Project Canterbury

Forward in Western China

By Deaconess Emily Lily Stewart
C.M.S. Missionary in Szechwan

Foreword by the Archbishop of Sydney

London: Church Missionary Society, 1934.

Chapter XI. Some of Our Chinese Friends

This chapter will be a kind of portrait gallery. The first picture is a group portrait. The man in the group is named Charity. [All names are purposely disguised.] He came as a boy from a heathen home to one of our mission schools. There he heard the Bible read every morning and the word sank into his heart. He is now a clergyman and one of our most faithful evangelists. The influence of his prayer life has touched the hearts of many who might not have been won in any other way. Hard and difficult things which ordinary people regard as impossible, present no difficulty at all to Charity. He just takes in the situation quietly and then says in his simple, matter-of-fact manner: "We will pray about it." And Charity's prayers are answered, for he lives so close to God that he has power with God and with man.

The next member of the group is his wife, a character of an entirely different type. They did not choose each other, for their parents belonged to the old order and the marriage was arranged for them. But even in ancient China some marriages were made in heaven, and in spite of the difference in temperament, or perhaps because of it, these two fit together as the key fits in the lock. Mrs. Charity is an extremely forceful person who at times has a rather sharp tongue. The sharp tongue, however, is usually on the side of the angels, and her disposition has mellowed considerably as she has been in daily contact with her husband's saintly life. She is an untiring worker. A careful mother of four children, she yet finds time to superintend the church school, to help the teachers in many ways, and to be a friend and counsellor to the older girls. We cannot show you all four children but here is one of them, a solemn looking boy of five who regards you gravely for a few moments as if reading your inmost thoughts. Then, if he approves of you, his face is suddenly transfigured by a bewitching smile, and you feel your own eyes twinkling, your own lips smiling. His baby hands have gripped your heart.

Another portrait, a young girl this time. We may call her Radiance for indeed she is radiant. She has just come home for the holidays, having surrendered herself to Christ during the school term. Bubbling over with new life she is eagerly trying to win others to her Saviour. She spoke recently at a meeting and for forty minutes held her audience while she told how Christ had changed her and many of her school friends as a result of evangelistic meetings held at the school.

We pass on round the gallery. This aristocratic-looking man is the descendant of a long line of Confucian ancestors. Brought up amid all the beauty of the old-time culture, and having yielded himself to Christ as a young man, he is one of those who can bring forth out of his treasure things new and old. Educated in a Christian university, his outlook broadened by travel in other lands, he is a striking example of the blending of ancient and modern scholarship, of Confucian culture, and Christian mysticism. He is a missionary, too, in his own circle, and is never so happy as when in intimate conversation with some earnest seeker after truth.

And here is a little Chinese lady. She too was reared amid all the delicacy of a cultured home. Her father is a type of Chinese gentleman that is quickly passing away. There are not many of them left. Truth was fortunate in her father, for while belonging to the old order he was big enough to see all that was good in the new. So Truth was given an education equal to that of her brothers, and when she came home with a good degree her father was not less proud of her than of them. All this time she had been familiar with Christian teaching, for her father, though not a Christian himself, appreciated the good discipline prevailing in Christian schools. But she was just neutral; there was no real allegiance to Christ. Then God sent her a friend, one of her own age with whom she could share her life and her deepest longings, and this friend led her to Christ. As soon as she had found Him, Truth began to tell others. She could not keep the good news to herself. She is still telling others. Many will catch the light from her, and who can tell where the trail will end?

The next portrait is a youth of the farming class. Virtue is one of the many who suffer in the clash between old and new. From early childhood it has been his ambition to fit himself for the ministry. His father is a Christian and approves this aim, and has left the lad free to pursue his studies. But old customs die hard in country farmsteads, and an unfortunate early betrothal has had to be honoured, with the result that the lad is bound for life to a most unsuitable girl. Virtue was plunged into thick darkness for some time, but in Christ's Name he has conquered. He will not be bowed down by circumstances, he will ride over them to victory. But he needs all the prayer help that we can give him.

Mrs. King, when she first appeared at one of our meetings, was a model of picturesque untidiness. This is unusual in a Chinese woman and therefore attracted attention. Thick, straight hair which had once been "bobbed," hung down past her shoulders and streamed about her face. Her clothes were ragged, her hands begrimed, and her face presented the wasted, colourless aspect that betrays the opium smoker. We had been speaking of the power of Christ to deliver from sin, and Mrs. King sought out a worker afterwards and confessed that she was a slave to the opium habit. Could Christ deliver her? He has not only done so, He has brought back the colour to her cheeks, the light to her eyes. One would hardly recognize in this neat little person the degraded-looking woman of a few months ago. She too needs to be upheld by prayer, for she is young and clever, and the forces of evil have been very strong in her life.

Here is a farmer whose name is Wang. When he first became a Christian and ceased to worship at the family shrine he encountered much opposition from his people, who feared the wrath of their ancestors. But years of steady, consistent Christian life have won him not only their respect but a readiness to listen to his witness and an eagerness to learn more. Once a week the whole family, about thirty people in all, gather in his courtyard while we try to teach them about the God Whom he serves. His wife was the first to respond to his pleadings, and together they read the Bible each day and commit themselves and their people to God, instead of burning incense at the shrine of their ancestors.

These are ordinary people, the kind of folk one constantly meets. There are many more like them, and all are triumphs of the Christ. He chooses the weak more often than the mighty in whom to show forth His power. In town and hamlet, in city and in open country, among the wealthy and the destitute, the learned and the illiterate, He has His chosen disciples who are striving to make Him known.

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