From “Our Seal”, an account of the China Inland Mission by Marshall Broomhall.
Now followed an emergency, swift and comprehensive, which was to test the Mission in the most searching manner. Sunday, April 3,1927, is a day which will long be remembered by the Executive of the Mission in Shanghai, for on that day arrived a telegram from the British Minister in Peking requesting the recall of all British missionaries from the interior. Somewhat similar instructions also came from the American authorities. Immediately upon receipt of these grave directions the little company of the Mission’s Executive
in Shanghai assembled in the office of Mr. Gibb, the Deputy Director in the field to seek Divine guidance upon so momentous a matter.
It calls for some imagination on the part of the reader, especially if he possesses no personal knowledge of China, to realize all that such an emergency involved. The withdrawal of the workers and the concentration of them at the coast, were both attended with hazardous and perplexing problems. There were vast distances to be traversed, hostile country to be encountered, unexpected expenses to be incurred by hundreds of missionaries to whom no funds could be transmitted in time. There were churches, schools, and hospitals to be considered, if the orders were to be obeyed. Let the reader try to conceive what the receipt of such a telegram of recall must have meant to many a worker far up-country, cut off from all reliable information, surrounded by wild rumours, faced by brigand-infested roads, and maybe by hostile people, if he or she should vacate the home where they were known and often loved. Was it not better to remain and face the consequencesÂ—if one dare disobey official instructionsÂ—rather than fly to ills they knew not of?
But no one knew what was involved by remaining up-country. Would it be possible to maintain communications? Already, in some cases, workers could only cash cheques at a loss of 20 per cent., and it soon might not be possible to do that. In some areas local boycotts existed, and there was the danger of food supplies being cut off. All these considerations and many more had to be weighed by the Mission authorities in Shanghai. It was a moment of concentrated thought and prayer. But the decision was made, and made without undue delay. Within an hour telegrams were being despatched to the more distant provinces, while letters were being written to those stations which were more accessible.
And now began a trek to the coast without precedent in the Mission’s history, if the Boxer crisis be excepted. In 1900 the journeys were more painful and perilous, but the numbers were smaller. It would demand a volume to tell the story of those wayfarings. For many weeks and even months, according to distance, little companies of refugees, some smaller, some larger, were wending their way to the coast, some by water and others by the slow and difficult land routes. Of the hardships and perils we must not write, but it must sorrowfully be recorded that these evacuations cost the Mission four valuable lives. One, Dr. George King, was drowned in the Yellow River by accident. Another, Dr. Whitfield. Guinness, died probably as the result of the journey, for the instructions to vacate his station arrived when he was ill with typhus fever. Who can measure the painful nature of the dilemma then presented to him and to his loved ones? Two others, Mr. Morns Slichter and his little daughter Ruth, fell by the ruthless hands of the brigands, while Mrs. Slichter and her companion. Miss Craig, the former wounded, were taken captive by the heartless murderers. These lives were a heavy price to pay for leaving the
comparative safety of the mission stations, but what would have followed had the stations not been vacated no one knows.
As we are writing with financial experiences chiefly in mind, it must be recalled that this demand for wide-spread travelling came from the consular authorities without any respect to the state of the Mission’s exchequer. That was not their concern. Their sole anxiety was the safety of their nationals. But such orders inevitably plunged the Mission into great and unexpected expenditure. Delay was not expedient, and economy was impossible. Carters, muleteers, and boatmen all looked upon the hard plight of the foreigner as their opportunity to enforce a good bargain. With impunity they could now exact exorbitant prices and make extortionate demands. The foreigner was, to them, fair spoil to be fleeced. And the poor victim had no alternative but to pay!
As for those missionaries who were sent down-river by the Naval authorities, these same authorities booked their passages willy-nilly on any merchant vessel that could be commandeered. In which case the various shipping companies presented their bills to the Treasurer’s Department in Shanghai. Whether the Mission had a balance at the bank or not, was not their concern. This was a financial emergency indeed. To the glory of God be it said, every demand was met, and met immediately, and without any overdraft. Though the crisis had been unforeseen. God did not allow His servants to be put to shame.
As for those missionaries who had had to draw on their local station accounts, or on their own personal resources, they were told upon arrival at the coast that these matters could be dealt with upon application to the Treasurer’s Department. The test of this great emergency had not found God’s resources or His faithfulness wanting. He who of old told His disciples, ‘When they deliver you up, be not anxious what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour’, proved Himself able to give substance as well as speech to His servants in time of necessity.
Nor was this all. Money was not the only need. To house such a concourse of workers, gathered from all the comers of China, was far beyond the capacity of the Mission’s Headquarters at Shanghai. Commodious as these might appear for normal times, there were only about thirty rooms available for those who were not members of the local staff. During the Revolution of 1911, 190 persons had been accommodated for a short period when the children were on their way to the Chefoo schools, but that was almost unprecedented and could not long have continued. That had involved camping on all available floor-space. The demands of 1927 were on a new scale altogether and for a much longer period.
To reduce as far as possible the number of those for whom accommodation must be found, it was decided that those whose furloughs were due, or approximately so, should be sent home without delay. To do this a sum of not less than Â£10,000 was needed. In this God proved Himself to be Jehovah-jireh, the God Who provides. This helpful step was made possible, to the great comfort
of those who sailed, and to the relief of those who were responsible for finding the emergency quarters in Shanghai.
But when all had been done that could be done to reduce the number of those who must be accommodated, the demand for additional premises was still urgent. The resources of the Mission’s Guest-homes at Tientsin and Chefoo had been taxed to the utmost.
Now the International Settlement of Shanghai is a strictly limited area, and is always densely populated. Many wealthy Chinese look upon it as a much-to-be-desired refuge, and such persons are ready and willing to pay almost any figure to secure shelter. This is sometimes a matter of life or death to them. This fact alone makes house property scarce and expensive. But now there were refugees from all parts; business men from up-country and missionaries from most of the societies. Property became almost unprocurable while rents went up by leaps and bounds. Yet prayer was answered and the seemingly impossible problem was solved.
One member of the Mission’s Executive in Shanghai, who was specially qualified for the undertaking, was set aside to organize a number of search parties to scour the city for available premises and to work out the numerous details arising from such a concentration of forces. First of all, large premises were needed for the recently arrived students who were studying the language at Anking and Yangchow. These were secured, leased, and furnished.
By this time other parties from the interior began to arrive, sometimes in tens, sometimes in twenties, and occasionally in larger numbers. Yet not once did a party arrive before there was a roof to cover them, though often the floor was at first their only couch, while the commissariat arrangements were correspondingly primitive. But the up-country traveller is well hardened to such inconveniences. Shelter was the main thing, and this was secured. There were in all, while the full tide of need was flowing, no fewer than fourteen such emergency houses used by the Mission in Shanghai in addition to the permanent Headquarters. One of these had been generously lent, by a friend who was going home on furlough, free of rent and completely furnished, for eighteen months.
At such a time of crisis the call was for all hands to the pump. Certain brethren haunted the sale-rooms of Shanghai to purchase furniture, while others searched the many second-hand shops for all manner of needed equipment. Others, who possessed the requisite knowledge, helped to wire the rented houses for electric light, or arranged internally the water-supply connections, or erected stoves and gas-rings, as well as lending some assistance in the installing of a telephone system to link up the widely spread units with the Mission’s Headquarters. Ladies, clad in overalls, sallied forth with mops and pails, with rags and soap, to scour, scrub, and clean the empty, uninviting, and often filthy houses until they were purified, and fit for habitation.
Housekeepers were required and discovered, all, of course, from the ranks of the refugees themselves. Each one devoted his or her own gift towards the good of the community. Chinese servants too
were needed, and these too were found and set to work. It was a unique experience full of Divine mercy as well as of human ingenuity. But though everything was arranged in the plainest fashion, it was, in the aggregate, an expensive business. The furnishing of each house cost roughly Â£80, while the rent bill for the thirteen houses, at the peak period, was some Â£140 per month, or approximately Â£1700 a year. Apart from the cost of passages home, which has already been mentioned, the total cost of the necessary travelling in China, of the renting of these special houses, and of the granting of some assistance to those who had lost their all, was not less than another Â£10,000 (G.$50,000). Yet all these heavy and abnormal needs were graciously supplied, and no creditor was kept waiting for his money.