William Englund

I have another book report for you! Don’t forget to check my piece from a few days ago on God’s discipline.

August, 2009

William Gideon Englund

My book report on China Travail by William H. Pape.

Finding the Book

Much like the last book I wrote about, I found China Travail in a stack of trash-destined books in the Takamatsu Christian center. It was a pretty good find. Published in 1975 about TEAM missionary William Englund, this is more of a conventional missionary biography. I’m still dissatisfied with it, though. How are you supposed to cover a 54 year missionary career in a flimsy 147 pages? By cutting out all pre-field life details, any details about time spent in the states, and most personal details, of course! For a flimsy missionary biography, this one wasn’t bad, but it would have been good to know more of what drove this man.

His Life

William Englund was born in 1882. He arrived in China in 1903. The following table should give you a good idea of some dates as related to his life:

March 17, 1882



Boxer rebellion (200 missionaries killed throughout China)


Englund and Lena (1st wife) Arrive in Shanghai.

Went to a village in Lantien province for Chinese study.


Lena dies.


Marries Ingeborg Hanaberg (wife #2)


Furlough; Birth of Miriam (first daughter)


Birth of Winifred (second daughter)


Ingeborg does.


Marries Anna, wife #3 (and thankfully the last)


Furlough to America


Returned to China during WW2

Dec. 23, 1948

Forced out of China by Communists; Left Shensi, never to return.

1948 or 1949

Work in Japan

Summer 1952

Furlough to America

October 1954

Work in Taiwan (started a Bible college there)


Return to America, began work on his commentary of the Old Testament in Chinese (made it up to I Samuel before his death)


World speaking tour through Europe, Middle East, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan.


Death at 87 years of age.

William Englund worked extensively in the Shensi province of northwest China, especially in the city of Sian. Don’t know where that is? Well, check out the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaanxi

My Admiration

Englund has my admiration for a number of reasons. The first is that he was a man of prayer.

Few people knew exactly at what hour he arose to pour out his heart in praise and intercession. His children remember that no matter how early they got up, their father was already shut in his room praying aloud, and his wife Anna, who knew him best, testifies that between 4:30 and 5:00, summer and winter, William Englund was preparing to seek audience with the King. Normally once a week, and on special occasions, he would eat neither breakfast nor noon meal but continue resolutely in what he called ‘fighting the Devil.’ He learned that prayer is not struggling with a reluctant God, but wrestling with a resistant enemy… Then at 7:30 breakfast time, he was ready to lead his family and any guests in Bible reading and prayer” (Pg. 75)

I think that definition of prayer is incomplete, but it is an interesting insight into his walk. But 4:30…. gosh. I wish I could do that. I really do. But at this time, I just don’t have that kind of strength. I would honestly just fall asleep again, even if I set my alarm to get up and pray at 4:30 every morning. And I’d be exhausted for the rest of the day. So, I do what I can, but man, I hope that at some point in my life I can pray like that every morning. And the answers to prayers he routinely saw! The revivals he saw… incredible. Even when he had a number of responsibilities in Japan during his time there, he still saw prayer as his “main responsibility.” He saw the spiritual realities behind all things.

Englund persevered despite overwhelming difficulties. He was in China for 54 years, and nearly all of those were filled with bloodshed. The Boxer rebellion occurred right before his arrival, and the blaze of revolution was not far behind. For the first half of the 20th century, it seems like China was in an almost constant state of war. Japan invaded in the 30s, and once they were trounced, the Communists and nationalists went right back at it for another few years. Churches got blown up, people were killed, cities were besieged with missionaries inside, and famine was a constant trouble that made money matters a nightmare (Englund served as a treasurer). The list could go on and on and on. However, despite all this, Englund did not give up.

Perhaps the difficulty that struck me the most was his deafness. Somewhere in the middle of his career, he started to go deaf, and though hearing aids began to come into existence, they couldn’t keep up with his loss of hearing, and he eventually totally lost his hearing. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem to slow him down. He still traveled through war-torn countrysides to preach in Chinese. He still founded Bible colleges. If anything, it probably made him more of a legend to the Chinese. Anna, his wife, became his ears, and motioned when he was talking to loud or softly in sermons. I suppose she also must have translated a lot for him to sign language or writing. However, to me, the thought of never hearing music or the sound of voices again is almost unbearable.

William Englund also was a fearless preacher. He constantly was going to different cities and provinces on evangelistic tours. On one occasion:

He decided on an intensive drive in the west suburb of the city as an alternate opportunity, and, except when heavy rain fell, services were held in front of the Bible school every afternoon. (pg. 81)

He had such boldness! The idea of “an intensive drive” into a part of a city is scary to me, but I want to have that kind of boldness. Right now, I wish I could do that, but, well, I have to learn Japanese to start out with. Maybe after that I can worry a little more about “intensive drives.” How about a quote from World War 2: “On one occasion, Englund and a Chinese believer, hiding behind a wall from a strafing run by a fighter plane, witnessed to a man with them in the ditch and led him to Christ.” (pg. 105)

His perseverance was an inspiration. The man went back in 1940, in the height of WW2, while the Japanese were busy conquering China. What kind of a person goes back from furlough to China in the middle of WW2?

How about his thankfulness in hardship? During WW2, when they had no money for milk, butter, or enough coal to adequately heat the house (so they spent all their time in the kitchen to stay warm), he wrote to his supporters, “Our meals come hot from the stove and this letter also comes warm from both kitchen and a heart filled with praise and prayer.” (pg. 105)

I’ll note one more quality about him: his relentless sense of humor. Whenever things would go wrong, be they bedbugs keeping him from sleeping or seasickness or the pain of travel in primitive China, he would joke about it. He even jested about his deafness. As he demonstrated, for a missionary, a sense of humor is utterly necessary. We simply cannot take ourselves too seriously.

Missiological Notes

Englund lived in an age of missions in China that Hudson Taylor started. Missionaries trimmed their hair like the Chinese (complete with pony-tail) and wore Chinese dress. This was a way of identifying with the Chinese and minimizing their foreignness. As I sit in modern Japan, where no one wears kimonos (except to special events) and dress is decidedly Western, I ponder this. In Japan, foreigners are and will always be foreigners. And that’s not all bad (if you’re Caucasian). Unlike early 1900s China, Americans are kinda cool. In addition to the fact that it’s impossible to totally become Japanese, I don’t think it should be held even as an ideal.

In modern Japan, I think the best thing to do is to learn to be an “acceptable foreigner,” rather than an “obnoxious foreigner.” In other words, everyone expects you to be weird because you’re a foreigner. So while you must learn how to communicate in Japanese in a Japanese manner (which is far bigger of a problem than the language itself), it’s OK to be a foreigner here. It’s OK to greet people in English and do weird things that no Japanese would ever do. It’s impossible to become Japanese. What you have to learn is how to be a good foreigner living in Japan. Sometimes, that involves becoming more Japanese. But often, that involves continuing to be a weird foreigner, because a lot of Japanese people like that. This is a different age. I’m still trying to find the balance.

I again realized while reading this that missionaries are people outside of society. In a sense, foreigners living in a country always are, but missionaries in particular. We do not fit any molds of the nationals, not even stereotypes of foreigners. In addition, problems hit us differently. For example, many missionaries (like myself) receive money from the west and exchange it into the local currency. This can be a huge problem if the exchange rate fluctuates the wrong way. It’s just another reminder that we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth. Here’s another example of this in Englund’s life:

Of the trial of faith through high food prices, limited finance and the perils of war was added a new and terrible element when Japan launched her surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The conflict in Asia took on a fresh aspect. The United States and China became allies and all Americans on territory occupied by Japan were arrested and put in concentration camps. Japanese military authorities confiscated the China Inland Mission school in Chefoo and moved staff and students…” (pg. 106-107)

Most Americans watched Pearl Harbor bombed safely from North America, and though they suffered some deprivations, they did not have to face the fate of those living in China. Missionaries, when international conflicts hit, are often a lot more vulnerable than those safely in the states. Sometimes, they’re more vulnerable than other westerners living in the developing world, because they live so far out there in “the bush.” And that, in my opinion, is the way it should be. Like Englund, people should go back in times like WW2. Missionaries should be slow to pull out of countries, even in unstable times. We didn’t go to the mission field to be safe.

Englund saw incredible revival in China. This book mentioned characteristics he saw in revivals. Here they are:

1) An intensely deep conviction of sin, especially in the sight of God.

2) Practical payback for sins (i.e. returning stolen property).

3) A new spiritual atmosphere in churches, where people would do things like break down and cry before the Lord.

4) Unity among Christians.

5) A new desire to pray.

6) An increase in giving.

7) A new passion to win people for Jesus.

Oh, to see this in Japan! I long to see revival here. A last quote for you: “Englund personally was convinced that persistent, fervent prayer would always bring revival. A Chinese Christian who knew him sell said, ‘If a foreign missionary having come to our land can feel so deeply for our people that he daily gives himself to pray for us with tears, then what he prays for must be very important. Let us join in prayer.” (pg. 25) Where are the prayers with tears for this land?

Ministry in Japan

One of the most interesting parts of this book for me were the years that Englund spent in Japan, shortly after China fell to communism. The reason it is interesting is not just because I am a missionary here, but because he came with TEAM, and I know some TEAM missionaries who came shortly after the war, which was a new era in missions in Japan. We call those people “MacArthur era” missionaries. Ralph and Stella Cox are two, and Bruce Helland is a third. Bruce recently came out of retirement to serve here in Takamatsu. He’s in his 80s and hard of hearing but filled with the Spirit, with a sense of humor like William Englund’s.

I wonder if their paths crossed? A story is told of Englund turning the entire tide of a TEAM conference in 1951 or 1952 by insisting on prayer. Were my friends Bruce and the Coxes at that conference? I’m not sure if they had arrived by then. However, if they ever did cross paths, that’s significant to me, because I, at the start of my missionary journey (a “McDonald era” missionary) have had the privilage of meeting some of the last remaining MacArthur missionaries. Englund and his comrades that were forced out of China set the path of TEAM Japan and gave the torch to the inexperienced and green-around-the-ears Coxes, who are now giving it to my generation.

Oh, as my old friend Samwise says, “We’re in the same tale still. It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?” “No, they never end as tales. But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended.” My path just barely crossed with Ralph’s (he was on his deathbed). Perhaps he met William Englund. That alone is a tale going back a century. And Englund, who did he meet? What 80-year-old missionary did he meet in China, who met someone who met Hudson Taylor or William Carey? And they both read the tale of old David Brainard’s mission to the Indians in the 1740s, and he met the Moravians (the first protestant missionaries). Martin Luther started the Protestants, and he came out of Catholicism, which dates back centuries. On and on the story goes, back through Augustine and Polycarp and Ignatius, to Paul and the cross of Christ itself.

Ah, forgive my musings. The TEAM missionaries in this prefecture are at Karuizawa for their conference, and it struck my funny bone reading about Englund speaking at that same conference… over 50 years ago. It’s so close to home. May God bring revival in Japan.

Last Remark

When Englund left China, all seemed lost from an earthly perspective (which he did not have). However, now the largest revival in the history of the world is taking place there. In Japan, we’re still in a stage of darkness, dryness, shrinking churches, and an apparent defeat of the Gospel. So, I would like to close with a quote from Englund after the Communists took over, when he was in Hong Kong. This was after hearing the news of the death of a Chinese church leader:

Englund found assurance in the words of Nahum that ‘The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet.’ He wrote home: ‘We may question why the enemy has been permitted to sweep over the whole land like a fierce whirlwind, raising the dust, disturbing missionary work and putting things under a dark cloud of uncertainly, but looking higher we see how the Lord’s way is above the clouds, and there is no need on His part to wait until the dust settles in order to get a clear view. Both clouds and dust are already under His feet as He moves forward to the final victory.’” (pg. 118)

Pape, William H., China Travail, (c) 1975. Published by The Evangelical Alliance Mission

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