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Highlights of Our Heritage–Missions-Continuing the Experiences of N. B. Wright

by N. B. Wright

PART 3: A RESUME OF WAR-TIME EXPERIENCES–Missionary Messenger–1946

     Some of you may be slightly interested in the events of the past few years. The eddies of a swirling world have pushed us all about a bit and changed our lives a little. Rather than becoming too resentful, let us realize more keenly, with a deeper appreciation of the fact, that we are but pilgrims and sojourners in an alien world.

DECEMBER 7, 1941

     It was a very cold Monday morning — Dec. 8 to us. Thick ice for many days had been formed on the village ponds. People were warmly dressed for the cold houses. There was hope against hope that the high tension between America and Japan would pass. Anyway, since the last days might be upon us, why give in? All the more reason for pressing the gospel story to the very last second of the last hour. In such attitude as that, preparations for opening a new chapel in Yang Chao, Chao County, about 14 miles away, were to occur on this day. Consequently, breakfast was had, warm clothes were tied on the rear of my bicycle and preparation for the “take off” was made. I had gone to South Compound to see whether the evangelist was ready. Just after I returned — or as I came through the gate to the parked vehicle, armed policemen poured into the yard like water out of a funnel! An interpreter with a plain-clothes Nip said: “The officer wants to see you.” Guards were stationed all over the place while the escort with the “prize catch” went to the military police. The officer proved to be far more agitated than I. He said: “It may be that Japan is at war with America — we have a room in the back.” “What?” “We have a room in the back, but there is no fire. You go home and get books, clothing and everything you need.”

     This began a story of one month with the officer. Not one’unkind word was spoken—on either side! But for 3 or 4 days there teas no fire. I had already frozen the past two seasons, but “this was something:.” At about 4 o’clock, after the sun had passed beyond the west building, the room and yard became cold. One began to shiver, and continued to shake hard until bed time—about 10 o’clock. The first hour was not too bad, but six hours. Meals were had in an unheated room as well. The second day ceased to be a joke; third day serious and fourth—well. One’s muscles became fatigued and yet there could be no let-up. Let’s shift to another subject, hao pu hao!


     The church celebrated Christmas and continued to meet. After the month’s sojourn. meetings went on as usual. When some weeks had passed we began a class in Revelation. It was a revelation, sure enough. For four weeks there were four classes a week, in addition to the mid-week prayer meeting. Attendance, while never large, was like revival times, even to the last two or three classes (20th chapter) when there was a decrease. The people took hold of the book  like thirsty people would a pot of tea (cold water to you!). They understood and appreciated the Book as would be a rare matter in America.

     The following fall we had classes in the Old Testament. The book of Daniel proved to be beyond the people. But other studies, such as “Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven,” “The Offering and Feasts of Jehovah” (in Lev.) were not so difficult. In fact, there was some talk of a Bible training school.


     At first the officers did not permit any leaving the yard—except for visits to see him for coal and flour permits. In late spring I was allowed to go out and perform a wedding ceremony and later, since I used the right anyway, I was given the run of the city.


     Another winter passed, mostly, on consumption of 6 lbs. of coal a day. The two walls were of paper, and were miserably cold. One needed to wear gloves in the house—no joking. I felt moved to give some special lessons on “Restoration of Original Christianity.” We had several meetings, ending with a series of talks on the above- mentioned subject. The last night, elder Li said: “This meeting is very deep.” Then the very next day, special meeting under a Peking evangelist was announced. The morning dawned. After breakfast the Chinese Chief of Police came with a man or two and said: “I’m afraid it is too bad this time.” So clothing and bedding were prepared and off we went to the local Chinese prison. This was the doing of the Jap adviser to the county government. The guard slept in the room. The door was locked on the outside.


     The next morning there was a bustle in the yard—clank—clank —clank. Chain shackles on the feet of the prisoners clattered on the ground as the men walked by the door. Since the weather was cold, they coughed, sniffed and spat—terrible condition.

Not only so, for of the 8o or more inhabitants, many were diseased, covered with scabs from head to foot. Clothing was filthy and lousy—literally. What an array of humanity. Communists, kidnapers, thieves, murderers, sex-criminals, dope-fiends—we had them all. The thought came to me early: “Ah, in God’s sight I am just like that—how could He love me?” So I learned to love the men. I gave them a gospel talk the first morning and the Peking evangelist had the other meeting.

     The histories of the men began to unfold. One man of 50 years, who had already spent half his life in prison, was under a sentence of “Life and six months.”


     One afternoon, while conversation was in progress, the sound of heavy boots was heard approaching the gate. The “chief” beckoned. Out the door we went, though between two rows o£ armed police. As we marched home, I counted 15 police at each side and in front of us—do not know how many composed the rear of the procession. Soon after, the Japanese Consulate General for Shift Chia Chuang arrived. There he gave out the information regarding concentration of civilians at Weihsien, Shantung. The next operation was to pack—the place being full of Japanese and Chinese officials, police, etc. Then, the military police had to make a minute inspection. The interpreter for the adviser bought my typewriter; I also sold a few books and phonograph records. We were back again to prison at twilight.

     One of the inmates had a little story to tell: “This afternoon I brought my phonograph out to play a few records. While the first was playing I saw your room was locked—the conclusion was that you were up for trial (usually accomplished by torture), so I was so worried I brought the machine in without playing any more.” Then I had prayer with the group and for them. At the end of my prayer there were no dry eyes. This inmate said “You have been here only a short time so we don’t understand much, but in spirit we are all your disciples.”

     On the 23rd day the police and I returned for a final bit of packing. The gendarmerie forced the division of our chapel benches to the county school. Church was closed down; my baggage was taken to the police station. The next day a military (Jap) escort of 3 or 4 men accompanied me to Shih Chia Chuang. Shiftmen made the delivery of my person to the Consulate General, who in turn sent me to the home of a Norwegian friend. After the first night and morning, plainclothes men stayed in the mission house and yard, until the train left for Weihsien via Peking on the morning of the third day.

     I joined the Peking internees at the station where I had a wait of some 3 hours and change of trains. On the train I mixed freely with the Americans and others, and news of the war was openly discussed. After 2 or 3 changes on the way (all unnecessary—some times being given one minute to make the change), we arrived at Weihsien station at 4 p. m. of the next day. A motor transport brought us to the camp—the Presbyterian Mission School Compound— by supper time.


     “Four walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage” is true because neither man nor the devil is able to bar the windows of heaven to keep out the presence of Cod. How gracious He proved to be,, especially in the light of human imperfections that came to the surface all over the camp. When physical energy was at a low ebb, month after month without apparent end, disposition of people suffered. A great strain was put on the greatest of characters, not to speak of the rest of us. I think one learned more about human nature during the sojourn of 31 months in Weihsien camp than he would otherwise have learned in a lifetime. We had to learn the ugly truth that there actually are people in the world who will “stick their finger in your eye.” Another truth is that some will not respond to your kindness; and yet another, that there is a large number of appreciative hearts. Fourth and last, we came to know that there are many full of kind deeds who are in no way obligated and who do not let it be known what the right hand doeth. I owe a great debt in this regard.




     The camp was self-sufficient so far as labor was concerned. We did all our work, as you probably know, even to sweeping the streets, etc. Three hours a day was the estimated amount of labor required to keep the camp in operation. On Nov. 29, four days after arrival (days which were spent carrying trunks here and there), I was asked: “Will you mind to work in the bakery?” “No.” It soon came to light that this job was the toughest in camp. Mr. Baliantz (an Armenian with Persian passport), of Vienna Confectionery, Tsingtao, and Mr. Sanosen, a fellow-countryman and like guild with Mr. Baliantz, were our master bakers. Our equipment was old style; one long flat-bottom “hog trough” for mixing, with four men in dough to the elbow and over. Our maximum amount of flour to one trough or bin was 450 lbs. and with some 9 pails of water. I leave the rest to your imagination. The hottest day near the ovens reached 140 degrees! Later the bakery was reorganized to have 4 shifts of 52 men and one master baker each, with one captain or “straw boss.” Our “shift” was the morning one—we did our own work, completed the baking and mixed for the next group as well. We worked from 6 to 10 hours every other day. Later we did 2 days work in one; then later, because of bad Hour, yeast, ovens—any two or all three, we would put in one week of hours on one work day. Yet there were those objecting to my reading in my room on off days or off hours! There was other work in addition to camp duties, such as carrying water and coal, making coal balls and kindling, helping people move, etc. (Yes, I was a “straw boss.”)


     Never was material given for more than two meals a day, and the two meals combined would equal one-third to one-half of one proper meal. The cook, until near the end, served three meals—by robbing Peter to pay Paul. Breakfast often consisted either of ground kaoliang (a kind of animal-feed, sweetless sorghum) or porridge made of bread. Our diet, though was largely of starch—bread and potatoes. The result was three or four outbreaks of boils—in crops at a time.

     This low-quantity-and-quality diet, with over-proportion of starch, caused different physical results. Some had those hunger pains everlastingly gnawing at them. My personal reaction was different. Acute discomfort from hunger was seldom or never experienced—minor hunger pains, yes. But listlessness was ever present. For months on end, if not years, I did not know what it was to feel well, not even human — like a tired dog is the best way I know of expressing it.


     As in a Chinese village, two common topics of conversation in our camp were money and food. “Comfort money,” but not for me—I know of only three or four Americans who did not receive this money with which to purchase extra supplies at the canteen, and through black market. Because of my desire to open work in Ningtsin or somewhere as soon as possible, I did not apply for repatriation. Therefore the government refused loan of this sort. Even though I went into camp with less than $1000 FRB and borrowed less than $500 FRB of a friend returning to U. S. A., and even though that was early spent, yet your own unworthy servant never lacked to the very end. I cashed one small U. S. draft a few days before the end and loaned most of it out, with one exception, to needy missionaries. A few times I did not buy eggs, and a few other items which were needed. To me it is nothing less than a miracle —month after month, and for about two years, my needs were supplied from the Heavenly Father, through His friends.


     In contrast to that endless absolute listlessness, was the soaring spirit. After the American repatriation that first year, I was asked to take the classes engaged in studying the Book of Revelation. Interest began to grow and grow. Then “Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven,” then “Daniel,” then special series of expositions called “The Bible Hour,” then “Ephesians,” etc., were studied until within a few days of our being flown out of camp. The Lord be praised for all His goodness, in season and out of season. Events proved that He was more willing to give than I was to receive.


     We spent a lot of time thinking in circles. One was “Chinese food” and “chocolate.” We were blessed with two large Red Cross parcels. First time, one for each American anti, second, one for each person in camp.. (Instead of receiving one a month, as was intended, they had accumulated in Russia and were then delivered in mass. The Japanese, under cover of food shortage, forced one parcel to each internee, regardless of the fact that many people received parcels continually through the mail and many Americans had received none and some only a little.) The chocolate and everything was much appreciated.

     The other matter of speculation was as to how the camp would end. Would an invading force arrive? Would the Nips kill the people? Or would they leave in the night? All guesses were wrong. On Oct. 17, two days alter Japan’s surrender, a Major Steiger and his six men, as you already know, dropped from the sky. What a wel- come was shown to them and the supplies they brought! Then a few days later, a B-29 came over with leaflets which stated: “In a- bout an hour you will receive_____(such and such)_______clothing, food, and medicines. Do not over-eat, do not over-medicate.” In about an hour’s time, here came B ag’s and various models of aircraft from Saipan, releasing goods by the ton — what a sight! Different- colored parachutes, carrying large gasoline drums of supplies, floated down all over the place. Imagine the difference—one day almost nothing, the next day everything. No wonder that the stomachs of many people rebelled at such a shock. This kind of thing occurred again and again, mostly from Okinawa. We were full and broken down by kindness.

     A little over two months from the surrender, two months to the day after para troops arrived, we were flown to Peking. In the meanwhile, various other armed units had arrived, landing on local airstrips. The original plan was to go to Chingtao by train, to Tiensin by boat, then to Peking. But the Reds cut the railroad lines.


     The two-hour journey by air to Peking was an enjoyable one. How beautiful the Chinese countryside—small strips extending in every direction. Then imagine our consternation to learn that the Reds had occupied the region all over North China, Ningstin included. They moved in after the Japs moved out, killed a thousand people, stole some of my property left with a friend, tore down city walls, and divided property of wealthy landowners. They had a “poor-man’s association”: In a meeting one fellow would stand up and say, “So and so is a wealthy man—he doesn’t allow the poor man to eat” (all of which was nonsense). Then they knocked that man in the head with a stone.


     Here I am, waiting in Peking while this question is being settled. In the meanwhile, I am engaged for a limited time by a Chinese government organization in conducting tours for our service men. Classwork still continues—before Christmas, I went to Language School twice a week for Bide classes and now am going once a week.


     The last few years, tragic in their physical aspects, have not passed without compensation. In Ningstin, the atmosphere under the eyes of the police and in the local prison, was that of the days of the early church. In fact it was thrilling to be transported back to the “Acts of Apostles” and, as it were, to live those days over a- gain. How refreshing! We feel we have the opportunity for a new start. Pray that the result of the past years may bear a fruitful harvest, both in our individual lives and in evangelistic endeavor

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4