The Chinese Empire. A General & Missionary Survey/Work for the Mongols near Kalgan

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By the Rev. James H. Roberts, American Board.

The missionaries at Kalgan have always been deeply interested in the Mongols, and have done for them whatever they could, in time not required for work for the Chinese. Their motto has been: "To the Chinese first, and also to the Mongols."

Kalgan is a flourishing business city, 140 miles north-west of Peking, where the caravan route to Mongolia and Russia crosses the Great Wall of China. Through this celebrated pass to the Mongolian plateau go the officials, traders, and missionaries from the China coast to the interior, and to Kalgan come the Mongols, to sell their flocks and herds, and to buy what they want of the wares manufactured by the Chinese. Through this place they carry their tribute to Peking, and go on pilgrimages to the sacred mountain called Wu-t'ai-shan, in Shansi.

The word "Kalgan" is the Mongolian "halag," meaning a great gate, and denoting the gate in the Great Wall, where the city has grown up. Russian merchants changed the word to its present form. The Chinese name is Chang Chia K'ou—the Chang Family Pass. This is the front or southern door of Mongolia. It stands wide open every day. Through it come the camels, horses, cattle, sheep, wool, hides, salt, soda, and lumber from Mongolia, and through it toward the north go the tea, silks, cloth, saddles, boots, etc., made in China, and all sorts of imported goods. In the summer, 300,000 sheep in a month are driven through Kalgan, en route to Peking; in the winter as many boxes of tea are taken northward on camels; and the Mongols, riding through the streets at break-neck speed, or waddling from shop to shop in their long gowns and heavy boots, fingering their beads or turning hand prayer-mills, are a familiar sight. The missionaries saw in these circumstances a fulfilment of the Lord's words, "Behold, I have set before thee an open door " (Rev. iii. 8).

The first missionary at Kalgan, Rev. John T. Gulick, of the American Board, who opened this mission station in 1865, spent his summers touring with Mrs. Gulick in the neighbouring part of Mongolia, and devoted much time, thought, and prayer to the evangelisation of the Mongols. Rev. Mark Williams and Rev. T. W. Thompson came for the Chinese work in this field, and in 1874 Rev. and Mrs. W. P. Sprague came to Kalgan, with the special design of aiding Mr. and Mrs. Gulick in their work for the Mongols. However, God's ways are not as ours. Mr. Gulick, born in the mild climate of Hawaii, could not endure the severely cold winters of Kalgan, which is as far north as New York, and 2700 feet above the sea. After ten years of service in this station he was compelled by sickness to remove to Japan, where he has spent many years in missionary work, and has achieved world-wide renown through scientific research.

Mr. Sprague, after studying Mongolian about a year, was obliged to turn aside to the work for the Chinese, owing to the sickness and withdrawal of Mr. Thompson, and the enlarging Chinese work, which could not be carried on by Mr. Williams alone. From that time to the present (December 1906) Mr. Sprague has often itinerated in Mongolia, and always welcomed Mongol visitors in his home, where he entertains them with stereopticon pictures and the phonograph, and tries to impart some teachings of Christian faith and love.

In 1875 Rev. Henry D. Porter, M.D., being temporarily in Kalgan, translated into English Schmidt's German Grammar of the Mongolian language—a work which was most helpful to the other missionaries, but unfortunately was destroyed by the Boxers in 1900.

Meantime "James Gilmour of Mongolia" was living in Peking, and spending his summers in Mongolia. His visits in Kalgan, going to and from his great field, kept alive in other missionaries a love for the tent-dwellers in "the regions beyond."

1885 was an eventful year. In January a Mongol named Boyinto, of Shipartai, made a noble confession of faith in Christ, showing a good knowledge of the Gospel and love for the Saviour, and was baptized and received as a member of the Kalgan Church. His father, who had recently died, had not worshipped idols in the last ten years of his life. Whether this was the fruit of Mr. Gilmour's work or of Mr. Gulick's was never known.

In February or March Mr. Gilmour made his celebrated tour on foot to Hara Oso, and there heard a confession of faith from another Boyinto. It is necessary to distinguish carefully between these two men of the same name, living in two different localities, one in Shipartai, 33 miles north of Kalgan, and the other 50 miles north-west of Kalgan. Mr. Gilmour, bereaved by the death of his wife and youngest child, and footsore from his long journey, was cheered beyond measure at seeing this first-fruit of the labours of many years. A discussion having arisen in England and America as to the delimitation of the field, Mr. Gilmour, to our great regret, "changed his base of operations" to Chaoyang, in South-Eastern Mongolia,—and the sheep at Hara Oso were left without a shepherd.

This emergency led Rev. James H. Roberts, of Kalgan, to visit Shipartai and Hara Oso occasionally, and to study the Mongolian language, in order to preach the Gospel to the Mongols, and at least conserve the impressions made by Mr. Gilmour and others, until some one else should come to carry on this work. His activity in this field continued, with some interruptions, for ten years.

In October 1886 Boyinto of Hara Oso, making a short journey with Mr. Roberts, renewed his confession of faith. He was heart-broken over Gilmour's removal to another field. As Boyinto was never taken into the employ of the missionaries after his conversion, and yet was steadfast in witnessing for Christ for fifteen years, enduring persecution, and befriending the missionaries amid the perils of the year 1900, Mr. Roberts never doubted his sincere conversion, notwithstanding the clouds that gathered about his last days.

In the winter of 1889-90 Mr. Roberts had a Mongol teacher and two Mongol pupils in Kalgan. One of the latter, though under instruction only a few weeks, seemed most favourably impressed with the excellence and claims of the Christian religion. The other, Bayin Delehi, memorised Gilmour's Truth Catechism in Mongolian and twenty-three chapters of Dr. Edkins' translation of the Gospel of Matthew. He was bright intellectually, very polite, clean for a Mongol, and appeared to believe the truth; but he left the station before the end of a year of study, engaged in business, and never showed any marked evidence of living a Christian life.

Boyinto of Shipartai, who had been baptized, was seldom at home when Mr. Roberts called to see him. At last, in 1892-93, he was seen riding away from home on our approach. On inquiry we learned that he had been called before an official, as a traitor to his country and its religion, and had been put to a test that had proved too severe. If the missionaries had known it they would have defended him. He was required to recant, under repeated and increasing threats of losing his official position, his property, his family, and his life. Under this pressure he yielded, discontinued his relations with the Church, subscribed to heathen temples, and, as a solace in his troubles, took to smoking opium. Whether in his heart he retained some real faith in his God and Saviour, no one can tell.

In 1892 Messrs. Sprague and Roberts, in view of the death of Mr. Gilmour, and of the fact that there was scarcely any Christian work being done in Mongolia, prepared an appeal to the Moravian Missionary Society, urging them to send missionaries to this vast field. Prayer was answered in an unexpected way, for the next year there came not Moravians, but Swedes.

In June 1895 Mr. Frans August Larson, who had spent a year or more in Urga, came to Kalgan, made a tour of a month in the neighbouring portion of Mongolia, and decided to open a mission station at Hara Oso, so as to follow up Mr. Gilmour's work. On renting and repairing a small adobe house of Boyinto's, so much ill feeling was aroused by the sight of a door and window made in foreign style, that Mr. Larson was driven out of the place, and Boyinto was dragged to the yamen, detained several weeks, and severely menaced by the official, who apparently did not dare to beat him. Sickness resulted from exposure to the weather on the way, as he had to sleep on the ground without cover wherever the night overtook him, and, in his absence from home, the family was robbed of all its cows and other animals, which were their only means of support. The missionaries at Kalgan gave him money to buy two cows, and thus saved the family from starving.

In August 1895 Mr. David Stenberg came from America to Kalgan, to engage in work for the Mongols. The following winter, he and Messrs. Larson, Swordson, and Roberts were all studying Mongolian together, with two teachers and two pupils.

After this Mr. Larson bought a Mongol tent, and pitched it each summer in Hara Oso, near to Boyinto's home. To this the Mongols had no objection. Miss Mary Rodgers, a missionary in Peking, became his most valuable helpmeet, and their home in the Upper City of Kalgan in the winter and in Hara Oso in the summer was the resort of their many friends—Swedes, Americans, Mongols, and Chinese. Hither came Mr. Suber, Mr. and Mrs. Helleberg, the Misses Clara and Hilda Anderson, Miss Hannah Lund and others, to study the Mongolian language, and it seemed as if Mr. Gilmour's prayers were being answered, and the day of Mongolia's redemption was drawing nigh.

The only dictionary of Mongolian words that could be obtained was Schmidt's, which gave the meanings in German and Russian. With a great amount of labour, Mr. and Mrs. Larson translated the whole book into English and Swedish, so as to make it more helpful to the missionaries.

Then came the terrible Boxer Uprising. Mr. Stenberg had obtained a good mission station in Southern Mongolia at Patzupulung, fourteen days' journey west of Kalgan. A Mongol woman named Halahan, who was brought there in a wretched filthy condition, so sick that her life was despaired of, had been nursed and loved back to life and health by the missionary sisters, and had been taught the love of God. There were then at that place the Misses Anderson, Miss Hannah Lund, Mr. Stenberg, and one or two other missionary gentlemen. Halahan was urged by the missionaries to leave them and escape, but would not do so, and with them won a martyr's crown. Messrs. Friedstrom and Suber, who had spent the winter among the Northern Mongols at Uliassutai, went southward across the desert of Gobi to the place where their friends had suffered; there Mr. Suber was put to death, and Mr. Friedstrom barely escaped, and, after extreme peril and suffering, reached Urga and Siberia. Mr. and Mrs. Larson and their two children, with a large company of Swedish and American missionaries, also fled to the north, and, in the kind providence of God, reached Urga and Kiachta. Mr. Larson was the captain of the caravan, and his ability to speak the Mongolian language, and to arrange all matters of business, together with his courage and his known skill with his rifle, were a means of salvation to all his comrades. The story of this, journey is given in detail in A Flight for Life and An Inside View of Mongolia, published by the Pilgrim Press, Boston, Mass., U.S.A.

In the Uprising, the Mongolian Dictionary in English and Swedish, and a Vocabulary of 3000 Mongolian words with English and Chinese equivalents, prepared by Mr. Roberts, were destroyed.

In 1901 Mr. Larson and Mr. Roberts were again in Kalgan, rebuilding their homes, and preparing for work for the natives on both sides of the Great Wall. Mr. and Mrs. Friedstrom came from America, and spent a happy year in the same city, the latter studying the Mongolian language, and her husband arranging for the reopening of Mr. Stenberg's station at Patzupulung. Thither they both went in the autumn of 1903. Mr. Larson pitched his tents at Tabol, 85 miles from Kalgan, on the Urga road, and made many long journeys in Mongolia in the service of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Boyinto of Hara Oso, when invited to escape from the Boxers with the missionaries, refused to do so, saying, "Then what would become of my family?" Let us honour him for this brave word and act. He survived that crisis, but was thought to have begun smoking opium, and has passed away to his award before the righteous Judge. It is not necessary to conceal the fact that some of the missionaries do not take as favourable a view of his life as that given here.

Mr. and Mrs. Sprague and Mr. and Mrs. Larson are still in Kalgan, labouring for both Mongols and Chinese. Mr. and Mrs. Magnusson and other missionaries have gone to help Mr. Friedstrom, so that now their number is eight, the same as before the massacres of 1900. They all deserve our utmost sympathy and prayers.

From the above is seen the importance of Kalgan as a place from which to enter and evangelise Mongolia. The missionaries, seeking to save China's multitudes, never have forgotten the less civilised tribes of the north. The city is hallowed by the footsteps of Gilmour and Stenberg. The Pass, opened through the mountains by the Lord himself, enables the heralds of salvation to cross a very rough border and ascend the great plateau. The Mongols are hospitable to new-comers, if not to new ideas. Their men of letters can be hired to teach in Kalgan. This is the natural gate to Mongolia, the place to study the language, and to purchase the requisite outfit for travelling in the interior. The missionaries living there are always glad to help those who may come, in preparing to serve Christ in the great North-West. If Mongolia had as many missionaries as China in proportion to its population, there should be twenty instead of ten. The field is difficult, the task is arduous. Workers of heroic courage are needed. Let us hope that many may enter through this "Open Door."

  1. This interesting article was in answer to a letter asking for details of the American Board work among the Mongols at Kalgan. It was received after the Mongolian article was completed. It is therefore given as a supplementary article.