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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Alice Byers

Looking Back

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Friday March 31 2017

Looking Back: "I Felt Compelled to Go"

A 1967 interview with Alice Byers, a Church of Scotland Missionary teacher in India.


"I felt compelled to go"

Miss Alice Byers talking to Ludovic Gray

"WE’RE so ready to give material help. There’s poverty, famine, flood and fire, and our natural reaction and response is to rush out ships and aircraft, to send what we can. And that’s kind and generous. But I sometimes wonder if we don’t get this out of proportion, forgetting the deep spiritual need we as a Church are meant to meet.”

During her recent furlough Miss Byers had met, for the first time in ten years, her brother who is a district pastor in Ghana. He too was on furlough. She herself went to Poona in 1955; so it is easy to see why they do not often meet.

“If I had any ambition in childhood,” she continued, “It was to be a missionary, but I had lost the notion completely by the time I went up to the University. In fact I wanted to hear no more about it.

“I taught in Maybole Primary School for three years, and gradually the old ambition began to appeal again. One evening I turned on the radio, and just at that moment someone was appealing for missionaries. It was Assembly week. Then I had a letter from a friend which affected me. And then the influence of Dr. D. P. Thomson and the late Tom Allan, both of whom I came to know in my university days, began to reassert itself.

“I wasn’t the kind who wanted to go abroad for the excitement of the thing. I just felt compelled to go, and that was that. I went through the usual formalities, and was appointed to Poona.

“I shall always remember Tom Allan preaching at my valedictory service in my own church of St Andrew’s in Girvan. He chose the text, Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you. He said that there may come times when this was all I had to hold on to, but it rang with the note of certainty. I was the one to be chosen. That was enough.”

Miss Byers continued in primary schools when she went to Poona, working alongside the teachers there, and exercising general supervision.

She does part-time teacher-training in the Women Teachers’ Training College. One-third of the teachers under instruction are Christians, most of the others are Hindus. The conditions under which government grants are given preclude instruction in Christianity except what is outwith the training syllabus. When they arrive, many of the students have never heard of Christianity.

There is no pressure of any kind, but voluntary groups studying, say, the Life and Teaching of Jesus may rouse some considerable interest.

Clear lead

In the College hostel prayers morning and evening are held. Some of the students attend. Most of them come to know something of the great Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter.

“The person of Christ is the one thing above all others that attracts,” insisted Miss Byers. “One poor village girl said to her teacher something that others may very well feel but not confess, ‘I feel that I love this Jesus’”.

The missionaries are members of the United Church of Northern India, and it demands an effort, says Miss Byers for them to identify themselves fully with that Church.

“The Church certainly has its difficulties, mainly domestic, which distress many and weaken its impact on the non-Christian community. But to stand aside and criticise is not at all helpful. We are, in part, responsible for the Church, and it calls for humility on our part to become one of them.”

The daffodils were blooming in our country gardens when Miss Byers set sail once again for another four-year spell in Poona. “We need prayers and sympathy,” she said.


Last week: Before the Office Opens

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