Life’s Interconnectedness

Life’s Interconnectedness

by William S. Ryan and Narka K. Ryan
May 2007

The interconnectedness of a Navy Admiral who died in 1959, a renowned Disciples minister who died in 1934,  a heroic Disciples missionary who died in 1976, and a 94-year-old Chinese woman who speaks no English, with us two retired Disciples clergy in 2007, makes up our story. 

by William S. Ryan and Narka K. Ryan
May 2007

The interconnectedness of a Navy Admiral who died in 1959, a renowned Disciples minister who died in 1934,  a heroic Disciples missionary who died in 1976, and a 94-year-old Chinese woman who speaks no English, with us two retired Disciples clergy in 2007, makes up our story. 

 It started around 1904 when a group of children carrying flowers, led a procession from Third Church, Baltimore, MD, to the site where a cornerstone was being laid for a new church, to be called Christian Temple, and was to be founded by Peter Ainslie III on January 15, 2005.  Grace Louise Bauer was one of those children a century ago.  After the founding of the Temple, the first person to become a new member was Chinese.  Dr. Ainslie had started a Chinese Sunday School at the new church.  In his book WORKING WITH GOD, Dr. Ainslie stated:  “Our programme at that time was to establish our next branch work in China by paying the annual salary for the support of a missionary there.  With the opening of the second year in the Temple [1906], this was done, and Miss Edna P. Dale, of Iowa, became our missionary at Wuhu, China.”

  It was 13 years later, on July 27, 1919, that the Christian Temple weekly bulletin read:  “The Benediction Service on Miss Grace Bauer going to China will be held August 6…This is a very unique occasion in the history of the Temple.  It is the first of our number to go to the foreign field for service and it makes the year of 1919 stand out as one of our great years.”

  And so, Grace Bauer went to Nanking, China, (now Nanjing), under contract to the University of Nanking Hospital as a medical missionary, in the capacity of Director of the Laboratory, where she served faithfully and heroically, we have learned, until the serious illness of her father dictated her return to Baltimore in November 1941.  She never gave up wishing to return to China, but she died in 1976 before China was open again.  She loved the Chinese people.

  In March 2006, two young Chinese women from the Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital (the contemporary name of the hospital in which Aunt Grace served) came to the United States to do research about the early missionaries who had established and maintained the hospital in its early years, especially those who had remained in Nanking during the Rape of Nanking years – 1937-1938.  They found the name of Grace Bauer, but very little information except that she was from Christian Temple.  They contacted Dr. Xiaoling Zhu, Area Executive for East Asia and the Pacific for the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ) with offices in Cleveland, OH, who was guiding their research.

  Dr. Zhu sent an email to Christian Temple to find out if there was any family or anyone who knew of Grace Bauer.  The email was forwarded to William S. Ryan, who had been minister of Christian Temple from 1968-1994, and who happened to be Grace Bauer’s nephew.  He phoned Dr. Zhu at once.  Dr. Zhu invited us to come to Cleveland and bring any memorabilia with us.  Being told there was too much, he asked if he could come to Baltimore.  He was there that afternoon and until 3 a.m. scanned and copied information from Aunt Grace’s dairy of 1937-1941, and some of the pictures and samples of the 500 letters she had written to her mother, also a member of Christian Temple, in the 22 years she was in China.  He explained to us that the hospital wanted to establish a museum honoring the hospital’s early Christian roots.  We put on extended loan the diary, Aunt Grace’s blue jade medal – one of 14 given to persons who had served the Chinese people so heroically during the Japanese occupation – and a letter from the American Embassy related to the conferring of the medal.  In addition, Dr. Zhu invited us as guest of Global Ministries, to be present for the ribbon-cutting and dedication of the museum when it took place in Nanjing, which was January 23, 2007.  “Your Aunt was a hero!”  were Dr. Zhu’s words to us.

And so, we went to China.  We left home on Friday, January 18, accompanied from Detroit to Shanghai by Dr. Zhu and Dr. William J. Nottingham, retired President of the Division of Overseas Ministries for the Disciples.  The purpose of this sixteen day trip was to attend the ribbon-cutting and dedication of the just-completed museum and to tour Shanghai, Nanjing, Chengdu, Xian, and Beijing, visiting churches and church-related facilities and personnel, as well as visiting some of the great wonders of Chinese history and culture.

         The Drum Tower Hospital Museum honors the founding medical doctor, Dr. William E. Macklin, also a Disciples missionary from Canada, who started the hospital in 1892, and others including Disciples missionaries, Miss Minnie Vautrin, head of the Jinling School for Girls in Nanking, Dr. Searle Bates, Professor of History at the University of Nanking, and Grace Bauer, all of whom were serving in Nanking during the 1920s and 1930s.  Dr. Macklin’s granddaughter, Marjorie Hancock, and a great-granddaughter, Carolyn Sandison, were also present for the dedication.

On Tuesday, January 29, we gathered on the site of the first hospital buildings.  At a stirring ceremony outdoors in front of a huge colorful backdrop, with officials from the hospital, the city and the province making an impressive picture, along with Dr. Ding Yitao, the hospital’s current president and the person, a high-ranking member of   the Communist Party primarily responsible for the idea of honoring the early Christian missionaries, and with hospital staff and visitors standing in the cool misty morning, speeches were delivered by Dr. Ding, Dr. Nottingham, Marjorie Hancock and several others.  At the conclusion, an elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony took place.  Following the ceremony, we all toured the new museum.  We were thrilled to see a large glass cube displayed containing Aunt Grace’s diary, her medal and a letter from the American Ambassador, as well as a large picture of her at her desk in her hospital laboratory, probably from some time in the 1930s.

There were banquets and gifts for us visitors.  What wonderful and generous hospitality we were shown throughout our visit.  We were given a tour of the hospital where in the last year, more than one and a half million outpatients were served.  One somber note was a visit to the Nanking Massacre Museum which commemorates 300,000 Nanking residents who lost their lives in that terrible time.  We also visited the Amity Printing Company where Bibles are printed, not only in Chinese, but in many other languages, and are distributed at very reasonable cost.

In Shanghai we attended morning worship at the Grace Church.  In Xian we attended worship at the Nan Xin Street Church.  In both congregations, more than 1,000 people were in attendance, and that was only one of the 3 or 4 services in each location.

It was impressive to us that the Chinese Church is post-denominational, thereby living out, in its own way, the ecumenism so important to us Disciples.  When we visited the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, we thanked the students and staff who had gathered to meet with us for the great witness to post-denominationalism that we Americans haven’t yet been able to attain.

While in Nanjing we also had the great honor of making a visit to 93-year-old Bishop Ting, the first President of the China Christian Council which was established when the government allowed the church to operate once more in 1979.  Bishop Ting is a saintly-looking man with a beautiful countenance.  While his health is declining, he obviously rejoiced in visiting with Dr. Nottingham, a friend of long-standing.

Aunt Grace was one of fourteen persons who in 1938 received the Blue Jade Medal of Honor from Nationalist China for their heroism in service to the Chinese people during the Massacre of Nanking by the Japanese in the aftermath of their occupation in 1937 and 1938.  Some of these brave missionaries were members of the International Nanking Rescue Committee, and all were supporters of this small group of westerners in Nanking who created and managed “safety zones” for Chinese living in Nanking.  The Committee was active for some months during this massacre, also referred to as the Rape of Nanking.

In China we toured four other cities:  Shanghai, Chengdu, Xian and Beijing.  In each city we were hosted by persons associated with the China Christian Council which is the post-denomination Protestant church in China, the ecumenical church in China that no longer recognizes denominations as such.  In addition, we were thrilled by our visits to the 2,500 year old Dujiangyan Irrigation System near the mountains west of Chengdu and the Giant Panda Breeding Grounds, the terra cotta warriors of Xian, the Great Wall near Beijing and many other historic sites.

We had one very touching experience that took place in a museum of ancient Chinese clocks, and also clocks given China by other governments.  An elderly Chinese couple were there to explain the workings of a huge water clock.  While there our guide, Brother Hongliang Liu, a staff member of the China Christian Council who was escorting us to all the places we were visiting in Beijing, was telling this couple, in Chinese and therefore unknown to us, about Bill’s aunt’s service to China and her love for the Chinese people.  After he finished, he told us what he had been saying to this elderly couple, and they in response had asked him to thank us for all our aunt had done to help the Chinese people.

A somewhat serendipitous chain of events began for us one night on returning to our hotel in Xian.  We stopped in the hotel gift shop where a young woman clerk asked if we were Christians.  She identified herself as a Christian but not a member of a church, and in the conversation expressed an interest in having an English Bible  Having visited the Amity Printing Press earlier in Nanjing and knowing of the Chinese-English Bibles being printed there, we told her, to her great excitement, that we would see to it that she got one.  When we visited the ShaanXi Bible School the next day, we asked if it would be possible to purchase such a Bible.  Mark, our Chinese guide in Xian, said he would deliver it.  After returning to Baltimore, we received an email from Mark reporting that he had delivered the Bible and had offered to help the young woman any way he could.  And so a visit to our hotel gift shop resulted in our being evangelists in a small way and unexpectedly sharing in China’s  ministry.

Since we returned home, we unearthed one more old file which contains more letters and papers, this time from the years after Aunt Grace returned in 1941 until the late 40s when political consequences stopped the mail.  In that file also was a letter to Aunt Grace’s father from Admiral Harry E. Yarnell, telling him that “it was my pleasure to meet the American citizens in Nanking on three occasions, – one before the beginning of the war in May, 1937, and two after the Japanese occupations: “All the Americans who went through that terrible period are real heroes, especially those in Nanking.”  Our American missionaries have done much to increase our prestige in China through the magnificent work they have done to relieve the vast amount of suffering that has taken place in that unhappy land.   Aunt Grace’s diary reports an occasion when the westerners were invited to the Embassy to have tea with the Admiral.  We have learned that Admiral Yarnell was Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet in 1936 and had a heroic 51-year naval career that spanned 51 years from the Spanish-American War through World War II.

And what about the 94 year old Chinese woman we mentioned?  After broad publication on the front pages of Chinese newspapers the day after the January 23rd ribbon-cutting and dedication of the museum, a former staff member, Zhou Mingxian (Lily Chow) who currently resides in Xhanxi Province, contacted the hospital.  In 1933 after her graduation from middle school in Nanjing, she had been selected with three other students to join the laboratory technicians training program at the hospital.  In 1937 she fled with her family and when the family returned in 1938 they found that their home had been destroyed.  When she visited the hospital, she reported, Aunt Grace made arrangements to house the family and also provided her and her brother with work at the hospital, where both remained until Aunt Grace returned to the States in 1941.  Lily remembers that Aunt Grace had many “adopted children” and others whom she faithfully assisted, and she hopes to locate some of those families.  We have written a letter to Lily and her family and hope to have further contact with these persons from Aunt Grace’s time in China.

And so the interconnectedness takes place – an Admiral we never knew but who took time to recognize in 1941 the heroes we honored at Nanjing in 2007, a beloved Disciples pastor and great leader, not only of Christian Temple but of the whole denomination and the ecumenical world of his time, an elderly Chinese woman who is reliving a friendship from years ago, and a soft-spoken but strongly determined Christian missionary who loved the Chinese people as her own family–these are the heroes who fill our hearts and minds with joy and new life today as we seek to learn even more.

The warm welcome and love expressed by the Chinese people were extraordinary and the entire journey was a remarkable and life-changing experience for both of us.  We shall forever be grateful to Dr. Xiaoling Zhu and Global Ministries for opening to us this singular opportunity to have contact with the church and people in China and to learn about and come to appreciate more profoundly Aunt Grace’s ministry and the mission of the Church to the Chinese people.