In her autobiography Climbing, Memories of a Missionary’s Wife, Rosalind Goforth recorded both struggles and victories from her forty-seven years of service with her husband Jonathan in China. One such matter she wrote about had to do with the challenge of more consistently living up to what she was teaching others. Many of us who face the same challenge can gain instruction and encouragement from her example in this regard.
Less than a year and a half after the Goforths arrived in China, their firstborn child, a daughter named Gertrude, died of dysentery on July 24, 1889. She had lived just eleven months. Jonathan left later that same day to take Gertrude’s little body to a town fifty miles away where there was a burying place for foreigners. Rosalind remained behind at the mission station where they were then serving.
The evening after Gertrude’s death, Rosalind lay on a couch “drinking to its dregs the cup of sorrow.” She was lying beside a paper window through which every sound could be heard. Two Chinese women seated themselves outside the window, totally unaware of her near proximity. Rosalind later recorded their conversation which she could not help overhearing:
“At first they talked with much kindness and sympathy of the event that had just taken place. Then began a most amazing and searching dissection (no better word can express it) of my life and character. We had been told the Chinese were keen judges of character. But this was more. It revealed a surprisingly high conception of a Christian missionary! Incidents with the servants, which I had thought trivial, such as a stern rebuke, a hasty word or gesture, were all given their full value. During the process of dissection they did, however, find some good points. One said, ‘She speaks our language well and is a zealous preacher.’ The other admitted, ‘And she does love us. But it’s her impatience, her quick temper!’ Then came what struck me as a blow, ‘If she only would live more as she preaches!’
“At first I was so angered I could have gone out and given them a piece of my mind. But no, I could not, for it was all too true. It was this fact that cut so deeply. … As that last hard word was heard, ‘If only she would live more as she preaches,’ I fled to my room. I had heard enough. It was useless to stay in China and simply preach Christ and not live Christ even before our servants.
“Two days later my husband returned to find a doubly crushed and broken wife. Oh, what a comforter and help he was! For many days I walked softly, but the lesson had to be relearned many times.”
After more than twenty-five years of missionary service, the Goforths took an enforced furlough in 1916-1917 due to a serious health breakdown Jonathan had experienced. During that period Rosalind was mightily encouraged in her own spiritual life by maintaining a prolonged focus on the concept of Christ’s indwelling presence in the lives of Christians to enable them to consistently live as the Lord would have them to. Rosalind became much more aware of seeking to carry out her Christian living and service in Christ’s strength rather than in her own.
Rosalind revealed that during the Goforths’ journey back to China after their furlough: “I often talked with my dear husband of the future, wondering if the Lord would ever give me the joy of knowing I had in some measure retrieved that which I knew had followed me down through the years: ‘If she would only live more as she preaches.’ Oh, how I longed to live so that the Chinese could see Christ in me. My impatience and quickness of speech were my besetting sins.”
Many months after their return to China in 1917, one of the leading Chinese evangelists came to the Goforths’ home. It was clear he wished to speak privately with Jonathan so Rosalind excused herself from the room. After the evangelist left, Rosalind returned to find Jonathan standing by the table with a strange expression on his face. He seemed deeply moved, and she exclaimed, “Whatever is the matter?”
“Rose,” Jonathan responded, “you could never guess what he came for. He came as a deputation from the other evangelists and workers, yes and servants too, to ask what is the secret of the change in you. Before you went home, none of the servants wanted to serve you, but now they all want to be your servants.” Concerning her own response to that revelation, Rosalind related, “Is it any wonder tears flowed for very joy?”
While we do have our own part to play in diligently putting forth effort to live and serve as Christ would have us to, Rosalind’s experience and example provide a helpful balancing perspective. We also do well to readily look to the Lord and to depend on Him to enable us to reflect a Christlike spirit and to carry out His will. Repeatedly being confronted by our own shortcomings in those regards has a way of driving us to more urgent dependence upon the Lord. As we continue to look to and lean upon Him, by God’s grace (and to His glory) over time we come to experience a considerable degree of progress and consistency in living and serving as He calls us to.
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Rosalind Goforth wrote several inspiring books, including her autobiography Climbing, Memories of a Missionary’s Wife. I believe that volume is no longer in print, but can easily be found online through various used book sources. It is well worth the effort to track down and read the work, in which Rosalind honestly and humbly relates her own beneficial (and oftentimes remarkable) experiences of growing in her relationship with and service of Christ. Reading that book may very well lead you to read several of her other works, as I have.
Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie