Note: This story is part one of two parts.
His life is described as one “of high purpose issuing from narrow beginnings, broadening and deepening in its currents of usefulness, and culminating in great achievements” (Grist v).
Samuel Pollard, the father of the missionary, was born in 1826. He worked in the dockyards for some years.
He was deeply affected by the evangelical revivals in England and offered himself to be a lay preacher for the Bible Christian Church in 1852. (The Bible Christian Church merged with other similar denominations to form the United Methodist Church in 1907.) He combined “the emotional and vivid imagination of the Celtic race, linking poetic sensibility to religious passion and was an unwearying student of the Bible and the book of Nature” (Grist 2). A passionate evangelist, he spent hours in prayer daily and led his family in worship three times a day. His wife, Ellen Deboyne, was of French-Canadian extraction.
Samuel Pollard, the missionary, was born April 20, 1864, the third of six children. “‘Young Sam’ inherited the Celtic imagination and deep emotions of his father, and from his mother derived his readiness of wit, clear-cut mentality and practical ability in affairs” (Grist 3). The Pollards were poor all his childhood; Samuel helped by earning money doing menial tasks. As his father received invitations, the family moved several times. Always, Samuel saw at first hand some of the revivals that sprung from his father’s powerful preaching ministry. Very early, he showed the marks of “a strong and buoyant personality. His brothers and sisters called him ‘Amiability’” (Grist 4).
When he was eleven, he prayed one night for several hours on his knees before bedtime to be given a spiritual blessing like that which his father manifested. God heard his request, and, in the morning, he woke up with profound spiritual peace. In 1876, his parents scraped together the funds to enroll him in the Bible Christian Proprietary School, whose headmaster at the time was a man whom he greatly admired. Samuel’s father had given him a Bible on the condition that he read it every day, which Pollard did, often late at night.
Early in life he displayed a particular penchant for “forceful invective” when he was aroused. In lighter moments he manifested a similar capacity for humor, which he often directed at himself. In 1879, along with three others, he won First Class Honors in the Oxford Local Examinations. To earn money so he could help with the family finances, he applied for and gained a government position in London. He attended services at the Bible Christian Chapel at Clapham, where he came under the influence of the Rev. F.W. Bourne, a man of “vigorous intellect, of massive moral force, with the temper and inward life of a mystic” (Grist 7). In later years, Pollard drew strength from Bourne’s willingness to pour himself out in preaching to twenty people in a small country congregation.
“As he listened to Mr. Bourne, Pollard was filled with high thoughts, and the fire of a new ambition was kindled within him. He began to look at life with new eyes and a new standard of values … Increasingly the reality of the Unseen loomed upon his mind, and he saw things in the perspective of the Eternal. A deeper life was unfolded in Samuel Pollard’s soul; he owed much to his parents and teachers; but now he felt the urge of his own spirit, and he came to know that only a life of service could satisfy him… . He was waiting for the call, assured in his own mind that when God’s hour should strike he would know the predestined path” (Grist 7).
Finally, the day came when he realized that God wanted him to be a preacher of the gospel.
Meanwhile, the Bible Christian Connexion, which had always had a strong missionary component, was considering whether to assist in the evangelization of China. After J. Hudson Taylor and Benjamin Broomhall spoke to their conference in 1885, two young ministers, Thomas Thorne and Thomas Grills Vanstone, were appointed as associates of the China Inland Mission, to work in Yunnan, the province then in greatest need of missionaries.
Pollard wanted to follow them but had to wait until God overcame the strong opposition in his mother’s heart; she did not want to give up her son for service in such a distant land. Finally, she surrendered to God’s will, and Pollard applied to the Missionary Committee of his church, resigning his duties in the Civil Service. Almost at the same time, his schoolmate Francis John Dymond also applied. The two were formally set aside for this work in 1886.
From then on, these two young men “were indissolubly linked in friendship and in life work together, ever through the subsequent years unwavering in their strong attachment” (Grist 11).
Arriving in China
Samuel Pollard was twenty-three when he and Frank Dymond left for China on the S.S. Chusan on January 27, 1887. On the voyage, they enjoyed company with a group of missionaries from the China Inland Mission (CIM), a harbinger of close fellowship and collaboration in years to come.
Three missionaries from the CIM met them when they arrived in Shanghai and escorted them to the spacious CIM headquarters, where they quickly received Chinese garments. They soon departed for Ganking, where they joined new CIM missionaries in studying the Chinese language under the supervision of F.W. Baller. “It was here that the foundations were laid of classical Confucian literature which saved him from the reproach of illiteracy which the Chinese were at that period so ready to cast upon foreigners” (Grist 16).
Pollard soon demonstrated his extraordinary gift for languages. Within three months, he had been asked to deliver brief messages in Mandarin at the evening prayer service every other week while Baller was temporarily away. When the first language exam was given, in July 1887, he received the highest score.
He did not imagine that fluency in the language would suffice to make them effective messengers of the gospel, however. A month later he wrote, “For some time past we have all been praying, more or less, for more power. As the time was drawing near for our being thrust out into the work, we began in earnest to cry for the anointing service” (Grist 19). Within a couple of weeks, he and others had experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that made him feel like a different person.
Beginning Work in Yunnan
The two men left the language training center in November 1887. Traveling first by boat up the Yangzi (Yangtse) River, and then by land for hundreds of miles across Sichuan and Yunnan, they finally arrived at Chaotong on February 8. They were taken in by Samuel Thomas Thorne, a missionary with their society and an old schoolmate. The mission house was small and simply furnished. Two days later, T.G. Vanstone and his wife joined them. The mission was left in their charge while Thorne went back to Chongqing to get married.
Pollard and Dymond spent their days in language study and evangelism among the poor and gospel-ignorant masses. Suddenly, Dymond came down with smallpox, and Pollard had to drop everything to attend to his friend. “He knew nothing about cooking and had brought no foreign [supplies]; yet he had to provide such food as the invalid could take” (Grist 37). During a communion service together, he writes, “Jesus himself came to us in that little upper room, and we were wonderfully cheered and comforted by His love and presence” (Grist 38).
During Dymond’s convalescence, Pollard was notified that a woman who was an opium addict was dying of an attempt at suicide. He rushed to her home with some medicines, and, after a terrific struggle, she recovered. From that time on, Pollard’s “reputation as a healer spread throughout the city, and people came to him with all kinds of sicknesses. They felt no need of his new doctrine, but they were eager to experience the magical properties of his foreign drugs” (Grist 39).
For the rest of his missionary career, Pollard continued this healing ministry, gradually increasing his medical knowledge through reading, experience and, while on furlough learning from physicians at home. Opium was then ravaging all classes of Chinese. His diaries seem to mention saving women who were about to die more than men. Pollard’s success at rescuing potential suicides and in curing other ailments won people’s trust and affection, opening doors for the gospel.
When Thorne returned with his bride, Pollard and Dymond set out for Yunnan Fu, where they began pioneer work for their mission (CIM missionaries were already there.) Here they continued their study of Chinese, determined to take all six of the demanding exams required of CIM workers. His studies included the Confucian classics, in which he found much valuable ethical teaching. “But mixed with all this truth there is much error… . they scorn our doctrine as below theirs, but they don’t know the beauty of ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest, or of God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16)… . Far removed, indeed, the actual life of the people seemed from the rational ethic of Confucius; to Pollard it was a dark forest of sin and superstition” (Grist 42–43).
In time, Dymond left Pollard to continue alone. In 1888, he and the CIM team held what was planned as a ten-day evangelistic mission but had to be extended because the people responded so warmly to the gospel. During a meeting for fasting and prayer, Pollard wrote, “Our room was filled with glory, and I had a manifestation such as I had never realised before. The glory came down and so filled me that I felt the Holy Ghost from my head to the souls of my feet… . I had the promise at that meeting that we are going to have thousands of souls” – a promise that saw rich fulfillment years later (Grist 43).
At this time, he began to write letters to the missions committee of his church at home to beg for more workers to come and serve in China. “In our large district we have four large towns, each important, with many thousands of inhabitants.” In another letter he wrote: “Villages and towns in all directions. We found four hundred such within five miles of the city walls, and on the plain itself there are over a thousand, none more than thirty miles from the mission home. When shall there be places for Christian worship in each of those? May God stir up His people to be quick and not wait too long!” (Grist 44–45). He asked for fifteen or twenty missionaries, including medical men, to work in this vast field. In later years, he constantly returned to this theme, sometimes expressing his frustration and even anger that so few workers were sent to China.
“We are just a handful standing in the breach for Jesus’ sake… . A shout is heard! Another opium case, so I must be off… . The victim was a young woman twenty-three years old. Thank God we succeeded in saving her life! … Would that you were here for a few days to see all we see! Gambling in every street; every house an opium den; houses of ill-repute on every hand; the devil is in full swing; and hell holds carnival all day long … God knows these words come from hearts that burn” (Grist 52).
Meanwhile, he did all he could to bring the gospel to these people, whose sufferings moved him deeply. He mapped out the entire area, dividing it into districts, and started to visit them in turn on excursions that often lasted several days. “The journeys also enabled him to make the people around Yunnan Fu familiar with the presence of foreigners – to overcome Chinese prejudices and to create trust” (Grist 47). This strategy resembled that of J. Hudson Taylor, whose evangelists would work in around a city in a spiral that ended up in the city itself.
Pollard’s diary describes in detail the dark, dingy, dirty, crowded and generally miserable conditions of the inns where he and his coworkers sought shelter for the night. We also read of his arduous travels on horseback or on foot over “roads” that frequently were only rough paths. Sometimes, they had to traverse a stretch that was so narrow that a single misstep would have sent them plunging into a river or gorge far below. Year after year, he subjected himself to the rigors of frequent travels to reach small bands of Christians or people who had never heard the gospel.
Sometimes the Chinese would greet him with friendliness and attention, but often they were indifferent or even hostile. He would not give up. “What we would give to win the people’s love! Lord, help me to keep on loving the people in spite of all!” (Kendall 15).
Pollard would preach to crowds, speak to individuals, provide medical help when he could, and sell Christian literature. To gather a crowd, he would beat on a gong. On these evangelistic journeys, he was accompanied at this time by Mr. Yang, an early convert who was now employed as an evangelist, and a coolie to carry his books, tracts, and essential equipment for travel. Pollard would preach in market squares and then converse at length with inquirers in tea shops or inns.
As he visited various towns and villages, he encountered people of different racial and religious backgrounds – Han Chinese, of course, but also tribal folk and Muslims. Regardless of the composition of the crowd, he was extremely successful as a street preacher (in contrast to Timothy Richard and, to some degree, Calvin Mateer, though perhaps the comparison is unfair, because Shandong was less receptive to the gospel at this time and Yunnan).
Unlike some Western missionaries who gave up when they met with resistance to their message, Pollard took lack of receptivity as a challenge and tried even harder to persuade his hearers. One Chinese scholar who knew him well later wrote: “Gradually, though the Chinese still withheld their belief in his message, they delighted to converse with him, for he never cherished any thought of his own superiority, but treated them as brothers… [Chinese used to believe that foreigners were like wolves], but by going in and among the people of Yunnan Fu, Mr. Pollard made them almost forget that he was a foreigner” (Grist 59).
In his diaries, he often exclaims, “God save these people!” “God save these poor and wretched people!” He also cried out for the needs of his soul. “First of all the one cry of my heart is, ‘Lord save China – Yunnan, and make me holy.’ My wish is to be a gentle, kind Christian, with never a cross word for anybody, never a suspicion of another Christ. Three years odd spent in China. Thank God for bringing us here! God help me to live every day faithfully for Him, and O Lord, do save Yunnan!’” (Kendall 15).
In the summer of 1890, on one of these evangelistic trips, Pollard fainted while in the barber’s chair and woke up sweating all over it. He had contracted malaria, like several of his colleagues. He said, “This is my thorn in the flesh,” but his biographer comments, “It was nature’s warning to him to be careful not to overtax his strength; but henceforth he was subject to such attacks throughout his life” (Grist 57).
When he returned, he often found that interested people had come to visit his home. “Just as in that hired house in Rome St. Paul was visited by all sorts and conditions of people, so the missionary’s house at Yunnan Fu was a rendezvous for thoughtful inquirers, for men and women overburdened with suffering and care” (Grist 53).
Meanwhile, he kept at his study of the language, including the Confucian classics, of which he eventually became an acknowledged expert. Pollard did not neglect other studies. “On rare occasions of furlough his friends were often surprised at his alertness, his knowledge of books, and particularly at his extensive vocabulary… . Throughout his life in China he resolutely read his Greek New Testament and strove to keep up acquaintance of good books – principally of a religious or biographical kind,” as well as novels, journals, and poetry (he especially enjoyed the works of Shelley and Milton). “He learned as much from men as from books,” however. (Grist 58). “His religious faith was an inexhaustible spring of inspiration, and he kept his mind fresh by reading” (Grist 84).
All these years, Pollard had labored on, despite loneliness and disappointment. When he felt especially low, he would visit the CIM mission house for fellowship and encouragement in the work. The missionaries there were just as zealous for the evangelization of Yunnan as he was and gave him a warm welcome and much-needed support.
One of them, Miss Emily Hainge, “an enthusiastic and gifted lady, attracted Pollard more and more” (Grist 60). He wasn’t sure of her feelings for him, so he wrote a note expressing his affection for her in March 1890. Her reply showed that she felt the same way about him, but she had to seek her parents’ approval before going forward in their relationship. Seven months later, in September 1891, their letter blessing this relationship reached the young lovers, and they became engaged.
Fired by this new love, Pollard threw himself even more energetically into his evangelistic endeavors, placing strain upon his body that may have permanently affected his immunity and strength. Several of his coworkers, similarly overworked, broke down and either died or had to go home. His biographer, who knew Pollard well, writes:
They had thrown themselves unsparingly into their task, studying the most difficult language under the sun with the absorption and determination of men who were bent upon [earning scholastic honors]; they preached and taught incessantly; they dispensed medicines to hundreds of patients; they ignored the subtle dangers of an Eastern climate, and they tried to live as simply as the coolies who served them. They were as gallant a band of men as ever strove to achieve the impossible; they were as self-denying as young monks, and as chivalrous as Don Quixote; but, we have to confess, they lacked all sense of proportion (Grist 63).
His old schoolmate Samuel Thorne died of malaria in 1891, while Pollard and Emmie were traveling to Chongqing to be officially married by the British consul. The ceremony took place on December 4th. On their journey back to Chaotong, the natural beauty of their surroundings stirred Pollard to express what his biographer calls his “nature worship” in a letter that resembles dozens of others he wrote:
Towering up on every side were the mighty hills. Fine, bold, rough pillars of the sky! In one place a spreading waterfall tumbled down a cliff, and after the fall scattered white ribbons, rejoining again for the next long leap. Below us the river dashed by every obstacle. How it lashed the rocks which disputed its say! … Scores of packhorses came tinkling along; scores of pack men trudging by their side, and scores of coolies singing and joking; the whole made a scene of great animation. The roar of the waters, the singing of the coolies, the tinkling of the bells on the horses, the rustling of the wind through the long grass, formed parts of one great busy song, which the sturdy hills seemed to bend to hear (Grist 68).
The death of Thorne and the sickness of Vanstone forced them to give up the mission at Yunnan Fu; the Pollards continued the work in Chaotong with William Tremberth. As he further pursued his study of the Confucian Classics, Pollard was “struck at the amount of light which Confucius had transmitted, but the teaching was severely rationalistic and made no attempt to stimulate the emotions: as a consequence, though its morality had passed into institutions, it left the souls of the people unsatisfied. Hence within the Confucian framework of Chinese society had grown up gross superstitions, ranging from animism into the most prolific polytheism” (Grist 70). Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism favored the growth of magic, witchcraft, and demon-worship and the people were in bondage to the fear of evil spirits all their days.
To bring relief to their troubled souls and sickened bodies, Pollard not only preached the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ to an ever-increasing audience of eager hearers, but dispensed simple but often effective cures through Western medicines he had learned to use. His reputation as a healer spread throughout the region, bringing sufferers to the mission home and chapel from outlying towns and villages.
Pollard continued his itinerant preaching and healing work, now supported by his wife, who shared his zeal for evangelism. When a great famine struck the area in 1892, the missionaries did all they could to alleviate the horrific suffering that greatly afflicted the populace. Their love for every individual contrasted with the callous indifference of most Chinese, including the officials. Gradually, as they observed the kindness of the Christians, those in authority began to do more to help their people.
At the same time, Pollard’s heart was troubled by his own lack of Christ-like love. His diary records many instances of remorse over having treated some Chinese person unkindly. Once, when a man yelled “Foreign devil!” at him, Pollard went after the man on his pony and chased him through a shop and out to the back. He asked why the man had cursed him so rudely. After a discussion, they were cordial to each other. When thieves broke into their home or when he saw them robbing a weaker person, Pollard often used force to restrain them.
He constantly prayed to God for more grace to reflect the character of Christ more faithfully so that his message and his conduct would be consistent and would attract others to believe in Jesus. At the end of 1893 he wrote in his diary, “I am feeling very depressed. For some days I have not been satisfied with my soul. Oh, for more of Jesus, His love and purity!” (Kendall 36).
In letters and books, Pollard provides vivid and detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna of the varied regions through which he traveled, the houses of the people, their food, worship, social customs, dress, and much else. In other words, like many missionaries, though perhaps with more than the usual vivacity and color, he served as an expert ethnographer and a sympathetic observer of China to people back home.
He also expresses his joy in being a pioneer missionary and his intense desire to see more workers come to the field. At night, he would use a “magic lantern” – what we would now call a slide projector – to show pictures illustrating events in the Bible, while the Chinese sat entranced both by the message and the strange new medium. “What a beautiful story we have to tell! Standing at one end of the room and looking down at this little company I was strangely moved as I thought some of them had never heard the Gospel before … I longed for more workers. Oh, for a band of twenty noble men and women at once” (Grist 83).
Perhaps unlike some missionaries, Pollard possessed a fine sense of humor and loved to laugh at himself. Both Chinese and Nosu were drawn to his strange new message partly because they could not keep from liking him, and his fun-loving nature bubbled up in ways that evoked delight and affection. Here’s what he says about this crucial element of missionary work:
We wanted everybody, if possible, to feel friendly and jolly with the visitor [himself], and we knew in such a case they could not think unkindly of any part of the visitor’s message. It was fun and friendship with them, and if the missionary’s methods could reach these hillmen’s hearts in that way I think the method a great improvement on some earlier and rougher methods of [gospel] propagation. I do not for a moment think laughter and joy and high spirits and a lot of fun with the children are out of place in a missionary’s work (Pollard, In Unknown China, 94–95).
At the same time, he was aware of the danger off too much light-heartedness. In 1893, he lamented: “A spirit of hilarity oppresses me. I so often wish to be more sober, and so rarely am” (Kendall 38).
The faithful labors of the Pollards and their colleagues bore fruit when three people were baptized in 1893. At the same time, a new chapel was dedicated, in anticipation that God would draw many more to himself – a hope that turned into reality a few years later.
Because of his recurring bouts of malaria and increasingly fragile health, it was decided that Pollard should move to Tungch’uan, which had a better climate. At the beginning of 1894, as he began work in this new field, Pollard wrote: “Glory to God in the highest! Let me live this year with the one aim to glorify God: to preach for His glory: to live for His glory: to read and write for His glory. Oh, that the presence of God may always be with me, making me think of Him; not counting a day well spent but what is spent for Him only; not counting a sermon worth preaching unless it be preached only for God!” (Grist 88).
Their first son, Samuel, was born March 16, 1894. Pollard had read medical books to prepare for the birth, since there were no qualified doctors nearby. Immediately, the smiling Caucasian baby gained new friends for his parents. “The presence of a little foreign wa-wa touched the common humanity of the Chinese and diminished the barrier between the missionaries and themselves” (Grist 89). Many missionaries in China have experienced the same thing.
After seven years of hard work, including nightly preaching in the preaching hall, the results may have seemed meagre: Eight missionaries (including wives), two Chinese evangelists, one chapel at Chaotong, three preaching stations in the Tungchu’an district, three converts, fifteen inquirers, two Sunday schools with fifteen students, and one day school at Chaotong with fifteen pupils. Slowly, however, the foundation was being laid for a great work of God in this region.
Wearied by the climate and unremitting labor, Pollard knew that he needed a break, so he and Emmie sailed for England in January 1895. He immediately poured himself into visiting small groups of Bible Christians, seeking to kindle in the people’s heart his own zeal for foreign missions. To arouse curiosity, he wore Chinese dress. After summing up a narrative from the Gospels, he would “make direct and cogent appeals to the conscience. He had a gift of summing up his thoughts in arresting phrases which clung to memory, and he would surprise his hearers by swift turns of thought which often stirred deep emotion… Wherever he went the people were stirred to new enthusiasm” (Grist 101).
While in England, Pollard managed to equip himself further by learning more about teeth extraction from an English dentist.
Second Term of Service in China
Pollard returned to China in the spring of 1897, accompanied by a Miss Howe and the writer of his biography. At the annual conference of the mission, he was again appointed as Superintendent, as well as pastor of the church in Chaotong. His pioneering spirit would have much preferred greater freedom to strike out on his own, but he was willing also to fulfill his duties as a family man, pastor, and leader of the mission.
Seeing the need for a place where missionaries could receive much-needed rest, he had collected money from friends to build a bungalow outside of Chaotong.
He did not lessen his care for poor and distressed people, but he now began to turn his attention to the scholars and mandarins of Yunnan.
He managed to get books written in Chinese literary style from the Christian Literature Society, and these he gave to the students who came for the triennial examinations… . Over and above the work of preaching and running an elementary school, he became the purveyor of Western books and Chinese newspapers, by which means he sought to open men’s minds. He also wrote dissertations on natural phenomena and sought to disseminate truer ideas of science and of Christianity. He aroused the interest of citizens by using lantern-pictures in preaching. As a result of these various kinds of propaganda and of the manifested kindness he felt for the people, there were many who, though they could not believe the message he preached, yet believed in him, and looked upon him as an interesting personality with whom they were willing to cultivate friendly acquaintance (Grist 105).
He also sought to build friendships with the local officials, who responded very favorably to him and helped him by removing obstacles and opening doors for his ministry.
After years of seeing patients and dispensing medicines in his clinic, a Dr. Savin arrived, bringing needed medical assistance both for Chinese and for missionaries. Savin assisted in the safe delivery of their second child, Bertram, on July 17, 1898.
Despite the demands of his multi-faceted ministry, Pollard took the time to prepare a Chinese classical dictionary that F.W. Baller of the CIM had requested from him – so highly was his knowledge of the Confucian Classics regarded among experts.
Pollard’s ministry received a new impetus when a Chinese student, Stephen Li, became a follower of Christ. Soon, Li’s brother had also believed in Christ. Under their influence, the school was transformed into a fountain of Western learning. Li wrote: “Mr. Pollard taught arithmetic, geography, music, and drill… The Western teacher looked upon my brother and me as his hands and feet. We loved each other with virtue and courtesy” (Grist 109). Pollard had the great gift of multiplying himself; in time, Stephen and his older brother became essential teammates, especially in the field of education.
Similarly, he later established a school for preachers, and soon found that his students were able to preach sermons just as good as any he had heard in England. Meanwhile, he continued teaching the Christians God’s Word, including the Ten Commandments. They found observing the Lord’s Day especially difficult, but he exhorted them to do so.
Pollard also trained two Chinese believers to become evangelists in the surrounding towns and villages.
Ancestor worship was – and is – a major obstacle to the gospel among Chinese, for the rites to honor deceased relatives, especially one’s parents, are considered idolatrous by most missionaries and Chinese Christian. When one of his converts participated in these rites and then felt guilty about it, Pollard not only preached a strong sermon against idolatry, but devised a way to replace the pagan elements of the ceremonies with Christian ones, thus making them services of commemoration. “He was not there to destroy, but to construct” (Grist 113).
When a drought caused the crops to fail, and farmers were tempted to grow opium for cash, he wrote, printed, and distributed a tract urging them to plant of beans instead of opium.
Boxer Rebellion and Sojourn in Shanghai
The indiscriminate killing of foreigners and of Chinese Christians that began in the northern province of Shandong soon spread throughout most of China. Like other missionaries, Pollard and his coworkers received orders from their consul to leave Yunnan and seek safety on the coast, arriving Hong Kong on August 6, 1900, and Shanghai not long afterwards.
The moral corruption that he witnessed in that port city evoked his passionate anger against the exploitation of young girls for immoral purposes, provoking him to write a scathing letter against the foreigners who tolerated this traffic in the parts of Shanghai under their control. He also lashed out at the nefarious opium trade, which was still actively promoted by the British government.
After the uprising had ended, Pollard was able to return to Chaotong with his colleagues. Crowds greeted them as the entered the city, led by men bearing scroll banners. The attitude of the people and the officials toward the Protestant missionaries was almost entirely different; the same was true all over the country. As he travelled through China in 1901, Pollard noticed “the momentous change in the attitude of all classes to the foreigner and to his religion” (Grist 126).
Emmie rejoined Pollard after she gave birth to their third son, Walter, in September 1901.
During his stay in Shanghai, Pollard came into close contact with missionaries who, like Timothy Richard, believed that they should introduce Western learning to the Chinese people and seek to “Christianize” the country, both to benefit them and to remove obstacles to the gospel. “Without consciously discarding any of his early [evangelical] beliefs, his emphasis changed, and his outlook widened” (Grist 124).
On the other hand, in an apparent opposition to Timothy Richard and others like him, Pollard held firmly to his evangelical priorities:
We are here in Chinese because we believe God has sent us to make known to these people the Gospel of Jesus. We are not here as political agents, not as explorers, not as outposts of Western civilisation. We are here to disciple them [that is, to make them into disciples of Christ; see Matthew 20:18–19], and our success will be measured by the extent to which we persuade them to accept Christ. We have not come to break down prejudices, dispel superstition, explode fanciful ideas, and we should be very chary [careful, wary] of taking comfort for success in these things. We shall not have accomplished what we have set out to do when these millions have accepted Western civilization (Kendall 52–53).
Awakening in Yunnan 1901–1905
Though the residents of Chaotong showed great interest in the opening of a middle school in their town, they were not as eager to enter the church. Outside the city, however, Pollard and his coworkers found that the people were now much more receptive to the gospel than before and requested that churches be founded in their towns and villages.
Working with the members of his mission, Pollard did all he could to evangelize these spiritually hungry thousands. Entering a new town, he first sought to build relations with the local mandarin and gain his permission to start a church there. Then he taught the Bible to the crowds, both publicly and in inns for many hours each day, urging upon them the duty and privilege of prayer as well.
He commented on one such enthusiastic welcome: “There was really a work of the Spirit and about forty people decided to become followers of Christ. We played with the children and enjoyed competitions with the young people … God is with us. Day after day we take names of those who want to be enquirers” (Kendall 56). Everywhere they went, they found the people more than eager to get rid of their idols. At one town, after the residents burned their idols, Pollard prayed for rain. Three hours later, the rains came; the new converts took this as evidence that God was the only true god, and their idols were false.
More and more, he relied on the zeal and competence of his Chinese converts. “I have learned to respect the Christians I have with me more than ever,” he wrote. “They are gentlemen as well as Christians and they have behaved in [the Boxer] crisis as well as Christians of the same standing at home. How wisely and earnestly they have pleaded with the people to embrace our religion! The Gospel which has made these men what they are is the power of God” (Grist 128). He not only trained male evangelists, but “urged his converts and inquirers to instruct their wives so that they would not wish to hinder the spread of the new religion” (Grist 144). He also encouraged new converts to share their faith with friends and neighbors.
Invitations came from other towns, where he was often met with an official reception by the mandarins. In one place, Pollard “learned that a hundred villagers were desirous of building a church and joining with the … [inquirers of a nearby town]. They bought Christian books and promised to study them together; and Pollard encouraged them by undertaking to send two of his evangelists to give them guidance” (Grist 132).
In another village, he watched as former pagans expressed their anger at their impotent idols, who had not answered prayers for rain during a drought, by taking them from the temples and announcing: “We are going to dethrone you now and burn you to ashes. If you are true gods, then save yourselves and punish us for sacrilege” (Grist 133). The new Christians suffered no harm and the rains fell.
Pollard longed to see millions of Chinese turn to Christ, but he “would make no compromise with idolatry, nor lower the standards of the Church in order to attract any who were not morally in earnest. He strove hard to prevent any young Christian from marrying a heathen” (Grist 135). He would not accept attempts by Christians to worship their ancestors or to make Confucius equal with Christ, but “he used every opportunity for establishing Christianity as an ideal and as an institution in North Yunnan” (Grist 125).
Some of his itinerations were several months long. As always, he used a variety of means to spread the gospel. “While governed by a serious and high regard for purpose, his mind could be playful and witty. He possessed in no mean degree the art of the storyteller, as those who read Tight Corners in China will appreciate” (Grist 136). An observe of his preaching wrote: “When the eloquent missionary, Pollard, preached, the literary men, the merchants, coolies, and in fact, all classes, listened with the closest attention” (Grist 148).
When a town had enough spiritually strong men, Pollard appointed them as leaders to “conduct the work, drawing up regulations in their own way” (Kendall 63).
On these journeys, “Pollard’s patient endurance of hardships and mischances of the road impressed his companions. Years later Mr. Stephen Lee said of him: ‘He was not covetous, his clothing, food and dwelling were of little consequence to him and were scarcely in his thoughts. What occupied his mind was the extension of the Kingdom” (Grist 139). Like some other optimistic missionaries of his time, he had “dreams of a great extension of the Kingdom of God” in China (Grist 144).
He could keep going partly by engaging in several types of ministry – evangelism, interviewing seekers, supervising his assistants, etc. – at once, and by reading great literature like Milton’s Paradise Lost in the midst of mighty mountains. Its magnificence equaled the mountains around him; “it kindled not only Pollard’s poetic feelings, but also his religion and his patriotism, and he reckoned it as one of the glories of the British race” (Grist 141).
His long preaching tours kept him away from home four months a year. This separation was a great sacrifice to him, for “a gentler and more affectionate husband and father could scarcely be” (Grist 149). Meanwhile, his wife supervised the education of their children so well that they were able to compete with students in England while at home. Later, she established an English school for her own children and for those of the Tremberths.
It was a time of historic change for China, when people at all levels of society were eager to receive whatever the West had to offer. The inability – or unwillingness – of his own denomination to send more workers to China during a time of harvest filled him with anger and dismay. His biographer comments: “European nations were obsessed with false ideals of political aggrandizement and were unable to understand the revolution going on in the mind of China, and the grand opportunity of 1903–1904 was largely lost” (Grist 155).
To be continued…
Grist, William Alexander. Samuel Pollard: Pioneer Missionary in China. London: Henry Hooks. United Methodist Publishing House and Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1919.
Kendall, R. Elliott, ed. Eyes of the Earth: The Diary of Samuel Pollard. London: Cargate Press, 1954.
Pollard, Samuel. In Unknown China. London: Seeley Service & Co., Limited. 1921; reprinted by Forgotten Books, a trademark of FB & Co, Ltd., London, 2018.
—. Tight Corners in China. London: Andrew Crombie, 1910; reprinted by University of Michigan Libraries, 2010.