Chapter 3: Our Years in China

Entering The Promised Land
Getting Acquainted
Off to Language School
Sound of War
Under Communist Rule
Our Trip Out of China

Entering The Promised Land

On September 26, 1949 Louella and I left Hong Kong on a DC-3 Plane for Chungking. The DC-3 was what some called "The Work Horse for getting around in China at mid-century." We took off from Hong Kong airport, and were in the air for about an hour, when we noticed that one motor was missing out occasionally. Soon the sun came around in front of us, and we were sure that we were heading back. So many passengers were immediately on their feet and looking out to see what was going on, that the Pilot almost immediately announced that we were going back to Canton (Guang Juo) to have the motor checked out. It could not have been that far to Guang Juo, and in a short time we were safely on the ground at Guang Jou airport. The Airport attendant asked what the Pilot needed, but the attendant and the Pilot were from different parts of China and could not understand each other. So, the Pilot said, "I needed a mechanic." "Oh," the Attendant said, "You need a mechanic?" They spoke in English from then on, and got along fine. We were all instructed to get off the plane, and to go into the terminal while they checked the plane out. Then, they announced that we would all be put in a hotel for the night, and that the next morning another plane would be brought from Hong Kong to take us to Chungking.

So, after a good night's sleep, we were up and on our way again. We arrived at Chungking before noon, and Olin Stockwell was at the Airport to meet us. He had the luxury of a car, which made everything convenient for us. Olin and Esther, his wife, were certainly the fine hosts that Louella had said they would be. Dorothy McCamon came from Hochwan to meet us in Chungking, and to escort us back to Hochwan, the last lap of our journey.

Riverboat traveling between Chungking and Hochwan via Jaoling river.

We were unable to secure passage to Hochwan until the next day, so Dorothy devised a plan by which we would leave Chungking by bus that afternoon for Bei Pei, half way to Hochwan, and from there, take the boat, and save a little time. So, off to the bus station we went, and were able to get tickets, but the bus kept delaying. Finally we were off, but this was not exactly a relaxing trip. The driver would put the bus in neutral on the down hill runs to save gas, so there were some real thrills going around curves where there sometimes were fierce drop-offs. The sad part was that we still failed to get to Bei Pei before the boat arrived. Consequently, we had to stay in a Chinese Inn for the night. This proved to be an introduction to the realities of China at mid-century. It sounded and smelled like we were next to or right above a pig pen--not the best environment for sleeping.

Hochwan Waterfront - Hochwan was the location of the Mission 1948-51.

The next afternoon we got on the next boat to Hochwan, and we eventually arrived to a great welcome in the Promised Land. Finally, after over two months of travel, I arrived on Sept. 28th at the destination for which I had left my home in Iowa on July 29th. The welcome that greeted us was not only a welcome to me, but also for Louella and I, as newly weds, coming to Hochwan to be a part of the missionary group. For me it was a great welcome to a new and strange land, and in many ways, to a strange people. They would not be strange for long, however, for the Chinese people are very friendly and easy to learn to know and love. They are so easy to share life with that I never doubted that the welcome they gave me was most sincere and real.

Getting Acquainted

The next month was filled with many exciting experiences, as I observed missionaries and Chinese workers busily carrying out the life and work of the young Chinese Church Building the Kingdom in China.

Common Chinese Church in 1948.
Listening to their many conversations in Chinese made me wonder how in the world I would ever be able to communicate with these people. The inability to communicate with people, even though I wanted to very much, became an incentive for me to work hard at learning the language when that opportunity came. That opportunity was to come very soon. One of the Chinese co-workers, James Luo, who knew English quite well, was a big help to me when I needed to talk to Chinese friends.

James Luo, Co-worker
In fact, on the second Sunday we were in Hochwan I was asked to give the message at morning worship. James became my faithful helper, and interpreted my sermon as I spoke.

One time we were all together, and I asked the mission group how many people they were making contact with. They, for the most part, had no idea, so with time on my hands, I began to do some figuring. The congregation gathered several times, they had English Bible classes, and met with the children at the orphanage.

Julia, Louella's co-nurse
Louella opened the clinic for people and someone always shared Bible stories as they waited. Counting up the average numbers that gathered each time, it seemed that they met about twelve-hundred people each week with a gospel message. The missionaries were quite surprised to learn that they were meeting that many people. Of course, when one thought of all the people on the street every day, not to mention the many homes where people dwelt whom we seldom saw, they were really meeting only a very few of them. It really made one feel very inadequate to minister to all the multitudes. I think Jesus must have felt the same way when he, as a human being, saw all the multitudes who had no Shepherd to guide them.

Pastor Gordon Wang

Their Pastor, Gordon Wang, was a recent graduate from a Bible School, and was really quite young, but was such a dedicated young man. He loved the Lord, and really put his heart into his preaching of the Gospel. We all admired this young co-worker, and his faith that the Lord had sent to him. I always felt bad that I could not communicate in a more personal way with Gordon, but he knew very little English. James was a big help to me, of course, but it is always hard to share some other person's personal thoughts with someone else, so I still felt very limited.

Gathering for Church on Sunday morning

Evenings were relatively free for missionaries in China because there were no electric lights in so many of their homes, only candles. People were, therefore, inclined to stay home at night, and did not usually welcome guests. So, that was the time for missionaries to share in devotions, experiences of the day, and to sing hymns together, building one another up in the faith. Precious times!

After Louella and I had been there a couple of weeks, Don suggested that he and I should go on a trip to Yuen Min Zen, a town about thirty miles to the north of Hochwan. The missionaries had been there earlier and thought that it would be a good place for Louella and me to go visit after language school. We left on a bright, sunny morning, and followed what looked to me like paths through the fields. Don said that if you know how they look, you can tell which are paths to distant places and which are those that end close-by.

Chinese hauling rape-seed oil - wheels squeek, but they enjoy the music!
We walked rather briskly, so we arrived in Yuen Men Zen by about mid-afternoon. We found a fruit stand and bought some fruit to take away some of the hunger that had crept into our middles. We then went and found some of the people whom Don had met earlier, and they seemed very friendly. After a while, we went for a walk around town. Don told me that it was a town of about ten-thousand people. In China that is a rather small town, yet it was a very nice little town. In that stage of my development, in relation to the Chinese culture, it looked very primitive. To me, I thought this town must have been about like some of the little towns Jesus visited in Israel. At that point in my adjustment, it did not look like a very desirable place to live. However, by the end of the next year in language school, and after having learned to know the Chinese a little better, I would have gladly gone there.

Don and I stayed at someone's home for the night. I can no longer remember their names from so long ago. To make beds for us they took doors off the inside of the house from hinges that un-hook from the lower part, and they placed the doors on saw horses. Then, they put blankets on the doors, and added bedding to cover up with. They were hardly "Simmons" mattresses, but we slept! After all, a thirty mile trek made us quite ready for some rest.

The following day, Don sent me back to Hochwan by boat, as he wanted to go on to the next town to contact other people. A family was going down river on a boat, and they were happy to have me go with them. Don gave them a little bit of money for the trip. He was sending me because he thought I had heard enough Chinese words that I did not know, and I was inclined to agree. For the trip down the river I was on my own. I had learned a few Chinese phrases such as, "What is this?" So, as we floated down the river I pointed to different things and asked, "What is this in Chinese?" Then, they would say the word in Chinese for me. I picked up a few new words on the way home, and the time went faster. As we were going down the river, the rowing did not take a lot of effort, and we arrived in Hochwan rather quickly. At the dock I got off the boat, turned, bowed, and said, "Shei Shei," which means, "Thank you," then I returned to our home.

Language School

Off To Language School

It became obvious that unless I learned to speak the language, I would be of no help to anyone, not to the Mission, not to the Church, nor to China. I needed badly to learn to communicate with the people, so Louella and I were released to go to Chengtu in order to attend the West China Union University. This university had been established years before by five cooperating Mission groups, and was filling a tremendous need for the people of China, and for new missionaries coming to serve. We arrived in Chengtu in early November, and were able to rent a house from some of the Methodists, since their missionary homes were not all occupied. We gave ourselves over diligently to the study of the Chinese Language.

Clock tower on Campus

This was yet another test of my faith and determination. Several weeks were spent memorizing phonetic script (A set of symbols used to make sounds of words in Chinese). Along with that, we also learned the four primary tones used in producing the combined tones of different words in Chinese. That was a long and tedious struggle for one beginning language study. Louella had mastered that part long before, and offered encouragement to me as I went through those difficult times. It really seemed to me at times that I was getting no where. However, I was soon to discover that all those drills were really for my good. For, one cannot produce words correctly unless they are pronounced correctly and in the proper tone. One Phonetic sound may be used in four different sounds and have four different meanings, so the tones cannot be ignored. How amazed I was when I began to use words and phrases I had learned, and the Chinese people understood me. Wow! Great! This hard work was paying off! There is no better incentive for language study than to be understood when you talk to people, and to begin understanding what they are saying to you. A precious treasure!

During our time in Language Study, Louella and I also taught English classes, using the Bible as a text-book. This was an opportunity to present a Gospel message to people who were conversant in English, and this method helped them to improve both their pronunciation and their understanding of English words and phrases. We were able to become aquainted with some very capable and bright young people through this teaching.

Sound of War

It was late November in the year, 1949, and after we had only been in Chengtu a little more than a month, when the sounds of the big guns of the Communist Armies could be heard in the distance, especially in the otherwise quiet of the night. This made us all too aware that a war was going on, and that the fighting was not far away. The sounds did not seem to move much closer for some time, but they continued to be heard throughout the month of December. Everyone harbored fears of what might happen when the battle for the City of Chengtu would take place. One morning around mid December, Louella and I awoke to the sound of machine gun fire not too far in the distance. We could hear the bullets cutting through the leaves of the trees, but, thankfully, none of them hit our house. However, one bullet entered the house of our neighbors and slightly wounded the wife. We heard later that two Generals of Chiang Kai Shek had gotten into an argument about whether or not to turn the City over peacefully. So, the two Generals and their forces had to fight their way to a decision. Fortunately, the battle did not last long, and nothing more came of the situation. On December 30th, 1949, the City of Chengtu was turned over peaceably to the Communist Forces. Everyone, including the foreigners, were told to stay inside and not be seen on the streets.

Under Communist Rule

We were soon informed that we should go about life as usual, but to remain inside the City and not try to leave. So, we continued to study the Chinese language, to teach our classes, and life continued to go on much as it had before. After several months we were asked to appear at a certain office for registration with the new government on a given day. At the specified time and place we appeared, and we were received briskly and cordially invited to have chairs. A young officer came in and questioned us in some detail as to who we were, what our parents' names and occupations were, where we went to school, and why we were in China. They also wanted to know in which parts of China we had lived. They asked for our passports, but we responded that we had been instructed not to give them to anyone. They replied that they understood, and that they would return them again after they had prepared new resident certificates for us, then were given a time when we should return for our new alien certificates and passports.

After some months all the money was recalled and we were issued new currency, "Peoples Money." After that occurred, we no longer needed to carry a briefcase to bring our money home from the bank. The old money had been so inflated that it was necessary to carry a great deal of it just to do a little business. We were really glad that we no longer needed to do that.

The great event of 1950 was the birth of our first son on September 14th. What a day! In China, when one's first child is born, and if it is a boy, that is called "Ding How," which means, "The Very Best." When I returned home from the hospital, which was on campus, to report to the cook and his family that we had a son, they just beamed! Soon after I arrived home, Mrs. Cunningham, Louella's Doctor, brought Philip home in her personal Ricksha, and Louella followed in a "Whagen," which is similar to our stretcher, but the poles are bamboo, and the person riding bounces along as they are carried by two men. When she came up the walk from the front gate, there was a line of missionaries and their servants waiting to see this new foreign baby. What young father's shoulders would not be a little more broad with all that attention? The baby's name was Philip Eugene, but since a Chinese name was necessary for registration, our Chinese friends gave him the name Bei Bow Gen, which means "Precious White Thought."

Louella & Philip's first picture, taken for alien registration in Communist China. Philip was born on Sept. 14th, 1950.

One of the first things we needed to do after Philip was born was to have a picture taken of him, and have him included on our alien registration certificate, that way he would be an official resident of the "People's Republic of China." We could not have him registered on our passports at that time because there was no American consulate in China; they had all gone home and told us that we were on our own. We had to wait until we were in Hong Kong to have that done.

On November 6, 1950 we applied for exit permits to leave China. A short time before we had asked for permits to go to Hochwan where our other workers were located, and their response had been a definite "No!" They told us that we could not travel anywhere in China, so we had asked, "Does that mean that we can only ask for permits to leave China?" They replied, "Yes," so we soon asked for permits to leave China. They said that they would tell us when we could leave, and that we would absolutely have to depart at the time they indicated. It was not long after Philip was born that the wife of a young couple we knew well came to visit us. Both husband and wife had often visited us while we were in language study. This time, however, the wife came alone. She told us that they would no longer be able to visit us because the government officials had come to question them for long periods of time about their relationship with us. She said that when had happened, her husband could not get his studies done for school. He was studying to be a medical doctor, so she said that he had to keep up with his studies, or he could not stay in school. We told her that we understood, and that we would not expect them to come. That was the last time we saw them before we left China. She was also the last Chinese person who was to visit our house before we left Chengtu on the 30th of December. I was rather amazed that it was possible for our cook and his family to continue serving in our home, but they did not say anything, and neither did we. We were very careful about their situation regarding their relationship to us, not asking anything that we knew would make things difficult for them, and they continued to help us faithfully to the end.

The Communist Government had, in early 1950, told all missionaries that we could no longer pass out tracts or literature of any kind. All youth work was forbidden, as they said that they would be too busy, and they certainly did keep them busy! All church meetings had to be registered with the government, and no group meetings could be held without the permission of the government. One Sunday, the afternoon English Worship Service for English Speaking People was interrupted and closed because someone had failed to get the required permit. The propaganda and slogans of the government were very profuse. Some often-seen slogans were: "Down with Imperialism," "Down with Capitalism," "Down with America," "Imperialistic Americans buy the favor of the people with money," and "People are paid to attend Church." In the rural areas, a popular saying was, "Down with the Land-Lords." Many Landlords, in fact, were arrested because of the high rents that they had charged the poor renters during the past years.

On the second of December, 1950 a letter to us from the foreign office was delivered, asking us both to come in for questioning. They also gave us papers to fill out to receive travel permits to leave China. The papers they gave us to fill out were all in Chinese Characters, many of which we did not know, and we needed someone to help us fill them out. We found a friend who agreed to help us fill them out, and when they were complete, we returned them. We were then were given papers to take to the bank in order to verify that we were free of debt and obligated to no one. These papers were also to have the certification of a shop keeper who knew us and could certify that we were of good character, and that we were responsible persons. Yet another paper that we received was to be taken to the Newspaper so they could publish our names, nationality, and our desire to leave China, so that any one offended by us could make it known to the government. Needless to say, these were rather uneasy days for us.

We then prepared our luggage for travel. We had one trunk each for Louella and me, plus two foot lockers to give to China Travel Service to handle. We lived out of two brief cases for ten days while waiting for a plane. Our Sunday before Christmas was spent with Wesley Day and his family, and on Christmas day, we stayed with the Knettlers. Both families were good friends of ours from the Methodist Mission. However, time did get rather long because we had sent all our books off by mail, and we had very little to read. We also had very few dishes to use before we left, and the Knettlers' cook was a real blessing to help us when we needed help, and he managed so well with so very little. He was able to do the job better than we could have done, for certain.

Our Trip Out of China

Finally, on December 30th, l950 our long journey began, as we were permitted to make the first lap of our trip out of China. This part was easy! It was a fine, sunny day after a period of much cloudy weather. We traveled by plane in the faithful DC3 used so much in China at that time. Our flight was a real delight, but the landing on the tiny island in the middle of theYangtse River in Chungking between the mountains was more than a little breath-taking. It was a long climb up the four-hundred steps to City-leve, and the Chinese were so attracted to our group of foreigners, and especially to the little baby being held in his mother's arms. Frequently, they tried to touch him, and would rub their hands over his face and lips. Eventually, Louella and I carried the baggage and gave Philip to a missionary girl who stood about six feet tall. The Chinese, who were generally short of stature could then not reach Philip so easily. Being taller does, of course, have it's advantages sometimes.

Gene, Louella & baby Philip, arriving at the MCC Centerin Kowloon, Hong Kong, January 28, 1951.

We stayed at the Mission Center of the United Church of Christ. This Mission Center had become something of a Hotel during that time in Chungking, as so many people were leaving China and needed a place to stay until they could get passage down the Yangtse River. I think that, at one time, we were among about twenty people staying there, waiting together. We, along with a number of others were given permission to leave on January 18th. Tensions have a way of building up when so many people stay together in one place, and under those kinds of circumstances. Some of the missionaries were running low on money, and having no way to get more only added to the already-present tension. Because of the abundance of guests, the Chinese servants helping at the Center were also feeling strained. So, we got together and came up with some extra money to give to the servants for working so hard at taking care of all of us. That solved one problem, but we, like many of the others, still had to deal with the issue of our significant lack of funds. Fortunately, we were able to solve this particular problem when a Chinese Doctor friend let us have some money. We felt that the Lord was stepping into a difficult situation by allowing this friend to help us solve our problem. Such things do not just simply "happen," such charitable acts are granted to us when our need is great because we are watched over by a God Who cares.

This trip down the Yangtse River to Hankow was to take one week. We were on a boat that was made to hold from fifty to one-hundred people, and there were at least two-hundred and fifty people sailing on this particular journey. Needless to say, the boat was very crowded, but the Chinese are accustomed to living close together and to moving over to help someone else. Orientals do these things much more easily than we do. We might make such accommodations when we cannot do anything about it, but it is not easy for us. Louella, along with Philip, was invited to share a room with two other missionary women, while I was able to find a place inside a men's dormitory room where I could spread a folded blanket on the floor. That steel deck was pretty hard, but after a couple of nights of adjustment, I slept like I was on a high-class mattress.

For food we were given two meals a day, one at about 9:00 AM and the other was served at about 4:00 PM. The meals on the boat consisted of a bowl of rice, with a big leaf of boiled cabbage and a fat piece of juicy pork. It was hard to take at first, but after the first day it began to taste good, and by mid-week it was delightful. One's perspective and the situation makes all the difference.

Each night we docked at a city along the river. Then after we were settled down and sleeping well, past midnight a government official woke me up to ask many questions and go through our baggage to see what he might find. After he had scattered things about and seen everything, he told us, "Now you can pack it up again." that happened every night all week. They did the same to Louella, but fortunately I had most of the baggage.

Finally we reached Hankow and were able to board the train for Hong Kong. We wanted to find food for the trip of two days, but we didn't have time. Just before we got on the train a man came with a cartload of beautiful bananas. I asked Louella for a couple of Philip's clean diapers, asked the man to cut off a big bunch of bananas and wrapped them in the diapers. They did nto make a well-rounded diet, but we had something good and clean to eat.

We arrived at the border just befor noon on Sunday, the 28th of January 1951. Our travel permits expired that day. We could not cross the border until someone was sent back to Guang-Juo by train to see if they could let us go. During the next three hours we sat there and looked at the British flag waving in the breeze on the other side of the little stream that divided the borders. Louella said as we sat there, "I never thought that the British flag would look so good to me as it did that day." Then a man returned with word that it was all right for us to cross the border. At the middle of the bridge across the stream a British official welcomed us into Hong Kong.

We were taken into a little tent by the side of the road, where they checked out passports and made sure our papers were in order. We were questioned about where we might be staying and we told them we had a place reserved at the MCC Headquarters in Kowloon while in the area. They then gave us directions by train, for which we were thankful.

When we arrived at MCC Headquarters we found no one at home except the housekeeper, who welcomed us gladly and showed us where we could clean up from our trip. We were so glad that we could make ourselves look presentable to the others when they returned.

How happy we were to meet President Earnest Miller of Goshen College. Niva White was there serving as his secretary, and Dan and Rosalie Stoltzfus who had come with us on the boat from the U.S., and were now serving as host and hostess at MCC Headquarters (their daughter was born about the same time as Philip). Dan McCammon was there too, having arrived the day before from Mainland China. What a blessed reunion it was to meet all of our friends who had meant so much to us in years past! Meeting Don was a troubled joy, because we knew that his wife and two other Missionary women were still being held -- he had been deported and had to leave them behind.

The second or third day after arriving in Hong Kong, I became very ill with measles and had a very high fever. A Chinese doctor who came to help me said it looked like measles to him, but Louella assumed I'd already had them as a child and told this to the doctor. I finally got Louella's attention and told her that I hadn't had them before.

After it was confirmed that I had the measles, I was placed in the basement of the building where we were. In nearby rooms they had a kindergarten for children. Unfortunately, some of the children would sometimes come into the room where I was, and it was not long before they had an outbreak of measles in the kindergarten. The doctor said that I should not worry because this was the best time for them to have them, but I was sorry to be the one to make them sick. I was very ill for about two weeks with a high fever and bad cough. Finally I recovered, and was so grateful that I would never have them again!

While I was sick with measles, Don McCammon was exploring Hong Kong, and on his walks he discovered a travel agency, and he made reservations for us to travel to the U. S. on the President Cleveland, a ship of the President Lines. These reservations were for late February.

After I was fully recovered, we decided to take Philip for some immunizations. When I got out of the car, which was only a little two-door van, Louella had to step over the back edge of the front seat. I was already out of the vehicle, holding Philip, when she caught her foot and fell, breaking her arm just above the wrist. So, instead of getting immunizations, we had to get Louella's arm set and put into a cast (We got the immunizations later.) This accident resulted in me being Philip's caregiver for a while, and my having to help Louella with many other things during her recovery period. This is, of course, part of the promise, "....until death do us part." It took an amazing amount of patience for Louella to accept that even if her hair did not feel like usual, life still went on. Unbelievably, it was soon time for us to get ready to board the ship for America. It was mostly my responsibility to do most of the preparations, and to get us off at the right time, and we made it!