It was at least 65 years ago that ‘Ing’ & ‘Hwa’ last saw each other during their childhood days. Yet by God’s grace and the wonder of modern technology, the two who were born in 1941, in war-torn China, finally met in Fuzhou, China on 14th September, 2014.
Li I Ing is the daughter of Professor Henry Li Hok Gung, who taught in the Anglo-chinese College (ACC) in Fuzhou. The Li family and the missionary family of Mr. & Mrs John Pilley were very close and special friends.
When news came that the Japanese bombing were getting closer to Fuzhou, the difficult decision was made to move ACC to Yangkow (a small town in North Fujian further up the Min river) where the Japanese had no interest.
Both Mrs. Pilley and Mrs. Li were expecting their second and fifth child respectively. The journey up-river was a very trying one. In her book “The Hills of Tang”, Mrs. Pilley describes vividly the hardships they had to bear in 4 long wretched days in a motor launch that was cramped with people and things, amidst heavy rains and shortage of food.
On 16 November, 1941, in the midst of celebrating the Founder’s Day of ACC, two babies were born. Mrs Li gave birth to her youngest baby girl one hour ahead of Mrs. Pilley. To commemorate the historical event of the Founding of Anglo-Chinese College (Ing Hwa College) the Li family chose the Chinese character “Ing” (meaning Anglo/England) and named their daughter ‘Li I Ing’ (李怡英). The Pilley family used the character “Hwa” (Flowery Kingdom/China) and named their daughter Gail Muriel Pilley, ‘Bik Loh Hwa’ (毕乐华). So ‘Ing’ and ‘Hwa’ were like twin sisters.
They stayed at Yangkow for over three years when it was deemed necessary for the Pilley family to leave for India and back to the USA for health reasons and for a furlough. Most missionaries were ordered out of China because of the war. After the furlough, Mr. Pilley went back into China as a member of the Office of Strategic Services in the U.S. Army.
The years after the Japanese war did not bring much peace to China or the missionaries. The fighting between the Communists and the Kuomintang also brought fears and insecurity especially when Mr. Pilley was regarded by the Communists as a public enemy because of his service in the army. When the Communist Party took over control of China in 1949, the Pilleys like most other missionaries had to leave China. The Pilley and Li families parted company. The ‘twin’ sisters Ing & Hwa never saw each other until that amazing day, 66 years later.
In the summer of 2013 Gail (Hwa) was surfing on the internet, looking up Kuliang, a mountain resort in Fuzhou, where her family used to go up during summer for the cool weather. She came across an article written by a young man called George. His email was available and so Gail wrote to him, asking for more details about Kuliang. “Imagine my delight and surprise when he wrote back, saying he knew all about my family!”, shared Gail.
In the spring of 2014, Gail sent a picture of the Li Family with her family to George, asking if he could find out anything about ‘Ing’s family.
When I asked George his side of the story in locating Ing, this was his email reply, “I have always believed in the power of Internet, so I posted Ing’s family photo on the Twitter to seek help. I waited for quite a few days but thankfully someone responded that the father on the photo was his geography teacher at ACC, and he knew that his youngest daughter was a professor at Fujian Agricultural College and is still living. I happened to have a close friend who is an alumnus of that school so I turned to him for help, who immediately gave me Ing’s cellphone number and home address, etc. And that’s how I first got connected with Ing.”
When Gail confirmed her trip to Fuzhou to attend the 151st Anniversary of Fu Hwa Methodist Church in Fuqing in September, 2014 she corresponded with George about possibility of meeting up with Ing. As Gail was also invited to come for the 21st Graduation ceremony of MPI (Methodist Pilley Institute, Sibu, Sarawak), named after her parents who served in Sibu and Sarikei over 11 years, arrangements were made such that she was able to attend both historical events in one trip.
While in Fuqing, from Sept 11-14, Gail and I were treated as VVIPs. The church leaders were most grateful and gracious for Gail’s presence as they commemorated the 151st Anniversary. The contribution of Gail’s maternal Grandfather, Rev. Harry Russell Caldwell, as a Methodist missionary in Fu Hwa & Fuqing area for over 40 years was remembered with much appreciation & thanksgiving.
It was only after Sunday service in Fu Hwa Methodist church on 14th September that arrangement was made to drive us to Fuzhou to meet up with Ing and to visit Kuliang. The one-hour trip seemed awfully long. When the church van finally pulled up near a small restaurant, I heard Gail exclaim, “There’s Ing!”
Ing was standing outside the shop gazing intently into the van. The two finally met and it was indeed such a moving scene. After finally being persuaded to sit down at the restaurant table, the two continued their seemingly unending catching up.
Time, where did it go ? What did it do? Well, it takes time to join all the dots and the broken lines in life. By the grace of God and his unending faithfulness, all the dots and broken lines will eventually be joined altogether and make perfect sense.... IN HIS TIME!