Margery Sykes was no ordinary missionary. Yet I cannot find her photo on the internet! I am not even sure how to spell her name - Margery/Marjorie!
I first met Margery Sykes in Taiwan in 1969. I was young, a new missionary who had just arrived in Taiwan. Margery was an older missionary. She had worked in China, but only briefly – she was amongst the many who were expelled in the late 1940s and early 1950s, after the Communists had come to power. Like many fellow missionaries, she had transferred to Taiwan, which was one place that offered an open door, under God’s leading, to serve the Lord and the Chinese people.
My strongest memory of Margery is that she cared for several of us young, unmarried male missionaries. Sometimes we felt like Timothy to whom Paul said “let no man despise your youth” (1 Tim 4:12)! Margery didn't despise us. She welcomed us, she encouraged us, and she imparted a sense of value in our callings and our walk that we had just begun as young missionaries. Looking back 50 years later, how precious was that gift of Margery’s to us. How many young missionaries today need help from a Margery figure?
But there is much more. She did not stay in the big cities. She went to work in the countryside. Margery settled in a town called Toucheng, which was a small town on the east coast railway line in Taiwan. She lived simply. I once partially fell through the wooden floor of her house (it was an old Japanese house and the wood in the floor left a little to be desired). A friend and I also killed fifty cockroaches in one weekend there, along with some choice spiders – of various sizes!
Toucheng had a polytechnic college. There Margery set to work. Eventually, a church was established as she saw some of the young students from the college and others from the town come to the Lord.
After a number of years, Margery contracted cancer. There was a battle, a temporary remission, then a further battle. Then she went to be with the Lord.
In some ways, therefore, her life could be seen as a good and godly one, but one that was something of a failure, in part at least. She was after all sadly hindered by her expulsion from China and her work was cut short by her premature death – I think she was in her fifties. But I do not see Margery as a failure, and neither does the Lord!
Those young men and women in the church there in Toucheng in whom Margery had invested her life caught her vision. One took over the church in Toucheng. He pastored that church for several decades. Indeed, I was once told that directly out of Margery’s work and that of the successive generations of workers in the church, there were as many as thirty full-time Taiwanese Christian workers serving the Lord.
God was faithful to Margery because she was faithful to His command to go to the ends of the earth. I have since in recent years been back to Toucheng and it has changed greatly. Yet in those early days out of that place came not only thirty Christian workers but some of their labours spilled back into China - the land that Margery had had to leave. What a magnificent and divine irony! She had begun working with a few young people in a small town. But now people in China, the land of her first call, have been reached with the good news about Jesus through the fruit of her work.
John 12:24 says: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” Margery ‘fell’ into Toucheng and was ‘buried’ there. But her labours, according to His immutable promise, will continue to bear fruit by His grace. What an incentive to lay down our lives for Him, to obey Him in the Toucheng of His calling, and to prove His faithfulness.
Margery Sykes was an ordinary person. There was no queue to take her picture or write articles about her. Whatever the people of Tou-Cheng thought about her, the word “superstar” would not have come to mind! But she changed lives, caused workers to be raised up for the kingdom, and therefore is still bearing fruit long after her death.
The path that Margery trod is open today to any who will hear the voice of Jesus, just as it was open to the early disciples of Jesus. God waits for “Margery people”, ordinary people, who hear God, get up, and go - and thus make a difference.