Missionary Stories

     "The Yellow River" (China)

    From Missionary Stories with the Millers, Chapter 4

     By Mildred A. Martin

“Look, children! I can see the Yellow River!”

The small missionary woman stood on a rocky mountainside in Northern China with a hundred Chinese children straggling around her. The children were tired, filthy, and very hungry. They had been walking through these mountains for twelve

“Ai-weh-deh, my feet hurt!”

“Ai-weh-deh, when will you carry me?”

“I’m hungry, Ai-weh-deh!”

The smaller children’s voices were a chorus of complaints. Most of them were orphans who knew no mother but this Christian missionary, whom they called “Ai-weh-deh.”

Ai-weh-deh, “The Virtuous One”, bent over wearily. “Come, Ling, it’s your turn to ride,” she told a small boy.

When the enemy Japanese marched into their city of Tsechow two weeks ago, she had been wounded by a bullet in her back. Ever since, she had felt so weak and tired! But the children from the mission orphanage must be taken to safety, so Ai-weh-deh had volunteered to lead them through the mountains to the Yellow River. On the other side of the river, there would be a train that could carry the children to another mission in Sian, a safer part of China.

“See, children!” she encouraged the group. Down there is the village of Yuan Chu, and beyond it is the Yellow River. See it shining in the sunshine!” 

“But it’s so far away, Ai-weh-deh. And we’re so hungry!”

“In the village of Yuan Chu, they will give us food, and then we will arrive at the Yellow River. When we cross the river, we’ll all be safe,” the missionary answered calmly. ‘Now let’s sing a song as we march down to the town.

The mountains were wild and barren and everyone’s thin, homemade cloth shoes were worn out. They had had no food for the last two days, and very little water. Often the rocky slopes were so steep that the bigger children had to form a human chain down the mountainside and pass the younger ones down from hand to hand. But when Ai-weh-deh tried to rally them with a hymn, they would march along, singing bravely.

‘Iam Jesus’ little lamb,
Happy all the day long I am!”

They sang as they followed the path down through the foothills into the town. After sleeping out on
the cold hard mountainside for so many days, it was wonderful to see a town and houses!

But as the refugees entered the town, they were in for a disappointment. The town of Yuan Chu had been badly bombed. The streets were littered with rubble from broken houses and nearly all the roofs were gone from the buildings. The whole town was silent, still and empty!

The children ran from house to house, their shrill voices echoing in the deserted streets.

“Here’s someone, Ai-weh-deh! We found a man!” Two of the older boys called.

The missionary hurried up to the lone old man, sitting beneath a tree. “Old man, this is Yuan Chu, isn’t it?” she asked loudly.

“Yes, this is Yuan Chu.”

“But where are all the people?’

“They’ve run away,” the old man croaked. “The Japanese soldiers are coming, so everyone went across the Yellow River.”

“Why haven’t you gone, too?” Ai-weh-deh asked him. “Do you want to come with us?”

“I’m too old to run,” the man answered. “I’ll sleep here in the sun until the Japanese arrive, and if they kill me, who will care? All my family are dead.

He squinted at the children crowding around him. “Where are all these children from? You are a fool, woman, to bother with so many children. The gods intended for a woman to have only a handful of children, not an army!”

“I am a Christian,” the missionary answered quietly, “and my God helps me care for all who need help. How far is it to the river?’

“Three miles,” said the old man. “You can follow the road to the ferry, but there will not be any boats there. The Japanese are coming, and everyone else has already crossed the river!”

Ai-weh-deh blew her whistle, and the children lined up around her. “Come, children,” she ordered, “it is only a little farther to the river. We shall all bathe and wash our clothes there, and we shall catch a boat and be safe on the other side. "Good-bye, old man!” she called, but he had already fallen asleep once more.

The refugees trudged down a dusty path to the river’s edge. There were reeds along the bank, and little sandy beaches where the children could splash and paddle in the shallow water. These children, who had grown up in the mountains, had never seen so much water! They ran into it with excited shouts, their hunger forgotten. The river was about a mile wide, running swift and deep in the center. But there was no sign of any boats!

“Where are the boats, Ai-weh-deh?’ one of the older children asked.

“They must come across every now and then,” she answered. “Maybe we’re too late today. We’ll spend the night here on the bank, so we’ll be ready to meet a boat tomorrow morning.”

The children and the missionary huddled together on the sandy bank, as the moon rose above the Yellow River. It was beautiful, quiet and peaceful, but Ai-weh-deh was worried. Why were there no boats? Was the old man right? Had they come too late? When she finally fell sleep, she dreamed of cruel Japanese soldiers in their round steel helmets, marching closer and closer.

When she awoke the next morning, the children were already playing in the water. They explored and poked in the reeds and shallows along the banks, still amazed at the huge river! But curiosity would not fill their hungry bellies for very long. Somehow she must find them food. She called the oldest boys and told them, “We must look for something to eat! Go back to the town and search the houses. Surely the people left a few scraps of food behind. Look everywhere and bring any food you can find.”

The boys headed back to the deserted village and Ai-weh-deh sat on the riverbank. She watched the sun climb up the sky, as it reflected blindingly on the wide stretch of water. If only a boat would come!

The big boys returned, carrying what food they could find: a few pounds of moldy grain in a basket, some dried noodle dough, and several withered peppers and onions. It wasn’t much, but they boiled it all together in a big pot of river water over a fire of dried reeds, and carefully rationed out the soup into the children’s bowls. When they had all had some there was none left for Ai-weh-deh, but at least the children were fed.

All day, she sat quietly watching the children and listening for the dreaded sound of airplanes that might bring the enemy with their bombs and machine guns. At night, the children whimpered before they went to sleep.

“Ai-weh-deh, we’re hungry!”

“Ai-weh-deh, when are we going to cross the river? When are the boats going to come, Ai-weh-deh?”

She prayed then and comforted them as best she could. Surely tomorrow a boat would come!

They ate the last crumbs of food on the third day at the bank of the Yellow River. The children were tired of playing in the water, so Ai-weh-deh told them stories and they sang songs together. Her eyes hurt from staring over the water in search of a boat.

Little Sualan crept close to her. “Ai-weh-deh, remember the story of how Moses took the children of Israel to the Red Sea? And how God opened ‘he water so the Israelites could cross safely?’

“Yes, I remember,” the missionary said softly.

“Then why doesn’t God open the waters of the Yellow River for us to cross?”

“I’m not Moses, Sualan,” she replied, looking sadly at the little girl.

“But God is always God, Ai-weh-deh. You have told us so a hundred times. If God is God, He an open the water for us!”

“Let us kneel down and pray, Sualan,” Al-weh-deh agreed. “We need to have faith! Maybe soon our prayers will be answered.

At that same moment, a small band of Chinese soldiers was creeping along on the same side of the Yellow River. They were scouts, sent by their army to look for signs of the Japanese, and they were frightened and watchful. When darkness fell, they would signal their comrades on the other side of the river, and a boat would be sent to ferry them back to safety. But now, it was their duty to explore the enemy territory. Suddenly, their young officer heard a far-off sound! Was it a plane? He glanced nervously around the cloudless sky. Where were the Japanese planes? Usually they patrolled this stretch of the river, firing their machine guns at anything that moved. But for the past several days there had been no planes.

“That noise isn’t a plane,” one of his men suggested. “I think it sounds like singing.”

The officer crawled cautiously to the top of a hill of sand and lifted his binoculars to peer in the direction of the strange sound. “Wah!” he grunted in surprise.

There on the sandy river bank, was a great crowd of children! They were all seated in a circle, singing loudly. Was this a Japanese trick?

Signaling his men to stay hidden, he walked along the beach toward the children. Some of the children saw him and shouted with delight. “Ai-weh-deh!” they screamed. “Here’s a soldier. A Chinese soldier!”

Then the officer saw a small woman, who rose to meet him. Although she was dark-haired and dressed in Chinese clothing, he knew she was a foreigner, a white woman.

“This will soon be a battlefield,” he told her sternly. ‘What are you doing here? Are you in charge of all these children?”

“Yes, I am in charge of them,” Ai-weh-deh replied. “We are waiting to cross the river!”

“I think I can get you a boat,” said the officer. It is small, and we will need to make three trips to take you all across. If a Japanese plane comes by when you are in the middle of the water, they will kill you!”

Standing at the water’s edge, the officer put two fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle. From across the river three answering whistles came, and small figures of men appeared with a boat which had been hidden in the reeds.

“I can’t thank you enough,” the missionary told him. “You are God’s answer to our prayer!”

With shouts of glee, children piled into the boat. The soldiers rowed rapidly to the other side, and then returned for more. On the last trip, Al-weh-deh and Sualan climbed in together.

“You see, Ai-weh-deh?” chuckled the little girl. ‘God is always God. He opened the Red Sea, and He can also make a way for us through the Yellow River!”

Historical Note: Ai-weh-deh and her hundred children escaped from the Japanese soldiers over fifty years ago. The children had many more adventures on their way to the mission in Sian, but they all reached safety at last.
      Ai-weh-deh’s real name was Gladys Aylward. She was an English woman who spent seventeen years as a missionary in China.

Gladys Aylward's courageous journey in 1938 was reported back in the United States, inspiring millions of readers. Two decades later, Alan Burgess wrote her story in the book, The Small Woman. And in 1958, Ingrid Bergman played the part of Gladys Aylward in the movie "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness."

To order this wonderful book, Missionary Stories with the Millers, please contact Don L. Martin at Green Pastures Press.

Email: greenpastures@emypeople.net

Phone 717-436-9119


Copyright 1993. All Rights Reserved. Published on this website by permission of Green Pastures Press. No part of this chapter may reproduced in any manner without written permission from the publisher.

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