Marjorie Keeble introduces us to the life of her mother—Alison Pike Butler—who was born to CIM parents, served with the mission after completing education, and continued to serve despite being partially paralyzed after being attacked by a swarm of hornets.

It has been a privilege to write the story of my mother Allison Butler to encourage others who feel their disabilities may limit their service for the Lord. Nothing overshadowed the prayerful and practical love our mother had for her four children. Each of us has continued to serve the Lord as we have been enabled. After university, I taught at high school before marrying Russell. When we moved nearer Hamilton, I introduced the Know Your Bible method of Bible study to the area. I continued teaching until Russell suffered a major stroke and I then nursed him until his death three years later. I was already a lay preacher and was able to continue my theological studies and become the Pastoral Assistant. I continued church work, leading Bible studies, and served as Secretary of the Rural Australians for Refugees group. As the family historian, I transcribed 1000 pages of our father’s letters from China before I retired at 78 to South Australia.

marjorie-keeble-sample-crop
Marjorie (Butler) Keeble

“He has delivered my soul in peace”

The Life and Ministry of Allison Butler

Mission Round Table Vol. 15 no. 2 (May-Aug 2020): 31-34

Allison Pike was born in 1907, the eldest of five children born to Douglas and Louisa (née Boulter) Pike, Australian CIM missionaries who worked in Guizhou Province of southwest China from 1902. In all his twenty-seven years in China, Douglas only had two furloughs, the second being in 1924–5 when he and Louisa took Allison and eldest son Doug to Australia on completion of their schooling at the Chefoo School.[1] Two other children, Walter and Faith, were left at the Chefoo School in Yantai, in accordance with CIM policy at the time, but Faith, aged eleven, died of TB the day her parents left Melbourne to return to China.[2] Despite this tragedy, Allison recorded that “in her time in hospital three people came to the Lord through her bright testimony.” A fifth child, Alf, followed the other children by a few years.

pike-family-c1918-calvert-thesis
The Pike Family (c.1918). From the left: Walter, Faith, Douglas (Snr.), Louisa and Alf, Douglas
(Jr.), and Allison.

While in Australia, Allison graduated as a triple-certificated nurse, studied at the Melbourne Bible Institute, and completed a course in Business Studies. In 1929, her father was captured and killed by bandits in China,[3] and not long after, Allison applied to the CIM to become one of the two hundred recruits that the mission was calling for.[4] She was accepted and returned to China to study at language school before returning to Guizhou where she was able to work with her mother Louisa.

pike-allison-cm-au-1930-152
pike-allison-with-au-new-workers-cm-au-1930
Pictures of Allison in China’s Millions, Australasian edition (1930): 151–2. In the photograph taken with other new Australian missionaries, Allison is in the middle row, second from the left.

Allison was grateful for the effort made by Rowland Butler in searching for the body of her father and wrote to thank him. Rowland was born in 1905 and came from a Christian family in Adelaide. In 1928, he became a missionary with the CIM and served in Guizhou. He and   Allison met at the wedding of fellow CIMers, Alfred and Rose Bosshardt,[5] in June 1931, and a letter-writing romance followed. At the time, civil weddings had to be held in Chungking (Chongqing), a 450-kilometer journey from Guizhou, and travel was dangerous due to bandits. Allison and Rowland were married there in March 1933 and were able to spend an extended honeymoon in the hills near Chongqing as Rowland was asked to accompany a group of new missionaries on their way by foot to Guizhou in the south.

Unfortunately, on the way, Allison was taken ill and suffered a miscarriage. Because of his responsibilities for the inexperienced group he was accompanying, Rowland could not remain with Allison, and she had to be carried by four men on a stretcher for four days to the hospital. Fortunately, they managed to avoid trouble, although Rowland and his group faced difficulties from bandits.

rowland-butler-with-new-workers-cm-au-1928-edited
Rowland Butler (front row, third from left) with other new CIMers, China’s Millions, Australasian edition (1928): 163.

Rowland and Allison were stationed in Dushan where the widowed Louisa continued to serve as a Bible teacher and nurse for a further fifteen years. When I visited the church there in 2005, the elderly ladies with whom Louisa had worked wept for a long time as they told stories of the wonderful work she and Allison had done among them.

A busy life followed for the Butlers as they planted churches in Guiding and Duyun, and Rowland, at the young age of thirty-six, became Superintendent for Guizhou. They then lived in the capital Guiyang where Allison managed the mission home, did a lot of nursing, and cared for their three children Keith, Gwyneth, and me—Marjorie. Rowland’s work required much travel away from home which was originally by foot, then by bicycle, and eventually by bus and car.

From the late 1930s, China was at war with Japan, which controlled most of the coastal areas. Even so, despite threatening flights by Japanese planes over the city, Guiyang was never captured. Nevertheless, at the end of 1944, all the missionaries and children were evacuated by plane from Kunming, over the Himalayas to India. Rowland was able to stay in China to work in Chongqing with the Australian Legation in Free China and help Australians and Canadians when they were freed from internment by the Japanese.

After the War ended in August 1945, Allison was responsible for bringing their children to Australia by ship. The family was finally reunited in Adelaide for furlough before Rowland returned to China with Keith and Gwyneth so they could attend the Chefoo School, which was then located in Shanghai. I was able to stay in Melbourne with Allison till after she had given birth to Wilbur in 1947 when we too returned to Guiyang, where Rowland continued to serve as Superintendent for Guizhou. From 1948–51, all three Butler children attended the Chefoo School located at Kuling (Guling) on beautiful Mount Lushan. While there, we were able to spend two summer holidays with our visiting parents. In 1949, the Communist Revolution succeeded in overturning the government of China, which eventually resulted in the reluctant decision of the CIM to leave the country. After twenty-three years in Guizhou, Rowland had become a Director of the mission, living with Allison and Wilbur at the mission headquarters in Shanghai. The family relocated to Hong Kong until the end of 1951. Once again, Allison had to leave Rowland to bring the children by ship to Australia, while he went to Malaya to survey it as a new field for missionary work and then on to England to attend the historic Bournemouth Conference.[6]

butler-rowland-at-bournemouth-conference-cm-na-1952-edited
CIM leaders at the Bournemouth Conference in 1951, China’s Millions, British edition (1952): 8. Rowland Butler is fifth from the right in the middle row and Arnold Lea is rightmost in the front row.

Life had not laid an easy path for Allison to tread, but after some happy months in Adelaide with the family, the decision was made for the Overseas Missionary Fellowship to establish its headquarters in Singapore and children over ten years of age were to be kept in the homelands, living in hostels. This meant leaving Keith (18), Gwyneth (15), and me (12) behind in Melbourne, an occurrence which Allison later confessed was one of the most difficult decisions of her life. It would be four years before she saw us again.

Despite the difficult separation from her children, Allison found that Singapore suited her well, as she liked the hot weather and the new mission home was near the beautiful Botanic Gardens. With house help and a chauffeur available, she could attend to her missionary work. Above all, she could free her husband to continue his leadership role, which required frequent travel to the fields—often for months at a time. In Singapore, Rowland worked as Assistant Overseas Director of Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia along with Arnold Lea who was in charge of the eastern region. Arnold later wrote of Allison:

We have always admired her clear and penetrating thinking. She came by it honestly…. What a mind she had for detail and what versatility. During her time with us she spent a year or more as post-mistress, as cashier in the Financial Department, as Recorder, as Secretary to the Medical Officer and in and through it all has had a fantastic grasp of the statistics of our Fellowship.

Life changed dramatically on 20 October 1958 while Rowland and Allison were on a short holiday in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. What happened is best told by Rowland, whose letter to his family was dictated to Mrs. Hogarth a week later.

Last Monday morning we set out gaily in lovely weather for a scramble up some of the nearer tea hills overlooking Ringlet. We then decided to push on along the ridge in an attempt to discover the source of the water supply of the proposed new School. In due course we spotted the concrete tank and had almost reached it when Mother was attacked by hornets. I went back to help, and we found ourselves surrounded by these vicious creatures from which we could not speedily escape due to the rough nature of the country. Apparently, the poison from the stings had immediate effect upon us and we both flopped, having no strength to go on. We discovered that as soon as we moved a hand, several wasps would immediately attack, and so we just had to try and stay still until we mustered strength for the next move. It took us the best part of half an hour before we shook off the last of our attackers and by that time, we were both in pretty bad shape. Having been stung in the eyes it was difficult to find our way in the thick undergrowth; but eventually we were led to a track down through the thick jungle which brought us to the head of the little water system of one of the houses near the new school. Here we rested in the shade and managed to have a drink, but the water on our bitten hands hurt unbearably. The question then was to get down to the major road which was some distance off and then to find some means of travelling the one and a half miles to the Mission Home. When we reached the first house it was my idea to leave Mother there and go to the Mission House for a car. Although she was in a very bad condition, she felt it was easier to walk than to stay still, so somehow or other we made our way back home. Fortunately, Dr Maddox was here, and Mrs Harper arrived that day, so although it has been a poor holiday for them, they have been a tremendous help to Miss Dove, who has given herself to looking after us ever since. Mother has had a very bad time indeed, for the combination of shock and the poison from the stings have paralysed her from the waist downwards. I am glad to say that there are slight signs of improvement today as she can now move her legs somewhat, although she still has no feeling in her feet.

Allison continued the story in April 1959 after she was flown to Singapore, with the following extracts from her prayer letter:

The Lord, has been so near and so precious to us all through…. A week of darkness followed, during which the outstanding memory is of joy in sins forgiven and of peace, deep peace, and the comfort of the Scriptures…. Neither the brethren that prayed for me nor I had the assurance that the Lord was about to do anything spectacular in my case, but definite program towards recovery has proceeded steadily from that day on…. Gradually as strength returned, there opened up for me a ministry of prayer AND praise and testimony, for I had many visitors… The only muscles still asleep were those I needed in walking, but I was fitted with callipers and began to learn to walk with the help of two canes…. Within a week the first invitation to speak at a girls’ Bible class had come and since then more, SO the Lord has not cast me off, but has given another ministry in place of what I had been obliged to give up…. Each time I have asked the Lord for healing, he has assured me that ‘His grace is sufficient.’[7]

That same afternoon Allison received her Swimming Club card which enabled her to do water therapy which was of great benefit to her. While her paralysis appeared to be caused by the hornet stings, Allison later confessed that she had felt feverish on the day of her “accident” (as she always called it) and she agreed with the later assumption by doctors that she had contracted polio at the same time.

Although Allison remained physically handicapped, her missionary work in Singapore continued, as she engaged students through the Upward Path correspondence course, and also as she ministered for many years at the Sandes Home for Soldiers. Her work with Dr. Monica Hogben allowed her to combine her medical knowledge with her clerical expertise. Allison was always willing to speak at meetings and services, and her personal letter writing, counselling, and prayers were appreciated by countless people during her time in Singapore as well as during her retirement. She played another important role in her marriage—as a supportive, adaptive, and undemanding wife, despite her physical limitations.

butler-rowland-and-allison-1971
Rowland and Allison in 1971

When the Butlers finally retired in 1970, Arnold Lea concluded his farewell speech for Allison:

I think it is this last term of service which has seen the most exciting and yet the most fruitful ministry. The Upward Path in Singapore has grown from a mere trickle to 800 registered to study the Word of God. With a large group of examiners all looking to Allison for guidance and co-ordination, by burning the midnight oil on many occasions, she has kept this ministry going. But I am sure the memory which will stand out clearest and with the deepest spiritual impact upon us has been the constant evidence of the grace of God. For twelve years now since October 1958 when on the Cameron Highlands she lost the full use of her legs, Allison has borne her physical limitations without complaint and never once let it hinder her contribution. Twice with this handicap she has returned from furlough to yet another term on the field. God has blessed indeed.

Another commendation came from Allison’s youngest brother Alf, who later wrote that “In all the time of her suffering I have never heard her complain, and I know that the pain must have been severe for many years.”

Rowland and Allison chose to retire to the family beach house at Port Elliot, South Australia where their family could visit. However, within six months Rowland developed acute leukemia and went to his heavenly rest. In her next letter to her praying friends, Allison quoted the Apostle Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 1:3–4: “The God of all comfort, comforteth us … that we may be able to comfort (others) … by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” She went on to write of the comfort of Scriptures, the comfort of memory, the comfort of love, and the comfort of letters. God also gave Allison the comfort of a long retirement with relatively good health and opportunities of service in many ways as well as the enjoyment of her family.

Allison spent most of her remaining twenty years in Melbourne in retirement homes, eventually accepting the use of a wheelchair. She was able to see all her children married and to meet all her thirteen grandchildren, and lived not far from Keith in Melbourne. For three years she stayed in Hamilton with Gwyneth’s family and spent much time counselling and praying with ladies from the churches there, where she is remembered with appreciation. She was also able to visit my husband’s and my farming property, and in 1991 was there when she was taken ill and spent some months in hospital, where she witnessed to the lady in the next bed whose leg had been amputated. Her new friend Enid lived for another fifteen years, always thanking God for Allison’s ministry. Writing letters, knitting socks for leprosy patients, and helping with mending meant that Allison was never idle, but her promise to God that she would spend a tithe of her time in prayer was her main priority. The Psalms were her favourite encouragement, and she quoted them on the top of nearly every letter. One that clearly characterised her life and ministry is Psalm 55:18: “He has delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me, for there were many with me.”

[1] The story of the younger Douglas Pike can be found in John David Calvert, “Douglas Pike (1908–1974): South Australian and Australian Historian,” MA thesis, University of Adelaide, 2008, https://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/2440/51170/8/02whole.pdf. The first chapter of this thesis covers some family history.

[3] For more on this story, see J. Stark, “Our Shanghai Letter,” China’s Millions, British ed. (January 1930): 11, http://findit.library.yale.edu/catalog/digcoll:221953; “Personalia,” China’s Millions, British ed. (March 1930): 47, James Stark, “Our Shanghai Letter,” China’s Millions, British ed. (April 1930): 57, “The Late Mr. D. F. Pike,” China’s Millions, Australasian ed. (January 1930): 3, “Notes,” China’s Millions, Australasian ed. (March 1930): 67.

[4] “Notes,” China’s Millions, Australasian ed. (March 1930): 67, “By Miss M. A. Pike,” China’s Millions, Australasian ed. (October 1930): 152.

[5] Rudolf Alfred Bosshardt was later one of two foreigners who were forced to join the Red Army’s “Long March” in 1934. For his story, see R. A. Bosshardt, The Restraining Hand: Captivity for Christ in China (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1936), updated as R. A. Bosshardt with Gwen and Edward England, The Guiding Hand: Captivity and Answered Prayer in China (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973), and Jean Watson, Bosshardt: A Biography (Oxford: Lion, 1995).

[6] The Bournemouth Conference was held by CIM leaders in November 1951 to plot the road ahead since mission work had ended in China. The group had discerned the Lord’s call in February to redeploy to work “overseas” from China—thus giving the Overseas Missionary Fellowship its name. Following up on surveys taken in a number of East Asian countries, CIM leadership sent missionaries to the “new fields” of Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan. Other areas for ministry would be added in subsequent years. For more on the Bournemouth Conference, see Rose Dowsett, “Making All Things New—or Did We?” Mission Round Table 14, no. 1 (January–April 2019): 10–15, https://omf.org/blog/2019/04/30/making-all-things-new-or-did-we/.

[7] She never received complete healing.

Start typing and press Enter to search