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Sharing memories of lost missionaries

Three disappeared in China 70 years ago

Three disappeared in China 70 years ago

December 09, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

CEARFOSS - Seventy years ago and half a world away, a young Cearfoss woman, her new husband and a friend from California - all three Church of the Brethren missionaries - disappeared without a trace in rural China.

On Sunday, Dec. 2, the congregation of the Broadfording Church of the Brethren Fellowship and a few family members swept away the miles and the years as they shared memories of the three missionaries and their ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs.

Mary Hykes Harsh, Alva Harsh and Minneva Neher set off for China on Sept. 2, 1935, according to Broadfording Pastor Len Smith. They disappeared two years later.

"The family, the mission board and the U.S. State Department tried to solve the mystery (of their disappearance) but there were no answers," Smith said.

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Some information later emerged from a Chinese citizen who claimed to have witnessed their deaths at the hands of the Japanese, Smith said.

In 1937, China was in the throes of a Japanese invasion as well as internal unrest. Missionaries were often in jeopardy because of their efforts to aid Chinese women and girls who sometimes were brutalized by the invaders.

The service last Sunday coincided with the day of their disappearance. A book written in 1947 about the event contains pictures of the missionaries' compound in Show Yang, some Chinese friends and a snapshot of the Harshes and Neher, which reportedly was taken just a few days before they disappeared.

"I remember my mom telling me that Aunt Mary had written there was danger but that she was going to stay because of God," said Pastor John Mowen, a nephew of Mary Hykes Harsh.

Mowen was born in 1937, two years after Ruth Hykes Mowen's sister left for China.

Mowen said he remembers his grandfather, Charles Samuel Hykes, telling him that when Mary Hykes was wed to Alva Harsh, "Pappy" made Harsh promise that he would never take Mary out of the country.

But Mary and her husband were determined to serve their calling, even in those troubled times, Mowen said.

The two met when they were earning degrees at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Mowen said.

Although Mowen and his Aunt Mary never met face to face, she did send Mowen's mother a christening dress for him to wear at his baptism.

"Mission work began in China in 1908 and about 100 missionaries were sent," Smith said. All were evacuated by December 1940 and were not able to return until 1946.

Mowen said his Aunt Mary was the first in her family to earn a college degree. She was also the only member of the Broadfording congregation to ever go on a full-time, long-term mission.

Arvin Harsh, a brother of Alva, is still living but was unable to travel to Broadfording from his home in West Virginia for the service.

The service included carefully selected hymns such as "I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go," and "So I Send You." Smith read a poem that Mary Hykes Harsh had written.

The service was inspiring and sparked a lot of conversations about the ultimate sacrifice made so many years ago, Mowen said.

"I was in awe that, 70 years later, people still remember and care," Mowen said. "The church and her family have kept this alive."

Mowen's sister, Beverly Mowen Hann, gathered much of the information for the observance from her home in Florida. And then there was some unexpected help.

Patricia Robinson might not be a member of the Hykes family but the 16-year-old homeschooled student became intrigued by the trio's sacrifice when she saw the plaque that had been erected 10 years ago.

"I mentioned it to Mom and then I began doing some research on the computer," Patricia said. "I also learned that Ruth Mowen (Mary Hykes Harsh's sister) was friends with my greatgrandmother."

The daughter of Fred and Debi Robinson, Patricia's efforts led to a paper and, more importantly, to a better understanding of history that actually touched her life.

The plaque that inspired Patricia in her research project reads "The church provides this memorial that the full measure of their devotion to Christ may not be forgotten."

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