Emil Fischbacher was born into the home of a business man in Glasgow, Scotland on August 9th, 1903. His parents, who were devout Christians, had 8 children, of whom Emil was 6th, having three older brothers, two older sisters, a younger brother and a younger sister. Under the influence of their parents, the Fischbacher children attended church, Sunday school, and other meetings, and at an early age experienced God’s saving grace and were baptized. When, at the age of 12, Emil was asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” he confidently replied, “Be a missionary.”
His father was very successful in business, and was very zealous for foreign missions, desiring that five of his children could become missionaries and eager to support them himself, rather than to have a mission society support them. His sister Elizabeth was the first to enter the CIM, serving with them for 13 years. While in Shanxi, she worked with Yang Shaotang, a well-known pastor, in Hongdong Seminary to train Chinese preachers. She later left the CIM to become an independent missionary and traveled all over China to conduct spiritual revival meetings. She had a great influence on Watchman Nee, and worked with him on literary and translation projects. She also helped Yin Renxian, the president of the well-known Holy Light School.
Emil’s younger brother Theodore also joined the CIM after his death; married and had children in China; and served there for 15 years before he had to leave in 1949.
Emil gained admission to medical school after graduation from high school. Upon receiving his L.C.R.P and L.R.C. qualifications at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities, he served in various hospitals, then opened a practice in Manchester.
In May of 1931, he read an article in the English edition of China’s Millions, the publication of the CIM. One passage in this “Open letter to young people” made a profound impression upon him:
For almost two years we have appealed for 200 new missionaries without reaching our goal. What is your response to this call? Perhaps you have resisted it for different reasons, but have you considered what you will say to the Lord on the day of his return if you continue to resist?
Fischbacher had originally planned to go to Africa as a missionary, but after reading this article, his heart prompted him immediately to write a letter to the editor of China’s Millions and inform them of his intention to go to China as a missionary. He later penned this testimony, “I constantly rolled over in my mind this question: Did I study medicine in order to preach the gospel or to be a physician? When I saw this appeal for commitment to missionary work in China in this year’s June edition of China’s Millions, it constantly lingered my heart, so that there was no way I could not go.” He thereupon entered the CIM, becoming the 200th to answer that appeal.
On the last day of 1931, Fischbacher boarded a ship for China, arriving in Shanghai on February 2, 1932. Just at that time, the January 28th incident had taken place in Shanghai, and the fighting prevented his group from landing, so they could not immediately take part in language training at the Anqing Language School, Anhui. While anchored in the harbor, Fischbacher joined in the medical treatment of the wounded soldiers of the Nationalist Army.
They finally boarded a ship for refugees from the fighting, going up the Yangzi River until they reached Anhui. They straightway entered the language training program. This class of students had 72 from North America. After two months of language study, Fischbacher, along with the Englishmen Raymond H. Joyce, George F. Holmes, William J. Drew, the American Otto F. Schoerner, and Aubrey F. Parsons from Australia, were assigned to Dihua (current Urumchi), Xinjiang.
Like others in the CIM, Fischbacher lived “by faith,” refusing financial support from his father, to whom he wrote:
I have joined a ‘faith’ mission, so that I rely entirely upon God for all my supply. I hope that you will understand that I turning down your support, not under the influence of others, but because of my relationship with God.
While Emil was in Shanghai waiting to go onto Xinjiang, his sister hurried down from Shanxi to meet him. After a separation of many years, the two enjoyed wonderful fellowship and sharing. Conversations with him revealed to his sister just how much Emil had grown spiritually.
Because of the backwardness of Xinjiang, and the incessant fighting on the way, travel on all the roads was obstructed, so Fischbacher and his comrades decided to drive themselves to Xinjiang. First Rev. George W. Hunter, a senior missionary in Xinjiang, went to Beijing with Fischbacher buying two Ford trucks from Tianjin. Then all of them met up in Beijing, preparing enough food supplies, and parts for the trucks. After a great deal of preparation, on September 13, 1932, they finally set out on their journey. They started from Zhang Jiakou in Hebei, going through the Great Wall into Inner Mongolia, traveling 1800 miles on mountain roads; some places had no roads at all. Along the way, they often encountered sandstorms and thunderstorms, but they never looked back, traversing the mountains and valleys, crossing the great rivers, and passing through the vast Gobi desert. Although they met with almost unimaginable difficulties and obstacles along thy way, they also experienced amazing guidance and protection from God. They finally crossed the border into Xinjiang on October 14th, and arrived in Ha’mi on the 17th. As they entered the territory of their destination, they ran into the rebellion of Ma Zhongying, a Hui (Muslim) leader. Taking a different route due to the blockage of the main road, and with gas running low, they at last reached Dihua on November 9th.
These six missionaries were put under the supervision of Percy C. Mather, a veteran of 23 years of service in that region. As a result of war, there was inflation and then scarcity of goods. Mather often took the risk of going into the surrounding villages to buy grain, vegetables, and meat, thus enabling them to avoid starvation. The fighting caused the number of casualties to increase rapidly. At this time, some local senior gentry stepped forward to form the Red Cross and a philantrhopic society in cooperation with people from the government, business, education, and religious communities to bring help to the wounded. Under the leadership of The Rev. Mr. Hunter, all the missionaries threw themselves into the work of relief. Laboring tirelessly from dawn to midnight they took care of more than 120 wounded soldiers, but this did not keep them from also going out into the crowds of suffering people with the Gospel.
Fischbacher worked daily in the operating room of the simple and crude hospital, performing surgeries and dressing wounds. The work load was very heavy, requiring all his strength. In a letter to his sister, also a physician, on April 17, 1933, he wrote:
This is a chaotic war region, but God brought us through with his marvelous protection… Although we are in a storm of shot and shells, we are not at all afraid… At the request of the former provincial governor, I promised to perform major emergency operations on men with sword and bullet wounds, yet other wounded soldiers were continuously brought in. The first time I entered the hospital I saw a wounded soldier with a thighbone broken into five pieces—-it’s really horrible! Think about it—-more than 300 men with major and minor wounds, many of them not having yet been attended to; the whole hospital is really dirty, the smell is awful… I am incredibly busy, with no medical instruments and even no medicine. Perhaps I have to learn how to perform faith healings!
On May 6th he wrote to a family member, his last letter home, from which we can discern his conditions at the end of his life:
I really have no time to myself, so have not been able to write often. One evening, because of an emergency, a White Russian leader, an army officer, two soldiers and I rode out together on horses. In the rush I forgot to take along a heavy coat. But my steed ran like the wind, causing me to sweat profusely. When we returned, we were kept waiting outside the city gate for half an hour because of strict orders. It’s quite hot here during the day, but as soon as night falls it gets cold. Furthermore, to enter the city each unit has to call out its special password. When I got home, I didn’t feel quite right. I had been working non-stop, with insufficient sleep. There are over 400 wounded soldiers in the hospital, and in my ward there are 125 in critical condition. Many have not taken a bath for two or three months, and are awfully dirty. They have insufficient nutrition and there aren’t enough staff to care for them, with the result that most of the burden falls on us overworked foreigners. The past three months have plunged me into the real conditions of the Chinese people, but we may have to wait many years before seeing such an opportunity [for the Gospel] again.
As a result of coming into contact with so many wounded soldiers, and being extremely overtired, Fischbacher was exposed to a fatal typhus fever. On the 11th of May, as he was busy in the hospital, he felt pain in his chest, apparently from heart trouble, so he returned to his quarters to recuperate. He soon came down with a chest pain which was suspected to be a heart attack. His condition swung wildly between good and bad for two weeks, until on the 26th of May he suddenly took a turn for the worse. On the morning of the 27th, this medical missionary who loved others as he loved himself passed away due to the typhus fever. From the time of his arrival on February 1st, 1933, to that of his death in May, he had been in China only one year, three months, and 26 days, and only six months and 18 days in Xinjiang. He died before reaching the age of 30.
People were greatly shocked when the news of his tragic death was reported to the London office of CIM. The editor of China’s Millions, Marshall Broomhall, issued a year-end memorial edition entitled To What Purpose?
In the June edition, his colleague Mr. Aubrey F. Parsons wrote,
Dr. Fischbacher, disregarding his own life, threw himself entirely into the work of caring for the wounded. His dedication to the work not only greatly encouraged us but moved the heart of everyone in the city. Government officials of all ranks praised him as a man who gave up his life for the sake of righteousness, and on the memorial presented by the local government was written in large characters, “He sacrificed himself to save others.”
- China’s Millions, China Inland Mission, North American Edition. p. 173, 1931; p. 125, 158, 188, 1932; p.13, 28, 38-39, 101-102, 127, 137, 175, 188, 1933.
- China’s Millions,?London Edition?p. 219, 225, 239, 1931; p. 14, 114, 122, 155, 202, 217, 1932; p. 27-28, 58, 136, 144, 1933.
- Broomhall, Marshall, To What Purpose? China Inland Mission, 1934.
- The Register of CIM Missionaries and Associates.
- The China Mission Year Book, 1916.
- CIM List of Missionaries and Their Stations, 1910, 1931.
- Directory of Protestant Missions in China, 1924, 1927.