A Voyage to Yangkow

By Donald MacInnis

Last weekend I visited Yangkow, the small market town downriver from the Nanping Teachers College where I live and teach. I took a 2-hour train to Nanping, and then a one-hour ride in a friend’s car to Yangkow where I spent my first year in China at age 20, 1940-41, teaching in a Methodist boys’ high school.

China was in their third year of a terrible war that ended with VJ Day, August 1945. Our own school was menaced several times when Japanese planes flew over, but they never bombed us, although they did hit an Anglican mission boys’ school just upriver from us, killing several students. It was just as well, for we had no bomb shelters; we just scattered outside the town gates into the overgrown hillside.

In 1940 the only way to get to Yangkow from Nanping was either by small boat or walking. The boat had to be towed through frequent rapids, and was an all-day trip. No wheeled vehicle could get to Yangkow. The farmers carried their produce to town on bamboo shoulder poles, and we depended on local craftsmen to make everything we needed — chairs, desks, bedding, shoes, clothing, bamboo-pulp paper, etc. We had no electricity, radio, telephone, newspaper, running water, sewers or bakery; but local food was adequate and salt, kerosene for lamps, matches, and other things were brought in from the coast.

Thus, in many ways, life in Yangkow was primitive, yet we had three thriving churches, Methodist, Congregational, and Catholic, all founded by the early missionaries. Two of them had Chinese pastors, but a German missionary priest who smoked cigars (shock!) was pastor of the Chinese church.

All three were destroyed by the “Red Guards” in the 1960s. Pastor Li, an impressive young seminary graduate with a wife and small daughter, told us something of the bad years, when many pastors and Christians were put into labor camps, and worship was forced underground.

Now a new united Protestant Church has been built that has 300 for Sunday services (double that crammed in for Christmas), and other services for young people, women’s groups, Bible study, and preparation for baptism.

Pastor Li proudly showed us the Chinese Bibles, printed in China (over 30 million printed so far since 1988), that are now available to anyone in China, and sold at cost. There are other new churches in neighboring towns and villages, most of them new or rebuilt since the bad years of the Cultural Revolution, and most of them without an ordained pastor. Even so, the lay preachers have Bible study guides, and they minister to new and old Christians alike, offering the good news of the birth of Jesus at Christmastime and His death and resurrection as proof of our own salvation through faith.

There is now a thriving new primary school on the steep hillside where our school had been; the old classrooms and dormitories are gone, and a railroad track cuts through the center of our former campus. Nor is there anyone left from my era; all of my teacher-colleagues have passed on, and a new cohort of bright young teachers has replaced them. It is no longer a mission school (there are none in China today), but Pastor Li and the new church have a strong youth group and youth choir and a Sunday School. The gospel is preached openly here and all over China.

[From January 2005 CAFAM Newsletter]

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