Billy Graham Center

Interview with Elizabeth Stair Small - Collection 164

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of Elizabeth Stair Small

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection (Location Records)

Brief Description.
Taped interview describing missionary experiences in China between the earliest communist revolutions; includes customs, evangelizing methods, assistance of Chinese Christians in areas of central China; post-war pastoring in the U.S. This tape is part of the Missionary Sources Collection.

Collection 164 [March 23, 2000]
Small, Elizabeth Stair; 1904-
Interview; 1980

1 Audio Tape


There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


Elizabeth Stair Small was born in Stanley, Wisconsin, in 1904 to Henry and Sarah Stair. Her parents were both teachers and the family lived in Stanley until her father went into newspaper work and they moved to Cambridge, Wisconsin. Elizabeth had two sisters, Mary and Alice, and two brothers, Henry and Fred, all of whom were guided toward a life of Christian service by the teaching of their parents.

Elizabeth attended Whitewater Normal School in Wisconsin, taught in Beloit for three years, and subsequently enrolled in Moody Bible Institute in 1928. It was there and at the summer Lake Geneva Conferences held by the Institute that she confirmed a definite call to the mission field. Both she and her sister, Mary, made the decision to work in China, and Elizabeth applied to China Inland Mission in 1931, after graduating from Moody in 1930.

After acceptance as a candidate, she sailed for Shanghai and four to five months language training at Yangzhow. Her first field assignment was to Kweichow in southwest China. Two years later, 1933, communist activity forced evacuation from the area, and the next year was spent fleeing from the movements of communist soldiers. She was reassigned once the territory was no longer in danger and remained at a new station in Panhsien until 1938, when she returned to this country on furlough. Back in China, while working at mission headquarters in Chunking, she met her future husband, Robertson Small, in 1941. Their plans for marriage were delayed until 1944 when World War II intervened and kept him in Australia where he had returned on furlough. They returned to Chungking in 1946, the year their son, Henry Overby Small, was born. Ill health at the time of their furlough year, 1948, prevented any future return to China.

The years between 1949 and 1979 were spent working with churches in Wisconsin towns, among them Beloit, Madison, and Richmond Center. Robertson Small died in 1979, and Elizabeth moved in 1980 to Phoenix, Arizona, to live with her brother Henry, a widower.

Scope and Content

Elizabeth Small was interviewed by Robert Shuster on October 28, 1980, at the Billy Graham Center. The time period covered by the interviews is 1904-1980.

T1 - side 1
Family background; Christian vocations of brothers and sisters
Early conversion experience, training at home
High school doubting period, rededication
Church influences, Presbyterian, Methodist
Exposures to missions by pastors
Family interest in missions; attendance at Lake Geneva Conferences sponsored by Moody Bible Institute, and experience of the call
College, teaching years, Moody Bible Institute
Interest in China through Moody prayer bands
Sister precedes her to China
Prayer meetings in China at home of Isaac Page, retired China Inland Mission missionary
Early impressions of China's needs; call for CIM workers
Courses of study at Moody
Attraction of faith mission support of China Inland Mission
Influence of professors at Moody
Mission Conferences at Moody, prayer and missionaries' letters as part of call to China
Future husband, an Australian, met in China
Graduation from Moody, 1930
Application to China Inland Mission; reaction of parents
Probation period in Philadelphia
Experience as candidate before CIM council
Subjects studied as preparation
Value of previous Bible study, teacher's training
Teaching Chinese to read their Bibles
Travel to Shanghai from Vancouver, 1931
Other passengers; Betty Scott (Stam)
Memories of Mrs. Stam
Arrival in Shanghai at CIM headquarters
Impression of crowds in China
China Inland Mission compound
Language school compound up-river, Yangzhow
Four-five month period to learn Chinese
Recreation; walks among Chinese with translators
Chinese curiosity of western clothes, physical characteristics
Period of confusion of all westerners with Japanese; student stoning of compound (1932)
Field assignment after language study; requirements for work with black Miao, tribal aborigines in Panghai, results
Assignment to Grace Emblem as co-worker at Kweichow
Two-year assignment ended by isolation of station; communists' movements
More language study
Governmental process of the mission; assignment usually by personal denominational ties
Stationed in territory of Brethren; need for missionaries in this area
Geographical spread of CIM directors
Annual conferences of CIM missionaries in China
Problem-sharing at conference of different stations
Activities at the mission compound; importance of Chinese Bible Women
Chinese responses to teaching; period of getting acquainted
Itinerant year fleeing communists
Alone at the compound, staff at missionary conference
Communists skirt the city on march through the countryside
Conference personnel captured; ransoms denied
Taken to Canton for safety by brother-in-law
No personal contact with communist soldiers
Chinese fear of communists
End of side 1

T1 - side 2
Chinese fear of communists [Continued]
Primary appeal of gospel to Chinese; fear of punishment, superstitions deep-rooted
New station at Panhsien, unopened area
Experiences during communist threat; Mao Tse-tung
Facilities at Panhsien
First convert; vegetarian vow broken
Teaching and outreach in the compound
Chinese Christian gatekeeper as liaison
Effective role of Chinese Bible Women
Unwanted Chinese baby adopted, provides contact in the country
Activities until furlough, 1938; succeeded by couple; methods
Minimal contact with Chinese government
Suspicions and accusations of cannibalism; go-between role of Bible Woman and training
Walking in rural areas
Favorite biblical texts
Chinese need to understand monotheism in pluralistic culture
Contacts with other mission groups; use of native dress, attention attracted by physical differences
Lack of restriction or opposition to mission work from government
Appeal to different classes of society
Effectiveness of tracts; respect for Chinese language
Qualities of Chinese language; Chinese character for "come" used as explanation of text
Chinese understanding of "heavy-laden"
Departure to U.S., Christmas, 1938; return, January, 1940
Furlough activities
American impressions of China; interest in communist movements
Return until World War II
Preparation for flight to India
Mission stories of most interest in U.S.
Return to Shanghai via Hong Kong, Viet Nam for second time
Impressions of Shanghai, French Indo-China
Japanese bombing of Anlung while on temporary visit there
Transfer to next station, Pingpa
Newly-constructed access road to this area bombed by Japanese
Responsibilities of teaching and church work with school girls at Pingpa
Trips into the country with Bible woman
Station facilities, buildings
Reactions of country women
Illness from typhoid fever; hospitalization and recovery
Meeting of future husband; work at mission headquarters in Chunking, 1941
Marriage, 1944, to Robertson Small
Sent to Suyung with another couple
Duties while in Chunking awaiting marriage
Wartime separation of husbands, wives; casualties on the field
Bombing in the city
Death of Stams; their baby rescued from hiding
Life in danger as Christians
Conditions in Chunking; Chiang Kai-Chek's residency in area
Contacts with other Americans in China
Birth of son, Henry Overby (?) Small, 1946
Lack of contacts with Chinese leaders
Contacts with other missionaries limited to newsletters, etc.
Financial support during war years; use of local materials for food
Small's death, 1979; plans to live with brother in Phoenix
Departure from China, 1948; mission headquarters returned to Shanghai from Chunking, 1946
Small's remaining two-year stay (1946-1948) in charge of mission home in Chunking
End of side 2

T1 - side 3
Small's remaining two-year stay (1946-1948) in charge of mission home in Chunking [Continued]
Evangelistic work with servants and activities with church next door
Present lack of knowledge of contemporary Chinese Christians and friends left behind
Health prevents return to China after furlough
Churches served here in post-China years in Wisconsin
Assessment of contemporary Chinese church
End of side 3


The audio tape in this collection was given to the Center by Elizabeth Stair Small in October 1980.

Accession 80-144
November 20, 1981
Frances L. Brocker
Peter Frederich
J. Nasgowitz

Accession 80-144
Type of Material: Audio Tape

The following items are located in the AUDIO TAPE FILE:

T1 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 speed, 95 minutes. One side. Interview of Elizabeth Small by Robert Shuster, October 28, 1980.

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Last Revised: 9/05/02
Expiration: indefinite