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A Missionary Calling: Peace Comes to My Heart

January 29, 2015
Presbyterian mission station in Tokyo, from "Foreign Missionary," v. 34, 1875, opposite p. 129. "The house standing on the corner is occupied by the Rev. Mr. Carrothers, and the small building on the extreme right is used as a chapel and school-room for Mrs. Carrothers' Girl's School. The residence on the left is for the present used by Miss Youngman for her Boarding-school, while the small stone structure near it is a Bible and Tract depository belonging to the Presbyterian mission. On the extreme left is part of the Union Chapel."

Mary Parke and her husband David Thompson served as missionaries to Japan for over five decades. In this installment from her diary, Mary writes about disagreements over mission direction as well as preparations for her upcoming marriage to David.[1]

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Nov 11 [1873, Tokyo]: My [Japanese] teacher did not come today and I studied alone and did some needed thinking too….The new Episcopalian missionaries had a service in the church yesterday after their fashion. My spirit rose up against it. Will God – the high God, who asks for the service of the humble and contrite heart be better pleased with such vain machinery!

Nov 12: The usual round is almost run, studying, teaching, reading, sewing, working, listening, and walking for exercise, all the hours have been full. And yet there is nothing that stands up so prominently before me as this, the seemingly unadvised words I spoke at the dinner table. I hope it may teach me still better when to keep silent, namely when I cannot speak good words.—The mail came yesterday bringing me letters from Father, Kate and Willie, and accounts of the great panic among the banks.

Nov. 17: Other cares and sadnesses passed through that some-how have left a weight which I cannot sigh away. God grant that my life may be pure and sustained, and may the same rich blessing surround my dear love [Rev. David Thompson]. Strange things told me today that have some-what explained the cloudy past to me.

David Thompson, circa 1870. (Image No. 4380)

Nov 30: One of the men who received Okuno [Masatsuna] and Ogawa into his house to preach has been reproved and warned by the authorities. The priests are stirring up the people. The government too, threatens to restrict more and more the rights of Christians and missionaries. It is offended because foreigners resident in Japan are not willing to submit to Japanese laws. News of the steamer’s arrival, and with it, Dr. Hepburn.

Dec 6: The Saturday evening of another busy week. Miss Youngman has been here. Also Miss Gamble and Mr. Green, our new missionaries[2]. The ladies are to move into the new house shortly, and I am to be with them. Mr. and Mrs. Miller[3] have also been calling upon us. I was pleased with her and with the signs of efficiency in her appearance and words….Letters to Father and Rebecca were all I got written for this mail.—Today I have arranged all my trunks and drawers. Now, everything is in its place and I know where that place is.

Dec. 20: Saturday night of a sad week, but it is all peace now….We got ivies to decorate the parlor here at Christmas.—The question of Miss Gamble and Miss Youngman assisting Mrs. Carrothers[4] in her school agitated this week.

Dec 26: I have now been two nights in my own home with Miss Youngman and Miss Gamble, and am very comfortably situated. Christmas is past and I am by no means among the forgotten ones. Mr. Carrothers[5] put a nice book, “Bible Emblems” on their Christmas tree for me and at their pleasant gathering Christmas Eve I received it. Christmas morning I found at my place at the breakfast table a very nice and useful package from Miss Youngman consisting of two pieces of embroidery and a little book in which was copied the hymns that have been translated into the Japanese. During the day came Mr. Thompson’s present consisting of a rare bento box with its heavy silver bands and ample wrapping of silk, my teacher’s present of a fan the painting of which had been done by herself, and gentle O Kiyo San’s tray full of oranges. Our little gathering of the Japanese here in the evening seemed to be enjoyed very much by all.—Today our school was small. Perhaps the scholars are preparing for “New Year’s”. A walk [with Mr. Thompson] after school and the purchase of a shovel, tongs and poker. We were both unusually sober, little to say. A natural consequence of the last few busy days. But we have both thought and said that this has been the best Christmas of all our lives.

Jan 9 [1874]: A strange feeling possesses the mind on writing the date of a new year for the first time. Much has passed since this year dawned that I regret is not noted. The evening of the last year ended with a prayer meeting but following that was a violent talk with Mr. Carrothers in which he emphatically told us of his intention of trying to prohibit our having a separate school and also his intention to work against us in every way. He even told us that he would even leave the mission if after appealing to the higher authorities in the matter he did not gain his purpose.[6] It all occasioned us but very little annoyance and at the throne of grace listening to Mr. Thompson’s earnest heart prayer where [?] all things were asked for our need, all traces of disturbance vanished. On Mon. 5th a long walk and the purchase of two large screens together with a set of lacquered eating tables. We have been keeping the Week of Prayer. Very few attend, but very good direction is given to thought and we can pray. Now that my room can be used as a parlor, Mr. Thompson has been spending some time with me….The affairs of the church grow very clouded and it is difficult to tell what shall grow out of the recent forming of a Presbyterian Presbytery [the Presbytery of Japan].[7] Mr. Thompson went to Yokohama yesterday morning early and returned with a severe head-ache in the evening. Yesterday also the Japanese women had their first prayer meeting in my room. This morning, Mr. Thompson came over at the usual time, nine o’clock, for our walk, better, but looking pale. All the story of yesterday with its mingling of unjust and unkind words was gone over, but still come the words to me and to him too, “Nothing can harm you if ye be followers of that which is good”. We waited on our walk too to see the Mikado [the Meiji emperor] and his train who came to witness the navy review. The glance that I had of him revealed a thin faced, by no means interesting youth. Some of the common people bowed down, but many stood upright as he passed….Mr. Thompson began teaching again today, and I will begin tomorrow….Our first scholar received this week, Jan. 15th. O Rin San is her name.

Jan 21: Mr. Thompson too busy translating to take our usual walk this morning and came over to tell me so.

[Last entry until March 2nd]

March 2: Feb. is gone and was there nothing worthy of note? Yes, very much had I thought I had the time to note it. Several days spent in Yokohama formed one of its varieties. And the kindness of Dr. Brown’s family and Mrs. Louder in consulting about the making of my dress and in helping, I must note –Mr. and Mrs. Miller’s kindness with regard to furniture helped me very much and Mrs. Pruyn’s[8] very worthy presents showed her kindly interest—But what more nearly concerns my happiness is that my one most valued earthly treasure grows even more precious to me, and as the time for our marriage grows near I wish not, as formerly, to prolong it. Ah, how I pray never to be unworthy of his noble love!

Mary Parke Thompson, circa 1872. (Image No. 4376)

Yesterday was Communion Sabbath, and three were admitted into the native church. Asaina was among the number. At the communion the month before six were admitted….Another trying talk with Miss Youngman today. I had thought I had entered into any such discussion at all for the last time. I most earnestly desire that this may be the last time, though I know not how this school may go on in future. God help us all in our weakness and sin, and set a guard over our hearts and tongues, and make us more and more like his blessed Son and then we shall not need to be offended.—Mr. Thompson’s school began for the month today with some changes. I stay but one hour now and teach Conversation and Grammar.

March 9: Mr. Thompson went to Yokohama on the 6th and returned on Sat. in time to accompany us to Prof. Murray’s where we spent the afternoon in a very enjoyable manner. Mrs. Brown sent with him my beautifully made dress. Mrs. Louder’s present to him showed her kindly thoughtfulness and good taste. I will not soon forget her unexpected kindness to me.—The mail came the 5th bringing abundance [sic.] news and, for the most part, good news….—Father visiting in Pittsburgh—my box on its way. Rebecca so kindly and cheery though I fear much wearied in working for me. I hereafter will make no such demands on the home people…. [Yesterday I] Stayed with the girls in the evening and talked about Jesus. Seventeen at the meeting in my room, among the number our wash-woman. Ogawa spoke to them. After singing and the others had gone talked with gentle O Kiyo San about leading in prayer. She at last said she would try next Sabbath.

March 14: We have got a woman to be over the girls in the house. Her name is O Ai San. And she will be another soul to care for. O Rin San…went over with me today to Mr. Thompson’s class for instructing those who desire baptism. They seemed very thoughtful and very thankful and I hope a good work is begun in their hearts. In the latter days they shall come flocking to hear the blessed word, and may be that glad day is near. The Lord hasten it in his time. Mr. Carrothers’ sayings and doings and the probable conflict with the Board [of Foreign Missions] give me very little concern, if only faithfully and well we serve the Good Master. He can keep us in perfect peace, and daily, I think, more of his sweet peace comes to my heart.


[1] The Presbyterian Historical Society received the Thompson Papers in 2011, a collection that includes Mary Parke Thompson’s seven handwritten diaries. PHS volunteer Sue Althouse, herself a retired missionary to Japan, has been processing the Thompson Papers, and she has chosen excerpts from Mary’s diaries to share with readers. To see other excerpts, select the Mary Parke Thompson tag from the right hand menu of our full blog. Posts will be displayed in reverse chronological order.

[2] Presbyterian missionaries Kate M. Youngman; A. Matilda Gamble, posted to Tokyo; and Rev. Oliver M. Green, posted to Yokohama. Mary sometimes spells Rev. Green's name "Greene," but it has been standardized in the text to avoid confusion.

[3] Presbyterian missionary Rev. E. Rothesay Miller and his wife, stationed in Yokohama.

[4] Presbyterian missionary Julia Carrothers. Kate Youngman, sponsored by the Women’s Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, New York; and Matilda Gamble, sponsored by the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia) did not want to teach in Mrs. Carrothers’ school but instead start schools of their own. Kate Youngman had established an “independent” school next to Mrs. Carrother’s school, and according to Rev. Christopher Carrothers, Kate Youngman strongly rejected all offers of union.

[5] Presbyterian missionary Rev. Christopher Carrothers.

[6] In a January 3, 1874, letter to the Board of Foreign Missions, James Hepburn wrote, “Thompson cannot work with Carrothers and wants to get far from him in some other place.” On February 20, Hepburn reported that the conflict between David Thompson and Christopher Carrothers continued and all three ladies (Mary Parke, Kate Youngman, and Matilda Gamble) sympathized with David Thompson.

[7] David Thompson and Rothesay Miller opposed formation of the presbytery while James Hepburn, Christopher Carrothers, Rev. Henry Loomis, and Oliver Green supported it. In a January 20, 1874, letter to the Board, David Thompson set out his reasons for opposition, primarily that the presbytery was unconstitutional according to Presbyterian polity and that it went against the spirit that had led to formation of the native churches in Yokohama and Tokyo the year before. David wrote: “After a rather extensive and prolonged observation of facts I have reached the conclusion that there is more wrangling, quarreling & disgraceful scenes among Presbyterian missionaries than among any other missionaries in all the East.” Several days before, Rev. Carrothers had written to the Board demanding that it order David Thompson to work with the PCUSA-affiliated institutions (rather than the native churches) or drop support of him and his ministry.

[8] Mary Putnam Pruyn arrived in Japan in 1871 under the auspices of the Woman’s Union Missionary Society of New York City. She founded a girl’s school in Yokohama.