Arnold Strange was born in England on June 13, 1897, but moved to Canada with his parents at an early age. After graduation from high school, he worked for a while as a stenographer. When World War One broke out, he received training as a wireless operator, and served on a British fishing boat until the conclusion of the conflict. He returned to Canada and entered McGill University in Toronto, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in literature. Then he went to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois, USA, to study theology in preparation for pastoral ministry in his hometown church. During his time at Moody, he took a course on Missions with Robert Hall Glover, M.D., with whom he formed a close friendship.
Arnold Strange attended the Student Volunteer Convention held in Indiana as a representative of his seminary. Here he saw the need of non-Christians for the Gospel, and was challenged by the Great Commission mandated by Jesus. As he pondered whether to offer himself as a missionary, he experienced intense inner conflict. With the advice of Dr. Glover, and after prayerful searching of God’s will, he decided to go overseas as a missionary. Upon graduation from Moody, he responded to God’s leading to go to China, joined the China Inland Mission (CIM) and boarded a ship for China.
He arrived in Shanghai in November, 1925. First he entered the CIM language school at Anqing, Anhui, for elementary training in Chinese, then was sent to Qinzhou ( now Tianshui) in Gansu for missionary work. The Northern Expedition by the Nationalist revolutionary army was taking place at this time, so fighting among warlords entangled every road, rendering travel quite unsafe. Strange was accompanied by senior missionary Lloyd Robert Rist. Taking every means of conveyance, and passing through every variety of territory, they finally reached Qinzhou City in July, 1926. After settling in, they spent the next few months amidst the turmoil of warfare. They participated in the ministry at the chapel in Qinzhou while they continued their language learning. James. O. Fraser arrived in November of that year to conduct an eleven-day retreat. From Fraser, Strange learned that the Gospel had spread to many regions with minority peoples.
As Strange was entering fully into missionary work, on March 24, 1927, the “Nanjing Incident” suddenly erupted (this was during the period of the cooperation between the nationalists and Communists). The British ambassador ordered all nationals to withdraw (from the hinterland) on April 3rd. Strange and a group of missionaries had to travel to Lanzhou to meet with others. Under the leadership of Dr. George E. King, director of the Borden Memorial Hospital, fifty adults and children set out in eight wooden rafts down the Yellow River to Baotou. On the way, all eight rafts were separately grounded, and Gorge King was drowned when he entered the water to save the situation, leaving the others stricken with grief.
It was during this journey to escape danger that Strange encountered a missionary from Liangzhou, Miss Winifred N. Vincent. On the trip they became companions in adversity. Winifred Vincent was from a Christian family in England. She had committed her life to Christ at the age of fourteen. In 1919, at a spiritual life retreat, she offered herself to become a foreign missionary. At that time, she read a friend’s copy of the biography of about Pastor Hsi (Xi Shengmo) and was deeply moved. On the last page of the book she read of the need that the China Inland Mission had for missionaries. After that, missionaries from the CIM visited her home church twice, bringing the missionary message, which made her intention to become a missionary all the clearer. She joined the CIM and was sent out, arriving in China in November of 1924.
After this group of missionaries arrived at the seaport, many returned to their home countries on furlough to report on their work. Winifred and Arnold had been in China for only a short time, however, so they remained in the country until they could return to their mission stations. From this time on, they became much better acquainted and felt that they shared a common vision. They were married at Yantai, Shandong in April, 1928.
Following the success of the Northern Expedition at the end of 1928, the Northeast (Manchuria) raised the flag of the Republic, the entire country was united, a temporary peace settled upon China, and missionaries gradually returned to their inland stations. Arnold Strange and his bride were re-assigned to Hanzhong in Shaanxi Province, They set out from Yantai, Shandong at the beginning of 1929. The route was infested with bandits; they had to cross high mountains; danger surrounded them on every side. They endured many hardships, reaching Xing’anfu (now Ankang), Shaanxi, in February. It was not until April that they arrived at Hanzhong, after a journey that took four months.
During the period of 1928-1930, unusually destructive natural disasters struck Northwestern and Northern China: drought, locusts, blizzards, hail, floods, and epidemics, one after another, hit eight provinces in all, but especially Shaanxi and Gansu, with Shaanxi being hit the hardest. Out of a total population in the region of 750,000, by May of 1929 only forty-percent remained. In many places the entire population perished. Three years of disaster and famine left piles of bodies everywhere, with more than three million dying of diseases and starvation. Profound grief prevailed. Multitudes took to banditry as the only way to survive; robbery and looting were widespread; there was no social stability. Under such conditions did Arnold Strange and his companions spread the Gospel.
Their first daughter, Kathleen Winifred, was born in September, 1930 at Hanzhong. The Stranges returned to Canada in 1932 on furlough. When, in July, 1933, they arrived back in Shanghai, the disasters in the interior had not abated in severity, making it impossible for them to return to Shaanxi. Winifred was also late in her second pregnancy, so they had to remain in Shanghai for a while. Their second daughter Beryl was born there on September 2. Shortly thereafter, the family of four set out for Chenggu, Shaanxi, their next mission station, where they began a new work. Aside from his normal church ministry, Arnold made a weekly evangelistic visit to the prison; he occasionally made a circuit of the surrounding towns and villages, preaching and distributing Christian books and tracts. Winifred took charge of women’s work, leading them in the study of the Bible. In April of 1934 they conducted tent meetings for several days at Pantaosi, preaching the Gospel to the local inhabitants. They also helped the people rid themselves of superstition, cast away their idols, and break free of opium addiction.
Shaanxi was greatly affected by the successive “exterminate the Communists” campaigns by the Nationalists in 1934. Many civilians were injured, including foreign missionaries; some gave their lives. In order to avoid the ravages of war, Arnold Strange’s family climbed the Qin Mountains in the dead of winter, hoping to escape northward to Fengxiang. After half a month, they had covered 270 miles over a route filled with bandits and robbers, and beasts, but they were protected and provided for by God and arrived safely, even preaching the Gospel along the way. After things had settled down, they returned to their work at Chenggu. In June, 1938, Arnold Strange wrote a letter from Chenggu:
Because the war with Japan has led to a retreat to the far interior, both Peking University and Tianjin University have temporarily moved to our city. Students and teachers are everywhere. The students especially have requested a weekly English Bible study… The worship services are packed, with many students and professors attending… My wife has started a Sunday afternoon Bible study group especially for women students….”
After serving as the missionary supervisor for nine years, in February, 1940, Mr. Arthur Moore, took his family home on furlough, and Arnold Strange was made deputy director of the work in Shaanxi. He and the other missionaries in Chenggu engaged in relief work to help refugees who had suffered greatly as a result of wartime chaos and helping those addicted to opium to break the habit. When the war against Japanese reached its climax in September, 1941, forcing many refugees to flee behind the lines, adding greatly to the relief work in which Arnold Strange was involved. With difficulty in adjusting to the new environment, compounded by hunger and malnutrition, the refugees brought a variety of diseases with them. While caring for them, Arnold Strange came down with typhus fever and died on September 28, 1941.
Arnold Strange diligently served the people of Shaanxi for sixteen years, putting into practice his own heart’s desire: “To leave one’s home, sacrifice everything for the Lord, and go overseas to preach the Gospel.” He gave all he had, including his life for the Chinese people. Dying at the age of forty-four, he was survived by his widow and two daughters, aged eleven and eight.
- Huang Xipei, Sacrificial Love—-Portraits of CIM Missionaries. CCM Publishers, USA. 2006. (Chinese)
- China’s Millions, China Inland Mission, North American Edition. 1925, p. 188; 1926, p. 109; 1927, p. 160; 1929, pp. 31, 110, 173; 1930, pp. 44, 108; 1931, p. 30; 1932, pp. 94, 184; 1933, p. 174; 1934, pp. 125, 141; 1935, pp. 63, 90-91; 1936, pp. 26, 100; 1937, p. 55; 1941, pp. 108, 170-171.
- China’s Millions, London Edition. 1924, pp. 121, 141; 1926, p. 111; 1928, p. 127; 1929, p. 183; 1930, pp.38, 188; 1931, p. 108; 1933, pp.14, 16, 98; 1934, p. 148; 1935, pp. 85, 208; 1936, p. 8; 1937, pp. 72, 76; 1938, p. 136; 1939, p. 120; 1940, p.6; 1941, pp. 82, 95. The Register of CIM Missionaries and Associates ?????????????????
- CIM List of Missionaries and Their Stations, 1925, 1931.
- Directory of Protestant Missions in China, 1924, 1927.
- Stauffer, Milton T., The Christian Occupation of China (1918-1921), Shanghai, 1922.