Faithful Endurance That Others May Be Saved
October 1, 2011 - The Apostle Paul wrote, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:10, NIV). Through the ages, countless believers have sacrificed in similar ways, enduring deprivation and even persecution so that others may be saved.
By Stephen Fortosis and Mary Graham Reid
Following is an account of the early missionary work of Jimmy and Sophie Graham (no relation to Billy Graham), who served in Tsingkiangpu, China, from 1889 to 1940 at the same mission station as L. Nelson Bell, the father of Ruth Bell Graham. One need only look at the vibrant, fast-growing church in China today to see how God can build on the sacrificial service of His people to bring millions to faith and even change the course of nations.
The early years for the Grahams were unavoidably trying, and it can safely be said that Jimmy and Sophie were not welcomed with open arms into Chinese society. The Chinese did not want to hear of a strange new religion from these pale foreigners—people who had routed their armies with superior weapons and who, according to local lore, collected their body parts and ground them into healing potions and changed Chinese bone marrow into gold.
Though there were no maps as such, each missionary took a different general slice of the region as his or her assignment. Jimmy, called by colleagues the “great question mark,” because of his insatiable inquisitiveness, would milk dry anyone who had even a cursory knowledge of the geography, and by that means a rough map began gradually forming in his mind. The few missionaries on the station knew there was no way to cover such a vast territory by preaching town to town, so they concentrated in the early years on spreading the Gospel with written Scripture, books, tracts and whirlwind preaching through the towns.
Travel at that time was almost entirely by wheelbarrow (predecessor to the rickshaw).
At one point Jimmy traveled a circuit with a representative from the Bible Society, a Mr. Whitehorse. After about a week, they came to a walled city near a waterway where a floating population of boat people also lived. Jimmy knew that boat people sometimes had a reputation as troublemakers, so he urged caution. His companion decided to sell Bibles in the town, but Jimmy wanted to preach in an adjoining area; so they parted, agreeing to meet at day’s end.
At sunset, as Jimmy headed back to meet his friend, he found that even the mangy dogs on shore seemed to have turned surly. People gathered in clumps, following him up one street and down the next, calling out insults. His emotions screamed retreat, but he didn’t want to abandon his Bible Society friend. One rock struck him in the back; then suddenly the air was thick with them.
Realizing the danger was escalating, Jimmy edged over against buildings and jogged next to walls in order to protect at least one side of his body. He felt a flash of pain as bamboo walloped the back of his head, but he kept running. Finally he saw the town official’s home just ahead. He ducked into the man’s home as more rocks clattered around him.
Instead of the sympathy he expected, Jimmy sensed only flint-hard hostility from the official.
“Other man also come into town; make trouble. He also ask for help and I provide escort out of city. No more! Not keep helping those who make trouble for himself. Go. Go on. Out of here.”
Jimmy was shoved out of the house, and he ran haphazardly through the town, making sure not to get cornered. Finally he sensed he was in the suburbs. By this time blood dripped from lacerations and his breath came in accordion-like wheezes. He knew that, above all, he must not fall. If he fell, he was as good as dead.
He wrote later, “I knew I could not stand the strafing I was getting much longer, and I kept asking God to send the men away before I fell. And in a most miraculous way, He did so. Without any visible reason the mob began to drop away.”
Jimmy could hear the angry voices fade. Finally, glancing behind, he saw only the village mongrels as they turned back victoriously. He collapsed by the side of the road, thoroughly exhausted. His barrow-man had disappeared long before, and he prayed desperately that somehow he’d be able to locate the man. Shortly, a figure appeared about a mile away, and as he drew closer, Jimmy realized it was the barrow-man.
As the man approached, Jimmy was praying fervently about what to do next. Circling the town, they looked desperately for the others in their party. Everything in Jimmy wanted to retreat immediately for Tsingkiangpu, and his barrow-man argued vehemently in favor of the idea. But against his better judgment, Jimmy waited at an inn on the outskirts of the city. Two hours passed, three, four—then miraculously, one by one, the other barrow-men, the helpers and his Bible Society friend arrived unbidden at the same inn.
Days later Jimmy arrived back in Tsingkiangpu. Sophie saw him from a very great distance and began preparing a hot bath and readying disinfectant and gauze for his wounds.
When he limped into the house, he voiced no bitter complaints and, though sympathy shone in his wife’s eyes, she said nothing that would fuel self-pity. She helped him undress and he eased his aching body into the bath water. Every part of his body seemed covered with bruises or lacerations.
Of these early days Jimmy wrote, “One never knew just what trouble would develop, and it was liable to be very serious at times. … It showed me what I think is true about human nature—when we know we cannot do anything ourselves we can leave it all to God and be quiet and peaceful. However, when we … think of ourselves, rather than of God as being the one responsible for the care of others, we start to worry.”
Often as Jimmy left for an evangelistic foray, he honestly did not know if he’d see Sophie again in the flesh. Early on, he had imagined that perhaps his wife was so tough that the beatings and stonings didn’t bother her too much. But once, shortly after leaving for a trip, he returned for something he forgot. As he strode into the house, he found Sophie rocking their new baby, Georgia, in her arms, sobbing quietly. When she glimpsed him, she tried to hide the tears, like a child caught with fingers in the cookie jar. She’d been all smiles when he left, but now Jimmy knew the true wrenching of her heart for him.
What Hath God Wrought?
The Grahams’ family legacy is remarkable. The couple’s three children devoted a total of 84 years as missionaries in the Orient. Of their grandchildren, three devoted a total of 67 years to full-time ministry, 37 of those years in foreign missions. Of their great-grandchildren, five are in career Christian ministry, two of them serving in overseas missions. Jimmy and Sophie’s testimony has reached individuals all over the world.
For more than 40 years after the Grahams left, China was closed to Western missionaries, but as author John Piper put it, “This is not because Jesus fell into a tomb. He stepped in. And when it was sealed over, He saved 50 million Chinese from inside—without Western missionaries. And when it was time, He pushed the stone away so we could see what He had done. When it looks like He is buried for good, Jesus is doing something awesome in the dark.”*
During those decades, what was God accomplishing inexorably in North Jiangsu, the very region where the Grahams worked? As late as 1958, the Chinese Communists were proudly proclaiming the combined Huaiyin/Shuyang county a religionless region.
Billy and Ruth Graham visited Tsingkiangpu in 1989 and had the opportunity to speak to various church leaders and learned details of the church in the region. A church administrator for the area said that there were believed to be more than 300,000 Christians in the region.
Through the decades of Jimmy Graham’s ministry, scattered here and there in his letters is a phrase that reflects his joyous amazement that, rising out of the many years of apparent fruitlessness, he and his associates were seeing thousands of Chinese in North Jiangsu courageously placing their faith in Christ. The phrase can be repeated by those who read the Grahams’ remarkable story and all that has occurred since: “What hath God wrought!”
Taken from “Boxers to Bandits,” by Stephen Fortosis and Mary Graham Reid, ©2006 BGEA.
*John Piper, “A Godward Life: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All Life,” vol. 2, page 124 (Salem, Ore.: Multnomah, 2001).