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Missionaries] Sprunger, Eva.

Archive: Letters documenting the experiences of female Mennonite missionaries in China during the Chinese Civil War.


[Missionaries] China. (Sprunger, Eva). Correspondence Archive Documenting the Experiences
of Several Female American Mennonite Missionaries in Kutien, China during the Chinese Civil
War. Kutien, Foochow, and Haitang Island, China, 1923-1938.
An archive of 36 very detailed letters to missionary Eva Sprunger documenting the experiences of
several American female missionaries in China between 1923 and 1938. Included with the letters
are printed circulars, two maps, a photo portrait of Eva Sprunger, an American Missionary, and a
rare pamphlet by Chang Tung Yang entitled "Impressions of the Killing Summer Institute."
This archive represents a series of correspondence kept between several female missionaries
primarily serving in Fukien and Foochow, China. Among the correspondents are Ruth Jayne,
Martha A. Graf, Mabel Marion Holmes, Myrtle A. Smith, Edith McBee, Stella Bissonnette,
Carrie Bartlett, and Pauline Westcott. All the letters are directed to Eva Sprunger, who served
with these women in China from approximately 1910 through the 1920s, but returned to her home
in Berne, Indiana sometime after 1929. In her journal from 1929 she writes, "Six pupils have
unbound their feet the past year. Girls here took exams more seriously than I've seen for a long
time. One girl wept bitterly because she had failed to memorize a hymn, but she stuck at it
throughout the afternoon and finally mastered it. The girls here love to sing."
Eva Sprunger descended from a Mennonite family in Indiana. Her father, Samuel Ferdinand, was
born in Switzerland, and came to the U.S. in 1852, settling in Berne, Indiana, where he eventually
became a minister in the Mennonite Church, serving for over thirty years. Eva was one of nine
siblings, and was influenced by her father, taking up the call to serve abroad. She would
eventually go on to publish a history of the Mennonite Church in 1938 entitled: *The First
Hundred Years: A History of the Mennonite Church in Adams County, Indiana, 1838 -1938.*
The letters to Eva provide in candid, and at times riveting detail an account of missionary life in
China during the civil war which was tearing the country apart. There are descriptions of
bombings, night attacks, Communist invasions, and growing anti-western sentiment throughout
the country. Severe poverty was common and only made worse by the expanding conflict. In
many areas of the country people resorted to banditry, and there are several fine descriptions of
missionaries being kidnapped by these predators and the actions taken on the part of the ministry
and the Chinese government to save their lives.
In a letter dating from 1930 Martha Graf writes, "It is impossible to give you a true picture of our
work and conditions here, unless I mention the terrible bandit situation. I hardly think it is
possible to put yourself in the position of these helpless country people who are entirely at the
mercy of these lawless citizens and no matter how terribly they suffer from their cruelties, there is
absolutely no one to appeal to."
A letter dated January 4, 1932 by Myrtle A. Smith details the abduction of missionary Harriet
Halverstadt: "She was taken from the launch along with thirteen Chinese men. They went part
way up the mountain out of sight of the main road, stopped and were given supper, searched and
were kept there several hours. Later they went over the mountain and went into a si-dong to stay.
Harriet sat up all night that first night... Communists were really at the head of the group and
these she feared more than the ordinary bandits."
Marth Graf describes the Communist invasion in a letter from August 31, 1934: "Between all the
days of enjoyment there were also sandwiched in some rather excited and anxious days, due to
the communist invasion. For days and nights we heard the bombing and shooting, some of it we
saw with our own eyes, as they got so near Foochow. The whole mountain had to be in readiness
to evacuate within one hours time." A letter from four years later, January 16 - 22, 1938, by
Pauline E. Westcott discusses the ongoing struggles the women faced . She says, "we appreciate
the sympathy and prayers you are giving us. Certainly it is hard to understand WHY - WHY -
things must go on this way but we must keep up our courage knowing that 'there comes an end,
to all things' and that in the end 'right will win'." It continues, "This time of the year it is bitterly
cold in North and Central China so I am sure many of the refugees will die from exposure and
cold. Innocent people driven out of their own homes, losing all their possessions, living in mat
sheds or on the road sides, with no warm clothing and insufficient food makes me shiver just to
think about them."
Despite these difficult obstacles, the missionaries continued their efforts to bring education and
Christian religion to the local people. They describe making excursions out to country villages,
visiting and setting up schools, providing food and clothing to the indigent, and providing
accounts of local customs such as foot binding and arranged marriages. Altogether, these letters
and related ephemera provide an enormously interesting view of the tireless efforts of these
missionaries in the face of oppressive and sometimes violent adversity.
Overall a compelling, detailed, and fascinating account of women serving as missionaries in
China during the most perilous time of it's modern history.

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