Troubled Journey: A Missionary Childhood in war-torn China
by Faith Cook, Banner of Truth Trust, 2004, 118pp.
by Faith Cook, Banner of Truth Trust, 2004, 118pp.
In this book Faith Cook tells the story of her experiences as a child of Christian missionaries in the turbulent years surrounding Word War II. Her parents, Stanley and Norah Rowe worked with the China Inland Mission. Together with many earnest Christians of their time, they believed that their missionary calling had to come before anything else. This meant that their children had to suffer living in sub-standard conditions without adequate healthcare. Family life was also disrupted when the children were sent away for their education. Faith had an older brother, Christopher and two younger brothers, Godfrey and Philip. Godfrey died of dysentery while still a baby in Zhongwei, Stalney and Norah's mission base.
Faith and her siblings had to cope with long and sometimes painful periods away from the family home while being educated in boarding schools. When the Japanese invaded China in 1944, children from the Mission School were evacuated to Kalimpong, India. Life was harsh in the makeshift mountain school. Petty childhood misdemeanors met with swift and severe punishment. The family was reunited after the war. But they were forced to flee from China in 1950 when the Communist Party expelled foreign missionaries. For some time the Rowe's lived together in Cliftonville, near Margate in England. The boys attended local schools, but Faith was sent to Clarendon School in North Wales. Here she was able to catch up with her studies and enjoy the attention of the godly and caring members of staff. But while Faith was away in Clarendon, tragedy struck at home. Her younger brother Philip was killed in a road accident. As the family were coming to terms with this terrible loss, Stanley and Norah once again felt the pull of the mission field. They headed off to evangelise Chinese people who had fled to Malaysia to escape from the Communists.
We might think that missionary parents like Stanley and Norah were extraordinarily insensitive and unfeeling towards their offspring. But it seems that they felt the periods of separation from their children very keenly. They believed that it was their Christian duty to make heroic sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. Children were regarded as "little Isaacs", who were sacrificially offered to the Lord. They seem to have forgotten that the Lord told Abraham to stay his hand. An unrealistic triumphalism, which suggested that Christians should always be bright and cheerful also helped to insulate missionaries from the privations of life in the field and times of sorrow in the family. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote to Stanley and Norah on the occasion of the Philip's death. His letter shows great pastoral insight and understanding, "As we would expect from you, your letter is full of triumphant faith. But we are not meant to be unnatural, and you are bound to feel the loss of such a bright spirit very keenly."
While it is true that the Lord must come first in all things, that does not mean that believing parents are entitled to put their Christian service before family life. Children are a very precious gift from God and the primary responsibility of Christian parents is to bring up their children with love and affection in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Only in very exceptional circumstances should Christian parents place their children in boarding schools. The other day my daughter accused me of abandoning her because I had to take an extra evening meeting one week! What children like Faith must have felt on being separated from their parents I don't know. If a mission situation demands the separation of parents and children, then let single missionaries or couples without children do the work. The task of missionaries is not simply to spread the Gospel, but to model family life in a godly home. That cannot be done if the children are sent away to be educated. I'm glad that a more enlightened (and biblical!) attitude now seems to prevail in missionary circles. Pastors with couples on the mission field should ensure that the needs of family life are carefully taken into consideration.
Faith expresses the feelings of understandable resentment that she felt against her parents as a child. But the thing that shines through in this book is not her bitterness, but her faith. In all her sorrows and troubles she was aware of the hand of God, guiding and protecting her. The author married Paul Cook and became a pastor's wife. Letters penned for Faith's absent parents while in her teenage years helped kindle a gift for writing that has found expression in her many helpful books. (Such as William Grimshaw of Howarth, Banner of Truth Trust & Fearless Pilgrim: The life and times of John Bunyan, Evangelical Press).
On a personal note, a few years ago we holidayed on the island of Jersey. Paul Cook happened to be filling the pulpit for a few weeks in the summer. Paul and Faith invited us back to their flat for some tea and cake after the evening service. We had a lovely time of fellowship. Faith had just finished writing her historical novel for children Beneath the Scaffold, Evangelical Press, and we talked about her books. Somewhat awestruck, my son asked Mrs. Cook "Are you famous writer?" Modestly she replied, "No, I'm not." But her cheerful and kindly spirit, just as much as Paul's sharp mind left us deep impression on us all. No doubt Faith Cook is not the only believer from a Christian home to have suffered a traumatic childhood. Her painful story shows that the Lord is able to restore the locust eaten years and fill the hearts of his people with love and faith.