The Principalship of the School, shortly after I had joined it as a student, was taken over by Mr. (now Rev.) John Harvey Hickinbotham, a man of the most saintly character and with greatest zeal to win souls for Christ that I have come across during all these long years of my contacts with the Church. No sacrifice was too great and no suffering too painful for him to bring one individual to the knowledge of his Master. It seems as if he had a share in his Master's burning passion to save souls. One by one he sacrificed every thing in the service of his Master, his comfort, his time, his health, his money and even the pride of belonging to the race which ruled the country he served in the name of his Master. He nearly lost his life because of his enthusiasm for the preaching of the Gospel, when he was shot through his chest, the bullet closely missing his heart, bored a hole through this body. The deed was committed by some non-Christian fanatics, whose identity he never disclosed to anybody. It was on his return from furlough which he had taken on his recovery from this wound, that he was appointed Principal of the School. He was an ideal missionary for Muslims, and it was a happy coincidence that I happened to be a student of this School during his principalship, and thus the Lord brought me in contact with him whose influence helped me so much in life.
It will not be out of place if I digress a little to speak more of him, as it will help the readers to understand better the development of the story of my life. I came to know him more intimately when we were
in Nadia District, where in vacations and in later life I had the opportunity of enjoying his fellowship. In the districts he wore Indian clothes, ate Indian food and led the life of a villager. He spoke Bengali as freely and fluently as he did his English. Later when he took charge of the C.M.S. School at Chapra, in District Nadia he completely identified himself with the village boys. The school was run for the benefit of the peasant boys of East Bengal, and the total charges on account of tuition and board were only Rupees two per month, and Mr. Hickinbotham bravely spared the simple meal of the boarding with the boys consisting of coarse rice, dal, vegetables, fish and occasionally meat. At meal hours he took his place in the waiting queue formed by his boys, washed his own dish (the meal was served in one dish only) and served himself at meal behaving like any other boy, and addressing the housefather in as respectful a manner as the students were expected to do. When on holidays I had the privilege of visiting him in his school he never allowed me to have my meals with the boys in the boarding with whom he had his own, but insisted on making a different arrangement in order to feed me with better food. So complete was the identification of himself with the people among whom he worked for his Master, that in some respects he proved himself to be a better Bengali than the sons of the land themselves. He yearned, prayed, laboured and did everything that was truly worthy of an ambassador of Christ, to win the Mussalmans of Nadia for his Master. He spent every moment of his life and every pice of his allowances for the one great purpose of saving souls. So great was his enthusiasm for the service of the Kingdom of Jesus that he would not admit non-Christian boys to his School in Nadia, and almost all of these were Muslims, till he
had the consent of their parents, that no objection would be raised if in future their children were to decide to become Christians. On the other hand he would promise that no undue pressure would be brought to bear on them to accept Christianity, except the presentation of the Gospel and its regular teaching, a promise which he kept faithfully. Nevertheless it is amazing to find, that at a low estimate some ninety per cent of these Muslim boys eventually accepted Christ.
More recently I have come across some such missionaries in the American society, to which I have the privilege of belonging now, whose identification with Indians was as complete as that of Mr. J. H. Hickinbotham, but with one difference, which unfortunately has not resulted in bringing souls to Christ in so large a number as he had succeeded in doing, the difference being in the fact, that these friends in their identification with the people of the land have gone to the limit of identifying themselves with Indian aspirations politically as well. Mr. Hickinbotham, on the other hand, left politics alone, the goal of his ministry was the winning souls for Christ.
Now to return to St. Paul's High School. There under the guidance of the new Principal, Mr. J. H. Hickinbotham, the religious and evangelistic programmes received a new inspiration and a vigorous support. The students voluntarily agreed to contribute a part of their long vacations in doing intensive evangelistic work in villages in Bengal. For this purpose, camps were organised in villages in East Bengal. The assistance of the local ministers or preachers, where possible, was sought, which was cheerfully given, and under their leadership a programme used to be drawn
up. In other cases the leadership used to be entirely in the hands of the students. Mr. Hickinbotham always occupied a subordinate position. We would pitch our tents in a village or occupy a mission house where available, and every day after morning devotions, dividing ourselves into bands of four or five with bundles of tracts, and Gospel portions, we would go in different directions preaching from village to village. Others would take charge of cooking, which was done by turns, and when after from four to five hours' touring and preaching we would return to our camp, hot water for our bath and food for our hungry appetite would be ready. In the evening we would go again either to show pictures of the life of Christ with the help of the magic lantern, or to preach in some markets, or organise a public meeting in our own camping ground. I had the privilege of joining such a camp and taking part in preaching before I was baptised.
It was on a return from one such camp that I earnestly pleaded with Mr. Hickinbotham to have me baptised. He devised a plan in order to accomplish this desire of mine. As a first step he took me along with him to spend my summer vacation in Nadia District, at Ballabhpur, which was a colony of Christians who were mostly converted from Islam, and most of these were his converts. It was one of the happiest holidays that I have ever spent. It gave us an opportunity not only to know each other more intimately, but also to know the Bengal Christian community more closely. It was during the days of such a close companionship with Mr. Hickinbotham that I had free access to everything that was his. By this time I had discarded my Muslim dress and had taken to Bengali costume which was the common uniform of my School
fellows in St. Paul's High School, Calcutta, and which Mr. Hickinbotham used to wear when on tour. The converts of Mr. Hickinbotham were known as his sons, and soon all round the districts I was called Hicky Sahib's son.
On our return from the districts he advised me to become a boarder. I surprised and shocked my mother when I announced my intention to her to live in the boarding house; and, collecting my few things, went over to the School. At night I was surprised to find that my mother, a strict pardah woman, was waiting for me at the door of the School. She, accompanied by my brother, had come to persuade me to go home. When I met her I found her in tears. It was one of the hardest struggles in life that I had to go through. What was I to do, was I to go home with my mother, and give up the idea of becoming a Christian for the present? I knew occasions when I had experienced her boundless love, and now, was it right for me to spurn that love, and turn a deaf ear to her entreaties. Why? Even religion would not approve of such a callousness on the part of a son towards his mother. The words of our Lord rang out in my ear more loudly than ever: "He that loveth his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10: 37). Nevertheless I expressed my willingness to go home with her provided she permitted me to call myself a Christian. She agreed to my becoming a Christian provided I kept my Christianity a secret. Once again the words of my Master came to me flooding my heart: "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father's and of the holy angels" (Lk. 9: 26). Consequently I told my mother
what I felt about it. I said to her that it was impossible for Christianity was not the religion of cowards and of dissimulators; moreover she would not herself wish to see her son acting in a cowardly way, afraid of people's opinion and behaving as a liar.
At this stage Mr. Hickinbotham walked up to us and desired to have an interview with my mother. It was for the first time in her life that she had spoken to a foreigner face to face. My mother's anxiety was chiefly on account of my living away from home and her personal care and protection. It was my going to live in the midst of the people who were completely strangers to her that she dreaded. Half an hour's conversation with this kind hearted missionary convinced her of Mr. Hickinbotham's affectionate nature. She soon realised that I was going to live under the protection of a man whose love for me was genuine, and consequently, consented not only to my staying in the Boarding house, but also promised that no legal steps would be taken, nor any disturbance be created by any of my relations when I was to be baptized. Some, who are accustomed to look only at the dark side of zenana life may find it an unusual thing for a woman in Islam to act thus, and for her to feel that she could influence her people sufficiently to overcome their fanaticism and zeal for religion when the question of the apostasy of a Muslim youth was involved. Yet that is what my mother at that moment actually did undertake, and with her good influence over the whole family and her neighhours she was able to accomplish it.
This unexpected decision in favour of my baptism brought to me a great joy, and it taught me an important lesson which was not forgotten, and which has
served as a guiding principle in many critical hours of my life. In crises, similar to what I had just passed the tears of my mother pleading with me to return to my home as a Muslim, on the one hand, and the demand of my loyalty to my Master not to compromise, on the other, when I have surrendered my own will to Him and have made a decision on His behalf, the Lord has pointed out His way and said: "This is the way walk ye in it," (Is: 301: 21). In obscurity and darkness His light has shined. The test of faith has come when a thing not only seemed to be hopeless but when it actually has become an impossibility, and yet, faith blind to human calculations, has clung with an absolute tenacity to the Lord's promise, it was then that in an unexpected manner the Lord has opened the way, and that I received the solution of my problem, relief in agonising pain, often not by removing the pain but by giving strength to bear it, health and recovery in times of sickness, and a comfort in time of anxiety. When He seemed too far away, He was so very near to me.
How far I had learnt the lesson of trusting the Lord was soon put to a test. On July 1st, 1912, I was received in the Church as a catechumen, and the 7th July was fixed for my baptism. On Saturday, the day before my baptism, I had the privilege of meeting a Christian worker from Nadia, Babu Gyanandra Nath Biswas, (called Gyan Babu), and a friend of Mr. Hickinbotham. He challenged my faith and trust in my Lord, and pointing out to me, that, as I had not been out to see my friends and relatives and had not witnessed to them nor invited them to come and witness the baptism, I had relied on Mr Hickinbotham and on the four walls of the School for my protection rather than on God whom I called Father. With such a little trust in God, what use was there of my baptism?
So deeply did I feel convicted by what had just been said to me that I immediately left School and went straight to my friends and relatives and testifying to them of my new faith in Christ invited them to come to the Church and witness my baptism. When Mr. Hickinbotham was informed by his friend, Gyan Babu, of my errand on which I had gone he was much perturbed for fear of my safety. But the Lord knew the weakness of His child, and graciously protected me from all possible injuries and harms, which I might have suffered as a result of the fanaticism of my friends. On finishing my round of visits to as many friends and people as was possible within the time limit allowed for boarders to remain out on Saturday, I returned to the boarding house to the great relief of Mr. Hickinbotham and to the great joy of Gyan Babu.
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