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A Missionary Calling: Confounding the Mighty

December 4, 2015
“A Shinto Priest,” from Japan As It Was and Is: A Handbook of Old Japan (Chicago: McClurg, 1906), opp. p. 70.

Mary Parke and her husband David Thompson served as missionaries to Japan for over five decades. In this installment from her diary, Mary writes about the reaction to a “slanderous article” against missionaries and the strength of Japanese Christians in the face of government threats against them.[1]

Nov. 1[1874, Tokyo]: …Mizuno was baptized today….The church again over crowded. Before David finished twenty or thirty were standing in the aisles.

Nov. 2: …Miss Gamble[2] here a little while. It is a sad and weary life to live alone in this strange land. How my own life continually, sick or well, cheered by the near presence of my darling shone out brightly in contrast.—Her servant has left her and she is almost sick herself.

Nov. 7: Almost ill all week—but have had nearer approaches to God.—have been drawn to pray much. Some stir about an article written by some Godless man against missionaries. When we read it first we thought nothing can apply here, but since have been told that the reverse is true. An innocent man feels such things but a light burden.

Nov. 14: Ill for some days, but better today….The appointed committee of missionaries went to see the editor who published that slanderous article. He promised to put them in communication with the writer and thus lets himself free.

Nov. 15: Our sabbath-school in the church opened pleasantly this morning….Mr. Soper preached to the foreign congregation.—After service heard some heated words from Dr. Veeder[3] about who should preach in that pulpit. Our Japanese service in the after-noon listened to by an over-crowded house.—Mr. Carrothers[4] organized his church today. I heard part of the exercises, and with all my heart desired him God speed.—My spirit has rejoiced all day. God enlarges my heart. I love all men. I pray for the prosperity of all who love the Lord Jesus. It would not seem strange to me if multitudes of this people should together come flocking to him….This evening David and Dr. Faulds[5] have gone to the preaching at the house of Tsuchiya San.

Nov. 19: …The missionaries of Japan are sending a petition to the different Christian nations to pray specially for Japan during the week of prayer.—A great awakening of religious interest in Yokohama….Miss Gamble ill for two days. I have been staying the interval from the close of school till tea time with her. But she has a story of joy to tell me too.

Nov. 20: Mr. Bingham[6] has sent the treaty recently made between the Chinese and Japanese for David to translate today. He wishes to send the translation by the steamer going to San Francisco tomorrow.

John Bingham. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/brh2003001172/PP/

Nov. 22: Dr. McCartee[7] and Veeder speaking against our Sabbath-School being in the church in the morning before the foreign service.

Nov. 23:  Miss Youngman[8] calling this morning. She was telling the words Dr. McCartee was saying about us yesterday, and it made me feel very badly. But now my heart is in greater peace than before. If the Lord bless us we shall be blessed indeed.

Nov. 24: David called to see Kitahara’s wife today and was much pleased with the spirit she manifested. She said she had been praying all day and asked him to pray for her that she might not fear or be drawn into temptation stronger than she can bear by the threatenings of the Kannushi [Shinto priest], head of the religious department [of the government], or any of his friends. Lately he said he would cut her head off if she would sell any more of those religious books.—David says he was impressed with the thought that God chooses the weak things of this world to confound the mighty.—An old woman was with Hearn San[9] who told that her son had been a great drunkard, but that lately he had promised not to drink any for one hundred days, and he had sworn in the name of the true God this time. Ogawa and Kitahara started on their preaching tour into the country this morning.—Takahashi returned from the funeral of his father, gave us a full description of the rites after the Shinto fashion.

Nov. 26: Thanksgiving Day! And how readily I can number over many and great blessings from God this past year! Our little home with its warmth and comfort tell us almost audibly day by day of our joy and pictures in some measure the sweet home feeling that nestles in our hearts. My one darling, my best earthly gift from God becomes ever more and more my treasure and delight.—Care too has lovingly been sent by our Father to keep us close to him and I bless Him for the care and the tears. The native church and our work here have been watered even more abundantly than we looked for, and made to grow….The Japanese churches in Yokohama and here have held Thanksgiving Services on account of the recent treaty of Peace with China. David went to Yokohama to preach for the Japanese as agreed upon, but was late for the train and so did not reach there by the next train till the service was over.—Mr. Ballagh[10] did not return with him as proposed, and we had our first happy Thanksgiving dinner alone together. Our Japanese service began at three o’clock, and it was growing dark when it was concluded.

Nov. 27: Read with my [Japanese] teacher the twenty-sixth chapter of Matt[hew] and I think it impressed me more than if I had read in English. That wonderful story of the Cross, ever new! A letter from Father today.—Good news from home!

Nov. 28: …Honda San here to say good-by to us. He goes to his own country [his region within Japan] and asks our prayers. The Catholics have been there and at work. – Kuji san came here today to say that he cannot have preaching at his house any more because the owner of the house will not allow it. But there seems to be another reason also. His mother has lately come from Shidzok [probably Shizuoka, a city south of Tokyo], and she does not like the Christian religion.—David has had much work today and much journeying, to see the sick, hear the mind of the Trustees about the church, visit the publisher of the scandalous article about missionaries again, etc.

Nov. 29: Our Sabbath-school closed at ten o’clock today owing to the complaints or fear of complaints.  Dr. Faulds preached to the foreigners. Dr. Veeder told me himself would preach next Sabbath unless David had a sermon prepared, and he could preach some other time. David had to stay at home to prepare his Japanese sermon. At this service the continual disturbance of coming and going and changing because no room, annoyed me much.

Dec. 1: Invited to the Reunion of America Citizens at Mr. Bingham’s tonight, but do not wish to go.

Dec. 2: Went last evening and for that reason my quiet home and unassuming work seem sweeter and pleasanter to me today than usual. I had many times rather teach my class of girls and hear their grateful words than to sit with gloved hands in the elegant parlor surrounded by finely dressed people….We called at Mr. Verbeck’s[11] this evening – Mr. V gave ten dollars toward the paying of the expenses of evangelists, to begin.


[1] The Presbyterian Historical Society received the Thompson Papers in 2011, a collection that includes Mary Parke Thompson’s seven handwritten diaries. PHS volunteer Sue Althouse, herself a retired missionary to Japan, has been processing the Thompson Papers, and she has chosen excerpts from Mary’s diaries to share with readers. To see other excerpts, select the Mary Parke Thompson tag from the right hand menu of our full blog. Posts will be displayed in reverse chronological order.

[2] Presbyterian missionary A. Matilda Gamble.

[3] Dr. Peter V. Veeder, a Reformed Presbyterian Church minister from California, had arrived in Japan in 1871 to teach at the Kaisei Gakko.

[4] Presbyterian missionary Rev. Christopher Carrothers.

[5] United Presbyterian Church of Scotland missionary Henry Faulds.

[6] John Bingham was the U.S. ambassador to Japan.

[7] Presbyterian missionary Dr. D.B. McCartee, who had served in China, was in Japan teaching at Kaisei Gakko.

[8] Presbyterian missionary Kate M. Youngman.

[9] Probably Lafcadio Hearn, who collected and published Japanese folk tales.

[10] Reformed Church in America (RCA) missionary James H. Ballagh.

[11] Dr. Guido Verbeck was a missionary of the Dutch Reformed Church.