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Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter XXIV. Zorra's Famous Missionary


(Rev. George Leslie Mackay, D. D.)

"In these deserts let me labor,
On these mountains let me tell,
How He died—the blessed Saviour,
To redeem a world from hell."

ONE of Zorra's Sons effected a revolution in the Presbyterian Church of Canada. In the year 1854, Dr. Alex. Duff visited this continent, and the result of his burning eloquence was the appointment of a committee for the establishment of an independent Canadian foreign mission, in connection with the western section of the Presbyterian Church. In the eastern section they had already been aroused to action by Dr. Geddie, and had begun work in the New Hebrides. But a foreign mission committee and a foreign mission are not identical. Sixteen years had passed before they found the first foreign missionary. Several attempts were made without success. On three occasions calls were extended to ministers whose Presbyteries refused to release them from their congregations.

In 1871 the Church had just one ordained missionary, the Rev. James Nisbet, laboring amongst the Indians at Prince Albert. It is not surprising that the Foreign Mission Committee felt somewhat depressed, and so expressed themselves to the Synod.

But the turning point came. In June, 1855, the members of the Committee had agreed to hold a concert of prayer every Saturday evening, and through the Record to invite the cooperation of others, in seeking a blessing upon their work. These prayers were about to be answered.

George Leslie Mackay, son of God-fearing parents in Zorra, who had just completed his theological course in Princeton Seminary, N. J., offered his services to the Committee. His mind was made up that his life should be spent among the heathen; but before applying elsewhere, he felt it to be his duty to seek the patronage of his own Canadian Church, and, if possible, lead the Canadian Church into more aggressive work. The offer was accepted, and it was agreed, after a good deal of correspondence, that he should go to labor amongst the Chinese in Formosa.

The English Presbyterian Church had begun work in southern Formosa in 1863, and they cordially invited the Canadian Church to co-operate with them in that island. The proposal was favorably entertained, but the Committee wisely left the final decision to the missionary when he arrived in the field. Strong inducements were offered to settle at Swatow, but Mr. Mackay resolved first to see Formosa. He visited the Southern Mission and then, accompanied by two of the missionaries, Dr. Dickson and the Rev. Hugh Ritchie, he visited Tamsui in the north, and there, on the 9th March, 1872, decided, with the full consent of his companions, to plant the standard of the Cross. Thus began the first foreign mission of the western section of the Presbyterian Church; with it began a revival of foreign mission interest, resulting in steadily increasing contributions, enlargement of the staff' and expansion of the work.

Dr. Mackay is below the average height, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, without superfluous flesh, of swarthy complexion, and has an eye that never falls in the presence of danger. Highland blood without alloy flows through his veins. Under excitement his Celtic fire leaps into flame, and his intensity is contagious. Audiences are swayed and mastered by his fervid eloquence, and sometimes angered by his fearless and direct denunciation of selfish disobedience to his Master's last command.

Immediately after his appointment he spent some months visiting congregations in the interests of his work. The reception was not inspiring. He afterwards spoke of that period as the glacial age of the Presbyterian Church. Ten years after he returned, and his reception was enthusiastic. Immense audiences thronged to hear him. The Church had somewhat awakened to the importance of the work and to her new responsibility. This was largely due to the story he had to tell. His mission was remarkably successful. His thrilling letters had been read with intense interest. The narrative of his work had been read and repeated and commented upon in the pulpit and by the fireside. The Church only knew him by name and longed to hear and see the man whom God had so signally honored. Fears were sometimes expressed lest the bodily presence might not sustain the enchantment of distance. All such fears were disappointed. He came and conquered, and returned to Formosa a greater hero than when he had arrived.

One of the surprises to his friends on this visit was that he had been able to keep himself abreast of the times in literature and science. He had collected what is regarded as one of the best museums in the orient, and is himself accounted an authority on the geological and ethnological history of the island. Attention was given to these subjects both to keep his own mind in health and as a part of the educational equipment of his students. It was on the occasion of this visit, and in recognition of his work and attainments in scholarship, that the Senate of Queen's College conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.. Not always is that distinction so worthily bestowed.

Not primarily, however, in temperament or health, or scholarship does his success lie. He was born and reared in a home in which the Bible was reverently read as a message from God to man, and Mackay has ever regarded it as such. What is written there is to him the Word of God. "Go ye into all the world" was a direct command to him from the Lord Jesus Christ, and as such he obeyed. With as much confidence did he accept the assurance that in going forth the Lord would go with him and would supply all his need. The simplicity of that faith appeared when travelling across the continent of America in his first outward journey. There were no through tickets with such other facilities for travel as are common now. He had to deal with different railway companies and seek as he could to secure such special privileges as were granted. But when asked for his credentials he had none, and naturally turned to his Bible, on the fly-leaf of which was an inscription indicating that he was a missionary on his way to China. That was accepted and the privilege granted. In hours of loneliness by sea and by land, or in the midst of a Chinese mob, he turned with the same composure and simplicity of faith to the promise. "God is our refuge and strength." He had gone forth at the Lord's command, how could the promise fail? It seemed as impossible as that the sun should fail to rise. His Highland loyalty to the Word of God had never been shaken in either cottage or church or college by any of the doubtful and doubt producing discussions of recent scholarship.

To the faithful discipline of the humble Christian home in Zorra, may in no small measure be traced the human side of the wonderful work which God hath wrought in Formosa.

The island is liable to be visited at certain seasons of the year with a deadly malarial fever, and the natives often succumb in a few hours. Dr. Mackay has suffered much from it, and has, indeed, been frequently at death's door; but his iron constitution, along with indomitable strength of will, has enabled him thus far to withstand this implacable foe.

The story of Dr. Mackay acquiring a knowledge of a difficult foreign language is very interesting. After several vain attempts, he one day saw a dozen boys herding water-buffalo and made advances to them. They at first fled. The second approach was more successful. On the third day they stood their ground, examined his watch, clothes, and hands, and were ever after friends. He spent with them four or five hours a day, and learned from them more of the language than in any other way. In five months he attempted his first sermon in Chinese, from the text, "What must I do to be saved ?" Several of these boys were afterwards converted, and one became a student and preacher.

The only house available had been intended for a stable. It was on the side of a hill, and through it streams of water flowed when the rains fell. Here he slept and studied, dined and received callers, who were uncomfortably numerous. The haughty literati who, in China as sometimes elsewhere, imagine they have exhausted the stores of knowledge, would strut into his room, look around with a curl on the lip, take up the Bible or other book, look at it, cast it on the ground with a grunt of contempt, and strut out again. Pride comes before a fall. Soon these same men ventured into a discussion, and bye-and-bye discovered that there were some things after all they did not know.

Amongst the many visitors came a young man of more than ordinary intelligence who asked many questions. He returned bringing others with him for discussion, and finally acknowledged himself a believer in the new doctrine. Dr. Mackay, anticipating the advantage to himself and his mission of securing the allegiance of a young man of character and ability, had prayed, and in A Hoa the prayer was answered.

The second Sabbath of February, 1873, is a day of tender memory. It was but a year after he had landed in Tamsui, yet five men boldly de- dared themselves in the face of an angry mob, and were received by baptism into the 'Christian Church. The following Sabbath, for the first time, the Lord's Table was spread in north Formosa. It was also the first time the missionary presided at such a service; and to the new converts it was a solemn and mysterious performance. When the warrant for the ordinance was read, after the Scottish fashion, one of the converts broke down completely, sobbing out, "I am unworthy, I am unworthy." He retired for a season, and after some time alone, he returned and partook of the sacred emblems.

With the blessing of God upon the faithful labors of the missionary, and those associated with him, the churches multiplied, until there were over sixty in all, with a native pastor in charge of each. "The taking of Bang-Kah," as related in "From Far Formosa," is one of the most thrilling missionary stories on record.

In 1884 trouble arose between the French and Chinese in Tonquin. The result was that Formosa was attacked, and Tamsui and Kelung bombarded. It was a time of great anxiety on the part of the missionaries. Every foreigner was suspected of being in league with the French. All Christians were, of course, supposed to be allied with the missionary. Torture and death were threatened against all converts. Chinese soldiers ground their long knives in the presence of Christians, and sometimes brandished them over the heads of the children, and swore that they would all be cut to pieces when the first barbarian shot was fired. The first shot was fired, and destruction of chapels, torture of Christians, and looting of property began. At Sin-tiam the mob entered the chapel, found the Communion roll, and marked every member as a victim. Thirty-six families at that once prosperous station were left homeless and penniless.

At Tamsui, during the bombardment, Dr. Mackay was asked to go aboard a British man-of-war which had sailed into the harbour for the protection of British subjects. This he declined to do, preferring, if need be, to suffer with his students and converts. After the war, representations were made to the Chinese Commander-in-chief as to the losses of mission property, and without delay or investigation an indemnity of ten thousand Mexican dollars was paid. At Sin-tiam and elsewhere better churches were erected than those destroyed, and the people said, "What fools we were to destroy the old chapels. Look, now the chapel towers above our temple. It is larger than the one we destroyed. If we touch this one, he will build a bigger one. We cannot stop the barbarian missionary."

The policy of the mission from the beginning has been to train a native minister. The greatest work in a mission is not the conversion of a few souls. It is rather the organization of a church, an agency that will go on converting souls long after the missionary has ceased his labors.

At Tamsui a college was built with funds contributed by friends in Oxford, his native county, and is for that reason called "Oxford College." Alongside of it is another building of the same dimensions for the education of women.

Dr. Mackay never visited stations alone. He was always accompanied by a number of students, who were taught by the way; and thus long before college buildings were erected, academic work was done. Theory and practice went hand in hand. They cultivated in the chapels the art of communicating the truths learned in their peripatetic classes.

In the girls' school women of all ages were taught, some becoming Bible women, others workers at home, and others the wives of elders and preachers, each in her own way making a contribution to the cause.

The experiences of the French invasion were repeated in the recent Japanese war. The enemy took advantage of the opportunity for persecution and plunder. Many Christians fled and many were slain, and the mission was greatly reduced in numbers. The rebels not only harassed the Japanese, but, as heartless robbers, captured defenceless Formosans, who had to be ransomed by friends or were tortured to death. The stations where mission work was not disturbed, were few indeed. In the year 1897, there were 436 deaths and 227 removals elsewhere.

These trying times were succeeded by the bubonic plague, which appeared for he first time in Formosa. Locusts also appeared for the first time, aud what is nearly as uncommon, a drought that threatened starvation to many. In 1898 much loss and hardship were sustained by typhoons which completely carried away two chapels; three were utterly ruined, and sixteen greatly damaged. There was much loss of life through these various causes. The mission has been tried as by fire during nearly the whole of its history, but the missionary does not retain the word "discouragement" in his vocabulary.

This is amongst the most interesting and noticeable of modern missions, and the name of George Leslie Mackay will be enrolled as a devoted and successful missionary, who has completely identified himself with his work and with the people for whose salvation he labors. His wife is a Chinese lady who has proved a true helpmeet. His two daughters are married to two Chinese preachers. All his interests are centred in Formosa and there will he end his days. "He that loseth his life, saveth it," is for such the amplest reward.


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