Ruth 100: Ruth Graham’s Roots in China

Dr. and Mrs. L. Nelson Bell and family in China

Ruth Graham was born on June 10, 1920 in what was then Tsing Kiang Pu, now Quingjiang, China. Her father was a medical missionary, and their family lived in a small house located within the hospital compound.

It was a time of much unrest in China. The Chinese people distrusted these “foreign devils” and their Western medicine. When someone was sick, visiting the medical missionaries at the hospital was seen as a last resort. Yet, they did come. In her book Footprints of a Pilgrim, Ruth writes about her father’s medical practice: “My father — a skilled surgeon — did everything… from removing cataracts, to filling teeth, to amputations… creating prosthetics out of beams of wood.”

A framed mother of pearl artwork, depicting the hospital compound in Quingjiang

Despite what might have seemed like a scary place to live, considering China was engaged in a gruesome civil war, Ruth had a happy and normal childhood. She played games with her siblings, Virginia, Rosa, and Clayton. She kept diaries, drew pictures, and enjoyed time with the family dog, Tarbaby (nicknamed TB). At night, they listened to the great stories of Sir Walter Scott and other authors after Dr. Bell finished his rounds at the hospital.

Plate used in the Bell family home in China

For Ruth, China was home. When she had to leave that home at the age of 13 to attend Pyeng Yang Foreign School in what is now North Korea, she begged her parents (and God) to let her stay in China. Ruth maintained her love for China throughout her life, returning to visit the country of her birth several times. It was these roots that made Ruth the woman she became – a woman with a vision for the poor, the lost, the sick, and the world beyond her doorstep.

A collection of Chinese coins from the 1920’s, when the Bell family lived in China

Read more about Ruth Bell Graham.

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