In 1935 nineteen year old Charles H. Chao (Chao Chung-Hui) went to Yingkuo Bible Seminary to hear renowned evangelist Wang Ming-Tao. Moved by Pastor Wang’s sermons Charles dedicated his life to serving Christ full time, much to the joy of his devout Christian mother and his bride Pearl. He enrolled in the Seminary in 1936, which at that time was under dispensational leadership. He then served an internship in Northern Manchuria, returning to the Institute in 1938, where he was profoundly influenced by the teaching of Rev. J. G. Vos. Rev. Vos and his family went to Tsitsihar, Manchuria, China under the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America’s (RPCNA) Foreign Mission Board (FMB) in 1931. In 1938 he was invited to join the faculty of Yingkuo Seminary. Charles Chao studied Systematic Theology under Dr. Vos, and recognized the value of the Reformed System of Biblical Theology, a conviction he has held ever since.
He went to bitterly cold Northern Manchuria to evangelize. Many people coming to market entered the church and heard the Gospel for the first time through Charles’ preaching. When J. G. Vos was asked to become President of the Seminary in 1940, he called Charles back to help with administration and translation of his lecture notes into Chinese. Dr. Vos gave Charles a copy of Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. As he read the book in English, Charles started to translate it into Chinese to share its truths with his Chinese friends.
American Missionaries, including the Vos family, were forced to return to the USA on March 15, 1941 after the Japanese occupied Manchuria. The Chaos were left in charge of the Bible Institute fearing the Japanese would persecute them because of their association with Americans. The Lord was merciful, and they continued living at the Seminary until the summer of 1942 when they were amicably replaced by a pastor chosen by the Japanese puppet government. Charles became associate pastor in a church in Tashihchiao (Big Stone Bridge) started by Irish Presbyterians. Three difficult years followed, protecting the elderly Chinese pastor from harassment by Japanese soldiers seeking political dissidents. During that trying time Charles and his family were saddened by the death of his Godly, 75 year old blind mother.
Russian troops moved quickly into Manchuria as the Japanese soldiers left following Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945. The power struggle for control of China between Chinese Nationalist and the Soviet-led Chinese Communist armies continued until 1948. The many hardships endured by the Chao family during that time of persecution from Russian and Chinese Communists will be described only briefly. (A more complete report of that harrowing and miraculous time can be found in Out of the Tiger’s Mouth, Charles Chao’s autobiography written in Chinese, translated and published in 1991 by Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., Scotland). During the winter of 1946 while on his way to church, Russian troops conscripted Charles to clean filth from a big underground ice storage cellar. They also dragged him from the church to find women for them. His prayers and those of his family were heard, and he was quickly released unharmed.
Because of the serious illness of Pearl’s mother in 1945 the Chaos, including 6 children, took a perilous train ride from the church in Tashihchiao to her home village of Tiehling, arriving a few days before her mother’s death. They stayed with Pearl’s family while Charles helped collect bills for the family blacksmith shop which repaired horse cart wheels, one of the few means of transportation. On August 22, 1947, the night their son Bill was born, Chinese Communists rounded up Charles with 100 other unarmed men to march as a living shield (cannon fodder) in front of their soldiers while they attacked Nationalist soldiers. During the confusion an old lady tapped Charles shoulder and helped him and an old man hide around a corner and flee for their lives. Pearl left alone with 7 children, facing severe food shortages, boiled green soy beans which sons Ted and Jonathan picked in the fields at night. Communists searching for food did not catch the boys nor find the ten sacks of grain which Pearl was hiding to use for barter. They were in constant fear while struggling for existence.
Charles’ miraculous escape led him by a tortuous route to Mukden, which was still under Nationalist control. He found work as an interpreter for United Nations Relief (UNRRA) shipping Western goods to Chinese distribution centers. He taught school for a short while, and was clerk at the Mukden YMCA, where he was able to present Christ to a number of young Chinese. During this time he corresponded with J. G. Vos and Loraine Boettner. These Bible scholars obtained a visa to the USA for Charles to accept a scholarship at Faith Seminary of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) arranged by Rev. Albert Greene Jr. Charles’ uneasiness at leaving his wife and children in Communist territory was diminished a little when Pearl’s relatives approved his trip as being best for her. The CRC arranged for Charles to fly to Shanghai on March 23, 1948 on the Lutheran mercy plane named the St. Paul. The plane flew from Mukden to Peking, where Charles stayed overnight with Evangelist Wang Ming-Tao who gave him his first desire to enter full time Christian ministry. The plane flew on to Shanghai the next day.
At China Theological Seminary in Shanghai, Mr. Albert Greene, closer to the situation in China than Drs. Vos and Boettner, agreed that Charles should not leave his family alone in war torn China, and arranged for Pearl and their children to fly from Manchuria to Shanghai which was still free from combat. When Pearl got word of the flight arrangements in May 1948 there was not enough time to travel to Mukden to catch the St. Paul. In desperation she and the 7 children started the hazardous several days trip in a wooden cart, anyway. When they arrived in Mukden they found the plane had been delayed. The miracle of that delay allowed them to fly to Shanghai where they were met by Charles. The reuniting of the Chao family at the Shanghai airport cannot be described in words. CRC missionaries called Charles to pastor a church which met in a remodeled Buddhist temple in Paipu near Shanghai. Soon after their ministry started in Paipu a letter from Rev. Samuel Boyle was delivered to Charles inviting him to join him in a translation ministry. The letter had been following Charles for weeks. At the same time Communist troops were moving toward Paipu and Shanghai bringing back the nagging fear of persecution. Rev. Boyle and his wife, eager to serve the Lord as missionaries in China were told there were not enough funds to support them. With permission of the FMB they raised their own support and went on faith to South China in 1934. Their zeal was abundantly rewarded and the FMB was soon able to support them fully.
The Japanese invasion forced them to leave China with other missionaries in 1941. In 1943 while the Boyles pastored the RP Church in Sterling, Kansas, tragic illness took both Sam’s wife and daughter. In 1945 he went to Washington, D.C. to lobby for Christian causes and start publishing the Christian Patriot. Rev. Boyle learned of the translating skill of Rev. Chao from Loraine Boettner, who had been J. G. Vos’ classmate at Princeton Seminary. While working in Washington, Sam Boyle met and married Grace Robb, whose family pioneered RPCNA missions in South China. The Boyles were able to return to China in 1947 and Sam sent his letter inviting Charles to join him in Canton to start a translation ministry. When letter to unwilling Charles showed Rev. Boyle’s CRC missionaries they were for him to leave so soon after coming to the temple/church in Paipu. Communist troops threatening Paipu caused them to change their minds and urge the Chaos to accept Sam’s invitation and go to less dangerous Canton. Through another series of miracles the Chaos, helped financially by the Boyles, made the rough trip by coastal steamer from Shanghai to Canton. They were met the Boyles who were flabbergasted when he counted 7 Chao children coming down the gangplank. A small second floor apartment had been made ready for the Chaos in a downtown Canton building used by the RP congregation as office and sanctuary.