In God She Trusted
Sara Perkins trusted God. During times of tumult, tempest and trial in her life, Sara could always trust in the Almighty. During her terms as a political prisoner in China, God was the only one she could trust to get her through the quagmire of confinement to believe that one day she would breathe the air of freedom.
Sara Emily Perkins was born in Tennille, Georgia on the 23rd day of January 1892. Orphaned at an early age, Sara lived with her married sister. In her early years, Sara wanted to become a musician. She attended the College of Music in Washington, D.C. and taught piano in Shanghai, China in a school for children of American missionaries. After two years, Sara knew that teaching music was not what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Everywhere she looked, Sara saw poverty, disease and ignorance. She wanted to help change that, so she embarked on a course in the study of medicine half way around the world, where she began her studies of nursing at Peking Medical College. As a registered nurse, Perkins performed mission work for a year before returning to the U.S. to work as a public health care nurse in Charleston, S.C..
Learning the Chinese language was the first order of business after Sara's return to China as she was assigned to train Chinese nurses. It wasn't very long after she arrived back in China when the Japanese army invaded the country in 1937. During the early months of the fighting, Sara worked in the war relief efforts before she was taken as a prisoner by the Japanese. As an American, she was treated somewhat better than prisoners of other nationalities. In 1940, Perkins was granted a furlough and was sent to the United States. Knowing that her place was back in China, Sara returned to the war ravaged country, just six weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was only after the Japanese government learned that Japanese Americans were being interned in the United States that Sara and her fellow medical workers and missionaries were also confined in camps until an exchange of prisoners was completed in 1943. Sara returned to America on a ten-week trip on a slow boat from China. As she and her colleagues entered New York harbor, they began to sing The Star Spangled Banner. Tears streamed down their faces.
After the end of World War II, once again Sara left South Carolina and returned to her adopted homeland in 1946 on a 47 day trip aboard a Norwegian freighter. Once again, war returned to the Chinese mainland when the Chinese Communists launched a bid to take over the government. Sara had paid little attention to the Communists before, thinking of them not as a mighty force but a maladroit band of malcontents and fanatics. Sara and her colleagues heard reports of the Communists coming into their city and began to hide all their medical equipment. When the Chinese Nationals abandoned the city, the Communists conducted an orderly take over and for the second time in a dozen years, Sara once again found herself as a political prisoner.
Conditions in the prison camp slowly began to deteriorate. There was little contact with the outside world. When the captors were not around, Sara and her fellow prisoners listened to a homemade radio on a radio station in Hong Kong to keep up with the happenings in the war in Korea.
Sara recalled, "March 2, 1951, was a cold night. I had a little wood-burning stove in my room, and in order to conserve the heat, I had encircled it with chairs draped with various garments. Behind the chairs I placed a little tin tub and in it I took my last 'tub bath' for the next four and one half years." That's when things got worse. The guards came into her room and removed nearly all of her possessions. With little clothes to wear, Sara spent most of her days in bed. She was allowed to keep four copies of the Gospel of John, although her Bible was confiscated. She gave away three copies of her gospel tracts and kept the other close to her at all times.
The American prisoners were taken to Ku Kong prison, a dark dank moldy dungeon. To help pass the time and keep their sanity, Sara and the others recited Bible verses and played mind games with each other through their cell walls. Her room was furnished with a saw horse, which she used for a table, and two saw horses, which she planks on and used for a bed.
This was a time when Sara's faith took over and kept her going from day to day. She began to sing verses of This is My Father's World as she combated rats, mosquitos and oppressive heat.
In early 1952, Sara was taken to a larger prison in Canton, China. There, and especially on Sundays, Sara and the others were subjected to loud Chinese music and propaganda. Though she rated the prison food as "good and sufficient," the sight of a spider on the top of big bowl of rice never left the back of her mind.
It was in June 1954, when Sara began to have contact with her family. Her first letter and care package from her sister came on New Year's Eve. The Chinese took the good things and left her with the insignificant contents, though they were highly significant to Sara.
The year 1955 would be the last year she would be confined. As summer came to an end, Sara wrote in her autobiography, Red China Prisoner, "The bolt was slipped back and my cell door swung open to admit the messenger of my release. I was told to prepare to leave quickly. The admonition was unnecessary, my things had been ready for days." Sara's Chinese captors had kept her possessions intact, albeit her clothes were mildewed and currency was rotted. Her last meal was rice and chicken, but after eating rice twice a day for four and one half years, she ate the chicken and left the rice for the birds. As she rode through the Chinese countryside, Sara looked out the window of her train coach to see how much the landscape had changed. The train stopped at bridge. As she walked across the bridge toward the British guards on the other side, Sara saw no water, just the vision of freedom as she felt the hand of God helping her to walk.
On October 9, 1955, Sara boarded the President Cleveland for the long awaited trip back home. She knew she could never return to China and accepted her banishment as God's will as she recalled, "The night was glorious and I went up on deck to see the harbor of Hong Kong for the last time. It was beautiful in the starlight and I felt that I was standing between two worlds. The one I was leaving behind had been filled with an amazing adventure with God. The one toward which I was moving, though very different, would be filled with a continuation of that adventure, but the wonder of it would be measured by my faith."