You can see Part One of this review here. It looks at Studd’s approach to ministry but the book is called CT Studd and Priscilla for a reason. Priscilla Studd was as extraordinary as her husband.
Priscilla grew up in wealthy English circles and by her lifestyle clearly proclaimed that she wasn’t a Christian. She became a Christian when she had a dream of Jesus telling her to depart from him at which she laughed and said she would have a wonderful time in hell with her friends. Looking around, though, she was alone and what followed was a terrible picture of hell. She didn’t believe dreams meant anything but kept thinking about it and was converted with another vision, this time of Jesus, bloody and dying, on the cross saying “With my stripes you are healed.” She committed herself to be a missionary shortly after and she met Studd on the mission field of China.
Priscilla didn’t want to marry Studd but his reply was, “You have neither the mind of God nor the will of God on the matter, but I have. And I intend to marry you whether you will or not so you’d better make up your mind and accept the situation!” Priscilla wore a sash that said, “United for fight for Jesus” on their wedding day.
One of the great things about Studd and Priscilla’s marriage, particularly early on, was that they were both committed to the mission because they were both passionate about seeing the heathen come to know Jesus. They endured hardship, persecution and starvation together, convinced that they had the same vision. However, one of the difficulties for Priscilla was being left out of this vision at times. They came home from China with four young girls and when Studd set out on his next evangelistic exploit, he left Priscilla in England with the children. She found this to be quite a frustrating experience because her heart lay in evangelism and she felt left out of the vision. She begged him not to go or at least to take him with her but he felt she should stay at home with the girls and that her health was not up to the travelling and he could not bear to lose her. However, there’s something of a double standard in this. His health was also bad (so bad mission organisations rejected him), but that didn’t prevent him from going.
The children were aware of where Studd and Priscilla’s priorities lay. They described their parents as somewhat distant, despite the loving letters Studd wrote home. They were also shamed by growing up in wealthy England society with Studd’s policy of trusting God for money. They had to share one hat between them as they attended coming out parties of girls with far more money. The eldest daughter Grace, entered into an unhappy marriage with a wealthy, older man to escape this. While Edith and Pauline both ended up on the mission field with Studd, they found him cold at times. The author reflects that in the heat and urgency of mission, Studd did not allow himself the vulnerability of family feelings.
It seems that Studd loved Priscilla a great deal. His letters to her are tender and passionate and he was hurt that her letters back were shorter and somewhat distant. However, he saw his love for her and his life with her as one more thing to be sacrificed for God’s mission. It cost Priscilla a great deal too. One of the things I most admire about her is that after years of loneliness and feeling rejected by Studd, Priscilla gave up those feelings she had been holding on to and threw herself into the work of raising support for him back home with complete abandonment. Here’s a lady who wasn’t going to be defeated, no matter how badly she was treated!
However, eventually Studd’s one-eyed commitment to the mission saw their marriage fall apart. He went to India and eventually Africa, against his wife’s wishes, leaving her in England. While she was his loyal advocate as home, the two grew apart. Why wouldn’t they? They spent the better part of twenty years in separate countries. When Priscilla visited Studd in the Congo, shortly before her death, it was like they were from different worlds and she only stayed thirteen days. The ‘united to fight for Jesus’ slogan meant that their relationship ended up being more like a business partnership than a marriage.
This story had such a promising start and yet, such a sad end. Studd saw his mission as more important than his family and so I feel like he should have stayed single. But I’m not sure that Priscilla would have been much better, given the opportunity. Here are two very failed people who let others, at times, those closest to them, down. The thing is, they knew they were doing it. Their letters to each other and their children contain acknowledgements of the hardships and exhortations to continue anyway. They saw their separation and the cost to their family as part of the cost of mission, of giving up everything for the sake of the gospel.
I have a lot of conflicting ideas about that. Ought marriages and family to be part of the cost of mission? Or have we so elevated family in our culture that it’s another thing we won’t give over to God, like an idol? There are all sorts of different models of marriage – is this just another equally valid one? What do you think? What Bible passages spring to mind that might speak to this issue?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.