Letter from Ola Lane Culpepper to Dr. C.E. Maddry, November 20, 1933, Hwanghsien, Shantung, China
Background: This letter was written in response to a resolution, on recommendation by the Far East Committee, of the Foreign Mission Board on Oct 11, 1933, to request an accounting of the revival in light of accusations made by Rev. G. L. Winstead, of Gainesboro, TN, and T.L. Blalock of the China Direct Mission (formerly of Gospel Mission) that the NCM missionaries had adopted Pentacostalism and abandoned the historic Baptist faith. Note in this response that though phenomenon appearing to be Pentecostal or like later Charismatic movements were present, the emphasis on repentance of sin, a crisis moment, and Spirit-filling following by service in evangelism and “victory over sin” are thoroughly Keswick and thus right at the center of global evangelicalism of the time.
Hwanghsien, Sung. [Shantung abbreviated?]
Nov 20 – ‘33
Dear Dr. C. E. Maddry,
Your letter came two days ago and I shall try to answer today. I am not sure whether Mr. Culpepper can write today or not. He had been sick several days with influenza and he got up and went to class too soon causing a relapse. He is better but still in bed and is weak of course. But he will write as soon as he is able. Our little girl Mary has typhoid fever. She has been very ill but the change for the better has come. She has been sick so much this year. In the summer she had amoebic dysentery, and I suppose her run down physical condition made her an easy prey to the typhoid. There is a great deal of it around. Dr. Bryan and Miss Wright are so good to us. My letter will be written between her calls, but I hope the content will not be too disconnected.
In reply to your letter, I’ve felt after much prayer that I can only tell you my experience, and I am asking the Lord to help me write so you can understand. Letters are so unsatisfactory. But I’ve felt from the very first letter we had from you a warmness from your heart and that you are really leaning on the Lord. I know if I could talk with you, that you would understand.
People have some misunderstanding about the spiritual life of missionaries. I really felt that when I surrendered to come to China that I was fully surrendered to the Lord. I believe many people hold that view. I found out when I got here that I needed much in a spiritual way. I really didn’t know what I needed nor how to get it. I have heard a missionary say this, “we either grow spiritually or we go back, on the foreign field.” I’m sure that is true. Our very souls are tried by this cold, ungodly atmosphere of heathenism and the lack of the work of the Holy Spirit, like we feel it at home. But I was really very, very, much in need spiritually and when I tried to work here where, we must have much of God’s power flowing through us or we see nothing happen, then I realized how empty I had always been as a Christian. A longing came into my heart to know my Lord better, I can’t tell you what a longing. I knew I didn’t have any victory over sin in my life. I saw the children of God’s own chosen ones giving their lives to this world and I realized I lacked as a mother the power to instill within my children the holy fear of God. I saw that as a wife I hindered my husband by my often nagging & discontent about the little rubs of life. I talked with unsaved people about their souls & they were not saved. I could lead meetings, organize societies, teach classes, etc. etc. but when it came to bearing the real fruit, I was fruitless and I knew it. As I said before I longed for something more & felt perfectly helpless to know how to lay hold of the Lord for it. I started reading my Bible through more rapidly than once a year as my custom had been. I knew it was full of the teaching that we are to be radiant Christians, full of praise & victory, my hunger grew for I did not have those things. I was happy when things were running smoothly & unhappy in the clouds. I started rising an hour earlier for prayer & Bible study. Oh, I just plead with the Lord to give me light.
Then Mr. Larson came. He had been re-filled with the Spirit about two months before that. I wasn’t the only hungry one here. Many had been crying to the Lord for blessing and He heard our cry. During those days, I suddenly felt led to pray that if there was anything in the way, that God would show me. Almost immediately He showed me many sins I must make right. I had wronged a High School mate & He plainly showed me that I must write her although I knew she didn’t know what I had done. There were several things I had to do and they were severe blows to my pride. But the Lord as clearly guided me and …[damage to letter]… anyone ever is when it came to actually looking in on my heart it nearly killed me. Oh, I knew Jesus had saved me, but He was showing me that it must be only a truly cleansed vessel that He could use. In His strength I humbled myself, as He led. One evening after the service a few of the Chinese brothers & sisters & and few of us missionaries came here to our house to pray. When we knelt down I knew I was saved and I knew the Holy Spirit had been in my heart every day since. But I know He was not there in the fullness and I firmly believed that when I fully surrendered & trusted Him that He would rule & reign supreme in my heart. But many questions came to my mind to make me fear. They had been there often before. But I just said, “Lord you have told us to be filled” and all these questions I surrender to You. I haven’t words to express to you what happened in my soul then. But a joy filled me that seemed would hurt my very body. Jesus was more real to me than anyone in the room. The work of the Spirit is to glorify Jesus & I really met my Lord that night in a way I did not dream could be. This joy that filled my soul just rolled over me in waves & waves. When a great sorrow came into our home five years ago it was my very soul that was grieved but my sorrow expressed itself through my tears [referring to death of their daughter]. When this joy came into my soul it expressed itself through laughter. I had never heard a Pentecostal preach in my life. I had never heard of anyone being as happy in the Lord that he laughed. I didn’t know anyone ever had, but since then I’ve found out that scores have all thro’ the years & since then I’ve seen in the Bible “Our mouths were filled with laughter”, and Abraham laughed when God was renewing His covenant with him. I knew all that was happening, but I was utterly lost in the ocean of God’s love. A spirit of intercession came over me as I had never known. My heart seemed melted in love to God and every person that I knew. I had been struck many times with the multiplied verses in God’s word telling us to praise Him. I did praise, partly because I wanted to and partly because I was commanded to. But that night I would have died if I couldn’t have praise Him. The praise just poured out of my heart. I felt I could never praise Him enough. I did not speak in tongues as some have. I had felt as bitter against that all my life, but the Lord had taken all the bitterness out of my heart.
The very first soul I dealt with after this I won to the Lord. I’ve seen the Spirit working through very simple words of mine as I had never seen it before. Yet I’ve not seen it anything like I want to and long to. Our home, which had always been considered a happy, congenial one, is really a little heaven now. When Charlie and I fall into the temptation of unpleasant words or attitudes we are almost immediately convicted and we go down on our knees together, realizing we have sinned against Him, and seek His forgiveness. I can’t tell you what a change has been wrought in my heart & by His grace it is being worked out in my life.
Perhaps the question comes to your mind as to whether or not we believe we have reached sinless perfection. No not at all. I know no one in our mission believes that. In fact we have only began to realize how sinful & deceitful our hearts are. Only by constantly abiding in Him am I delivered from the power of sin & I often fall. Neither do I believe I’ve had all the blessing there is for me. I believe there are undreamed of heights and depths.
My experience is similar to dozens of others here at Hwanghsien, and this is a new place spiritually. People of the C.I.M Mission, the Presbyterian missions &others have been here and they have said they never felt the Spirit more. If these experiences were of the flesh or of the Devil I don’t see how after two years we would still be seeing such a marvelous work of the Spirit in transforming lives. Isn’t that the test after all—souls saved & lives changed?
Please don’t think that I feel I’m a great power. I’m very little and I know it. I fully realize that I can do nothing, only Jesus in me can. If there are other questions you wish to ask I would be glad to try to answer them. I’ve written you this out of my heart and I am sure you realize that.
After all Charlie, with help, got his letter off first. I’ve only had a few seconds at a time & have used four days. We have wondered if Charlie has typhoid too, but Dr. Bryan thinks it is “flu”. Mary is gradually improving. Her temp. only went as high as 103 2/5° today. I praise the Lord for His continual goodness to us.
Yours in Him.
Ola Lane Culpepper
P S. I can’t feel that this is contrary to Baptist belief. I think I’m as much a Baptist as ever, and long to see Baptist work go forward.