EDITOR’S NOTE: Each day during Baptist Press’ coverage of the Beijing Olympics, we are publishing a letter from a Southern Baptist missionary who served in China during the years before the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. Some of the letters reveal these missionaries’ great love for the people of China; others provide glimpses into what life was like for an American living abroad in the 19th century. We hope the collection helps Southern Baptists capture the passion of these great souls and understand the sacrifices they made so the good news of God’s love could be taken to what was, for them, the ends of the earth. The letter below was written by the venerable missionary Charlotte “Lottie” Moon, who served in China from 1873 to 1912.
CHINKIANG, China — Chinkiang is situated on the Yangtse river, 157 miles from Shanghai, from which place it is easily accessible by steamer. Besides Roman Catholics, there are three Protestant denominations working here. Our mission has a most eligible location for work. One is surprised at the un-wisdom displayed in building a number of foreign houses off on the hill in entire isolation from the natives. It would seem to be inconvenient for the men of the missions to reach any work, but it becomes almost an impossibility for their wives to get access to the people. A woman with young children may put in some moments of work daily if she is near the natives and close to the chapel, but if she must spend an hour or two on the road in order to reach any work, it is almost certain she will do none.
In this respect, we have decidedly the advantage over the Methodist and Presbyterian missions here. While their houses are off on the hills, far away from their chapels and from the natives, our chapel is at the head of the principal business street, and both mission houses are in a stone’s throw of the chapel. The latter is a very pretty and convenient building. With windows thrown wide open and the breeze coming in, with the organ and lively hymns, it is a bright, attractive spot.
On the ringing of the bell, the natives drop in rapidly. After a good deal of singing, Mr. Bryan talks in an easy conversational style and readily holds the attention of the audience. He is usually assisted by some of the church members. An elderly man, recently baptized, is already making himself useful in talking to the heathen.
Last Sunday afternoon we had a service somewhat unique for China. Five natives were appointed to speak and each was limited to 10 minutes. The subject was sin, and the first four speakers were to discuss it, each in one special aspect, while the fifth summed up and connected the whole. The first four speakers were all members of the Baptist church here, while the fifth is connected with another denomination.
It is very pleasant to observe that Mr. Bryan understands the art of setting his members to work. Of the native assistants last Sunday, all were unpaid volunteers, and to all it was a coveted honor to be put up to speak. The audience was remarkably quiet and well behaved, and there was very little going out during the addresses. Mr. Bryan has great tact in managing a Chinese audience. “We have a custom here,” he will say, “that the good people sit down and the bad people stand up.” In a few moments, each Chinaman has asserted his goodness by seating himself.
I was much amused last Sunday by the coolness with which Mr. Bryan stood up in his foreign dress before his Chinese audience and claimed to be a native of this place. “You judge a man,” he said, “not by his outward appearance but by his dialect. Of the men who have just spoken to you, one came from such a place as you can tell by his dialect, another from some other place and so on for all the five speakers, but you can see,” he added, “that I am a native because I speak the dialect.” A ripple of subdued amusement passed over the audience, and then they listened attentively to this “native” as he gave them a talk about sin and urged them to accept the Savior.
On yesterday afternoon, the church members assembled to study a portion of the Scripture, and one of them brought a number of his friends. About 15 took part in the lesson, while an interested audience looked on and listened. Mr. Bryan seems to me to be emphatically the “right man in the right place.” He is closely confined now to chapel preaching, but plans, when Mr. Hunnex shall have come, to do some general evangelistic work. His heart is set on opening a mission at Yangchow, a large city of half a million inhabitants, some 20 miles distant from Chinkiang by water. As yet the China Inland Mission is the only Protestant mission working there, but the Presbyterians are planning to begin a mission there.
I earnestly add my entreaties to those of Mr. Bryan that the board will send a man and wife immediately to prepare for work in Yangchow. Mr. Bryan is also very desirous of having a single woman to work here among the women. There seems to me to be a very fine opening here for such work. The women are friendly and accessible. I believe that in two or three years an experienced worker would have her hands full. A beginner, with the language to learn, would have to go more slowly and feel her way cautiously until she learned how to work. But for either, whether experienced or otherwise, there is a grand field here absolutely untouched thus far.
Of the single ladies connected with the Methodists, one is a doctor, who works chiefly at her dispensary, and the other has a small boarding school. In this great city, with its outlying villages, there is no one whose sole work it is to go out and carry the glad news of salvation to the homes of the people. For such work, single women are especially fitted as being free from domestic cares and duties. There is, no doubt, a work among the families of church members which can best be done by the pastor’s wife, but if she has little children demanding her constant care, she cannot do any very extensive work among outsiders and especially among the villages.
Of all the missions of our board in China that I have seen, there seems to me none more important that this. With wisdom and prudence on the part of those in charge, I doubt not that a strong, aggressive church can be built up here. The members have a mind to work and the pernicious system of paid assistants has not been introduced.
Thus far, the work among the women has not kept pace with that among the men. Mrs. Bryan, with delicate health and the care of two little children, has been much hampered in her efforts to acquire the language. She attends chapel services, to which a few women and children come, and she has done some visiting. With improved health and more experience, she is capable of doing very valuable work.
The new mission house is nearly completed, and will be ready for occupancy about the first of October, when Mr. Bryan will move in, vacating his present quarters in time for Mr. Hunnex, who is expected in October.
Aug. 1, 1888