“The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it” (Ps 68:11).
It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I accede to the request of other and more competent brethren to write on this subject. Some might question my use of the word trepidation and assert that there should be no hesitation or qualms where the Word of God is concerned. My hesitation is due, rather, to the fact that an article of this nature has to do with the service of others and, in this matter, it is quite clear that each servant stands or falls to his own, (in this case her own,) master.
It would be most unfortunate should anyone who reads this article conclude that it is written in a spirit of censure. It would be impossible to do other than praise those noble women who, in many areas, have been the instruments of God used sigually for the blessing of His work and His people. Every man that has gone forth in the Lord’s name, taking nothing of the gentiles, accompanied by a wife that shares his exercise of heart, has cause daily to thank God for her.
Who can evaluate the importance of a godly woman who, by example as well as precept, has honored the Lord and upheld scriptural principles? Many have done this in the midst of discomfort, difficulty, distress, and op position, at times in penury and (most difficult of all) despite misunderstanding and lack of appreciation on the part of her own brethren? Many have left a comfortable living to live for years at a much lower social level among the people that they serve, often without amenities that are commonplace for those at home.
Those who enjoy the comforts of home, whose whole lives have been lived within the confines of their own culture, who have never ever gone for a visit to a third world country, cannot begin to understand the many, varied, and often dangerous circumstances which confront those who have gone abroad to serve the Lord. In all probability they have never heard the expression, “culture shock,” nor can they begin to estimate the difficulties involved in adjusting to a new way of life. That such a great company of those designated the “weaker vessel” have done so, should be a sufficient reproof to those complacent brethren who, without concern, have “tarried by the stuff” at home.
Difficulties as to a single sister’s commendation have been created by those sisters that adapt to current norms as portrayed in news bulletins and magazines. According to the many photographs published, it is becoming rare to see a sister, in work abroad, unadorned and with long hair. The more common attitude is towards worldliness with a liberal use of cosmetics. Many such women, when at home, desire to become public speakers. Responsible brethren, who have willingly supported the work in different areas, hesitate to support a young sister whose exercise would lead her into association with such a work. They feel, rightly, that the maintenance of godly standards is of prime importance. A work that is not marked by spiritual characteristics will probably find that there is a lack of interest at home.
Like Phebe, a succourer of many (Rom 16:1,2), sisters have given themselves to selfless service on behalf of others. The word succourer, according to the definition given by Moulton and Milligan, combines the ideas of providing and protecting. Some have understood this in the light of Luke 8:2,3, where “certain women. . .ministered to Him of their substance.” That Phebe’s work was not confined to women is seen by Paul’s comment, “a succourer of many, and of myself also.”
“Receive her,” also bears the meaning of “welcome her.” This is clearly seen in other references where the same word is used. The reception given to the sinner was a hospitable one (Luke 15:2), and that to Epaphroditus (Phil 2:29) a joyful one. The word “assist”, is translated “stand by” (Acts 27:23 and 2 Tim 4:17). In both these in-stances the apostle was passing through difficult circumstances and the Lord stood by His servant. In Phebe’s case it was necessary that the saints should stand by her.
A young sister that has the confidence of her elder brethren, commended to a work abroad, takes with her a letter in keeping with Paul’s commendation of Phebe (Rom 16:1). It commends her to the Christian fellowship and care of the local assembly in the area where she intends to reside and states the purpose of her going, giving details of her qualifications for the work, whether of a medical or educational nature. Her exercise brings her into an existing work where responsible brethren receive her hospitably and where she becomes an integral and appreciated part of the whole. This reception, which is not merely the reading of a letter in public, assures a young woman of a large measure of security in a difficult age when women generally are vulnerable and exposed.
No sister thus commended is guaranteed payment of any kind for her work. She lives on the principle of faith, looking to the Lord to meet her needs. Commending brethren should be aware of the precarious situation of a young sister in such circumstances, taking into account that a sister does not move from assembly to assembly, neither while abroad nor at home, as do preachers and teachers. The work in which she is engaged will probably incur costs far beyond her own personal needs. The fact that she has relinquished a good position and salary at home is sufficient proof of her selfless interest in promoting a work for the glory of God. Godly sisters of this caliber should be constantly reminded of the affectionate consideration and practical care of all those who know her.
Single sisters do yeoman service in their own field, whether as doctors, nurses, or teachers. In remote areas, alone, with few resources and few to take an interest, sisters have often served far beyond the “call of duty.” Like Phebe, they went “not to be ministered unto, but to minister” and many have given freely all that they could give, even to the extent of losing health itself. Whether in medical or school work they have earned for themselves the affection and enduring appreciation of the people they serve. There has not always been a corresponding appreciation on the part of those at home.
True, all such work is of a secondary nature though it be carried on in full fellowship with a spiritual work already established by those who “labor in the Word and doctrine.” Born out of needs and pressures not known at home, all such endeavor has been a necessary corollary of the gospel and a living manifestation of Christian charity. In the areas of health and education, the roles that sisters so competently fulfill are subservient to the preaching of the gospel and the teaching of “all things, whatsoever I have commanded you. Sisters, conscious of this, have upheld and commended the clear teaching of the Word by their dress, demeanor, and presentation in public. Unconsciously they have become “role models” for a young generation of Christians of different ethnic and cultural background and have left an indelible imprint on the spiritual aspect of the work they represent. Only the Lord can assess the value of such work and give an adequate recompense.
In developing nations, services of a medical and an educational nature have been, and probably still are, necessary, though the panorama is changing in some areas. The first departments for which governments tend to assume responsibility are Health and Education so that the needs for such services may be diminishing.
Sisters, their Place in Service
It may be interesting to consider the following, a true account of a very appreciated sister who served the Lord in Venezuela, and is now with the Lord. She came from Ontario, Canada, and had the great privilege of being saved early in life. A graduate school teacher, she formed convictions early in life that she would carry throughout life, until, at the age of 92, she passed as she had lived, quietly and unobtrusively, into the Lord’s presence.
She belonged to a more robust generation, not composed of “milk and water” Christians. It was a virile generation that still sent out genuine pioneers, both men and women, to distant parts of the world. Their philosophy was simple – as Christians gathered in the name of the Lord, you “nailed your colors to the mast” and kept moving forward in spite of all opposition.
During the years of the First World War, Mr. Albert Joyce and other brethren, who later became leaders in assembly testimony in Canada, were imprisoned by the Canadian government. They were conscientious objectors, and were sent by rail from Toronto, with the stigma of being traitors to their nation. She was one of many that gathered that day in the railway station to sing hymns and identify fully with those dear men. She was not ashamed of what she believed.
She reached Venezuela in 1924 to join Miss Eva Watson who, in 1919, had founded the Colegio Evangelico. This work was necessary, due to the fact that at that time Roman Catholic influence sought to debar the children of believing parents from an education. Currently there is an effort to introduce the teaching of the Catholic Church as obligatory in all schools; hence the importance of maintaining this work.
When, in the 30’s, a signal work of grace was accomplished in Falcon State, a second school was opened and, in 1936, our dear sister moved in to take charge of that work. An early photograph shows her to be an attractive, alert, intelligent young woman of godly characteristics. In holiday periods she maintained links with the work in Puerto Cabello, but while in school in El Mene her only contact with others was by telegraph.
Travel at that time in Venezuela was most difficult and the journey from the Port to El Mene sometimes occupied a week. It wasn’t every day that a sailboat crossed the bay from the Port to Tucacas and several days could be lost waiting for a crossing. From there, Thomas and Freddy, brethren from the British Antilles, would help her as far as Sanare, crossing a large plain often inundated by water. There, she would have to wait for some passing truck that would take her as far as Boca de Tocuyo, where she would often pass the night. Her telegram to El Mene would bring brethren with animals, usually donkeys, to take her in once more to her “field of service”.
Her work in El Mene, which in each Cole gio Evangelico involves daily instruction in the Bible, confirmed the work there and contributed to the salvation of many who passed through the school. Those who were taught by her and are now in assembly fellowship speak with great affection of “la senorita Edith,” even as they speak of her successor “la senorita Marta.” Her loneliness and isolation involved times of privation and need, known also by those who followed her steps.
The men that had encouraged her to set foot on Venezuelan soil were not careless as to her situation and needs, but the 30’s were notorious as a period of world depression and “fellowship,” at best, was intermittent. They themselves, working together, cognizant of the needs of the work and the difficulties of communication, could not always help. Men of pioneer caliber, they quietly, among themselves, admitted that Miss Edith Gulston had known more privation and need than any other, though each one had his own repertoire of difficult times of testing. Mr. William Williams, not verbose in his praise of others though not lacking in it either, called her “the Mary Slessor of Venezuela.”
She was old when a new need arose in connection with the work. Mrs. Sidney (Eleanor) Saword, a qualified nurse, had attended on a personal basis to the needs of many saints that required nursing care. In 1958, Mr. and Mrs. Saword commenced a new work, thereafter to be known as the Hogar Evanglico para Ancianos, (Home for the Aged), which would attend to those older saints in need. Most of those cared for in this work have very little or nothing to contribute. The work accepts nothing from the Government, being supported solely by the assemblies. From the be ginning, Miss Gulston took charge of this new work very ably, supported by Miss Doris White (now Rees) who had a doctorate in nursing but who, for health reasons, was not able to continue in Venezuela.
In her closing years, retired from the arduous work of the Hogar, she moved with Miss Fanny Goff to the small town of San Esteban where there is an assembly. Small at that time, this work was built up in large part through the visitation work carried on by these two elderly sisters. Much in the life of this godly sister remains unknown and much has been forgotten, but “the day will declare it.” This truth cheers each heart that has had the privilege of serving a faithful Lord in the great harvest field.
Self sacrificing and hospitable, “aunt Edith,” as she was known to many, was highly respected by all who knew her. Humble-minded and self-effacing, she never stood on a platform in any part of the world to tell an audience of believers about herself and her work. Very many devoted and capable sisters around the world, of similar conviction, form a coterie of outstanding women. Of special caliber, they have counted the cost of doing a work of high merit while remaining largely unknown even among assemblies gathered in the Lord’s name.
In all probability the majority of those who read this article have never heard the name of this gentle heroine of the faith. Her work, as to its general characteristics of godliness, devotedness to God and to His word, self-sacrifice and self-effacement, her faithfulness to the end, epitomizes the work of many sisters in many lands. They have been exposed to dangers, have known need of every kind, have served selflessly, yet have not received the care and consideration they deserve.
It was a privilege to know Miss Edith Gulston, and it’s not difficult to acknowledge her superior worth.