Essay / Misc.

A Day in the Life of Wu Oi Ying at B.I.O.L.A.

bible building
In 1921, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (later Biola College, now Biola University) published a story in its magazine The King’s Business, entitled “A Day in a Bible Institute.”   

The editors wanted to describe for their readers a typical day at the downtown Bible Institute at the corner of 6th and Hope. They chose to do that by following the schedule of Mrs. Wu Oi Ying, a Chinese woman who came to America just to study at the Bible Institute. The result is a delightful little article. The prose may be purple, the purpose may be marketing, and the terminology may not match current conventions very well, but the strength and charm of this earnest student come through clearly. Mrs. Wu might not be in the same literary league as her older contemporary Sui Sin Far, and we only get to hear her voice filtered through her anonymous biographer, the fellow student who wrote this article But her story as presented in The King’s Business in 1921 has a lot to say about Asian women in the early twentieth century, and even more to say about radical Christian discipleship of the kind that built Biola.

I recommend reading the original story in the high-quality, scanned version at the King’s Business archive. But the full text is also here below:

From The King’s Business Vol. 12 (September 1921), pp. 884-89.
A Day in a Bible Institute:
A Student of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles Tells the Story of a Fellow Student Covering Just One Day

“Thirteenth floor, please, Mr. Merry.”

The kind elevator man in the Women’s Hotel of the Bible Institute smiled knowingly.

“Ah, Mrs. Wu! You are going up star-gazing again, are you?”

“Mebbe so, Mr. Merry! We see! But truly I stay tonight fifteen minutes only.”

Laughingly, little Mrs. Wu Oi Ying stepped out of the elevator at the top floor and bounded lightly up the stair-way to the roof-garden. She pushed open the heavy iron door, then drew a breath of ecstasy.

The full moon poured its silvery light upon the calla lilies; and the fragrance of roses and honeysuckle filled the air. The stars gleamed brilliantly, and tonight they seemed so near, especially the Evening Star lying low on the horizon just above the snow-capped mountains. Down below–a sea of sparkling radiance–the lights of the great city of Los Angeles circled far on every side. They were very bright and beautiful –like twinkling fire-flies– but Oi Ying had no time for them to-night. These few precious moments were all she had in the whole day for communion with her Lord. Eagerly, therefore, she drew back from the parapet that all these city lights might be blotted out, and with them the city’s discordant din; and that she herself might find new strength and peace of soul, under the silent stars,–alone with God!

She glanced around hurriedly to make sure. Ah yes, how good! She had the roof-garden all to herself. No doubt the other girls were still studying up in their rooms in the library below. Some of them were practising an anthem in the Social Hall, whence the harmony of their clear, sweet voices floated upward, blending exquisitely with the shimmering moonlight. Oi Ying’s musical ear noted with delight the glorious strains: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts;” and her heart was lifted on the waves of music in adoring praise. Softly humming the anthem to herself she paced slowly back and forth across the roof, gazing in rapture upon the starry sky. At length, as the music ceased, Oi Ying paused in her walk and withdrew into her favourite nook –the swing– in full view of the moonlit mountains, and gave herself up to her greatest delight: the review of her day in silent communion with God.

How sweet it was, after all the turmoil and strain of the long hours, to be thus alone with Him: to talk over, in childlike confidence, all of the day’s happenings; to ask His forgiveness for all the mistakes, His wisdom for the perplexities, His strength for her weakness, His tender comfort for all the heartache, and to hear His loving: “Well done, My child” for every earnest effort she had made to be well-pleasing in His dear eyes. Thus, heart to heart with Him, in reverential joy, little Oi Ying lived over meditatively the hours she had spent since dawn.

A Day’s Doings

What an interesting day it had been! Six-thirty had found her, carefully dressed after her invigorating shower and exercise, here in her same dear swing, her open Bible in her lap, for her morning “quiet hour.” Promptly at 7.10 she had joined the procession of eager student filing into the dining-room, nearly every one carrying a Bible or Testament. The breakfast hour was always fascinating to Oi Ying; she never tired of studying her fellow-students. There was plenty of time to watch them while the “head” was busy directing the ordering of the drinks and cereals and while the “opposite” was pouring the water and marking the attendance card. Above the clatter of dishes and the buzz of a couple of hundred voices it was difficult for the little Chinese girl to make her shy voice heard; but thinking was always better than talking anyway, and there were so many interesting students to excite one’s admiration and curiosity.

There were men and women from nearly every country on earth: from China, Japan, and Korea; from Australia, South America, England, Scotland, and Ireland; from Holland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and Russia;–yes, there was one man from Africa even, and one East Indian, with his queer turban and his soft, charming voice –and of course Canada and nearly every State in the Union had their quota, even frozen Alaska. And what varied walks and occupations the student represented. Among the number were ministers, missionaries, teachers, home-makers, stenographers, dressmakers, farmers, carpenters, telegraph and telephone operators –yes, Oi Ying had heard there was even a converted ex-prize-fighter in the student body. There were grey-haired men and women, young married couples, men and women of college experience, and young boys and girls away from home for the first time in their lives. There were students of comfortable means, but more who were wholly dependent upon the Lord for their daily supply; there were representatives of the finest American homes, and other who were strangers to America’s shores, not yet familiar with its customs and language. And then there were Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Christians, Congregationalists, Brethren; also converted Jews, reclaimed Catholics, Christian Scientists, Theosophists, Spiritists, and Mormons; and regenerated skeptics, atheists and infidels –truly a cosmopolitan and democratic gathering from every land and every clime, and from every condition of life; but now all one big, loving family whose Head is Christ, united in the common bond of devotion to Him and eager consecration to His glorious service.

Even at Oi Ying’s table alone there were students who held a particular fascination for her. At the head was a handsome young Irishman, recently converted from the Roman Catholic priesthood; on his right a former “movie” actress, now completely consecrated to Christ and preparing for His service in Africa. Next to her sat a man who, despite the ridicule and protests of his friends, had given up a lucrative position in business to prepare for the ministry. On his right sat a beautiful young Jewess, cast off by all her own people because of her unswerving devotion to her new-found Messiah. And next to Oi Ying, and to her the most interesting of all, was a former Christian Science healer, now fully converted to the Gospel and preparing to witness to its glorious Light amid the darkness of India.

Breakfast over, Oi Ying had gone happily to morning devotions. It was Wednesday, the day when the men and women met together. Oi Ying liked that best, for it was always such a joy to hear the men sing, their voices were so full and rich. Mr. Hubbard had led the meeting and had introduced as speaker a missionary recently returned from South America, whose stirring message had touched many hearts.

In the brief forty minutes between devotions and classes there had been so much to do. The little room had to be put carefully in order, for Mrs. Grant, the matron, might be around to inspect at any time. Even though she should not come, a Christian’s room must always be fresh and beautiful for the Heavenly Guest. Then there had been a sick neighbor to call upon, and then a hurried trip up to the Book-store for some new note-paper. She had arrived at the nine o’clock class, quite breathless, just in time for the announcement of the hymn.

The Class Work

The class had been Homiletics, which was always very hard for her. The memory verses were exceedingly diffcult, and then one never knew whom Dr. Atkinson would call upon next. He had such a disconcerting way of skipping letters in the roll; really it was most alarming sometimes. Still Dr. Atkinson’s classes were always such a joy, for just to see his happy face and friendly smile cheered up one for the whole day. And then his prayers! Never could Oi Ying forget those. The richness of his voice, and the deep earnestness and fervor of his petitions, as he took his students into the very presence of God, would remain an inspiration through life.

Harmony class came at ten in the Foyer. Music was Oi Ying’s passion, and Mr. Tovey was such an inspiring and helpful teacher that the subject, difficult in the extreme to the majority of the students, was only a delight to her.

And then at eleven had come the Doctrine class, the most eagerly anticipated of all. The subject of the morning had been “The Personality of the Holy Spirit,” and so vivid had been Dr. Torrey’s presentation, that the presence of the Third Person of the Trinity had been consciously, powerfully felt in the hushed auditorium by all. Oi Ying had been called upon to recite in this class. At first she had been terribly frightened. Dr. Torrey had called suddenly, “Mrs. Wu, you may give the sixth proposition, please.” That had been a most unhappy experience. She had been so perfectly sure of her Doctrine lesson before she went into the Auditorium, but when Dr. Torrey’s piercing eye had fastened upon her, every thought had fled and her voice had choked in her throat. But then Dr. Torrey had been so kind. He had so patiently helped her recall words and references, and she had been able, after all, to recite, at least so he said, very creditably. He had been so encouraging too about her English. He had cheered her greatly when he said he wished he might learn Chinese as rapidly as she was learning English. Yes, he was truly most kind. Everyone was kind in this wonderful America.

Works and Assignments

Dinner followed the Doctrine hour promptly; and then had come the hardest two hours of the whole day, when Oi Ying had worked in the dining-room. Never had the setting of the tables seemed some tedious, and never had the piles of plates been so heavy. Twice she had nearly cried, her back and feet had ached so terribly. But she must work: that inevitable nine dollars a week must be earned somehow. A couple of weeks she had fallen behind, but God had been so good to her. She had claimed His promise literally: “My God shall supply all your need,” and never once had He disappointed her. On one occasion a five-dollar bill had appeared mysteriously in her mail-box, and again she had been given money from the Student Fellowship Fund. Her pride had been wounded at first at the thought of taking it until it was explained to her so lovingly that the Fund was a means God Himself had provided for helping His own dear children.

The dining room work finished at three o’clock, Oi Ying was then obliged to go out upon her assignment. Oh, how she longed to stay home and lie down instead, she had been so tired. But she had to go. The weekly report-sheet had to be deposited in the box the following Monday morning; and the Faculty were insistent that all assignments be faithfully performed. But more than that, her loving Heavenly Father would be disappointed if she failed to carry the message of the Savior to some in sorrow or in sin. So bravely she had started forth, claiming His promise: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” How many times had Oi Ying proven this wonderful verse! Some days she had started out upon her visitation, too tired almost to speak, but she had come home with feet and heart alike as light as air, especially when God had given her the joy of winning a soul.

This afternoon’s assignment had been at the Jail, which always depressed Oi Ying. It was so terrible to hear the clanging of the great iron doors, and to see the sad faces of those poor girls, no older than herself, whose lives were wrecked by sin. But despite her heaviness of heart at their condition, Oi Ying rejoiced in her opportunity of bringing the story of the Saviour’s love to the young prisoners.

On her way home, Oi Ying had stopped for a moment to leave a Gospel of Matthew with a little Jewish friend in a shop on Sixth Street; and to her joy, Mrs. Isaacstein had consented to allow little Rebecca and Abraham to come to the Sunday School of the Church of the Open Door the following Sunday morning. As Oi Ying had left the shop, little six-year old Solomon Isaacstein had accompanied her to the corner. Placnig his hand confidingly in hers he had said: “Mrs. Wu, I do believe in the Lord Jesus and I love Him; and I know my mother believes in Him too because she told me so, only she told me not to dare to tell Papa because he would kill her.” This confession of Christ by a little Jewish lad had given Oi Ying the deepest joy.

Now For Study

There was barely time to freshen the attractive Chinese costume before Oi Ying was due in the dining room at five. Two hours more of dining room work, then her own supper, and at last, at half-past seven she had been free to go to her room to study. She had places a “Busy” sign on her door. She disliked to do itit seemed so inhospitable and unfriendly, and there might be a girl really needing her help. But Analysis and Doctrine and Chapter Summary and Personal Work must all be reckoned with, and three hours was so short a time for study. The studyng was becoming more and more difficult. She was getting so very tired. But there would be only three weeks more and then Easter vacation would come. Such a rare treat was in store for Oi Ying! The girls had invited her to a bungalow party at Balboa Beach for a week. Twenty of them were going, and from the glowing accounts of girls who had been there the previous year, wonderful things were in prospect: long, happy hours on the beach, swimming parties, picnics, corn-roasts, moonlight gatherings beside the ocean and best of all, the wonderful devotional meetings around the driftwood fires, when with the girls she loved best, Oi Ying would be united in closest spiritual harmony.

Little Oi Ying had never in her life dreamed of such delight. How good God was to put it into the hearts of these kind new American friends to think of her. And dear “Daddy Hillis” had called her into his office yesterday and told her her expenses were all taken care of. Some kind friends of the Institute had sent him money for just this beautiful purpose, of sending the students on needed holidays.

The Crown of the Day

At ten-thirty promptly Oi Ying had closed her books, even though her lessons for the morrow were not completed. Nothing, however, must ever interfere with this one precious half-hour in her roof-garden.

Yes, it had been a happy day. Hard, very hard in many respects, but God had been so very near through all the hours, and He had made her heart rejoice above all the trials.

And this hour was the sweetest of all –the crown of the whole day. How she longed to linger still in this joyous communion with Him! But she must retire. The temple of the Holy Spirit must be refreshed in sleep, and surely it was late. Slowly she walked to the parapet. Yes, the lights in the men’s hotel were nearly all extinguished. It must indeed be late. But, oh, how loath she was to leave. One further longing gaze at the peaceful mountains…then slowly Oi Ying’s eyes swept the horizon to where she knew the Pacific lay. Ah, the Pacific! With China beyond! Ah, just five minutes more and then she would surely go down. But there must be first a prayer for the dear ones there, beyond the sea, in the dear home land.

How much happened since she had left it just two years ago! Could she be truly Wu Oi Ying, the same broken-hearted woman she was then? With a twinge of the old pain she recalled that last terrible day in her husband’s home when he had given her her choice of renouncing her new-found Saviour, Jesus Christ, or of losing her husband and her little child forever. It had been terrible, terrible! Even now the agony of remembrance and the longing of her mother heart nearly convulsed her. But God had sustained her then and He would keep her through it all. She had stood true to her Christ and He had never failed her. When, blinded by grief at her husband’s rejection she had sought her father and he too had thrust her out, then indeed had her Heavenly Father taken her up. Kind missionaries had been raised uo by Him to minister to her, and finally through their influence she had met the American friends who had taken her into their missionary home, and then a year later had brought her here to this new land and to the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.

The moon was setting. In China the first rays of the morning sun would now be striking the Buddhist Temple, where Oi Ying’s father, the Priest, ministered. Even now perhaps her husband was taking their little son to the sunrise Temple worship. A cry of pain broke from Oi Ying’s lips. “Ah, Heavenly Father, keep them safe, my loved ones: my husband, my little child, my poor benighted father, and all the others who are dear! Oh my Father, they are in the dark, the awful dark; and all China is in the dark! Oh God, keep me brave and strong and true. Help me, O my Father, help me complete my training here, and then, Oh Master, send me back across the sea to China to tell them all of Christ my Lord and of His redeeming love.”


Update 2021: I revised and shortened the introduction to this 2007 post, which originally said that Biola was approaching its 100th anniversary, and explained that the King’s Business archive was not yet fully online but that someday perhaps it would be. 


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