Billy Graham Center

Papers of Howard E. Thomas - Collection 298

[Note: What follows is a description of the documents in this collection which are available for use at BGC Archives in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. The actual documents are not, in most cases, available online, only this description of them. Nor are they available for sale or rent. Some or all of this collection can be borrowed through interlibrary loan. ]

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of Howard E. Thomas

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

Lists of Audio Tapes in This Collection (Location Record)
List of the Contents of Boxes of Paper Records in This Collection (Container List)


Audio file and transcript for T1

Audio file and transcript for T2

Brief Description
Oral history interview and a proposal for expansion of the scope of mission activity in southwestern China. Topics covered in the interview include his family background, Christian life and growth, education at Stony Brook School and Wheaton College, missionary work with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions among lepers of the Tai-Lu people along the Burmese border in southwestern China, internment by the Japanese in Thailand, contextualization of the gospel, expulsion from the area by the Chinese army involved in opium trade. Description of Stony Brook School covers the influence of Pierson Curtis and Frank Gaebelein. Thomas's proposal describes the culture and context for ministry among the Tai-Lu. Also see Collection 299, a similar interview with Thomas's wife.

Collection 298 [July 14, 2008]
Thomas, Howard E.; 1906-1991
Papers; 1946?, 1985
1 Box (DC; .1 cubic foot), Audio Tapes


There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


Howard Elsworth Robert Thomas was born September 11, 1906 in Dryndale, PA, to Mr. & Mrs. John R. Thomas. He left school in the eighth grade to work in a coal mine. He later attended the Missionary Training Institute in Nyack, NY, then went to Stony Brook School (1928-1930) in Long Island, NY, before coming to Wheaton College in 1930. Thomas married Ruth Margaret Hatcher in 1933; the Thomases were the first Wheaton couple allowed to marry while still students. They graduated from Wheaton in 1934, both having majored in History. Thomas also received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from McCormick Theological Seminary (1937), and Masters degree in Sociology (1942) and Doctoral degree in Sociology-Anthropology (1945) from Cornell University in Sociology with minors in Rural Education and Social Anthropology.

In 1937, Thomas and his wife went to Yunnan Province in the Golden Triangle along the Burmese border in southwestern China as missionaries with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Thomas was appointed supervisor of the South China leper colonies along with Marie Park. Immediately following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the Thomases were interned by the Japanese in Thailand until mid-1942, after which they returned to the United States. They returned to Asia in 1946, where he served as field administrator for United Church Relief in South China and Northern Siam until 1947. After returning to the United States, Thomas taught at Cornell (1947-1962); conducted research on the educational status of migrant children; worked as a consultant to the U.S. Office of Education (1952) and with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission to evaluate rural extension project in India and Pakistan (1955); and authored a number of studies. In 1962, Thomas was appointed Community Development Advisor to the Laos Mission with the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Thomases returned to the United States, working at Montreat College in Swannanoa, NC.

Thomas died in 1991.

Scope and Content

[NOTE: In the Scope and Content section, the notation "folder 2-5" means box 2, folder 5.]

The materials in this collection consist of an oral history interview with Thomas, and a proposal written by Thomas. The 9-page proposal, prepared for a conference in 1946 (?), recommended the expansion of mission work among the Tai-Lu or Lu people in Kiulungkiang, China. The document outlines the historical, cultural, and spiritual dynamics in the area, the status of the indigenous church, education and medical care. Thomas refers several times during his interview to this document.

Howard Thomas was interviewed by Paul A. Ericksen on March 6, 1985, at the Thomases home in Swannanoa, NC. The time period covered by the interviews is 1914-1947. The boldfaced entries are intended to highlight the topics covered in the interview. Time elapsed in minutes and seconds is recorded to the left of the topics discussed in the interview. The index is keyed to a cassette copy and not to the reel-to-reel original.

Tape T1 (83.5 minutes) Background: family, father's death, work in Pennsylvania coal mines as a teenager, ministry of American Sunday School Union staff and conversion, pastoring Christian & Missionary Alliance mission church in Hancock; Stony Brook: attendance, Pierson Curtis, Frank Gaebelein, Arno Gaebelein, academics, appreciation of pluralism; Wheaton College: reasons for attending, comparison with Stony Brook, complaint with Wheaton, dispute between Chicago presbytery and J. Oliver Buswell (Modernist-fundamentalist controversy); Desire to become a missionary, influence of China Inland Mission's Robert Hall Glover; Applying to the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions to work in Africa, decision to go to China, candidate interview; Voyage to China and station, first impressions, differences in cultures, contact with converted headhunters; Types of ethnic groups with which they worked, concentrated work with the Tai-Lu people; Obstacles to establishing leper colony: locating land, promoting the program at various tribal administrative levels, contextual problems; Church and leper program oversight by the nationals during World War II, indigenous station staff; Development program: training and involving nationals in decision-making, integrating health/social/educational needs with spiritual needs; Language learning, difficulties

Tape T2 (25 minutes) Difficulties of language learning; Work among lepers: lepers' status, lack of appreciation by broader community for leprosy work, establishing morale in the colony, evangelistic methods, requirements for baptism, conversion of Buddhist, developing industry and skills, and perceived value of lepers; Contextualization in Bible translation and the Lord's Supper, cultural value on sharing which facilitated an understanding of the Gospel, murder of converted Buddhist monk by Chinese soldiers; Isolation from other missionaries, imprisonment by the Japanese in Thailand at the time of Pearl Harbor, Thai control of the internment camp, treatment and duration; Education and teaching at Cornell; Conditions upon return to China: Chinese army involvement in opium trade, ordered closing the station by army, impact on the church; End of tape and interview


The materials in this collection were received by the Center in March and September 1985 from Howard E. Thomas.

Accession 85-36
March 25, 1993
Paul A. Ericksen
C. Easley

Accession 85-36
Type of material: Audio Tapes
The following items are located in the Audio Tape File.

T1 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, 83.5 minutes. One side only. Originally recorded on cassette and copied to reel-to-reel tape for long-term preservation. The reel copy includes only the first seventy minutes of the original, with the rest copied on T2. Interview with Howard E. Thomas by Paul A. Ericksen. Topics covered include background, conversion, education at Stony Brook School and influence of staff on his development, Wheaton College education, work as a missionary with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions as a leper colony administrator in southwestern China among the Tai-Lu people, indigenous leadership, holistic ministry among the lepers. Recorded on March 6, 1985.

T2 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, 25 minutes. One side only. Originally recorded on cassette and transferred to reel-to-reel tape for long-term preservation. The reel copy has the last 13.5 minutes from T1. Continuation of an interview with Howard E. Thomas by Paul A. Ericksen. Topics covered includecontextualization, internment by the Japanese, expulsion from area by Chinese army involved in opium trade. Recorded on March 6, 1985.

Box Folder Item
1 1 Proposal; 1946?

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Expiration: indefinite