Mamie Johnston: A Brave Missionary in Manchuria

Bandits, Japanese invaders, and Communists all threatened her life. Her dedication never wavered.

In 1923, 26-year-old Mamie Johnston (韩悦恩, Han Yue-en) was sent by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, under the sponsorship of its Women’s Missionary Association, to Faku County in northeast China’s Liaoning Province, part of the region then known as Manchuria. Johnston’s adventures in China would span 28 years. She lived through bandit attacks, the Japanese invasion of China, and the rise of the Communist regime.

Thanks to the short memoir Johnston composed 30 years after leaving China, the compelling tales of her missionary experience, including her rustic life in Manchuria and her legendary wit and bravery when dealing with the Japanese, have been preserved.

Fulfilling an early invitation

Johnston’s fascination with China began when she was just eight years old. Isabel “Ida” Deane Mitchell, a female medical missionary from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, was preparing to travel to Manchuria. She invited the young Johnston to come and join her in China when she was old enough. This invitation remained in Johnston’s heart and would guide her own mission plans nearly 20 years later.

Mitchell settled in Faku, Manchuria, in 1905. The first Western medical doctor ever seen in Faku County, she adopted the elegant Chinese name Qi Youlan (齐幽兰, “serene orchid in the valley”). Tragically, in 1917 she succumbed to an infection she contracted while treating a diphtheria patient, dying at age 38.

Johnston’s dream of joining Isabel in China was shattered. Nevertheless, she applied to become an overseas missionary, setting her sights on either India or China. Ultimately, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland dispatched her to northeast China as a missionary educator.

After arriving …

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