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From Hospital Boat To Robbers’ Den (Part 1)

  By Oswald J. Smith

    Adapted from a 1926 article in The Sunday School Times.  Oswald J. Smith relates how R. A. Jaffray, of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was captured by bandits while on a missionary journey by hospital boat through China. 

    It was five o’clock in the morning.  From the shore of the river came a call in Chinese, and in a moment the missionaries were up and on the deck of the hospital boat.  Glancing across the water, they saw a line of rough looking men fully armed, and they knew immediately that they were in the hands of robbers.

    For nearly thirty years, Robert Jaffray had traveled and labored in China without having seen a bandit.  He knew the country was infested with them, but this was the first time he had met them face to face.

    What was to be done?  Would it be possible to get past?  Gazing into the hardened faces of the men on the shore, there seemed to be but little hope.  They were a determined looking lot.

    But there was not much time for idle speculation.  The robbers were there for business, bent on toll and plunder.  It was their custom to collect from every boat that came up the river.  Advancing to the water’s edge, the chief quickly made known his desires.

    “You will kindly pay toll before proceeding,” he politely demanded.

    “But we are missionaries,” explained Mr. Jaffray, standing in his pajamas on the deck, “we come to preach the Gospel.”

    “No matter,” responded the chief, “all boats pay toll to us on the Fu River.”

    “But this is a hospital boat,” replied the missionary.  “It may be quite legitimate for you to collect from merchantmen, but you surely wouldn’t expect toll from a hospital boat!”

    “Makes no difference!  Must pay!” shortly answered the chief in a menacing tone of voice.

    Mr. Jaffray then explained what a wonderful and good Gospel he had brought.  It seemed, however, as though the last word had been said.  The chief’s statement sounded final.  The missionary had argued his best, but without avail.  The situation was rapidly becoming most critical. 

Trouble Averted

    Suddenly Robert Jaffray took a step forward.  A new light flashed in his eye.  Familiar with the Chinese way of thinking, he had thought of another device.  He would try humor.

    “Look, Chief,” he began, “we missionaries are not accustomed to giving offerings.  We receive offerings.  All our work is supported by the freewill gifts of the people.  Now, wouldn’t it be nice if you were instead to give us an offering for our work?”

    For a moment, the face of the chief wore an expression of surprise, then broke into a smile as he saw and appreciated the joke.  The idea of a robber chief giving an offering to missionary work!  The missionary knew that he had won the day.  It was now the chief’s turn to prove that he should not give an offering to the work of the missionaries.  He paused a moment as though searching for reasons.  Then came his reply:  “Nor do I give.  It is my custom also to receive.”

    “Then,” responded Mr. Jaffray, “we are both in the same position.  Neither of us gives; we both receive.”

    The chief was satisfied.  His argument had been answered, and the toll was not mentioned again.  Still he had no plans of letting his captives go free so easily.  Mr. Jaffray took in the situation at a glance and thought quickly.

    “By the way,” he ventured during the pause that followed, “have you any sick men?”

    “Yes, I have,” replied the chief.

    “Well, bring them on board and let us take them to the hospital in Wuchow,” invited the missionary.

    “No, I can’t do that,” answered the chief, “but have you any medicine?”

    One of the Chinese crew on the boat soon appeared with both hands full of coochs containing salve.  He was scared and shook so violently that before he could hand the coochs to the robbers they fell all over the sand.

    “This salve,” said Mr. Jaffray, “will cure most anything.  Take it and use it.  You are welcome to it.”

    Gathering up the coochs and murmuring their thanks, the robbers turned to go.  Mr. Jaffray, noting an expression of perplexity on the chief’s face as he stood silently watching the scene, spoke again.  “We have come to your country,” he explained, “with Good News, the Good News of God’s love for sinful men.  He so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die, and now He forgives all who will accept His love.  He sent us to tell you this marvelous story of His great love, and He wants you men to let His Son Jesus Christ come into your hearts.”

    For a moment, everyone stopped and listened.  Then with an abrupt movement, the chief turned away.  “All right, you may go,” he said.  Then, followed by his men, the whole band trailed off over the hill leaving the boat to continue its journey unmolested. 

A Second Encounter

    In China, it was the duty of the magistrate to protect foreign missionaries.  Hence, when news of the holdup reached him, the magistrate immediately dispatched eighty soldiers, or rather “braves,” to act as an escort to the missionary party up the Fu River.  It was a most unfortunate arrangement, for instead of helping, it brought great trouble.

    For some weeks, the besieging army had surrounded Kweilin, making it impossible for the missionaries to get out.  Nor could they send out any word concerning their situation.  Robert Jaffray had made up his mind that they must somehow be rescued.  Hence, a hazardous journey was embarked upon by Jaffray and three other fellow missionaries.  It seemed from the first a hopeless venture, but with his three companions, Jaffray was determined to try.  Surely, he thought, it will be possible to get through the lines and effect a rescue.  Little did he know what lay before him.

    The men had not accomplished half the journey, when suddenly rounding a bend in the river, they were alarmed at the sound of rifle fire.  In a moment, the boat was brought to a stop.  The eighty soldiers got down behind the boat, and at once commenced firing on the bandits.  It was the worst thing they could have done.  The return fire of the robbers was directed right on the missionary boat.  Bullets were flying on all sides.  Then, almost before it had begun, the fight was over.  The soldiers (“braves”), terror-stricken, turned and fled for their lives.  Splashing through the shallow water, and disappearing in the woods on the farther side, they left Jaffray and his companions to fend for themselves.

    It was now useless for the missionaries to think of talking with the bandits.  The robbers were in no humor to parley.  How the missionaries wished that no guard had been sent!  They got on so much better with the first party on their own, and would doubtless have gotten past again, had they been allowed to explain their mission.  But now it was too late, for in another minute the robbers were on board.

    (To be continued)