This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of Helen Torrey Renich (CN 124, #T1) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words which were recorded are omitted. In a few cases, the transcribers could not understand what was said, in which case the word "[unclear]" was inserted. Also, grunts and 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 on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
Chinese place names are spelled in the transcript in the old or new transliteration form according to how the speaker pronounced them. Thus, Peking is used instead of Beijing, because that is how the interviewee pronounced it. Chinese terms and phrases which could be understood were spelled as they were pronounced with some attempt made to identify the accepted transliterated form which corresponds to it.
This transcription was made by D. Reifsnyder and J. H. Nasgowitz and was completed in July, 1990.
Collection 124, #T1. Interview of Helen Torrey Renich by Robert Shuster, May 15, 1980.
SHUSTER: Say something.
RENICH: Do you have it recording? Doesn't the red button have to be down when you record or does it record....
SHUSTER: Oh, the red button is stop.
RENICH: Oh, that's a stop, I see.
SHUSTER: And the middle one is record....
RENICH: ...is record. You don't have to push two buttons down like the old-fashioned ones.
SHUSTER: Well, you have to push this one in and then release it.
RENICH: I see.
SHUSTER: It also acts as stop....
RENICH: Oh. That's...and you do it by hand, and not with a button?
SHUSTER: Right, right. So it's still not totally....
RENICH: The good thing about a Wollensak is that it had a foot stop on it.
SHUSTER: There is a foot stop to this as well. We...I didn't bring it...it's being repaired.
RENICH: But you don't need it....
[An echo of the conversation begins at this point and continues for several minutes.]
SHUSTER: This is an interview with Mrs. Helen Torrey Renich by Robert Shuster for the Missionary Sources Collection of Wheaton College. This interview took place at...in Niles, Michigan, on May 16, 1980, at 11 am. Mrs. Renich, you have a very distinguished family background; maybe we should start there. Your grandfather, of course, on your father's side was Reuben Archer Torrey. Did you as a child...do you have childhood memories of him?
RENICH: Yes I do. I have rather distinct childhood memories. Actually, the first time that I was with him I don't remember, because my folks were missionaries in China and came home on furlough when I was very young. But the second time my folks came home on furlough, I have one particularly distinct memory of my grandfather. We had...were staying with Grandfather in Asheville, North Carolina, which is where his home was at the time, and where he died later. But in Asheville I was attending a summer school to just check up to see if...help me a little bit with my reading, I think was the point of it. And in a particular reading class we had the story of David and Goliath, and to my...(rather poor, as a nine year old child)...the teacher had said that, that...it was just a fairy tale, which was very upsetting to me, and I couldn't wait to get home on the bus, and I ran into the house, and found my father in the hallway. And I said, "Daddy, Daddy, the teacher said that the story of David and Goliath is just a fairy story that's not true at all." Well, before I knew what had happened my grandfather loomed out of nowhere, and before my father could collect his thoughts or say anything, he bellowed in the voice that filled Albert Hall, and he said, "The idea of anybody telling my granddaughter that the Bible is not true!" Well, after that I did not doubt the Word of God as being the truth. Grandfather just adored his grandchildren and I think the reason so many of his grandchildren really followed earnestly in the footsteps of the Lord is not only godly parents but the fact that he prayed for all of us.
SHUSTER: Did many of his children and grandchildren go into Christian work?
RENICH: Yes. He had ten grandchildren and five of them were missionaries, who took five others to the mission field with them, and then I would say three of the other ten were very earnest, dedicated, committed Christians, and two were professing Christians, and out of the two that are left, one has become a very committed Christian and just one is left as a professing Christian, and that one wants to see people's needs met and helped in any way that he can help people. And now the great-grandchildren are coming along, and some of them are going into the ministry and they are coming along as many of them being very committed Christians.
SHUSTER: Did you ever hear your grandfather preach?
RENICH: Yes, I did, but I really wasn't old enough to appreciate my grandfather's preaching even though he preached simply (so I'm told, and of course if you read his books you can see how simply he did preach). I don't remember his preaching.
SHUSTER: About how old were you when you did know your grandfather?
RENICH: I was nine when I first knew him and he put me straight about the Bible being a fairy tale [laughs] and I was about twelve when he died. There were about three years when we could not go back to China because of civil war, and so Grandfather came and spent one Christmas with us, which is a...rather hazy in my memory, but he just loved celebrations like that and he was devoted, as I said, to his children and to his grandchildren. And the last year he had trouble with his throat, and he wasn't able to speak too distinctly, and that was a great trial to him, so when I was a little bit older, being about 12 or 13, I...when I could have gotten more from him, I just didn't understand when he spoke because of his throat trouble.
SHUSTER: What personal qualities impressed you, or have been impressed in your memory?
RENICH: I think...some of the personal qualities I've read about, and other personal qualities.... One that I saw and was very impressive, when we lived with him (when I was nine years old, the summer I turned ten) the house had to be absolutely quiet until eight o'clock in the morning, when we had breakfast. Everything was very well regulated because grandfather was a disciplined man and his whole household was disciplined and we had meals at regular hours and we were to be quiet, even though we got up and got dressed we were to be quiet until eight o'clock because Grandfather got up at six o'clock and had his quiet time until eight o'clock. And then in the other area was that we had to be quiet from ten until twelve at night. I remember on my birthday I wanted to stay up late, but I had to be absolutely quiet at ten because ten to twelve every night Grandfather spent time reading the Bible and praying, so at least those four hours of the day had to be quiet, so that Grandfather could read the Bible and pray. Also he was very disciplined in his body, and I was quite impressed that he used dumbbells every day for his exercise. But I think probably one of the most impressive characteristics to me, as I've read about him and as I lived with him, was the discipline of his life. He was careful about his eating, he was careful about his sleeping habits. He didn't need a lot of sleep; it was unusual. Twelve to six in the morning was plenty for him, and sometimes he might not have gotten that much sleep, but he had point and purpose to everything that he did. After we had had breakfast, at nine o'clock he would go into his study and he would stay there until twelve o'clock. He used to write his whole books in his head and they were from the sermons that he'd preached again and again, but as he compiled them into a book he did it all in his head, and then he would hire the fastest secretary or stenographer that he could get and then he would dictate as much as she could take every day, and he would dictate a book at a time, and when he died there were three books in his head. The publishers wrote my father and asked where the three other books were, but his voice had not cleared up enough for him to be able to dictate the last three books that he had on his heart or in his mind.
SHUSTER: I remember when I visited you in Montrose early this year you mentioned that you also came to know a little bit Walter Jacoby...Jacoby, who was an associate of your grandfather's...
RENICH: Yes, Mr. Jacoby did work with Grandfather. The interesting thing about him was...it wasn't...he wasn't anyone I knew, because I think he died probably before we came back to America. But there're family stories about Mr. Jacoby as to how he was a prize fighter, and he lived such a reprobate life that even when he joined the Navy he was so foul that they kicked him out of the Navy, which must have been something in those days, and they.... He was one of those wild westerners, and he would go...he and his buddies would go down the streets shooting their guns off into the air and the women and the children would run indoors. They were just frightening characters. But I told you about the time when they were called...when they dared each other to go into a tent evangelistic meeting that was being held in this particular place, and I don't know where it was, and I don't believe it was my grandfather that was having the evangelistic meetings, but Mr. Jacoby went in there with his friends, and people were just scared to death because they were afraid it was going to be a holdup, but they just sat in the back, and so the people kind of quieted down, and when the invitation was given these men moved to the front, and they thought it was going to be...people thought it was going to be a holdup from the front. They never dreamed that these hardened, hardened men would ever be converted but they were thoroughly converted. Mr. Jacoby had only had about a third grade education but he,.... When he gave himself to the Lord, he went all the way. As he'd gone all the way with sin, so he went all the way with the Lord, thoroughly converted, and he went to Moody Bible Institute, and that's when I think he first met Grandfather, and Grandfather took a tremendous interest in him because here was an older man. He really looked like something else because his nose had even been broken in a prize fight and the marks of sin were on his face, but Grand....
SHUSTER: This is when your grandfather was president...
RENICH: This is when Grandfather was president of Moody Bible Institute and also was teaching in the Moody Bible Institute, yes. So he took him in and was very interested, and even befriended him to the point that he took him into his home. I don't believe he lived in his home, but he introduced him to his family. And Mr. Jacoby, who never married, just adored my grandfather's children, and the day came that...when the studies for Mr. Jacoby became too heavy and he couldn't feel that he could make it, he just couldn't...he just couldn't do the work because he hadn't had much education and he was in his fifties, and he was older. And he felt that he was going to have to quit school, but before he quit Moody he decided that he would have one more good time with the Torrey children (and almost every Saturday he planned something for the Torrey children; either he took them to a park or took them to the zoo, or had some outing for the children, because he loved them so much). [Echo ends here.] And this Saturday he came to the house for his last outing with the children before he was going to leave Moody Bible Institute and find something else to do, when the littlest of the Torrey children came all but tumbling down the stairs and she threw her little arms around his neck and said, "Oh 'Coby I love you," and it just melted his heart and he felt he couldn't leave the children. And he went back to Moody and he graduated. And then he became Grandfather's man Friday. And then when my father was ready to go to college, he presented him with a diamond stick pin that he had won in payment for a gambling debt, but he told my father that there were no strings tied to it, that he could sell it if he ever needed the money, but that he wanted to give him this gift when he went to college. And my father kept the pin for years and years, and when he heard that Fred and I were engaged and we were going into the ministry, the diamond stickpin always represented to him a transformed life, and so he gave the diamond to me and Fred, had it made into an engagement ring, and had kept the same setting. When you looked down into the diamond it looked like a daisy; it was one of the earliest Tiffany settings, just a beautiful, little, about a quarter carat, diamond. So now, I am saving the diamond ring for perhaps my youngest daughter, who may be going into the ministry someday. But Mr. Jacoby was forerunner for Grandfather, and he set up many of his campaigns, as I understand. And one darling thing that I read one time was that he would look for personal workers, and when Grandfather came to this particular town, this little ten-year old girl came up to my grandfather and said, "Your man Friday won't let me be a personal worker but I want to win people to Jesus. You'll let me win people to Jesus, won't you Dr. Torrey?" [laughs] I don't know what Grandfather said but apparently he encouraged her. And I thought that was just precious.
SHUSTER: So then he continued working for your grandfather until he died?
RENICH: I don't know when he stopped but I presume he worked until toward the end of his life. Being out in China, I just wasn't in touch with grandfather's life in those years when I would have understood a little better what grandfather did. But I just...I really don't know, but I never heard of Mr. Jacoby doing anything else, so I imagine he stayed with Grandfather until he died.
SHUSTER: Did you...have you met other associates of your grandfather, or heard people who attended his meetings?
RENICH: Yes, that is an exciting thing. I have heard people who have attended his meetings, not...I haven't met his associates because I believe most of them...or if I did I was too young to really appreciate these were their associates because my grandfather was like anybody else's grandfather, and I never ever thought of him as being anybody different or special. It just happened that he was a preacher or an evangelist, like somebody else's grandfather might have been a carpenter or a farmer, so I never would have thought to ask any questions. When you get older you get more interested in carpentry and farming and evangelism. But when I was in high school, one of my teachers asked me if I'd ever read Grandfather's book The Power of Prayer, and I said, "No, I hadn't"; in fact, as a high school girl I couldn't imagine anybody reading an old man's book, which he was to me, having no idea that I could understand such a book. Well, she shamed me into reading it. She kept after me and after me until I checked it out of the library and read the book The Power of Prayer and to my amazement I did understand it. He did write in a very simple readable style. And having just dedicated my life to the Lord that year, during the summer of my senior year of high school...prior to my senior year of high school, I was very much into prayer. I had read about Borden of Yale and his prayer groups in Yale, and so when I read grandfather's book on the power of prayer I was very excited. And then when I read about the answer to prayer and the wonderful meetings that he had in Australia, that excited me. That people were praying in Australia and there was such a spirit of prayer there, they felt that it should be a forerunner to special meetings in Australia, which was rather a hard-bitten place, because as you know at first it was settled by convicts and later on other people came to Australia, but the spiritual life of Australia was at rather a low ebb at that time. But one man had a vision that God would send an evangelist, and people would be hanging all over the outsides of streetcars going to these evangelistic meetings. And a committee was sent to the States to look for a man who would wrap up all this prayer that was all over the country and would conduct evangelistic meetings, and they went to England and didn't find anybody and came to Eastern United States and didn't find anybody and ended in Chicago, and found my grandfather, and they.... God witnessed to the men that he was the man to come to Australia and head up these meetings, and to make a long story short, he was able to go to Australia, headed up these meetings, and thousands were saved. There had been all this prayer and the people did hang on the outside of streetcars, filling the halls where he spoke, and he even spoke in Tasmania, and I have a boomerang that they gave him [laughs] when he was in Tasmania....
SHUSTER: Inscribed, or just...inscribed boomerang...or just?...
RENICH: I...not...I think it may be an inscribed boomerang because it actually belonged to the aboriginal people, I think; it's not an imitation one; it's a real boomerang. And so anyway, they...years later...we never dreamed we would...Fred and I went to Australia, and there we met many of his converts. Well, I shouldn't say many, but a family here and a family there who had come to the Lord through grandfather's meetings when they found out that my name had been Torrey. So it was fascinating. Here were converts that still stood. What interested me was (I think I have the figures straight) that something like 6,000 converts were registered and they called them together five years later and 5,000 came. And you know we don't have any such records today. Of course our society is more mobile, but it seemed to me rather remarkable that there were that many converts that could be accounted for, even with the moving away, five years later, out of the number that had been converted. But his converts seemed to be very, very solidly established in the way of the Lord.
SHUSTER: Did they have vivid memories of the meetings?
RENICH: Oh yes, they could vividly remember the meetings and they could remember my grandfather and they were very excited to have his granddaughter come back to Australia, and of course I was excited about being in Australia where my grandfather had been. I think it's a thrill and a joy, to me, once I got over the hurdle of minding being Grandfather's granddaughter. At first it was a terrible thing to live up to when I realized who he was and everybody expected me to be different and somehow inherit spiritual characteristics, but as you know God has no grandchildren and we have to each one struggle through for ourselves. And they tried to put an old man's head on a young girl's shoulder, and so on, and I had a very difficult time with my name, because I was identified immediately in those days. But once I got over that hurdle and I myself committed my life to the Lord completely, I was thankful that God had given me my grandfather, and that I had the heritage that I did--a godly grandfather who cared for his children and cared for his grandchildren. And then I too have godly parents who were missionaries and brought me up in the way, and on my mother's side of the family there have been godly men and women. So my heritage of Christianity has come down probably the fifth and maybe the sixth generation and pretty much on both sides of my family and I... Now that I'm grown and in the ministry myself I'm very, very thankful for what I have received, and I think I've absorbed a lot through my pores [laughs]...may be a strange way to say that, but....
SHUSTER: I think I know what you mean. But...now your own parents of course were missionaries in China.
RENICH: Yes, my father was my grandfather's only son, and he had hoped that my father would follow him in an evangelistic ministry, but my father was entirely different from my grandfather. My grandfather was what we call a very choleric, driving, organized, strong...(strong physically and strong spiritually) type of person, and my father I think was perhaps more like his mother. He was a very gentle, very quiet, very soft-spoken type of a person, and at first he wanted to be a medical doctor and then he decided to be an evangelist on the mission field and he felt called to the mission field. I believe that he heard men like...I believe he even heard Hudson Taylor, or some of these earlier men when they came to the States when he was a young boy in the early movements of the missionary...early missionary movements, so that he was turned to the mission field. And it was a very great sacrifice on Grandfather's part to give his son up to the mission field. Of course, he was dedicated to his service, but having only the one son it would've meant a great deal to him if Daddy could have followed Grandfather in the type of work he was doing, but Daddy was called to an entirely different type of work and he was an entirely different type of person. But it was a tremendous struggle when my grandfather committed him to the Lord, and my mother, and dedicated them from Montrose, the home that you saw there, as they took the train across the States and then sailed as missionaries for China.
SHUSTER: Where did your father get his education?
RENICH: He went to LaFayette College and to Princeton Seminary.
SHUSTER: And how did he meet your mother?
RENICH: That is a whole story in itself, too. I'll try to make it brief but.... My grandfather, my mother's father, was a very keen Southern Baptist layperson; in fact, he established the Baptist church in the area where in Vineville...Avenue...Macon, Georgia, where my mother was born and raised...he started the church there and got in....
SHUSTER: What was his name?
RENICH: His name was Mallary, and he got in the minister there and...he himself was an engineer and an inventor but an earnest, earnest Christian, and all the children were active in the church and he was a very active layman, but he did all kinds of interesting things. He was a well-to-do man, and he did interesting things for the summer for his children. One year he took his whole family to Bermuda, and another year he took his whole family to Northfield, Massachusetts, because he had heard of Moody, and he wanted to go to Moody's Bible Conference, so he went up to...with his family. They sailed from the Gulf of Mexico around to New York, with this whole group of southern girls plus their servants that they had (the black help that they had in the family) and they went up there and they rented a Swiss chalet that they saw advertised, and spent the summer in Northfield, Massachusetts while Grandfather was there with Moody, and so was my father. And my grandfather had several singers and Charlie Butler was one of his singers (beautiful singer) and he was my mother's step-mother's brother. And it was through Charlie Butler that he introduced his sister's family to my grandfather's family, and my father met my mother that summer about 1910 in Northfield, Massachusetts, and that was the beginning of the end for them. Mother never thought of herself as being cut out for the mission field or a missionary but she was a very sincere Christian, and made just a wonderful companion for my father and a wonderful missionary, but she graduated from college in music so she had a musical career and taught music out in China, and also taught us children and later, when we grew up, she taught many, many Chinese women the Bible.
SHUSTER: What mission board did they go under?
RENICH: They went under the Presbyterian mission board. My grandfather was Congregational to start with but he saw the direction the Congregational church was going and so he joined the Presbyterian church and he was a Presbyterian when he died. But of course, as you know, he made nothing over his particular denomination; he ministered across the board and I have had people tell me that they were so glad that my grandfather was a Baptist, or my grandfather was a Plymouth Brethren, or my grandfather was a Methodist or whatever it was, and I just smile and say very little because he was all things to all men. His ministry just cut past all denominational barriers.
SHUSTER: And were you yourself born in China?
RENICH: Yes, I was born in China and raised in China, went to.... After my mother had taught us the early grades I went for three years to boarding school just outside of Peking in a place called Tunjo [phonetic approximation, ?] China, and was often in Peking for my vacations. Saw the forbidden city and all those...the great wall and all those interesting things, and then I was...went for three years to boarding school in Korea, in the place now behind the thirty-eighth parallel, Pyongyang, where the....
SHUSTER: Is that where the negotiations were held?
RENICH: Well, I'm not sure about the negotiations but that's their sort of exhibition city in North Korea as to what communism can do for a country. However, it's interesting, it doesn't quite compare to Seoul, which is in free part of Korea. But I graduated from high school in Pyongyang, Korea, and then from there came back to the States and went to Wheaton College.
SHUSTER: And where were your parents stationed?
RENICH: They were stationed in eastern China in Shantung Province, which is the province that's the bulge that bulges toward Korea, and we were stationed in the capitol, Tsinan, of Shantung, China. T-S-I-N-A-N is the way you spell Tsinan of Shantung. But my father's work was in...mostly in the country; we had our city home but we would go fifty miles out to the country, and he had a parish of two million people that he tried to minister to and plant churches and evangelize, and we would live in a Chinese house fifty miles...which took us a whole day to get there by car, or in the early days by motorcycle. First my father had a horse, and then he had a motorcycle, then he had...was given a car, and...we had to cross the Yellow river in order to get to this little village, and it was a perilous trip. It took us a day to go these fifty miles on these rutted cart roads, and then from there he would fan out and preach in all the surrounding areas, but we as...my mother and we children had a sort of like a headquarters.
SHUSTER: Well, how did he act as an evangelist? You say he preached in the surrounding areas. Did he preach in particular churches or did he...?
RENICH: There were no churches. He would, I guess...I guess he preached on a street corner, or wherever he could get a crowd of people together. And of course a crowd would soon gather around him, because he was about six feet two inches tall and blue-eyed and blond, so that he was very unusual looking for the Chinese and they would say, "Oh, here's a foreign devil, here's a foreign devil," and the crowd would gather. In fact, they gathered one time and they stoned him, and he miraculously escaped through the crowds, I think when maybe a Chinese man who was helping him might have diverted the crowds. But he had some very interesting experiences because the foreigners were not too well received, and they may have even been afraid of them in those days. So he would go out and just preach as he could get people together, and probably just on the street, and he did have the help of sincere Chinese Christian men who had been converted. Perhaps he took them from the city, I'm not sure. Again, I was so young,....
RENICH: A lot of these things I sort of know more vaguely than I know exactly.
SHUSTER: And he would also start churches then in these communities and....
RENICH: Yes he did. In the little village where we were he began a church, and my father believed in an indigenous missionary work. They talk so much about it today, but he did it from the very beginning. He tried to train leaders to take over the churches, and so he started the church right there in the little village of Lini, it was called, and would try to have a...I think he would get somebody as a pastor to pastor the little church, and my mother had Bible classes in this little village of Lini and....
SHUSTER: How was that spelled?
RENICH: L-I-N-I, Lini, L-I-N-I. So....and mother had Bible classes, and saw a number of women converted, and so my father would see men converted and my mother saw women converted and it made a nucleus for a little church, so he rented a little room and held church services...well, church services there, but...come to think of it, I remember now when he first started he carried a huge tent with him that would seat maybe three, four hundred people, and in fact....
SHUSTER: On his back or on his mule or...?
RENICH: He carried it probably on the back of another horse, or in the trunk of the car or something. Anyway, they...he would pitch this tent. I can remember now, when I was a tiny little girl, this huge tent. Maybe it was bigger in my mind because I was so little, but I think my parents did say it seated three or four hundred people, so it was a fair sized tent. He'd pitch it into our first courtyard. In Chinese homes they have the first courtyard, second courtyard, and the third courtyard if it was a fairly well-to-do home, and ours...we had rented it and in the front courtyard he...it was big enough to pitch this huge tent and there he would hold his meetings, so probably the meetings started in a tent and then they got a building, rented a room or bought a room where they could have their church services. And in this tent my mother used to demonstrate to the women habits of cleanliness, bathing their babies and how to keep them clean and dressed and so on. So they ministered to their physical needs and then my doctor...my father did a lot of medical...general medical work they had as people would have scalp diseases, he had medicines for that and medicines for just obvious ailments that the Chinese had, so he would dispense medicine as well.
SHUSTER: Did you ever see any evidences of the practice of acupuncture?
RENICH: No, I didn't. I never saw.... Oh, I didn't see it, but I heard about it when my father's horse became lame. He didn't believe in acupuncture, and he told the...I think he told his man who was helping him not to have anything to do with it, but the man was so sold on acupuncture that he went and got the horse acupunctured, and it cured the horse [laughs]. That's all that I know about acupuncture, but my father often told it and years later, how the horse's knee completely recovered after the acupuncture on the horse's knee. But as for acupuncture for people, I knew nothing about that.
SHUSTER: Were you the only westerners living in this village?
RENICH: Yes, we were, we were the only foreigners, as they called us, living in this village. There were three of us children, a fourth one was born later, but not until after we had...he was born just before I went off to boarding school, and I'm not sure.... Again, I was off at boarding school and didn't know as much of what my father did, don't remember as clearly what my father did, but three of us children would go to...with my father and mother to this little village and we were the only foreigners that were there.
SHUSTER: Did...what were the results of your father's work?
RENICH: He had excellent results for converts. I don't know what there would have been in numbers because we have never really kept track of numbers, but my father not only did evangelistic work but he did famine relief work, which was very, very difficult. And through relieving the suffering of many of the Chinese, that helped them to want to become Christians. Then he had another very interesting aspect of his work. He found a big cotton boll that would grow in North China. They had a cotton in North China that had a very small boll, but he found a cotton that would grow...he thought would grow in North China and he got some rather advanced farmers to be willing to plant this cotton in a part of their field to see if it would work and experiment. Not too many were willing for this because...since they barely could eke out an existence, even to give you a small patch of a field would be very...could mean a loss of a lot of money, but some advanced men were willing to try this particular cotton, and it took a hold and it fit the soil, and eventually it lifted the whole economics of that area because of the quantity of cotton that they got from this particular seed. So my father was a very interesting missionary.
SHUSTER: This was a strain he developed himself, or...?
RENICH: No, it wasn't. No, he had...he just was alert, even though he knew nothing. He was never on a farm himself, but in Tsinan, the capital of Shantung Province, there was a university there, and they had an experimental station in Tsinan and they...probably it was an agricultural experiment that they had tried out in the university there because...and so he decided he would try it in the country. I imagine that that's...again I am guessing....
RENICH: But it's somewhat of an educated guess, since the university was in another part of Tsinan; we were in another suburb, not where the university was.
RENICH: Lini, pardon?
SHUSTER: That was Lini?
RENICH: Lini is where he took the cotton...out to Lini to get some of the people to grow it. But it was in Tsinan where I was born in the Shantung Province where they had a university and where they would do experiments and they had a big medical center in Tsinan. See, Tsinan was (being a capital)...there were one million people within a one square mile radius and then other people in the suburbs around the city of...big city of Tsinan where I lived.
SHUSTER: You say he was in famine relief work; was he as an agent of the Presbyterian board or representing...?
RENICH: I think he represented the Presbyterian board in famine relief work.
SHUSTER: What...what did that involve?
RENICH: That involved giving out clothes and money and much like famine relief work of today, seeing that grain is distributed and people are fed and it's a very, very difficult work, and he was just exhausted from it. But there were famines and more famines in China because there would be floods and then there would be drought and then the crops wouldn't grow and there was starvation and sometimes it was worse than at other times.
SHUSTER: What about your mother's work? You mentioned that she taught Bible classes.
RENICH: Yes. Mother was just a born teacher. She graduated in music and she loved history, but she was a born teacher and was able to teach us until we were almost ready for high school, which helped a lot since there weren't schools for us. And they didn't want to send us off to boarding school real young like some missionaries do. And then she had Bible classes among the Chinese women. When she was in the city she had Bible classes of fifty women that would come into our home in the city. But out in the country I think she had as many as maybe even thirty and forty women, and she would teach them and then a Chinese Bible woman would follow up, and she had some remarkable conversions: women who were angry, frustrated. One woman who was so bitter against her daughter-in-law she had made herself sick, and she all but had to crawl to the meeting, she was so ill...to the Bible class, and because she got a listening ear at the Bible class about all her bitterness against her daughter-in-law she came again and again, and in the end she came to Christ and confessed her bitterness and one of the last classes she said, "You know what? I even love my daughter-in-law." And she became healed physically and was converted and of course...some of these outstanding conversions...because these people were so awful. They would have a voice that could be heard at quite a distance as their...they spewed out their anger on their family members. Their conversion had a tremendous effect on the people in the area, and then they would be desirous of winning other souls to Jesus Christ. So Mother's ministry had quite an impact.
SHUSTER: It's interesting; the stereotype you get of Chinese women from movies, etcetera, is very submissive and quiet, meek, but it sounds like some of the women at least were not typical....
RENICH: Some of the women were anything but meek and quiet women. Now the man was supposed to be the head of the house, but women had their ways of intimidating the men, and some of them could...had a tongue on them that was really razor sharp. Yet there were very sweet, gentle women among the Chinese women that were that way before they were converted. I think of the woman who took care of me as my nurse, and she was a Bible woman and she was very sweet to her daughter-in-law because her mother-in-law had been sweet to her. And so it was a whole gentle...apparently a gentle family, and when she heard about the Lord Jesus she was wonderfully converted, and became not only one who helped to care for the children, but one who worked alongside with my mother. She was a friend as well as a helper, and she saw many Chinese women converted.
SHUSTER: Were the women who came from one particular section of the community or one particular class or such as the well-to-do, or the poor, or....
RENICH: It was interesting. My parents' work seemed to cut across even class boundaries. There were the well-to-do women as well as the very poor women who came to these classes, and Mother had to teach them first to read, as...before they could read the Bible. So Mother taught classes in reading and taught them how to read the Bible (that would be sort of like their primer) and had a very simplified Chinese form somebody had invented...simplified Chinese writing, sort of like a simplified alphabet system, phonics, they were called, and Mother taught and this Bible woman taught this to the women. Chinese women were not given an education in those days, at least the average Chinese women. I believe some well-to-do women were given education but the average Chinese woman was not educated, and could not read or write. But Mother taught them to read so that they could read the Bible. So besides teaching the Bible she was teaching reading.
SHUSTER: Was this an area where they still had foot binding?
RENICH: Yes, I can remember. All the women had their feet bound, and I felt like I had very clumsy big feet, and I asked my [laughs] amah if she would bind my feet so I could be like the other girls, but after having my toes wrapped up fairly tightly for just a very short time that was the end of that for me. I decided I'd keep my big feet [laughs]. Yes, and their pride was that their feet was the length of the width of a brick, if you can imagine. Is a brick about three or three and a half inches?
SHUSTER: Something like that.
RENICH: Yeah, about three and a half inches wide, would it be? And our cook's wife had feet, tiny feet like that, and their beauty consisted in their tiny feet.
SHUSTER: What...when you had grown up some or a teenager, how...what was the condition of the church in the province where your parents were working? Was it flourishing or still growing or, how would you describe it?
RENICH: Yeah, during the time when I was growing up, it was interesting. I think there was deadness in the church for a period of time. There had been revival in north China through Jonathan Goforth, and Jonathan Goforth's book By My Spirit tells of the revivals that were in North China. It's a wonderful book that everybody ought to read, and it's had a tremendous impact on my own life, where he tells of how he agonized in prayer that the Christians that were converted would be really revived and on fire for God, and he prayed that there would be one of these old-fashioned revivals, and so there was. There came a revival, and it was when revival sort of struck all...a great part of the world. It was in the early 1900's, and revival came to Korea at that time, came to China at that time, there was the unusual revivals in Wales...you can perhaps remember. This was the early 1900's, and they came to China and had an effect on the north China church. I heard somebody comment that the church in south China never had the virility of the church in north China, because revival had never touched south China. Now I'm not sure whether that is right or not, but I had been told that as a...when I was growing up, or later on.... And then revival came to China again in the 30's, a real awakening, a movement; it came to our part of China, in Shantung Province, and it affected some parts in the western China. We had friends who were Lutherans and these young men, who are the same age as I was, and actually I met them after I was married, their father was a Lutheran minister in west China, and he prayed for revival in all the days of his ministry, that there would be a tremendous awakening in the church. And after he died, the revival came and his own sons were converted in the revival movement in China. Well this...at the same time that this revival movement was in west China there was this revival movement in east China and northeast China where I lived, but again I was in boarding school at this time, but it had a tremendous effect on the church, and I believe prepared them later for the Japanese occupation and later for the communist occupation. It worked, again, a deep indigenous work into the hearts of the Chinese people.
SHUSTER: What was the relationship between Chinese pastors and leaders and evangelists and the missionaries?
RENICH: I think the relationship would have been different in different places because in some places ....
SHUSTER: Well, I mean just from your experience.
RENICH: In my part of China, my father cooperated with them, and put them in charge, and sort of put himself under the local leadership, because he felt he was training them for the time that he would not be there. In other parts of China it was very hard for the missionaries to turn the work over to the Chinese people. But my father's whole goal was to turn the work over to the Chinese people himself, and so he did that and I think that many of the Chinese that he knew really had their feet under them and were trained as leaders and were able to take over the work of the church.
SHUSTER: What was a typical service like in the Chinese church?
RENICH: It was much like our European service because we imported our American ideas of a church service with hymn singing; the words were translated into Chinese but the tunes were the same as our American tunes. Later on I think they tried to get some more of the oriental tunes in to their hymns, and there would be the singing and then the offering and the sermon. But it was interesting with communion. They were very strict with their communion, I remember, where we had...in the country where my father had his church and those who were out of fellowship with the Lord or had backslidden or were living in sin were...knew they should not take communion, because the Word of God says you take communion to your own condemnation. And I was asking my father about this one time, what it meant, and then he just gave me an example of right there in that little village of Lini that there was a woman who was living in sin and the church knew it, but when they passed the communion she defiantly took the communion cup, and within a day or so she was gone.
SHUSTER: She died.
RENICH: She died, right. And it was impressed on everybody that that was why, because it was an act of defiance and the church had some very high standards, and she had defied these high standards, and she...and the Word of God says "And because of it some of you sleep," and she died within a very short time, either a day or so. And the whole church felt that that was why she had...just had been in rebellion against God. But otherwise the services were conducted very much the same. I think the difference would be I think the men sat on one side and the women sat on the other side. And our dog was very religious; he always came to church with us, and sat under our pew and never made a sound. He stayed there until the service was over, and he tried to go to church with us in the city and he was very unwelcome and he was chased outside and he couldn't understand why he couldn't worship as he was used to worshipping in the country [laughs]. Things were a lot more informal.
SHUSTER: Sure. Was there a Sunday school too?
RENICH: I don't know whether they had it. I don't remember whether they had a Sunday school. I remember when we were in the city we children had Sunday school, but it's an interesting thing, I did not. I don't remember...attending Chinese Sunday school, so if they had it probably my mother was teaching us the Bible in English. I only remember attending church.
SHUSTER: What other activities did the church have besides worship and communion, or were there other activities besides worship and communion that Christians did together?
RENICH: Again I am...I was too young. The critical age when I would have been observant of all these things I was off at boarding school. Actually, my memories stem from nine years of age backwards, because we came to the States when I was nine, and there was civil war in China for three years, and so we couldn't return until three years later. We left in 1926 and we couldn't come back until 1929 and then soon after that I went off to boarding school, and so I didn't have contact with the church like I would've had I been older. So I just can't answer some of these questions, even from days gone by.
SHUSTER: Well, what was it like growing up as a westerner in China, growing up as a child of a missionary in a largely non-Christian culture?
RENICH: We had...it was a happy experience. I was a kind of an unhappy person in myself. I guess I'd call myself a melancholy type of child. I became happier after I gave my life to the Lord, but it was not because my situation wasn't happy; we had a very happy home. My mother and father were unusually well-adjusted and gave us a happy home, and then we had a cook who had a number of children and we were allowed to play with the cook's children in the early days, and out in the country we were quite self-contained and played happily to ourselves. I don't really know why we didn't play with more Chinese children but they didn't seem to be around, and we played happily among ourselves....
SHUSTER: So your brother....
RENICH: This is...my brother is a year-and-a-half younger than I and a sister that was about six-and-a-half years younger. My brother and I were good companions, being so close of an age and we were quite self-contained in that way.
SHUSTER: What are their names?
RENICH: My brother is Reuben Archer Torrey the third, and he is a missionary in Korea, and has been for a number of years. And my sister is Claire Torrey Johnson, and they were missionaries in Japan for fifteen years and then they're now in a pastorate here in Iowa. And then I have a third brother who's in business in Phoenix, Arizona. I'm the number one of the four children [laughs]. Then we had a little brother who died out in China.
SHUSTER: When did you come to know the Lord?
RENICH: I believe that coming to know the Lord for me was when I surrendered my life to the Lord, because as a child I had a real love for the Lord. And when we went on a picnic up into the mountain of a thousand gods (had temples up there and hundreds of idols), I can remember as a little child of five I was telling the priest that he shouldn't worship these idols, he should believe in Jesus. And my nurse came up behind me and said, "The little girl is right," and she continued to preach to him. And I loved Jesus when I was a little girl but when I got into the teenage period I came into the teenage rebellion and was looking forward to when I could go to the States and do what I wanted to because I felt a little restricted by my missionary parents. But my...just prior to my senior year I became so miserable within myself that when it was suggested that I go to a Bible conference, I went and I knew what I had to do. I knew I needed to surrender my life to the Lord. And perhaps that was my conversion, perhaps it was my surrender, I'm not sure which. Anyway I did surrender my life to the Lord and from then on I was going to prepare myself for service for the Lord. And I did. When I came to Wheaton I looked for a major that I could use in going to the...preparing first to...I thought I'd go as a missionary unless the Lord closed the door, so I prepared for missionary service.
SHUSTER: Out of curiosity, what was the priest's response when you were talking to him that he should...?
RENICH: I think the priest looked at this little girl and just smiled because here he was the priest of these idols and this little girl was telling him what he should worship. But being backed up by my Chinese nurse, I think he couldn't help but really listen to what she had to say, but I have no idea of what happened as a follow-up of that.
SHUSTER: Did you have much contact or impressions of Buddhism or Confucianism or other Chinese...?
RENICH: Not really. We would visit the temples on picnic days and we would see these idols and we knew that the people were bound by them. But we didn't know...I don't think I had much of a child's impression except that I saw the overall misery, whether it was because they were Confucianists or Buddhists, anyway I saw the misery of people without God. That was very impressed on me, like the miseries of the women who came to my mother's Bible class; you could see how unhappy they were. Now I saw too and heard from my parents the changes in the lives of people who became Christians and when I would come to America and people would say, well, you know, their religion is good enough for them, I knew of so many transformed lives and transformed families out of their fear and their bondage and their hatred of one another when the home turned to hope and love and freedom in the Lord. I could just tell them stories that I knew from my own parents' ministry that their religion wasn't good enough for them and they were very, very unhappy in their religion. And you could see this on the faces of the people and the misery of their lives and the poor people were under such physical burdens and bondage because of the lack of money and means that they had, but when they became Christians there just came a freedom and a joy into their lives and God wonderfully supplied their needs. One story they often tell is of a man who sold hot water. And he had to sell hot water every day in order to make a living, but when he became a Christian he set aside Sunday and God gave him enough business during the week to take care of him for the whole week with setting aside Sunday. And that was a very important thing in China, that the Christians laid aside or set aside one day of the week in which to worship God. So I have...at first I was kind of shocked at the careless attitude of the Americans who would shop and do different things on Sunday, because it had been such an issue in China. And those who gave the Lord one day, which is totally contrary to their culture of working every day, God made up to them. Even though there was a subsistence existence, God made it up to them for the day that they gave to Him, and the man who sold water began to prosper and he sold more water and he got more water carriers and eventually got his own business and from one thing to another and in the end he became a very well-to-do Christian man who was able to contribute much to the work of the Lord.
SHUSTER: Would you disagree then with somebody who accuses...somebody like, say, Pearl S. Buck, who is more critical of missionary influence on Chinese...?
RENICH: Pearl Buck is a very interesting or was a very interesting person. She came to our school and spoke to us when we were missionaries' children and told us how fortunate we were to be missionaries' children. Then to our horror we heard that she'd come to the States and said that missionaries were uneducated people, and the strange thing is she was with the Presbyterians, and they had to be educated before they went out as missionaries to China. I don't know what sort of got into Pearl Buck as to her attitude toward missionaries. There must have been bitterness in her own life that kind of spilled over in her attitude toward the missionaries. She did a lot of humanitarian good later in her life, but she certainly had a strange attitude toward missions and missionary people and I can't agree with her at all and she would've even known herself how well educated many, many missionaries were and what a remarkable work they did, educationally in China, and medically in China, as well as evangelistically.
SHUSTER: You talked a little bit about some of the economic condition of the people in Solsoa [phonetic approximation, ?]; what about the political condition? You mentioned there was civil war in which you had to leave for a time. Did your father have much contact with the local authorities or the national authorities such as they were?
RENICH: It was interesting, his touch with the people. Out in Lini, the little village where we lived, he was very highly respected, and there just seemed to be little wars or battles all the time in China. One group would advance and another one would retreat and they'd shoot a few bullets up into the air and a lot of times the retreating army would turn bandits and pillage and burn the villages where...in their march. And one of these groups, retreating warriors, were headed right for our village and every village that they had come to up to this point they would loot and then they would burn. So the people in our village were absolutely terrified when they heard that these soldiers were coming through, and so it was interesting. We had a tailor make a great big American flag, and we flew that above our house where we were staying, and the tailor made himself a little American flag and flew that above his house [laughs], and they made another one. There was...later on there was one lady missionary that came into our village, I guess to help my mother, and they...she lived in a different place and they flew the flag above her place. But then they thought maybe it would be good if my father went out and greeted the...these bandits, and welcomed them to the city and opened the city to them and maybe that would forestall some of the problems that all the little villages had had. And so the mayor of the town asked my father if he would go out and greet the chief or the general, and welcome him to the city. So my father went out and tried to find the man who looked the most official, and he came up to this particular man and the man jumped off his horse and said to my father, "Will you tell me, sir, what o'clock it is?" [laughs] My father had all this Chinese speech made up and he couldn't understand what the man was saying, and he looked a little dumbfounded and the man said again, "Will you tell me, sir, what o'clock it is?" and my father looked at his watch and told him what time it was, but that was the extent of the man's English. Somebody had taught him that. So my father pulled himself together after that introduction, and introduced him to the city and welcomed him on behalf of the mayor and all the people in the city and told them that they were welcome and hoped that they would be housed and fed, etcetera, etcetera, and invited them into the city. And so then they began to come in, and there were literally thousands and thousands and thousands of these men. I don't...again, I was a child. I don't know where they were coming from and what they were doing but they tramped through our city about four abreast, and they went hour after hour, tramping four abreast through the city, and we went into this first courtyard and into one of our buildings and looked through the window, and watched these men. And every once in a while they would see that we were foreign children and a shout would go up, "Foreign devils," and it was sort of bloodcurdling. So then we went back into the third courtyard and they didn't come into our home, but they went into stores and the storekeepers gave them tea and offered them food, and they would borrow things from them which they didn't return, but they didn't loot any of the places. One man...they came...who was a Christian...and they took his donkey, and the next...later on another man came through and he was wounded, and this man knew a little bit about medicine and he bound up his wounds and helped him and he left him his horse. And he was a Christian, the man who had done this...had had this happen to him. And they went through the village and were fed and taken care of, and it took them, I think almost all day, there were that many men who went through this village. And when they went on through (I guess they had...they tried to stay places for the night) and they left the village, just a cry sort of went up from the village, "The God of the white man has saved us," because we were the only village that was not burned and pillaged along the road. So it made a tremendous impression what God could do and how God had saved that village. and I would imagine that there was there were a lot of follow-up converts as a result of that particular occasion. But as for having to do with officialdom, I don't think my father had a lot to do with officials except in the little village; everybody...sort of like everybody knew everybody. In the big city of Tsinan he wouldn't have had as much to do with them. But when I was going off to boarding school in the mid-30's, I saw Chiang Kai Shek mobilize China in just a few years' time. I could hardly believe the change that came over China during the nine months that I was off in boarding school and would come back, because I would see the soldiers drill before, and they would be carrying their guns over their shoulders and singing songs and strolling off to their place where they would do their exercises and so on, and I came back and I saw the soldiers marching clip, clip, clip down the street to go out to the places where they would drill, and their drills were no nonsense drills, they really drilled. And he was mobilizing the whole country, and getting radios into all the little towns and hamlets so that when he gave a command the whole of China could hear him and he was building roads and he was doing a great deal to get China mobilized together. But the Japanese knew this, and they drained a great deal of the silver out of China. In fact, I got on a boat where they were smuggling silver dollars out of China, and it was rather a harrowing experience, but they let us go. And they...the Japanese struck after three years of the five year plan (I believe it was)...that Chiang Kai Shek felt that he could get the country together in five years, but the Japanese struck.... And the country fell to the Japanese because he didn't really have time to go through with his whole plan and they knew it, and so they drained China of their silver and they struck before they could get the country pulled together and Chiang Kai Shek wanted to get the country pulled together. That was very interesting.
SHUSTER: This was when there was the incident at Marco Polo bridge up in Manchuria and the Sino-Japanese war began?
RENICH: This was after that. This was...the mobilization was during the late, well the mid-60's, and of course....
RENICH: I mean mid-30's, of course, thank you. The mid-30's [clears throat]. Excuse me. And China fell to the Japanese; our part of China fell to Japan. Oh, with Pearl Harbor...my folks became prisoners of the Japanese in China at the time of Pearl Harbor, so the Japanese had already conquered China but the Americans did not become prisoners of the Japanese until Pearl Harbor, which would have been in December of 1941. So they struck prior to that in China.
SHUSTER: Well, I think we should end there, since you have a seminar; you're going to be leaving later today. Thank you very much for this interview.
RENICH: Well, thank you. It's certainly gone quickly.
END OF TAPE