The Mission Imperative - Frederick Booth-Tucker

‘ ... so that in one way or another I might win some.’
 (1 Cor 9:22)
Named as 'William Booth's First Gentleman' by his biographer, he grew up in the comforts of a wealthy family. His father, William Tucker, was assistant commissioner serving under the Raj in India. Well educated in England, Frederick returned to India in the same capacity in Amritsar and elsewhere.
He was converted under the ministry of Moody and Sanky, but having read The Salvation Army's paper The War Cry, he volunteered to join. General Booth was hesitant, feeling he was too sophisticated for a denomination committed to a life of simplicity, managing with the least of resources. But Tucker won the day and persuaded Booth to allow him and his wife, Louisa Mary, to return to India in 1882. In later life, after her death, he married into the Booth family, now with the name, Booth-Tucker.   
Their initial approach was to focus ministry on the higher castes, but made little headway, so changed and concentrated on the Dalit community.
Following the example of Hudson-Taylor in China, he and his colleagues attempted to identify with the people, adopting their clothing, styles of living and names, his was Fakir Singh (a saintly person). Success was still limited.
He embarked on another mission, this time to Gujarat, accompanied by a converted Sri Lankan Buddhist, Arnolis Weerasooriya. One night the two camped under a tamarind tree outside the village of Atmapur. Booth-Tucker was still asleep when the villagers came to check their visitors. Seeing the sleeping man's feet they asked Weerasooriya why they were so badly blistered. His explanation led them to exclaim: 'If this man can do this for us, we must follow that way.' It was the beginning of a wider acceptance of the gospel. Booth-Tucker often said: 'I never preached a better sermon than with my feet that day!' He went on to spend many years in India, ultimately coordinating Salvation Army work in the subcontinent.
It was a role in which I succeeded him a hundred years later, and in that capacity in 2003 my late wife and I were invited to lead a gathering of some 15000 Salvationists meeting for an Atmik Mela (spiritual festival) in Gujarat. It was especially meaningful to be under canvas alongside the tamarind tree at Atmapur! In one of the services in an impromptu moment I called for a bowl and basin and proceeded to wash my colleague's feet. 'Will this be a more powerful sermon than anything I say?' I thought to myself. An unusual silence broke to the sound of a tabula, a singer took the microphone, someone accompanied ex tempore on the keyboard. Dancers took to the floor. What better way to celebrate in gratitude for all that had happened and most of all, to the One whose example we were following?
TLM staff know all about feet, especially those without sensation. I suspect some of us might occasionally echo Booth-Tucker, 'We will never preach a better sermon than by the way we deal with our patients' feet.'
October 2022