I’ve decided to start writing short blurbs about missionaries whose lives I read about. Being in a place of difficult discouragement and hardship, missionary biographies are one thing that keep me going. They let me know that I’m not the first person that this has happened to. Hymns also keep me going. They remind me that it will get better. The scriptures remind me that God is in control and is cheering me on and giving me the strength to stand.
The Discovery of the Book
Last year, when all this mess was beginning, a supporter named Scott recommended a book called Green Leaf in Drought Time, by Isobel Kuhn. I ordered some books from the states, but the cost of shipping was too high for me to tack on Green Leaf. But God is gracious: the other night, after helping to paint the Takamatsu Christian Center, I saw about 8 boxes of books labelled: “Pre-trash.” I saw some interesting books, including one on Armenian theology which I picked up because I disagree with it. Among others, I also grabbed the autobiography of Booker T. Washington and a Buddhist book written bilingually.
Among this pile, at the dusty bottom of one of those boxes, low and behold: Green Leaf in Drought Time. I picked it up and ran out of the building before anyone could question me. The binding is still quite good, though the dust jacket fell into two pieces while I was reading it. In the front cover is etched in scarcely legible cursive script: “In loving remembrance of Ralph & Stella Cox. June, 1958. Jennie Scummon(?).” Stella lives about 25 minutes from me by car, and Ralph is on permanent Home assignment (as of about a year ago). Stella can’t wait to join him.
Green Leaf in Drought Time is a brief book about Arthur and Wilda Mathrews. It isn’t a biography, per sey. It only covers about three years. Arthur and Wilda served in China back before it was “East Asia” with Overseas Mission Fellowship (OMF) back when it was China Inland Mission (CIM). Arthur came to China in 1938, and this book covers events from 1950 to 1953. During this time, communism had taken over the country and was beginning to crack down on missionaries, but it wasn’t until a little later that OMF ordered all the missionaries out of the country. Simply put, their continued presence was a danger to Chinese believers due of the anti-foreigner regime. Arthur and another man ended up the last OMF missionaries to make it out of China (Wilda was just a little earlier). Did you know that in the post-communist evacuation, only one OMF missionary lost his life, and that probably do to a robbery, rather than the government? God worked a miracle in protecting over 600 missionaries (plus children) who evacuated.
The book centers around Jeremiah 17:8: “For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadesth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” To Arthur and Wilda, those years were an incredible trial: the government would not let them leave. The government kept them cooped up in a little mission compound for two and a half years before finally releasing them. This is the story of that trial and their faith in it. The writing is mediocre, but it’s a good story. I would have enjoyed knowing what drove this couple, how they met, how God called them to the field, etc., but alas, that’s hard to cover in a flimsy 160 pages just a few years after the events took place.
In 1950, Arthur and Wilda felt God call them to head to the very borders of China to try to establish a new work among Mongols. Thus they took a ride to Hwangyuan (near the border with Tibet) in the winter to see what the Lord would do. With them was their one-year-old girl Lilah. When they arrived they got a cold reception from the Chinese Christians who had requested them to come. Things were changing as the commies tightened their control, and it turned out that hosting foreign missionaries was no longer a good idea. After about six weeks of ministering as best they could, the government confined their ministry to the mission compound and banned them from helping with medical work even they. They were stuck with nothing to do.
After prayer, they decided to apply for exit permits to leave China in January 1951 (just as the China Inland Mission issued the order for all their personnel to do likewise). They sold their curtains, dishes, and everything except for a bare few possessions, and then… waited. And waited. A Chinese official tried for a time to recruit them to be spies for communist China, but when Arthur refused, they were left stranded in the mission compound with few possessions and nothing to do but wait to be given permission to leave.
In the years that came, they faced countless challenges. For starters, the local police had to approve every penny of their own money that they withdrew from the bank. In order to get their own money out of the bank, they had to go to the police every month with a request for how much money they needed. This took days, in which time Arthur would stand outside the police station and wait, whatever the weather, under the insults and spit of those who passed by the hated “Western Imperialist.” These monetary requests were never granted in full, so the family was constantly in a state of utter poverty. During a few months, it was only by the grace of God alone that food was on the table. The local police were literally trying to starve them.
During this time, they were slandered and falsely accused of crimes. Chinese Christians began to back away from them and eventually would not speak to them at all because of the preassure. Wilda miscarried once and almost died. Lilah became deathly ill at least twice (Typhoid and scarlet fever) but pulled through. Medical care was almost nil. Arthur’s teeth rotted and had to be pulled (once by a doctor with no dental training, who took 2 hours to pull a single tooth). The winters were cold. In poverty, Arthur was reduced to making fuel balls for their furnace out of dry leaves, water, and sheep dung (a task utterly humiliating for a man). The list goes on.
At first, doubt: Why had God allowed this. Had they done something wrong? That question plagued them: had they done something wrong? But they eventually dismissed this and trusted that GOD IS SOVEREIGN. Their responsibility was to Him, and He would watch over them. Ah, what faith in such circumstances! In the summer of 1952, they both had a sort of epiphany with regards to their situation.
A few nights later it came to Arthur like a flash: the Son had left Heaven, not submitting to the will of God, but delighting. Up till now, they had been submitting; rather feverishly submitting because they felt they should press His promises. “Lord, why do you delay? We could be out spear-heading advance into new mission fields! Open the door now, Lord!”
They had been acting like servants who don’t want to do it but have to, because they can’t get out of it. What a different attitude was the Son’s! There came a day in June when together Arthur and Wilda knelt before the Lord and abandoned themselves to live on in that stinted little kitchen as long as He wished them to. And the peace of God poured in like a flood bringing such joy as they had not known before.
As time drug on and their money continued to shrink, they saw heaven open to their provision. At last, Wilda was released in March of 1953 with their daughter, and Arthur was finally allowed to go home in June with Rupert Clarke. And they were the last two CIM missionaries to go. Thousands had been praying for them.
Why I was Encouraged
I was challenged by this book in my lack of faith in the power of prayer. Arthur wrote fervantly to the West, “PRAY!” He asked for it, begged for it, because their lives depended on it. Lately, I’ve been lax in requesting prayer from my supporters and magnifying to them the importance of it as I should. I find myself thinking, Oh, so what if a couple more people are praying. What I really could use is some more financial support. On the contrary, my letters should remind my supporters that they struggle before the throne of God just as I do, and their prayers matter. Their prayers WILL make a difference in Japan. They will. I had that perspective, but I’ve lost it. Reading the miracles of this book, perhaps the biggest miracle being their joy, has helped me to regain that perspective, just a little.
In some ways, my circumstances are much like theirs. I identify with the idea of arriving at a place ready to minister and (in my case) ready to learn Japanese, then getting there, watching everything fall apart, and being stuck in what feels like a prison with nothing to do. I feel like I’m trapped as they were. I feel stuck in my house, alone, and I don’t know how to meet Japanese people! I have no idea what I’m doing. And yet, their circumstances were a million times worse, but they had joy. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for more of that right now.
And it was not without effect! The Mathews were forbidden from preaching, but perhaps that gave them the supreme message through their character. The Chinese saw that in spite of false accusations, crushing poverty, and isolation, they were joyfully God’s. They saw those foreign missionaries be reduced to even worse circumstances than themselves, and that gave the Chinese Christians strength to press on in their faith. In the decades to come where thousands would be martyred by the raging Communist party, those Christians were instilled with an example of the Godly life.
Green Leaf was written in 1957. At that time, China Inland Mission was changing its name to Overseas Mission Fellowship, because they had been kicked out of China. If they had tried to stay, it would have done nothing but put the Chinese church in even more danger by association. Some went to other fields and some returned to the West to become pastors and plain old working men, but their eyes certainly never came away from China. Many missionaries were gripped with terrible despair after the Bamboo Curtain fell: had it all been in vain? As the Great Leap Forward came in the next few years and 20 or 30 million people died (at least hundreds of thousands from governmental purges), what was left? Had the centuries of labor and martyrs been pointless? Did a church remain?
Arthur went to China in 1938, so at latest, he was born in the late 1910s. He is most likely with the Lord, now. And I must wonder: did any news ever reach his ears of the thundering revival in China? As to what he and Wilda did after this book was written, not even the Internet was of any help. Perhaps they went to serve in another closed field, and that’s why there’s a relative lack of information out there on them. Perhaps they sank into obscurity, their eyes never leaving the far east.
But look at China today! As many as 100 million Christians! The largest revival in the history of the world is happening there as I pen these words. Nothing, NOTHING of this magnitude has ever been seen since the beginning of creation. To consumate it, an army of missionaries, tens of thousands strong, is being raised up to march across Asia, back to Jerusalem where it all started and complete the Great Commission of our Lord.
It brings tears unto my eyes to imagine these heroes of a generation past leaving China under duress, not knowing if everything had been in vain, then watching the church apparently die. They did not know the plans of God. They did not know what He would accomplish. All they could do was to leave and keep praying. And now, look at what has come! Truly, those who have reaped have reaped what others have sown, and the sowers never saw it on the earth.
This book also gives me hope: if it happened in China, where by anyone’s realistic geuss the church had died, then God can bring revival in Japan as well.