Dearest Folks cover image

Honouring missionary wives

Thursday, May 19, 2016
Dearest Folks an insight into those who faithfully go to often-lonely and isolated places

Dearest Folks coverDearest Folks: Letters Home From a Missionary Wife and Mother (Signs Publishing, 2016)
Margaret Watts with Robyn Priestley

Living in the Pacific islands as a missionary wife in the 21st century is far different to what it was in the mid-20th century. The stories of the wives of those adventurous men continue to inspire and encourage me despite the few inconveniences I might experience. As such, the letters collected in Dearest Folks: Letters Home From a Missionary Wife and Mother touch my emotions deeply, and I am profoundly impressed by author Margaret Watts’ tenacity and courage.

Those letters were written by hand or tapped out on a typewriter and then often took weeks and sometimes months to get to her loved ones at home in Australia. They could not know what was happening or how her heart was hurting, frightened or sad because of a sick child with no medical help nearby. They didn’t know of her terror when a cyclone hit or a tidal wave threatened to engulf her home and clinic. They found out only much later about her panic when her baby almost drowned or about the fear and loneliness she experienced when Horrie was away on walkabout or sailing on the turbulent ocean in that small mission ship yet again.

Margaret was a qualified nurse and therefore a great “asset” to a male missionary. No doubt this was not overlooked when Horrie was “called” to this post. She excelled in this area, at times doing the work of a doctor and surgeon. On top of this, she became a choir mistress, an expert seamstress, hairdresser, home-school teacher, hostess to scores of visitors and, amid it all, delivered hundreds of babies—all without monetary reimbursement for her services. She was a devoted wife and mother, and dedicated her life to serving others. She was truly a woman of faith and excellence.

Her descriptions of the exquisite island places she visited or stayed are all well known to me—I could feel the warm sea and see the bright fish and the swaying coconut palms. Many of the other missionary personnel are people I have met or known and it was inspirational to read Margaret’s gracious descriptions of them. She displayed a positive and happy spirit even though it was sometimes inconvenient to have so many visitors and interruptions to an already-full program. She would frequently dart between the clinic where an emergency demanded her attention and the lunch table where visitors and children needed a meal.

Margaret wanted to honour the many missionary wives who have faithfully gone to often-lonely and isolated places where they faced the unknown. Along with Margaret, I honour those women and hope that many more stories will be recorded to tell the other side of the missionary’s life that has often been neglected. For me, Dearest Folks is an inspiration, as well as an insight into one woman’s mission life. I finished reading it with tears in my eyes and heart—then wanted to read it again.

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Joy Butler

Joy is the fourth Vice-President of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. A former teacher, chaplain and Director of Adventist Women’s Ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific, she is passionate about helping hurting and abused women. Joy has worldwide missionary experience, including in Africa and in the Pacific islands.