Feature

A Fortune Lost

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Editor’s note: Depending on the place and time in which they minister, some international workers endure certain types of hardship throughout their careers. W. H. Oldfield, stationed in China during a long period of political unrest, seemed particularly attractive to kidnappers and bandits. Below is a synopsis of just one of his many adventures among thieves.

Civil war had swept over China, and in its wake bands of robbers had sprung up. The territory in which Oldfield and his wife, Mabel, were working had been in a state of unrest when a telegram called him to a meeting at headquarters. He immediately gathered a few things together and started on the journey. “We were traveling by launch and I was the only white man on board, but there were a large number of Chinese passengers,” he wrote.

On the evening of the second day, the boat anchored near a market town and Oldfield and a colleague disembarked to mail a postcard to Mabel. They noticed a large number of unsavory characters loitering in the streets and were glad to make it back aboard the launch. The relief did not last long, however, as the boat was soon attacked from shore by the robbers. With bullets splintering the hull, Oldfield lay flat on the floor with dozens of fellow travelers and prayed for protection. Soon the bandits boarded the vessel and “all hell was let loose as [they] began to ill-treat and kill the passengers,” Oldfield later wrote. He managed to hide a wad of money in his sock before being tied around the neck and upper arms and led away with about 80 other captives.

As the group forged rivers and trudged through mountain passes, Oldfield noted any bit of scenery he might use as a landmark should he have the opportunity to escape. When his personal guard offered to carry Oldfield’s overcoat, the robber wrapped the garment around the stock of his rifle and hung other looted items across it. Oldfield ran into the woods and was out of sight before the brigand could free his rifle and shoot. The international worker ended up with a group of soldiers who proved little more trustworthy than the robbers, but he finally made it back to the river.

After Oldfield returned to Mabel, a man who had been held a captive for four weeks told him that one day he overheard one of the robbers say that they lost a fortune when the missionary escaped. The thieves evidently expected to hold him for a large ransom. “But in answer to the petitions of God’s faithful children I was delivered,” Oldfield wrote, “and a fortune was lost—through prayer.”

—Adapted from Kidnapped by the Chinese by Walter H. Oldfield

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