Born in 1854 in Milton, Michigan, on a typical American mid-western farm, Mercie Melissa Briggs had the up-bringing of a home in which the devout father and mother put prayer in the foreground of daily living. Little wonder, therefore, that the daughter felt the call to become a foreign missionary. In June, 1882, after nine years of experience as a school teacher, she married the Rev. John Newton Hayes, missionary appointee of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Mr. and Mrs. Hayes arrived in China in October of the same year and, except for a few months of residence at the outset in Nanking (Nanjing), spent the entire period of their joint service in China, at Soochow (Suzhou).
Mother Hayes, as she was fondly called by the inner circle of her friends, was primarily a home-maker. Her sons said, “She was an ideal mother.” All who knew her acknowledged this to be a true characterization of her dominant passion. But it was in no narrow way that the influence of her home was exerted. Hers was a heart always at leisure from itself and its immediate interests to soothe the soul of any Chinese school boy, Bible-woman, fellow missionary, or Chinese preacher, who might be seeking comfort. She was truly an ideal friend.
After a brief illness, Mrs. Hayes died in the home of her son Egbert, in Shanghai, January 3, 1925. She was survived by her husband, with whom she had lived for more than forty-two years, two sons, Newton and Egbert, and two daughters, Grace and May, all of whom became missionaries in China.
Dr. Willard Lyon (1863-1943), formerly Secretary of National YMCA in China, in remembering of her, wrote:
Across the screen of memory alternating pictures of Mother Hayes come and go, revealing her cheerfulness in bearing physical suffering, her unassuming simplicity and wholesomeness, her courage in meeting difficulties, her activities as a peacemaker, and her unwavering devotion to what she was convinced was for her the will of God. But no group of views is adequate to show the manifold beauty of the character which, by the grace of God, she had developed while with us. What she will have become, when once more we shall be permitted to see her face to face, who can picture? Surely in the realm of Freedom and Light to which her spirit has flown, her personality will continue to expand and the charms of her character will grow in their power to bless others. “What we are to be is not apparent yet, but we do know that we are to be like Him.”
Adapted from the Chinese Recorder.
- Chinese Recorder 1925, February, Vol. 56, pp 116-117