From Hospital Boat To Robbers’ Den (Part 3)
By Oswald J. Smith
Adapted from a 1926 article in The Sunday School Times about R. A. Jaffray, a missionary with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, who was captured by bandits while in China. In the previous segment, Jaffray and his three companions began a forced march, heavily guarded by the bandits. At midnight, after hours of nonstop hiking, they finally came to a loft where they rested. Unable to sleep, Jaffray had been thinking of his co-workers and family who must be terribly concerned for the missing missionaries.
“What’s this?” Turning suddenly at the unexpected question, Robert Jaffray was amazed to see standing at his side, no less than the much-dreaded bandit chief.
“What’s this?” again questioned the chief, holding up the missionary’s typewriter.
“That?” responded Jaffray, recovering from his surprise, “Why, that’s my typewriter.”
“What does it do?” inquired the chief.
“It writes letters,” answered Jaffray.
“Does it know Chinese?”
“No, it doesn’t know Chinese, it only knows English.”
“Open it,” commanded the chief.
The missionary did so, and then promptly proceeded to show his captor how to close it again being careful to not reveal the watch he had hidden in the drawer when the bandits were looting the hospital boat.
“You may have it,” said the chief. “It’s no good to me. Doesn’t know Chinese.”
A moment later the chief had gone, and with a quick motion the missionary again opened the drawer, took out his watch, shoved it into his hip pocket, and settled down to wait for what might happen next.
He had not long to wait. Just one hour after their arrival at the resting place, the chief gave a brief word of command, and in a few moments, every man was up and on the march again.
A Perilous Path
Now began a journey the like of which neither Robert Jaffray, nor the other prisoners in the party ever expected to take. How it could ever be accomplished seemed unanswerable. It was pitch dark. Stones, boulders, trees, mud, and water everywhere; a dim, almost indiscernible path; bodies tired and weary. What an experience!
Presently, they came to a stream, not a large one, and very shallow. Jaffray decided that he would not get his feet wet, so stepping carefully from stone to stone he managed to cross dry-shod. But not so the robbers. There was no attempt made by them to keep dry. They stepped right in and waded through. The missionary watched and wondered. He could not understand such utter disregard for health. But that was because he had never been over that particular path before, and the robbers, well, they had. For before they reached their journey’s end they had crossed no less than thirteen streams, or rather rivers, so deep that they were wading through water that reached to their shoulders.
And now more terrible still became the path. It was without doubt the worst ever traveled by the missionary party. In all China, Jaffray had never seen the like. Its mountainous character necessitated continuous climbing, sometimes over crags and up steeps that could not be walked or even climbed. Grasping hold of shrubs, trees and bushes, they were compelled to pull themselves up on hands and knees. Then there were the fearful ravines, right beside the narrow, winding path, where one false step would mean instant death hundreds of feet below. None but robbers had ever used the trail, and they chose it, not because they were unable to find a better, but because they well knew that no prisoner who might escape could ever hope to find his way back.
At last, they saw streaks of light in the eastern sky which told them day was approaching. Finally, the chief called a halt. It was now five o’clock. Again they rested. The sun rose and set. All day they remained in camp. Night fell, and once more the dreadful march was resumed.
For twelve long hours they plodded on. By this time the missionaries were utterly fatigued. It seemed to Jaffray, as he dragged one leg after the other, that it would be absolutely impossible for him to go another step. Finally, in sheer desperation he turned to his guard, and for the first time made an appeal.
“I am afraid you will have to carry me,” he said, almost stopping in his steps.
“Carry you!” exclaimed the robber, beginning to laugh. “Do you know how we carry pigs?”
“Oh, yes, I know quite well,” responded the missionary, as a vision of four legs tied two and two, a long pole between resting on the shoulders of two men, presented itself to him.
“Well,” commented the robber, “that is the way we would carry you.”
Jaffray decided that he would prefer to walk, and on he trudged.
Arrival at the Robbers’ Den
After a while, they came to a place where the trail wound along the edge of a ravine so deep, so black and steep, that even the robbers took special precautions. Each provided himself with a bamboo stick with which to guide his footsteps, and the prisoners were likewise given a stick. It was now quite dark.
At last, one of the prisoners could go no farther and, with scarcely a thought of the consequences, he deliberately lay down on the cold, damp ground to rest or die. But strange to say, his guards waited for him. Perhaps they, too, were glad of an excuse to rest.
Jaffray knew what it meant to have blistered feet. That was the common experience of every itinerant missionary. He had toured the villages again and again in his work and practically always returned with his feet swollen and sore. However, on this journey he did not have a single blister. His feet were never sore. How to account for it he did not know except that God had mysteriously undertaken on his behalf.
It was early morning when they reached the top of the mountain. They tramped down a quick decline, then suddenly they turned a corner, and almost before they knew it, ran right into the robbers’ den.
Jaffray glanced with horror around him. All about the dark den, both men and women were sprawled everywhere. Hard were their faces, cruel their eyes. Sin was written all over their coarse features. They were criminals by choice, crime was their chief occupation. But there were also girls from thirteen to sixteen years of age among them. They had been kidnapped and carried away to share the lot of their captors. The missionary shuddered when he saw them.
Of course there was no furniture of any kind whatever – no beds, no mattresses. Nothing but the hard, cold earth and some filthy straw. It was impossible to sleep. Oh yes, the missionaries were weary – weary beyond words to express, but it seemed utterly impossible to relax in such an environment. Never had they witnessed anything like it before – no, not in all China. To Jaffray it seemed utterly inconceivable that human beings could become so unspeakably vile, so shamelessly wicked. Words fail to express the actual conditions.
“If the grace of God can reach and save these men,” said Jaffray, “there is nothing impossible.”
“And yet,” he continued more to himself than to his three fellow prisoners, “these men and women have souls. Christ died for them, too.”
Presently the captives were appointed to a place in the corner, and although they were not tied, yet they never moved, not even to get a drink of water, day or night, without asking permission.
“We are not their prisoners,” Jaffray encouraged his companions, “we are the prisoners of Jesus Christ.”
(To be continued)