Surrounded by So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

This article dips into CIM history and recounts stories from China’s Millions from 1927. The later part of the 1920s was a time of great turbulence in China. Chinese Christians and non-Christians together suffered under horrendous conditions and the missionaries were not immune to this suffering.

Claire is the Archivist at the International Center and contributing Editor of the Mission Round Table.

Surrounded by So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 3 (Sep-Dec 2017): 45-47

The later part of the 1920s was a time of great turbulence in China. Wracked by civil war, city and countryside alike suffered under the fighting. Added to this was suffering through the earthquake at Kansu[1], plague, and famine. And then there were the frequent violent raids by brigand bands, some hundreds strong, which occupied cities and towns for days on end, pillaging and carrying off food, possessions, and often men, women, and children to be held for ransom or killed. In this mayhem, which in some areas was heightened by anti-British and anti-Christian sentiment that at times led to riots, missionaries had to make the decision to stay at their stations or evacuate to the coast. Many mission stations were commandeered by the soldiers as billets or hospitals, as they were usually among the larger compounds. Consular pressure resulted in most leaving the interior stations. But for some leaving where they were known and trusted to make a journey of thousands of miles through treacherous territory was not a viable option so they stayed at their posts. Of course for the Chinese themselves there was no real choice and Christians and non-Christians together suffered under these horrendous conditions.

The missionaries were not immune to this suffering and the pages of China’s Millions from 1927 recount many stories, two of which will be mentioned briefly along with a fuller account of a third.

An Ultimate Sacrifice

Dr. G. Whitfield Guinness arrived in China in 1897 and mainly worked in the province of Honan where he saw two hospitals established in the capital Kaifeng. It was here in March 1927 that numbers of wounded soldiers came for treatment. One of these had typhus and Dr. Guinness took on his case. The call to evacuate came just as Dr. Guinness went down with fever. While they were able to evacuate him along with the others to Peking, he died of typhus four days later. D. M. Gibson writes: “The end, yes, faithful unto death, an honourable end, a soldier’s end, and yet not the end of life: rather the entrance into life more abundant. The end of weakness, but not of worship; the end of limitations, but not of loyalty; the end of pain, but not of praise.”[2]

Typical goatskin raft for 2 or 3 people. Photographed by Rev. Claude L. Pickens Jr. (1933) © President and Fellows of Harvard College. Digital image from https://www.hpcbristol.net/visual/hv45-32

“A Perilous Journey by Raft”

Orders to evacuate the stations in the far northwest province of Kansu came in April 1927, and so fifty gathered, thirty-eight adults and twelve children, in Lanchow to begin the journey down the Yellow River on eight specially built, small, light sheep-skin rafts. Apart from having to navigate the natural hazards of rapids and whirlpools, these travelers had to dodge the bullets from local pirates who demanded a toll for safe passage of each raft. Having paid the toll once, the frightened raftsmen insisted it was safer to travel only by night. The Yellow River is notorious for sandbars and inevitably one night all eight rafts were grounded. The next morning (5 June), having freed his own raft, the leader of the party, Dr. George E. King, went to the aid of the other five rafts still grounded. After all but one of the rafts were free, he waded into the river to help with this last one but was carried away by the swift current and drowned in a whirlpool. His body was never recovered. Dr. King had been born in China to CIM missionaries and had come back to China as a medical missionary in 1911 at the age of twenty-three. He spent most of his missionary career in Lanchow at The Borden Memorial Hospital. Today at that hospital, now the Number Two Hospital in Lanzhou, there is a museum which tells the history of the hospital. This story is recounted in full and so the witness of Dr. King and the King he served continues.[3]

Borden Memorial Hospital, Lanchow. Administration and operating room unit.Photographed by Rev. Claude L.Pickens Jr. (1933) © President and Fellows of Harvard College. Digital image from https://www.hpcbristol.net/visual/hv45-39

“In Perils of Robbers”[4]

On 8 April, 1927, C.I.M. missionaries Mr. and Mrs. Slichter, their son John (6), and daughter Ruth (3) and a fellow missionary Miss Mary Craig, travelling from Anshun in Kweichow to Yunnanfu, left the town of Loping in the province of Yunnan under the protection of armed Militia and soldiers.  A day into their journey they were attacked by a large band of robbers with tragic results. The following is a letter to the Deputy Director in China, George W. Gibb, written by Mary Craig a few days after her release by the robbers.

Letter from Mary Craig:

Having but to-day secured pen and paper, I want to take this first opportunity of writing you of the brigands’ attack upon us and our subsequent captivity….

On Friday morning, April 8, we left the city of Loping under escort of one hundred armed Militia and soldiers. About noon of that day it was decided we should not go on, but wait until more soldiers could be sent to strengthen our escort. By next morning these had come, and we set forth again. It was reported that there were two places where the robbers were bad, and the first of these we succeeded in passing in the course of the morning. This was Saturday, April 9. It was about 2 o’clock, I judge, when only about ten miles from this city and our journey’s end for that day, our escort became quite excited. They had sighted a number of robbers on a knoll some little distance beyond us to the right of us. There must have been some of them in hiding in the thickets through which we were passing for, in a few moments, when we came out into a clear place and began to ascend a small hill the robbers opened fire on us. Our coolies became terrified, dropped our loads and chairs and ran. So did our escort take to their heels and run. Being left alone our party got down and ran too. For a time, I lost sight of Mr. and Mrs. Slichter and the children, but by crawling on my hands and knees I was led—by the Spirit of God, I believe—to where they were, crouching down in a rice field—this to avoid being struck by flying bullets.

We summarize only the painful details of the shooting and stabbing. Three of the robbers attacked the missionaries, and heedless of their cry for mercy, one of them took aim and fired at Mrs. Slichter, who was holding little three-year-old Ruth in her arms. The bullet struck the child in the head, and passing through tore an ugly gash in Mrs. Slichter’s left wrist, as it fell to the ground. Another robber stabbed Mr. Slichter in the back with his bayonet, evidently piercing the heart, killing him instantly. He fell without a sound. The child lived for about fifteen minutes, but was entirely unconscious all the time. Thus God graciously spared them any conscious suffering.

Another group of robbers coming upon us robbed Mr. Slichter’s dead body, snatched Mrs. Slichter’s and my glasses and my hat and sweater which I was wearing.

After this we were left alone with our dead and our sorrow for perhaps half-an-hour, while the robbers ran on to fight our escort, of whom, we learned later, twenty odd were killed and a number taken captive. Returning from the battle the brigands took Mrs. Slichter, John and me off with them to a near-by village. After much agonized pleading on Mrs. Slichter’s part, the body of Mr. Slichter was brought into the village and tossed into a stable. They refused to bring Ruth’s body, but Mrs. Slichter and I succeeded in carrying her thither ourselves. Next morning when we saw Mr. Slichter’s body it had been robbed of all clothing. Under the cruel, unsympathetic and evil gaze of these terrible men and with a little dirty tub, which held still dirtier water, we managed to bathe and reclothe the body and place it, with that of Ruth’s, into a coffin obtained in the village.

On our daily moves in and out and over the hills during the next week, I need not dwell. There were terrible days filled with suspense and terror. Food was given us, but we could eat little, and sleep came in fitful, troubled naps. But God was always near us, and His comfort and strength were unspeakably precious.

On the Friday … after our incarceration began the soldiers from this city came to seek our release, but after a short battle with them the robbers became frightened and turned and fled with us. The soldiers pursued, much to our fright and terror, as we had to run up over the hills with the bullets flying all round us and very near us. After retreating for a distance of ten miles we came upon a little deserted village, where we spent the night.

Next morning I was released. At day break the robbers rode off with Mrs. Slichter and John and left me behind, telling me to go with a letter they had written, to the soldiers and say to them that if they continued to pursue them and fight they would kill Mrs. Slichter and John. I found the soldiers and they promised they would not fight. They then sent me here to this hsien city, where I’m being kindly looked after by the magistrate and his wife in the yamen.

Nothing definite has been heard of Mrs. Slichter and John since I left them. About a thousand soldiers hold the passage round about the robbers about twenty miles from here, and the officials are hopeful of securing Mrs. Slichter’s release in a day or two now. The family of the leader is being held until he releases Mrs. Slichter.

​​​​​​

A group of Kweichow Missionaries, with Mr. W. H. Warren (seated in front row) from Shanghai. They had met for Conference from 30 May to 1 June 1926. The group include Mr. & Mrs. Slichter and their two children. Mr. Slichter, with little Ruth in his arms, is standing in the back row, second from the right, and Mrs. Slichter is seated in the front row, also second from the right, with her son John at her feet. China’s Millions (July 1927): 110.

Comfort in sorrow

Mr. Allen came from Yunnanfu, reaching here last Wednesday. What his presence means to me in this time of grave uncertainty none but our Heavenly Father knows. All day he is busy seeing officials, sending telegrams and attending to any number of smaller details which have to do with Mrs. Slichter’s and my welfare.

The coffin which we got out on the hills was sent here last week and Mr. Allen has been busy to-day purchasing a better one, and having the bodies transferred to it under proper conditions, so it can be taken with us to the capital for burial. Greatly has he strengthened and encouraged me by his clear exhortations on the Word and prayer. Truly I praise God for giving me the blessing of his presence and help at this special time.

Our intention is to wait here until Mrs. Slichter and John are released, which we trust in God’s good providence will not be long now.

I might say that Mrs. Slichter’s wound in itself is not serious. It is quite superficial and, unless it becomes infected from lack of care which, since I left her, she may have difficulty in securing, it should heal all right. We are praying that God may keep her from all untoward effects from the bad environment she is forced to be in these days.

All we had is gone, save a few of the children’s clothes and a little bedding. But what are things? Gladly do we let them go, and happy will we be without them, when once again our dear friend is with us. “Our God is able to deliver thee” are words that filled my thoughts all the day and night before my release, and to-day they have taken hold of me again. God grant that we may see them fulfilled on behalf of our sister very soon.

P.S. On reading over this letter, I find I have said nothing of how wonderfully Mrs. Slichter is being sustained through all her sorrow and grief. While she is greatly stunned by the blow, yet she yields uncomplainingly to the will of God, and is trusting Him for all that is to come. I am sure none of us can conceive of the hardness of her lot now that she is alone with John among those evil men. But one thing we can all be sure of is that God knows all about it and never leaves her. We trust her implicitly to Him, believing He will carry her through. When I left them she and John were both well.

Editor’s comments:

On 25 April 1927, Mrs. Slichter and John were rescued by Colonel Chang Ch’ung.

Morris Slichter was born on 30 June 1884. He worked as a flourist in Toronto Canada before going to China to join the CIM at the age of 31, arriving there on 19 October 1915. In Chongking on 4 November 1919, he married Miss Irma L. Newcombe, an American from Morganfield, Kentucky. She had arrived in China to join CIM on 11 November 1915 at 21 years of age. They worked together in Anshun, Kweichow and had two children, John and Ruth. After Morris and Ruth were murdered by bandits on 9 April 1927, Irma remained in China until 1931, resigning from the CIM in April 1932.

Miss Mary Isabel Craig, a nurse from Philadelphia, arrived in China in 1913 and joined the CIM on 5 January 1925, aged 36. After the events recorded above Mary remained in China, marrying Robert G. Walker, a British CIMer, in Chefoo on 5 December 1932. After Robert’s death in 1949 Mary continued in China, leaving in the early 1950s when all missionaries had to leave China. She then worked in the UK office until 1956. She died on 18 January 1969.

[1] The names of places in this article follow the spelling used in the Chinas Millions .

[2] D. M. Gibson, “A Brief Tribute to my ‘Chief’,” China’s Millions (June 1927): 92.

[3] Info from “Refugees from Kansu,” China’s Millions (August 1927): 123–124; T. W. Goodall, “In Memoriam: George E. King,” China’s Millions (September 1927): 134.

[4] Mary Craig, “’In Perils of Robbers’,” China’s Millions (July 1927): 110–111.

China’s Millions 1927–1928 is available for download at http://findit.library.yale.edu/catalog/digcoll:221343

For readers who are interested in other volumes of China’s Millions published by China Inland Mission:

Searchable PDF copies of volumes of China’s Millions are available at the Internet Archives and Yale University Library Digital Collection at https://archive.org/search.php?query=%22China%27s%20Millions%22 (Internet Archives) and https://guides.library.yale.edu/c.php?g=296315&p=1976865.

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