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  • Writer's pictureShari House

HSS - Rosalie MacGeorge {Perfection is Overrated}


In 1882, two Australian ladies, Ellen Arnold and Marie Gilbert, went to India as missionaries. After six months Miss Arnold returned home due to health reasons. Once she recovered, she travelled extensively throughout Australia and New Zealand encouraging and challenging people to consider giving their lives to the foreign field for the furtherance of the Gospel. She especially made her appeal to single ladies who could be “Zenana” missionaries in India. Zenanas are the inner apartments of the middle and upper class houses where the women of the family are semi-cloistered. Only female missionaries could gain access to them and so the need was great for teachers and nurses who could offer their services to the families as well as evangelize along the way. By late October, 1885, four well-educated Australian women in their 20’s were prepared to return with Miss Arnold. The famous Silas Mead preached their farewell service and used the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand for his Scripture text. In his sermon he made the comment, “Tonight we are bidding farewell to five women going to the millions of women in what I shall designate the Australasian District of East Bengal.” And with one final question he phrased to the audience, “What are so few among so many,” the group was nicknamed “The Five Barley Loaves.”

Due to the appeals made by Silas Mead and Ellen Arnold, excitement for mission work had captured the hearts of the Christians in New Zealand, as well. Although it was a time of economic depression, and their country was very young, the 26 established Baptist churches decided to work together and form the New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society. Their intentions were to send missionaries to the district of Brahmanbaria in East Bengal, India. Within a year, their first missionary, Miss Rosalie MacGeorge was ready to be sent.

Rosalie was born in 1860, and grew up in Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island where she was a member of Hanover Street Baptist Church. It was at a meeting where Miss Arnold made her plea for zenana missionaries that Rosalie first felt the Lord tugging on her heart. Although she was a trained teacher, she surely must have wondered if she had what it would take to accomplish this great work, but she decided she would go.

When she arrived in India, she joined the Five Barley Loaves in their work and moved into the house where they all lived. Their friendships grew as they lived together, studied Bengali, and learned the methods of zenana work. Although the language study was hard they were excited about the doors the Lord was opening for them. As they began to become more familiar with the customs and the language, the ladies spread out into different areas to reach more people. They set up seven mission stations that would serve as home bases for their work and for new missionaries who were arriving.

Because the women had no influence with the Indian men due to the patriarchal society of India, an appeal went out for men to join the group, as well, and two single men volunteered. The number in their group fluctuated greatly with each new year as missionaries arrived and left. It eventually grew to include 26 missionaries in total. People continued to call them “The Five Barley Loaves,” but often added, “and the Two Small Fish” much to the men’s chagrin.

Within just a few months of Rosalie’s arrival, she began her work on her own. She gained access to 30 different homes where she taught over 100 people each week. She also ran a Sunday school and set up the mission station at Comilla. She was relentless in her pursuit of helping those that the Lord had called her to, and she worked tirelessly to reach as many as she could for Christ.*

The hot weather and harsh elements of India took their toll on Rosalie’s health. By April, 1891, after only five years on the field, she was forced to go back home to try and recover. With hopes of being able to return one day, she set sail for New Zealand. She only made it to Ceylon where she passed away and was buried. She pioneered New Zealand’s mission work at the cost of her health, but by 1930 over 500 New Zealanders had answered the call and had gone overseas as missionaries not only to India but to a wide range of other destinations. She is a true example of a lady of whom it can be said,“She hath done what she could”!

Her Story/My Story:

Since travel between the mission stations was difficult and expensive, Rosalie decided to begin a round robin type of correspondence so the ladies could stay connected, be an encouragement to each other, and maintain some semblance of identity. She entitled it “Our Band,” and wrote her first letter in February or March of 1889. She sent the letter to the next station where it was read and another letter added from that station. The letters were then sent on to the next station, continuing in like manner until they arrived back at Rosalie’s station. The round robin letters continued in this format for a few years until 1893 when it was decided to print new updates in one publication that could be sent to all the mission stations as well as their supporters back home. The “Our Band” publication continued to be in print until 1933 and provided great insight into the lives and ministries of the missionaries who ministered in East Bengal. The original handwritten letters can be found in the Global Interaction archives in Hawthorn, Victoria.

Some might look at Rosalie’s story and think it was less than perfect. It is true that she could have had more training before she left. She could have worked with a partner or at least not worked so hard. She could have stayed closer to where others were so she could get the medical help she needed sooner. For that matter, she could have stayed in New Zealand where she was a young, healthy, vibrant woman, and continued to serve in her local church. Some might even go so far as to say her life was wasted. What did she accomplish save a few handwritten letters and a few short years of missionary service? I don’t know that anyone knows the entirety of her accomplishments during her short time in missions work, but God does, and those she reached during that time, whether few or many, will for eternity be grateful. I can tell you that her life inspired others to become missionaries themselves, that those who came after her picked up where she left off and built upon her work, and, that over 125 years later, her life and short five years as a missionary continues to challenge all those that read her story, myself included.

I started my deputation in October of 1993. I always tried to make sure that my presentation, my display board and table, my outfit, etc. were first class so as to represent the Lord as well as I could. Early on my mother gave me a small framed quote that says, “To be God's Ambassador is the greatest honor." I still have it, and it is a great reminder to me of the importance of my job and to try to do my best. Although it was always my intention for everything to be just perfect so as to make a good impression on the pastors of the churches I was visiting, sometimes I failed miserably. Here is a case in point:

It was Saturday, April 16, 1994. I was on my way to Pennsylvania to present my work in two new churches on the following day. Of course, you must keep in mind that this was before Google maps, GPS, and cell phones. I had called ahead and received clear instructions from the pastor of the first church. I guess you could call them clear… as clear as they can be when going to a tiny little church on the side of a mountain in the hills of Pennsylvania. I know the words “turn at the red barn” and “go left at the fork when you see the black fence” were used at least twice, but I was quite confident I could find my way. For some reason I had borrowed my father’s car for the weekend and after transferring my things from my car, I headed down the road for the four-hour trip.

I was less than an hour away when I was forced to take a backwoods detour due to a rock slide. I followed the detour exactly, but when I came back onto what I guess would be considered the main road, nothing on my sheet of instructions was matching what I was seeing. I had to find a pay phone and try to explain to the pastor where I was, get a new set of directions, and apologize that I would be arriving late for dinner. Believe it or not, there was another rock slide and a second backwoods detour. You guessed it, I had to find a payphone again and call the pastor to try to tell him where I was now, ask for more directions, and apologize that I would be even later. Somewhere after this point I got completely lost and all the red barns and black horse fences seemed to run together, and I had no idea where I was. I refused to call the pastor a third time lest he think I was a silly girl and wonder how I was ever going to find my way to Africa if I couldn’t even find my way to his house.

I soon came upon a gas station, pulled in, quickly hopped out leaving the car running, and asked for directions. When I finally felt I knew which way to go, I went back to the car and much to my surprise found the driver’s side door had locked itself. The gas station had no tools to help me open my door and instead called for the police to come and help me. A policeman arrived and forty-five minutes later my door was open…not by the policeman, mind you. He got his Slim Jim stuck in my car door and had to call a local mechanic to come. The mechanic, who I’m sure was not pleased about having to work once his weekend had already started, took his good old time to get there but eventually arrived and rescued both of us. Somewhere along the line while we were waiting, my gas ran out. After buying some gas I set off again in hopes that I would soon arrive at my destination.

As I wound up and around the hillsides I finally saw the church, and turned to go up the long, steep driveway that would lead me to the parsonage that sat quite a bit further up on the mountain. There wasn’t much room for cars and I was forced to park on a bit of uneven ground that left my car sitting at an incline and leaning to the right. It was now past dinner time and I was quite late. Once inside, they told me that the electricity had just gone off but that the food was ready, as I’m sure it had been for some time. The pastor and his wife and I ate dinner and sat around chatting by candlelight until the power finally came back on at eleven o’clock that night.

It was then that I went to prepare my things for the next morning and realized I hadn’t transferred my dress shoes from my car to my father’s car. I about died. How could I possibly wear my white tennis shoes with my outfit, which by the way was a double-breasted suit complete with football shoulder pads and a silk scarf draped over one shoulder. Don’t forget it was the early 90’s. Timidly and with great embarrassment I knocked on their bedroom door and told the pastor’s wife my predicament. Thank goodness she had a friend in the church who wore the same size shoe as I did and was willing to loan me a pair of beautiful shoes that happened to match my suit.

The morning service went well, and we had a great lunch together at the parsonage. I felt that whatever thoughts the pastor might have had about me being a silly school girl from the night before, I had been able to change. That was until I went to leave. Because the church was so close to where they lived, it was their habit to walk to the services. I ended up walking with them and left my car where I had parked it the night before. That afternoon when I opened the door for the pastor to help me put my things inside, we were both bowled over by the smell of lilacs. It was so strong. I couldn’t figure out why in the world the car smelled like that, but I knew my dad would not be pleased. Then I saw it, wax all over the dashboard, and I knew what had happened.

As I had been travelling the day before I thought I’d be clever and put a small Yankee Candle, which were new and all the rage at the time, on the dashboard. As I drove the warm sun caused it to give off a faint smell, but now after sitting through the heat of the day, it had completely melted. Because my car was sitting on an incline, the wax ran down the dashboard in strips towards the steering wheel and all down the front and back vents. I just grabbed the stuff from the pastor, said thanks for everything quickly, and took off. I didn’t want him to know what was causing the smell lest he think I was an idiot. I was eventually able to get the wax off the dashboard, but since there was no way to clean inside the vents, I’m afraid it smelled like lilacs for quite some time any time the air conditioner or heaters were turned on.

Nothing more tragic happened that day or at least I didn’t record anything else tragic happening in my journal. I have absolutely no idea what shoes I wore at the next church I went to that evening or if anybody noticed that I smelled like the inside of a toilet bowl by the time I arrived, but in the end, both of the churches took me on for support. My journal entry started out with “Woe is me!! What a trip.” and ended with “God sure can make sense out of all my confusion.

Study: Perfection is Overrated

In today’s day and age when perfection is thrown at us from every corner, it is easy for us to let what we "think" our inadequacies are keep us from doing all that we could for the cause of Christ.

I think this mentality starts when we are young and focused mostly on ourselves. Many teenagers make these kinds of statements:

If only I was tall it would be perfect.

If only I was pretty

If only I was sporty

If only I was creative

If only I was popular

This kind of mentality that focuses on self and some idealistic form of perfection has pride as its base. It is easy for us to recognize this as faulty thinking, however it often carries into our adult thinking as well. I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest hindrances to stepping out and trying to accomplish anything for God is wanting to make sure that I have the ability to do it, that all my ducks are in a row, and that everything will turn out perfectly. How many times have you said to yourself something like this:

If only I was older I could do _______________ for God.

If only I was younger

If only I was married

If only I was single

If only I didn’t have children

If only I had children

If only I was not afraid to live in a foreign country

If only I didn’t have to learn another language

If only I didn’t have this debilitating disease

If only I was financially free

If only I was more outgoing

Often we tend to look at ourselves, our abilities, our character traits, our limitations, our location, etc. and decide what God can and cannot do with us. We put our own limitations on God.

The list of these limitations can go on and on, and even those of us who have been in the ministry for many years can fall into this trap when the Lord is speaking to our hearts about some work He has for us to do.

Whenever I find myself succumbing to the thought, “If only I…” and being tempted to put off doing something I know God has asked me to do, I remind myself of these four things:

1. God made me as I am, at this time, and wants to use me now.

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”

2. I will never be perfect until I get to heaven, and if I wait until then it will be too late to do anything for God.

I Corinthians 1:27 “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”

3. It is not a matter of me being the most talented, the most accomplished, the most eloquent, or the one with the most abilities to accomplish what God is asking me to do. It is a matter of my willingness to do it.

II Corinthians 8:12 “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.”

4. I have more power to do the will of God when I don’t trust in my own talents and abilities and instead rest in His.

II Corinthians 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Next time you feel God tugging on your heart to go do something, speak/counsel with someone, mentor a convert, start a ministry, etc. don’t succumb to prideful thoughts of inadequacy. Realize that perfection is overrated and know that God has placed you where you are, equipped you with what you need, and can use you in all your imperfection to accomplish His will.


*This is a general picture of a lady doing zenana missionary work with Hindu ladies. The lady's name is not known.


Resources & Book List:

Rosalie MacGeorge : Pioneer Missionary, By Margaret McClure; New Zealand Baptist Historical Society.[Auckland, N.Z.] : [N.Z. Baptist Historical Society], [1989] (Page 39)

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