Early Life of Mrs. Crawford
John Lovelace Savidge Foster, son of Col. John Foster, of Revolutionary fame, was born in Columbia County, Georgia, June 14, 1800. He married Susana Holifield, June 21,1821. From that time until November, 1831, they made their home in Jasper County, Georgia, where Martha Foster, the sixth of their children, was born January 28,1830. When she was about two years of age her parents removed to Tuscaloosa County, Alabama.
John L. S. Foster, or "Uncle John," as he was known, among a large family connection, early became a member of the old historic Grant's Creek Baptist Church, in Tuscaloosa County, and one of the most active and consecrated of its board of able deacons. He always took a deep interest in the welfare of the church, and was known throughout the southern part of the county as a most efficient soul-winner. He was especially able in public prayer, and often with streaming eyes pleaded with the Lord to raise up and send more laborers to the foreign field. It was a most staggering blow to him when he at length fully realized that the Lord, in answering his earnest prayers, had come into his own family and laid his hands on his beloved daughter.
At the age of six or seven, Martha Foster's education began, and was carried on for several years in country schools in the "Foster's Settlement," where her parents resided. Among her teachers during that period was Rev. E. B. Teague, who lived in her father's family, and ever afterwards exerted a great influence over her. She studied during 1844 and 1845 at the Institute in Lafayette, Chambers County, Alabama, which was presided over by Mr. Lucien LaTaste, who also became a most potential factor in the formation of her character. It was here, in the autumn of 1845, that after many long struggles she was converted and baptized.
Finally completing her school course at the Mesopotamia Institute, Eutaw, Alabama, in June, 1849, she said to herself, "Now I intend to stay at home; I am homesick." For a time she was happy in being at home, and gave herself up to the enjoyment of its
pleasures. But she was not long satisfied, and began to cast about in mind how she might make herself useful in life. For the present she could pursue a course of reading and study at home, but that was not sufficient. In modern parlance it would be called a career that she sought, but there was beneath that a yearning that the world might be made better through her living in it. School teaching was the only opening that suggested itself for the accomplishment of this end. A life spent for self could not satisfy her longings, and she advertised for a position as teacher. Response did not come immediately, and she felt disappointed. On November 14,1849, before retiring to rest, kneeling beside her bed, she prayed: "O Lord, Thou hast apparently closed the door of usefulness in this teaching, the only department of labor for Thee that I can see. Thou hast other work for me. I beseech Thee to show me, and whatever it may be, I gladly obey."
The words were barely spoken when a powerful conviction, like a flash of lightning, darted across her mind, that God's will for her was to take the gospel to the heathen. She saw no light, heard no audible voice, but the impression was as deep and vivid as if there had been both. She sprang to her feet aghast. This was not the field she had sought, but the command seemed irresistible. In vain she tried to reason herself into the belief that it was a passing fancy which the light of morning and the sight of other faces would dissipate.
All that the missionary life involved rose up before her, and her faith almost fainted. She afterwards said of this experience: "I can now see that if I had, from my conversion, been a more living, earnest Christian, and had sought divine guidance in all my ways, much pain would have been spared me. I would have been better prepared, in mind and heart, for my life work, and probably have decided the question at an earlier day. I had always had a restless longing for something, but there was not enough of grace in my heart to give this yearning — this ambition I may call it a proper direction. Hence, by a mighty stroke, God aroused me out of my indifference. For some days my soul was filled with gloom and almost despair dared not pray, since I could not say 'Thy will be done,' and it seemed utterly unreasonable for me to pray that God would send some one else and spare me. 'The world must be brought to God through the teachings of His weak servants. It is somebody's duty to sever ties and take up this cross, and why not mine?' Thus I kept saying to myself, but it brought no willingness. At my stated seasons of prayer I could only kneel and say, 'O
Lord, help!' How to help I could not see. I wanted such help as only God could conceive and give. In about a week the help came. My sorrow was turned into joy. Everything was full of God, and therefore full of happiness. The missionary work was especially attractive as opening a field of sacrifice as well as of labor for Jesus."
Thus she spoke of her "call" to the foreign field. For sometime she could not summon strength to tell her exercises of mind to any one. She finally informed her parents by showing them, before posting, a letter she had written to a dear friend. Long afterwards she said, in referring to this period, "If, from that time, I had made a full surrender of my all to God — indeed I seemed to have done so — but if I had kept steadfastly in that position of full surrender, faith and obedience, and had been filled continually with the Holy Spirit, as was my privilege and duty, how full my life, in after years, might have been of fruit-bearing as well as seed-sowing, and how many mistakes might have been avoided!"
Henceforth everything relating to missions was of great interest to her, and she eagerly devoured such intelligence. In the summer of 1850, on the recommendation of Mr. Teague, she began teaching school in Clinton, Alabama, where he was pastor. She now applied herself seriously to the duties of life. She threw her whole soul into her school work, discharging her obligations with conscientious faithfulness. She and her pupils became warmly attached to each other. She aided in the establishment of a Sunday-school in Clinton, where there had not been one before. Increasingly it became her delight, her hope, her business to spend and to be spent for Christ.
Her thoughts being now unalterably turned to the mission work, she began in November, 1850, to consider plans for carrying out her purposes. The heathen world was much farther away then than now. She wrote her father how her mind had immovably fixed itself on the foreign field, and also had a conversation with Mr. Teague, the pastor, on the subject. Her father urged her to take no steps until she should see him. The pastor asked her not to regard it as a closed question that she should labor abroad, and proposed to write to the Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, asking the views of that body about sending out single ladies. She assured him that her mind was unalterably fixed, that the impulse was from God and not from a natural or romantic desire on her part.
Returning home Mr. Teague wrote the following letter to Dr. J.
B. Taylor, Secretary of the Board. The young lady's name was not given, and she did not apply for appointment, because of her father's request not to "take any steps in the matter." Could she have foreseen the results she might have realized that even the writing of the letter was "taking a step," though the letter was designed simply as an inquiry:
Providence Parsonage, SUMPTER COUNTY, ALA. Dec. 18, 1850
DEAR BROTHER TAYLOR: The object of these lines is to request the views of the Board of Foreign Missions as to the expediency of sending out single ladies as missionaries. I make these enquiries to aid an acquaintance of mine, whose mind has been much exercised on the subject for more than eighteen months, and who has advised with me more than once in a very serious way. I will, by your leave, make a statement of her case. Miss F***** is about nineteen years old (she was twenty-one), has a fine constitution, grave and dignified manners, subdued by great timidity and extraordinary piety. Her education is about equal substantially to that afforded by the best female institutions of the South, with some advantage with respect to solidity, and her mental endowments are of a high order. I have known her intimately from childhood. She is engaged at present in a school at a small village where I have preached a part of my time for several years. I make these enquiries in her behalf that no unnecessary notoriety may be given to the matter. Perhaps it is well to add that Miss F.'s mind seems to incline to the China field. Address me at Warsaw, Sumpter County, Alabama.
Yours fraternally, E. B. Teague.
When she next saw Mr. Teague he said the Secretary Dr. Taylor, in reply to his letter, informed him at the Board had sent out one single lady as an experiment, and that, though they had not adopted it as a policy, yet her missionary desires should be encouraged. Thus matters stood when another actor appeared on the scene.
Go to Chapter 4
[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909, chapter 3; reprinted and reformatted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. - jrd]
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