Christian merchant who, with his chief clerk and sons, goes from fair to fair throughout several counties, and at slack times, or when the rush of the day is over, his tent becomes a center of evangelism.
The fair becomes a training-school for preachers. As the best soldiers are made in actual warfare so we find that in the stress and strain of actual contact with the surging crowds some of the most effective preachers are produced. It is also a capital training-school for Christian laymen who are desirous of doing what they can to help spread the Gospel. For their own spiritual benefit, as well as for the good of the church—which needs assistance from many more than the regular helpers—the Christians everywhere are encouraged to band themselves together and testify at fairs and theatricals, even though there be no foreign leadership. In one case a band of twenty such Christian laymen carried on preaching services at a small country fair. This practice is sure to develop the preaching gift as well as confidence and joy in service.
The vast store of prejudice and misconception about the foreign missionary is undermined and eventually destroyed. This is a necessary object and one that cannot be attained where the missionary, like some sacred Buddha, sits inside his foreign residence, a place which, in too many cases, is forbidden ground to the rank and file of China. The missionary must come into contact with the people, and there is perhaps no place where he can be so quickly revealed to the Chinese as a creature of flesh and blood and with like passions as themselves as at these fairs. The people will soon see that he has to battle with self and sin as other people do, and through the power of human sympathy they will all the more readily hear of an almighty Savior from his lips.
Finally, it is safe to say that in North Honan this work has yielded more abundant fruit than has any other kind of mission work. There could be named at once many men and many centers throughout this field to whom the light first came through hearing the Gospel preached at fairs.
Experience has proven this to be a work that must be undertaken in other than haphazard ways if success is to be assured. A few of the vital lessons learned will, it is hoped, be of help to those about to engage in such work.
First, position is a very important thing. One must avoid blocking up thoroughfares and if possible get his back against a wall where he can stand as much rushing as the “other fellow.’’ The writer well remembers one occasion where he failed to take this precaution, and after being knocked about badly was forced ignominiously to quit the field in the midst of a fusillade of clods. A vacant lot, as near the center of things as one can be found, affords good vantage ground, or at times a large store may be rented, or a mat shed may be specially built. In North China, where the dust is so much in motion, a movable tent with seating capacity of several hundreds would, because of better work done, pay for itself in a single season.
Second, the selection of speakers is important. Some men were never meant to “hold” crowds at fairs. These should either be left at home or else be stationed at the book-stall to sell books. Also, there are times when it is best to give the second-rate speakers a rest and use only the best. The foreign missionary should ever aim to be second to none in holding a crowd.
Third, the matter of discourse is very vital. Some Chinese preachers can hold a crowd without preaching the Gospel. This does not pay; no one will be saved. There are occasions when it is necessary to exhort the Chinese brother to “give the idols a rest.” Or again, a missionary was once heard to say that it was necessary to have only one address when on tours. Surely such a man is to be pitied, especially after he has day by day repeated his one address for from fifty to a hundred times. So also are his Chinese companions to be pitied, for they can gain no possible inspiration from hearing the same discourse morning, noon and night throughout an entire tour. No, it will not do, and there is only one thing that will. Use that treasury of boundless store—the Bible, and by using a new portion of it every time one is as fresh and as eager to give the one hundred and first address as he was the first.
Fourth, good temper is essential. The matter of discourse may be of the best, and yet fail through the manner and bad temper of the speaker. Truly, there are many annoying things to contend with in this kind of work, but if a preacher is without sufficient grace to enable him to control himself in the presence of a crowd—in spite of rudeness, sneer, and insult— either he needs reviving himself or he has missed his calling.
Finally, and above all, the work cannot be a success unless it has the blessing of the Holy Spirit. In the beginning those men who turned the world upside down preached the word by the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. We fear that only too often we have been like one who “beateth the air.” The instruments are just as weak, the adversary is just as strong, and the human heart is just as hardened as when the disciples were told to wait for Him, who could convince “of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come.” One evening, while speaking was going on at the great fair mentioned above, the convicting power of the Spirit was so manifest that one of the Christians exclaimed: “This is like when Peter preached.” And again, the next night we saw evidences of His almighty power over almost the entire heathen audience. At the time there were about ten workers present, and after the address we retired to an inner room with them. All seemed awed. One of them said: “He for Whom we have so often prayed, is with us of a certainty to-night, but if we would retain His presence we must walk carefully.” Then each one prayed, and the prayers were remarkable for humility and thanksgiving. This illustrates the point. Victory is certain when we come into contact with the heathen crowds in the almighty power of the Holy Spirit.
After twenty years on the mission field my present personal conviction is strong that we ought to put more effort into this branch of the work, especially as the number of those saved in Christ is but a small portion of the vast Chinese multitude. The increase is slow, and that increase comes largely from families already within the church. The great need of the present is an aggressive evangelism like unto that in some parts of Korea or among the revived churches of Manchuria.—The Chinese Recorder, October, 1908, 543-547.