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From Hospital Boat To Robbers’ Den (Part 2)

  By Oswald J. Smith 

    Adapted from a 1926 article in The Sunday School Times about R. A. Jaffray, of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, who was captured by bandits while on a missionary journey by hospital boat through China.  In the previous segment, the missionaries encountered a group of bandits, but Jaffray successfully out­witted them and kept them from looting the ship.  On a second encounter, however, they were being “guarded” by assigned soldiers who fired upon the bandits and then fled, abandoning the missionaries. 

    Quickly the bandits took possession of the boat, and without a word, made themselves at home.  Everything in sight was appropriated.  The missionaries politely offered them tea, to which the bandits drank all the tea and ate all the cakes.  Before long they were decked up with foreign garments of every description until they presented a most grotesque appearance.

    Mr. Jaffray had a sun hat which he greatly treasured, and hoped would be overlooked.  But to his disappointment an unusually cross-looking fellow presently saw it and immediately put it on his head, after which he walked up to a mirror where he surveyed himself, apparently with a good deal of satisfaction.  Robert Jaffray watched him until he became so amused that he thought he would say something.

    “My brother,” he began, “I see you like my hat.  I will be glad to make you a present of it.”  The robber turned and looked at him, but made no reply.

    By this time, Mr. Jaffray was beginning to see the humor of the situation as he stood watching the scene before him.  He might just as well appear to be generous, he thought, since they were taking everything anyway, and a gracious spirit might help somehow.  He knew that the harder he made it for them the harder it would be for himself.  If he were to show anger and resentment, they would probably get ugly, and only God knew what might happen.  So he resolved then and there that he would be a good prisoner and give as little trouble as possible.

    For a year past, he had been working on a series of articles most diligently, and with the idea of continuing his writing during the journey, he had brought the manuscript with him.  But now with aching heart he saw it confiscated along with all his other valuables. Most earnestly did he pray that it might be recovered, for it represented a year’s hard work and could not be replaced, but he never saw it again.

    As the robbers approached, he thought of his watch, and wondered if he could devise some way to retain it.  Suddenly he thought of the drawer in his portable typewriter, and when no one was looking, he made a swift move, opened the drawer, slipped his watch in, quickly closed and locked it.  His idea was that the robbers naturally would search him first, and they would be unable to open the drawer without breaking it.  Then when the search was over, he thought, he could secure his watch again, and thus have it throughout his captivity.  It was a risky venture, but it worked.

    Presently the robbers completed their looting and, decked up in all kinds of foreign garments, prepared to take their prisoners and leave for their mountain fastness.  Driven at the point of revolvers they were soon all ashore, where preparations were immediately made for the march.

    “Brethren, you don’t need to threaten us,” said Jaffray fearlessly as the bandits surrounded the little group of ­prisoners, warning what they would do if any should refuse to obey.  “We will be good.  I have every respect for a man with a gun, I can assure you,” he concluded as they began their journey.

    Then lifting his eyes to heaven he prayed, prayed as he had seldom prayed in his life before.  “Lord,” he pleaded, “let not a drop of blood be shed, let not a bone be broken; grant that there may be no serious illness, and save the souls of some of these men.”   

In the Hands of the Bandits

    Two men, armed to the teeth, were assigned to each prisoner, and with one ahead of him and one behind, Robert Jaffray commenced his forced march.

    Having determined to be a good prisoner, and discovering that he got along better by exhibiting a spirit of happiness and contentment rather than of misery and resentment, he began to joke with his captors until at times he had them in high spirits and fits of laughter.  Their sense of humor was keen, and they appreciated to the full the jokes of their prisoner.

    “Many a time before this experience,” said Mr. Jaffray, in telling the story after his release, “I wondered how I would act in the midst of bandits.  Would I be afraid?  But I made the happy discovery that God gives grace sufficient for every occasion.  I had no sensation of fear at all.”

    It was 5 p.m. when the robbers had first stopped the boat.  Now, for over five hours they marched in single file.  It became dark.  There were no lights and the footpath soon became indistinct.  They began to grow tired, but the robbers forced them on.  Where they were going they did not know.  Probably, they thought, to some lonely rendezvous where their captors would be safe from the soldiers.  For a while, they thought they might be able to remember the way, escape, and get back.  However, it soon became apparent that such a thing was impossible.  The robbers never hesitated.  Not a pause did they make.  Every man seemed to know the road, and with quickened pace they pressed on.

    At midnight they stopped at a loft into which they were hustled and told to rest.  Here their captors laid themselves down and were soon fast asleep, with the exception of those who were dividing the spoil and those who had been appointed to guard the prisoners.  A dim lantern hung from a beam.

    Most captives are bound, generally with chains.  Jaffray and his companions never were.  But they were always carefully guarded by armed men.  Not for a single moment, either night or day, were they left to themselves.

 God Overrules

    Robert Jaffray lay down, but not to sleep.  His mind was going over the unfortunate events of the day.  What would be the end of it all, he wondered.  The situation was most critical.  However, he consoled himself, it had not happened by chance.  God must have a purpose in it.  He would then be a good prisoner for Jesus Christ.  Escape had not yet entered his mind, but he thought of his work as he lay on his back listening to the breathing of the desperadoes around him.  Who would attend to it?  How could they manage?  Of course, they would be frantic when news reached them of his predicament.  And then his wife and daughter Margaret – what a trial it would be to them!  For a while he allowed himself to think of home, home in Wuchow, where for more than a score of years he had labored.  And then the missionaries in Kweilin  – it was for them he had set out on his perilous journey.  He had ventured up the robber-infested river to get them released.  And now, well, now the missionaries might have to release him.  Oh, the irony!  But yet, yes, God overrules.  Somehow he would get out alive.  At least, he felt so.  Little did the brave-hearted missionary know what awaited him in the dense forest before he would again see the faces of those he loved.

    (To be continued)