BY JOHN BJORLIE IN LOOK AT BOOKS · SEPTEMBER 1, 1997
Patricia St. John (1919 - 1993)
Her father pronounced his surname “sinjun” because he felt it would be a proud thing to call himself “Saint John.” But when we read his life we wonder if any other man in his generation resembled the Apostle John as much. But I fear that the sweetness of that life and ministry will go unappreciated by a current generation so tainted by our sarcastic surroundings. Often when we hear of preachers or missionaries who have been remarkably useful in God’s service, the question comes, “And how did his family turn out?”
Of course, being surrounded by domestic pressures, we are (and should be) sensitive to this great testing ground. After all, “If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?”
The worn adage, “Consider the source” applies here. So much has been said about missionary work by those who don’t understand missionaries, or the work they do. Harold St. John’s third child, Patricia Mary St. John (1919-1993), went on to be an effective missionary, and a loved writer of children’s stories. She gives her own report on one unique Christian home and the lives it produced. This is good reading that will reintroduce the sweet rewards of whole-hearted service for the Master.
Especially interesting was the account of her conversion and how her Christian heritage passed down to her. She was listening to her mother read a missionary story called Pearl’s Secret, a short book by Mrs. Howard Taylor: “It was about a little girl who died. It was a true story set in China and the child had copied out the first verse of Isaiah 43 just before she was taken ill, and that night we learned the verse by heart. ‘Thus saith the Lord, Fear not; I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.’
“I, probably aged about six, did not understand the word ‘redeemed’ but the last two phrases seemed clear and simple. I went straight up to the room where we slept and I knelt down. ‘My name is Patricia,’ I said, ‘and if You are really calling me, I want to come and be Yours.’
“I cannot remember any clear result except that, next morning I ran out into the garden and looked up into the hollyhocks, which were much taller than I was, and thought how exquisitely beautiful they were. It is my first memory of consciously noticing beauty, and surely this was to have been expected. I had, in a new way, become God’s child; I had been accepted into the realm of beauty” (p. 18).
“My mother believed strongly in early conversions and, like those mothers of long ago, she ‘brought her little children to Jesus.’ In the busy home and far away in strange lands, my parents prayed for us; and one of my very earliest memories is of waking up late one night and seeing my mother kneeling in the dark beside Hazel’s bed. I watched surprised, for she had already prayed with us before tucking us up, but after a time she rose and knelt again by Farnham’s bed. It seemed a long time before she came and knelt by me and I pretended to be asleep because I wanted to see this through. Surely she would not bother about the baby; he was far too little to understand. Yet, sure enough she moved on to the cot. I never forgot that night but I cannot explain why; perhaps I drifted off to sleeep with an added sense of security; perhaps I glimpsed dimly that night the truth of the words that I discovered years later–that the angels of God’s little ones do always behold the face of the Father in Heaven” (pp. 18-19).
Patricia and her older sister and brother all served the Lord overseas, and attributed their own calling to their mother’s prayers. After World War I there was a revival of missionary fervor in England, and Ella St. John attended a Ladies’ Missionary Meeting in the home of a well-to-do Christian lady. At such meetings the desperate need and the sacrifice of the missionaries was forcefully presented, and it was not uncommon to see a pearl necklace or a gemstone in the offering platter amid the coins.
There Ella sat, “rather miserable, at the back and realized that she was out of place. She had nothing to give. Then almost like a voice came the thought, ‘What is the most precious thing that you possess?’
“‘My three children,’ she replied. Her heart lifted and she walked boldly to the front and offered her three babies to God for the Mission Field (Oliver and John were not yet born). And that, in those days, was no small sacrifice. There were no short-termers, no easy furloughs and so many died. Yet she secretly held to her resolve. In the margin of her Bible, opposite Psalm 84, verse 3 (‘Yea, the sparrow hath found an house and the swallow a nest for herself where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts’), she had written ‘Only yielded up in the place of sacrifice are they perfectly safe'” (pp. 54-55).
In her children’s books, Patricia captures a child’s way of thinking. She asked their questions, and gave answers which children need. In Patricia St. John Tells Her Own Story she takes the reader inside the St. John’s Missionary Home in Brazil, then back to Wales, off for a school year spent in Switzerland, then nursing school and work in London, in 1949 to Morocco to help with her brother’s medical missionary work with the Tulloch Memorial Hospital in Tangier, then working in Moroccan villages, and besides all that she will take you on trips to Uganda, Rwanda, the Sudan, Eastern Europe, Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey.
Besides her famous children’s stories, she also wrote several books, mostly biographies, for adult readership. These are not currently in print in North America but may be found in libraries or used book stores: Harold St. John, a Portrait by His Daughter; The Fourth Candle; Breath of Life; I Needed a Neighbor; Until the Day Breaks (a biography of Lilias Trotter); Man of Two Worlds (a biography of Kenneth Moynagh); Nothing Else Matters (the true story of the Spiritual awakening of a Lebonese famiily which Hazel St. John dealt with); Patricia St. John Tells Her Own Story (presently available through O M Publishing, London).
St. John lived her later years in Canley, Coventry, where she worshipped at Canley Evangelical Church and ran children's Bible classes from home. She died in Canley on 16 August 1993 as a result of heart problems. She was pre-deceased by her brother, Farnham, who became medical director of Tulloch Memorial Hospital, Tangiers and died in Cambridge on 10 February 1980.
The following Children’s Books are by Patricia St. John.
The Tanglewoods’ Secret
Treasures in the Snow
Star of Light
Three Go Searching
The Secret at Pheasant Cottage
The Runaway (originally entitled The Victor)
The Other Kitten
Where the River Begins