The Yellow River or Huang He is the second longest river i China after the Yangtze River. It’s an impressive flow of water, vital to the transport of goods and people in a country where it’s not always been easy to travel by land.
Huang He was of course very important for the missionaries as well. They often travelled by boat to get around faster and with less effort. It was never without risk, though, and I remember my grandmother (Olga’s daughter) tell me how animals could fall in the water and be taken by the heavy currents never to be seen again. One had to be very careful not to get pushed in by accident, she said. The raft-like low boats were made for easily getting people, animals and goods on and off the boats on each side of the low banks, and were usually filled to the brim.
Olga’s first encounter with the Chinese winter was one that lasted in her memory. She arrived in China in november 1905 and she was quickly sent out into the field. With her nursing skills, she was sought after not the least by the missionaries themselves. Nursing was not only a life-safer but very importantly also a soul-saver. By curing people you could spread God’s word and thus the missionary societies quickly realised they needed medically skilled people for many reasons.
My grandfather’s parents – Robert and Dagny – were stationed in Hancheng at the time and Dagny was pregnant and needed care. Olga was sent there to assist, neither of them knowing this would be the start of a life-long relationship.
On the 10th of December, Olga arrived after a long journey through the inland. She had three years of training in a hospital in Glasgow, some medicines and medical equipment with her, but no illusions as to what she would be able to accomplish with this basic set-up.
Still, she fast got a reputation for being a very trusted medical professional. She writes:
“One did not have to perform very advanced medicine in order to get a good reputation. I once managed to cure some half-deaf people and soon stonedeaf people were brought to me for healing!”
Olga had in fact helped the hearing impaired remove wax from inside the ear, and as the knowledgebase was very low in the country side, this was viewed as some kind of a miracle. Perhaps the language barriers also had something to do with it – Olga had yet not had time to learn the language as she was sent out immediately instead of attending the language school in Yungcheng.
After almost a month in Hancheng, Olga helped deliver Dagny’s son Wilhelm, only to be called to another missionary family in Shaanxi. Mrs Hahne and her children had come down with smallpox and Olga packed her bags and left Dagny in the care of another female colleague.
“Robert accompanied me over the Yellow River by horse. Myself, I was carried in a litter by two Chinese men. It was cold. Very cold. The Yellow River had even frozen at the ferry overpass at Umenkeo.” (Umenkeo was the name of a river crossing between the areas Shaanxi and Shanxi – I don’t know if it’s called that today.)
“The ice was so thick that it made an icebridge over from one side to the other. We walked on the ice bridge with streaming water on both sides of us. It was the first and the last time I ever walked over the Yellow River, and it was an amazing experience that not many foreigners get to have.”
On the other side, Olga was met by a carriage from Ishi (where the other family lived) and Robert rode back to Hancheng to be with his wife and newborn son. Olga only knew a few words of Chinese, but managed to get to Ishi without any bigger worries.
She cared for the Hahne family for seven weeks, until one of Dagny’s children fell ill and she was called back to Hancheng again. This time, the river was no longer frozen.
I was thinking about her experience of walking across the Yellow River. It must have been absolutely spectacular and also some kind of a metaphor for what she was about to do. Following her faith, one could easily imagine that she thought about the story of how Mose parted the water for his people. The same way Olga now walked right over the water to fulfill her missionary calling. What do you think?