In Her Words By Patricia St John - My Book Club Discussion

Posted at 17:34pm on 15th November 2019

Although slightly reduced in number when my Book Club met this week, there was no less lively conversation and laughter.  Especially when they discovered I’d bought Orange Club biscuits!  The bottom line, though, was that we loved this book!  A light, easy read, it nevertheless had plenty in it to make us stop and think about our own lives.

THE JOY OF CHILDHOOD

Patricia St John, missionary, nurse, and author, led a remarkable life.  As did most of her family.  Her father served abroad as a missionary, while her mother stayed at home to look after the children and grannies.  Despite the fact that they all had a great depth of faith, there was no evidence of strict upbringing, and the children all enjoyed the opportunity of being – children!  One of the ‘naughty’ activities recorded, was the making and bottling of dandelion wine (which, fortunately, exploded without being drunk) while ‘walking along the high gable roof of the outside toilet, or scratching our arms and signing our names in blood’ revealed the freedom enjoyed by children of that era.

THE ONLY WAY TO DRIVE OUT DARKNESS IS TO LET IN THE LIGHT

Yet Patricia, learning that she had been called by name, gave her life to the Lord when only six years of age.  And only six years later, having set up a well-attended Sunday School with her brother, Farnham, the two of them vowed, while sitting in the boughs of a tree, that they would be missionaries in adulthood.  As she later revealed in her book, Treasures of the Snow, the only way to drive out the darkness is to let in the light.  And that light is Jesus!

Farnham, having studied Modern Languages at Cambridge, then felt a call from God to switch to medicine.  Once qualified, and having survived the Blitz, he joined a hospital in Tangier, only to find that there were issues amongst the staff.  Thus a year later, having trained as a nurse, Patricia joined him.  Later, however, feeling she had simply done the obvious thing, she questioned why she had not had a call from God.  Then she realised that God gives us all the necessary common sense to take the path ahead and that it is only when we face a fork in the road that he says: ‘This is the way, walk in it.’

THIS IS THE WAY, WALK IN IT

The question was raised as to whether the offspring of missionaries suffer as a result of the lack of material comfort, and whether ‘parents are justified in subjecting their children to such a life’.  With most of us knowing the effect it had had on certain people when sent to boarding school at a very young age with little possibility of seeing their parents for months on end, we thought it must be damaging.  Patricia, however, points to the positive, ‘provided that special times of privacy with their parents are strictly kept’, with fewer material acquisitions, little treats and gifts become more precious.  Likewise, with little in the way of entertainment, the children of her era had to rely on their own initiative and imagination.  Which they did!

LOST SHEEP

Nevertheless, some of the stories of Patricia’s life as a missionary, are harrowing.  Yet throughout, the parable of the lost sheep prevails.  One little girl, abducted by her father to serve his second wife, eventually managed to escape when her mother, Fatima, discovered the power of prayer.  Another woman, Fatima’s aged mother, earned her keep by carrying heavy water buckets, through the heat of the day, to her employees, for which she was paid tuppence a load.  Eventually, when her snores drove Patricia mad while she was leading a Bible study group, Zohra learned that in requesting Jesus presence with her, the buckets became lighter. 

‘How do we, who work with Muslims, measure the achievement of those years?’  Patricia asked years later, when confronted with accusations of doing harm by imposing her views and culture upon them.  With so few coming to faith, and fewer still openly abiding by their Christian belief, it’s easy to see where she was coming from.  Yet again, though, the lost sheep was evident when she acknowledged, ‘do we believe in the priceless, measureless, eternal value of one redeemed soul to God?’  And near the end of the book, when she reiterates the slogan of the charity Global Care: ‘You can’t change the whole world, but you can make a world of difference to some children in need.’  A catchphrase with which we all agreed.

Other points of discussion that are worth remembering:

  • Do we believe that: a simple Christian home, uncluttered by foreign gadgets . . . where the doors are ever open to welcome all who come, whatever their race, class or creed, is a very real lighthouse in a dark land.
  • Do we agree that: No Christian can be possessed of an evil spirit (the Holy Spirit will never share his residence with a messenger of Satan) but in a Christless country, where Christians have dared to launch an attack on enemy territory, the counter-attack will be strong and definite and the oppression of evil spirits should be quickly recognised.  They also need to be named, bound and rebuked as pride, jealousy, resentment, discouragement, depression.
  • Do we recognise: crowded churches and the ‘joy in numbers and statistics  . . . then the gradual chilling realisation of the shallowness of the work – just the outward form of Christianity with no real change of heart.
  • Do we agree with the teaching at the first Spring Harvest conference at Prestatyn: if we prayed ‘God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven’, then we could pray with assurance for healing.  For there is no cancer or disability in Heaven.
  • Do we pray regularly for situations such as this: the many thousands of children who were locked away in orphanages and mental institutions, as a result of Romanian women being forced to have unwanted pregnancies in order to increase the nation’s workforce?
  • Do we find such situations overwhelming?  Or do we accept that ‘while we can’t do everything, we mustn’t do nothing.’

Your Comments:

Lois Cooper
16th November 2019
at 5:01pm
I have just read the book and enjoyed it. mI put my review on the Woman Alive book page. It made it more interesting having just been to the village in Switzerland where she lived for a bit as a child. When it is my turn to choose will choose the book to read. Your questions are certainly interesting.
Thanks, Lois
16th November 2019
at 5:19pm
Thank you, Lois, for your comment. And for your review which I read on the Woman Alive Book Club page on FB. Feel free to use the questions I raised on my blog, all of which came from the book, of course. Good to know you enjoyed the book, too. What a legacy Patricia St John has left!

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