Dan Smith (1907-1988) lived a life remarkable for its variety. Born in England of Scottish stock, he carried the gospel to remote mountains in China, India, and Sri Lanka. He preached extensively in England, Australia, New Zealand, and North America. His acquaintances and co-workers had their own notoriety–a who’s who in the Kingdom: Gypsy Smith, Samuel Chadwick, Leonard Ravenhill, G. C. Willis, J. O. Fraser, Watchman Nee, D. E. Hoste, and Bakht Singh. Smith lived boldly and presented God’s Word boldly.
As a child, shy Daniel was told that the name Smith was Gow in Gaelic and that his clan of Smiths descended from the infamous Scottish pirate John Gow who commanded “The Revenge.” Gow was hanged in London in 1725. Daniel’s grandfather was also a seagoing man, and boasted of his own foreign adventures, thus keeping piracy alive among the Smiths.
Dan’s mother came from godly Scottish Covenanter stock which eschewed all swashbuckling. Deep impressions were formed by the Presbyterian ministers which made Dan look seriously at heart issues. Their local preachers were “scholarly and evangelical.” And the missionary stories spoke loudly: “It seemed so wonderful that the Lord had chosen such people, led them to the right countries, endowed them with gifts and courage, and that they accomplished so much good. I marvelled that their sympathies could reach out so far, and that love could so motivate them…to spend their lives teaching ignorant savages, and ofttimes to lay down their lives.” John Paton of the New Hebrides, Mary Slessor of Calabar, and William Carey of India were favorites.
One Sunday, Dr. Elmslie spoke from Revelation 3:20. Midway in his message he sang:
Behold Me standing at the door,
And hear Me pleading evermore,
Say, weary heart, oppressed with sin,
May I come in? May I come in?
“I was overwhelmed and melted, but how to open my heart’s door I did not know. It seemed stuck.” Thankfully John Smith’s godly apprentice, Joe Wilkin, invited Dan to a Methodist class meeting. The leader “examined” each class member in interview fashion. Dan had never heard such testimonies: “These all knew the Lord and I felt like a speckled bird among them. But Wilfrid made God’s way…very clear. As we knelt in prayer, without being asked for any decision, there was a revelation of the Lord Jesus in me. I suddenly knew Him to be the Lamb of God who had purchased my redemption…and I was heartily willing at that moment to be His.”
Later that year, Dan had an experience of dedication. As if with an audible voice, the eighteen-year-old heard God saying, “Ask of Me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance…” (Ps. 2:8). The timid boy was soon preaching wherever opportunity came.
It was as a student at Cliff College that Miss Mildred Cable, author of Ambassadors for Christ, came to relate her exploits pioneering the Gobi Desert. Dan was spellbound at the daring of this brave woman of God. “I asked a question from the floor and after the meeting closed, Mildred Cable came down the aisle, stood, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘Young man, I believe the Lord would have you consider China.'”
Reading Marshall Broomhall’s biography of Hudson Taylor, The Man Who Believed God, the principles and practices of the the China Inland Mission appealed to Dan, and he applied.
In the eventful year of 1934, Dan arrived in China. Mao Zedong and his Communist Party had arisen to oppose the Nationalist Party. That year he began the long march–capturing three China Inland missionaries on the way. The last one was released outside Kunming in Yunnan Province. This Mr. Bosshardt was half dead when missionaries found him. His book, The Restraining Hand, tells his harrowing tale. Also in December, John and Betty Stam were beheaded by Communists in the eastern city of Miaosheo.
The General Director of the Mission was Dixon Edward Hoste of the legendary “Cambridge Seven”–university graduates who startled much of Britain when they went as missionaries to China in 1885. Hoste was a solitary, dignified man. He followed Hudson Taylor in 1900 as General Director, a position he held for 35 years.
“My first contact with Mr. Hoste brought blushes to my face. Racing upstairs in the Shanghai headquarters, I had charged into him. He smiled as though nothing had happened and asked my name.
“‘Smith, sir, Daniel Smith, sir.’
“‘Praise the Lord,’ said he, ‘It was a bad day for Israel when there were no smiths in it,’ a reference to 1 Samuel 13:19, ‘There was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords and spears.'”
“Another day he invited me to pray with him. Naturally enough, I thought we would pray in turn, so I went with a storehouse of matters…One of the first things which affected me was the atmosphere of his presence. I understood what James meant when he spoke of the prayers of a righteous man availing much.
“Mr. Hoste prayed–and prayed for four-and-a-half hours! Remember, these were his private prayers, and I was being allowed into his closet. Sometimes he would kneel, then stand, then walk, while he prayed. There were eight hundred missionaries in the Mission. He knew them all by name without looking at a book–and all their needs, and their three hundred children! As for me, my knees were riveted to the floor. I couldn’t move. I was filled with awe and reverential fear. In this secret place of prayer, Mr. Hoste was at home with God. It was his chief pleasure.
“Finally he touched me on the shoulder. ‘Dear brother,’ he said as I rose, ‘I thought you might be hungry.’ Then rather wistfully: ‘You know, we’ve only prayed for China.'”
A verse that Dan used in guidance for a life partner was: “Prepare thy work without, make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterward build thine house” (Prov. 24:27). His application of that verse was to first concentrate on his vocation as a worker in God’s field, and once established, to then look into his domestic future.
There in the remoteness of southern China, the challenges made married life problematic. The cultural adjustments, language problems, and absence of medical help (Dan once underwent an operation without local anesthesia) added to the personal dangers.
Two years before Dan met Catherine McGlashan, he had an “inner registration from the Spirit of God” that the Canadian missionary in distant west Yunnan was to be his wife. He only knew her name.
Catherine was born just inside North Dakota, on the Canadian border. As a young Christian, she and another sister covenanted to spend protracted periods in prayer. In these joint intercessory sessions she received her burden for China.
Among the Lisu tribal people in the Salween valley, she labored with John and Isobel Kuhn and J. O. Fraser. It was Fraser who said, “There is only one man in the province for you, Cathie, but he’s in the east of the province. We shall have to pray him out west.” Fraser was devoted to God, praying, preaching and translating Scripture, and in 1916 a flood tide of blessing broke through. In a two-year period, some 60,000 Lisu turned from Animism and believed the gospel.
In 1937, Dan received six messengers from the Nosu tribe inviting him up into their mountain communities to speak. The sturdy Nosu were reputed as an arrogant folk. There had been blessing twice among the Lisu, and other tribes were eager for the Word, but the Nosu had always been resistant. A missionary friend said, “Don’t go Dan, the Nosu are not worth it.”
Within hours, Dan had packed and was enroute. There were about two hundred at the first meeting. Dan didn’t know Nosu, and the people knew only a little Chinese. “My message was a plain clear call to salvation through faith in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ.” After explaining all he could, Dan gave an appeal to commit themselves to Christ. “Then there was a scene I shall never forget…The people were melted down at the preaching of the Word. It was a real visitation of God with life-transforming import. And that was only the beginning. The grip of God took hold of the whole tribe. Proud hearts were broken…Some fell by the roadside on the way to meetings, crying for mercy.”
Due to exhaustion, Dan was ordered to take a rest by the General Director. Enroute to the retreat, he was waylaid in Kumning. There a telegram arrived, suggesting he go to Tali. “I went, and in going, greatly suspected the gentle hand of the Lord leading me to Cathie…It so happened in the Lord’s providential arrangements that Mr. J. O. Fraser, the superintendent of West Yunnan, had scheduled a workers’ conference in Tali the very day I was to arrive. Had it been any other time, or had there been no conference at all, I would not have met my Catherine. But the Lord’s ways are perfect…On the third day, she was walking alone in the garden. I joined her and told her all the story of two years of inward conviction. I had her attention.”
They were engaged three days after meeting, and married October 15, 1938. During their work among the Nosu tribal people, their first child, Roxie, arrived in 1940. Stuart, Martyn, and Marion followed.
At the conclusion of the Japanese War, Mao moved a well-trained million-man army against the Nationalists. The country was swallowed up and renamed “The Republic of China” in 1949. The China Inland Mission assumed it could work under this government, too. But they quickly found Mao’s Communism to be extreme and virulent. In the upheaval, Dan and Cathie, with Martyn and two-year-old Marion escaped by Red China’s backdoor through the thick jungle of Burma. Roxie and Stuart were in the mission boarding school in distant Kuling at the time (Only after many months did they reunite in Australia). They all suffered the loss of possessions, libraries, but worse still was the separation from their children in the faith. By 1950 there were 7,000 Nosu believers in fifty-two churches on those wild and rugged mountains.
Out from under the auspices of the China Inland Mission, after difficulty and distances, they reunited as a family, and began a new and fruitful ministry in Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. In this period, Dan joined with Bakht Singh, who was greatly used in evangelism, and assembled quite a corps of workers who between 1942 and 1959 saw as many as 200 congregations established. Dan worked with Bakht Singh and spoke at their huge annual “Holy Convocations.”
In his last decades, he and Cathie relocated to British Columbia, from which Dan pursued itinerant Bible teaching. He marvelled at the hospitality he received among the assemblies: “As a guest in hundreds of homes, I must set on record that our married sisters are, to my mind, some of the most consecrated portions of the Lord’s people, whose roots are deep in godliness, and whose branches are laden with kindness, love, and care for all the Lord’s people.”
To Dan, those in foreign missionary work needed to be “as strong as a horse” and as a young man he was. A short man, he had a strong frame, and was vigorous into his eighties. He rose early, read his Bible and prayed briefly, then wrote letters before he came to the breakfast table. After breakfast, he returned to his room to pray and prepare for his evening message. Hosts and hostesses told me how they overheard his lengthy prayers in those mid-morning hours. After the noon meal, he would walk to the post office with his correspondence. The rest of the afternoon was spent in Bible study, writing, or visiting with the saints.
In Bible teaching, he ardently supported New Testament church principles, but not in a sectarian way. Dan was brought up in the Presbyterian church, saved among Methodists, ordained by Baptists, spent years with the interdenominational China Inland Mission, and also labored three years with a Bible Institute in Canada. Looking back he said, “Spiritual history for me has been a spiritual journey. It was nothing in the primary sense–neither technical nor doctrinal–which passed me on from one to another, out of this into that, but just a kind of spiritual ongoing led by the Spirit of God. Eventually I was led into association with New Testament assemblies where I have found that which most closely resembles what I see to be God’s design in His Word.” To Dan, the assembly was important because that is the house of God where He manifests Himself in a special way to His people.
Material for this article was taken from:
Fredk. Tatford, That the World May Know, Vol. 7, EOS
Daniel Smith, Bakht Singh of India, A Prophet of God
Daniel Smith, Pilgrim of the Heavenly Way
Phyllis Thompson, D. E. Hoste, A Prince with God, CIM
Books written by Daniel Smith:
Bakht Singh of India, A Prophet of God
Pilgrim of the Heavenly Way
Seers of Israel (on the Minor Prophets)
The Exercise of Prayer
The Royal Life
The Greatest Song in the World (on the Song of Solomon)
Worship and Remembrance, Volumes 1-4