Kingdom Women: Taking the Gospel to China 1 by Susan Allendorf
This is part of an ongoing series on Kingdom Women—women God has used and is using in His great Kingdom endeavor. We will meet these women in God’s Word, in the early church, in the dark ages, in the past great missionary efforts and among today’s true followers of Jesus. The Trio described here were part of a group of mostly single women who took the gospel into Inland China. The full story is told in Not Less Than Everything by Valerie Griffiths, granddaughter of Hudson Taylor.
MILDRED CABLE, AND EVA AND FRANCESCA FRENCH
PART ONE: INTO NORTHERN CHINA
by Susan Allendorf
“We travel with 3 amazing single women, Mildred Cable, and sisters Eva and Francesca French, who shared a ministry for over 35 years before their deaths in the 1950s and 1960s. Their work and influence was breathtaking, spreading across the 4 northern provinces of China and beyond, training other women and spreading the gospel.”
Not Less Than Everything: The courageous women who carried the Christian gospel to Chinaby Valerie Griffiths, p. 8
Beginning in the 1820’s, women missionaries, married and single, were called to play a vital role in opening China to the gospel. They all faced hardship and sacrifice. Many experienced loneliness and isolation, arduous journeys and extreme heat, dangers, political strife, violence and civil war. Often facing criticism and misunderstanding from Christian communities back home, they nevertheless pioneered ministries of evangelism, discipleship and Christian education into China’s vast interior.
Among the many stories of these early pioneers, I am most captured by the lives of three single women, Mildred Cable, and sisters Eva and Francesca French. They worked together in ministry for over 35 years, and came to be known lovingly as The Trio. Serving in four northern provinces of China and beyond, their contribution was staggering.
Spunky and adventurous from childhood, Eva had a gift for personal evangelism. She arrived in China in 1893. Because her health suffered in the coastal regions, Hudson Taylor sent her, along with a Chinese woman for company, to the hot, dry climate of Shanxi province in Northern China. Her health improved, and she began a long, effective ministry visiting in homes and sharing the Christian message with village women over a wide area.
With the onset of the Boxer Rebellion, Eva began to prepare the believers for possible severe persecution. It came in the summer of 1900. Eva and other missionaries were evacuated. Valerie Griffiths records their ordeal. “They experienced fifty days of heat, misery, fatigue, hunger, thirst, and rioting as they fled from town to town, sleeping wherever they could.” She notes that twice during this ordeal Eva called upon her childhood courage and defiance, walking through the rioting crowds to plead for protection from government officials. The Chinese Christians suffered these dangers, as well, and helped the missionaries reach safety.
When these difficulties subsided, Eva was able to return to Shanxi province, now with Mildred Cable who had recently arrived. They found that many Chinese believers had been martyred, and began the task of visiting all the remaining believers throughout the area.
Mildred had had a rigid upbringing as a child, which greatly influenced her and prepared her for the hardships she would face in China. Yet, she was described as having an innate capacity for joy. Before arriving in China, Mildred had studied privately, qualifying in pharmacy, and also studying physics, chemistry, anatomy, surgery and midwifery. She had planned to marry a young man who was also going to China. But, she received a letter from him saying he had changed his mind. He wanted her to marry him and stay in Britain. Heartbroken, she followed her calling, and as she said, “kept her eyes firmly fixed on China.” She arrived there in 1901.Eva became Mildred’s senior missionary in the town of Huozhou. Working with a Chinese pastor and his wife, they founded schools for girls, evangelized women, and began working in 19 surrounding villages. The women they worked with were illiterate and bound by superstition. They were bound in other ways, as well. For centuries the custom of foot-binding had crippled millions of women. It was painful, often impossible for them to walk. So, they were mostly confined to their homes. They could only hear the Christian message if women visited them at home.
There was a growing movement against foot-binding, but Eva and Mildred found they could only reach most women by going from home to home. They found many doors open, and hundreds wanted more teaching
.Valerie Griffiths shares,
“All the newly baptized women had unbound their feet. Nothing could repair the physical damage done to them in childhood, but choosing the Christian way led them into a new freedom. They left behind their fear and superstition and the burden of trying to earn merit, and entered into a life where there was a God who loved them and welcomed them into his family. Unbinding their feet became symbolic of a much greater inner freedom.”
Because of the courageous witness of Chinese believers during the Boxer Rebellion, crowds of non-Christian Chinese began visiting churches and wanting to know more about the Christian faith. Eva and Mildred were witnessing the beginning of a mass movement. They began to ask themselves, “What does the Chinese church need now?”
They received two answers. First, they needed more help in evangelism. They began to step back from the front lines and train the Chinese Christians to take their place in evangelism.
The second need was for educated Christian wives and mothers in the younger generation. Through the financial gift of a friend, they were able in 1904 to open a school in Huozhou. They trained young wives of Christian workers as well as school girls. They taught the Bible using romanised script.
Eva and Mildred went back to England on furlough in 1908. Eva’s sister, Francesca, had been caring for their ailing parents. Upon their death, she was able to think about joining Eva and Mildred in their work. Francesca had strong literary gifts and persuasive skill in discussions. She and Mildred would work together on several books, with Mildred writing the main material and Francesca doing the editorial work.
In 1909, the three women returned to China, where they came to be known as The Trio. They settled into their various roles. Eva continued doing evangelism. Francesca helped Mildred with the school. She also handled their daily domestic routines.
In 1910 they did something new, which resulted in a great ministry opportunity. They opened the mission compound to the public, and as a result, much local interest was created. They decided to have a 6-day mission for women, which they publicized broadly in towns and villages up to 50 miles away. It was a tremendous success, with 350 visiting women attending. Added to their 150 church women, student teachers, and schoolgirls, 500 women altogether attended the mission. In the closing hours, 250 women stood to share publicly what they had learned.
The Trio’s 20 years in Shanxi province had a great impact on the churches there as well as in adjacent provinces. However, it soon became obvious that their time there was coming to an end. In 1922 the Chinese government began opening their own public schools. They also prevented Christian schools from teaching the Christian faith, and they refused to recognize their students’ qualifications unless they registered with the national schools. The Governor of Shanxi province was desperate for teachers in his schools, and took their student teachers in training immediately, as well as those with any secondary education.
At mid-life, The Trio could have retired or decided to do less demanding work. Instead, they asked once again, “What does China need now?” They prayed, researched the current situation in China and talked to people who could offer advice. When the answer came, it stunned everyone who knew them. The incredible story of how God used these 3 women in the following years will be Part Two: Along the Silk Road and Beyond. Look for it in coming weeks.
Susan Allendorf has been on staff with Cru for 30 years. She has served previously in the Campus Ministry, International School of Theology, Nairobi International School of Theology, Orlando Institute and CrossRoads. For the last 14 years, Susan has served on the Women’s Resources team in the Global Leadership Office. She is currently a writer/editor with the Women’s Resources Communications Team. Susan is a widow and mother of a grown daughter, Amy. She loves to read, spend time with her daughter, and take day trips around Central Florida.
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