Incidents in Travel and Soul Winning – By Elmer & Julia Shelhamer

Chapter 12

Growing Old Gracefully

When one is traveling in foreign countries, it is pathetic to notice the various customs of heathen nations which are calculated to place their women in bondage. Some are very cruel, but all have a tendency to place the husband on a pedestal as “lord and master.” He is at liberty to do as he will and she has no redress, for she must serve him at all costs. The more a nation becomes Christianized, the higher her women rise in the social scale and the more equality there is between the sexes.

It is very noticeable that the Europeans and colonials who live near native heathen are unconsciously influenced by them and are more like them than are other peoples. While they are not nearly so gross as the natives, yet the same principle of bondage to the husband obtains among the white people to a certain degree. The heathen husband beats his wife. The white husband crushes her feelings to keep her “in her place.”

We sincerely hope that the South African custom of the wife’s eating in the kitchen and her husband in the dining room has died out. In some homes the wife sits at the table by the side of her husband, but may not speak aloud. She only whispers to him, asking him to pass certain dishes to her guests. Her husband may visit with them but she must not enter into the conversation. The man of the house generally says grace at the table and leads family worship, seldom delegating either job to his wife — and rarely ever even to a visiting minister, for he is high priest of his own house.

In business affairs the husband is “boss,” not allowing his wife to be a partner with him or to have a joint ownership. One dear woman whose husband just died told me that she knew absolutely nothing of his business affairs. One day she said to him, “If you should die, I would not know a thing about our money. What would I do?” He said for her to ask certain men in the event of his death.

The next day he died suddenly in his office. Had he not told her what to do, she likely would have been cheated out of her money. These conditions border onto heathenism. Such men seem to be too self-centered to talk over their affairs with their wives. I once said to a bright young husband, with whom I was well acquainted, “How is your better three-fourths?” He looked at me as though he did not appreciate such a question, and answered bombastically, “My better one-tenth is well.”

A man once referred to my husband as my “lord and master.” I laughed, supposing he was in fun. Had I known at the time what I know now, I should have told him that my husband was not my master but my lover — that I had no master except Christ. It later developed that this man himself was “lord and master” to more than one woman.

We are not excusing women who rule the house and are not respectful and obedient to their husbands. Some such women are like spoiled children who cannot easily adapt themselves to circumstances, but must have their own way at all costs. We know one young wife who faints away (?) when denied a request.

God’s ideal of a home is that the husband and wife be loving, devoted companions, but that the husband be recognized as the head of the house.

This Bondage to Custom is in evidence in the compulsory wearing of the wedding ring. The husband insists that his wife wear it, while he does not unless he takes the notion. It is optional with him, but compulsory with her. He may run at large but she must be true to him.

The ring is a sort of charm to keep other men away, but we have noticed that it does not always work. We have observed more looseness among some who wear the wedding ring than we have ever seen among those who for Christ’s sake have laid it aside. The ring does not seem to do its duty properly. People are going to do about as they please — ring or no ring, as long as sin exists.

If there is any difference, I believe there is more flirting among married people though “protected” by the ring than among others. The ring seems to be a sort of challenge to evil men to make a venture. There is more attraction when people may not than when they may. Solomon said, “Stolen waters are sweet.”

But you may ask, “How will people know if one is married?” I answer, if a man is not obligated to show by a ring that he is married, much less should a woman be under such an obligation, for her temptations are less than his. Any sensible woman knows how to conduct herself among strangers of the opposite sex. If she does not know how, or is not disposed to act properly, she would not behave though she wore a dozen rings.

If it is necessary to let people know that one is married, it is an easy matter to do so by word or action. Some one said, “If a man is in a new place an hour without letting people know he is married he is a rogue.”

Pardon a personal reference: I have traveled many thousands of miles through China, Japan, Ceylon, India, Egypt, Palestine, South Africa, England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and the United States, and have mingled with all classes of people on land and sea. Part of the time I was with my husband but much of this time alone, but I have never been treated disrespectfully by any man. It is one’s attitude and manner of dress that protect her — not her ring. Some of the biggest flirts on shipboard wear wedding rings. We have found that if a man desires to flirt he will do so regardless of a band of gold on one’s finger.

If an honorable man is seeking a wife. He will take time to become acquainted before becoming at all intimate, and it does not take any decent woman long to let new friends know who she is. Besides this, she will be ready at all times to repulse any improper advances.

Many millions of pounds and dollars are wasted on jewelry, such as beads, gold ornaments, and wedding rings. This money would evangelize the world. One’s influence for good is much farther-reaching if she is careful to be plain and neat in her appearance.

Another custom that brings people into bondage is that which prohibits women from praying aloud in public or of standing to give a testimony. In one place we found that in a small service women might say a few words provided they remained seated while doing so. During prayer the men stand and the women sit to show their subjection.

St. Paul said, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Let us die to all the customs which hinder one’s spiritual life, “Giving honor unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel.” and let the wife see that she reverence her husband as head of the house as Christ is Head of the Church.