"I wish I were a cassowary
Out on the plains of Timbuctoo.
I'd kill and eat a missionary--
Head, arms, legs, and hymn-book too."
Too often sung is this song of a scoffing world. A missionary is regarded as a man who has lost interest in this world, or who has been mentally affected by a blighted love-affair. No sane man would give his life to work in some unknown place on the other side of the globe. It is sacrifice without visible return.
The report of the Harvard Mission of the Phillips Brooks House puts that theory to the test, and finds it wanting. Men have gone out from Harvard to the American University of Beirut in Syria, to Robert College in Constantinople, and to many other places in the Near-East, and have written back the most enthusiastic letters. They are making sacrifices--as is popularly supposed, but they are getting something in return. They are getting something better than an all-American point-of-view.
Their life is not entirely spent "behind the beyond"; for they are usually in contact with little known, but interesting men and civilizations. They become, for a time, travellers in a foreign world. It may be that this is the survival of a world which flourished in the days before the earliest pharaoh was buried, or it may be that it is one from which the greater civilizations of the future will be evolved. But, at least, it is a world and a civilization different from that in which Americans and Western Europeans live.
There is no reason why the college graduate who visits this "hinterland" should do so with the resignation of a martyr. He is not taking a step from which there can be no withdrawal. For he, like the young lawyer or traveling salesman, need not continue with his work if he finds it not to his liking. And if he does decide that the teaching of Syrians or of the "heathen Chinee" is as the reading of books--nothing but "a weariness of the flesh", he can return home with at least one interesting experience behind him--more than can be said of the unsuccessful bond salesman or even of the unsuccessful minister. In any case he will learn that the cassowary bird, unimportant in the constitution of the world; while the foreign country is something more than a name on one of Mercatur's Projections.