good books


Williamson, Mabel. (1957). Have We No Rights? 
Chicago: Moody Press. 126 pages.

Mabel Williamson began her calling as a missionary to China in 1934 with the China Inland Mission, now known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship.  Raised with the rights and values of an American citizen, she soon discovered the impossibility of exercising her rights because she had no rights!  The book is a journal that records her intrapersonal conflict and successful conflict management strategies when she encountered cross-cultural realities that upset her rights. 

The most difficult adjustment to make in a cross-cultural mission field according to the author is not having any rights and "having to give them up, every one, and that was the hardest thing of all"  (p. 9).  The sincerity of learning what it means to deny oneself and to take up his or her cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23) is put to a mission survival test.  She lists a number of rights a missionary and a tentmaker alike may have to give up on the mission field.  Each is illustrated from her personal experiences and the incidents she described may have changed but the experience of culture shock for every missionary or tentmaker cannot be denied.

The right to normal comforts of life becomes a myth on the mission field.  To what extent should cross-cultural mission workers conform to the locals' way of life and their standard of living?  Her advice is to begin giving up all rights to one's own standard of living before leaving for the field and "be ready contentedly to embrace, as far as possible, that of the people" where He sends them (p.21).  The principle aims to make it easier for the locals to accept His workers and to attract them naturally to His message of love through the Gospel.  The definition of dirt and cleanliness and its application to the right of the missionary's physical health and safety is presented in chapter 2. The straightforward advice of not using one's rules of hygiene to hinder the Gospel message but to "trust the One who sent us forth  to look after us"  (p. 31) is a principle lived out by the author. The question of guarding the missionary's private affairs is given this answer, "It is the foreigner in the strange land who has to adjust to the ways of that land" (p. 36). The response,  "My time belonged to the Lord, and it was up to Him to dispose of it" (p. 54) for those who defend the privacy to time (chapter 6).  And, "the One who does the choosing for us makes no mistakes" for those who defend the right to choose their own fellow workers (chapter 9).  The matter of romance and marriage is discussed in chapters 7 and 8.  The author gives a balanced picture of a married life and being single on the mission field.

The core factor underlying the strong desire to exercise personal rights in a foreign field is the claim to the right to feel superior (chapter 10) which experts in intercultural studies and research have labeled as "ethnocentrism."  This may lead to exercising the right to be a "pope" to the indigenous converts (chapter 11) which  the author and experts in missiology fear would deprive the building of indigenous churches and leadership because  "the greatest task of the missionary, the task of bringing the young church to the place where it can get along without us, the task of working ourselves out of a job!" (p. 123).   

The book is not a new publication but the struggles of the author as a missionary  more than half a century ago remain relevant today. One major difference is that cross-cultural training is available for missionaries and tentmakers today but training alone though necessary may not be sufficient.  Learning from her experiences and her understanding from God's perspective has many benefits for neophytes  who aim to do effective cross-cultural mission.  First, her experiences can be translated into a self-examination guide to test readiness for mission work.  Secondly, they can be developed into materials for cross-cultural training programmes.  The third benefit is to bring to the awareness of church leaders and members the need to be involved in missionary care to help reduce the attrition rate of missionaries.

The book is strongly recommended for every missionary and tentmaker to read to imitate Paul who willingly gave up his rights as an apostle for the sake of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ (I Corinthian 9).  To imitate the Apostle Paul is to follow the example of Christ as summarized in chapter 12:

He Had No Rights

He had no rights:

No right to a soft bed, and a well-laid table;
No right to a home of His own, a place where His  own pleasure might be sought;
No right to choose pleasant, congenial companions, those who could understand Him and sympathize with Him;
No right to shrink away from filth and sin, to pull His garments closer around Him and turn aside to walk in cleaner paths;
No right to be understood and appreciated; no, not by those upon whom He had poured out a double portion of His love;
No right even never to be forsaken by His Father, the One who meant more than all to Him.

His only right was silently to endure shame, spitting,  blows; to take His place as a sinner at the dock;
to bear my sins in anguish on the cross.

He had no rights.  And I?

A right to the "comforts" of life?  No, but a right to the love of God for my pillow.
A right to physical safety?  No, but a right to the security of being in His will.
A right to love and sympathy from those around me?  No, but a right to the friendship of the One
who understands me better than I do myself.
A right to be a leader among men?  No, but the right to be led by the One
to whom I have given my all, led as is a little child, with its hand in the hand of its father.
A right to a home, and dear ones?  No, not necessarily; but a right to dwell in the heart of God.
A right to myself?  No, but, oh, I have a right to Christ.

All that He takes I will give;
All that He gives will I take;
He, my only right!
He, the one right before which all other rights fade into nothingness.
I have full right to Him;
Oh, may He have full right to me!

(Reviewed by Dr Ng Peh Cheng)

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This page is updated on 23 Apr 2003 by Leong Kok Weng.
   Apr 2003