Billy Graham Center
Collection 293 - Melvin David Suttie. T1 Transcript
This is a complete and
accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Melvin David
Suttie (CN 293, T1) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words
have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood
by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear
in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If
the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said,
"[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible
or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations
such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted
to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard
English word the speaker was expressing.
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,"
if that is how the interviewee pronounced it. Chinese terms and phrases which
would be understood were spelled as they were pronounced with some attempt made
to identify the accepted transliteration form to which it corresponds.
Readers should remember
that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm
and rule than written English.
dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence
on the part of the speaker.
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.
This transcript, made by Ralph Covell and Robert Shuster, was completed in
ERICKSEN: This is an interview with Melvin David Suttie by Paul A. Ericksen, Missionary Sources Collection of Wheaton College. This interview took place at the offices of the Billy Graham Center Archives on January 18, 1985, at 10 a.m. [tape recorder turned off and on] Well, Reverend Suttie, I would like to begin by talking a little bit about your years growing up. I understand that you grew up in Austin, Illinois.
SUTTIE: I didn’t do very much growing up there. I left there when I was nine months old. [chuckles] We moved to Glen Ellyn which is adjacent here and I lived there, official residence there, all the way through college. I lived in a happy family of parents and six children in total, but two of them died when they were children. We attended what’s presently the Glen Ellyn Bible Church, but in those days it was a smaller group.
ERICKSEN: Did it have a name?
SUTTIE: It...it had been an old denominational church, Evangelical church, I think, connected with the Elmhurst College group, but it was practically independent at the time we were there, and ultimately became independent. And I was [pauses] planning for some kind of an engineering course in high school until one day after listening to Isaac Page of the CIM [China Inland Mission] (he was a representative in the old days) speaking at our church. He spoke of China and after that service, I think I must have been a junior at that time in high school, I felt the Lord wanted me in China and with the CIM, and so from then on I changed my goal from a secular school to a...Wheaton [College], and it carried on like that. I made my...or what I think of [as] a firm commitment to the Lord when I was about sixteen, though I’m sure I had followed the Christian way, I know, but this was sort of a tidewater mark, and then I had my goal ever since listening to Dr. Page, had my goal for China. It changed a lot of my years of preparation, of course, and what I had planned. My older sister had been here before me and a younger sister followed me and a brother had one year here, so we’ve got sort of a Wheaton background. Our two daughters graduated here and our son had one year here before going to the university.
ERICKSEN: A Wheaton family. You mentioned Isaac Page. Of course, you met him at the church that first time. Did you get to know him better after that?
SUTTIE: Yes...not too much personal dealings with him until I went to seminary and saw him again when he visited the school and had a chat and some upsetting conversations then because he was of the old school. This was in a period of time when CIM was just beginning to change. They had had a rule – no married missionaries. Then they began to let up bit by bit. Of course, Dr. Page was of the old school. At that time I was very much enamored of the girl who became my wife and I couldn’t quite figure how I was going to go to China, married, because they didn’t want…. Well, later on I talked to Dr. Glover, who was home mission...home secretary then, and he said, “Well, it isn’t...let’s say it’s not quite absolute.” And so he said, “If you want to get married, then that’s the way. You go ahead, then apply.” But I felt very closely drawn to Isaac Page. He was a kind of great fellow, very enthusiastic, had been in western China long before my time.
ERICKSEN: You say he was enthusiastic. What else...what else do you remember about him? What kind of fellow…?
SUTTIE: Oh, very jovial. He made a good public orations man and very dedicated, of course, to the commission of the mission. I don’t know just why he was home then. I suppose either his years or his experience made him more valuable at home at the time as a representative, but that’s...that’s about all I can say. My memories are quite fond of him, although I didn’t really know him all that personally.
ERICKSEN: Okay. [pauses] Let’s back up a little. You mentioned that you went to what is now the Glen Ellyn Bible Church. Did the church have an active missions emphasis?
SUTTIE: Yes, Reverend Holdorff [?] was the pastor at the time, had been for about twenty years when he left. And of our young peoples’ group, course it’s different than others because it included everybody from the teens up to the early twenties. But of that group, quite a number of us went to the foreign fields. Dorothy Isel and Marjorie Isel and Marion Isel - different names now, but Dorothy went to Africa, and of course Marj married [J.] Strat [Stratton] Shufelt [see BGC Archives Collection 224], and Marion married Bill Kerr. And she...they went to Tibet area first, but that was just at the time the area was closing and they changed down to someplace in Southeast Asia, not sure which country. Then there were a couple...three, who went into home missions. Mr. and Mrs. Artur Gattman [?] were in Kentucky for a while, home missions work. Then John Strable [?] and his wife were doing American Sunday School work in Pennsylvania. Later, one of my...my college...high school classmates, Eva Sutherland [?], went with TEAM (whatever its name was back then) [in 2008 called The Evangelical Mission, earlier called the Scandinavian Alliance Mission]. She went to Africa and later to Japan and Okinawa. So there were quite a few that were in missionary service and home missionary service. So we had a...had quite an emphasis on missions in the church.
ERICKSEN: What do you think was the infl...the greatest influence in the church that led to all these different folks…?
SUTTIE: Well, back in the...oh, this would have been in the early...well, late ‘20s, Dr . William McCarrell, who had who had been pastor of the Cicero Bible Church, had been out once a week for Bible studies and this is about the time we became interested in the church. And his ministry together with Rev. Holdorff [?], who was very evangelistically inclined and mission inclined. I suppose it is those elements. Of course, Moody [Bible Institute]...proximity to Moody and a lot of our friends went in there to the evening school or something like that, so that all geared together directed this church’s emphasis that way.
SUTTIE: I am very glad I had a chance to spend my teen’s years in the church.
ERICKSEN: Go back one step further. You mentioned your conversion. Can you tell me the time when you...can you tell me the circumstances of that?
SUTTIE: Oh, I must have been around sixteen. The church had tent meetings at that time in a lot quite close to the church in an empty area and we had different speakers. That was when William McCarrell was out and had some services and I don’t remember any others. T. Leonard Lewis, who was a graduate of Wheaton somewhat before me [class of 1931]. He was pastor of a church in Oak Park [the Harrison Street Church] and he would come out for meetings and any rate I couldn’t tell you the time but it was after one of these evenings of service that I felt the Lord wanted a commitment on my part. And I gave it. But as I say I, had been reared in this all along so I don’t.... I suppose that’s what I mark as a turning point although there was nothing drastic, except a commitment
ERICKSEN: When you decided initially to become a missionary, how did your folks feel about this?
SUTTIE: Oh, I think they were quite willing and happy. Of course, that was made when I was about seventeen years of age. And it was...I was twenty-six before I got to the field. But they found no objection. They were quite happy...not happy to have me go, but happy to have me go if I wanted to.
SUTTIE: So it was a very loving family and all Evangelical-inclined, so had a very happy time. Strong family ties continue for the family that is left.
ERICKSEN: Other than Mr. Page, were there any other missionaries that you can recall during those year’s meetings?
SUTTIE: No, not really. There was a Mr. Hess. I think he was from Wheaton and he was in Africa, but he had some friends in our church and I met him. But I think that was the closest tie, Dr. Page. And, of course, my Sunday school teacher after I had decided I was going to China, he got me the first volume of Hudson Taylor’s life, that big thing, and later on I got the second (I don’t know from him or not), and those other readings, of course, confirmed my interest in being in China. I think I still have those old books, but they are way out of print now...way out of style, that edition.
ERICKSEN: Thinking about the [Wheaton] College now, what was the..what kind of reputation did the College have in the community around it? Remember?
SUTTIE: Oh, I...I think it was quite appreciated. Of course, there were elements that didn’t appreciate it but I...I think it was very well accepted. Of course, back in those days it was six hundred people only and much less fame and notoriety than it has now, but, of course, in the circles in which I moved it was THE place.
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. What circles wasn’t it appreciated by?
SUTTIE: Oh, I can’t mention anything in particular...
SUTTIE: ...but, of course, Wheaton’s stand on some things was a little stricter than some elements, so some elements would have thought...would have thought, “Well, it was a little bit of a fanatical group.” But no, I don’t know anything derogatory except that some just didn’t, as today, some don’t quite go along with the emphasis. No, as far as I know it is held in high reputation in Wheaton area and in our area.
ERICKSEN: Was studying at Wheaton as hard then as it is reputed to be now?
SUTTIE: Not from what I hear from my daughters and what I hear...what I read now. I marvel at the breadth of training that kids get. Of course, it is just a sharper set I suppose, but they are exposed to so many more things today than we were. But it wasn’t play and I had to work at it.
SUTTIE: Sometimes wonder if I would make it now.
ERICKSEN: Which...since you decided to come to Wheaton at the point where you changed your interest from engineering to working as a missionary, did you know what you wanted to major in or had you not decided?
SUTTIE: Well, I just decided to major in history ‘cause I was interested in it and I thought this was general background. I took some necessary evil of Greek and so on, but it was a liberal arts course, Bible and a major in history. Of course, I guess now days they take a couple of majors but then it was history for me and Bible, maybe if there was a minor. I can’t remember if they called them minors in those days.
ERICKSEN: Any outstanding professors that you remember in the history department?
SUTTIE: Well, Dr. [Orrin E.] Tiffany, if I am not mistaken, was one of my teachers. I remember Dr. [Darien] Straw. Of course, he wasn’t in history. And Dr. [Elsie S.] Dow. They were in literature, but no, I can’t really remember others in the history [department]. As I say, I took the necessary number of hours, but I rather took the whole gamut of school some science and some others.
ERICKSEN: Why is it Dr. Straw and Dr. Dow...why did they...? Why did they...?
SUTTIE: Oh, they were characters, as you would have heard, and I had only one course under Dr. Dow, but I had a couple under Dr. Straw and just their personalities. Real saints. [chuckles]
ERICKSEN: Did they have a different way of running a class than most of the other faculty or...?
SUTTIE: Oh, I don’t remember too much about that, except that I know when Dr. Straw would come for the time of devotions (I suppose they still have it, a student leads prayer or something) and he was always quite.... Well I don’t know, he just would have it. I don’t really know he had prayers and so on, I guess his personality just stood out. I would not at this age try to remember anything more specific than that.
ERICKSEN: Okay. Can you describe what the spiritual climate of the College was when you were here?
SUTTIE: It was quite warm, I believe. I lived at home and so I didn’t get in as much first-hand as those who lived here, but they had the Student Volunteer...whatever they called Foreign Mission Fellowship, I guess, back then. And they had their Tuesday night prayer meetings and, as I say, I got to some of them, but I was normally at home before then. And they had the groups that were going to Chicago (only not as extensively as they have them now, from what I read) and they had gospel teams. And it was...it was a warm Christian atmosphere. And the chapel was appreciated by most. Of course, we had to go every day then. I don’t know if they do that today or not.
ERICKSEN: Only four days a week now.
SUTTIE: Uh-huh. And I enjoyed the great variety of speakers. I would say it was very warm spiritual climate. I appreciated it.
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. Were you in any small prayer group? Were there small prayer fellowships that you were in?
SUTTIE: I wasn’t in any. I suppose there were some groups in the houses the kids lived in and, say, Tuesday night prayer meetings had its group that attended and it was much larger but I
did not normally stay for that. I rode my bike back and forth and got home before that late normally.
ERICKSEN: How did you find being a commuter at Wheaton? Did...did that affect your building friendships---?
SUTTIE: Oh, I am sure it did some, because I wasn’t in where all the bull-sessions were, but I had enough contacts. I worked on the Tower [the College yearbook] when I was a junior, worked very closely with the editor, Bob Nicholas, and with the crew and so I had close contacts. And I was an officer in my senior year and I knew pretty well the whole class.
SUTTIE: And so had some close ties, but I am sure not as close as if you lived on the campus all the time.
ERICKSEN: Sure. But it didn’t...didn’t isolate you.
SUTTIE: Oh, no. I was in more than I wanted to be. [chuckles] I was drafted into this and that.
ERICKSEN: I noticed that from some records that you were in one of the literary societies.
SUTTIE: Yes, Arrows, Aristonians. I don’t know if they keep these things. Do they have them around now days? I guess I haven’t heard much about them.
ERICKSEN: Not that I know of. What was that?
SUTTIE: Yes, there were...it was a group that met Friday nights. There were, oh, I think six: three girls and three mens, groups that would meet together. And it was really...they were...we had prepared speeches, and we would do this or that preparation, and then they would have the extemporaneous speaking, and they would have all kinds of thing that you would do on the spur of the moment. And we had lots of parliamentary procedure drill, Doyle Brewington [class of 1934], was one of the fellows (he was just ahead of me one year), but he always gave me a chuckle in the parliamentary drill procedure he would make a motion that we would petition the College so we could have a St. Vitus dance. Of course, dancing was out and so just humorous things. And then they would have some social events, but mainly it was just that a literary group, practice your speaking and then....
ERICKSEN: Do you remember any speeches that you gave?
ERICKSEN: That went well or went poorly?
SUTTIE: No, I didn’t file that. If I did file it, it was in file thirteen.
ERICKSEN: Okay. What do you remember about Dr. [J. Oliver] Buswell [president of the College]?
SUTTIE: Well, I had a Bible class and a theism and ethics class with him, I think, was all the personal contact, except I very much appreciated his stand on Evangelical things. And of course, at that time he was at odds with some of the denominational emphasis on things. And I guess, later on, he probably left the group and got into another branch of the Presbyterian church. But I liked him very much and he was one of the youngest presidents in the country, I think, when he was elected in his late twenties . When I got there he was in his thirties, but I very much appreciated his presentations on subjects and his mixing his chapel talks and so on, although I could not pin point any one. And such a much smaller group on the campus then than now, why we felt a little more like we knew each other.
ERICKSEN: Did you ever have a chance to go to his home?
SUTTIE: Oh, I am sure I would, not alone, but, you know, with groups. I could not pinpoint this far away any particular ones. We got into lots of personal contacts with different professors, nice chats with them. But when you have a student body four times the size now, I am sure it is quite different. But of course, you have that many more faculty too.
ERICKSEN: Was he...was he a firm professor? Did he sort of pass out the knowledge and everyone take notes?
ERICKSEN: Or was he more of an opened structure kind of...?
SUTTIE: Oh, well he, of course, he had his outlines and all, but I am sure he wasn’t a dictator. I mean, “This is the law, follow it.” There was room for discussion. I have not been to Bible school per se, but I understand there they take a lot of notes and you sort of.... Of course, that may not be true but from what I heard, far more prescribed than college. It was more open for discussion and still, of course, they had...his principles he stuck to in subjects. I think that would be pretty true all along the line.
ERICKSEN: As you look back now, are there courses that you are glad you took...
SUTTIE: Oh, yes.
ERICKSEN: ...in preparation for the mission field?
SUTTIE: Well, I am glad for the Bible courses. I can’t say as much for Greek. I took it thinking it would be useful, but I was never that much of a linguist, and so.... I did appreciate the few science courses I took in zoology. And I had a course on evolution under Dr. [John W.] Leedy. And I enjoyed the viewpoint, the perspective. Otherwise, I wouldn’t say anything in particular. It was a liberal [arts education], and that is what I got, the whole gamut.
ERICKSEN: Anything, looking back, that you wish you would have taken that might have stood you in better stead on the field?
SUTTIE: Not really! As I...as the courses that were offered there, I don’t think of them at this time.
SUTTIE: I don’t think there were particular courses on missions per se in those days that I am sure they must have now, more specialized courses. We got a lot of touches with the visiting missionaries, etcetera. But I am quite happy with my college days.
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. Sometime while you were at Wheaton you met Mary Cromer. When was that?
SUTTIE: Well, she was a transfer from Maryville. She had been there two years and her father thought that he would like to have her transfer to Wheaton for the last two years. Actually she was nothing more than a classmate in our college days. I recognized her, like I did with the rest of the class, but it meant nothing to me. At that time with the CIM emphasis of going to China single, I had no...by the time I got into college I had no intention of marrying before Wheaton. In fact, I steered away from girls, I dated very little until my senior...a few necessary things. So, she was just a very pleasant class member, so that is all I can say then. My special interest came when I took my first year seminary in Biblical Seminary in New York. I had a...I stayed out of college a year and worked, not knowing what I wanted to do in further training. I didn’t particularly want to go to Moody [Bible Institute], because I didn’t care to live in after having been a college graduate, didn’t care to go back there living at home. And then during that year working (and I was fed up with studying actually, after all those concentrated years) my thought was directed to Biblical Seminary and they had offered some scholarships and I could use that. It kind of helped, so I applied and went. Some other Wheaton students were there and Mary Beth (that’s Mary Elizabeth) had gone to Biblical directly from Wheaton. So when I got there she was in her second year. She was mastering in Religious Education. And I think I knew she was there but that was about all, but she tells me, or told me, that she was a welcoming committee that year for new students, and she saw my name on the list, and, of course, she recognized it. It was from Wheaton. Some of her friends joshed her and said, “Well, Mel Suttie is coming.” She said, “What difference does that make? He doesn’t date girls.” Of course, as far as they knew I had a girl back home. Because I didn’t really date her on college. But she had met me at the door when I came in, and well, because we were from Wheaton and I was in a strange city, a strange climate, that was a particular attraction for getting acquainted and I spent more time with her, but it wasn’t very long till it was quite steady. I would say from that night on it was her, but not love at first sight. But that’s how I came in contact with her in a meaningful way.
ERICKSEN: And then, you were married in 1938?
SUTTIE: Yes, we...she finished after my first year because she had taken her two years and gotten her master’s. I was in a three-year program and by the end of that first year we were engaged and I wasn’t very happy to see her going off in some Christian Education appointment for some church. And with our thought of China and she was in line for this (she thought of China), I suggested and she went along with it, poor dear, to take a one-year concentrated course in nursing at Booth Memorial Hospital, which is a Salvation Army hospital in New York, Lower Manhattan. And a lot of girls who were going to the mission field went there and got some basic nursing course, so I sort of twisted her arm and she enrolled and went there. And I had the joy of having her nearby and she had the sorrow of all the discipline and hard work. [chuckles] So...and then at the end of the second year because of the...at the end of my second year and her year of nursing, we had decided that we would marry that fall because Dr. [Robert] Glover of the CIM has said.... “Well if we wanted to go out as a married couple, we should be married at least a year before applying,” which, I think, is a very wise thing. So we didn’t end up green [inexpereinced] with a wife and green with China at the same time. And so we decided we would get married. But at that time Biblical was a bit...having a little bit of financial trouble, and we were not sure it was going to open. And here I...we wanted to go married and we were not sure what the future would be. So, in the long run I decided I would transfer to Biblical...to Omaha Presbyterian Seminary, because by that time I had joined the Presbyterian church and had been working there. But, as it turned out, Biblical did open and we were...and our scholarship arrangements would have continued. But we went to Omaha and I am not at all sorry, really because it took me out of the tensions of New York City and let me live in a much more calm atmosphere in the Midwest (because I am a Midwesterner) and it was a very happy year at school. I had a little pastorate my senior year as a student pastor for a little church. Mary Beth and I drove up, went on a bus up, to a town fifty miles north of Omaha on Sundays; came back sometimes with seventy or seventy-five eggs. Country people would load us down with eggs. I remember one Sunday we went home with about six dozen and we already had three or four dozen we had not eaten from before – we had a hundred and some eggs; good thing we didn’t know about cholesterol in those days. But that was a very happy year. We were glad we made the choice. The change...I thought of Princeton, but I wasn’t that fond of having to study Greek and Hebrew at the level at which Princeton would have required it, especially after I had finished two years in seminary. And I would have...I think it would have been a little stricter than I would have cared for. So that’s why we opted for Omaha and I have not been sorry. The school had all it could take when I graduated; it closed up pretty soon. I think about ’42 they closed the school and students then were sent either to McCormick in Chicago or San Anselmo in California. So, that...that was my end of the Omaha situation
ERICKSEN: What was the affiliation of the seminary in New York?
SUTTIE: It was undenominational. Dr. Wilbert White, who was the president, had been United Presbyterian and he was United Presbyterian, but he had the conviction that the seminaries in those days were too much on Greek and Hebrew and theology and all that. And he felt the need of more stress on English Bible. And so Biblical at that time had Hebrew and Greek, but they stressed English Bible, so they wanted us to become thoroughly familiar with the English Bible. And that was his strong point. And I think it was appreciated because people from lots of different schools would go there, lots of different churches. Some of the churches required that their students then maybe take a little bit in their own denominational seminaries, and of course, that isn’t why I changed, but it worked out well. It was never a large school, one, two hundred people. But it was co-ed and Evangelical but not fundamental, shall we say, in the sense of fundamentalism now. They stuck to the Evangelical and the fundamental things, but they were being nondenominational and having students from all the different persuasions. They stress one phase against the other. They tried to get us acquainted through the Scriptures, what the Scriptures say about the thing. So I was happy with my two years there. Probably would have been happy with a third year except I would have had to write a thesis and I wasn’t interested in that. [chuckles] But that isn’t why I changed schools.
ERICKSEN: Can you tell me a little about your immigration from Bible church background into the United Presbyterian Church?.
SUTTIE: Well, put it this way. I came to Wheaton, and Dr. Buswell was Presbyterian. I don’t know about the Presbyterian church being known in those days. In fact, I hardly knew there was such a thing, it was a small town out here. And I think several others were Presbyterian and I rather liked their approach to things. The doctrine I approved of and, I think the manner of church government appealed to me. So when I went to New York, in working through the seminary we had practical assignments, practical work assignments. My first assignment was in a Lower East Side mission. And that pastor had been Presbyterian, although it was not a Presbyterian mission. And then, my second year, I was assigned to a Presbyterian church in Upper Manhattan to work with the youth and Sunday school, etcetera, but apart from that, Mary Beth was a Presbyterian minister’s daughter and I, going out to China and going to take ordination, I thought I would prefer ordination in an established denomination for the ties and support, and so on. So that is why I did...during my senior year of seminary I did unite with the church of which my father-law-was pastor at the time, although it was mainly just a nominal alignment, because I wasn’t living there. [tape recorder turned off and on]
ERICKSEN: Go ahead.
SUTTIE: Well, that’s about it. I joined that church when I was a senior in seminary. I mean, I had been in the church, but I was ordained through that presbytery in Indiana. And then we were finishing seminary a year in May. And the mission, CIM, we had been in correspondence with them during that year, but they hadn’t accepted yet. We hadn’t attended their orientation course. And the little church that I had been serving wanted to know if I would continue as pastor. And here I was on the spot, because normally seniors take appointments of churches before they get out of school. “Well,” I said, “I can’t really do it because if I am accepted by the mission, we are going to go.” But in the long run, they said, “All right, just carry on the way you are as a student, week by week,” but when I graduated we did move up to.... Craig, Nebraska, that was the name of the town. One of the families made available a room or two so my wife and I could move up at the close of school in May, but sure enough in June or late May we got our invitation to join the CIM orientation course, so it’s a good thing I didn’t make anything firm with the church. And we went to Toronto where they had the orientation course for six weeks and were accepted and so then we were all set to get ready for China.
ERICKSEN: Can you tell me about those six weeks of orientation?
SUTTIE: Well, they were very pleasant ones. We got to know folks from the US who were there, and we got to know some Canadians who were there. We got in touch with the...some of the CIM leaders. And the purpose was to...basically they wanted us to get acquainted with the CIM on a personal basis and know some of the people, know a little more of their principles and practices. And too, they wanted to see whether we had any aptitude for learning a foreign language. I think basically it was to get acquainted with us, they wanted to see what we were like. Because you can’t tell just from books...by papers etcetera. And it was a very pleasant time. Maybe it wasn’t six...it seems to me it was six weeks, but it was some place in that bracket. And then the crux of the matter was when we had to meet the council and find out after that whether we were going to be accepted or whether we would have to reorient our lives again, but we were accepted.
ERICKSEN: How did that work? Did you both go in together to meet the council?
SUTTIE: I’m sure, no. Because...well, we would have met them separately, alone. But they wanted to know what we were like as individuals, too. As Dr. Glover told me, if we got married, then they would have to consider us as a couple. They couldn’t accept one and not the other, but I am sure they would want to know what we were like individually as well as together. I think that is a very wise policy and, of course, nowadays, the big practice is to go out married, if you are going to get married. And I notice that in the CIM nowadays they take children, I mean couples that have two, three or four children even. I wouldn’t have wanted it. I was glad that we didn’t have any at the time. It was enough of a job getting used to China, just a couple!
ERICKSEN: Do you remember anything particular about that meeting with the council that you had?
SUTTIE: [chuckles] No, not really. The only thing, the fact that they finally did accept us, I guess. I am sure they were asking us questions about why we went to China...wanted to go, but, of course, we would have written that. As I say, I am sure they were just trying to sense what our spirit was and all.
ERICKSEN: You mentioned that they tried to ascertain your ability to language. How did they do that?
SUTTIE: Well, they gave us some little lessons in exposure to what the Chinese called “radicals” – the things of which the characters are made up. Don’t ask me now what they are, because after thirty years I have forgotten them. But we studied that and we tried to learn the tones a bit. And, of course, we learned what the radicals were and we learned a bit about how they are composed. But, it was very superficial, but it was enough to let them know whether we were just...could learn or not. And I think my wife learned faster than I did. Certainly her intonation was much better, because as you can tell from this interview, I suppose I am a bit more of a monotone and to get all of these five or nine tones in, it was pretty much of a trick for me even to hear. But we got along and, as I say, my wife was far acuter on the tonal qualities. But we go along to lessons and exams and speak in Chinese by the time we had been there some time. But I am sure I spoke Chinese with an American accent. [laughs] Like we used to hear these Swedish missionaries speak in English in a Swedish accent, and I guess they spoke Chinese maybe in a Swedish accent too. But Chinese Christians are quite understanding...I mean sympathetic.
ERICKSEN: Other than the issue of going to China married or not, we there any other issues that had to be negotiated before you joined?
SUTTIE: Well, we...they wanted to know if we accepted the CIM policy of a “faith mission” and we understood that. And, otherwise, no, there was nothing.... I agreed with the principles at the time, except I differed with the marriage question, after I once became enamored of my wife, the girl I was going to be marrying. I think because I had had several years’ chance to read and study, six or seven years from the time I decided on the CIM that I was pretty well oriented to it...
SUTTIE: ...and there weren’t any great problems.
ERICKSEN: So, after you were accepted you were called up for orientation and finished orientation, what did you do after orientation?
SUTTIE: Well, they didn’t officially accept us until after orientation.
SUTTIE: And then that we had.... Well, I suppose we had a few weeks. I can’t remember. That must have been in July that we finished that. Then we went home and began assembling our outfits and speaking to church groups as we had opportunity. We were...we left home in...sometime in September, so we didn’t have too long a period, maybe six weeks or so, seven weeks. Went up to Vancouver. We were going to sail on the Empress of Japan, I think was the name of that boat. But it was in early September that the European war broke out. We were to have sailed in early...at the end of September, but because Canada was involved as part of the empire, their ship had to be armored, put on some guns and mounted. So our departure was delayed for two or three weeks; so we spent that time in the CIM home in Vancouver and then sailed in early October for my first awful seasick experience.
ERICKSEN: You had a lot of seasickness?
SUTTIE: Oh, I’m a great sailor – on a pond. No, I had my share of it. I never really enjoyed crossing the big oceans. When we came home from China, finally, we skirted along the...through Singapore, along there, it was much smoother for us and I enjoyed those rides. But the Pacific and Atlantic didn’t...were not fond of me.
ERICKSEN: How long was the trip across?
SUTTIE: I think it was two weeks, as I remember, or very close to it. We stopped at Hawaii for a few hours, stopped at Japan few hours, otherwise went straight through.
ERICKSEN: Was it because of the CIM policy on fund raising that you were able to leave so quickly. You didn’t apparently have to do....
SUTTIE: No, I appreciated that. They called us for our share of faith, as it were, but they don’t (I don’t think they do now) require the individual (I am sure that don’t)...they don’t require the individual to get guaranteed because missionaries who go out share in the common.... The mission has an apportionment for each field, what they will get. And that’s why we went, yes. I know a couple with three or four children now that are wanting to go to Colombia with one of the faith missions to teach in their school and very essential work, but they have to get their work supply of funds. And with a family of three or four children, that’s not easy. And so they are lingering on month after month; he quit his teaching job and is living with his in-laws. That never appealed to me. I know another young lady that is going out with another mission to Europe, and she can’t get away as soon as she wants to because of this very fact. Now they have their reasons, but I wouldn’t have been happy under that situation. So that, in answer to your question, that is why when we were accepted they let us join the group that was going out from Canada and England and Australia. They were geared to arrive in Japan about time for a united language school. I shouldn’t be hard on the other faith missions’ ways of doing things, but I would not have wanted.... And the CIM doesn’t use that.
ERICKSEN: It sounds like you enjoyed the circumstances under which you....
SUTTIE: Yes, I probably...I probably would never have felt that I was going out and campaign for my own funds, personally. That was....
ERICKSEN: Do you remember any of the other folks who were part of the party you went out with, that you were close to?
SUTTIE: Oh, yes, Larry Hess, Dr. Lawrence Hess, was a Wheaton graduate a few years before me, because he was already through his medical school, he was part of our party. There was a John Simpson, he was from a different section of the country. Esther Nowack (I am not sure she went to Wheaton), but her sister, Ruth, did. Esther was going back to China, she was our escort. Then there were a couple of brothers from Toronto and a young lady from Toronto. We got out to the West Coast [of North America] and we were joined by some from the West Coast that hadn’t.... Well, I guess they may have gone to Toronto for the school. I don’t.... We enjoyed it. Then we got over to China. Then we met the English contingent, an Australian contingent, and we melded together and went to school together until we were separated for our classes...for our appointments. It was a great experience, quite a melding...melting pot, melding too. I remember Mr. Brownlee [?] who was a secretary in Toronto and his wife. They were telling us that (they had been Canadian)...they said that when they went to China, they were prepared for denominational differences. They were prepared to give and take on that, but they found the international cultures as a little harder to get used to, the way the British did things, and the way Americans and Australians. So that was an interesting concept. And you do, despite the fact they all are English backgrounds, we have different mores, and so on. So we...we enjoyed our time with them very much.
ERICKSEN: Do you remember the circumstances around your appointment to a particular assignment?
SUTTIE: Yes. We...we were in Shanghai for, I suppose, two or three weeks getting some things set, and then we were sent as a group up to Tsingtao or Singtao as it looks in English, Tsingtao in Shandong province. And we were sent up on a Japanese coastal boat in sort of steerage class. I think the mission was trying to see if we could take the rigors, so we were just on deck and had our bed rolls and all. We got to Tsing...Tsingtao for six months, I think it was, when the mission, having this many students, they had their own language school rather than sending us to Peking to the sort of the union school [with missionaries from many denominations and missions]. I have had my doubts of that, whether that’s wise, and yet they wanted to keep us from getting mingling with all elements of liberalism and so on. And they wanted us to get better acquainted with their own way. I think we probably missed something in the expertise in language training that we would have gotten at regular schools. But we were there and we studied with Chinese and we had a lady, a very dear lady, May Beth [May Elizabeth] Standen was her name, who was sort of our mentor during the time, sort of oversaw our work. The [C. J.] Glittenbergs were in charge of the home. The home we were in was...had been the George Scott’s home. Now the Scotts had been Presbyterian missionaries and the Scotts were the parents of Betty Scott Stam. They had that nice big home near the sea in Tsingtao but during these war years.... I mean in those years, at least, they were not there, and they offered the home to the CIM to use as a language school and also they would be custodians for the home. So we were there for six months and did mainly studying, didn’t do much speaking. Following that (we went in October, as I remember)...following that probably in April or May the field representative of the mission, Rob...R.E. Thompson. By the way, I noticed just recently he died at the age of eighty-some. He had come out of China, of course. Then...you may have met him. He was with some group that began working training missionaries here and I forget what they called it. But anyway he met with us individually and talked with us about where we were to be assigned. And Mary Beth’s and my assignment was to go up to Hebei Province, that’s south of Peking. The others were assigned here and there. But when we were assigned, then pretty soon we went on up to Tientsin and then to Peking and then down into a town called Hwailu, which is on a very hot plain in north China, very hot. We got there in maybe May (or early June) but the mission opted to give us a month off of August to go to the seaside because it was so awfully hot. And so that is where we went and then by that time things changed and we never did get back to Hwailu and our whole orientation was changed but that is another story.
ERICKSEN: So you were there a month?
SUTTIE: Two months, maybe a month or two, but we got.... There was the idea that this was our designation, this was where we.... We enjoyed it except for the awful heat and mosquitoes and living in mosquitoes nets with everything else torrid as it was. I remember lying on this bed with a fan, a big palm-leaf fan, and trying to fan my wife so she could get to sleep and then I could get to sleep. So that is why they let us go out for this summer. I mean, missionaries generally went out for a while in the awful heat.
ERICKSEN: What was involved in the mission’s decision to send you to that station, do you remember?
SUTTIE: I don’t know that I was really informed of it. There was a Canadian, and English, a mixed couple in charge there and I suppose they.... If I am not mistaken, Joy Lester who was a Wheaton grad, she was there and Dorothy Harris. I think they just thought a place for a new couple to go and getting broken in to serve in that general area. But, as I say, it didn’t turn out that way.
ERICKSEN: Before it gets too far away, you mentioned Lawrence and Esther Hess. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about them?
SUTTIE: Oh! Larry died within a couple years.
SUTTIE: He and Esther, who was our escort, got together; they were married. I don’t think there were plans at the time, but they were probably similar of age since he had been through his med. school in Canada. But as it was it took Larry with some sickness and he died. Esther stayed on in China until the days were such that we couldn’t. I don’t know where she is, she’s someplace in the country now.
ERICKSEN: Okay. Then after you were moved from Hwailu, I see that you were stationed in Honan Province in Shenkiu?
SUTTIE: Oh, that’s a later, a later.... Our first transfer after we went to this seaside resort for that month, Mary Beth came down with an illness that they decided we would have to stop in Peking and go to a hospital and it was diagnosed as pneumonia. And she was having trouble recovering from that and had some other complications, so the mission.... I am sure they were looking at the international situation at the time too, but they called us back to Shanghai so the mission doctor could check up on us. And her health improved. And then they...they reassigned us to Anhui Province which is middle China, west, and that’s where we began our practical missionary work. We were in there with the Kanes who...Dr. [J.] Herbert Kane you may have heard of [see BGC Archives Collection 182], he is one of the chief authorities in mission nowadays. He was to be our senior missionary, and he and his Winnie, who.... Winnie died just about a year before my wife died of a heart condition. But that ended our tour up in north China. But when they sent us in from Shanghai after they decided we could travel, they sent us back up to Tsingtao, and then we met Katie and Otto Schoerner [see BGC Archives Collections 51 and 55]; I see you have their names on.... At one of the railheads right in there and they escorted us through the Japanese-Chinese battle lines. And that was a tale to tell too, but were with them I suppose two weeks while we traveled by a little boat, by rickshaw, and by another river boat. We were to have gotten to Fowyang, which was a thriving church center at the time. But when we got there they were bombing the place. So Mr. Kane came out to the riverside and said we’d better not go in there then; so they sent us on down the river to another station. And that is where we met the [Vincent and Margaret Elliott] Crossetts.
SUTTIE: I see you have them on their.... [See BGC Archives Collections 287 and 288] And so we stayed with them for three or four months until the mission decided what to do with us. [chuckles] Those were all tossed-about years and they didn’t know what station.... We were to have been sent to a station in Honan where Dick Hillis was the senior missionary. We were to be his juniors. But just at that time there was a murder of missionaries in the area (I mean, of one missionary) and they decided that is no place to send us. So they sent us to Anhui. And all this time we were still very junior missionaries.
SUTTIE: But we were with the Crossetts for a while then went up the river, finally to Anhui. Oh, no. We were going to Anhui but because we were expecting our first daughter then, they sent us further up the river to a place in Honan where a CIM doctor was, so she and the nurse there could attend us in her...our need. So that’s how we.... Then, after the baby came and she wasn’t born there we had to take a trip to another mission [unclear] because of circumstances. Finally we got back to Anhui in the fall so, we had been in China two years, then, I think, and we hadn’t really got our feet into anything yet
ERICKSEN: So did you...were you ever at the station with the Hillises?
SUTTIE: No, no, because I think the Hillises had to leave too from that area. There was...it was no-man’s land and there were robber bands and all. It wasn’t the Japanese per se but it was the conflict of leaving no-man’s land and the robbers. Of course, it may have been just an isolated case, because there weren’t others who were killed, but it was very unsettled. We did get to Fowyang though and spent from 1941...late 1941 to ‘44 there. During that interim we had another trip to the same Lutheran hospital for our second daughter.
SUTTIE: But we got things into study a little more and I would take some trips with Mr. Kane, who was a senior missionary, and I was in the learning process. Could do some preaching on a minor scale to smaller groups...
SUTTIE: ...but nothing major yet.
ERICKSEN: Let’s go back to your trip with the Schoerners. You said it was an ordeal in itself.
SUTTIE: Oh, I tell you. I.... It was no-man’s land, so we could the train only so far. Then we had to get off and go by small boat. Now I suppose...you say small boat, maybe thirty feet long, maybe twelve feet wide. And they were little things that would cruise all along the little streams. And there was a way worked out where we were to have taken this little boat, and we did. One night it was bitterly cold for those. We thought so because we were out in the middle of the winter in this open thing and we tried to keep as warm as we could, travel all night and.... One place we came to a place where the Nationalist Army had a military cordon along the river and they had a pontoon dam across there. And so we came up to that and Mr. Schoerner had to do some high talking to get them to let us go through there and finally explain where we were going. All of this was sort of romance land until we came to those troops, then we got through and finally came to a Southern Baptist mission station in [?] and that – I don’t know the absolute degrees in temperature but it sure was frigid because they weren’t centrally heated homes. We had a little wood-burning stove. We were there for a couple days and then we went on our way to another boat and finally worked our way down the rivers to where the Crossetts were. And then another boat back up to where we were set for the coming of our daughter.
ERICKSEN: Did you ever feel like you were in danger on any kind of a trip?
SUTTIE: Oh, we weren’t in actual fighting. We could hear guns in the distance. And, of course, traveling at night was always spooky when you didn’t know where you were; I suppose the Schoerners knew little more than we knew. I had some cross purposes with a Japanese guard at one place. Of course, he was...he was...he was trying to tell me something, and I couldn’t understand. And I was transgressing a law by crossing a railroad where I shouldn’t. Well, he got mad and gave me a slap in the face and a kick in the shins, but that’s one way he communicated to me. [laughs] But, no I can’t say we were dreadfully afraid. Of course, we got outside the city of Fowyang and could see the planes bombing it, and that wasn’t anything calculated for peace. But, otherwise.... When we came into the area of Choujiko [?] where we were to go during the confinement for my wife, we had...our little boat had a wreck. Ran across a rock on the river bottom and tore a hole in the bottom of this little boat. All our earthly possessions we had along were in there and they were getting wet and so we had to get out quickly and some boats came in from the shore, from a little village, and moved the things. My wife had to sit beside what was taken across, less it was stolen while I...while we were gone. So she went with the first load, and I stayed with the last until we got there. We had to spend the night in a little unarmed, unwalled village. And they had always told us, “Don’t do that in this bandit country,” but there was no other way to do it. We safely negotiated that night and got them to safety. So there were quite some rough experiences, but looking back I would hate to do them. But of course, we were very young and stronger and didn’t mind. [chuckles]
END OF TAPE
Send us a message.
Return to BGC Archives
Last Revised: 2/28/07
© Wheaton College 2007