‘Natives again. Or cannibals. This marks the spot where they ate six missionaries’ has to be the best line that anyone in the history of film making has ever had to utter. It is not in the book, just that ‘…they might have been killed and eaten by other natives,’ as Titty, having digested huge helpings of Daniel Defoe, declares herself the most ardent imperialist of all time. And she has such fun doing so. I have always liked the talk of ‘the powerful native’ (Mr Jackson the Lakeland farmer) and the savages living around Rio. I always hope it shocks lots of people.
What I have found really does shock people – shocks them so much that they admit to being shocked – is that I was once a missionary. In Africa. And in Australia. I think they think I try to convert the natives but of course it is not like that. You go not knowing what will happen and find yourselves making life a bit more fun for people who belong to God but are battling a bit.
It is like this: The Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett, who are energetic tomboys living in the Lake District, had lost their father. It goes unsaid, but Peggy very touchingly lets it out in Swallowdale when they find a hidden tin on the peak of Kanchenjunga. Their mother’s brother, Jim Turner, took them sailing and did things with them with them the first summer but then decided to concentrate on writing his book. Nancy and Peggy feel so rejected they light a firework on the roof of his boat, which enrages him. The Swallows, who know what it was like to live without a father around as theirs is in the Navy, travel from afar but somehow manage to come alongside the Amazons and give them a reason to keep going and live life to the full. Nancy and Peggy excel – they find life-long friends and do all the things they are meant to do. All sorts of things happen as a result. And the Swallows are challenged and have more fun than if they had ever travelled in a structured way, intent solely on their own enjoyment. They have great adventures and do more things than they ever imagined possible .
I still go on short term missions. We went to China with the Bible Society in March. It was amazing – hysterical. A mission of encouragement that Titty would have loved. We met people who had not had European visitors for forty years. They were really excited to know that people in the wider world were interested in their welfare and had come to bring them the word of God. The only Europeans – only white people – they had seen before us were there to make money. It’s shocking, isn’t it?
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