With plans set to drive with my sister and mom to Wichita, Kansas for the weekend, I checked out my trusty Rand McNally Road Atlas, which I never go anywhere without, to see how far it would be to make a side trip over to Coffeyville, KS. For those of you who have read my book, you will remember that the first bell I found hanging in a church in China has an inscription saying that it was cast for the First Baptist Church in Coffeyville, KS. I figured if it was close enough, we could make a slight detour on our weekend road trip so I could give the pastor a copy of my book.
While not particularly close, it seemed doable. So, on Thursday night I sent a message to the church via their Facebook page, introducing myself and saying that I had information on their old bell. I asked if the pastor would be at their Sunday night service and if so, I’d like to visit and give him a book.
On Friday morning, the pastor wrote back that yes, he would be at the Sunday evening service, and not only could I give him a book; he wanted to turn his time over to me so I could share the story with the congregation.
And so it was that on Sunday evening, I (along with my sister, mom, and a friend who drove over from Arkansas) had the privilege of facilitating a sweet reunion; not between relatives or long lost friends, but between a church family and its history.
Since the bell had been shipped to China in 1911, it was a piece of history that had been lost to them. They have a photo of the old church in which the bell had been, as well as the cornerstone of the church, but they knew nothing about the bell or its new life in China.
When I showed them the photo of the bell and read the inscription, “Presented to the First Baptist Church of Coffeyville, Kansas by W.S. Upham, Praise Ye the Lord,” there were audible gasps and not a few tears. I told them that the story of their bell is also a story of God’s faithfulness to the church in China and to their church. They were excited to hear of what God is doing in China and to realize that this bell connects them to that work in a way that had been unknown to them.
After the service, we all gathered for a photo in front of the picture of their bell. Then we lingered as they showed me various historical artifacts from their church: an old photograph of the first church building, erected in 1886 (the bell’s original home); the cornerstone from the 1907 church building; an old photograph of Mrs. Upham.
As we said good-bye to our new friends, they were already making plans to reinstitute the ringing of their church bell on Sunday mornings.
To Pastor Dean and the people of the First Baptist Church in Coffeyville, KS, I say thank you. Thanks for welcoming this crazy lady from Minnesota into your home to tell you “an old, old story.” Thanks for an evening of sweet fellowship; it was a taste of heaven. But most of all, thanks for sending your bell to China, where it continues to herald the preaching of the Gospel on Sunday mornings in Yibin, Sichuan Province!
The first church building, erected in 1886, the same year the bell was cast. Perhaps it is in this photo, unseen.
Emma Upham, the wife of W.S. Upham, who donated the bell to the church in 1886.
A Tale of Two Bells
1907 – The Bell Begins Its Journey
Mr. Upham and the Bell