China’s Oasis author’s reflections

 

 

The tail end of writing a book; photo-finding, fact-checking, permission seeking, typo-correcting takes much longer than you think - but great is the day when it’s time to clear your shelves for the next book.  In doing this, I found on one shelf a line of books that I had used for research, role models, and models of what not to do.  Several of these books had bookmarks three quarters of the way through where the inspiration took over and the reading stopped.  

 

One of the books was written in 1970 by a South China Morning Post journalist Jill Doggett entitled, “The Yip family of Amah Rock.”   They say that history repeats itself but it eerily reflects the ICC story sixty years earlier.  Mildred Dibden left home in England in 1931 for Hong Kong at the age of 26 to work with abandoned children.  She started with a small home in Kowloon, moved to Cheung Chau, and then began the Fanling Babies’ Home five years’later. It was in a big house in Fanling and the children of the elderly landlord no longer wanted the house – imagine its huge value today!

 

When the Japanese invaded in December 1940 they looted, and smashed the Home and violated most of the female nursing staff (later, the women avoided rape by clustering together and screaming at the top of their voices whenever a Japanese soldier grabbed a girl).  Mildred herself was beaten and taken into a shed; expecting execution at dawn. During the night, she was joined by two other foreign ladies.  At first light, they were tied togetherand led back to the house - to their surprise, to care for the babies that had not died from dehydration, crushing during thet looting rampage or exposure in the cold winter night.   

 

After two months, they were at the point of starvation and the Japanese administration finally offered to provide food if Mildred collected the chits for the supplies from the old HSBC building in Central, Hong Kong. Under Japanese rules, only she was permitted to claim the food in person.  So every month, often with Ruth Little or one of the other foreign volunteers, she walked the 40 miles from Fanling to Central.  They often walked barefoot as their shoes had fallen apart in the first few months of the occupation.  This journey was taken even while they were suffering from debilitating sickness.

 

Mildred would often have to stop twice overnight on the way to Central, either in Tai Po, or Kowloon Tong (with a Chinese family who risked execution for harbouring a foreign national), or the Norwegian mission station at Tao Fung Shan, Shatin.   The food, when collected, had to be carried all the way back – in an old pram, lubricated by peanut oil.

 

At the end of the brutal Japanese occupation, she succumbed to malaria, dysentery, and other ailments and at times was close to death.  She was repatriated to recover and had to spend some months in the UK.  There she met a group that offered to fund the Babies Home.  This turned out not to be a happy move as the organisation, even after Mildred’s prompt return to Hong Kong, used her illness as an excuse to remove her as head of the Home.  She even found herself banned from entering the building, seeing her young charges, and ended up teaching English[1]. 

 

But friends gathered round and she was able to take out the premises at High Rock Christian Centre to form the Shatin Babies’ Home – under the shadow of Amah Rock.  She ran this for more than 10 years, most latterly with the help of two young women, Wendy Blackmur and Valerie Conybear.  

 

During the storms of the Cultural Revolution in 1966/1967, Mildred had flashbacks to the hardships of the Japanese occupation.  It seems impossible to believe it now, but she secured permission to take 25 of the children back to reside in the United Kingdom.  Truly part of the Windrush Generation, although they flew in by BOAC 707 not an old cargo boat.  

 

Valerie and Wendy, who had joined her in the last part of her time at High Rock then moved to establish the Home of Loving Faithfulness near Fanling which is still in existence today, looking after disabled children as ICC does in China. Their story is told in “Living Riches” by Linda Ball.

 

This history illustrates the incredible interlacing of individuals who have come to Hong Kong to help the disadvantaged; those left behind who cannot look after themselves. They were / are all driven by the fact that God sees value in single life.  Sometimes death is a relief to those who are very ill, but many disadvantaged children have been given a second chance at a successful and independent life because of the faith of those pioneering individuals.

 

There are many breathless adventures of pioneers who came to this part of the world to support the people of China.  Before Mildred, of course, came Gladys Aylwood, a British maid, who was rejected as a missionary, but eventually found her way to a children’s home in central China[2]. She was of course a contemporary of Eric Liddell, winner of a 1924 Olympic Gold Medal, and "Chariots of Fire" fame,  who became a missionary and died in a Japanese concentration camp in China[3].  A century before such names as Hudson Taylor and Robert Morrison mobilised tens of thousands of people to help and support the poorest in China – and, yes, through that preach the Christian message.  (You can read a lot more about these Christian adventurers under the "History" tab).

 

After Mildred, came Wendy and Valerie and of course Jackie Pullinger, whose bestseller “Chasing the Dragon” was a model for this book.  No book is unique…

 

And then David came to China, as told in “China’s Oasis”.

 

The will to survive throughout the generations is seen at many levels in the China Oasis story.  The Christian family will continue to keep serving the weak from a position of strength. ICC is part of this process and people are continually being called to follow through not only it but also new missions that are being started all the time.  

 

A new mission is like a small business. Some begin with just a couple of people and fades as the leaders retire and many fall by the wayside through dissent, persecution, mismanagement, or their work is just complete.  Only a few NGO’s become as sustainable as ICC, dealing with an ongoing work. 

 

ICC’s last quarter century is a reflection of how well David did in establishing and leading an organisation without any particular training, skill or knowledge. He was blessed with the talents that God had given him, the “luck” that he needed that we know as grace - and his faith in that God.  His call to you is, “what are you going to do?”

 

 

 

Richard Harris 

May 2018

 

[1]  Those who have read China’s Oasis will find dramatic comparisons with Dawn Gage’s story – she lost out to a U.S. mission group who took over the funding of Living Stones village in the mid-2000’s.

 

[2]  You will recall the film, the “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” (starring Ingrid Bergman as Gladys).  

 

[3]  His story is recounted in Sally Magnusson’s book, “The Flying Scotsman”.

 

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