By Dale Thornton, Former Missionary to Taiwan
(via BMAlife.com) — God’s guiding providence is manifested in all things from the creation in Gen. 1:1 to the Second Coming of Christ in Rev. 22:17. So, I stand in awe of the providence of God when I think about the life of my friends, Jack and LaTrell Bateman. God’s intentional and unwavering providence always brings glory and honor to Himself, and so it was in the life of Jack and LaTrell. This is the story of the unfolding of God’s providence in their lives.
Jack’s Harrowing Early Life
It was no accident that an American soldier, Sgt. John William Bateman was stationed in North China. God providentially led him to marry a young Chinese-Mongolian woman, sur name Liu. They soon had three children — Jimmy, Jack and Sally. Sadly, Sgt. Bateman came down with tuberculosis and died, leaving his wife a widow with three small children. How could she survive and support her little family in those difficult times in North China? God had already worked that out. She moved in with her parents and her seven sisters, and they lived in that Chinese home.
God had providentially placed Jack in the ideal environment to equip him for his future work as a missionary to the Chinese people. He learned the beautiful Mandarin language of North China, the customs and culture of China and, Jack might say most importantly, he learned to love the food of China.
As the children grew older, however, Mrs. Bateman couldn’t provide for all the children’s needs, particularly their education. Since the children were American citizens, the American Legion in Tientsin began providing financial assistance because Japan had invaded and taken control over all of North China. The Japanese gave food rations to the Chinese, including their mother, but since the three Bateman children were American citizens, they received no rations. It was at that time that God led a Methodist missionary in Tientsin, a former army nurse who was associated with the American Legion, to send them to the Methodist mission school in Tai’an, Shandong Province in northeast China. They were at the Methodist mission school for a year.
While there, they became acquainted with John Blalock, a single Baptist missionary. God led him to take care of the children, so they lived with him for almost two years. But life became impossible for American missionaries in Japanese-occupied China, so Missionary Blalock received permission from the Japanese to leave the country. The children’s mother also gave him permission to take the children out of China — first to the Philippines (an American territory) and then on to America. However, God had other plans.
They arrived in Manila, the Philippines, on Nov. 2, 1941. With the help of a Chinese businessman and his wife, they were soon able to rent a small apartment. However, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and simultaneously attacked the Philippines. By the end of December 1941, all U.S. soldiers had retreated from Manila to take a stand on the Bataan Peninsula and on Corregidor. Soon, the Japanese appeared at their apartment door to take them into custody. They were then taken to an internment camp on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas.
It was truly a bleak outlook for the future missionary. All the prisoners spent the next three years and one month on an almost starvation diet. Many died under those harsh conditions, but God had instilled in Jack an instinct for survival. He witnessed the horrors of disease, starvation and mistreatment of prisoners. But by the grace of God, he was assigned to kitchen duty and was able to scrape the large pots where they cooked the rice to get extra nourishment before washing them. Later on, as they got more desperate for food, he used an old black steer to plow up the baseball field and planted sweet potatoes.
At the same time, in Lubbock, Texas, God was preparing the second member of His missionary team.
Emily LaTrell Johnson had a rich spiritual heritage. Her Great-great-grandfather Haliburton had organized 11 Baptist churches in west-central Tennessee. Her parents and grandparents were godly Christians and her family worshiped faithfully at Central Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas.
When she was almost 10, her Sunday School teachers taught her “the old, old story of Jesus and His love.” One Sunday after Pastor Welch preached, she felt he was preaching just to her, and that night, as she lay in her bed, she thought, “What if the house burns down? I would go to Hell!” The devil really gave her a working over that night. He said, “There are lots of gods in the world, lots of religions.” But she said to the devil, “Only Jesus died for me. All those others are false.”
So, she said, “Jesus, if you’ll have me, I give myself to you.”
The next Sunday she joined the church and was baptized. Ever since that day, the one thing LaTrell was certain about was that she had been saved by the grace of God.
God began to providentially work in her life so she would be His witness to the Chinese people. At the age of 13, her social studies teacher showed a film about the Second World War against the Japanese in Asia. Here is LaTrell’s reaction to that film in her own words:
“The flame throwers were pointing to the place where the Japanese were hiding and shooting, and a Japanese soldier ran out all aflame and he finally fell. I thought, ‘He’s burning now, but he’s going to burn forever because he’s never heard about Jesus. But how can he be saved when he’s never heard?’ I had never seen an oriental, a real oriental, in my whole life. So, I said, ‘Somebody’s got to tell those people about Jesus. Somebody’s got to go!’”
So that 13-year-old surrendered her life to be the one to go and tell them about Jesus. She was so determined in her commitment that she would pull her eyes up so they would be slanted like the Chinese to be able to fit in when she went to China. And if you look at a lot of her pictures, you will swear that her eyes were indeed slanted like the Chinese!
Her call and commitment were also shown in her determination to learn the Chinese language:
“That summer, at the end of the semester, a paper came to my desk. A Chinese lady, a student at Texas Tech — she already had her doctor’s degree — and was offering lessons in the Chinese language over the summertime. So, when I got that paper, something hit my heart, before I even turned it over — ‘This is it!’ So, I signed up and went to those classes all summer and then she (the teacher) went back to Shanghai, another discouraging turn of events. Once again, I had no teacher.
“Then the pastor’s son went to Jacksonville College for his last year of high school,” she continued. “When he came home for Christmas, he said, ‘I’ve found you a teacher! I’ve found you a real live Chinaman!’ He was talking about Jack. And he said, ‘In February they’re going to have a Bible conference. You’ve got to come.’ So, I went with the Birdwells to the Bible conference, and I got to meet Jack.” Once again things were looking up! God had not abandoned His plans for a future missionary team.
“After meeting Jack, we corresponded,” LaTrell said. “I was in my last year of high school. Jack, however, was sick enough to die at that time of tuberculosis. Finally, they found a hospital in San Antonio for him. He had his brother send him two books on the Chinese language. He sent me one and kept one, and I sent him the lessons that I did trying to learn to read and write Chinese… I learned quite a bit and corresponded with him while he was in the hospital.
“I graduated from high school at the same time he got out of the hospital, all roly-poly,” she said. “The only medicine they could give Jack was food. He just ate until he got fat, and his tuberculosis was gone.”
Then in September of 1948, God led LaTrell, the girl with the missionary heart, to attend Jacksonville College. “At the college, I sat with him during the meals so I could learn some Chinese words,” she said. “We walked across the campus together and ate together and I learned a phrase here and a word there.”
“Then one day Jack said, ‘Okay. If I’m going to China and you’re going to China, let’s team up.’ Well now, the Lord said, ‘Go to China.’ But He didn’t say a word about teaming up with anybody or getting married. So, I said, ‘No!’ He started asking me right away. That was September of the 1948 school year until September of the next year — his proposals were like a broken record. Then one day I was in my room praying and the Lord caught my attention and spoke to me — well you can’t explain how the Lord speaks — but anyway I realized, yes, I should marry Jack and go to China with him.
“The next time we walked to church and came back, before we got to the dorm the broken record was still going — every day, every day, every day, every day, marry me, marry me, marry me, marry me. But that day I said, ‘Yes!’ That hushed him up. So we got to the girls’ dorm and he said, ‘What did you say?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ That was September of 1949. We were married in June of 1950. When I first brought Jack home, my parents were in utter shock because I had never dated a boy of any kind, and now I was bringing a Chinaman home. But they just took him in and babied him and he became one of the family — truly an example of God’s love and grace and providence at work.”
Their Two for God walk began in 1950 and lasted 64-plus years. Their son, John was born in the States before they went to Taiwan. Paul was born shortly after they arrived in Taiwan and soon the Two for God became Seven for God as Mark, Ann and Bruce followed in quick succession. As a personal, first-hand observer of their life together for 55 of those 64 years, I can vouch for the fact that their love, devotion and faithfulness to God and to one another, never waned or wavered.
Their Providential Life
This story is just the beginning of God’s providence in the life of Jack and LaTrell Bateman. They were the third missionary couple to go as BMAA missionaries in that newly organized association of churches. (First was Bro. and Mrs. Harold Morris to Brazil, then Bro. and Mrs. Z.T. Rankin to Japan and Jack and LaTrell Bateman left for Taiwan in 1953, where they served for almost 40 years.)
Their missionary legacy is in all the souls saved, lives changed and young missionaries mentored. Only eternity will tell of the many who know Christ because of their surrendered lives.