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Jonathan And Rosalind Goforth In China (Part 1)

By Rosalind Goforth

    In this article a pioneer missionary wife and mother tells of the faithfulness of God to hear and to answer prayer during the very difficult days at the end of the 19th century when China was being opened to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    In October 1887, my husband, Jonathan Goforth, was appointed by the Canadian Presbyterian Church to open a new field in the northern section of the province of Honan, China. We left Canada the following January, reaching China in March 1888. Not until then did we realize the tremendous difficulties of the task before us.

    Dr. Hudson Taylor, of the China Inland Mission, writing to us at this time, said: "We understand North Honan is to be your field; we, as a mission, have tried for ten years to enter that province from the south, and have only just succeeded. It is one of the most antiforeign provinces in China…Brother, if you would enter that province, you must go forward on your knees."

    These words gave the keynote to our early pioneer years. Would that a faithful record had been kept of God’s faithfulness in answering prayer! Our strength as a mission and as individuals, during those years so fraught with dangers and difficulties, lay in the fact that we did realize the hopelessness of our task apart from divine aid.

Importance of Prayer from the Home Base

    The following incident occurred while we were still outside Honan, studying the language at a sister mission. It illustrates the importance of prayer from the home base for those on the field.

    My husband was finding great difficulty in acquiring the language. He studied faithfully many hours daily, but made painfully slow progress. He and his colleague went regularly together to the street chapel to practice preaching in Chinese to the people. But, though Mr. Goforth had come to China almost a year before the other missionary, the people would ask the latter to speak instead of Mr. Goforth, saying they understood him better.

    One day, just before starting as usual for the chapel my husband said: "If the Lord does not give me very special help in this language I fear I shall be a failure as a missionary."

    Some hours later he returned, his face beaming with joy. He told me that he realized most unusual help when his turn came to speak. Sentences came to his mind as never before; and not only had he made himself understood, but some had appeared much moved, coming up afterward to have further conversation with him. So delighted and encouraged was he with this experience that he made a careful note of it in his diary.

    Some two months and a half later a letter came from a student in Knox College, saying that on a certain evening a number of students had met specially to pray for Mr. Goforth. The power of prayer was such, and the presence of God so manifestly felt, that they decided to write and ask Mr. Goforth if any special help had come to him at that time. Looking in his diary, he found that the time of their meeting corresponded with that time of special help in the language.

Property Secured

    At last the joyful news reached us women, waiting outside of Honan, that our brethren had secured property in two centers. It would be difficult for those in the homeland to understand what the years of waiting had meant to some of us. The danger to those dear to us, touring in Honan, was very great. For years they never left us to go on a tour without our being filled with dread least they should never return. Yet the Lord, in His mercy, heard our prayers for them, and though often in grave danger, none received serious injury. This is not a history of the mission, but I cannot forbear giving here one incident illustrating how they were kept during those early days.

    Two of our brethren, after renting property at a town just within the boundary of Honan, and near the Wei River, moved in, intending to spend the winter there, but a sudden and bitter persecution arose just as they had become settled. The mission premises were attacked by a mob, and everything was looted. The two men were roughly handled, one being dragged about the courtyard. They found themselves at last left alone, their lives spared, but everything gone.

    Their position was serious in the extreme – several days’ journey away from friends, with no money, no bedding, and no clothes but those upon them, and the cold winter begun.

    In their extremity, they knelt down and committed themselves to the Lord. And according to His promise He delivered them out of their distresses, for even while they prayed a brother missionary from a distant station was at hand. He arrived unexpectedly, without knowing what had occurred, a few hours after the looting had taken place. His coming at such an opportune moment filled the hearts of their enemies with fear. Money and goods were returned, and from that time the violent opposition of the people ceased.

Kept Midst Gravest Danger

    A few months after the above incident several families moved into Honan, and a permanent occupation was effected, but the hearts of the people seemed as adamant against us. They hated and distrusted us as if we were their worst enemies. The district in which we settled was known for its turbulent and antiforeign spirit, and as a band of missionaries we were frequently in the gravest danger.

    Many times we realized that we, as well as our fellow workers at the other stations, were kept from serious harm only by the overruling, protecting power of God in answer to the many prayers which were going up for us all at this critical juncture in the history of our mission. The following is an example of how God heard our prayers at this time.

    We had for our station doctor a man of splendid gifts. He was a gold medalist, with years of special training and hospital experience, and was looked upon as one of the rising physicians in the city from which he came. Imagine his disappointment, therefore, when month after month passed and scarcely a good case came to the hospital. The people did not know what he could do, and moreover they were afraid to trust themselves into his hands. We, as a little band of missionaries, began to pray definitely that the Lord would send cases to the hospital which would open the hearts of the people toward us and our message.

    It was not long before we saw this prayer answered beyond all expectation. Several very important cases came almost together, one so serious that the doctor hesitated for days before operating. When at last the operation did take place the doctor’s hands were strengthened by our prayers, the patient came through safely, and a few days later was going around a living wonder to the people.

    Very much depended upon the outcome of this and other serious operations. Had the patients died under the doctor’s hands, it would have been quite sufficient to have caused the destruction of the mission premises and the life of every missionary. Three years later the hospital records showed that there had been 28,000 treatments in one year.

    (To be continued)

    – Taken from God Answers Prayer by Rosalind Goforth.

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