Mildred Cable, along with her co-workers Evangeline and Francisca French, had been teaching in a large girls' school in the "City of Peace" in the interior of China. Their ministry under the CIM had been very profitable and well ordered—a lovely campus, very adequate housing facilities, and cooperative fellow laborers—yet there came to these three ladies a call to the desert.
Many objected to their plan of itinerating in the rural areas and into the Gobi Desert. Here was a large city with multitudes of people who yet needed to be reached with the Gospel. Why go to the isolated tent dwellers and the remote villages? The only answer they could give was that God had called them to that ministry. So they left the ordered peaceful lifestyle of the girls' school to travel by mule cart, following the trade routes and going beyond any settled mission work. The call had come to them from Dr. Kao, a Christian Chinese doctor who had invited them to come and help him in his ministry of reaching out to Muslim, Tibetan, and Mongolian people.
After a number of weeks of traveling via slow, uncomfortable mule cart, they arrived at Dr. Kao's place. At that time, he was entertaining a Mongolian prince. What a thrill it was to these ladies to be able to meet such a high-placed Mongolian leader! They were even more thrilled to give him Gospel portions, in his own language, that he could take back to his people living in remote steeps in Mongolia. They were at the "City of Prodigals," the last city within the Great Wall. It was largely populated by runaway criminals who had left more civilized and accessible cities to escape apprehension but were fearful of going beyond the Great Wall out into the unknown. There were many very questionable and very wicked people in the "City of Prodigals."
The three ladies made wide use of Gospel literature in a number of different languages—Bibles, Gospel portions, tracts, and also large posters—that they would put on the walls of the cities, which were read by the passersby.
Initially they lived in a very miserable inn, where they learned much of what lay beyond the Great Wall from others who sought refuge there (most of them coming with caravans from out in the desert). Eventually they were able to rent a house that was "haunted," because the owner had been unable to rent it to anyone else.
They came into contact with a beggar girl whose name was Gwa-Gwa. She was grossly mistreated, being deaf and dumb. She was a despised little urchin seeking subsistence from whatever scrap of food she might find and was often the victim of dogs' nipping at her heels and others' throwing stones at her to drive her away from their door. She was owned by a very wicked woman who had bought her from the child's mother, a Tibetan woman. In the courtyard of these three ladies she found love and warm food.
But the desert was calling, and they went out beyond the Great Wall to places of which they had heard but not yet seen—the Flame Mountains, Jade Gate, Lake of the Crescent Moon, City of Sands, Caves of a Thousand Buddhas, and many more. Here in these remote oases they met the Mongols, the Tibetans, and others from Central Asia. Many a mirage they saw as they traveled over the desert, but it was the real oases they sought, where there were people to tell of Jesus. Some listened attentively but soon forgot. Some listened with contempt. Some listened, longed, and took Gospel portions back to their remote dwellings, hiding them under their flowing robes.
As Mildred and her co-workers made these itinerations, they were often away for weeks and even months at a time, but they always returned to the "haunted" house at the "City of Prodigals" and to Gwa-Gwa. Using a go-between, they were able to buy the little waif from her cruel mistress, and she became their child. She was given the name "Topsy."
There was rising unrest all across the desert plains. Hordes of Muslim bandits roamed the area, slaughtering innocents and burning their pitifully poor villages and homes. The underpaid soldiers rebelled, formed bands, and robbed from any they could find. Under incredible conditions and through very dangerous territory, the mighty hand of God protected these three single ladies. Again and again they went out in spite of the chaos that reigned over the vast area in which they itinerated and in spite of the fear on every hand from the Muslims robbers and the rebel soldiers. On a number of occasions when they were in dire need, God supplied a guide who took them away from the danger spots and into safe havens at just the right moment.
On one occasion, when they were extremely weary from the travels, they were led by an unknown guide to the summer palace of the Khan, king of the Gobi Desert, and there they were given royal treatment.
On another occasion they were commanded to go into the presence of one of the rebel leaders known as Thunderbolt, who was extremely cruel and executed many on a mere trifle of an offense. They treated a wound that he had sustained in one of his skirmishes; and when it was well, they asked first for permission to leave. But before they left, Mildred boldly spoke to him about his wicked lifestyle and his need of a Savior which was Jesus Christ, and she presented to him a beautifully-bound Bible. His retainers thought surely she would be the victim of his wrath, but rather he accepted the Bible quietly and gave her a passport to freedom.
As the situation worsened, there was no law and order, only warring, rebel, robber bands. They saw that their ministry was coming to a close, so after six years of such itineration, they made preparations to leave and to return to England. But what about Topsy? After a considerable period of waiting, they were at last given permission for her to travel with them.
Some of the words from a poem by Rudyard Kipling had, throughout these years, kept ringing through their minds:
Something lost beyond the ranges,
Lost and waiting for you.
Something lost behind the ranges,
Lost and waiting for you.
Mildred Cable and her two companions did what no other missionaries had done in reaching out to the remote, isolated areas of the great Gobi Desert. Where are those today who are willing to reach out with the message of redeeming love to peoples that are in a like situation?