Posted by: janpierce | January 20, 2012

No Substitute for the Real Thing

   I’m trying my hand at writing a novel about a young girl in India in the 1870’s. I want to capture that time in the history of India when the missionary stations were going strong and many native Indians had converted to Christianity. There were men who worked with the missionaries in various support positions and some even studied to become something like assistant pastors. But the vast majority of workers in those early Christian ministries were women.

Women have been on the cutting edge of missions worldwide. In India the reasons may be different than in other parts of the world, but in Hindu families the women are responsible for maintaining the family shrines and conducting the family worship. It takes place in the early mornings when the women wash the murtas (idols), dress them, offer bits of food from their day’s meals to them and sing songs or recite mantras. The women sometimes teach their children these rituals too. Thus it was a natural entry into the worship of the people when Indian women were trained to take Christian teachings into the villages. They met with the women in their homes. They asked after their health, sometimes brought medicines from the white compound, prayed for the families and taught any songs or scriptures they may have learned. They spoke life into the homes of the people and offered to meet needs. Then they invited them to attend meetings at their mission stations or they brought the meetings right into the villages.

Some of the Bible women learned to read English and were assistants to pastor’s wives as they began to teach the women to sew and later to read. Bible women often traveled in twos and were able to enjoy much more freedom than they would have in their normal Hindu or Muslim lives when many women were required to stay at home in seclusion. Not only could they travel freely, they were paid small sums of money. They were thrilled with their new lives. They often carried large oversized Bibles to mark the fact that they were Christians and not Hindu women who traveled for less lofty reasons than sharing scriptures.

I happened on a website with hundreds of old pictures of India. Look at this one with the women in front of a simple hut made of bamboo and roofed with thatch. Seeing these pictures helps give me the visual information I need to as accurately as possible describe life in another time and place. These pictures fascinate me. It’s like taking a peek back into history. Don’t you wonder how these women spent their days and what their lives were like? Are they sisters or friends? Do they live in this little hut? There’s no substitute for real photos to inform my writing of such a different time and place.



  1. Interesting post; including the mention of old pics of India. I’m going to check that out.

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