In 1923, the China Trio, three English women, veteran missionaries, all of them, headed for Gansu Province in Central Asia, hauling a cartload of Bibles and literature. Their aim was to visit every city of the Gansu Province located beyond the Great Wall. They knew that other women missionaries were in the hands of bandits, but went anyway. Before their adventure was over, they would endure hunger, thirst, pain and sleeplessness; they would be robbed, arrested by a warlord and stoned. They would live lives of gruelling adventure and make journeys that no other European woman had made.
Evangeline French was the oldest of the three women. In her youth she had been daring, rebellious and angry. One day she had exploded to her amiable sister Francesca, "If I could take upon myself the world's misery, I would--and jump into the sea with it."
"Eva, there is no need to do that. It was done long ago, on the cross," responded Francesca.
Her sister's reply sobered Eva. Two weeks later, she slipped into a chapel, sought Christ and began her transformation.
Mildred was the daughter of a draper. As a young woman she had heard a missionary speaker tell of China's spiritual need, and become eager to serve as a missionary. She studied nursing and chemistry, sure that healing hands and practical skills would open doors of witness for her. The young man she was to marry dumped her when she stayed true to her determination to go to China.
Francesca was last of the trio. Although she was the quietest of the three, she once debated the witty Catholic journalist G.K. Chesterton, who joked that she ought to be burnt as a heretic for opposing him. Trained as a nurse, she was sensitive and sympathetic.
They traveled slowly, visiting China's people in their markets and homes, speaking to as they could, turning every conversation to Christ and "gossiping the gospel." They cooked over camel dung.
The three women had been in Gansu for only a few days when Dr. Kao, a Chinese Christian who had moved to Gandjou so that he could act as a witness in that pagan city, sent them a letter pleading for their help. Years before, they had heard him speak and decided to honor his invitation.
After great hardship they arrived. Dr. Kao and the Gandjou Christians had begun praying for weeks that the Lord would send experienced Christians to them. Now three had arrived. Dr. Kao made the Trio an offer. If they would stay and teach the Christians of Gandjou, the Christians would send a band of men and women with them to spread the gospel in the surrounding region. The Trio agreed.
Thus began one of the most extraordinary gospel adventures in history. Five or six times over the next thirteen years, the three women visited every oasis town and village that lay outside the Great Wall in the province of Gansu. Everywhere they went they saw the terrible effects of opium and proclaimed that God could deliver people from the drug. They gave lessons in the phonetic alphabet, treated diseases and astonished everyone by rescuing babies who had been thrown away.
Returning to England in 1926 for a vacation, they traveled down the old silk road. On this day, March 22, 1928, the trio returned to China and settled again in Sudjou. But in 1936, all foreigners were ordered out of the city. Tired and old, the three admitted that their work in China was over. They said their final farewells and returned to England, rejoicing that this time they were able to travel part of the way by air. Over the years, Mildred and Francesca had recorded their adventures in books--twenty altogether.
Mildred was the first to die in 1952. Eva lived to be ninety, and during her last illness, Francesca slept on the floor beside her to care for her. Scolded for sleeping on the floor, Francesca replied, "I've been sleeping on floors all my life." She outlived her older sister by only three weeks.
- Anderson, Gerald H., ed. Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. New York: Macmillan Reference USA; London: Simon & Schuster and Prentice Hall International, 1998.
- Cable, Mildred and Francesca French. Through Jade Gate and Central Asia: An Account of Journeys in Kansu, Turkestan and the Gobi Desert. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1939.
- Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith. New York: Harper, 1956.
- Gordon, Ernest. A Book of Protestant Saints. Chicago: Moody Press, 1946.
- "Missionary and Feminist Icon." (www.christianityandrenewal.com/archdec2001d.htm)
- Platt, W.J. Three Women: Mildred Cable, Francesca French, Evangeline French. London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1964.
Last updated May, 2007.