“Faithful Is He” (Part 2)
By Helen Western
Helen Western, an American missionary with the South China Boat Mission, was serving among the Boat People in the harbors of Canton when war was declared between America and Japan in 1941. The American missionaries soon became prisoners of war by the Japanese. Miss Western wrote of God’s care for them in the months that followed.
I had always thought that if I had enough faith, God would provide for me and my Chinese workers. But I learned some beautiful lessons from the experiences of the past year.
At one time we had had very little for our evening meal, and there was nothing for the morning. We had always had either food for the morning or else money with which to buy food. But we were simply at the end of our resources.
In China we have two meals a day; one in the morning at about ten o’clock, and the other between four and five in the afternoon. No one had ever come to us with food before the morning meal, and I felt sure that God was going to test us, in that we should be without food the next morning.
However, I could not sleep. I rolled and tossed all night. All winter we had no light as kerosene was so very expensive, and consequently we went to bed very early. In fact, we went to bed when it got dark and got up at daylight....
As I lay in bed, I thought of the little children who gathered about the table for each meal, and rejoiced and sang as they watched God provide for us. Our music teacher, partially blind, had translated for us that beautiful little chorus: “I know the Lord will make a way for me.” We sang it at every meal. I wondered if the children would be offended in the Lord if they were called upon to miss a meal. Then there came to my memory lines from a very beautiful poem:
“Listen! I’ll fling my challenge, to the sky! God CAN deliver; but if not, I’ll trust Him, and trusting die!”
I repeated these lines over and over again and fell asleep. The next morning I looked in my book of poems for these lines. I am very fond of poetry and have a large collection of very choice poems, but this one was missing. Then I looked through my desk and found it on the back of a letter sent to me from a dear friend in the States.
The poem is entitled, “But If Not” and is built around those three little words taken from Daniel 3:18. We so often quote Daniel 3:17 about the time when the three Hebrew children were facing the fiery furnace: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” Yet we often forget the next verse, “But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” The poem was a challenge and thrilled my soul:
I know my God is able to deliver;
Able to save from direst human ill;
Able, as when He saved the Hebrew
children – Almighty still!
But if perchance, His plans are not my plans,
If hid in darkness should my pathway be;
If, when I plead He does not seem
to answer, Nor care for me;
Then, though men scoff and bitterly deride me,
Listen! I’ll fling my challenge to the sky!
God CAN deliver; BUT IF NOT,
I’ll trust Him, And trusting die!
I determined to trust Him, it did not matter whether we had food or not, nor what the children thought; God would care for even that. I went to teach my classes completely at rest. At ten o’clock I returned to find our family of twenty-three gathered around the table. God had provided! I learned that it is not our faith, for mine had completely failed, but that we have a faithful God!
A Chinese nurse from a mission hospital about ten miles outside the city had brought me a basket of vegetables. I had spent a month at that mission station two summers before, shortly after their missionary doctor had been killed by Chinese bandits. When war was declared, the hospital was taken over by the Japanese and the patients were afraid to come. They had a huge compound and grew their own vegetables. One night the nurses felt led to gather some vegetables for me. They threw them over the compound wall to one of their Christians who kept them in her home until morning; then the nurse delivered them at my boat and slipped away while I was in class.
The night before, one of our little boys also could not sleep. His mother was our cook. She was a widow with four boys. She originally had five, but one had died of starvation before she came to the Gospel Boats. Her boys were now in school and she was cooking and helping us with the work on the boat.
The older of the boys knew that there was nothing to cook for the morning meal. He somehow felt as if this time God was in a fix and he must come to the rescue. He searched through their old sampan to see if there was something that could be converted into cash. He found two old brass kettles and with his mother’s consent took them out and sold them. With the money he bought sweet potatoes and while there was not near enough for our large family, the child did not know and was at rest.... He was surprised to come home the next morning at ten o’clock to see the big basket of vegetables and the lovely meal awaiting him. “Why God was not in a fix at all!” he cried.
The last part of April the Japanese boarded our boats to tell us that we had the opportunity of leaving the Orient and being exchanged for Japanese prisoners in America, if we so chose. We chose to stay, although many were preparing to leave. We had watched a boat leave a couple of weeks before carrying the greater part of the British and American community.
Just a few days before the boat was scheduled to sail, the Japanese officers, together with the Swiss Consul, again paid us a visit. This time they informed us that for military reasons, we would have to leave. We were brokenhearted. The work among the Boat People had been our very life. Our work was in no condition to be left alone. We lacked Chinese leaders and there were no funds to leave to carry on the work.... We prayed...and in the days that followed we could see the hand of God working to meet the needs of the mission. Thank God, the Gospel of Christ can weather any storm.
Coming home on the S.S. Gripsholme, I overheard one man say: “I would not go through that again, not for a million dollars.” Personally I felt I would not exchange my experience for a million dollars. Christ has been so precious and so very real. I learned more of the love of God during that year than in all the years of my life. I am firmly convinced that nothing can come to the child of God without the permissive will of our Heavenly Father. The Lord knoweth how to deliver His own, whether in peace or in the midst of war.
– Adapted from “Faithful Is He” by Helen Western.