Whitworth English Prof. Expanding the Discourse on China Missions History

By: Kristin Bertsch

Coming in November of 2015, Whitworth will host the much anticipated “China’s Christianity: an Exhibit and Symposium on China’s Struggle for Christian Identity.” This exhibit and symposium responds to the historical growth of Christianity, the world’s largest religion, in China, the world’s most populated country. The exhibit will display rare documents and objects related to the missionary period of Christian evangelization in China, and the symposium will bring prominent scholars to Whitworth to confront the issue of China’s Christian reality, past and present.

The exhibit highlights the relationship between object artifacts and written letters in constructing a historical narrative. Among scholars contributing to the exhibit is the Whitworth English Department’s own Dr. Pam Corpron Parker, whose collection of artifacts from her own family’s missionary history inspire reexamination of the China missions “canon.”

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Corpron Family, ca 1930s, Hofei China

Institutional newsletters, correspondences, and reports of official missionary activity constitute what has been the established literary canon informing the historical narratives of 20th century China missions. To better understand the reality of the missions experience in China, the conversation is opening up to include an often overshadowed social history, which was recorded in the “unofficial” literature coming out of China in the 20th century. This unofficial literature consists of the letters, photos, and other intimate communications between the missionaries stationed in China and the people they left behind. For those who made the journey to the Middle Kingdom, “writing home” was more than a method of connecting with loved ones; writing home was also a way of creating a new sense of “home” in a foreign environment and an identity as a servant of God.

In her own scholarly work with the collection, Dr. Parker wants to reintroduce those voices largely lost from the missionary literature canon:

“This unofficial literature represents centuries of unrecognized stories of private loss and pragmatism. There is a history here of sacrifices compounded by silences in the traditional Evangelical narrative. These stories of grief for the “accidental missionaries”—those children and innocents overtaken by disease, violence, and general hardship—raise important questions about our narratives of acceptable and unacceptable loss and sacrifice in the missionary tradition…”

Dr. Parker’s grandparents, Douglas and Grace Corpron of Yakima, Washington, sailed for China in 1924, where Douglas began work as a medical missionary and established the first Christian hospital in Hofei. The Corprons’ presence in Hofei was well-received, as they provided much-needed medical care and public services to the soldiers and families of an increasingly war-torn territory. Serving in China during the escalating Sino-Japanese conflict was a test of both spirit and constitution for the Corprons, who chose to remain with the Christian mission until the late 1940s despite having to endure a series of private tragedies while in service. The unofficial literature of the Corpron family mission in China details the homesickness, the disease, the fixed threat of violence, and the unrelenting specter of death that took from them their two small children, Phyllis Anne and “Billie” Corpron, in 1927. With the generation of a “second family”—children Douglas, Ruth, and Mary—the Corprons experienced China as a place of both destruction and recreation.

To view Dr. Parker’s contributions and the full collection of artifacts from the China Mission, come visit the exhibition on 1st floor of the Harriet Cheney Cowles Library.

Kristin Bertsch (’17) is a junior English/Writing major at Whitworth, pursuing a future in graduate school and a career in travel writing. Kristin studied abroad last year in Britain and Ireland and will study English at Oxford University during spring of 2016. In addition to her studies and contributions to the English Department blog, Kristin works as research assistant to English Professor Dr. Pam Parker and as archiving assistant to Library Director and Art Professor Dr. Amanda Clark. Kristin is an active supporter of local art and theater and a frequenter of Spokane Poetry Slam.

Jacob Realizes That He Has Wasted His Undergraduate Years: A Summer Tale

by Jacob Millay

I, like most avid readers, have a bit of a problem. I tend to overextend myself when it comes to reading plans.

For instance, last summer, I was working forty hours a week, but I figured that I could also get some heavy duty reading done. So… for the three months that I was home… I bought twenty-two books.

Now, maybe someone who is completely dedicated to reading and digesting novels could have conquered that stack which lay dormant in the corner of my room, but I was also faithful in seeing every new summer blockbuster, listening to every Death Cab for Cutie album on repeat, and catching up on the Telltale Games. Oh, and having some semblance of a social life.

However, I was able to find one strange gem in the stack. I found it in the “Buy two, get a third free” pile at Barnes and Nobles. Normally I shop at the quirky, eclectic, local bookstore on the corner as all good English majors do, but this one time I stumbled into the large corporate repository and saw the deal. I wanted two Stephen King books that were also in this section, so I was able to get a random book for free. I thought about it for approximately two seconds and grabbed The Opposite of Loneliness. I wish that I had a grand story about how I felt drawn to the book, but in reality I think I grabbed it simply because there was a pretty girl on the cover. That is just biology at work, baby.

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It took me awhile to actually read this book, but when I did, I was surprised by its story. The Opposite of Loneliness is by Marina Keagan, a student at Yale University. Five days before she was going to graduate, she died in a car accident. This book is a collection of her works that she wrote at school, and it was published posthumously.

Most of the stories and essays focus on youth and relationship, two messages that hit especially close to home for us college-age folk. She comes close to summing up the idea of relationship in her essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness”:  “It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table” (rest of essay found here). Keagan gets at what we at Whitworth love to sum up as “community” when we try to calculate the meaning of our time here. But we really fail with that word.

The book is wonderful and I am very glad that I randomly picked it up, but that is not really the point. It goes beyond that. I felt very touched by these essays and short stories that were contained in this book. And it wasn’t simply the content of the stories. It was the fact that this author was not really that different from me. We were close to the same age and I am now in a similar position of graduating college and moving on to other endeavors. The sense of kinship I felt with this author was unnerving and especially heartbreaking due to her untimely death.

Rather than just being sad though, I came to a realization. Some of the work included in this collection that touched me so were probably written for classes. And that made me think of all the things that I have written for classes during my time here. I thought about the essays on Shakespeare written for Doug that I really gave up on at 2 A.M. I thought about the poetry assignment in Nicole’s Creative Writing class that I turned in after my first draft because I was pretty busy that week. I thought about how I copied twelve copies of postcards and turned them into a literary journal for Thom because I was terrified of having to use a computer to design a book.

I really did not put myself one hundred percent into very many assignments, and that made me incredibly sad. We always think of the future and how at some point we will get some “real” writing done. We will finally start that novel that will change the world. Or we will start that poetry project that will be so avant-garde that no one will like it, but they will respect it. But right now, on this campus, we have the opportunity to pour ourselves into our writings almost every day. We could knock that essay on Beowulf out of the park. Or that short answer essay on the final about Yeats could have some absolute truth contained within it.

If we try to thoroughly create with all of our writing who knows whom we might be influencing?

Jacob Millay (’16)  is an English Education major at Whitworth University. He is a master of consuming, whether that is the newest David Fincher film, the newest Death Cab for Cutie album, or his mother’s spaghetti. He wishes he had any plans for after graduation or for next weekend, but, alas, he has none.