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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the first oral history interview of Robert Brainerd Ekvall (Collection 92, #T1) in the archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words which were recorded were omitted. In a very few cases, the transcribers could not understand what was said, in which case "[unclear]' was inserted. Also, grunts, verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers of this transcript should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and even rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
() Word in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
 Words in brackets are comments made by the transcriber.
Chinese and Tibetan place names are spelled in old or new transliteration forms according to how the speaker pronounced them. Thus "Peking" is used instead of "Beijing" if "Peking" is what the speaker said.
This transcription was made May-August 1985 by Robert Shuster and Sharon Averell.
Collection 92, Tape #T1, Interview of Robert Brainerd Ekvall by Robert Shuster, October 11, 1979.
SHUSTER: This interview, of Mr. Robert B. Ekvall, by Robert Shuster for the Missionary Sources Collection took place October 11, 1979 at 1:45 pm at 619 south Wheaton Street in Wheaton, Illinois. Mr. Ekvall, I would like to start with your family background. Where were you born?
EKVALL: I was born in [unclear] in northwest China. My parents were missionaries under the Christian and Missionary Alliance and I was born on February 18th, 1898.
SHUSTER: What were your parents' names?
EKVALL: My father's name was David Paul Ekvall. Mother's maiden name was Helen Galbraith. The middle name was a French name and I don't remember it exactly.
SHUSTER: So you grew up right on the Tibetan-Chinese border?
EKVALL: Well, I didn't grow up, because the Boxer Rebellion was on shortly after my....And my parents actually came down from west China in a salt junk on the Yuan Shui River and they didn't have any trouble, but they got back to the States. My mother's health was somewhat in question and so the state.... they were in the States for about two years furlough, considerably expanded.
SHUSTER: This was from 1900 to 19....
EKVALL: 19 from about, yes,about 1900 to 1903 or 3 or something. Then they came back to China, I came with them. They were in central China for a short time and then.... short a year or so I think. Anyway, in 1905 we went to west China going up the Han River into its very sources and then across country back to Minhsien. Well at that time my father's elder brother had gone on, they originally opened the station about 19... about 1894 or 5. And then my father opened another station, Titao and then almost the same time opened two outstations. One in the very strongly Islamic area, Moslem area and one Chinese city. Both of them about two days journey in two directions from the central station. So I stayed with them. My mother taught me writing in English, I became an avid reader. My father was a scholar and he taught me lit. When it came time he started me in Latin, started me for a short time in Swedish. And he had the custom of about 3 o'clock in the afternoon we would meet for tea and he read. He read all the classics. I remember the Iliad and the Odyssey and material like that, see, from that time. A great part of my education....
SHUSTER: Pilgrim's Progress?
EKVALL: Pilgrim's Progress, yes. Some other books like that, but mostly the straight... straight literature books of the world. Translations from the Swedish and from the Icelandic and portions of the [unclear] History of the World, Green's History of England, Carlyle's History of the French Revolution, a lot of the poets. Then, as far as education is concerned, for two years there was a small missions school started and I was in that to my great advantage.
SHUSTER: Was this also in Minchow?
SHUSTER: Was this also in Minchow?
EKVALL: No, that was in Taochow old city. Taochow old city was the first city opened by the missionaries who went out to that field, by all the.... Mr. Christy and William Christy and W. W. Simpson. We had been studying Tibetan in Peking and they got through to the border. My father and his brother, they came just a short time after that and they got to Minchow. But my father, also was interested in Tibetan work and he and Mr. Christy I think were the first missionaries that were in the big monastery center of Labrang, a monastery of 200 to 3000.... 3000, 4000 monks and there was a riot and they were stoned but rescued by the monastery police.
SHUSTER: A trade center?
EKVALL: Trading center, religious center. They were distributing tracts and Taochow city had a rather unique history in regard to Tibet because some years ago, some years before they, the missionaries got there a Scotch girl, woman named Annie Taylor with the help of the CIM, China Inland Mission, had reached Taochow and it was forbidden to have anything to do with trying to cross the border nearby at all, see, but on the.... she put together a caravan some distance away from Taochow and then sneaked out one morning, joined her caravan and she got all the way to [unclear] in central Tibet. [Unclear] is only seven days by horse from Lhassa itself before she was finally turned back.
SHUSTER: Must have been a persuasive person.
EKVALL: She was a very, very....there's some, there's some good literature on her.
SHUSTER: Yes, I think we have a book about her in the center. What was it like growing up as a child among....?
EKVALL: Well, I was.... My language was equally Chinese and English. I don't remember when I didn't speak Chinese. I spoke all kinds of Chinese with Chinese playmates and with workmen who were working for my father and whoever came along. My English is the English of adults which later was some trouble to me when I started going to school in the United States. [Laughs]
SHUSTER: The way your talking with other children....
EKVALL: Yes, with others. So, I always knew Chinese just as well as I knew English. It hasn't lasted completely, of course, because the last time I had any big use of Chinese was as interpreter for the government. First in Panmunjon in Korea and then in ....
EKVALL: In Italy, yea in.... in Switzerland, in Geneva, in the three year long series of talks with China. The ambassador, the man who was, the state department was Alexis Johnson and since that time I haven't used Chinese very much, but the other night we met some Chinese in a restaurant, most of it comes back to me.
SHUSTER: What were the.... What kind of work were your parents doing, specifically?
EKVALL: Preaching, evangelizing, starting a church. The place where they were at the time, Minchow, was somewhat of a refuge place for Chinese seeking refuge from the Islamic portion of Kansu because there's a great rebellion that went on from about 19... 1907 or 1908, a great Moslem rebellion that went on and many of these Chinese refugees came to Minchow and I think they were the first Christians. There were others, but these refugees, when everything quieted down, they went back to their villages in the Islamic area and had a great witness for God and helped considerably in the establishment of out-stations on the....Titao was in the middle of these two out-stations that my father looked after, equally apart. then eventually my father opened a mission Bible school and training school. At that time literature, well, things like church history and stuff like that, I don't think existed in Chinese and he translated a great deal of materials for the school as well as running it and teaching it.
SHUSTER: He was the only teacher?
EKVALL: There was a Chinese scholarly man who was the first, first convert in Titao (this was the place) and was very literate, who was the first convert, very ernest and who took over many things in the school.
SHUSTER: So, the purpose of the school was to train Chinese Christians....
EKVALL: Chinese Christians to be evangelists and pastors.
SHUSTER: And, what was the format of the service, the church service?
EKVALL: The format of the church service, I suppose is the usual one. The mission, of course, was the Christian and Missionary Alliance and they had among the allotments in the mission, what areas different missions would go to, they had this territory that was right on the border of Tibet and from (I'm speaking of ethnic Tibet) and from there on, then on, gradually there was pressure and a growing into Tibetan territory bit by bit. the format of.... the service was, well, singing, Bible reading, preaching, benediction, and all the variations that come with it, with that according to the situation, the housing, the degree of attendance that takes place.
SHUSTER: Did non-Christians commonly attend these services?
EKVALL: Well, in the beginning it was only non-Christians.
SHUSTER: How did your father attract the non-Christian audience?
EKVALL: Well, there was the distribution of tracts, street preaching, and then as converts developed... came why they found a nucleus, they went out and invited people to bring them in to church.
SHUSTER: You returned to the U.S. in 1912?
EKVALL: I returned to the U.S. in 1912. My father had died in the spring. He died very young. He was only 42 of typhus from the troops coming back from the fighting that went on when Sun Yet Sen toppled the dynasty, toppled the empire, was bringing in the new regime.
SHUSTER: So, these troops were warlord troops or....?
EKVALL: The troops were warlord... no, that was before the really, the area of the war-lords. Some, some Moslem officers had... they collected a lot of Moslems and they went to fight for the Manchu dynasty, but when they were defeated on their return, why great numbers of them went through our place. That is, it was in contact with soldiers that my father got typhus.
SHUSTER: So, he was also working with soldiers passing through?
EKVALL: Oh yea, my father worked with everybody, from the high, high officials and scholars.... he had a trend for scholarship, he fascinated scholars because of his.... This is the viewpoint of a missionary child. Virtually all missionary children have this same experience of more or less being somewhat embarrassed because their parents speak languages, speak them well, use them, but they never lose their foreign accent and of course the children, they don't have any foreign accent. I can remember hearing my father preaching and I was thinking "Oh I wish he pronounced that differently."[Laughs]
SHUSTER: I guess its not unlike the fear that many immigrant children have about their parents in the United States.
SHUSTER: And then after your father died you returned, you and your mother returned to the....
EKVALL: Yes, we came back to the States and my mother never went back. I had a daughter.... I had a sister who was ten years younger then I. And immediately after getting to the United States I went to the C and MA Academy, Wilson Academy, at Nyack on the Hudson. And there was where I had my first contact, you might say with, with the youth of America. I probably would have become a recluse and with very good grades and completely out of the swing because, to begin, with my vocabulary is the vocabulary of an educated adult, but fortunately I was crazy about athletics and that put me right into the swing of American students. There were a few other people like I mentioned that had come from other countries or the missionaries who hadn't gotten that... gotten into things because of being crazy about athletics and they were forever... they were forever, of course, the ones that wore glasses and studied in corners and had fantastic grades but....
SHUSTER: They're out of it. Yes, I was reading in one newspaper account that you swam the Tappan Zee in 1914 in....?
EKVALL: Yes, I swam the Tappan Zee in 1914. That's three and three quarter miles.
SHUSTER: How did.... During World War I you joined the Marines?
EKVALL: During WWI, fairly late, because I was... well, I took some training in Wheaton, local, but....
SHUSTER: Is that where your mother settled, in Wheaton?
EKVALL: My mother settled here, eventually, in Wheaton. She was... she looked after one of the boarding, boarding rooms for students as a house mother. I didn't join the Marines in.... I finally came back from Florida where I'd been working and I... in one day in Chicago I stopped in at the Marines and got... was checked out as being OK, but I didn't join yet and then I got in the Air Force and was checked out as being physically OK and then I met a friend of mine who was being a... who was attending the officers training school of Fort Sheridan, just north of Chicago. So, I went there, but I got there when the course was half through as a consequence I didn't get my commission, but I was sent as, well, as a Top Sergeant back to Nyack, back to Wheaton when the student's training corp took place, so I ran that under a couple of lieutenants. And of course that was late in 18 and at the time of the.... when the armistice came that was the end of my WWI, although I was due to, within a few weeks, go down to a horse artillery unit and prepare to go across to France but I never got that far.
SHUSTER: When had you started attending Wheaton?
SHUSTER: Wheaton, the college.
EKVALL: The fall of 1916.
SHUSTER: How did you come to choose Wheaton?
EKVALL: Well, because it was a Christian college and it stood out for scholarship at a time when among....well, I'm speaking from my own mission, for example....there was a certain degree of anti-intell... anti-intellectualism or fear of too much learning. In fact from the academy, I was asked to just take one year of training and immediately go back as a missionary and because I still remember Chinese. I was ten years in this country, but when I got off the boat in Shanghai I had a coolie put our luggage, began to put our luggage in the wrong place while I exploded into Chinese and just exploded there after. [Laugh]
SHUSTER: So, it never left you.
SHUSTER: Never left you. You tell me....
EKVALL: It never left me, no. But, I had the...I had the feeling of the drive that I wanted to get a college education so I came here.
SHUSTER: You must have been extraordinarily well prepared compared to some of the other students, with your training you had received from your parents and your Chinese and Asian....
EKVALL: Well, of course, that didn't mean anything in those days as far as college credits or anything like that was concerned that was.... Those days were considerably different from now where you get credit for Chinese in high school in some places, on the west coast. [Laughs]
SHUSTER: Did you find Wheaton difficult, academic....
EKVALL: No, I didn't find.... in fact I...I only did three years of work, but I graduated with my class the fourth year, because I had to quit school for a couple of times in order to earn some money.
SHUSTER: To pay for your education?
EKVALL: Yes, to help pay for my education. And, of course, the difficult, the thing that bothered was that I continued to be crazy about athletics. I earned letters in basketball....uh basketball, football, and track here at college. And I.... I had a very full life in school. I joined a literary Society, I sang with the Glee Club and internal....internal athletics, why I even took boxing and wrestling.
SHUSTER: Who were the coaches on the basketball and football teams?
EKVALL: We were sort of coached by ourselves the first year, but then, then from Georgia...Georgia Tech came a....Corey has a...I'm in, in the, in the decade that he talks about. I just happened to be in both the football picture and the basketball picture. The first book he wrote, you know he, it's in two...two sections. Ed Corey, I think was a freshman when I was a senior or something like that.
SHUSTER: Did you uh....
EKVALL: And, Pastor Evan Walsh,...uh Walsh was freshman when I was a senior but he went on to playing football too.
SHUSTER: Did you have a successful seasons with football and basketball?
EKVALL: Basketball, we had some quite successful seasons, it was kind of a specialty of Wheaton College. We played schools much bigger than ours...Loyola for example in Chicago and something up in the north on the... Lake Forest. We played a couple of university team as I recall, one in Indiana and then the local....
SHUSTER: What was the spiritual life of the campus like?
EKVALL: Well, we had to use a chapel. There were prayer meetings for students and for witness and because quite a few...quite a few of the students were already committed to going somewhere on the mission field. What seemed like to me a very... a very healthy,...a very healthy way of simply bringing Christianity into work, study, play, everything.
SHUSTER: It wasn't separated from...from life?
SHUSTER: Did the college have various outreach programs. Now of course they have things such as; students go and teach in the local prisons and....
EKVALL: Well, I don't remember so much of that although there was witnessing to the local churches where people went to help maybe the pastor and to do something uh...truthfully I don't recall that there was this systematic outreach to the extent that's current now, not only here but many colleges and schools.
SHUSTER: It was more just a spontaneous....
EKVALL: Yeah. For me it was a time of intense study because I had to do four years work in three years.
SHUSTER: You had...had you decided, at this point, that you were going back to China as a missionary ?
EKVALL: Oh, I had decided before I got to college that I was going back to China.
SHUSTER: So, you were taking some of your courses, at least....
EKVALL: I was taking some of my courses that had a bearing on going back.
SHUSTER: What kind of things...such as what kind of courses?
EKVALL: Oh, some history...some, of course ethics class and the...ethics classes, one Bible class, but I was studying languages...I was taking language courses. I was reaching out to that. And I majored in English under a very famous teacher, Elsie Dowel who taught me English classics and that. At that time I already was doing some writing. That is winning prizes on short story writing, just within the college. And when I graduated I went to work for Western Electric, but at the same time I was doing, writing reviews for the Chicago Daily News, books...book...book reviews for the Chicago Daily News. And before I went to train at the mission at Nyack in my work in Western Electric through some quirks and the fact that a man tried to [unclear]me had suddenly become aware that the man working with him was writing the reviews in the newspaper. They decided to hire,....to create what would be called a house organ now and I was told to take two weeks off and write two sample copies of what I considered would be a good review....a good organ. And as a result, why I was....they told me I would be,...I would be the editor and I'd have an assistant and uh... a secretary and that, but just at that time I had finally been able to arrange so that I could get training in Nyack and so I had to apologize to them for turning it down and ask.....say that I was leaving because I was going to Nyack for a year before I went to the field.
SHUSTER: What was Esther Dowel like as a teacher?
SHUSTER: What was....
EKVALL: For one thing, when she was teaching the poets, there was an idea (and the others too)...there was an idea in the class,... there was a rule in the class that when role was called everybody would recite a bit of poetry that was linked with what we were doing and of course everybody thought they were... came primed but sometimes memory failed just at the prime moment and if anybody stumbled without (I don't remember a single incidence) she would be able to just calmly finish the quotation that he forgot.....fantastic!
SHUSTER: She knew them backwards and forwards.
EKVALL: Yeah she.... And she drove us quite hard.
SHUSTER: Do you think that the courses you took at Wheaton were helpful to you in your mission work?
EKVALL: Certainly, because for one thing mission work to a tremendous extent rests upon language. The problems of interpreting, the problems of translating, the problems of...of different dialects, the.... Those are tremendous challenges and if you have a rather strenuous academic beginning...training when you meet those why you move much faster in getting to be able to...to transfer the concepts of Christianity from one language into another language. That problem is always tremendous.
SHUSTER: Were there other courses as well besides English and languages that were helpful?
EKVALL: Well, I don't know. I...I also took a little heavy dose of Geology. They always made the travel interesting to me because I know almost all the and terra and countryside as I traveled. Sort of made it just a bit more interesting.
SHUSTER: Was it at Wheaton that you came to know V. Raymond Edman ?
EKVALL: Uh...uh the uh...the president?
SHUSTER: He later became president [of Wheaton College].
EKVALL: Yes...uh No. He...I went to Nyack for the one year of training and the arrangements for the support of my wife and myself were that I would be athletic director at the same time. Which I did to the extent so that when I went to Nyack I weighed 169, same weight I had in football, and when I left the following June I had run myself ragged so that I weighed 146 or something like that. [Laughs] But, Ray was there. He had just come back from the war and, oh, we got together all the time. I had marvelous times with him.
SHUSTER: He was also interested in athletics?
SHUSTER: He was also interested in athletics?
EKVALL: He was interested in athletics in a general way. He was interested in many things in general way. And the year we had in Nyack together, it was a situation where I was among the married people and the married people had a little different rules and so we could get together and do all kinds of things that unmarried people couldn't break down the barrier of the sexes and do, so Ray and Marge, Betty and I, we had some great, great times together and of course I followed his...his...his career through going to college. It was in...it was in Connecticut or something first. He was greatly influenced by one of the Elders of the C and MA, Mr. Evans. He had one year under him as a...as a helper and he was tremendously influenced by him. And then of course we got separated by continents and by everything else, but every once and awhile we'd get together here.
SHUSTER: What kind of...How would you sum up his personality, his character, from the years when you knew him?
EKVALL: Well he...He had an awfully good brain to begin with and he had a friendly love for everybody to a remarkable extent.
SHUSTER: Very outgoing....
EKVALL: Sometimes...sometimes brain and that kind of a makeup don't...are not easily found and he had it, but isn't that besides the point. [Laughs]
SHUSTER: Well, we're interested, as I said, in Wheaton history as well as....
EKVALL: Oh, I see.
SHUSTER: So, of course he's been very, was a great influence on the college. Is a...as a Wheat....did you....
EKVALL: He wasn't president of course at college when I...I finished long before that. Yes...?
SHUSTER: Was he uh...Did you observe him in any of...leadership position or as a....
EKVALL: I didn't observe him at anything except just as a friend and we had some mutual interests in, well, lets say literature and...and writing good English. [Laugh]
SHUSTER: And the president at Wheaton at that time was Charles Blanchard, was it not ?
EKVALL: When I graduated, yes, it was still Blanchard and than came Buswell wasn't it.
SHUSTER: What kind of man was Charles Blanchard, what kind of leader...impression did he make on the student body as president?
EKVALL: There's a book on him, isn't it, Majority of One.
SHUSTER: I think that's about his father, Jonathan Blanchard.
EKVALL: Oh Jonath.... Yeah, I guess that's about his father, yes. Well, Blanchard was stern and yet kindly at times. Oh, he had a tremendous burden. He taught and he ministered and then he combed the countryside for...for....well, he had to go out as a public relations man for seeking money. He did all those things...a man of tremendous energy. I was married to a...a member of, you might call it, the Fischer...the Blanchard clan. There were two brothers, Fischers, that married two Blanchard sisters and the mother of my wife was one of those sisters...the Fischers. So, they all had...they all had brains and drive... "Each in his separate way shall paint the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are." [Laughs]
SHUSTER: Was he....I imagine you heard him speak or preach at various times?
EKVALL: Well, he talked in Chapel a lot. Not so much [unclear] in the College Church, but in Chapel.
SHUSTER: Was he an effective teacher?
EKVALL: Oh yes.
SHUSTER: He was also preacher at College Church, pastor of College Church?
EKVALL: Not in my time. No, there's a separate pastor all the time in College Church.
SHUSTER: I see. You were, of course as you said, were at Wheaton during World War I. What kind of affect, if any, did the war have on campus?
EKVALL: On campus?
SHUSTER: And on college life at the college.
EKVALL: Well, of course there was immediate turn to the interests of the military and to support of that and as I say the students training corp...I was top sergeant and in a sense under the two army officers that ran the thing. There was something like 40 or 50, maybe more. There were barracks in the old gym...in the gym.
SHUSTER: Soldiers or these were students?
EKVALL: These were students, but training as soldiers and they were in uniform. It was a part of the army as a training corp.
SHUSTER: Was the college...was the four year program condensed to telescope to....
EKVALL: Well, the uh...various military courses came in to begin with. Of course it ended just as soon as the war ended, but there were some...some courses in the military besides just we were really outside training. But I suppose...I suppose Wheaton has kept it's...I think Wheaton has kept it's interest in the military from that time to the present. This is...this is kind of a joke on Wheaton but up to the present time in my cabin in the...near Mount Rainier any communications I get from Wheaton are all addressed to Colonel Ekvall. [Laughs]
SHUSTER: That's what they remember best about you....
SHUSTER: That's what they remember best about you, you're a colonel.
EKVALL: Well, I think it's just the need of searching for a...for a title. And although I did graduate work in Chicago and I...I have a real good bibliography. In the scholarly world I think I wrote about forty articles in all these journals and a bunch of books. But, I think they feel at a loss because I never had anything more...my graduate work was just a very short period of time, very specialized and though Chicago tried to get me to stay and go on my...I was scheduled to go back on the field and I went and I think...so I have nothing more than a BA. [Laughs] I think the college sometimes feels the need to attach some kind of a title to me and so they picked up the old Colonel stuff. [Laughs] Well, they kept it. When I came back from World War II...well I... even after WWII I...I was in the service for fourteen years...army. I was a missionary for nineteen years, I was in the service for fourteen years and then I was in academia, University of Washington, for ten years.
SHUSTER: And a writer during all that time as well.
EKVALL: When somebody tries to get...when somebody tries to tell me that they want me to write an autobiography, I say it's an impossibility.
SHUSTER: Too big a task.
EKVALL: Too complicated a task.
SHUSTER: At Wheaton during World War I was there feeling on campus...was there any feeling on campus about the possibility of conflict between the Christian college becoming involved so much in a military conflict or participating....?
EKVALL: No, there was just fear of the Germans, World War I. I wasn't on campus or anything, of course, in World War II.
SHUSTER: Of course, I meant World War I.
EKVALL: Yah. I had uh...I had been interned in French Indochina. I had gone down there to see my son in missionary school because his mother, my wife had died shortly before. I left the Tibetan border to go down to French Indochina and visit Dalat and to return within six weeks or something like that. And I was able to get into French Indochina. I was not able to get out of French Indochina, so I was interned there for...from August of 41 to October of 43. Repatriated to the States. At Rio de Janeiro some people came aboard that were scouting around for folks to be in the OSS [Office of Strategic Services, the wartime predecessor of the Central Intelligences Agency] and I agreed to... because going back was blocked up and I knew my mission wouldn't have any work for me and would be really under trouble to support me 'cause [unclear] was taking place and the...I was asked to go into OSS...join the OSS, which I did, work for two or three months and than Stillwell's Chief of Staff was in Washington and he got in touch with me....
SHUSTER: That was Boatner ?
EKVALL: Boatner. You know him?
SHUSTER: No, I know of him. [Laughs]
EKVALL: Red headed fellow from Louisiana. Well, he got me to join. He said they wanted me in Burma because I spoke Chinese. I got a commission in nine days. Got all my first shots and plunged right into Burma.
SHUSTER: With uh...when you were left Wheaton in 1920 and went onto Nyack to the missionary institute there....
SHUSTER: What kind of training did you see there?
EKVALL: You mean military?
SHUSTER: No, no, I meant...well, I was kind of beyond the military, I just wanted to....
EKVALL: When you use the word training, are...are you meaning training for missionary work ?
EKVALL: Oh. Well it...Nyack at that time, much more than it is at the present time was dominated by the target and goal of missions. Nowadays it's, of course, ministers for all the church here and then other people who take philosophy and other courses along with Bible and become teachers. In fact I had a rather strange experience about two or three weeks ago. The man who is PR of Nyack came out to see me (that was about six weeks ago...two months ago I think)...came out to see me, but he couldn't quite have time to get all the way out to my cabin, so I met him at the nearest large town from my place and we had lunch together. Among the things we talked about, we talked about many,...among the things we talked about he was sort of embarrassed and opened up the matter of the school song.
SHUSTER: Which you wrote.
EKVALL: Which I wrote. And he said, "You know, at that time, the drive, everything was missions." See. Wider, ever wider. He said "There are a lot of other things now involved too. Would you write another verse bringing those in ?" And of course I said "I simply can't. [Laughs] A thing like that is done in an era and in an atmosphere that corresponds with it, see." And then he said, "Well, suppose we got somebody to...somebody else to write, just following your meter and all that, a third verse. Would you feel badly." I said, "No, not at all go ahead and find him." [Laughs]
SHUSTER: So, they've added a third verse now?
SHUSTER: They've added a third verse, to your song?
SHUSTER: How did you come to write the song in the first place?
EKVALL: Well, I had been writing a lot of poetry of a sort in college. We had a poetry club and we used to...we had non de plumes see, we'd...we'd write poems and put them up on the...got permission to put them up on the bulletin board and I kept sort of fiddling around with it and the matter of a school song came up...really the man who talked to me about it was a music teacher and, of course it's put to the...to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance. I had a rather remarkable experience in the...strangeness of coincidence. I was at Nyack in '45, oh you know this kind of stuff, alumnus of the year and give a talk to the alumni banquet and that kind of thing. And then it came out that I hadn't heard...I hadn't heard the school song sung.
EKVALL: Because I left Nyack before they were able to make all the arrangements with the...with the musical...the people who had Elgar's rights or something and also they had to step it down a bit and so I never heard it and I mentioned it and of course immediately they sang it for me and I've heard it all during graduation exercises and everything. When I went down to Baltimore to visit a friend and he said to me, "Say Bob, you ought to go down with me, I'll show you the new big Catholic Cathedral we have here." And I... he said..."It's beautiful, beautiful stained glass windows..."and I said, "Oh my, I lived in Europe for five years and you know, I even worshiped in the Catholic Cathedrals in Europe, the Protestant one in Geneva for example." And he said "But you come and see it, you'll be surprised. Don't stick your nose up in the air, you'll be surprised." So we went down and a group of people were coming up from having been inside and I thought they were going to close the doors but they weren't and the man said...we said, "Can we walk in?" and he said, "Yes, yes." So, we went in and we walked down the aisles looking back to see the really very good stained glass stuff and apparently the organist came in to do practice and what should he start out with, but Pomp and Circumstance. [Laughs]
SHUSTER: Can't get away from it. What kind of courses did you take at Nyack as preparation?
EKVALL: Well, I uh.... It was supposed to be a two year course, see, but they wanted me on the field in an awful hurry and at that time...in those days a college education was considerably more rare than it is now and more value based on it and their attitude was; well, you already have half of what you ought to know anyway. So, I took a lot of Bible classes from a man named De Vries, a very learned Hollander that taught for them. I didn't do anything with languages because the Greek I had had been classical Greek and there wasn't time to learn New Testament Greek in just one year and I took some church history classes I think. That was about all.
SHUSTER: Were the teachers at the Institute...had they been missionaries themselves or had practical experience?
EKVALL: Well, there were some that had, there were others that hadn't. They were connected with the staff originally, the Alliance center. But the entire emphasis was on missions, see. So my little contribution just fitted.
SHUSTER: When you returned to China and Tibet, how well prepared do you think you were for your work?
EKVALL: I hadn't had enough, if you want to call it theology. [Loud barking of a dog close to the microphone on the tape for the next few minutes.] And I had to cram very much when I took over the Bible school and the educational system.
SHUSTER: This was...
EKVALL: I had to cram...
SHUSTER: This was the school you father had founded?
EKVALL: Yes, exactly. And it was intended that I simply take over the education end. But I was... by that time, crossing China, I was speaking fluently, for that all came back to me. And I started preaching almost immediately. So weekends I would go out to outstations and preach, come back. I...One time I was carrying about twenty-six hours of work, teaching. And I was all the time
working also on learning to read Chinese, because I knew Chinese as a child and I'd grown up but I hadn't learned Chinese characters, Chinese ideograms.
SHUSTER: You couldn't write Chinese
EKVALL: So I was crowding that in in the meantime. And...
SHUSTER: What was the Chinese that you spoke? Mandarin?
EKVALL: Yes, a form of Mandarin, one version of Mandarin. I never really whipped up a good Peking accent until I was in Peking with the Marshall mission in 1946 and 47. Of course then, I tried my best to put on a Peking accent and I got...made a pretty good bluff at it. But it's all...it was on the level of [chinese word], national language, which superseded Mandarin. Mandarin is an old term. [chinese word], national language is the...means...
SHUSTER: Is that the current....
EKVALL: Current, yes. And...
SHUSTER: So you think your theology, you hadn't had enough theology?
EKVALL: Well, I found things in theology that later on I had to answer by doing some of my own study. the drive to preach, to get converts was what came through at Nyack. To witness the wonders of His grace. And I suppose you're now thinking, "Well how in the world did you get transferred in to Tibetan...." I still wonder. It started when two new missionaries arrived and they were supposed to go into Tibetan work and it was at the time of the winter holidays, so I had some spare time and my wife and I.... Well,of course, I was a rider from childhood, but my wife and I were in that sense free, we had horses and we could ride. We could travel easily. And we were asked to escort them to the Labrang monastery, the same place where my father and Mr. Christy were stoned thirty years before. And we went there at the time of the big festival, the New Year festival, the most important festival of the Tibetan religion, Smonlan. The word means wish way.
SHUSTER: How is that spelled?
EKVALL: Smonlan, well s m o n there's another prefix...no, lan is straight. l a n. Which is the great festival of the year. So we got there just when that was taking place. And I who had seen similar things in other smaller ones when I was a child knew about the Tibetans to a considerable degree from observations and.... But I did not...I did not know Tibetan language at all. We saw it from a peculiar standpoint and the challenge of that ritual, the almost fever of religious observance, the intensity of their devotion, I am talking about the worshippers. And the amount of...something...the way they would seem to want to adhere to this huge ritual that was going on, often called the devil dance and called all kind of other dances. It made a tremendous impression upon me. And my wife. As we were walking back to the market and seeing the people...worshippers there, got back to the station, the missionary station where the missionaries were and where the two people who I had brought were. And one of my horses had a little bit of a sore back. And I remember my wife and I took a candle and went down into the, the...it was a very cramped area because it was a rented storefront in the marketplace that the missionaries first got into. And we went down to look at the horse and she held the candle and we got to talking to each other. And we almost said spontaneously, "If we only had the chance that these two people are having." And at the same time they were rejecting the chance, because they came up in two days with saying that they wanted to go into another form of work and not among the Tibetans.
SHUSTER: They weren't touched as you were.
EKVALL: They weren't touched as we were. So I went back and some months later I suggested to the missionary committee, mission committee, that I be allowed to bring down a Tibetan teacher down to Titao. Titao is some, oh, about seventy or eighty miles from the border. And everybody said,"What in the world do you want to do that for? You don't need to learn Tibetan. You are perfectly fitted for the Chinese, you are perfectly fitted for the school. This is your work." Yes, yes, yes. All true. But there was a feeling, but and more but. And I said, well I...what I said was, "My wife...." They said "You don't need to learn Chinese...study Chinese[Tibetan]." I said, " My wife will probably do some studying. She isn't as crowded as I am with other work. But I am interested in an experiment, a new way to teach a language. I want to try it out." It was true. But of course it was only really the half truth. So they let me have a teacher. And what I wanted to do was to see how a new system of teaching, which would be from the sound to the meaning instead of from the meaning to the sound. Now that needs some explanation, doesn't it? Or maybe you get it.
SHUSTER: Well, just a little bit. You mean from a....
EKVALL: Well, my....
SHUSTER: ...listening to a person speak the language....Rather than saying that this is cat and the word for "cat" is....
EKVALL: Yes, that's exactly. Cat, so I look up the word in the dictionary and I see the spelling, but it doesn't give its true pronunciation and so I say "khat." But then the other way around, some Tibetan throws a stone at a cat or they talk about the cat until I hear it and then the "cat" comes naturally. So I hear the sound before I am looking for the meaning and going through this double translation, see. Now it goes slower. I learned...I learned Tibetan that way and later on in French Indochina, I learned French that way. It goes a little bit slower than the vocabulary business. But it gives you almost a perfect accent and it develops a spontaneity that you don't stop to think how you are going to interpret, it just comes. Because you have heard it so much that it echoes.
SHUSTER: Is it more difficult that way to pick up grammar?
EKVALL: Of course it is more difficult to pick up grammar. But you learn to talk before you pick up grammar. And I studied Tibetan grammar in Tibetan, instead of working in English, see.
later when I was working full time for it.
SHUSTER: How long had you been at the Bible school before you became interested in Tibet?
EKVALL: I arrived there in 19...in the spring of...April of 19...we arrived there April of 1923. They let me have a Tibet monk to talk Tibet. I said, "[He doesn't have to] teach me Tibet. I just want him to talk." 1923, 1924. The winter, no, the school...the next Christmas, the next winter vacation after we took these two people and came back and had this burden placed on us....
SHUSTER: This was in '24 then, 1924?
EKVALL: the winter of '24 our teacher....Oh, in the meantime we had crossed a little piece of Tibetan territory to go to the annual conference, because we had horses and stuff. And we reached a place where we couldn't get through [for a?]full day and we were right near a Tibetan monastery. And of course, we had no friends or anything but we just started to make a very modest camp right on the valley floor. And the monks came down and one of them finally spoke in Chinese and said that we shouldn't stay there that way, because we might be...they might have...thieves might come. And we were asked to come up and stay overnight in the monastery. And I got a whiff of Tibetan then.
SHUSTER: Are the...the monks in monasteries generally very hospitable?
EKVALL: Well, it depends a great deal. In Ngawa the monks were going to...when we went to the kingdom of Ngawa the monks were going to drive us out with weapons, which meant slaughter, and only the king...the king and queen stopped it. That was...that was what took place later. However, in that...in that winter session, our monkish teacher said he wanted to go home, for a visit. But he also said, "Why...." of course, he was at first shocked that we didn't open a grammar and a textbook and start learning the alphabet, so to speak. Because he taught all the missionaries. Well, after a few months, he began to see some sense in sound to meaning. He then said, "Why don't you go up to my village, my family village. I won't be there. I will be in the monastery. But I can arrange with the family. Why don't you go up and stay a whole month in a Tibetan community. Then you really hear sound." So we went up and we went out to that place and we stayed virtually a whole month, practically a whole month. The other missionaries thought we were crazy. And it was a very interesting experience. But we learned. And when we came back and some time later when my wife had to go to Lanchow for the birth of our child I was secretary of the committee and I put it up to the committee to transfer us to the border. My plea was that the Chinese scholars, Bible scholars, who had been taught my mu father....There was one of them who was a very, very, very fine man. He was supposed to be the assistant president and he was so much better than I was in teaching that it wasn't funny.
EKVALL: And yet I was president, he was vice-president. I said, "[Chinese name] can carry on the school without any interference from me." And so it was decided that he'd carried on. But they were still leery about this business, so I agreed every six weeks to come down from Taochow to check on the Bible school. [Laughs] But there was a degree of paternalism in the situation, missionary paternalism in the situation.
SHUSTER: Was there any resentment on the part of Chinese?
SHUSTER: Was there any resentment on the part of Chinese?
EKVALL: Oh yes, there was still some resentment. When I was on the committee I was always on the side of the Chinese, because it always seemed reasonable. I got the reputation for "thinking yellow." In a nice way, not, not bitterly. But any rate, we started for Taochow, on horseback. The baby was six weeks old.
And our baggage on horses. We started for Taochow and there it was that we were to spend our time learning Tibetan, mostly. Of course, preaching in the local Chinese church and all that but the main thing was to learn Tibetan. And that was the fall of '25. In May of '26, we started an exploration journey into Tibet. We were gone for forty, forty-nine days. Still carrying the child on horseback and my wife nursing it on horseback sometimes.
SHUSTER: You traveling up the river bed or....
EKVALL: No, we crossed the great Min Shan range, came out on the big...the [Sun?] plateau, the higher knee of the Yellow river and went all the way to the kingdom of Ngawa.
SHUSTER: And now the a...
EKVALL: And that's really a story. I've got eight chapters of a book on it. Not on the one thing. I've got eight chapters of a book of our experiences as missionaries, my wife and mine. Got that in the works.
SHUSTER: So you were going....
EKVALL: Got to Ngawa and we stopped at the king's encampment but were allowed to go on down to the palace, a day's ride. We had a letter.... Of course the first place we got to was Lhamo, a water place in between and in the [unclear] Lhamo place we, we spent some time with, got quite friendly with the steward of the monastery. And when he heard we were about to go to [Ngawa?] , he said he'd write a letter of introduction, so we carried this letter of introduction. But we found that in the letter of introduction he had said that we were foreigners and we had wonderful magic and would be of great benefit to Ngawa in a commercial way and all that. Never a word that we were missionaries. So, when we arrived in Ngawa...
SHUSTER: Oh, their....What was it that they considered magic?
SHUSTER: You said that he said you had wonderful magic.
SHUSTER: What kind of....
EKVALL: He was just talking about Western magic. I had showed him how my...I had showed him my aneroid [a type of barometer] and I had shown him my compasses, my compass.[Laughs] And binoculars. Anyway we arrived in Ngawa and went to the, went to the gate and the man said that the royalty were busy with things but they would show us where to camp and of course make it proper. But there was obviously a complete boycott of us. Nobody came to the encampment, nobody did anything, see. We arrived there early in the day and the next mourning we were told to come for a visit. So we took our gifts and went to the palace. The queen was the true ruler because she was the royal line. The king was just the prince consort in a way. And the thing that just gripped that woman, and in fact all the women as we went along was the fact that my wife was with me and here we had a baby with us. It wasn't a year old. They are very soft hearted to babies because they have such a low birth rate that children are at a high premium. I can remember as we sat and we presented our gifts and I was trying in my stumbling way to tell the reason we had come, because I don't go under false pretenses. And the queen turned her attention to my wife and the baby. Full of compassion. "Oh poor child!" It was an interesting meeting. First we presented our gifts, among which was a New Testament.
SHUSTER: In English? In Tibetan?
EKVALL: No, no, in Tibetan. The Bible was translated in the 1850s in western Tibet. They were under British control, they were under British protection. And after some talk back and forth the, the... what we had brought as gifts.... we cut up the stout scarf of felicity which accompanies every meeting and every gift and that. The queen said, said something, "Well, I'll read the book, I'll look at the book." And she opened the book and looked at it and said, "Oh what beautiful printing!" because it was beautifully printed in India. "Oh, what beautiful printing." And she started in reading. And all of a sudden she said, "A whole lot of names that I can't understand or even pronounce." She was reading the first of Matthew, of course. But then she started flipping the pages. And when she hit John, she said, "Now this is something that makes sense." The Tibetans have a strange, unique idea about personality. Personality of a human is tripartite. Body and of course we would say then soul and then we'd say spirit maybe if we would.... Of course there is conflict in regard to that, too, you know. Their's is body, speech, mind. The speech is a integral part of the human structure, not just something you learn. Of course this very modern linguist in ITT [MIT?], Massachusetts Institute, Norman Chumsky, along with transformational grammar he has also sprung this idea on the public, that speech is an integral part of the human being and it isn't only learning,. But this is a Tibetan idea, see. And of course, consequently the tremendous emphasis on speech on everything that is done. Of course it tends to word magic in many cases and these tremendous repetitional exercises of the mantras. And she saw this thing in the first of John, you know...
SHUSTER: "In the beginning was the Word."
EKVALL: First words. The Tibetan is[Recites first verse in Tibetan] "In the beginning was the Word." She said,"This makes sense!" and began reading and reading, went on and on and on. I was very happy. Everything went fine. When we returned to the camp, people followed us with meat and fresh butter and cheese and all the gifts they give to visitors. And immediately we were besieged with as crowd. You see, nobody would come until the palace had given its indication, its stand. And this went on for...until the next day. We were only going to stay two or three days because our supplies were running out.
SHUSTER: And there were just the three of you? Your wife....
SHUSTER: ...yourself and your son?
EKVALL: And then....Of course, we had a servant with us. We left,
we left our, our more or less tired horses up with the, in the tent camp, see and had made a quick trip with the least possible....We didn't even have a tent because we were depending upon being loaned a tent. And then in the afternoon all of a sudden everybody disappeared. We had a letter to a Moslem businessman there from his headquarters in Taochow and he was to help us buy things and stuff and he came in panic. He said "The monks are saying that they want to drive you out with weapons." That would have meant slaughter, of course. "And the king and queen are saying, `No not that. We'll just send them away without any protection.'"
EKVALL: I felt it was necessary to take action immediately to some way or other to get at least a genteel, a friendly departure arranged. It was about a quarter of a mile from the tent to the thing and I took a man along with me to hold the horse and I rode. About halfway there the most tremendous thunderstorm came out of the side valley, hailstorm, that I'd every been in. Hailstones about, hailstones the size of ping pong balls. And just a sheet, a torrent. We dashed wildly to get into shelter, into the gate at the palace and then finally cut across the courtyard and went up. And where before there had been calm and dignified...dignity, the monks were chanting, the sorcerers were chanting and they were blowing their horns and they were doing everything possible.... I was ushered into the reception room. The king just said, "Umph!" and he was shouting and looking out over the valley and saying how the crops would be...were being destroyed, animals would die. And the queen looked at me and said, "Can you make a storm like this?" And I said, "No." "Well, with your magic, can you stop a storm like this?" "No. But we can always prayer to our God." And then I said, "We have to return home very soon. I've come to say farewell." And then I put the little thing in, "Sometime in the future, I hope we can come again." And she said, "You don't need to worry about coming again. You've had trouble." We'd lost a horse a horse by thieving and I had lost a band of robbers on our way. We were way deep in Tibetan country. She said, "Don't bother to come again. It's too much, too dangerous for you." And then she hedged. I had said," We'd likely to come here." Then she said, "If you are going someplace else, of course as our guest you stop by. But don't come on purpose." This was a.... And I went back to camp and servants followed, bringing more meat, more stuff. So it was all smoothed over. And we got away and returned.
SHUSTER: What caused the anger, the.... of the monks....
EKVALL: Of the monks?
SHUSTER: Of the sorcerers?
EKVALL: Simply the fact that we were the, we were bringing a new religion. Because I never pretended we were anything else. Monastery, lama, and now the Queen, I have come, we have come to tell of the Jesus way of salvation.
SHUSTER: Now the Alliance already had a work in Tibet
EKVALL: Yes, oh yes.
SHUSTER: What was the strategy of method for reaching Tibet?
EKVALL: Well, at that time, there were a string of three Alliance stations just exactly on the border or a little over or a little under. And at that point on the border, either the Moslem military or the Chinese government had some control over those places, see. In fact, the one big Labrang place was strictly under Moslem control and it was easy to get in, although there was a lot of feeling, see. But this country was beyond all control.
SHUSTER: Theoretically it was under China but...?
SHUSTER: Was it theoretically under China or was it totally independent?
EKVALL: It was theoretically under China but it was.... Nothing, nothing.... China didn't have any control over it. Didn't even have control on taxes, couldn't even get any taxes.
SHUSTER: And the Alliance had no work in this...this area?
EKVALL: No, we were way out beyond, ten stages. When I, when my wife went the third time there, that was just before she died. We went to stake out land for a mission station.
SHUSTER: Now was it the same spot where you had earlier, where they had wanted to....
SHUSTER: You returned then from your meeting with the king and queen....
EKVALL: We returned from them and back to the frontier but with the commitment to try and get in to the place where we had had a friendly official who wrote the letter for us, Lhamo. It was a monastery complex. There were two monasteries and then there was the trading post and the assortment of people that are really...that really service the monasteries. Cobblers and tailors and carpenters and whatnots, see.
SHUSTER: The monasteries are basically then the centers of...
EKVALL: The monastery is the center of all attention, see. And those are like the adjacent suburbs. The Tibetan term for it is "the edge." And then the following year, we went through...no, no, no, no. Not the following.... The following year we were ordered out by the American government, because it was 1927 and people, missionaries had been killed in Nanking and the war was on between Chiang Kai-shek and the warlords. Of course, Chiang Kai-shek and the communists with him won the war and then of course they split after the war was won.
SHUSTER: So Chiang was, it ah....
EKVALL: '27. We returned to the field in '28, went through the Mohammedan rebellion, part of it. Taochow was partially destroyed. We were in and out of Tibetan country. Finally, almost as refugees we got a winter's habitation, oh about thirty miles beyond the border. But from that point we operated so that we moved into Lhamo with permission from one of monasteries in, I think it was the.... either the thirties....either 1931. No, '30. We got land in '31. That was the farthest station. It was about...at an altitude of 12,000 ft. It was in the center of the most belligerent, robbing and fighting among themselves as well as robbing all the travelers that they could get. And there was one tribe that was noted for it and it was in that tribe that the breakthrough came. They were so belligerent that their own...their own...their own chief had little control over them. They'd go on raids without even checking it with him, see. And it was in that tribe that the breakthrough came. [Loud barking sporadically for the next minute or so in the background]
SHUSTER: How did you make....
EKVALL: Well, we had visited, we had talked, had [presented?] the Gospel and in this one family...the three generations... grandfather, son, grandson, and granddaughter and they hired help for other things. They were quite wealthy. They had known all about it...from the teaching. The grandfather could read so he read the New Testament but they...they [unclear]. And my wife died in October. I went down to the...took the casket down to the cemetery on the border. And then the man who was in charge of it...he was sort of desperate because he had the feeling...he had the feeling I'd commit suicide. I didn't intend to commit suicide. I wanted to die, but I didn't intend to commit suicide at all. So, he literally drove me to go to Lanchow and meet the secretary and to accompany him all through his travels in the whole field to be his interpreter, to be his interpreter both in Chinese and Tibetan. And he's keeping me there, keeping me there and I finally insisted that I had to be back in Lhamo by Christmas time. So, if the high passes were open, well they were. So, I crossed over that valley and reached this village and of course got a beautiful Tibetan welcome friends and that. And than Tibetan style they started consoling me for the loss of my wife, telling how wonderful she was, talking about it and finally the grandfather said to me, "will you tell me where [Tibetan name]'s soul," that was her Tibetan name, "will you tell me where [Tibetan name]'s soul is now?" And I said, "With Jesus," see. And they looked at each other and then the grandfather said, "Well now I must believe. What do I do?" And I put him through the ritual of prayer and announcement of allegiance. Get rid of his...all his...all his trappings of worship around his neck...throw them away and the other two came along. So there was the first Christian...nucleus, in the worst tribe of the region.
SHUSTER: The entire family?
EKVALL: The entire family...well, the...the...the daughter she was about sixteen. Well, she nominally said yes, but that was.... Then came two crises. One crisis was when the village had to have it's annual festival worshiping the mountain god, to keep away the hail from the crops...from the fields. Of course in that country...up in the mountain...fantastic hail storms. And the people of the village came to the three Christians, Christian family. They had given up the...the worship of the gods and they had taken down their prayer flags and all that. And they came and said, "Well you got to...you got to contribute to the summer ritual for the good of the village. We've got to placate the mountain god." And so they sent for me and I went down and we counselled together and prayed. And I said, "Well tell them this, that when they go to that ritual up to the mountain... shrine of the mountain god, I will come down from my station and we here will have a Christian ritual, praying for protection from the hail...praying for the good of the village. See, what I was driving at was, not to have a situation where they move out of the culture, out of the society. Now there'd been Christians that had... by ones and twos all along the border but each time they'd move out and come as refugees to the mission and eventually become adherents of the mission station. And so I said, "Tell them that we'll have a great prayer meeting for the same reason, for the good of the village," and the villagers agreed. That was reasonable to them.
SHUSTER: The way that what used to be pagan ceremonies became Christmas and Easter.
EKVALL: The second one was when the villagers decided to build a bridge...up in [Harman?] that was and make it an offering to the lama in the lamasery and of course get great credit for it and all that. And the villagers said...wanted them to get their oxen out and start chopping trees and all the rest of it and again they sent for me. And I suggested that they go ahead and make the bridge...work just as hard as everybody else because the bridge was badly needed and in fact in the building of the bridge I would find a couple of sheep and have a feast for the people who were working on it. But, they would not go and offer it to the lama for his blessing and for the monastery's blessing. They would do it for say...for the good of the whole community. I suppose that's what sometimes been called contextualization.
SHUSTER: Sounds like it.
SHUSTER: Sounds like it.
EKVALL: Yeah, but it worked. And within about two weeks two or three families, heads of families and their wives too, came up with the Christians saying they wanted to be Christians. And before I left, over two thirds of the population had declared for Christ in that...in that thing. And then a strange thing happened....
[The tape recorder was turned off when tape was flipped over.]
So, two-thirds had become Christians. And then I had to declare for religious liberty...for religious freedom to protect the remaining Buddhists in the village because the two-thirds were going to vote to...either they become Christian or they get out.[Laugh] And then, finally, the chief of the tribe came to see me. I'd never seen him and that alone showed how...how feeble was his control because in most tribes, you have your particular host and he's your host and your sponsor. But almost invariably he says, shortly you have those relationships, "Well we ought to go to see the chief. Bring a gift." And then the chief joins in the sponsorship, see. But all the times we'd been in that tribe nobody had ever bothered to say "Well we ought to go and see the chief about it." So I didn't even know him.
SHUSTER: Was that a hereditary position, chief?
EKVALL: Yes, it was a hereditary position. But, he was so powerless comparatively, see. They were so rambunctious, these people. He came to see me. And he was desperate. "One of my villages has become Christian. What [do you think?] is going to happen? What's going to happen to all of us? How about religion?" You know, just on and on. So I said, "Well now, for one thing I want to tell you that uh... this village of Christians is going to be much more reasonable and listen to your governing than the others." You know what St. Paul says. And I said "They won't...they won't make trouble for you by raiding than having counter raids and people getting killed and that. And than I said, "And of course, you have what's called,( I'm breaking in English now), double insurance. You have Christians who are going to be praying for the tribe, for the good of the tribe and of course you have the Buddhists who will be praying for the good of the tribe. So in anyway, you have double insurance, two things." Well, it was a long argument...a long discussion. He was very courteous. I dug up a good meal for him and we talked for oh a couple of hours. And so he left, he said "That's alright then, I'm not going...I'm not going to try to make any trouble for you...for the Christians. And I was leaving for Haiphong, I was leaving for Indochina about two weeks from that time. So I had to leave, expecting to come back almost immediately and I never got back.
SHUSTER: Have you heard about the church....
SHUSTER: You don't know then if it's still....
EKVALL: It's...it's out in...it's in...in gorges and country that's really terribly rough and it's out...out of range of current...of what might seep...seep through to the border because they had no.... They had very little contact with the border except in robbing. [Laugh] I don't know. But, the Word doesn't return void.
SHUSTER: You mentioned that in 1927 the American government asked or told the missionaries....
EKVALL: Ordered everybody out, yea.
SHUSTER: Was that at the time that the...the Alliance church, the Alliance mission in uh...Kangsu....
SHUSTER: Became...was nationalized?
EKVALL: Well no, it wasn't nationalized or anything like that, see. That didn't become.... But...uh...with them having to go that way, the mission took quite a turn towards which I've been arguing for a long time, of leaving more power in the hands of the...of the national church...of the...of the Chinese church. And I suppose that same thing was taking place all over China as things shifted. Paternalism was beginning to...to go.
SHUSTER: And the church than became self-governing?
EKVALL: Well, the government that came in wasn't at all an enemy of the church. Chiang Kai-shek himself of course, at least nominally was a Christian. Well, I shouldn't say that because who am I to judge, whether a man in nominal or true.
SHUSTER: Well, I mean the church itself then was governed by native Christians....?
EKVALL: Sure. The church itself took over and we went back in the winter of 1928. The most horrible winter...famine, banditry, times when you couldn't get...when you couldn't even get beans...get food in restaurants or anything as we traveled. There was...there was...let's see, how many families. Carlsons, that's the father and mother of these people [in whose home Ekvall was being interviewed], Carlsons, Fesmires, Revinalls[?], Carter, and Koeingswald and I. There was six of us, six families. The first station we reached of our mission, under crazy circumstances. our [party?] arrived in the inn that was with the...in the...in the...in the...in a village where there was several Inns. And it was...oh within 20 miles of the city so that we could go there next day. And as we entered the inn, my...mules and horses driven by muleteers came charging down the street and they said, "The 'little general' and his troops are scouting for horses and animals." In that visit to Lhamo into Labrang the first time we had of course gone and paid...our respects to the local military regime, the little fort. And those were Moslems, see. And I had met a very, very young officer who was boasting of his black horse and I kidded with him and talked to him and told him.... His squadron, the black horse squadron, see. Oh, they were very beautiful horses and this and this and this. You know in a very friendly fashion and sometime later I learned that his nickname was the `little general.' O.K. I know the little general. And so when these troops...these run-away people came by...and, of course our carter were just about to take all of their animals out of their traces and everything and leave us just stuck there in the middle of the village. And I grabbed a hold of him when we turned into a...in courtyard and I told him "You'll be safer with me them if you go running away." "Why?" I said, "Because I'm a friend of the little minist...the 'little general'." And the next day Koeingswald and I went to look him up or to try to find where he was and get a safe conduct pass. And we met on the battlefield, where he was getting ready for a battle with the Chinese. And we saw... we watched through that whole business and he...I don't know whether he recognized me or not, but he answered to the claim of recognition. "Yes," he said, "Pastor I, what are you doing here?" [Laughs] " I'm coming back and your scouts took us captive and were bringing us to see you." "Well," he said, "I'll give you conduct but I can't do it right now. I'm controlling troops." And the battle went on and finally the Chinese fled and then his secretary was called and he gave us a uh...a conduct...a safe-conduct pass and we went on. Well, when we got to this [chinese word], this walled city....there had been...there was a quite good Chinese church there.
SHUSTER: This was the Alliance church?
EKVALL: Alliance church. Yes, its our field. And in fact the pastor was, was a graduate from the Bible school. I'd known him even earlier,see. Christmas was almost on hand. The next day was Sunday, when we arrived. The Christians, the ah leaders at the church and the compound, they welcomed us beautifully, helped us in all kind of ways to get settled in for a little while, find heat and find food and that. And the next day was Sunday. And they very nicely asked the leader of our group, Fesmire, who was the nominal head of the mission at that time. See, we were...we were a forerunner group that had been selected to go out to China to see if we could get through, because rumors of the rebellion were all around before. And they asked Fesmire would he lead in prayer at the beginning of the church service. Now in the old days, they would have asked him to preach immediately see, but would he lead in prayer? And I could see Al a little bit under shock because he...he was probably already turning over the text in his mind that he was going to use, you see. And then they had Christmas celebration. There was no Christmas tree. There were great big red posters, like at New Year's, celebrating the Jesus birthday, see. And the people were meeting each other, like at New Year's, bowing to each other and congratulating each other on the Jesus birthday. There was a completely new tone to that celebration, all Chinese! [Chuckles]
SHUSTER: Was the church financially....
EKVALL: The church, they had been left with some funds and those funds had run out and then the Christians had begged them to contribute and they contributed in all kinds of ways; grain, food, whatnot. And when they ran that Christmas celebration everybody had brought Christmas food and it was...it was cooked in that place and we of course said, "Oh,we'll...we'll make some contributions," "Yes, yes it would be very nice if you made a modest contribution" and so we had nothing to contribute but to go out to the restaurants, and the you know the Chinese tables the round tables there's just a certain number of people and food to put in the center so we would have a great big dish of something or other from the restaurant to be put in the center of each table, that would be our contribution.
SHUSTER: So, but the church then had no major problems in transferring to....
EKVALL: No, no, they had to. They were so proud of the way they had weathered the time.
SHUSTER: How did they, uh...Weren't there later crises under the...the War of Japan and then the Communist take-over?
SHUSTER: Of course that wasn't...you didn't see that first....
EKVALL: I wasn't in that. I was an army officer in...in Burma and I was an army officer in China and I was wounded...wounded quite badly on the seventh of July and the war ended the sixteenth of August. I was in the hospital for nine months then I was tabbed to go back to China with the Marshal Mission and when that ended, why they were waiting for me in the Embassy and I was Assistant Military Attache for the rest of my time there until coming back to the States.
SHUSTER: But, did you get reports from friends about....?
EKVALL: Uh...Well, No. There weren't...there weren't reports because the Communists took over that area not with...not with slaughter or anything just took it over fairly early. The Moslems put up a pretty stiff fight for a while and then they capitulated. And uh...Of course immediately all...all letters, all communications; out, now. Bill Kerr is going back to Hong Kong. He came to see me in my cabin, in Mt. Rainier when he was in Seattle and we talked for almost 8 hours about many things. But, one was that he wanted to know if I would be available either mid-next spring or mid-next fall for an attempt to get into China, get permission to travel not with a...with a group or anything. There's some people who'd been traveling around fairly freely...the scholars and whatnot they didn't have to stay with groups going.... And, his idea was seeing if we could get back to the...to the field. And, then he said, "Bob, do you suppose you could play the...the business, archeology." I told him my.... SHUSTER: Archeology? EKVALL: Archeology. I told him my interest in Archeology a long time ago. I...at one...one...during one vacation I was fortunate enough to be asked to help J.G. Anderson, the great Swedish Archeologist because his Chinese interpreter had gotten very sick and so I went and interpreted for him on a...on a big dig. And of course he taught me all kinds of archaeology and it stuck with me, see. Then a few years...then about three years ago, there's a very good archeological book that came out in the Yale press by an American-Chinese. It really is...summarizes the archeology of China. And in it, in the footnotes, you know footnotes to footnotes, very complicated, I finally ran down a reference to two archeological sites, they both supposed to be [unclear] which had been found in Tibet.
SHUSTER: There's been quite a bit of work recently hasn't there on early man in China?
EKVALL: Oh there's been... Archeology...All Chinese are...are basic archaeologists. They're always...you know, the remnants of the past. Just ordinary small villages oftentimes, there'll be somebody that has a little stand with some ancient things for sale. And so with the take over by the Communists...the Communists made it so that if there was any building, any ditch, any canal being dug, anything dug in the ground and they ran across anything see...that all action could stop immediately until the whole thing was cleared from...from that point up almost to the top. But, whether it would have to be protected or fully exploited or whether it was just incidental and they could go ahead with their work, see.
SHUSTER: So, they're very historically conscious ?
EKVALL: Very historically conscious. So...but, Tibet has always been held by archaeologists and...and scientists as a refuge land, not a land with an original population. And of course there have been refuge peoples that have moved into it and become Tibetanized.
SHUSTER: Because it's a natural fortress or....?
EKVALL: Yeah. So, I asked Bill, he was going to Peking...I asked him would he take the notes of just where these...what magazines these were to be found in, records of this sort. He went to Peeking and he went to the museum and of course they thought there'd be an awful lot of trouble and there'd be a refusal and whatnot. And so they explained, they wanted to learn about these two...what, in what publications these two sites were described. They dug that up. They made xerox copies of the articles and they were just delighted that somebody was interested in that thing, see. Well, Bill said, "Well, there's an awful lot of archeology out in west China. You were there when Anderson dug up some of the great sites." He said, "Why don't you...why don't we talk about that." And I said, "Well here, I am over eighty years old. The number two man in the Chinese government is the same age as I am. I knew him quite well at the Marshall Mission, in fact we...we became pretty good friends in a casual way.
SHUSTER: Is that uh.. Wong?
EKVALL: No, that's Yeh Chien-ying. There is the top man Hua, then there is Yeh Chien-ying, the old remnant from the Old March...from the Long March and everything. He's president of I don't know how many committees and I don't know how much other. But he's...as I say, he's my age.
EKVALL: So, I said, "If you get me to Peking, if we get to Peking, I will talk to him as an eighty year old to another eighty year old. `It's time I went back to see the place of my birth. It's time I went back to see the grave of my father. It's time I went back to see the grave of my wife. For all these reasons, it's time that I went back to the field for a little while.'" And Bill sort of sat back and looked at me for a minute and he said, "That sounds like a very very good scenario." And he said, "Now I realize why they called...why they said that you thought yellow."[Laughs]
SHUSTER: So that would be....
EKVALL: So that may be.
SHUSTER: Might be another chapter in [unclear]. When you left in 1927, did you leave the country completely?
EKVALL: Oh yes.
SHUSTER: Did you leave China.
EKVALL: Left China. 'Cause we came down to the... a... to Peking and to the Peking, to the port places and there wasn't any accommodations for missionaries, there wasn't anything for them to do, so most of the west China mission came back to the states. And then the first six of us were signalled...uh....chosen in 1928, you see, to go back and see if we could get through, which we did.
SHUSTER: And then returned and started to make your first....or was that your second trip into China....second trip into Tibet.
EKVALL: That was....We had already made the long trip into Tibet.
SHUSTER: This was your second trip.
EKVALL: We had come out before we were....We had come out before '27. We went in May of '26 and we were back in August or something. I remember it was 49 days.
SHUSTER: So this was your second....
EKVALL: And then there was the second trip to...Nawa. I think we did it in the third, '32 or '33. And then there was the last trip in the summer of '40. And my wife died in October of '40.
SHUSTER: And the name of the tribe where you had your breakthrough was...?
EKVALL: No this was still Nawa...
EKVALL: ...where we were staking out land for a mission station, ten stages...ten horse stages beyond the border.
SHUSTER: What was.... What attracted Tibetans to the Gospel? What was it...?
EKVALL: There were several things. The hymn that the Tibetans just simply loved was "There were ninety and nine." Safely back, you know. Because they are sheep owners, it made sense. The thing that you run against, shut up, and it has to be broken down or it blocks is the whole matter of reincarnation. The, the astonishing thing of Tibet...of the Gospel to them is the Saviourhood as compared to their saviourhoods. One Buddha, there's one Buddha that had incarnation in Tibet, there's four Buddha [cycles?], including the Dali Lama is one And then there are hundreds. Some Tibetans said they thought 2% of the clergy were...that are emanations of Dali Lamas and they partake of the supernatural, so to speak, see. And the chapter I'm going to do after this in my thing is the chapter on redemptive saviourhoods. Cause, all those people have the title of saviour. And they save by going around and blessing people and taking...and taking gifts and being supported.
SHUSTER: So one of your, from your poems in Tibetan Voices was on... from the Lama... from the Saviour.
EKVALL: Yes. So the, the thing that the symbol of the true saviour is not what he got from you but that he gives his life. And the Tibetans will start to argue and say he didn't need to give his life. If he was what you say he is, the son of God why didn't he just order salvation for everybody? See. Why the sacrifice? And that has a tremendous impact.
SHUSTER: Is the concept of sin different?
EKVALL: The concept of sin too, yes. That, that is extremely complicated because there, there are two levels of sin. And there, there, there are the...there are the works of religion whereby you balance off your sin. Then on the...there are the other uh... It's a little bit too complicated to get through on it here. There is sin that is inevitable and there is sin that is...is a matter of choice or... Those two stand out very much in Tibetan society because the sin is inevitable haunt them just tremendously, take the... of course the Tibetan, the Tibetan eight-fold way, the Buddhist eight-fold way has the, almost the equivalent of the Ten Commandments except those relating to God. What you might call the society Ten Commandments, kill, steal, adultery, see. But the Tibetan "kill" goes for everything down to the louse in his coat.
SHUSTER: Because of reincarnation?
EKVALL: Because of the.... This is Karma. Coming back, you may be so low down on the list that you come back as a louse, in the living, see, out of Hades, out of the eighteen hells. And so they pretend. When the coat...coat, when the big wooly coats are too full of them why they put that one out in thirty degree or zero. The temperature and the next morning they shake it out. They didn't kill, they just died. And many Tibetans, much Tibetan butchering will go along on the way of the man who will put clay in the sheep's nose and then you hold the mouth shut with this hand and they keep the prayer wheels going and they keep on praying saying the mantra. And after a while they look around and say, "Oh it died." Shifting that universal level of sin, trying to, see.
SHUSTER: Rather like the....
EKVALL: Its very, very complicated. That's what I'm working on in this stuff, see, this...this...this thing that I'm working on.
SHUSTER: This is the casebook for missionaries?
EKVALL: Yeah, the uh... My, my particular contribution was the Tibetan religion as perceived by the missionary.
SHUSTER: Of course you worked and served in many areas of China, in Burma, in Tibet and others. But Tibet seems to have had the greatest impact on you.
EKVALL: Tibet, Tibet dominates my missionary thinking. Now, that is why I wrote the novel. You can get it here... Good News [Publishing]. No, through the college library, in the college bookstore. Tents Against the Sky 1934, 5...5 or 6, I was working for the mission, writing histories, histories, history. And I also was doing a little writing and submitting it to Asia, the old magazine, Asia. And that was published by Hay...uh John Day. The editor of John Day, Walsh was the wife of Pearl Buck. So one day we were talking about missions and of course as you know she was extremely anti-missionary. And I said, "Well, I said one thing I know if I come to the point where I'm going to write the last word, my last word on the Gospel in Tibet, I'm going to do it by the novel. "Oh," she said, "that's interesting." My manuscripts were lost in French Indochina during the war because when I left we couldn't take any message any paper with us. The Japanese wouldn't let us have anything, see.
SHUSTER: These manuscripts were of the novel or just the notes on the work? [Dog is barking sporadically during the next few minutes]
EKVALL: On...another book of mine. [Short interruption by female voice] Another...another book of mine, I had two manuscripts when I came out and they were both lost because the friend that saved them from the Japanese, she was reported...they were lost as far as I knew. She was reported killed by American...American bombing of Saigon. It wasn't so. But I was in the hospital and then a, a fellow officer came to see me and said, "Things have opened up in Saigon and do you want to try to get any message through, through the military?" And I said "Well, yes I want to send a message to so-and-so, a lady, to tell her, `Please put a wreath on Lorraine's tomb.' And, does she know anything about my manuscripts?" Well, Lorraine hadn't been killed. She was alive and she had the manuscripts and she got them through to me and eventually after I came back from my tours of duty in China, why, I was figuring out what to do with it. And Pearl Buck, well I saw her...saw Walsh and I told them I had the manuscript and they said "Well, you've given us kind of an option on it." I was looking for Revell or the Christian...what's the....not Christian Science, but uh....
SHUSTER: Christian uh....Christian Publication?
EKVALL: Yah, Christian Publication. I was looking for a...an outlet that way but I thought, "Well, just so long as it gets published, it will get to everybody," and so I let them have the manuscript. And then she proposed to me...that, you know she said how good it was in many respects, etc. And then she proposed to me, she said "But, this won't, this won't get you much and I'm making a proposition. If you take the last part of it out and you take the Christianity out of it and let me fill in for...fill in an ending and then come out with Ekvall-Buck she said, you'll have, you'll have...." Of course she was at the top of her reputation at the time. She said, "You'll, you'll sell like wildfire." But of course I didn't take that suggestion. So I went on and finally another book of mine was published that came out, Tibetan Skylines, in which, in which I say "This is the story of my Tibetan friends. These are windows into Tibetan culture. I'm not telling the story of a missionary and his, his successes or his failures or what it is." But of course throughout the thing I made it perfectly clear I'm a missionary and that I was preaching.... So in a sense, I didn't...I didn't offer that book to you because it wasn't specifically....
EKVALL: ....a Christian book. It's uh...Tibet...it's uh...Tibetan Skyline. It's...it's been re-issued. I've had four books re-issued in the last four years. I've just been re-issued by uh...Oxford, no, Octagon Books in New York. That's a, a side thing of John Day.... Of [Bernard?]-Strauss. So then...
SHUSTER: Sorry, go ahead.
EKVALL: Then the missionary, this book. It didn't reach the missionary Christian reading public, relatively slight. Published here, published in England. I got the first feeling of somebody knows what I'm trying to do when it was published in French because it got a very good reception in France and somebody wrote a review and said...do you understand French at all?
EKVALL: Oh, I'm sorry. Well I, I like to say the french for the beauty of it but I'll tell you what it is. [A sentence in French] "A wildly poetic love story and a noble beautiful spiritual adventure." I don't know if the guy was a Christian who wrote it but....
SHUSTER: He sensed what you were wanting to say...
EKVALL: He was sensitive to something, see. But then, the anthropologists and the ethnographers began to get after me. "You've got to get it printed again, you've got to get it printed again." It was listed in one book as one of the four greatest, highly great ethnic novels. "You've got to get it printed again." And I was exploring all those things. Now comes the little business about the C and MA that's not particularly happy. The secretary of the C and MA who was in favor of it tremendously wanted to push it through and be published by the CPI, Christian Publications Inc. And they kept the manuscript for 18 months and then just sent it back to me. The only reason given was that it didn't tell what the Tibetans were like in the...at the present time. Of course a novel has it's own time frame [Laughs] and I had a rather strange experience. The pastor of the (Perfect) Presbyterian Church who... well, where I go to church is twenty-five miles, almost thirty miles from my cabin but I go there. But, he came up to my cabin, no, oh no, he knew I had a copy, my master file copy that I don't let out of the cabin, but, he never asked for it. Anybody who wanted it, understand. And as soon as I had the extra copy that had been sent back to me I gave it to him and he came up...out, a stormy afternoon, drove up and he came into...he'd never been up there...he came into my cabin and he said, "Bob, this has got to be published, this has got to be published!" He said in addition to being a rip-snorting novel, he said it's got the heart of missions in it.
SHUSTER: Now, it already had been published, correct?
SHUSTER: It already had been published?
EKVALL: It already had been published but it was out of print completely, see. And...he said to me, "You got to get it published, you got to get it published!" He said "Give me the word and he said I'll sit down to the telephone and I'll call up everything I know of in the...." Oh, he said.... Especially from a Presbyterian. [Laughs] "Give me...give me your...give me permission and I'll call up everybody...every loophole in the Presbyterian church to see about getting it printed"Well, now the Presbyterian church is one of the...one of the denominations that doesn't have it's own publishing house.
EKVALL: They use Westminster and they use Abbey and they use some other...several, sort of scattered. So, they don't have one that they can focus on. And I said, "Bob (his name happens to be Bob too) well, well just uh...I'm...I'm not going to try anything for awhile. I'm going to sit back and wait till God does something or talks to me." And I didn't do a thing for three or four weeks. Well, I've lived a life previously in publishing and everything where if it comes back I immediately figure out where it ought to go next and how to fight for it and I wasn't doing it at all. And then I began to feel that...oh, about three or four weeks I just quit, I prayed. If God wants it published it'll be published, if not why bother. Then I remembered that I had talked with Victor Oliver, editor-in-chief of Tyndale at that time. He had seen the manuscript, wanted to get it through, couldn't get it through because of.... They have times when you have to...you have to publish this and times when you have to publish that and the... the novel business, fiction business was completely checkerblocked.
SHUSTER: They didn't think it was sellable...sellable?
EKVALL: Yah, and I wrote him not about getting it published but I wrote him just as a sympathetic editor. And said, "Could you give me some advice?" And he said, "Try Good News." I tried Good News and it was published. And he wrote the forward for it.
SHUSTER: Ah yes, we'll have to look up the copy of that in the College library. I suppose what they have is one of the first editions of it, the early editions of it.
SHUSTER: One thing I'd wanted to ask you about, not to do with Tibet but in doing the research for the interview, it mentioned at one point that you were had, when you were exchanged after your time serving in internment in Vietnam, you helped to smuggle out some documents to Roosevelt from Vietnamese....
EKVALL: Where did you get that from?
SHUSTER: Oh, from a copy of an old article. I think it was a Nyack article.
EKVALL: Well, what are they writing that stuff about me? I never wrote about it, never said anything. I said...I told people but I never said anything. Oh well [pauses], of the missionaries in Vietnam at that time I was the only one who was caught in a jam. And of course I wasn't a missionary to Vietnam. I didn't know Vietnam at all. I didn't know Vietnamese. I did some work with the Chinese churches, but I was sort of at loose ends. [at this point there is some interference on the tape but the words are still distinguishable] And I was trying furiously to get two novels two books written and I had determined that I would learn French and of course knowing French for me meant "sound-to-meaning", so I just associated with the French and listened to nothing but French and then eventually started reading and I quit reading all English. So I got along fairly well. And through some of my French friends I got in touch with the resistance, the resistance, see, in....which was underground in French Indochina just like it was under the Vichy in France, see. And they were 100% for the Allies and for all the winning of the war by American allies. And when they heard that I was being exchanged, not being exchanged, no. I was being sent out as a repatriated, person, a civilian. Sent to be exchanged at [unclear] with the Japanese coming from this country [United States]. They got in touch with me and wanted to know if I would take out some stuff for them that they had collected. I was in a quandary that night when I was packing up in the internment camp because I was turning over the... I finally decided that I couldn't possibly smuggle the manuscripts and I finally turned them over to this lady. And then here was this stuff, very fine paper and all that and I had felt so bitterly about not being able to take my wife's picture, my dead wife's picture even with me. And one of... something that she wrote very close to her death, so I decided to take a chance. And I was wearing these leather sandals with thick rubber soles so I cut a hollow place in one and put the picture and the comparatively innocuous innocent things and then I put the map of the headquarters, where the headquarters... the Japanese headquarters were and where their ammo dumps were and where their oil resources were in Saigon, see.
SHUSTER: So most of it was military information.
EKVALL: Yes, and I went down for the final things, the baggage had been passed. Incidentally I was allowed to take my guitar on the...on the ship. And I found 600 people with no...no other instrument. Well, I just had corns on the ends of my fingers when I got through with that voyage because it seems like I was pounding guitar for everybody from day one [Laughs]. You know, people wanted to sing and they'd gather in groups and try to remember the songs and stuff.
SHUSTER: These were all people who had been, who were leaving....
EKVALL: Being repatriated. And I walked down the line and the gendarmes would check me out, 'cause I was wearing a sort of safari shirt like the French and shorts, bare feet and the knees and he ran over me and then he said, "Take off your shoe, take off your sandals." And of course I naturally decided to take off the innocent one and I stopped to unfold the laces, no to unbuckle it and he said, No, not...not that one, the other one." And then I left the thing on the ground, put my toe on the ground to keep balance and stepped back and he watched me and then as he went down to pick it up he kept his eyes on me. And he hesitated a moment and then he said, "Put it back on again." Of course, if he had taken that sandal and torn it apart I would be six feet underground. [Laughs] I didn't know that got in print, I must have told somebody that.
SHUSTER: Yes, there was an article in 1975 issue of a Nyack newspaper. I think you were in Nyack for a visit there.
EKVALL: I was in Nyack then, yes, it was...[unclear]...but I...I never saw that in...in any article about it, somebody stuck it in.
SHUSTER: I'll send you a copy of the article if you want.
EKVALL: Oh, no, no ,no.
SHUSTER: It also mentioned that you had given them to Cordell Hull.
EKVALL: Oh yes, oh yes, I had verbal messages from the French officials to give to Cordell Hull, but that was verbal, nothing written.
SHUSTER: Well, I think we haven't covered one-tenth of the things you've done in your life but we've covered a great deal. I thank you for your interview today.
EKVALL: Well, your welcome. And I think Tents Against the Sky will measure up to...to direct writing on our missions.
SHUSTER: Well, I will look for that.
EKVALL: And, take a look...it,it just...of course the library here has my book on Tibetan Skylines. Read that because you do get a flash or two on what the Tibetans think about Christianity and certain topics and everything to go right in. Now, in thirty...in thirty-five, I was in Lanchow. My wife was recovering from anthrax, she had anthrax at that time. And I met a Tibetan priest, not a lama, very intelligent who had known my cousin Will Simpson who was....
SHUSTER: Was he related to A.B. Simpson.
EKVALL: No,no, no, he was related to...he was the son of W.W. Simpson, see. And a certain amount of the Alliance population including missionaries had gone across to the Pentecostal mission, see. My attempt to write a history of the Alliance.... [at this point there is some interference on the tape and some of the words are indistinguishable] I always regarded it as such a pity. If there had been more flexibility on both sides why...
EKVALL: ...it might not have happened. So, we Now wa minute what was I starting to talk about.
SHUSTER: Talking about the lama or the priest you met in '35.
EKVALL: He came and saw the...the hospital a number of times. Told me how his...how my cousin had explained the Gospel to him and that. There were a lot of people praying for him because he was kind of a figure there coming into the hospital in Lanchow quite far in China and a lot of people were praying for him. And he finally broke down and confessed Christ. But, he also stated a peculiar thing at the time. It was a little bit like this famous French theologian, Pascal and his... what is known as the Pascal wager. Where you should believe there is a God even if there isn't one because no harm is done, but if you don't believe God and there is a God then you're lost. Yes, simp...simply, that is the Pascal wager. And he said to me, (still talking about whether to believe or not) he said "If I believe and Christianity is wrong and Buddhism is right, I miss out one life, but I go onto reincarnation. I have another chance, another chance, another chance. Endless succession of chances, see. But if Christianity is right and I don't believe I'm lost forever." And then he broke down, almost crying and prayed and then a number of years ago in Szechwan and he was coming out of one of the big satin stores. This is in Chungking, in Chuntu, very close to the Chinese border. He'd come down, he was the son of a chief, had a small tribe and he'd come down getting material and stuff for his tribe. And he showed me that he was still a Christian and that he was trying to get his tribe to become Christians. But he did...he did what's almost the exact equivalent of what Pascal had done.
SHUSTER: For his own culture.
EKVALL: For his own culture. I have got a...a booklet on it called God's Miracle in the Heart of a Tibetan. I don't have any copies. It was printed in... oh, it was printed when I was home in the thirties. I don't have any copies of it. I suppose the CPI has copies of it. That would be the prime thing for your collection.
SHUSTER: Well, as I said, we want to have not only the things that are strictly mission but also materials on the cultures of various nations.
EKVALL: Oh, well then...then...then you had better go ahead and get all my...all my....
SHUSTER: We already have several, not all, but a good start anyway.
EKVALL: I see.
END OF TAPE