This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Sadie Custer (CN 470, T2) 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.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and 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.
This transcript was made by Noel Collins Pfeifer and Bob Shuster was completed in April 2010.
SHUSTER: You mentioned....
CUSTER: [interrupts] It's the little things that mean an awfully lot to the people.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. So, in other words, knowing their culture, knowing the things that are courteous and are accepted as important.
CUSTER: Uh huh.
SHUSTER: You mentioned how that really very quickly, within a couple years after this church was functioning, it was being run by Chinese and you were more of an advisor and teacher. That's different in your experience of living in another part of China where they took a long time. Why do you think there was a difference between...?
CUSTER: [interrupts] I think the Lord gave our mission a vision for the indigenous church way back in 1933 before I got there. They had a...this was in our area, now. I don't know about other areas. But in our little area, they had a ten year plan. The first year the churches that we were supporting mission...pastors supported by the mission. The first year the church paid one tenth of their salary and the mission paid nine tenths. The second year the church paid two tenths and the mission paid eight tenths. Every time I got there, they were about half way through. I came in '36. And every one of those churches had taken over th complete support of their pastors. They were completely self-supporting. Look how the Lord was in this. When the Communists took over, and they had taken over a while, they had a conference up in Sian. Every church had to send representatives.
SHUSTER: You mean the Communists had the concept?
CUSTER: The Communists, yeah. Every church had to send representatives. They had a speaker from Peking, the Religious Affairs Bureau leader. I don't remember what his name was. And he preached to them the Three Selfs [Communist policy imposed on Christian denominations in China after 1949]. "You must be self-propagating...." And the leaders all sat there and listened to that. When it was over, our leader said, "We've been that for years." "Well, who does all your evangelist work?" "We do." "What do the missionaries do?" "What we ask them to do, they teach, we want to have conferences, Bible schools, we've started a Bible school and they do what we ask them to do." Well, they lost out on that one. Then, it had to be self-governing and the same thing happened. And when he...typical Chinese polit[ness] - they let him harangue on for an hour or two. And when he got all finished, they said, "We've done that...we've been in control of our churches for years." "Well, when you have a meeting, who chairs the meeting?" "We do." "Well, what do the missionaries do?" "They only come when we invite them when we need advice when we need help." "Well, who runs your church?" "We do." Then it came to self-supporting and the guy from Peking really got the shock of his life because he thought he had them there.
CUSTER: And when he finished, here was the only one supported with foreign funds, the YMCA. [Young Men's Christian Association]. Well, when that conference was over, he...the government sent papers for every member of the church, everybody had to sign this paper: "My church will be self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating, three self."
SHUSTER: All the pastors had to sign these or...?
CUSTER: Every member, every single member had to sign it. Yeah. "These innocent little farmers...." "Yeah, so what? That's we are, so what? " So they all signed it. Then a few months passed and this church comes along to...the government leader comes along to the church leaders and says, "You signed a paper you're self-supporting. We saw the missionaries sitting in your church and she put offering in the money...money in the offering plate." So, the church leaders had to come to us and say, "Please don't put any money in the offering plate. We signed that paper and it can't...." They said, "We have warned our people. You come in, don't even touch the plate, we warned them, they'll pass it around in front of you." [chuckles] Then after a few more months they came along (weeks, I don't remember now) and said, "Look, we love to have you come to our homes, but we signed a paper 'We're self-propagating.' The government says you're propagating because you're coming to our homes." We had cottage meetings [Bible studies and prayer meetings]. So we couldn't go to their homes anymore. Then the last straw came. Now the government didn't come, the church leaders had to come. Then the last straw came, "Please don't come to church anymore, they say you're governing our church." So, there was nothing we could do, we had to ask for permission to come out. [leave China]
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. Gradually squeezed out.
CUSTER: You don't...you could never blame the Communists for anything, they're so subtle.
SHUSTER: When you were...in the '30s and '40s when you were in Shensi and church planting, Bible teaching, was...were you...was the church effected at all by the continuing fighting between the Communists and the Kuo Min Tang?
CUSTER: No, they weren't in our area.
SHUSTER: How about the...?
CUSTER: [interrupts] At that time.
SHUSTER: How about the war with Japan?
CUSTER: There were bombings and that was the only thing.
SHUSTER: What was bombed?
CUSTER: Well, the first bomb I was at our headquarters. One of our ladies was dying with spinal meningitis. And the planes came over on Saturday and bombed the airfield.
SHUSTER: This was in New Market?
CUSTER: No, this was in Hanshung[?], the center station. I had been called in to help nurse this lady. Then, Sunday morning at the church service, at that time, the alarm went again. And they quickly dispersed the church because they didn't want a lot of people in one place. They'd get them home and away as quickly as they could and the missionaries all came home and we were all up in this sick lady's room. And they bombed. We got...I forgot, I think it was a six thousand pound bomb, something, all within a stone's throw of our house. And the windows went out and the doors went down and the plaster came down and so so. And then when it was over, the Chinese doctor came running in, he said, "Oh, they're coming back." Chiang Kai-Shek had been in in the plane that had been destroyed the day before." We didn't know that. They only bombed the airplane...the airport on Saturday and destroyed the plane that Chian Kai-Shak's. And they thought they had him stuck in the city. The military general's house was right next to our mission station, that's why we got the benefit of all the bombs.
SHUSTER: Was that a frequent occurrence?
CUSTER: No, no that was the first one we had, that was our introduction to it.
SHUSTER: When was that? About when was that?
CUSTER: 1940. Then we put the sick lady on a tent bed and we carried her through because our house was in shambles. And we carried her over to the doctor's house and stayed there until afternoon. Then the superintendent's wife said, "Well, I'll go home see if I can find something to eat." And her husband went to the bus station to see if he could find a truck to take us away to a neighboring station and he got outside the city, just outside the police...the soldier's station and...or maybe it was a police station. I can't.... Soldier's, I think it was. And the alarm went off, the urgent one when you can't move. Well, he ducks into the station and....
SHUSTER: [interrupts] The air raid alarm.
CUSTER: Air raid, yeah. He heard all the reports coming in,. Twenty-three heavily laded bombs on their way to our city, to lay it flat. He could see it from outside the city. He said the clouds came and completely covered the [Chinese word] mountain range, very high mountain range north of us, between us and Sian and it completely covered the mountains. They couldn't get through, they had to go to a town eight days south of us and they dropped their bombs on an airfield there. That's how the Lord kept us safe from that one. We took off the next morning.
SHUSTER: Took off for...?
CUSTER: An out station. This lady was so sick, we had to...our house was in shambles and needed another place to go for the time being.
SHUSTER: What was her name?
CUSTER: Helen Dalton.
SHUSTER: Were you bombed frequently [unclear]?
CUSTER: No, because I was living out in the country and I.... The town itself, the headquarters was bombed but I didn't get into it too much except you know, when I came in for something, we'd spend a few nights in an air shelter.
SHUSTER: Was there fighting in the area where you were or was it...?
CUSTER: Not really.
SHUSTER: You said you spent most of your time as a Bible teacher...
SHUSTER: ...in China and in Taiwan and in Malaysia. Why don't you describe the kind of things you did as a Bible teacher.
CUSTER: Well, we...in China, we would have devotions in the morning and then we'd have a Bible study. We had a lot of singing. And we divided in classes - one class were inquirers, those were just coming in...maybe had catechism classes for them and Bible studies for the older ones, the older believers.
SHUSTER: About how many would be in each class?
CUSTER: Oh, depending on the church. Some small churches would only have fifteen or twenty. Larger ones would have a couple hundred. And then, in the afternoon, we'd have more singing, maybe another Bible study. We had Christian evangelism classes. At night, we had evangelistic class. Oh, that was great! That was great. Evangelistic meetings.
SHUSTER: How would you describe it?
CUSTER: Well, you go out and everybody's singing and people start gathering and then....
SHUSTER: These would be people who weren't members of the church?
CUSTER: Yeah, street people. We might have it outside. If they had a street chapel, we'd have it in the street chapel, if you had a church.... Every time was different, we never, never two the same. Don't ask me to describe one because I can't do it. But then at night, we'd have this meeting, And they are so lovely, they'd say, "Okay, you and you and you, you three men sing a trio" and they'd get up and sing. You don't practice or anything. [chuckles] And then they'd say "You give your testimony."
SHUSTER: Who would say this? The pastor?
CUSTER: The evangelist leading it. Nobody knew it was coming but this is what made it so real. The street people knew all these people. They were their neighbors, you know? And they're telling how they became a Christian. And you try our church here. Could your church do that? I don't even know where you go or what it is.
SHUSTER: I mean here in the U.S., yeah, right, no.
CUSTER: What would happen if you tried to have an evangelistic meeting?
SHUSTER: We have evangelistic meetings but not, you know....
CUSTER: With some big evangelist doing it. No, this.this is what made it. This is why the church grew. That little church when we left it had sixty-five members. It has three hundred today. And every little church that.it had split because a charismatic group came in and split the church. But, it.it probably only had about twenty or twenty-five and when.. We started a little Bible school before I left because they knew our young people couldn't go away anymore. And one of my students is pastor there with two thousand members.
CUSTER: Isn't that exciting?
SHUSTER: Yes, it is. Surviving all the persecution of the Cultural Revolution and..
CUSTER: That whole area, the churches have a thousand, two thousand members; it's really growing.
SHUSTER: Are you still in touch with any of the people.?
CUSTER: No, because we didn't dare to write. I'm in touch with the ones in Malaysia. That.that just.I can't tell you how thrilled I get over that.
SHUSTER: How did you enjoy teaching?
CUSTER: Oh, I love it.
SHUSTER: What do you think you love about it?
CUSTER: Yeah. You know.you read the Bible over and over again and there's always something new. And Sunday morning, I can't get out to the church. I can't sit through it anymore. So I was listening to The Day of Discovery [Christian radio program in the Untied States] and he was talking on the names of God. "Wonderful," "Counselor," and just when I was reading it, I thought, "Hey, there's no comma between it, it's Wonderful Counselor." Well, I turned if off and prepared a little sermon of my own. [chuckles] He's the omniscient God. He knows all about you and all your children and all your family, all your illnesses because the Holy Spirit's living in you. He knows all your headaches. (I've got no end of physical problems [chuckles) and He knows all about it. And He can count them from beginning to end because He's omniscient. This is said every Sunday, I mean, that's the Bible.
CUSTER: It's alive and for these Chinese who had never heard it before.. Most of my teaching has been to groups, you know, I'm telling stories that they never heard it before.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. Well, is there any stories from the Bible that were particularly popular or effective among Chinese?
CUSTER: Can I skip over to Malaysia? Because this is bringing..
SHUSTER: [interrupts] Sure.
CUSTER: Me up to date now. Just, how much time? Are we almost at the end of this?
SHUSTER: At the end of this tape but I had some other question.
CUSTER: Well, according to Malaysia, we were only allowed to be there ten years but the Lord's in control.
CUSTER: He needed me longer and He had me there seventeen. At the end of my first ten, I was packed up ready to go and the government announced the ten years was from the time the law was made.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh, so..
CUSTER: So, I stayed on.
SHUSTER: But going back to the Bible stories, I mean, was there a Bible story that was particularly effective or.?
CUSTER: Yeah, I just want to give you this little bit of background. Then, so I stayed until I had to come home on furlough. Then I came home on.they put a second final on; couldn't come back. But, I got prayer partners and boy, I have prayer partners like you never heard of. They prayed and it was time to come back. And I didn't know if I was going, when or where. And I got a cable from Kuala Lumpor, "your furlough...your visa granted, one year final." Three finals, a total of seventeen years. And I went back and this last year, souls were saved almost every week and young people dedicating their lives to the Lord. And I'm getting letters from those young people now and it's the book of Joshua. Oh wow, I love to teach the book of Joshua to young people.
SHUSTER: Why is that?
CUSTER: His challenges. His victories and some good defeats too, you know, real life.
SHUSTER: What's a good defeat?
CUSTER: Well.let me think of a good defeat right off now,. [pauses] Not exactly a defeat, Gideon you know. "Well, let me try once more", he says to the Lord. [chuckles] Finding the will of God, you know.
CUSTER: Sort of question God a little bit. That wasn't really a defeat. But anyway, this type of thing. But now, I have one young man who was just a teenager. His name was Golden Lion. He was about fourteen years old/ And he came to me one day and said, "I'm going to go to Bible college, I want to be a missionary like you." I said, "Golden Lion, you're greedy. You've got five brothers and sisters and your father will expect you to help put those children through school, that's your custom. And if you're going to win your mom and dad, you're going to have to set a good example. "I know it, I know it," he said, "but I'm going."
CUSTER: When I left Malaysia a few years later, he said, "I'm going to Bible school, I want to do the type of work you did." Growing up, to all the little villages were to get no help and they had Bible classes with the Chinese. But he said, "God has called me to the Malays, Muslims." He said, "You can't go. If you go, you'll just get sent out of the country. They can't send me out, I'm a citizen. They can put me in prison and it may cost my life, but I'm ready. God is calling me to the Malays." That young man is at Fuller [Seminary in Pasadena, California] now. He has graduated from Singapore Bible College. In the meantime, they set up a good theological seminary in Malaysia and he's been dean of men there for a few years. Now, he's at Fuller Seminary getting his doctorate in Islamic. "I must be able to read and write and speak Arabic. I must know the Q'uran so well, I can argue with any Muslim."
CUSTER: "I must know their culture and I'm going back to Malaysia."
SHUSTER: And his name again?
CUSTER: Golden Lion is the English translation. Ben Dim Sai[?]. "Dim" is gold and "Sai" is lion. That's Hoshien, that's not Mandarin.
SHUSTER: But he's Chinese?
CUSTER: Chinese, purely Chinese.
SHUSTER: One missionary had told me that a story that's particularly effective...that he found particularly effective when he was in China was The Prodigal Son [Luke 15:11-32].
SHUSTER: Because of the filial piety and respect for parents
CUSTER: Uh-huh. Right.
SHUSTER: This had a lot of meaning to them, even hearing it for the first time.
SHUSTER: When.as a woman, as a foreign woman in China, did that effect the way people regarded you or responded to you?
CUSTER: I didn't really find that a problem. A lot of them have I know. But I didn't. I think probably it was because I was in a farming class of people and a lot of my work was with older people, although I had a lot of young people too. And of course then in more recent years, you got a few gray hairs. That just works miracles. [chuckles] Chinese culture. The older you get. I can add two years on to mine, I always died. You're a year old when you're born. I'm born in January, that makes me two years. [chuckles]
SHUSTER: All of your work pretty much was in Shensi? Did you work in other provinces as well?
CUSTER: In China, it was just the one place. Then I went to.I came out of China on May 1st, 1951 and two days later, Bishop [Frank] Houghton, our director, was speaking on Malaysia (Malaya it was in those days). He said, "We've got to go to Malaya. The Communists have almost.." [break in tape]
SHUSTER: ...continuation of the interview with Miss Sadie Custer by Robert Shuster on December 10, 1992. You were talking about hearing Houghton talking about Malaysia?
CUSTER: Yes and he said, "We must go because the Communists have almost taken it over." And I said, "No, Lord, not me." Then he said it was so dangerous that only men ought to go and I said, "Praise the Lord, let the men go. It's time they did something." And the Holy Spirit quietly said, "I want you to go." And then he said we'd have to learn a new language and I said, "I haven't finished Mandarin yet." He said the weather was so hot. You go into these little villages and they give you some boards for a house and tin roof and a cement floor and he said it's like sitting in an oven all day long. I said, "I am from Michigan, I'm from North China. That's not for me. No, Lord. No thank you." But I learned you cannot say, "No, Lord". Impossible. If you say "no", He's not Lord. If you say "Lord", you have to say "Here am I." And I got on board ship to come home. I said, "No way." And the Lord spoke to me in the middle of the ocean on Romans 12 and 1 , [12:1] our reasonable service. He said, "If I loved the Chinese in Malaysia enough to die for them, is it too much for you to go tell them? C'mon Sadie, be reasonable."
SHUSTER: When you were in.in China (you were there from '34 to '51) did you have furloughs during that time?
SHUSTER: Did you have furloughs during that time?
CUSTER: I.it was nine years my first term and then I flew over the Hump [the air route over the Himalaya Mountains between China and India, used during World War II] to India and came home that way then went back right after the war.
SHUSTER: That would have been '43.
SHUSTER: '44, you're right.
CUSTER: And I came back in '46, from '46 to '51, I was there.
SHUSTER: What were you doing from '44 to '46?
CUSTER: This Bible class work.
CUSTER: All over, Shensi province, South Shensi.
SHUSTER: From '44 to '46?
CUSTER: Uh-huh. These twenty six churches I've been talking about..
SHUSTER: [interrupts] But you just said you left China in '44 and came back in '46.
CUSTER: Yeah, I went.Oh, I was home on furlough that year, deputation work.
SHUSTER: All throughout the U.S. or just in Michigan or.?
CUSTER: Nope, just Michigan. I'm a firm believer in working your home churches.
SHUSTER: What kind of questions did people have about China? What did they want to know about your work?
CUSTER: Well, my first furlough was.you'd get a telephone call, "I understand you're from China." "Yes." "And we're looking for a speaker." "Yes." "How long were you in prison?" "I wasn't in prison." "Oh." [Both laugh] Then the next one was, "What.were you under house arrest under the Communists?" "No." That was the same. That's what they wanted.
SHUSTER: Did they have much of a conception of what life was like in China or.?
CUSTER: Depends on what church you go to. Some are well informed and some are not.
SHUSTER: When you returned to China as you mentioned, in '46, the war between the Kuomintang and the Communists had started back up again. Did that effect life in Shensi?
CUSTER: Not really. We were about the very last ones to go over, apart from having lots of refugees. We had lots of refugees come in.
SHUSTER: Did the church work among the refugees?
CUSTER: Oh yeah, they came to our church. And I remember this one man came. He was an official in the Kuomintang army. He came and he...I just have no way to describe his face, he knocked on the door and I opened the door. To find an American there, he just couldn't believe it. And he told his story, how he had become a Christian and his wife was so bitter, anytime he came home, she'd start cursing when he entered the home and she wouldn't stop cursing until he left. Well, then the Japanese came and they had to evacuate and they came to our area. And he said, "I felt so bad, I thought there will never be a church this far in the interior. I started walking down the street and I saw this sign, 'Church, Christian church'" and he knocked on the door and I appeared. [laughs] And he couldn't believe it so we had a good time of prayer and fellowship. And he said, "Now I want you to go visit my wife." And so I went with a Bible woman and the first time she was very polite and the second time, not quite so polite and then we discovered she tried to avoid us. And one time, we.we went to see her and the door was locked and I said to the Bible woman, "It's locked inside, wooden bolt." I said, "She's in there." So we went to the neighbors and we stood in the doorway, stood looking. [chuckles] It wasn't long and she opened the door and looked out and there we were so we got in. [chuckles] It was a few visits like that and she became a beautiful Christian, just a beautiful Christian, had one son. Then the Communists came and they were marked men, I tell you that family was marked.
SHUSTER: Because he was a former Kuomintang?
CUSTER: Uh-huh. Yeah. They had nothing to eat and we couldn't give them anything because everything we had an did was watched. So one day he came to me and he said, "The Lord spoke to me. I have to go and do business." I said, "But you haven't got any...." "Well, I'm going to take what I've got. I'm going to walk into Hancheng." We were about fifty kilometers down the road at that time and he said, "I'm going to do business." And he came in at night and he said, "I'm going out first thing in the morning I want you to prayer for my business." He had a little piece of cloth and in it they had a little tube of toothpaste and a handkerchief, and I don't know two or three little things, a little bundle, that was his business. He said, "I can't hand them a tract but I can put it in a bar of soap and stick it inside." And I just wept, you know, it just broke my heart to see them. But he went out and did his business, he came in at night and he said, "I gotta." And the pastor and the church leader were there and he said, "I've got to bring my tithe." And the pastor and the elder said, "You don't have to give tithes. The Lord knows you haven't got food to eat." "I have to give it, I don't dare not give it. If I don't give it, the Lord won't bless my business." He gave a few pennies and that's what happened, time after time. And every time they sold something, they would ask the person, "Have you heard the Gospel?" If they said "yes", they'd pass the tract and let it go. But anyone who had never heard [the Gospel], they would invite them on Sunday to dinner. One person, Mr. and Mrs. G and their son each had one bowl of rice for breakfast and one bowl for dinner, period. But their guests.when they had somebody for Sunday dinner, they each had a half a bowl and the guest had a bowl and a half.
SHUSTER: What happened to that family, do you know?
CUSTER: They left right after we did, I don't know. I don't know what happened. But the son was in high school. The school said, "If you will give up the Lord Jesus and your religion, you can eat at school." He said, "I'll starve to death but I won't give up the Lord." Well, that's what I left behind.
SHUSTER: Did you have much contact before the Communists took over with government officials or with Kuomintang?
CUSTER: Well, only through [clears throat] excuse me, refugees who came in.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. But not with the government officials in your province or your town?
CUSTER: Oh. I...I'm not even going to start. I've got so many stories, I don't want to lose time on that.
SHUSTER: Go ahead.
CUSTER: No, I'd rather talk about the Lord's work in Malaysia. [chuckles]
SHUSTER: Well, were the officials generally supportive or neutral or...?
CUSTER: On the whole they were.
SHUSTER: On the whole, they were neutral?
CUSTER: They supported. We didn't really have any real opposition as such.
SHUSTER: What...how...you were in the country a few months when the Communists took over.
SHUSTER: What was that like? How did that happen? How did you...?
CUSTER: See, you just name one thing and I've got a story.
SHUSTER: Well, that's why we have the tape here, to hear the stories.
CUSTER: Yeah, but you're going to get it so long, it's going to waste a lot of it. We had a gentleman (I have to tell it like it was) a gentleman coming to visit us. We called him Nicodemus because he came at night, he was wealthy, he was a university professor and he'd been several times. And this night he came, was there two hours and finally he said, "Can I be a Christian and not be baptized?" I said, "Of course you can. You aren't going to heaven because you're baptized." I said, "If that's all it takes, then why did the Lord come? He died for nothing. Go to church and get baptized. But I tell you what, Mister Su...Mr. Lu, if you become a Christian, you'll be so happy, you'll want to be baptized." That was the last thing I said to him.
CUSTER: He walked out. The middle of that night, the Nationalists walked out and the Communists came in. The first thing in the morning, the pastor and the elders came marching into my living room. "Did a tall man visit you last night?" "Yes" "What did you tell him?" "He wanted to know the way to heaven and I gave it." "He was a Communist spy." I said, "I don't care, it doesn't make a bit of difference to me." I said, "Before the Lord, I've got one job and that's to lead souls to the Lord and he wanted to know the way and I gave it to him and I feel I've got a clear conscience. And I'm not scared of the Communists. I haven't got anything, they know everything. You don't ever have to tell them anything, they know it all before they get there. They've got spies all over the place." But I not...." "He's a Communist spy, what did he want to know?" Well, I told them. We never saw him again. And, the Communists came in within an hour maybe. Their soldiers came marching into our living room and started questioning. The first thing they said was "Don't be afraid." And I said, "Afraid of what?" He said, "Now, you've got the right attitude. If you're not afraid of us and if you can teach the people that, you'll be a great help." And they started questioning all about your family and your education and your parents and where they were born and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, four hours of it.
CUSTER: And then long ways as it is, he finally said, "Now, you believe in God, we don't." I said, "I do believe in God." He said, "There's a table. I believe that's a table, I can see that's a table." And in my little own mind, I said, "Any two year old could say that." And I said, "Oh.". He said, "There's a window, I believe that's a window, I can see it." And he would go on and on. Then he went on with more questions and finally, I was getting pretty sick of it. And I said to him, "May I ask you one question?" "Yes", he said, "go ahead." Oh, he had asked me, he said, "You believe God created man?" I said, "Yes." "God created the world?" I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "We don't, we believe in evolution." I said, "Oh." And then I popped the question, "I said tell me, have you ever seen a monkey give birth to a child?" "No", he said. "Well, why do you believe it? The last two hours you've been telling me you don't believe anything you haven't seen, why do you believe it?" "Oh," he said, "we haven't studied that yet. We better get going." [laughs] And that...you know, when I think of it, it's such a stupid thing, I...and I never used it on anybody. The Lord just said, "In the last days, you shall be brought before authorities for my name's sake, take no thought what ye shall say for in that time, the word shall be given unto you." [Luke 12:11-12] That was a word from the Lord and He did it more than once. When...after just so many hours and you just get so fed up. I could ask one question and they'll say, "We haven't studied that yet, we better be going."
SHUSTER: Were you interrogated often by the Communists?
CUSTER: Every day.
SHUSTER: Every day all throughout the two years you were living there?
CUSTER: Not the whole two years but the first...I don't remember how long a time. The thing is four men came in and one asked all the questions and the others listened. The next day the man who asked the questions didn't come but a new one comes and the three and they ask exactly the same questions every day. They want to get you to contradict yourself.
SHUSTER: And then what would they do?
CUSTER: Oh, who knows what they do? I just didn't contradict myself. [chuckles]
SHUSTER: And that was the only contact you had with the Communist officials who would do these interrogations?
CUSTER: No, I had lots of other contact, too. I don't want to spend time on it. It's no good.
SHUSTER: You mentioned before about how the...gradually you were squeezed out of the life of the church. Was there any more active persecution of you or the foreign Christians?
CUSTER: No, but see...they didn't want to because they knew we were going home, they wanted us to give a good report. Even the church didn't go through anything while we were there but once we were gone.... A few years ago, one of my fellow workers went back and when they asked about the main church leaders, they just said...all the pastor said was "We've been through the valley of the shadow of death." He wouldn't even say what happened to them.
CUSTER: So, I don't know.
SHUSTER: What...was the Three Self movement, you mentioned there was a conference, did that occur after you'd left?
CUSTER: Oh no, it was...that was initiated right from the beginning.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. So that was....
CUSTER: That's how it was initiated.
SHUSTER: In 1949 and 1950, they were already starting that.
SHUSTER: Did that cause any splits in churches in Shensi?
CUSTER: No. In fact, there's this...the Communists brought church together. There's no more denominations, you know, they were all bundled together.
SHUSTER: Did you have contact with any other mission agencies or mission organizations....
CUSTER: [interrupts] There weren't any there.
SHUSTER: It was just CIM?
SHUSTER: How...how often did you go to conferences and meetings with other fellow missionaries?
CUSTER: We usually had a conference once a year.
SHUSTER: What happened at that?
CUSTER: Oh, our director or sometimes they had a special speaker and we'd have discussions on the work and planning and good fellowship.
CUSTER: [interrupts] Sometimes that was the only time you got to see another missionary.
SHUSTER: You had other missionaries, though, near you, right?
CUSTER: Well, no, I did this Bible class work, I was out in the.... A few of the churches had missionaries that stayed with them but mostly I worked with the Chinese.
SHUSTER: Uh huh. Was there anything you wanted to say about your time in China?
CUSTER: No, I think not. I just praise the Lord, you know. He planted the seed. And this is what...just recently we had very good contact with professionals coming here through Ambassadors for Christ [a ministry organization].
CUSTER: And just recently, we had a group come and there was an older man, a very old man actually and his wife, who were here visiting their children who were professors or something here. I don't remember what. Anyway, he was from the church where one of our missionaries was from in the Yunnan province. And he said, "Oh, don't ever say your work was in vain. Churches are growing." And I forget what he said. I think it was a thousand or two thousand at the Christmas service and they had people standing all out. The police had to come keep order there were so many people. He said, "Souls are being saved all the time, there's just multitudes that are coming to the Lord." And the church...one of our men ( a missionaries gone to be with the Lord now), but, one of our men who was here, his father was in that church. And this missionary was married in that church. [laughs]
SHUSTER: In the church where you...?
CUSTER: In the church where this old man is pastor now. He's telling what's happening now. And the missionary died, he was ninety-three, maybe ninety-four years old, I don't know.
SHUSTER: What was his name?
CUSTER: Allen. Arthur Allen. But this is what's happening. All through our area, we're getting reports...I got reports from one of these professionals who came. And he had been teaching English in Hansung for seven years at a university there. And he couldn't...he couldn't get over it. He said, "When you went, people" he said, "they didn't even have electric lights." I said, "No, all we had was a little saucer with a little wick in it." And he couldn't believe it. He said, "Even the old people couldn't read?" I said, "No, we taught every one of our members to read." And he couldn't believe it.
SHUSTER: So, the foundation still remains.
SHUSTER: You talked about how when you came out of China, first you returned to the U.S. How long were you in the U.S. before you went to Malaysia?
CUSTER: Four years, my mother was ill. I took care of my mother for a few years.
SHUSTER: So, you came to Malaysia in 1955?
SHUSTER: Did you continue to be a member of CIM or is...?
CUSTER: [interrupts] Oh yes.
SHUSTER: Or left it when you came back.
CUSTER: [interrupts] Oh yes, I'm a die to the world CIMer. Never been.... I think it's the best mission going.
SHUSTER: I know after they left China, for a while they didn't know if they were going to continue or what they were going to do, but you stayed on...
SHUSTER: ...through that. Where did you arrive first when you went back...arrived in Malaysia?
CUSTER: Kuola Lumpor. And then I was sent my first term to a village up in Pahang.
SHUSTER: Did you do language study while you were in the U.S. or did you do that in Malaysia?
CUSTER: Oh no, I did that on the field. Yeah, I tried to learn Cantonese but I never learned it very well.
CUSTER: I didn't have a teacher and Malaysia is so complicated, all different dialects and you don't know which one you're supposed to be learning.
SHUSTER: So, most of your Bible teaching was in....?
CUSTER: Interpreted. Because Malaysia does everything by interpretation. It's really great to have ordinary little village church. Let's say its Cantonese. The pastor will get up, open the service in Cantonese and pray. He'll make announcements, if it's young people he'll have it interpreted into Mandarin. If it's a cottage meeting in a Hokien [?] home, you'll interpret into that language. When it comes to singing, they'll say, "Now we're singing number so and so in the Cantonese book, number so and so in the Mandarin book and number so and so in the English book. Sing three verses please. " And you get up and you all sing in your own language.
CUSTER: [coughs] Everything they do, the medicine man out in the streets, he's all by interpretation.
SHUSTER: It's a mixture of....
CUSTER: [interrupts] And I learned to love it. I was there long enough that I...I...I understood enough of the dialect that was being interpreted that I knew what they were saying.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. As a Bible teacher was it the same kind of arrangement as in China that the church made a schedule for you and you traveled around or how...?
CUSTER: Well, I had to sort of make my own schedule because we went with these villagers and these villages were far apart. Getting there, there just one or two or three members, you know, they weren't organized yet. So, between the missionaries and I and any leaders there were, we set up a schedule so that when I was in an area, I could do a whole area at once.
SHUSTER: What...how did Bible teaching in Malaysia compare and contrast to Bible teaching in China. What was...how was it alike and how was it different?
CUSTER: It was different. By the time, I got around China, one or two years, the people were established and they were reading the Bible and they knew it. Whereas I got to Malaysia, they were all Buddhists, much more idolatrous in Malaysia.
SHUSTER: If they were Buddhist, why were they coming to Bible class?
CUSTER: Well, they just were interested. This was the beginning, reaching people. One home...I stayed in a Buddhist home. A Christian girl went into the room and she actually got this thing for me because there's no church to have it. And the old granny there would get up in the morning and she would worship. This really was a challenge to me. She'd go out the front door and bang her chest and pray for the spirits to protect the front door from any evil spirits coming in. See, every one of her children's rooms had a stick of red paper and she went there and worshiped and prayed for those children, every one. She went to the godshelf in the parlour...in the living room, she went to the god kitchen...the kitchen god, rather, and worshiped there, went to the back door, went to the pig pen where there was a slip of paper, god to protect the pigs and the chickens. I forget how many places she went. All that, before she went to work, and she went out to pat rubber about 4:30 in the morning. I thought, "If our Christian mothers would pray like that for their children, we'd see a different country, we'd see a different church." She didn't...I didn't win her to the Lord but we were able to live a Christian life in front of her and tell her about the joy of the Lord and the difference. She listened well and it was a seed sown home, it may still.... I'm going to have a surprise when I get to heaven. I can't wait, I pray every day that the Lord will take me.
SHUSTER: You mentioned that people were coming to the Bible classes because they wanted to learn about Christianity, is that a characteristic of the people in Malaysia interest in religion or theology?
CUSTER: No. Well, maybe just curiosity, especially these old villagers. Some of them hadn't seen a white person or not. I think they had seen because they do have radios there and that. But....
SHUSTER: So the fact that you were white was also a draw for people to come?
CUSTER: And Christianity as such, they didn't..... This is the burden for Malaysia. Oh, you go to these towns all over the place, it's nothing to have fifty, sixty thousand students. And nobody doing anything for them.
SHUSTER: Fifty or sixty thousand students in the public school you mean?
CUSTER: In the schools, yeah.
SHUSTER: When you started the class and you had five or six Buddhists there, how would you begin? How would you give the presentation of the Gospel?
CUSTER: Well, it...it would depend on the group again. If it...if they were people who knew practically nothing at all, you just say to them the way of salvation. Or what is a Christian? Or something like that.
SHUSTER: What would you say?
CUSTER: A Christian is the Christ-like one.
SHUSTER: [interrupts] What did that mean to them because they didn't know who Christ is?
CUSTER: That's all I want them to say. You ask questions and then then you answer them. That's how you talk to them in their own language instead of just standing up and preaching at them.
SHUSTER: Your method is merely question and answer?
CUSTER: It might be or it might be a service time with questions afterward or.... I like variety, I don't like getting in a rut.
SHUSTER: Did your classes change over the years you were there? And if so, how did they change?
CUSTER: Yes, in that after you go back after three years and they know more, then they get on to Christian living and the Lordship of Christ and...and you know, more teaching on the Holy Spirit.
SHUSTER: So, in the beginning you were more really church planting as well as teaching?
CUSTER: Church planting, yeah.
SHUSTER: How did the church develop in Malaysia?
CUSTER: Well, most of them had rebuilt their churches now from the little huts they had to began with and many of them have their own national pastors now.
SHUSTER: Is that the majority or is it still a minority in Malaysia itself?
CUSTER: Oh, it would still be a minority and the Muslims are getting very strong. We heard, just recently, they went to one village where the people had just built a new church and they went in on Sunday and tore the place down right in front of them.
SHUSTER: Hmm...is that common?
CUSTER: This is new Muslim authority showing itself.
SHUSTER: This is since you left Malaysia?
CUSTER: It is.
SHUSTER: What are the strengths and weakness of the church in Malaysia?
CUSTER: I would say the strength is that they...they have developed their own seminary, their training their young people, both English and Chinese. There are Bible correspondent courses that were started by the mission. It's now run by Scripture Union [missionary organization started in England primarily to teens and their families]. Scripture Union is doing an excellent, excellent work, getting into schools...they've got Christian groups in all the schools. Just this month (I get their prayer requests), just this month...practically every holiday place in Malaysia is occupied by Scripture Union. Right down on the beach at Port Dickson, they have a big camp for music, Christian music. On the east coast...on the west coast, a big Methodist city...town...they had a big town now that originally a whole village in China - this was, I guess it was the beginning of the Chinese war or Japanese war. I don't remember the date actually - but the whole village moved in mass over to Malaysia and they set up a village there. And it has grown. They have their own schools and hospitals and whatnot. Well, Scripture Union uses it and I think it's a 250 children evangelism camp. They've got another one at Fraiser's Hill, where they have school-leaving students. That means they're finishing high school, they're going into college and college students. They have one camp it's all Christian school teachers. Last year they had 750 Christian school teachers.
SHUSTER: So it's really exploding.
CUSTER: Yes. But it's...it's done by the nationals, all this.
SHUSTER: What about weaknesses?
CUSTER: Weaknesses. [Pauses] I would say where they have to grow is where the local churches that indict these pastors when they graduate, you know, some of them haven't been taught enough on giving to be willing to sacrifice to support a pastor. I think they need to have more of that. And the main thing their emphasizing now is that their well taught and they'll be willing to face up to persecution from the Muslims.
SHUSTER: You mentioned in China the ten-year program....
CUSTER: [interrupts] That was Malaysia. Oh no, China was our mission's ten year program.
SHUSTER: ...for making your churches financially independent in ten years. Was there a similar program in Malaysia?
CUSTER: Yeah. See, when we went to Malaysia, we didn't build any houses, we just rented them.
CUSTER: So when...after your ten years, you got a little group. They let their own premises or build their own religious site and you didn't have any property to worry over.
SHUSTER: So that continues to work in Malaysia?
SHUSTER: When you were teaching, just in Malaysia, what kind of opposition did you meet? You talked about some of the opposition now with the Muslims, did you meet with the same kind of opposition when you were working there?
CUSTER: No, not really. I can't really say we had opposition.
SHUSTER: There was also the guerilla warfare with the Communists. Did that effect your work in any way?
CUSTER: Well, the Communists you see, they got wiped out.
SHUSTER: Did that effect your work in any way?
CUSTER: See, what...this is why, when I was called to go originally, this was the plan at that time. The Communists almost had it. And the leader of the Communist party, Chen Ping, he...he was the Mao Tse-Tung of Malaysia. He had fought with the British against the Japanese. He even went to England and the queen even gave him honors for his wonderful work and training and gave him all the equipment that they needed and when the war ended, he took all that equipment and set up the Communist party in the mountains in the jungle. Then, the British government...governor army officer, got the idea of making all those farmers, moving them into new villages to cut off the supply lines. And they would appear at a farm home in the morning with a truck and say, "Okay, you've got an hour. Anything you want, put on this truck." They'd burn their house so they couldn't go back, they'd take them to an area that had been leveled off. They gave them boards for a house and tin for a roof, "build your house" and they were all under curfew. And that's what we came into at the beginning. You couldn't buy. You'd have to make up your grocery list once a week and send it to the government. They'd check it as to whether or not you were allowed to have so much of anything. And then in convoy, go and get this stuff, come back and they'd check it again to make sure if you ordered three pounds of rice, be sure you didn't have four. And when you got there, be sure you where if you had two, that you got rid of one, shoved it out off the train so it went to the Communists in the jungle. [chuckles] This is...this is...this is all what we went through.
SHUSTER: How did people react to living under that kind of...?
CUSTER: They hated it, they hated it. That was at the very beginning, even before we got there, they had to eat in a commune, everybody had to eat there, they weren't even allowed.... When they went out to work, every soldier...every farmer was searched at the gate. One example, they found one morning, they all had little matchboxes full of rice. What happened? See, their sons and fathers were out in the jungle (or their husbands) they would send a message in to the family, "Tomorrow morning, I'll meet you at the rubber Estate. You have rice or else." But if they were caught at the gate with rice, they were in trouble with the government. If they went out and managed to get it out or didn't have it, then the Communists would kill them there so this was the life we lived.
SHUSTER: Between a rock and a hard place. How did that effect your work?
CUSTER: It was all we had...all of our work had to be done before dark and only at night when the people were back from their rubber estates. Very difficult. But the [unclear] worked. You go to those villages today and even before I left, any farmer or rubber tapper who had been there five years got four acres of land.
SHUSTER: Had been in a fortified village for five years?
CUSTER: Yeah, he'd been in the village for five years, he got four acres of jungle to be cleared. If he had a son of age, he could have it, if he had two sons, that would give him twelve acres of rubber which is a good estate. They went out, they cleared it, they planted bananas or [chuckles] we had thousands of bananas and then as soon as they had enough so they could get a straight row of rubber trees, they planted the rubber trees and the bananas shaded them [chuckles] because they had to have shade, it was too hot. Before I left, a lot of them had rebuilt their homes. They had lovely homes. The community had their own council, they run all their own business, they had their own theater, they brought in electricity, they had their own schools, different grades and their very healthy because they've got their land. So it worked. It was a good plan, it worked.
SHUSTER: Did the guerilla forces...?
CUSTER: They surrendered one by one because they couldn't get food.
SHUSTER: Did the guerilla forces target Christians or missionaries or...?
SHUSTER: One way or the other.
CUSTER: But as soon as a Communist soldier would surrender they'd take him up in a helicopter or an airplane and they would fly him over the jungle where all their soldiers were and he'd say, "Don't be afraid, I'm so and so, I'm with my wife and children, I'm eating food. They don't harm you, they promise you freedom." And this is how one by one, all these soldiers gave up.
SHUSTER: Did the government officials, the colonial officials, the national officials, how did they react to your missionary work?
CUSTER: They were very friendly.
SHUSTER: You didn't meet any opposition?
CUSTER: No opposition, no.
SHUSTER: Anything else you'd like to say about your time in Malaysia?
CUSTER: No, I think that's enough. I think you've got enough on me right there.
SHUSTER: Okay. Did you want to say anything about Taiwan with the Taiwan side?
CUSTER: Well, it was a different.
SHUSTER: Did you need to go some place or...?
CUSTER: No, I was just looking to see. It's almost dinnertime. By the way, what about your dinner? Can we fix something for you?
SHUSTER: Well, Eileen said she was.... [tape recorder turned on and off] You were talking about your time. Well, let me ask you, how did you come to leave Malaysia?
CUSTER: Well, my...my visa was up my final year.
SHUSTER: So you had no choice.
CUSTER: And I didn't know where to go. So I had invitations from our directors in Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos and south Thailand, all saying "Our missionaries have learned the national language (in Thailand, they had to learn Thai, in Philippines, Tagalog) but we've got lots of Chinese and no one doing anything for them, come and help us." Well, when you're one old lady about to retire (I was 63 then) where do you go? And then I got this invitation from Taiwan, from the Presbyterian church, saying they had sixty-six churches filled with people that had never been taught. In the Paiwan tribe. There are ten different aboriginal tribes and this is the Pai, P-A-I, Paiwan. And would I go? Because they had heard about my work in China and Malaysia and that's exactly what they wanted. And Dennis Lane, our director, wrote to me and said, "Sadie, of all your invitations, this is the most important because we don't have anybody else to do it. You've got the language, experience and the...this is the most important." Well, as usual, I had to have a word from the Lord and the day I made my decision my verse said, "You've been in these mountains long enough, go north." [Deuteronomy 1: 6-8] [Shuster chuckles] And then I argued a little bit with the Lord, "Well, in China I did lots of walking. One church I went to, I cycled two days and walked three just to get to it. But now I'm sixty three years old and I've been riding around Malaysia in a Mercedes-Benz - a taxi - and I don't think I can do it any more." He said, "You've been preaching that I'm the Almighty God, don't you believe it?" "Okay, Lord, I'll go."
SHUSTER: You mentioned there were fifty-six churches full of Christians who hadn't been taught. How were they...how did they become Christians, how were they...?
CUSTER: Well, this is another one of those long stories. When the Japanese were in control for fifty years, they persecuted these tribal people so they fled high up into the mountains. When the war ended and Chiang Kai-shek came, the Presbyterians came in. Chiang Kai-shek brought them down to...now you only walk one day to get up to them, you know.
CUSTER: And he gave them land and materials for houses. The Presbyterians came in and helped them build churches and they all joined the Presbyterian. Whole villages, all Presbyterian but they'd never been taught.
SHUSTER: So, were they nominal Christians?
CUSTER: Nominal Christians, Uh-huh. And willing to be Christian, just never taught.
CUSTER: I went to one...the elder came to me on the last day. I found it very difficult because I couldn't speak their language. I knew I only had three years and then I had to retire so there wasn't much point in wasting my time on the language. He said, "I have so many problems." And he said, "I wanted to talk to you but there was nobody here to interpret." But he said, "This week I'd take a whole series on the Holy Spirit." He said, "The Lord just used His word and answered all my problems." The pastor came and interpreted for us on that one. Another one, a lady...the principal...president of the women's society, she came, she said, "I knew there was a Holy Spirit because we say it every Sunday in the Apostles' Creed but nobody ever told me who He was. Nobody told me that He was living inside of us." Now, she felt like there was a fire burning in here. And I could go on and on, this is the joy of teaching the word of God.
SHUSTER: And so almost all of your teaching in Taiwan was through interpreting?
SHUSTER: All of it.
CUSTER: The young people learned Mandarin. You've got the older people who only have Japanese. Then you've got...during the war years, they had no language at all, uneducated completely. Then you've got the younger people now who are learning Mandarin. A mixture.
SHUSTER: How did your experience of teaching in Taiwan compare with your experience of teaching in Malaysia?
CUSTER: Well, it was very different in that I couldn't communicate one-on-one with them. This is what I found very frustrating. You know, if I could have gone there, learned the language, it would have been quite different. But real experience of the power of the word of God working in lives.
SHUSTER: Can you think of some other examples?
CUSTER: Yeah, I can think of one.... One very interesting young man came up to me, one day, and it was the second time I was at this church. And fact is, I went and sat down and the lady and the ladies sit opposite the men, we were right across the aisle from one another. And he says, "You remember me, don't you?" And I said, "No, I'm afraid I don't." He was in a soldier's uniform.
CUSTER: And...he said, "You led me to the Lord last year." I said, "I did?" [chuckles] I didn't remember anything about it. He said, "Yes." He said, "The Lord worked a miracle." He said, "I came home on R and R [rest and relaxation]" and he said, "I didn't know anything about you coming for classes and you were here. You gave a word of salvation. I accepted the Lord. So I went back to the army" and he said, "I'm trying to read the Bible and talking to those men but they've got so many questions that I just didn't know how to answer. So I heard the church was having a Bible class so I got my R and R and I came with my tape recorder." He said, "I wanna ask you the questions the soldiers asked me and you answer them and then I'll take them back to them." [chuckles] So that was rather interesting. And the latest I have heard...now, I don't know any detail on this, is that he is in north Thailand where the Presbyterian church is.
[one minute portion of the tape unintelligible]
CUSTER: All the towns right nearby, Holland and Zeeland and Hudsonville and Grandville and Lancaster [towns in the state of Michigan in the United States] - my idea was to have a prayer group in each one which we organized, all running on their own, with their own leaders and we met once a month. I would bring in...like Eileen Kuhn [CIM/OMF missionary in Singapore, CN 464] came in, anyone who was home on furlough that we were praying for, they would come for the week. And I'd take them to all these prayer groups: one on Sunday afternoon, one on Monday morning and one on Monday night and one on Tuesday. Tuesday night was questionable because I tried to keep that open for the Bible college, I was in the Bible college district. We had Grand Rapids School of the Bible, the Baptist College, Calvin College, Reformed Bible Institute, Hoyt College and Grace College, all right there. And then, on Wednesday night we might....
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