In 1854 Elizabeth Sale, the wife of a Baptist Missionary in India was invited to a Zenana, the closed women’s quarters of a Hindu household. This opened a whole field of mission work that was closed to men. In 1867 the Baptist Missionary Society in London set up a Zenana mission and in 1872 Hanna Martin, the wife of the minister at Collins St established a Victorian auxiliary of the Zenana mission. This auxiliary supported two Indian Zenana Missionaries, one in Calcutta, the other in Delhi.
In 1882 Ellen Arnold and Marie Gilbert from South Australia had begun mission work in Bengal. Arnold and Gilbert built a house in Faridpur and in Jan 1884 they moved in. But Arnold’s health failed and she had to be repatriated. The sea voyage worked wonders and she arrived home well enough to tour the country publicising the mission.
In 1885 she returned to Bengal (Bangladesh) with four other women: Alice Pippin from South Australia, Ruth Wilkin and Marion Fuller from Victoria and Martha Plested from Queensland. These women were dubbed the ‘Five Barley Loaves’, when they were commissioned in South Australia.
In 1888 Iris Seymour joined them. This was the same year that Fuller and Wilkin opened a school, the Victoria Mission Girls School for Hindu girls in Mymensingh. Iris worked as a Zenana missionary until 1899 when she was appointed the head mistress of the school. She held this position for 24 years and won the respect of all, including government and educational authorities. The school had a hostel for 30 girls and is still functioning today.
Iris returned to Kew in 1919 and was an active member until her death in 1937, aged 76. She had been a member of the church for over 50 years.
Amy Moore was an OMF missionary who was equally significant. She began services for the newly arrived Vietnamese boat people in Richmond in 1978. Merryl Smith took over in 1980 and in 1981 the Rev Nguhen Huu Tin was appointed as an assistant pastor at Kew Baptist to lead them. This congregation is now led by Pastor Khoi Doan and is a significant part of our church.
Yet it all began with Amy chatting up Vietnamese tram conductors on her way to town!