Jane Donaldson writes:
The papers of Interlink have recently been deposited with The Christian Brethren Archive. Interlink, formerly known as the Home and Foreign Mission Fund, was a service agency which supported and commended members of the Brethren from Scotland for mission work around the world.
Founded in the 1880s, their work linked the mission workers with their home assemblies, providing information, support, distribution of funds, and pastoral care prior, during and after work overseas. News was relayed via the Home and Foreign Missionaries Newsletter and annual mission meetings were held in Scotland where individuals were invited to speak.
In 2017, Interlink amalgamated with Echoes of Service, who perform an equivalent function for Brethren mission workers in England and Wales, to become Echoes International.
The material in the collection includes correspondence exchanged with mission workers, often spanning from their initial application forms, records of interviews and selection through to their work overseas, and sometimes into their retirement and beyond. Prior to engaging in mission work, individuals sought commendation through their assembly, and would then be put forward to a panel at the headquarters of the Home and Foreign Mission Fund in Glasgow. Although commendation was not strictly necessary, it was assumed that mission work would not commence without it and there are also records of applicants who were not successful in securing commendation.
The files provide insight into the daily lives of mission workers. They vary in size and content, some being simply administrative records, and others including lengthy discussions of the numerous challenges and difficulties faced by mission workers, both personally and in the course of their work and interactions. There are descriptions of events, incidents and internal disagreements vividly brought to life. The descriptions and language used are often very much a reflection of the time in which they were written.
The correspondence allows the reader to form an overview and impression of the individuals and married couples who felt a calling and decided to devote their lives to working in the mission field. The stories contained within enrich the collection and bring it to life, and include the following of examples relating to some of the women who were considered for mission work.
Through the course of their mission work, both men and women would sometimes have to deal with situations they wouldn’t encounter at home. Many women were able to pursue their own work and means, study and learn a trade and in some cases undertake manual labour, explore and become proficient in areas they may not have had the opportunity to discover if they had stayed at home.
Although many of the women commended were accompanying their husbands into mission work, one series of correspondence from the 1940s gives support to a single woman wishing to work in the field. Elders at her assembly did not think it was right for a single woman to have this kind of position, but the Home and Foreign Mission did not see why this would be a hindrance to her duties and duly commended her.
In contrast, another woman, Annie McKillop, who had received commendation in preparation to undertake work overseas, later withdrew her application. She states clearly the reasons in her letter.
Files relating to couples are often recorded as ‘Mr and Mrs’, sometimes with no information about a wife. However, it is interesting to note, in the case of Jean and Robert Orr, that the couple are initially addressed in correspondence as ‘Mr and Mrs R. Orr’, but following Jean Orr’s qualification as a doctor in 1951, there is correspondence addressed to ‘Dr Jean Orr and Mr Robert Orr’, a contrast to the oft heard argument about refusals to acknowledge or use professional titles when addressing women, which is still relevant today.
Mission workers would be given advice about preparing for work and life in another country and usually they would be either put in contact with those already in the field, often staying with them following their arrival. There is a wonderful list in the correspondence file of Mr and Mrs Horne from 13th May 1921 to Mima Horne titled ‘Outfit for a Lady Worker in Bolivia’. Sent by the wife of a mission worker already in Bolivia, this is recommended list of clothing which should be brought out by a lady. The list includes 2 sets of lace curtains and a fur.
Another letter to a prospective candidate, Charlotte Borden, advises bringing a solid bicycle and suitable shoes.
A further series of correspondence expresses initial reservations that at 32, Mrs Borden was too old to be able to learn the language, and there is correspondence in the folder relating to this.
These are just some examples of the fascinating insights into the mission work field to be gained from this collection, and I look forward to highlighting other individuals in future blog posts.