“Faithful Is He” (Part 1)
By Helen Western
Helen Western, an American missionary, had been serving for thirteen years with the South China Boat Mission, living and working among the Boat People – a poor and ostracized people living their entire lives on boats in the harbors of Canton and other cities of South China – when war was declared between America and Japan on December 7, 1941. China and Japan were already at war and the Japanese had occupied territory in Canton, where Miss Western’s boat was anchored on the Pearl River. Two hours after war was declared, the Japanese boarded the boats of the American missionaries and declared them prisoners of war. Miss Western writes of God’s provision for them in the months that followed.
The South China Boat Mission is a faith mission, and as a missionary working with them I had always felt that I had lived more or less by faith. It required very little faith, however, to live in China when I had a church back of me who so generously supported me through the years, not only with their gifts but by their prayers. Boats had arrived a couple of times a month, bringing with them letters and gifts from praying friends. But now the Japanese had interned us on our boats, secured from us a promise that we would not leave them, and left us, making no provision for our food or sustenance, and there would be no more boats, or letters, or gifts. We were cut off from the homeland and it seemed from all sources of support. But God! That old familiar portion of Scripture, “...Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12), meant much to me. Like Samuel of old we raised our “Ebenezer,” knowing that “He who had helped us hitherto would help us all our journey through.”
Never did His promise fail! How many times I failed to trust Him. I failed – but He remained faithful.
“Blessed be the Lord, Who Daily Loadeth Us with Benefits…”
I shall ever remember the day when we had used our last dollar and had to make a decision in regards to the future. Should we continue our schools for the children? Should we keep our teachers, and let the students remain? What about the children we were caring for? Should we send them away? If so, where? What about our native preachers, and Bible women who had been supported by funds which had come to us from the homeland? What about the orphans in the city for whom we were so concerned?
There were so many questions facing me. I knew that I had to trust God for my own needs, I could not escape that, but should I send the Chinese away and discontinue the work? I put out a fleece as Gideon of old did and asked the Lord, that if it was His will for us to carry on as before and trust Him to provide, that He should put His seal upon such a step by sending to me that day some cash. It did not matter how much, but I would take it from Him as a token that more would follow when needed. I made note of this in my diary but told no one about it.
The evening came when I must make a definite decision and I looked in the Word of God for a message from the Lord. My eyes fell upon that beautiful verse in Deuteronomy 33:27 – “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms....” However, I read it from a daily reading book, and it was taken from a modern speech translation and read a little differently and brought an entirely new thought to my mind. It read: “Above is the God of aforetime, beneath are the arms of the ages.” I began to ponder on just what that meant. Above is the “God of aforetime.” Aforetime: it meant that above was Moses’ God, the God that had fed the children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness where there was no food. The “God of aforetime”: it meant that above was Elijah’s God, who had fed His servant by the ravens. The “God of aforetime” was George Müller’s God who had fed the thousands of English orphans.
Yes, and that same miracle-working God was my God, and beneath are the “arms of the ages.” This brought yet another new thought to my mind: above I had a God who could answer and work miracles, but if He had other plans for us then beneath were the arms that had upheld the saints through countless ages and had given grace to the martyrs. These loving arms that sustained them could still hold me and our Chinese who, with me, were relying on God. I purposed in my heart to trust Him, to lean back and rest in the Arms of the Ages.
That night I gathered my Chinese workers about me and explained the situation to them and gave them the opportunity of leaving and going inland if they chose. Each one had to make his own decision, with the exception of the children who were too young to choose for themselves. All decided to remain and carry on the work and trust God to provide for our daily needs.
We had a season of prayer and were so very conscious of the presence of the Lord and realized anew that, “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isa. 59:1). We knew God had heard and we felt conscious too of the fact that others were praying for us at that time. We wept! We sang! We rejoiced! The next morning we would all meet around the table trusting God to have provided for us. We had no money or food on the boat. We hadn’t even wood to cook with if we had had anything to cook.
Just before we separated for the night, one of the school teachers came to me and said, “I forgot to tell you. Do you remember Mr. Leung whose boat we were able to save when the Japanese were confiscating the boats to invade Wai Chow?” I did remember. We had, in a very few minutes, converted his boat into a classroom, and when the Japanese arrived we were holding school on the boat and they left us together with our other school boats unmolested.
“He came to visit me today,” continued the teacher, “and brought six dollars, the money that he has owed for his boys’ books.” This was the answer to my fleece. It was the first gift of money received toward our support as prisoners of war.
We never missed a meal! We were fed daily by the hand of God. The Chinese whom we had been able to help through the years shared with us of their poverty. It was bread that had been cast upon the waters, and it came back buttered and jammed. One day I felt constrained to look up that passage in Ecclesiastes 11:1 – “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” Then I read the next verse: “Give a portion to seven and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth” (v. 2).
It brought a new message to me: seven is God’s perfect number. To me it meant, give to all to whom you should give, and then eight meant to go the extra mile, give more than you should and in this way you are storing up for an evil time, a rainy day. We have our own methods of preparing for a rainy day; this is God’s way. When we take care of the work of God, God always takes care of His workers....
– Adapted from “Faithful Is He” by Helen Western.