Dr. Cornelius Van Til’s Experiences in the Orient

Dear Friends:

We left San Francisco on Tuesday, May 24th, for Honolulu. It was good to spend a day on the Oahu Island to see the pineapples grow. We recommend that you go there and get a drink of fresh pineapple juice at the fruitstand.

While on a four-hour sightseeing tour the tidal wave warnings came with great persistence over the car radio. Our suitcases were in our first-floor, low-level hotel room. But the all-clear sounded after a couple hours. So we were thankful to find our stuff as we left it.

On Friday morning, the 27th, we arrived in Tokyo. Cornelius Swier, a friend of Gilbert, was at the airport. He spent the day with us.

Sightseeing in Tokyo included a visit to the Shinto shrine which Eisenhower was scheduled to visit. Is it a matter of religion? A mother was taking her baby there for dedication. We also saw paganism at first hand in a Buddhist shrine. People were passing in and out clapping their hands to arouse the attention of the gods.


On Saturday, the 28th, we arrived in Taipei, the capital of Formosa. Rev. and Mrs. Egbert Andrews, Rev. Isaac Yen, and other friends met us at the airport. They took us to the Friends of China club for lodging.

On Sunday, May 29th, began the first of a series of meetings all through interpreters. I preached twice that Sunday. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I lectured twice at a Seminary and twice for the philosophy department students at the university. The head of the department was present both times and had us in for tea after the meetings. He asked me to call on his son, a doctor, in Baltimore, and give him “spiritual advice.”

There was also a meeting of missionaries of various churches. I discussed the question whether the position of Hendrik: Kraemer and of the Evanston Assembly was any better than that of the Laymen’s Mission Inquiry of Machen’s time.

In addition, there were several meetings of smuller groups of students. All in all the attend.ance wrus excellent.

Mr. Andrews and I called on the president of the university and separately on Dr. Shu, who is reputed to be one of the moot influential of living Chinese thinkers.

The Taipei meetings were most encouraging to us.


On Thursday we went to Taichung in the middle of Formosa, where Rev. and Mrs. Richard Gaffin work. Gilbert went off on his own with a group of friends I spoke at Gaffin’s house in the afternoon for about 35 people and in the evening for around 75 students at the university.


On Friday. June 3rd, Mr. Gaffin and I took off for Tainan, which is in the south of Formosa. We had lunch with the faculty oC the Seminary there and after that I had an hour for a lecture and 20 minutes for discussion. Barth reigns supreme in this Seminary. He is influential all through Formosa, but in Tainan the whole Seminary seems to be a shrine in his honor alone.

In Taimm I was taken to the old Dutch fort. It looks like a shrine.

Tainan is in the tropical zone. It was really quite hot there. When I got back that evening to Taipei and Mrs. Andrews met me at the airport I looked pretty worn out and tired. But all in all the first week was a matter of great joy and satisfaction to both of us.




Gilbert went to Hong Kong on Friday and I followed on Saturday. I arrived toward evening. That left me very little time for shopping. But Gilbert had more time.

Hong Kong is a fabulous city. It was strange to spend a Sunday there and to attend no service at all. We had been referred to a Chinese man and wife who took us around in the afternoon for a ride to sec the harbor, etc.


Things were quite different in Kobe. We arrived there on Monday, the 6th of June. Dr. William Mellwaine, and several of the Westminster graduates, among whom was the Rev. Goji Tanaka, the first Japanese student we had, were at the airport in Osaka. Kobe is an hour’s ride from Osaka.

I lived with the Mellwaine’s for our three-day stay in Kobe and Gilbert lived in a hotel.

I had three lectures here on three successive days in the Reformed Seminary of Kobe. Each lecture was from 10 to 12:30. On Tuesday evening we were taken out for a sucheachi dinner. There were seven of our graduates there. Some of them had come from as far as 200 miles away. I preached for Mr. Tanaka on Wednesday evening. It was good to see him and his wife, Midori. Midori presented me with a beautiful piece of handiwork. When she heard that I was coming to Japan she started working on it and finished it on the morning of our departure.

The Seminary in Kobe has a far-reaching influence for the Reformed Faith. No Barthianism here.


On Thursday we took the plane to Tokyo. Harvey Smit met us at the airport and took us to the San Bancho hotel. John Young was our chief guide and director in Tokyo. Hc took us to what is called the “Union Seminary of Japan” on Friday morning. Here too Barth sits in the driver’s seat. John Young himself teaches at a seminary that is independently organized. He and Mr. Saito, who also teaches there, are certainly fine Reformed men. They do an excellent piece of work. There were two meetings on each of the three days we spent in Tokyo.


On Monday, the 13th, we left Tokyo for Seoul, en route to Pusan. Mr. Spooner and Cornelius Swier with some Korean pastors met us in Seoul. Among the latter were Mr. Myung and Mr. Kim. Henry Park, a student from our Princeton days, was also there. But we missed making our connections to PUs.1n so we had to take a train. The train left at 4:00 p. m. and reached Pusan at 11:10. I was tired when we started out and to sit on straight-backed seats, facing a couple of grouchy looking specimens, was n0t exactly an ideal way of spending seven hours. But we did get to see much more of the country this way than would have been the case if we had gone by plane.


Rev. Bruce Hunt and several Koreans, including Mrs. Cho, the wife of one of our present students, were at the station to meet us. I made lily home with the Hunts and Gilbert stayed at the home of the Spooners. Mr. Spooner was at Seoul in the language school It was not wise, we were told, to stay at a hotel. And to eat any raw salads is to invite the bugs to come in. Conditions are pitiably unsanitary all over Korea, but especially in Pusan. One must admire the missionaries who give their lives to these people.

We had three morning meetings from 10 to 12 and two evening meetings from 8:30 to 10:30 in a church. The morning meetings were supposed to be primarily for the Seminary students. But there were about 500 people there, many of them women beyond 70. I wrote to ask Mr. Woolley how to explain the meaning of Anaximander’s Anelpoo to elderly Korean women, especially when you do not know it yourself!

But there was much singing and speaking by the pastors. So, I trust, the people got something. There was obviously a great love for the Christ of the Scriptures. We were deeply moved by the singing and the earnest prayers of the people.

During the evening meetings there were as many as 700 people, all sitting on the floor. To look into their eager faces was an inspiration indeed.

There was also a noonday mooting with about 125 students at the University. The head of the department of religion was there too.


When we were about to leave Pusan there was a large group of people at the airport to say fnrcwelL And they said it with flowers. Both of us had a large garland of flowers placed over our shoulders. Their appreciation was deeper, I am sure, than that which was shown to president Eisenhower in Seoul

The plane trip was only 1 1/4 hours. On the plane we met Dr. ten Have, a Christian Reformed medical doctor, in charge of the Holt Adoption Agency. More about him later.

In Seoul I spoke at a liberal Seminary, at a modern college, and at more conservative schools. On Saturday night we had a meeting at Seoul National University. There were about 200 students present. The head of the department of religion interpreted for me.

On Monday morning, June 20, we had the last meeting in Seoul. At the end of this meeting, as at the end of the last meeting at Pusan, there were warm farewell speeches and gifts, consisting of engraved vases. It was overwhelming and deeply touching.


On Monday afternoon we left Seoul for Tokyo and 1 1/2 hours latEr we got a plane for Anchorage and Seattle. We stayed overnight in a motel in Seattle and had Howard Long and Arthur Bouman for our visitors. Mr. Bouman helped us get through customs without the usual red tape. That was a welcome climax to our trip.

Everywhere people were most kind aNd helpful. And everywhere God’s mercy surrounded us In signal fashion. The tidal wave did not materialize. The typhoon Came to Hong Kong two days after we left there. The monsoon season began when we came back to Tokyo, but nothing developed while we were there. The bugs threatened us in Korea, but did not reach us. The mosquitoes from the open sewers were beginning their summer campaign. but Seoul was sprayed for them. Some said this was for Ike but we knew it was for us. Korea adopted its new constitution the day we arrived in Seoul so as to give us peace. Ike gave up going to Tokyo so all was quiet when we got there.

Indeed, we have great reason for gratitude to God for His protecting care. It was, of course, of the greatest possible help to me to have Gilbert constantly with me. In Japan I developed a sore throat and feared I might not be able to carry on. But the penicillin shots for four days, no doubt, were the means of helping me through. And in Korea Gilbert gave me preventive medicine against the ever ubiquitous bugs.

It was good too that Gilbert was constantly given an opportunity to speak and tell about the Fellowship 35 my sponsoring saints. I am grateful to you all. And we Ilave both been spiritually enriched by the trip.

Dr. ten Have got us to visit him and his family last Sunday afternoon. He is in charge of the Holt Adoption Agency, as was previously mentioned. You may have read of this. I had not There were 250 or more small children and infants there. Dr. ten Have gets them ready for adoption in American homes.

Just as we arrived there was a mother bringing her child, about 2 1/2 to 3 years of age. It was a pity to see. Dr. ten Have expects to take a plane load of these babies to the States soon.

In conclusion, let me say thanks to you again for your interest and help and join with you in our determination to be more diligent in our task of making Christ known in the Orient.

Faithfully yours,

Comelius Van Til