August 30, 2009
I just finished a very brief biography on C.T. Studd (1860-1931). He was a real stud (there, that’s out of the way). The book was C.T. Studd: No Retreat by Janet and Geoff Benge, which I bought on Amazon. It was written more for about middle-school age, so it was 188 pages (large print) and utterly devoid of details. I searched for other biographies on this man, but alas, none of them are over 250 pages. Well, complaining about shortness of the book is now also out of the way.
I won’t write on the details of his life, because I don’t have the desire to, tonight. If you want to read up on him, I suggest ordering a book, but for goodness sakes, don’t get the “Christian Heroes: Then and Now” book by the Benges (unless it’s for your kids), get the one written in the 30s by Norman Grubb. Anyways, I mostly want to ponder his life, especially on his later years.
C.T. Studd was born into an incredibly wealthy family and lived the life of the British elite. He became an internationally famous cricket player in his 20s, then God called him to serve in China with China Inland Mission (now Overseas Mission Fellowship). Studd went out as part of seven famous young men who went out who became known as “The Cambridge Seven.” In China, he married Priscilla Stewart, who remained his wife until dying two years before C.T.
After serving in China for about 10 years, Studd had to head back to England because of severe Asthma, and his wife was also very weak. They stayed there for a few years, living the luxurious life of his family, and ministering. They served foreigners living in India for a few years, and again returned to England for the same health reasons. Studd continued a great ministry in England and the states. When he was about 50, he felt God calling him to go to the deepest parts of Africa (eventually, the Belgian Congo). He went there and founded World Evangelism Commission (WEC). Studd spent the rest of his life serving in Africa, where he saw great success, and he took only about two furloughs during that period.
So the story goes.
Studd was a radical man. He constantly faced opposition from others and constantly endured in spite of it. His family was strongly opposed to his becoming an overseas missionary (all three times he did it), yet he essentially ignored them and followed God’s command. Because of his father’s early death, he inherited 20,000 pounds, which was enough money to live comfortably on for the rest of his life. When he inherited it, he was in China, and he decided to give 100% of it to Christian ministries, despite everyone around him trying to deter him from doing so. His marriage was also a quick thing. Because they’d only seen one another a handful of times, He didn’t even know Priscilla’s age when he proposed. People also recommended against that as well, because Priscilla was very physically weak.
In particluar, everyone opposed Studd going to Africa. He was too old and in bad health because of his asthma. A board supported him at one point, provided he could pass a medical exam. He passed the exam, but the doctor said that he couldn’t go below a certain latitude (not into the jungle). Studd, being the man he was, refused this condition, and the mission board revoked their support. But he went anyways, wanting to form a new mission, which eventually became WEC. He went with a few other missionaries, but all except one abandoned him, choosing to serve in other parts of Africa. The one who stayed with him was Alfed Buxton, a young man who served faithfully with C.T. for over 15 years and later married C.T.’s daughter.
One of the Greats?
There are certian missionaries that I call “The Greats.” It’s a rather ambiguous term that refers to the likes of William Carrey, Hudson Taylor, and Adinoram Judson. Everyone interested in the histrory of missions should know the Greats. It’s a rather arbitrary distinction, because it’s based on the visible, well-known fruit of their ministries, so they’re not necessarily any better than any other missionaries. They just changed the course of history, that’s all. They were the first ones to go, and many of them founded missions. In Heaven, I don’t think that God will have any such distinction, and if he does, then some of the Greats will be people who no one has ever heard of.
Studd seems to have been one of the Greats. He had a long carreer and, after all, founded WEC, a mission which today has 1,500 missionaries and is responsible for such things as the Perspectives course, Operation World, and the Travelling Team. However, as I read this book, I realize what a difficult person he must have been to work with and wish I knew more details of his life. I theorize that his greatest strength: pushing forward in spite of all odds and opposition, became in his later years his greatest weakness.
Here are a few examples. When he went to Africa, he left his wife and adult daughters for about two years during the first trip. But then he left his wife again, and again, and during the last ten years of their lives, he only saw her once for about two weeks. He did not want to see her again, because he thought if they did, it might be too hard to part (according to this book). An official reason that they did not see one another was because he was doing such an important work in Africa, and she was doing an important work for the mission in Britain and America, and he didn’t want to risk her dying in disease-ridden Africa. She was, after all, rather frail. The only reason he saw for two weeks was because she took a brief trip to Africa, even though he told her not to.
During his later years in WEC, Studd was told time and again by the mission board to take a furlough, but he refused to. Not only did he ignore his wife to stay in Africa, but he ignored his mission board and developed quite a reputation on the home front for doing so.
At one point, missionaries around him started wondering why they weren’t allowed things like a day off, a wooden table and chairs, glass windows in their huts, and occasional foods from the West. They grumbled about it. Studd said about this in a journal, “Let us do one thing or the other – either eat and drink, for tomorrow we die, or let us gamble with life and death and all for our Lord Jesus. None but gamblers wanted out here; let the grumblers go home.” Please note that this was in response to requesting things like a day off and wooden tables.
In 1921, seven new missionary recruits from America came to the field. These were the first from WEC USA. In contrast to the existing British missionaries, mostly Methodist and Presbyterian, these were mostly Baptists, and they argued bitterly over some Biblical texts (again, this is where I wish a had a more detailed biography). Studd, being the experienced missionary he was, sided with the British against the Americans. Within a few weeks, the American missionaries left, never to return.
The rift gets deeper. Alfed Buxton (who was in Africa with C.T. from the beginning) was like a brother to C.T., as near as I can tell. A few years after the incident with the American missionaries, he went to America to try to smooth things over, because WEC USA was threatening to split from the rest of the mission. Studd felt that everything had been the fault of the rookie American missionaries, and when he found out that Alfred was trying to smooth things over, he sent a letter accusing Alfred of disloyalty and dismissing Alfred from the mission. In doing so, he also dismissed his own daughter (Alfred’s wife) from the mission.
Near the end of his life, to deal with the pain of untreated gall stones, Studd seems to have fallen into some level of morphine usage. Whether it was an addiction or not, it’s hard to say from my limited reading.
What Can We Learn?
I must say that when I read this story, C.T. Studd did not seem to finish his race well. Oh, he kept preaching till the very end, and he won thousands to Christ, to be sure. But he also deeply wounded many near to him, and maybe even fell into drug addiction. I must conclude as I find myself doing often, that we need other Christians. We can’t do it on our own. This journey is just too hard. Satan’s attacks are too constant. And not just that we need other Christians around us, but we need to listen to them. We need people who can speak into our lives and say, “You’re abusing your power and out of control. You need to slow down. You need to get back together with your wife.”
Studd and his wife lived apart for about a third of their married life. Decades. Is that Biblical? Is forcing your missionaries to work 7 days a week Biblical? And if it’s Biblical, is it wise, or are you just going to burn them out? Studd, for all his bravery and boldness in ignoring people who would hold him back in his mission, seems to have turned that into ignoring people, period. He seems to have closed his heart to listening to input at some point. And that is a very dangerous place to be.
Missionaries must be careful. We are more vulnerable than anyone to Satan’s attacks. Even “the Greats” had sin in their lives, and sometimes, that sin had serious reprecussions, like the dismissal of Alfred. That’s why “the Greats” is a bad label, anyways. They were big sinners, just like us. We all have to beware becoming grumpy old men, especially if we are stubborn in our youth.
And yet, even though he made some big mistakes, C.T. still won so many to Christ and started a major mission. He was a legend among the Christians in Africa. He accomplished impossible things for God. I he did more than I even dream of.
The way I seek to live as a missionary is this: my primary responsibility is to daily delight myself in God. And a high goal of my life is to pursue personal holiness (that is, right conduct and sanctification by God’s grace). I would gladly accomplish less in life rather than leave a wake of broken people behind me.
So, next I start a Hudson Taylor biography. I’ve read one or two on him before, but this is one of the Greats for one of the Greats. That is, it’s 400 pages. Taylor did not seem to leave a trail of broken relationships behind him. He seemed to love his wife and children. I’m really excited to get into reading about him, because he was an amazing man.