Children of the Massacre
By Robert and Linda Banks (Pickwick Publications)
With a title like Children of the Massacre you know this story will contain tremendous grief and pain. However, as authors Robert and Linda Banks have written a number of books about the work of missionaries in China (including View from the Faraway Pagoda and They Shall See His Face), you also know that, through each sorrow and difficulty, God is somehow working out his plans.
Certainly those most affected by the massacre of the title – other missionaries and the families of those who died – might be forgiven for questioning the value of serving, or wonder how God could use such a violent event to work “for the good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.
Yet, as this history shows, he did so. The book is subtitled The Extraordinary Story of the Stewart Family in Hong Kong and West China, so the violent slaughter of 11 people in the 1895 Kucheng Massacre certainly didn’t mark the end of God’s plan for the country. In fact, it led more people to volunteer for missionary service!
Irish missionaries Robert and Louisa Stewart were killed on that fateful day, as were two other Irishwomen, two Englishwomen and three Australians. Three of the Stewarts’ children were not present; two of the youngest were fatally injured, while another three were badly wounded but survived. One after the other, all the surviving children returned to China or Hong Kong to serve its people and the God they loved.
The book clearly relates the family’s godly response when those responsible for the deaths were brought to justice:
Around the time of sentencing [Louisa Stewart’s sister] was asked by a Chinese Christian couple who regularly visited the perpetrators whether the family would like to send them a message. Her reply was simply: “Tell them from me that we freely forgive them... the children have frequently said this to me. They feel no resentment. Their great desire is to be missionaries themselves.”
The book is a well-researched easy read, covering the lives and experiences of Robert and Louisa, and their children, from 1875 to 1958: teaching the Bible to men, women and children, building and running schools, caring for those entrusted to them in educational institutions, in pastoral situations, and through the horrors of two world wars.
Sometimes their work and efforts seem very mundane – not dissimilar to what they may have undertaken had they stayed in their native Ireland. But the lives of many were changed by the Stewarts’ tireless work, unswerving faith and godly example. They loved people in Jesus’ name and did so as long as they lived.
The Kucheng Massacre was a violent and dreadful event, yet God in his sovereignty did use it for his glory. It’s an ongoing challenge for all followers of Jesus to remember that trouble has been visited upon all those who call him Lord since the earliest days of the church, and that God has not called us to be safe but faithful as we serve others in his name.