The Wolf at the Door


“Our Missionaries May Be in Peril,” the June 4, 1914, headline from the New York Times announced. Who were “our” missionaries? It was a small group of Alliance workers stationed at the Chinese-Tibetan border. What peril did they face?

Between 1913 and 1914, nearly 20,000 undisciplined followers of the bandit Bai Lang (“White Wolf”) swept through more than 50 cities in northern China. The thieves robbed, raped and murdered thousands, spreading terror among the population.

When “The Wolf” came to the door of our Minchow mission, successive groups of his followers broke in, demanding anything of value. The culturally skilled bargaining of Alliance missionary William Christie prevented them from totally looting the mission but failed completely when the wicked men made the most frightening demand. They wanted women! The bandits searched the house with lanterns, but three female missionaries* hidden under the eaves remained undiscovered. Angry and frustrated, the outlaws aimed a gun at Christie and gave him a final chance to reveal the hidden women. Suddenly, a tiny voice was heard. “Here am I; take me!” It was the wife of a Chinese evangelist, sacrificing herself to spare Christie’s life. Sadly, the looters kidnapped her.

With great difficulty, the missionaries escaped over the high wall of the mission compound. Hiding in a forested area, they cringed as the gangs fired random shots into the woods. After the bandits fled, the missionaries returned to Minchow, where more than a thousand people had been killed and the mission property burned. Left without provisions, the group decided to go to Luba Si, a Buddhist lamasery near the city of Taochow that had been claimed for Christ by an early Alliance missionary.

The journey was unmapped and difficult. The men and women, joined by a Chinese Christian family, traveled 110 miles, mostly by foot. Once, Christie leaped into swirling waters to rescue a small girl who hadn’t managed the “bridge,” a log laid across a raging river.

Arriving at their destination weary and weak from hunger, the Alliance team learned what their fellow missionaries had experienced. When the White Wolf raiders had reached Taochow, the Luba Si missionaries fled for safety, some camping in a wildflower-graced meadow surrounded by snow-peaked mountains. But smoke was rising in the distance. After they returned to Taochow, the missionaries from Luba Si found the city burned and strewn with dead bodies, some piled four feet high near a city gate blocked to prevent escape. The New York Times headline on June 19, 1914, read “White Wolf Kills 10,000.”

The C&MA missionaries, their lives spared, devoted themselves to compassionate physical and spiritual ministry in this suffering city. Now viewed with favor, their message of salvation was received with interest. It was a turning point and a new day of opportunity on the Kansu/Tibetan border!

*Through the Alliance Archives, I was surprised to discover that my aunt, Katherine Rommen (née MacKinnon), was one of these women!

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