To Hong Kong – At Last!
The train door slammed shut, but not fast enough to shut out the sound of my mother's cry coming sharply through the darkness – "R-u-u-u-th." The journey that I had waited for all the twenty-two years of my life had begun! I was on my way to China – well, to Hong Kong anyway – and that was as close to China as you could get in l959.
It was two o'clock on a cold February morning. My parents had driven for two hours to take me to the only train that crossed the South Dakota prairies. Before we set off, our little Pleasant Valley Church had been filled with friends who came to wish me God's blessing and to say farewell.
I suspect that there were a few curious ones among those well-wishers who wondered what could make a girl go traipsing off alone to such an uncertain future. Few people in our sparsely populated community ventured that far from home – not unless Uncle Sam sent them. Certainly no one from our community had been that close to China since the Communists had isolated it behind their Bamboo Curtain in 1949.
I had no worries about my future, for I had known all my life that God had "called" me to China. I didn’t know how or when He did. Could I have been born with His call in my heart, like the prophet Jeremiah? Or maybe it happened when I was 18 months old and Andrew Gih, (計志文牧師), a well known pastor from China, visited our home in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada and prayed for me.
As I entered my teens I began choosing useful subjects in school, and teaching the Bible to children and young people in our church. Later I reached out to children and families in sparsely populated communities hundreds of miles from home – all part of my training for China.
What did I expect to do in China? I would help people to know and love God, of course.
But I had one problem – God wasn’t real and close to me like he was to the missionaries I read about. They prayed a lot, and enjoyed reading the Bible because they felt that God was talking to them when they did. I wanted to love God too, but I couldn't feel anything. I wanted to pray like the missionaries did, but I couldn't think of much to say. And though I had memorized whole books of the Bible, and had resolved many times to start at the beginning and read the Bible right to the end, I never got much past Genesis because it didn’t speak to me.
Sometimes I said to Him, “How can I tell people in China that you love them when I can’t feel your love myself, and I don’t feel like I love you either? I want to know you. I want to love you with my heart, not just my mind.”
But I never heard God say anything back.
And so I thirsted for Him until the Easter Sunday afternoon when I was 16 years old. I was alone in the church, practicing a vibraharp solo for the evening service, when I just knew it was time. I laid my mallets on the vibraharp, and sat down on the front bench. Looking up to Him, I held up my arms, just like a little child begging her father to hold and love her. And at that moment God’s love for me was so warm and real that I couldn’t help but love Him back!
This encounter with a God so real had an immediate and profound effect.and would be the solid ground on which everything that came afterward was based. I was free, at last, to follow my call to China! All that concerned me, then, was how and when I could get there.
My chance came six years later when a friend put me in touch with Vera McGillivray, a middle-aged English missionary in Hong Kong, who had been born and raised in China. She invited me to come and help in her newly formed church, while I looked around to see what the Lord had called me there to do.
My parents and the church folks agreed that this was a good opportunity for me. They would be my sending agency and my prayer partners. Once the decision was made, I applied for American citizenship to make my eventual return to the USA easier, took all of my shots, booked a passage on a freighter and packed my trunk. In a matter of months, I was on my way!
Then, while boarding the train that night, I heard my mother cry, for the first time since preparations for this day had begun; and the feelings of sadness and loss that had been building up inside over the past two weeks suddenly overwhelmed me. I found a seat in the dimly lit car and cried until daylight when embarrassment at being seen by other passengers made me stop.
This intense grief at leaving my family and friends had come as total surprise. In all the years of living with my “call,” I had thought only of how important it was for me to go and tell Chinese people about the God they didn’t know who loved them very much. I had never thought of all that would be happening in my family during the five years I expected to be away – weddings, babies, graduations, illnesses, maybe even deaths; and I would be too far away to know and share these things with them. I wouldn’t even have a phone! How could I bear it?
“I can't go!" I told God, with a heavy heart and many bitter tears. And as I did, I felt his answer. "I love you, and I am sending you because that is the very best place on earth for you. You needn’t think of yourself as a martyr. I'm not sacrificing you for other people. I wouldn’t send you there if it wasn’t good for you.” Somehow, just knowing this helped me to say all the difficult good-byes without letting anyone see my tears.
But here I was on the train, as planned, and that knowledge didn't bring me any comfort at all!