No one ever dreamed it would happen! Blow up the train tunnel and trap a hundred missionaries? But on the evening of August 27, 1947, we listened to the urgent report from the American Consulate: “Evacuate immediately. Cannot provide protection in the mountains.” That evening, everyone began feverish preparations to leave the next morning. Thoughts of fleeing down the steep mountain trail with my three-month pregnant wife and little son, sent shivers down my spine. In the morning, the little village was buzzing with activity. Old-timers had hired carriers during the night, but none were available by the time I got to the village.
“What will we do?” my wife asked anxiously.
“I guess we’ll just have to walk down the mountain!” I replied anxiously.
“What?” she exclaimed, “in my condition? And what about Jimmy? A three year old could never walk that far. And, what about our luggage?”
“I don’t have any answers,” I responded, “but I do believe that God will make a way for us—somehow. Let’s pray and ask Him for a miracle.” When I finished a brief prayer, Evelyn looked at me with a reassuring smile on her face as she added, “And, Lord, we thank You in advance for the miracle!”
Starting down the mountain, I instructed Jimmy to take hold of his mother’s hand and help her down the mountain. Obediently, he responded with confidence, “I’ll keep you from falling, Mommy.”
As we walked through the village, a woman looked up and called out, “Don’t you want a carrier to help you? And a sedan chair for your wife and child?”
“There are none left,” I called out as we kept walking.
There was a buzz of voices behind us but we just trudged on. Unexpectedly, an old grandmother caught up with us, and said, “Wait a minute! You can’t walk down the mountain with a pregnant wife and child. You’ll never make it!” she said knowingly.
“We’ll get some carriers coming back up,” I replied hopefully. “Maybe they will help us.”
“You’ll never make it in time” she responded..
“Grandmother,” I replied, “I’m trusting God to help us make that train. I believe He will answer our prayer.”
“Good, then let me help!”
Surprised, we stopped as several women crowded around us. To our amazement, the grandmother began issuing orders. In a few minutes some young men arrived with a dusty, cobweb-covered sedan chair. Quickly, the women cleaned it, as the grandmother triumphantly said, “Missionary lady, get in.” Still in a state of shock, Evelyn sat down in the chair as the women fussed to make her comfortable.
Soon a man appeared with a large basket and a carrying pole. “Put your son in the basket,” grandma ordered matter-of-factly, and I obeyed. Everyone’s attention was now directed to Jimmy as each woman did something to touch him. To our surprise, ropes were attached to the basket and tied to the front end of the pole. Our three pieces of luggage were tied in place on the other end. Hoisting the pole to his shoulder, he started off down the mountain, with Jimmy sitting comfortably up front waving a vigorous farewell to the laughing crowd. Two strong young men hoisted the sedan chair to their shoulders and Evelyn went bouncing on her way.
“Oh, thank you, grandmother, you’re an answer to our prayers,” I called as I followed.
Rounding a bend in the road an hour later, we were shocked to see the train far below belching black smoke with people crawling all over it like ants.
“Look at that,” I groaned. “How in the world will we ever get on?”
“Don’t worry,” Evelyn replied, “we’re in the middle of a miracle! God provided these men, and He’ll make a way to get us on that train.”
With the carriers paid off generously, we started pushing through the crowd toward the train. Jimmy was seated on my shoulders and Evelyn was using her trombone case to open a path. I struggled along with the suitcase and violin in one hand while I clung to Jimmy’s leg with the other. The mass of people trying to get on the train was unbelievable! “Lord Jesus,” I prayed, “find us a spot!”
Just then, a voice called out, “Bollbacks! Bollbacks! Go to the last car.” A German missionary doctor who had examined my wife a few days earlier was waving us frantically toward the last car. “Hurry! There’s no time to lose.”
“Thanks,” I called back as we inched our way through the crowd. Reaching the last car, I noticed that it had a small open platform on the end. As we shoved our way forward, we heard the welcome voice of the conductor, “Make way for the foreigners,” he shouted at the people as he pulled Jimmy from my shoulders and helped my wife get aboard. Bewildered, we just stood there on the little platform.
“There’s no room inside,” he said, “but you can ride out here. Sit on your suitcase and you’ll be okay.”
“Evelyn,” I gasped, “do you realize this is the miracle we prayed for? God has made a way for us!”
“Hold on,” the conductor warned. “We’re going to attach that hotel car that’s approaching, and then we’ll be on our way.” With a clang and a jolt, the car was attached and in a few minutes the train lurched forward and headed for the tunnel. How will we manage on the open platform in a tunnel filled with smoke, I wondered. Lord, we need your help or we’ll suffocate out here.
The prayer was hardly off my lips when the conductor reappeared from the hotel car with a big smile on his face. “Quick,” he said, “follow me. “There are a couple of Russian ladies in an eight-passenger compartment. They have invited you to join them!” he smiled triumphantly.
What a miracle! We marveled at what God had done: seats in a first class hotel compartment car with two middle-aged Russian women, no crowds pressing in on us, no smoke from the tunnel, and before long a sumptuous chicken dinner was served. “You must share this food with us,” they invited cordially. “There’s too much for just the two of us.”
It was hard to believe what was happening: free seats in a first class hotel car and a delicious chicken dinner! “You would never have survived on that open platform,” one of the ladies ventured as she handed Jimmy some fresh cookies!
“God is so good,” I replied. “a few hours ago, we were stranded on top of the mountain, and now you have made us so comfortable. Thank you for being part of a miraculous answer to prayer.”
This story is an abridged account taken from the author’s autobiography entitled To China and Back. This book and others can be viewed on www.bollback.com