Through Fire and Through Water.
We arrived in Manila Sunday, November 2nd, 1941. The green shores and rugged, jungle covered mountains were a grand sight as we sailed into Manila Hay past Corregidor, the island fortress now so famous. Seemingly we were entering another sea, for this bay is one of the largest of its kind in the world. About noon we reached Pier Seven where our ship docked. After passing immigration on the ship and customs officials on the shore we found a taxi, which took us to a ramshackle old Chinese hotel, where I thought we could manage for a few days in spite of the dirt for the prices were fair and the food was very good.
That was our first night in the Philippines. I remember the giant cockroach I saw scurrying under my bed, a beast about the size of a mouse, which I took to be some kind of a tarantula. I had never seen cockroaches before. They were unknown in my part of the states and also in North China, and these were bigger than any I've ever seen since.
Not far from our hotel was The Luneta, as it was called, an area of park and lawn that separated Intromuros, the old walled city, from our area called Ermita. That night we walked out there to hear a band concert, and we talked to some of the many American soldiers who had just arrived as reinforcements for the islands. They were raw and inexperienced, interested in enjoying the strangeness of this land but little realizing the terrible ordeals in their near future.
The next day, Monday, was my birthday, but I hardly noticed it. We went down town and found the office of Mr. Loh of the Bank of China, who received us warmly. He advised me to open an account with the National City Bank of New York, which I did. He also gave us help in locating a place to rent. I had wished to get a place in the Chinese quarter where I could do mission work among them, but he knew of no vacancies there. He advised me to look at a flat that was then empty in a house next to his in the Malate district. That evening the Lohs all came to visit us at the hotel, and we had a very enjoyable time. Mrs. Loh spoke excellent Mandarin and Mr. Loh, whose Shanghai dialect we could scarcely understand, spoke excellent English, so our conversation was a mixture of English and Chinese.
On Tuesday we visited the flat next to the Lohs and immediately decided to rent it. By making partitions in one end of the large front room we made two bedrooms for Sally and her brothers, and the one small bedroom was left for my use. At first we slept on the floor, but within a few days I had purchased some cheap bamboo beds, a table and some chairs and had a gas plate installed, so we were fixed up for house keeping.
Jackie and Sally were soon entered in grade school, a public school not far away that was entirely in English. Jimmy was the housekeeper, though we all assisted at cooking, washing dishes and such. We soon found the First Baptist Church, a very spiritual evangelistic group, and we attended there. At times I tramped the city streets distributing tracts and talking to those I met, either in Chinese or English. The soldiers and sailors usually accepted the tracts given them, but the Chinese and the Philippinos were the most willing to discuss the question of salvation. We did, however, find a few of the service men who were Christians, who in spite of ridicule and trials were standing true to their Savior. My neighbor, Mr. Loh, was not a Christian. I talked much to him of the necessity of trusting Christ Jesus, and though he made no decision in this matter his friendship seemed ever warmer toward us.
The only time we were ever outside the city of Manila before internment was the one day that we went with the Sunday School of the First Baptist Church for a picnic outing at Tagaytay Ridge, the high brim of a majestic volcanic crater that contains a lake as large as Crater Lake in Oregon. In this lake there was also an island on which more than a thousand people had once lived and farmed, but after the eruption of the smaller crater in the center of this island some years before, that killed all the inhabitants, the government no longer permitted anyone to live there. This lake, called Lake Taal, was a glorious sight to see from the grass covered heights of the ridge, where the fringed leaves of bending coconut palms framed the view.
In Manila we enjoyed meeting and making friends among the missionaries of the Baptist Association for World Evangelism. They had established the First Baptist Church of Manila at that time and also had another large church in that city. Besides their work in Manila they had missionaries on Mindanao and several other islands of the Philippine Archipelego. They were spiritual and fundamental as to the great doctrines of salvation, for love of which the first members of their mission had broken away from the Northern Convention to continue a great work of saving souls. There were some twenty million Philippinos, mostly Catholic, but by the American influence and occupation their standard of education had become high above most of the oriental peoples. We found them very friendly, hospitable to the extreme, to the most of whom Catholicism was merely a form of worship, and the fact that we were not Catholics made no difference at all.
The Philippine Islands make up a very beautiful country with marvelous scenery, wooded mountains, palm fringed bays, and green verdure all the year round, where it is seldom too hot or too cold. In Manila we slept in an unscreened apartment without windows, only shutters, and free from flies and mosquitoes because of the constant vigilance of the government health control. Seldom, but occasionally, a giant cockroach or other large insect would fly in through the wide open windows. With our neighbors we often walked of an evening on Dewey Boulevard along Manila Bay only a few blocks from our house, where we saw sunsets unsurpassed in beauty by any other place in the world.
I was just getting acquainted with the city and the people and had just finished writing to folks at home and other letters to the workers in China with funds for work there, when suddenly, as all know, war broke out on December 7, 1941. December 8th was the day in the Philippines. The schools were all closed, Baguio was bombed, and Manila seethed in preparation for the struggle.