Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Allison  Davis

William E. Barrett: The Human Experience of Spiritual Fulfillment

The Chinese Civil War and the Downfall of Foreign Missionaries in China

William E.  Barrett

Throughout history missionaries suffered from many political uprisings in China. Starting in 1899 with the Boxer Rebellion and continuing to the Chinese Civil War fought between the Nationalists and Communists, missionaries suffered from numerous attacks. It was their goal to provide education, Christian teachings, and medical aid to the destitute Chinese. As communism developed in China, anti-foreign attitudes grew, and missionaries faced even more danger. Communists considered the capitalist missionaries a threat to their ultimate goal of Chinese conversion to communism. Missionaries, however, believed in the concept of individualism, which conflicted with communist ideals. The communists preached that a group of people was more important than one particular individual. The communists felt that while the missionaries were providing aid to the Chinese people, they were also forcing their beliefs on them. As tension grew between the Nationalists and Communists, missionaries suffered from the fighting between the two groups. At this point, China was unsafe for foreigners and many American missionaries suffered from the brutality of the communists. As the Communist Party grew stronger, the missionaries grew weaker; however, missionaries remained dedicated to their Christian calling. In 1949, communism took over the country, and missionaries failed to achieve their spiritual objective.

Like the adamant missionaries who dedicated their lives to emphasizing the importance of religion to the Chinese people, William E. Barrett illustrates the importance of Godís presence in his charactersí lives. Barrett, a devout Catholic, had developed a strong relationship with God throughout his lifetime. To demonstrate his unbreakable faith, he intertwines his love for religion throughout his novels. In the opening of each novel, the protagonist feels empty and lost because he has strayed from God. He is unsatisfied with his life, and unintentionally begins a spiritual quest to find his own purpose in life. Along his journey, he encounters helpless individuals who are greatly in need of his services, and realizes that God is reaching out to him through these people. It is through these encounters that he experiences a true epiphany and realizes that a life without belief in a higher power is ultimately vacuous.

Major Works Consulted:

Barrett, William E. The Left Hand of God. Doubleday, 1951.
---. Lilies of the Field. New York: Doubleday, 1962.
Edwards, Lee. Missionary of Freedom: The Life and Times of Walter Judd. New York: Paragon, 1990.
Hemenway, Ruth V. A Memoir of Revolutionary China 1925-1941. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1977.
Photo Credit: Barrett, William E. Lady of the Lotus. New York: Doubleday, 1975.


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