Billy Graham Center

Ephemera of Robert Brainerd Ekvall - Collection 92

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of Robert Brainerd Ekvall

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)
    Paper Records
    Oral History Interviews

Lists of Audio Tapes and Photographs in this collection (Location Records)
    Audio Tape

List of the Contents of Boxes of Paper Records in This Collection (Box List)


Transcript 1 Transcript includes a link to an audio file of the entire interview

Transcript 2 Transcript includes a link to an audio file of the entire interview

Collection 92                                                                                                           [August 4, 2009]

Ekvall, Robert Brainerd; 1898-1983

Ephemera; 1933-1980

1 box, Audio Tapes, Photographs (.29 cubic feet)

Restrictions: None

Brief Description.
Oral history interviews, correspondence, photographs, and a manuscript that describe Ekvall's education at Wheaton College, work as a missionary in China and Tibet, and military and diplomatic activities during World War II and after in China and Southeast Asia. The interviews were recorded in October 1979 and September 1980.



Full name

Robert Brainerd Ekvall


February 18, 1898, in Min-hsien, China


May, 1983




Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) missionaries David Paul and Helen (Galbraith) Ekvall



Alice G. (Ekvall) Joithe


Marital Status

Married M. Elizabeth Fischer October 26, 1921. After Elizabeth’s death in 1940, he married Eva Kunfi



 David, Erik, Karin




Home schooled by missionary parents on China-Tibet border until 1912



Wilson Memorial Academy, Nyack, New York, USA.



Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, USA. Graduated with a BA.



Missionary Training Institute, Nyack, New York, USA.



University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Did graduate work in anthropology.




Served briefly in the United States Army during World War I



Western Electric Company of Chicago, Illinois, USA



Missionary in China and Tibet for the Christian and Missionary Alliance. For a time he taught at the Bible school his father had founded in Gansu province, but soon moved on to evangelistic work among ethnic Tibetan pastoral people in Tibet, including several visits to the kingdom of Ngawa.



Furlough in the United States, caused by a forced evacuation because of political and military turmoil at the time in China



Furlough in the United States



Published Gateway to Tibet : the Kansu-Tibetan Border, a history of C&MA mission work in that region



Was co-author, with Harry M. Shuman, Alfred C. Snead, John H. Cable, Howard Van Dyck, William Christie, David J. Fant, of After Fifty Years: A Record of God’s Working Through the Christian and Missionary Alliance



His wife, Elizabeth, died in Tibet.



While visiting his son missionary David in French Indochina, he and David were interned by the Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the United States into the war. He was eventually repatriated back to the United States.



Joined the United States Army, served as captain in Burma, then became a staff office at Chungking, China. Was wounded in combat on July 7, 1945, and hospitalized for nine months.



Served as staff officer and translator with the military mission of General George Marshall in Peking, China



Assistant military attache in China



Assistant G-2 (intelligence) with the Second Infantry Division



Joint Armed Forces Public Information Officer, Seattle, Washington, USA. Honorable discharge from the Army in 1951.



Assisted the brother of the Dalai Lama on behalf of the Committee for Free China



Research Associate of the Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA



Recalled to active service in the United States Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Served as a translator and Chief, Language Division of the Armistice Commission at the Korean truce negotiations. Also translated at the Asian and Indochinese conferences in Geneva, Switzerland.



Staff officer, Intelligence Division, stationed in the Pentagon in Washington, DC, USA



On loan to State Department as interpreter at the Sino-American talks in Geneva, Switzerland



Assistant military attache in Paris, France. Retired from Army in 1958 because he was over-age for his grade.



Chairman, Inner Asia Research Project, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA



Research Instructor, Far East Department, University of Washington



Published Faithful Echo, a memoir of his experiences as an interpreter during the Korean truce negotiations and the Geneva conferences.



Curator of Asian Ethology at the Thomas Burke Memorial Museum of the University of Washington



Research associate, Department of Anthropology, University of Washington. He retired in 1974.

Other significant information

His father, David Ekvall and his uncle, Martin Ekvall, were the first C&MA missionaries in Tibet. After his father’s death on May 18, 1912, Helen Ekvall returned with her children to the United States.

Fluent in Chinese, Tibetan, and French

Author of numerous missionary and scholarly works on Tibetan culture, including Religious Observation in Tibet: Pattern and Function (1964); Fields On the Hoof: Nexus of Tibetan Nomadic Pastoralism (1968); The Lama Knows/ A Tibetan Legend is Born (1979); also a novel, Tents Against the Sky (1955)

Scope and Content

[Note: In the Scope & Content section, the notation “folder 2-5" means “Box 2, Folder 5"]

Series: Paper records
Date Range: 1933-1935
Volume: .25 cubic feet
Geographic coverage: Tibet
Type of documents: Correspondence, manuscript
Correspondents: Leonard Hall, William Christie
Subjects: C&MA missionary work in Tibet and in other parts of the world
Notes: The paper records in this collection consists of four letters and a copy of a typed manuscript. Folder 1-1 includes three ALS (autograph letters, signed) that are from Ekvall to one of his financial supporters in the United States. The brief letters describe his missionary activities among Tibetan tribes people in Ngawa and elsewhere and a C&MA field conference held in Taochow, China. The fourth letter is a printed letter by William Christie, treasurer of the C&MA, to supporters in the United States, giving general statistics on the denominations missionaries. Also in the collection are several copies of Ekvall family photographs dating from David and Helen’s work in China and Tibet during the first decade of the 20th century. The manuscript by Ekvall (in folder 1-2), is entitled “Attache Trek: China 1947-1948" and describes his experiences and extensive travels as an American military attache in China and Tibet during 1947. The manuscript was apparently never published. The table of contents of the manuscript is more of an index to the different topics covered in each chapter. The manuscript itself only goes up to the fifteenth chapter (out of 26 listed in the table of contents) and it is unknown by the Archives staff if the manuscript in the BGC Archives is incomplete, or Ekvall never finished it. The manuscript contains descriptions of Chinese Christianity as it was developing at the time and also of the diplomatic and military complexities of the time period.

The collection also contains five pages of printed notes (folder 1-3) by Robert Carlson, who grew up on the Kansu-Tibetan border and was a longtime friend of Ekvall. In these notes he identifies by name many of the people referred to but not named in Gateway to Tibet (1938), Ekvall’s history of the work of Christian and Missionary Alliance missionaries on the Kansu-Tibetan border.


Series: Oral History Interviews
Date Range: 1979-1980
Volume: .04 cubic feet
Geographic coverage: Tibet, China, United States
Type of documents: Reels of audio tape
Notes: This series consists of two oral history interviews with Robert Ekvall who was interviewed by Robert Shuster October 1979, and September 1980. The events described in the interviews cover the time period 1900-1980.  

Tape T1

00:00        Beginning of tape
00:30        Introduction
01:00        Family background
02:00        Boxer Rebellion; furlough in the United States
04:00        Mission stations on the Kansu-Tibetan border; home education
06:45        Early missions on the border; evangelism in Labrang
07:30        Annie Taylor's mission work in Lintan (Taochow)
08:45        Childhood in China; Chinese language
10:30        Work of David and Helen Ekvall in China; Central Bible School
13:15        Church services in Lintao; attracting non-Christians to services; death of David Ekvall (1912); establishment of the Chinese Republic
16:45        Experiences of missionary children
17:30        Return to the United States
19:30        Service in the Army during World War I
21:45        Reasons for attending Wheaton College; feelings of Christians toward higher education
23:45        Academic standards at Wheaton; extra curricular activities; athletics
26:30        Spiritual life of the college
29:30        Preparation for mission work; Nyack Christian College (Missionary Training Institute)
32:30        Elsie Dow
33:30        Preparation at Wheaton for mission work
35:15        V. Raymond Edman
39:45        Charles Blanchard
42:00        World War I on Wheaton campus; the college's interest in the military
46:00        Internment in Indochina from 1941-1943; Office of Strategic Service
48:00        Training at Nyack; the Nyack school song
55:00        Courses taken at Nyack; emphasis on missions
56:45        Evaluation of preparation for mission field
59:30        Transfer to Tibetan work; Smonlam Festival
63:45        Learning the Tibetan language (1923); a new way to teach a language
67:45        Meeting with Tibetan monks, staying in a monastery, monkish hospitality
69:00        Study with a Tibetan monk
70:45        Reasons for leaving Bible school and going to Tibet; missionary paternalism
71:30        Taochow (1925-1926)
73:00        Exploration of Tibet (1926), Kingdom of Ngawa
76:00        First visit to the royal palace; attitudes toward women and babies; first experience of the Bible
79:00        Tibetan view of personality; the three parts of the human structure; "In the        beginning was the Word."
81:00        Contacts with common people; hostility of the monks
83:15        Second visit to the royal palace
85:45        Reaction of the monks to Christianity
86:15        CMA strategy for reaching Tibet
88:45        Place of monasteries in Tibetan life
89:15        War between the Nationalists and warlords; forced to leave China (1927)
89:45        Return to China and Tibet (1928); move to Lhamo; the robber tribes
91:15        Preaching to the robber tribes
92:45        Death of Mrs. Ekvall; first converts to the Gospel
95:15        Worshiping the Mountain God; Christian converts must stay within their own culture
97:45        Building a bridge; contextualization
99:00        Religious freedom in the tribe
100:00       Meeting with the tribal chief; the advantages of ruling a Christian village; double insurance

103:45       Leaving for Indochina

104:30       Turning over control of CMA churches to National Christians
105:30       Conditions in China in 1928; return to Kansu border after the 1927 evacuation

107:30       The little General

110:15       The Christian community in Lungsi; a Chinese Christmas
112:15       Financial support of the native church
113:30       Later career of Ekvall after 1941; possibility of return to China in the    1970's
117:15       "All Chinese are Archaeologists"
120:00       Contacts with Yeh Chien-ying; "It's time I went to see the grave of my father."
123:00       Leaving China and returning (1927-1928); trips into Tibet
124:45       What Tibetans found appealing in the Gospel message; reincarnation; lamas and redundant saviorhoods"
127:45       Tibetan concept of sin
130:45       Tents against the Sky and other novels; Pearl S. Buck
141:15       Contacts with Vietnamese guerillas during World War II; repatriation
148:15       Messages to Cordell Hull
149:45       Meetings with a lama in Lanchow; a Chinese version of Paschal's wager
154:45       End of tape

Tape T2
00:00        Beginning of tape
00:30        Introduction
01:00        Origins of Ekvall's 1980 trip to mainland China
02:15        Purpose of the trip; the CMA mission field in northwest China
04:30        Archeology in northwest China; G.G. Anderson
05:15        "To see the grave of my father"
06:00        Getting in touch with Chinese officialdom; Yeh Chien-ying; Huang Hue; difficulties
08:45        Arrival in Hong Kong; Jimmie Wang; Rewi Alley
11:15        Crossing the frontier and customs; the national tourist agency
12:30        Chinese airlines
13:15        Contacting Peking; Chinese telephones
14:15        Arrangements for traveling to Peking; the tour group
16:45        Visit to Shanghai
17:00        Visit to Sian
17:45        Visit to Rewi Alley; ability of the Chinese guides
20:45        William Kerr
21:30        Reasons for not visiting Tibetan border; the luncheon for Ekvall; discussing the Korean truce negotiations
29:30        Developments in the Chinese church; policy on freedom of worship
30:15        Visit to a Presbyterian church in Shanghai; the pastors; the church turned into a factory during the cultural revolution; house churches; attitude toward help from western churches; Chinese versions of the Bible; parents teaching religion at home
41:00        Text of the new constitution; religious liberty
42:30        The Three Self Policy
44:00        The Three Self Policy in the local church
46:00        Different church services; prayer
47:00        Ownership of church property
47:30        Government attitudes toward the church; development of the Three Self Policy; Protestants and the Chinese Catholics
51:00        The Christian and Missionary Alliance's mission policy
52:30        Bringing literature into China
54:00        Contacts with other Chinese Christians; a house church; talk with a Chinese lay pastor; building with bricks
63:00        The growth of the church in China, in Lanchow, in Sinkiang
65:30        "Where did you learn Chinese?", witnessing , varied reactions
69:45        Long church services; links between churches; training of new pastors
73:00        Publication of Ekvall's books in China; Ekvall's history of CMA missions; the need for missiology case books
74:00        Impressions of Shanghai; the gang of four
75:30        Laughter among the Chinese
75:45        Mules and donkeys; mechanical transportation; taxis
78:00        Anti-Christian attitudes; Buddhism and Islam
79:45        The condition of Islam in China
82:15        Condition of Buddhism in China
85:45        Chinese attitudes toward Ekvall
86:45        Anti-foreign attitudes in the past times
88:45        The Chinese view of America; French culture compared to Chinese culture
95:15        End of tape.


The interviews in this collection were given to the Center in October 1979 and September 1980 by Robert Ekvall. The other material in the collection was given by Robert Carlson in 1990 and 2007 and Ray Smith in 1997.

Accession #79-117, 80-122
March 5, 1980
Robert Shuster
S. Kouns

Revised, March 5, 1981
Robert Shuster
B. Pietra

Accession # 90-37, 97-19, 07-21
Updated, April 11, 2007
Bob Shuster

Accession: 79-117, 80-122
Type of Material: Audio Tapes
The following items are located in the AUDIO TAPE file.
Item# - Reel or cassette, speed, length, number of sides, contents (title of session, participants) according to the program, date.













Oral history interview of Robert B. Ekvall by Bob Shuster







Oral history interview of Robert B. Ekvall by Bob Shuster


Accession: 97-19
Type of material: Photographs
The following items are located in the PHOTO FILE; request by folder title (in bold) at the beginning of each entry below.

MISSIONS–CHINA. 12 b&w. These prints are copies made from originals owned by Grace Ekvall Beck, daughter of Martin Ekvall and cousin of Robert Ekvall. The copies were given to the Archives by Ray Smith, Mrs. Beck’s nephew. Mr. Smith also supplied captions for the photos. The pictures show the various members of the families of the three Ekvall siblings who went to China in the late nineteenth century as C&MA missionaries: David Ekvall, Martin E. Ekvall, and Otilia (Ekvall) Simpson. Among the people pictured are missionaries to China and Tibet: Jessie Christie, William Christie, David P. Ekvall, Emma Ekvall, Helen G. Ekvall, Martin E. Ekvall, and Robert B. Ekvall, There are also scenes of travel on the Yangtze river, the towns of Min Xian (Minchow), Wuchang and Choni in Gansu (Kansu) province of China, travel by sedan chair, Martin Ekvall preaching to a crowd, David, Helen and Martin Ekvall with a group of Chinese Christians. Ca. 1909-1911.




First Folder/Last Folder








Manuscript, “Attache Trek: China 1947-1948"


  3 Notes on Gateway to Tibet 2009

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Last Revised: 9/05/02
Expiration: indefinite