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Review: They Shall See His Face by Linda & Robert Banks

Banks, Linda & Robert, They Shall See His Face: The Story of Amy Oxley Wilkinson and Her Visionary Blind School in China. Acorn Press, Sydney. 2017.

Review by Evangeline Hester
Communications Assistant at CMS Australia

“Amy Oxley Wilkinson was arguably the most widely known female Australian missionary in China and the West in the early 20th century.”

They Shall See his Face is the biography of Amy Oxley Wilkinson (1868-1949), an Australian CMS missionary who opened a school for the blind in China. She started with just one student, and left China with a school of over 90 believers, and a medal of the Order of the Golden Grain, the highest honour that could be conferred to a foreigner.

Like all biographies, it’s a little slow to start (I’d skip the first chapter if you’re not interested in Amy’s parents and grandparents), but picks up beautifully with the story for Amy’s passion as a teenager equipping her for all kinds of work in the decades ahead. The story is faithful to the time it depicts, preserving the historical names of locations, and providing scans and direct quotes of original material whenever possible.

Amy perseveres despite challenges from the local culture, opposition from violent groups, and difficulties with mission policies. In a country troubled by opium addiction, infanticide, foot-binding, and lack of schooling, her school shines the light of Jesus’ love, and teaches blind children how to work with their hands and sing praises to Jesus with their hearts.

“When he was brought to us, I had to say (as to over 30 other blind boys), ‘We cannot take you in, there is no room at the school.’ He answered pitifully: ‘Put me on the floor to sleep, put me anywhere, only let me come in.’ He wept bitterly when he thought he had to go home, which to him meant utter wretchedness. What could we do but squeeze him in? He did not know anything about God, had never heard of Him. Now he has been in the school about three weeks. The other day I was talking to him, and asked if he really loved the Lord Jesus. He said: ‘Yes, I do.’ I asked: ‘But why do you love Jesus?’ He did not answer for a while. I sat in silence. Then he said: ‘He loves me.’”
          – Amy Oxley’s own words, 1920

They Shall See His Face is an encouraging story reminding us about how Jesus was first brought to China in the modern age, and a good read for anyone interested in the history of missions in inland Asia.