Billy Graham Center

Collection 471 - William Arthur Saunders. T3 Transcript

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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the continuation of the oral history interview of William Arthur Saunders (CN 471, T3) 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.

. . . 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 Jeffrey Dennison and was completed in October 2002.


Collection 471, T3. Interview of William Arthur Saunders by Robert Shuster on December 9, 1992.

[Tape begins abruptly]

SAUNDERS: ...the university was a long way from the center of the city, a long way from churches. We organized worship service for faculty and senior students and invited evangelical speakers to come on Sunday morning to speak to the Christians among the staff and the senior students. And it was very interesting. There was a very good man of Methodist background [shifts in seat] who became quite clear in his... (He was sort of muddled Methodist, if you know what I mean). But he noticed that the emphasis on each speaker, though he came from a different denomination, was on Jesus Christ. And Mr. Lin himself came into the light and became a really intelligent Christian, and still is. And that was very encouraging because I’m still in touch with his son and daughter. [Tape sound level changes]

SHUSTER: Now what was his name?

SAUNDERS: Lin. L-I-N. He’s been in [unclear]. He lives in Chicago now.

SHUSTER: InterVarsity formed [unidentifed sounds] a chapter in [unclear - tape interference] in 1952 and you mentioned there was chapter the university. How large was that group?

SAUNDERS: I suppose Sunday evening would be the biggest meeting. There’d be forty or fifty.

SHUSTER: In 1964 you were asked to coordinate OMF’s [Overseas Mission Fellowship, formerly China Inland Mission] language program. that right?

SAUNDERS: Yeah, well, I was just [clears throat] able to...first step towards more intelligent language learning. One, I wasn’t able to do very much. The lady who followed me did far more. So...but it was a beginning.

SHUSTER: Why did...?

SAUNDERS: You’ve have to spend money in order to get good teachers. And if there is a language school in a country, use the language school and not individual teachers! Those language schools are there to teach language. In China we just used individual teachers after we left school. That’s no good. So they began to spend a little more money and using....if there’s a government school teaching the language, we’ll use that, and so on. So now the whole language learning is on a much better basis.

SHUSTER: Originally, after you left the first six months of language school, you had learned it on your own with...?

SAUNDERS: Yes. Or mislearned on your own. [chuckles]

SHUSTER: And what was the disadvantages of that...what is the disadvantages of that system?

SAUNDERS: Well, of course, one great advantage of being in a place like Gansu was that nobody spoke English. All you heard were Chinese. And consciously or unconsciously you absorbed it. It’s a good thing. No competition. [laughs]

SHUSTER: So what caused the mission to decide to try and change its language program [unclear - crosstalk]?

SAUNDERS: Oh well, that was the...I mean, the current, the [unclear], every... every intelligent missionary society was beginning to realize that [pauses] there were better methods of learning languages than the old-fashioned ones. I think Wycliffe had a great influence on language learning, though they were....

SHUSTER: In Wycliffe, were there a lot of OMF missionaries who had been to the School of Linguistics?

SAUNDERS: Oh yes. Summer courses and so on. In fact, I think we encouraged some of[?] them to go, yes.

SHUSTER: What kind of changes did you introduce when you were working on the OMF’s language program?

SAUNDERS: I wasn’t able to do much. It was too early. But my successor did a lot.

SHUSTER: What was her name?

SAUNDERS: Lucille Ramish.

SHUSTER: You say you weren’t able to do much because it was too early. Because there was opposition in the mission?

SAUNDERS: Not especially opposition, but we were a new mission and in new countries.

SHUSTER: So you still...?

SAUNDERS: But a place like Thailand, they had good government language schools where missionaries and non-missionaries all went and learned together.


SAUNDERS: Japan, too, had good lan...language schools

SHUSTER: So your work was mainly getting the mission to take advantage of these schools?

SAUNDERS: Yes. It was to encourage them to use the best facilities there were before we could set up our own. Now in Japan we have our own language school, but in Thailand there’s a government one, and [clears throat], of course, we follow it up after they’ve left with very, very skilled people to lead them on.

SHUSTER: How...when did you leave Singapore and come to the United States? When did you leave Singapore and come to the United States?

SAUNDERS: We were in Singapore from ‘58 to ‘68. Then we retired in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

SHUSTER: How did you come to retire?

SAUNDERS: Because my wife’s sister and family were there.

SHUSTER: And how did you...why did you retire in ‘68? Why did you...?

SAUNDERS: 1968. Because my wife, at that time, was 68. She was born in 1900.

SHUSTER: Good reason. Long time....

SAUNDERS: But we were not idle in Singapore. We had eighteen years of retirement.

SHUSTER: And I want to talk about that, but first, I wanted to ask you - from the time that you retired in ‘68 to the time you first came over in 1930, do you think that different types of people were becoming missionaries or there’d been a change in the way that mission work was done between when you first came out in 1930 and when you returned to the U.S. in ‘68?


SHUSTER: What was some of those changes?

SAUNDERS: In 1930, the missionaries who went out were much younger, a lit...very few had higher education, [pauses] full of zeal. “After all, the gospel is simple, isn’t it?” That has all changed. Now nearly all our missionaries have university degrees. They’re all older. Of course, the whole of education has gone up all over the world. So we were really in a very different situation ‘cause....

SHUSTER: Sorry, go ahead. [pauses] I was going to say, you were in China, southeast Asia, for twenty-eight years, your wife for even longer. Is that length of time common to missionaries now, as far as length of service?

SAUNDERS: Oh, it’s so difficult to generalize. Life was...lifetime missionaries I don’t think are common as they used to be. People go out for short terms, some for longer. There’s so much coming and going now. Short-term missionaries, people willing to go for one term. Some, of course, go on summer expeditions, spy out the land, and decide, “That’s for me, and I’ll go for long-term.” I think it’s very good to go first to see the land.

SHUSTER: Have you observed differences in the way the mission itself is governed or the way that it organizes itself, does it work?

SAUNDERS: [laughs] Oh, really, is this all going to be published?

SHUSTER: It... it won’t be published, but it will be available.

SAUNDERS: What strikes us old-timers is the far bigger bureaucracy we have. This department, that department...oh, dear. And, of course, all the sophisticated equipment that they need to run their departments and.... Not for me to criticize, it’s a new generation.

SHUSTER: But it was different in, say, 1930?

SAUNDERS: Well, very different. Much simpler.

SHUSTER: Do you recall how large the headquarters staff was in Shanghai in [pauses, Saunders sighs] those days?

SAUNDERS: Well, there would be a general director and an assistant and, of course, a secretary-treasurer and their assistants and somebody to run the mission home with the assistance of Chinese servants. Really, [pauses] now, [pauses] quite different. We have so much...we have people who do research, you see, still Southeast Asia with unreached people. “Where are they?” What languages do they speak?” What is the possibility of reaching out to them?” so on. We have researchers which is very useful, but the researcher, of course, is not engaged in direct missionary work. He has been a missionary, so we.... Then, of course, now, we have our professional service associates. You’ve heard of them?

SHUSTER: You mean professional like doctors or...?

SAUNDERS: Not only that, but people who go into a country not as a missionary, but as a teacher....

SHUSTER: A tentmaker.

SAUNDERS: ... or an expert in some field and who is cursed [?] anway, a silent Christian. And especially in China, he...he or she has to be silent!

SHUSTER: Weren’t you a little like that when you were at Nanyang University, teaching at Nanyang University?

SAUNDERS: Somewhat, but our job was to teach efficiently and what you did in your own time, that’s another matter. There’s no restriction on that.

SHUSTER: When you returned to Michigan in 1968, what did you do then?

SAUNDERS: I taught for a couple of years in Spring Arbor College, which is a Free Methodist college an hour’s drive west.

SHUSTER: Lingui...taught linguistics?

SAUNDERS: Yes. Very interesting that the...the people who are really interested in it were middle-aged ladies trying to get a teacher’s certificate [Shuster chuckles]. Some of younger people couldn’t...couldn’t be bothered. But they were really interested. Of course they’d been teaching and had difficulties themselves [laughs]. Oh, I had a couple of years there. Old...the present James Taylor’s father was there, retired with his wife. Then, after that, I taught one course in the engineering college of the university. I didn’t teach engineering, but I helped foreign engineers improve their English. They didn’t have to compete with Americans, so they were in a group by themselves and just improve their writing and speaking.

SHUSTER: And then what?

SAUNDERS: Then my wife, of course, was given to hospitality, always has been. And so the University of Michigan was the first university in the United States that took in foreign...Chinese students in the middle of the last century. And they’ve been coming ever since. So we always had Chinese guests, and I attended a Chinese church.

SHUSTER: And preach the Chinese services or preach...?

SAUNDERS: Sometimes. I was also on the pastoral staff of a Baptist church for a time. My wife was given to hospitality, so we had a [sic] very happy Sundays together with Chinese and American guests.

SHUSTER: And when did you come to Lancaster? When did you retire?

SAUNDERS: Five years ago.

SHUSTER: That would have been ‘90...’87.

SAUNDERS: September. [unclear] for five years. I’ve never known years go by so fast [Shuster chuckles].

SHUSTER: Well, I... I think we’ve just scratched the surface of your life really, just kind of galloped over...over it. But it’s a.. it’s been a very interesting and worthwhile interview for me. Was there anything that you would like to add or mention or expand on that we’ve talked about?

SAUNDERS: Well, certainly not a life I...I would have chosen, but it was chosen for me by the good Lord himself. But I’ve always found a background of good, solid education in England and in farming, and it’s been really useful. [laughs] I...I still look after the vegetable garden here.

SHUSTER: I guess farming is a skill you can use anywhere. Farming is a skill you can use anywhere.


SHUSTER: Well, thank you again for willingness to be interviewed.

SAUNDERS: Well....


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