(Author on left, and Dr. Wilson Fielder, Stag Creek Baptist Church, March 8, 1953)
For the last decade I have been researching the life and times of two good friends who went out as Southern Baptist missionaries to China in 1912 and 1914. Rather than the usual missionary biography, I am sharing inspirational highlights, the interesting and humorous ways "way back then" with how they went about doing good. I have great deal of interest in the subject, March 8, 1953, upon hearing Wilson speak on China in his home community in Comanche County, Texas, I felt a moving in my soul to consider foreign missions. Which we did, in Taiwan, then Hong Kong and final ten years on the China mainland building bridges of understanding with the churches and people. Here is the opening part of which I hope to publish soon. --- Britt Towery.
IN OLD CHINA WITH MAUDIE AND WILSON FIELDER
Baptist pioneers in Central China, 1912-1950
Part One: Memories
As had become his weekly habit, Wilson Fielder, finished his breakfast went immediately to the closet, got his hat and silk and wool padded coat. Maudie watched from the breakfast nook with a smile of understanding.
She went with him to the door and stood on the small cottage porch as he slowly ambled down the path to the city gate. She didn’t have to be told his mission. Though he was now retired in Houston, his mind and heart were still along the Huang He (Yellow River) that threaded its way through the middle of Henan province.
It was the city gate where the action was. There he met herdsmen, farmers and merchants, even an occasional defunct mandarin. He often met poor former Manchu Mandarins, sitting at the gate, not really knowing how to work. With the fall of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Dr. Sun Yat-sen formed the Republic of China.
Vagabonds in straw sandals or barefoot came as far away as the other side of Zhengzhou and up from the third largest river in the world, the powerful Changjiang (Yangzi River), that separates north and south China.
It was on the great river, as it made its way from the city by the sea, the Chinese meaning of the city’s name: Shanghai, that Maudie and Wilson enjoyed their unique 1914 honeymoon. The ordinary river fishing boat was just the beginning of many a strange and fascinating experience this young missionary wife would find very different from the farm in Miles, Texas.
Maudie stood on the porch as tears welled up in her eyes to see the one she loved through the good and bad years. The War Lords of the twenties; Japan’s invasion in the thirties; Wilson’s four years in a Japanese consecration camp in the forties; the continuing civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists; corruption of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists government; Chairman Mao Zedong’s Long March. Most of Henan province’s droughts brought starvation and disease year after year to this breadbasket of the country.
During all that turmoil, Wilson and his Chinese co-worker were gone for weeks at a time on their donkeys visiting settlements and villages that had never heard of Jesus. Maude held down the fort and raised three boys (Wilson Jr., Richard Byron, and Gerald) and two daughters (Florence Ann and Golda Jean), seeing to their needs and constantly visiting church and non-church women of the area. In the churches women sat on one side and men on the other. So according to custom women missionaries ministered with the women and children.
Bertha Smith, who worked in Shandong province, tells of some churches with a wall to separate the sexes, others simply a curtain. In the churches where famous pioneer Charlotte “Lotte” Moon ministered, the women even used a side entrance.
Maudie sat down in her rocking chair as Wilson was now out of sight. He would return soon as 1960s Houston had no city gates and only a small number of Cantonese-speaking Chinese. (The Cantonese were world vagabonds; some of whom came from Mexico to Texas with General John J. Pershing after his expedition for Pancho Villa in 1916. The Fielders spoke Mandarin.
Memories are strange and often confusing to those of a certain age. Wilson would die soon at the age of 80. He was as good a Comanche County, Texas, cowboy as a back-country central China missionary.
Maudie had a mind sharpened by her farm work, parents who loved the Lord and kept her older brothers from “teasing” her as boys do. Her study at Howard Payne College and the newly-opened Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth unwrapped her eyes and heart to a wider world. Her memory was a great help when she began the study of the Henan variety of Mandarin. She first met Wilson as a coach and teacher at Miles High School. He had finished his studies at the two-year Howard Payne College in Brownwood and was commuting from Baylor University in Waco to Miles.
Maudie was studying at Howard Payne, and the train from Waco to Miles always made a stop at Brownwood. He often “just happened” to stop over for a well-chaperoned visit in the dorm parlor. Sometime during those visits Wilson shared with Maudie his belief that he felt God was calling him to be a missionary to China. Though his parents were active in the Stag Creek Baptist Church near Comanche county’ South Copperas Creek, Wilson left no word about how his interest in China developed. He did know Howard Payne graduate Blanche Rose Walker who was on her first leave home from China.
The honesty and desire to serve added to Maudie’s interest in this young cowboy. But, she tended to put such thoughts out of her mind, after all, he was a Baptist and she a Methodist.
Maudie wrote in her diary: “In August, one day I received a letter saying that the way had opened for Wilson to go to China.” The message did not surprise Maudie. She had known of his deep desire to go. She added in her diary: “What is surprising he left without seeing me again. I was hurt and angry.” In the language of West Texas, his leaving without seeing her “got her goat!”
Wilson left Comanche, Texas, in August 1912, along with Eugene and Annie Jenkins Sallee, who were returning to China for their second term. The First Baptist church of Comanche voted to assume the financial responsible of the new missionary.
Weeks later Maudie got a letter Wilson written on the high seas and mailed from Japan. In this first and brief letter he asked Maudie, straight out, if she would consider becoming a missionary --- then as somewhat of an after thought --- would she become his wife.
Her only thought was: “Why in heaven’s name didn’t he ask this before he left the United States?” In her answer to Wilson, she simply wrote: “I will pray about it.”
Maudie was finishing up the breakfast dishes when she heard the screen door open, Wilson was back from “the city gate” with little or no news. As he settled in his arm chair, Maudie thought of the many times she had seen him come in from doing preaching, visiting merchants and those in the hospital. As well as repairing the well or working on the old car they made every effort to keep it running with no auto repair shops within a 1000 miles.
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