Remembering Jean Craig
Missionary Letter from Diane J. Allen
Jean Craig died the other month. So important was she to China Program that two of my colleagues telephoned all the way from Hong Kong just to tell me this news. To me her passing signalled the end of a certain type of missionary era.
Jean first sailed to Shanghai in September 1929 as a young missionary with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS). Like many of her contemporaries, she answered the call to "win the world for Christ in one generation." What happened next, however, was that China won over her. You see, the Holy Spirit got in on the action and opened up for her and many like her an exciting, entirely new, wonderfully rich, and magnificently complex culture and people.
Jean may have left China in 1949 but, believe me, China never left her. For the next 49 years, she remained a cheerleader for China, the church in China, and Christians there. She was forever presenting at United Methodist Women's meetings, recruiting young adults for my summer China cultural-exchange program, and writing about her beloved women missionary colleagues of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. At age 86 she bought herself a computer so she could write even more extensively. The crazy thing was that Jean didn't need a computer; she was a computer. If I needed quick verification about the attendance of a Shanghai meeting in, say 1938, forget about spending hours in archives--I got on the horn to Jean Craig.
Each year I could count on at least one piece of original work from Jean, mostly about "the Southern church's" (MECS) women's work in Shanghai. In 1996, when it came time for her to choose a nursing home, she told me she wanted one that would let her "do China" and remain active in her beloved Virginia Conference United Methodist Women. "I've got to keep China in their minds!" she wrote me in earnest. If the amount of China-related materials I sent Jean over the past decade is anything to go by, I should think those poor women thought of nothing but! I gave her enough materials to paper a small house. Jean's last piece of historical writing came to me in the fall of 1997. Even confined to a bed at a nursing home, she got her wish. Jean was still "doing China."
There's a group of folks with missionary roots in the former Methodist Episcopal Church, South, who have met annually in North Carolina for more than 20 years. They called themselves the East China Crowd--the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, focused its missionary activities in east China prior to the 1939 merger. I love those people who attended: Clayton and Frankie Calhoun, Mac and Jessie McCoy, Jean Hawk Troy, Annie Clyde Strain, Mary O Rice, Anne Herbert, the Lacys, the Hearns, the Phillips, to name some. Sure, they met to share and relive past events, places, and people. But it was their love for God's worldwide church and the Chinese people that opened them to celebrating the work of the Holy Spirit in China today.
In China today, 13,000 churches accommodate 15 million believers; 17 theological seminaries have graduated nearly 3000 students; 20 million copies of the Bible have been printed in China and distributed by the China Christian Council. The seeds planted decades ago by former missionaries and Chinese colleagues took root and now bear some gorgeous new fruit. The East China Crowd celebrated the Spirit alive in China! Imagine the uniqueness of this scenario: here's a group of missionary folk celebrating the country they were forced to leave and the church there that continues to say "no thanks" to foreign missionaries--and has grown fifteen fold!
In 1992, I had the privilege of interviewing Jean Craig, a member of the East China Crowd, for our Oral History Project. She greeted me at her Virginia home in typical Miss Craig fashion: "I've been waiting 20 years for this!" Shooting out of her house like a pinball, she yanked me inside, leaving me to wonder what in the world ever happened to a simple `hello.'
"It's about time you got here!" Jean said. "Let's talk China!" Jean waxed eloquent throughout the entire interview. I'll never forget how we began. I asked her where she was born. Holding some reference notes to her chest, she boomed: "I was born in the shadow of the cross!" And off she went. I didn't get a chance to ask my next question for 20 minutes. Jean literally was born in the shadow of a cross. Her beloved Centenary Methodist Church was right next door to her childhood Richmond home. And being an English teacher, Jean got good metaphoric mileage out the shadow and cross business throughout our three-day interview.
I have a picture of Jean Craig in my Shottisham office, taken in Shanghai in 1935. It's a gorgeous picture. She's standing with 34 other women of the former Methodist Episcopal Church, South. This picture includes giants like Miss Virginia Atkinson, Mary Culler White, and Sallie Lou MacKinnon. Only two in this picture are still living: Anne Herbert, 102, and my buddy, the inexhaustible Annie Clyde Price Strain, one of the first women ever to receive a graduate degree from Yale Divinity School.
So, here I sit in Shottisham, England reconstructing the lives of these missionaries who dedicated themselves to our Lord through service with the Chinese people. Every day I listen to their voices on taped interviews as if they were beside me. Some days seem just like Christmas; I can't wait to hear what these folks have to say next about Chiang Kai-shek, the theology of mission, the anti-Japanese war, and even each other. My job now is to tell their story (and God's) through their own reflections and words. And you know what? I might not have grown up in the shadow of a cross, but I grew up in China Program in the shadow of Jean Craig and those like her. What marvelous escorts to accompany me throughout my life as I now humbly, very humbly, continue the legacy of "doing China."
Every blessing, Diane J. Allen
When does God call people to long-term missionary service?