In 1950, Arthur and Wilda Mathews and their 13 month old baby, Lilah, traveled to Hwangyuan, China. China had fallen to Communism, and other missionaries were leaving, yet the Chinese church had invited them to come, with the approval of the Communist government. They felt this was a miraculously opened door God would have them go through. Yet, when they arrived, they could sense that all was not well. The Christians pastors who met them were strained, and they discerned that between the time of their invitation and arrival, the Chinese learned that association with the white people would be a liability under Communism, not a asset. The Mathews then thought perhaps, if they could not be a help to the church, they could endeavor to evangelize the unreached Mongols in the area and nearby. They had a few weeks in which to minister, but soon found that they were restricted in ways they could help. They endeavored to set up an inn with which to reach the Mongols, but Chinese troops took it over the day before it was to open. Arthur protested, but soon found it would have been wiser to have said nothing. In two days a policeman came to the mission compound to announce that no one there could do village work without permission, and the white people were forbidden everything: they could not have meetings outside the compound, they could not give out tracts or dispense medicine. They were restricted to the mission compound.
They finally decided that since they were more of a hindrance than a help, they would apply for exit visas. They thought, since the government did not want them, they would be allowed to leave quickly, and so gave away or sold dishes, curtains, etc., keeping just the bare minimum to function until they could leave. Arthur was summoned to the police station and asked to sign a statement that he was for world peace. He had heard of another missionary having to sign some document before leaving, so he signed without thinking much of it. The government official then asked what contribution Arthur was then willing to make toward world peace, outlining a plan in which Arthur would go to India and essentially be a Communist spy. Arthur realized that the Communist definition of world peace was a world dominated by communism, and of course could not consent.
A government official called Arthur in and promised his exit visas if he would do something for them, like write a report of five other missionaries. At first Arthur did write glowing reports of the missionaries in question, but someone told him he dare not turn that in: the Communists would change what he had written but keep his signature. So Arthur threw his report in the fire and told the official he could not be a Judas. The official then told him that he could have given him a pass, if he had cooperated, but now a charge had been laid against him which must be investigated, and “investigations take a long time.”
Thus began a two and a half year ordeal. Their provisions from their mission were frozen by the government, which made Arthur submit a report of what he would need, and then they doled out to him much less than what the report said he needed. Every victory they mentioned in a letter seemed to be immediately challenged by the enemy of their souls: once when they wrote what a blessing Lilah was, she then came down with scarlet fever, and they almost lost her. All of them had turns being ill. Eventually they were told that no one could speak to them, and they could only leave home to draw water from the creek and get food.
They wrestled with the “what-ifs” and the frustration of what they called “second causes,” finally coming to the conclusion that they had to trust that the Lord was in control and had them there for a reason, though it was hard to discern that reason when they were so restricted. Yet the Lord did use them even when they could not speak to the people. The few weeks they had had to minister before restrictions set in, people knew their hearts and saw their love. When the Mathews could no longer speak openly, the people saw them in tattered clothes, persecuted, attacked by illness without much medical aid, laughed at, jeered, humiliated, doing menial, degrading work just to survive, tantalized by the government offering release and then not giving it or doling out money that was theirs in the first place. They saw the Lord provide miraculously for them in many ways. Yet more than that, they saw them endure graciously and joyfully until, finally, the Mathews became the last CIM missionaries to leave China.
How the Lord provided for them and ministered through them in unexpected ways are some of the most exciting parts of the book Isobel Kuhn wrote of their story titled Green Leaf in Drought. She says,
But most amazing of all was their spiritual vigour. Whence came it? Not from themselves: no human being could go through such sufferings and come out so sweet and cheerful. As I was in a small prayer meeting… one prayed thus: ‘O Lord, keep their leaf green in times of drought!’ I knew in a moment that this was the answer. Jeremiah 17:8: “He shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth 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.” That was it! There was an unseen Source of secret nourishment, which the Communists could not find and from which they could not cut them off…That is needed by all of us. Your drought may not be caused by Communism, but the cause of the drying up of life’s joys is incidental. When they dry up — is there, can we find, a secret Source of nourishment that the deadly drought cannot reach?…Is it possible for a Christian to put forth green leaves when all he enjoys in this life is drying up around him?
The answer, by God’s grace, is yes!
(Reposted from the archives.)
For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.