Beautiful Feet in the Gobi

Mildred Cable

Beautiful Feet in the Gobi

Jack Voelkel

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14)

Three middle-aged English ladies sipped tea with the Tibetan Lama in the Temple of the Dragon King. The coolness of the temple was a welcome relief from the oppressive heat of the Gobi Desert as they discussed the crowds which thronged to the temple on festival days.

“What do they hope to gain, Lama?”

“The forgiveness of their sins,” he said.

“Do you know any way in which sins can be forgiven?”

The Lama looked at this visitors, these three strange, grey-haired women from the outside world who were holy and yet so practical, so kind and yet so eager to ask the pointed question. “No,” he said with sadness. “I know of no way of forgiveness.”

For a long time they talked about the Christian way of forgiveness and how the way of work and good actions by men could not accomplish what God had already done. The Lama listened intently, for he had never heard these thoughts before. When the time came for the ladies to go, they left him with literature about Jesus, praying in their hearts that God would lead him to experience the forgiveness that the pilgrims sought.

The Call to Mission

The leader of the three women was Mildred Cable. The daughter of a prosperous draper in Guildford, England, Mildred early decided to become a missionary and studied pharmacy and human sciences at London University. In 1901, as a spritely twenty-two year old, she heard God’s call for China.

The cost of following God confronted her before she even left for the mission field. She had become engaged to a man who also intended to become a missionary but later changed his mind. He told Mildred he would not marry her unless she too abandoned her ambition. With a broken heart, she ended the engagement and joined the China Inland Mission.

With the sisters Evangeline French and Francesca French, she taught in a training school for girls in the city of Hwochow for twenty-one years. Over the years, they became known as The Trio. The work the three did was challenging but successful and satisfying.

But the three began to share a common unsettledness. Although there was much to be done in Hwochow, their attention had been drawn to the villages and towns sprinkled around the few oases in the vast Gobi Desert, a 1,000 mile-wide expanse of desolate, windswept, nearly treeless land in southern Mongolia and northern China. It is the coldest, most northern desert in the world, with temperatures dropping to 41 degrees below zero in the winter, yet rising to 122 degrees in the summer.

Crossing this arid plane is the Old Silk Road, a multi—fingered trade route which has seen traders, soldiers, nomads, and urban dwellers travel from Ancient China, India and Tibet, to Persia and the Mediterranean countries for over 3,000 years. Many people in the isolated towns and villages along this ancient road did not know the name of Jesus. The Trio were moved to bring them the good news.

The Call to the Gobi

Recognizing the difficulty of what lay ahead, Evangeline observed, “Without God we cannot be successful in such a mission.” To which Mildred softly replied, “But without us, God will not. Eva, we must obey Him.”

When the word got out that three middle-aged English women were thinking of venturing into such an inhospitable and even dangerous place alone, their friends and colleagues were horrified. “There are no fools like old fools.” Why leave tens of thousands of Chinese where they were, who also needed the Gospel, to risk their lives in the Gobi?

Following the advice of travelers they ordered a wooden cart made with wheels eight feet high. They traveled for months, rumbling and jolting over the uneven mountain roads, once getting stuck in three feet of mud. At night they stayed in primitive, smoky Chinese inns, accompanied by the mules of the other travelers. Once, all they could find was a stable dug into the side of a cliff.

Their progress on the Old Silk Road was hampered by desert sand storms, bitter cold, searing heat, and bandits and desert wars. Fear ruled the lives of many whom The Trio met, with each town having its own particular demons. Others expressed their religious longing.

Once they met a pilgrim who had been walking for six months. To fulfill a vow, he prostrated himself on the earth every few steps in the long journey. When he opened a copy of John’s Gospel Mildred gave him, he read the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

“Whom is this about?” he asked.

“His name is Jesus,” she replied.

“Tell me how to believe in him.”

Finding Fruit

One day they were invited to eat with the Tu family in Suchow. One of the young men had begun showing interest in the message the Trio shared, but his mother threatened, “The day you join the Christians, you may order my coffin, for I will not live to endure such a disgrace.”

Mr. Tu continued to listen to the message of Jesus and finally spoke directly to his mother, “There is a way of life and a way of death. My path is that of Life.”  He continued on in his walk of faith and established a place of worship and witness in his town in spite of the opposition of mother and family.

Over the next 15 years they were to crisscross the 1,000 miles of the Gobi five times. Returning to the villages where they had conducted meetings and then talked with inquirers deep into the night, they discovered that the seed they had sown had borne fruit. The Scripture did its work, bringing individuals to faith in Jesus, hungry for more teaching, gathering in little groups for fellowship.

The Trio left China for the last time in 1936 after 15 years of testimony in the Gobi and were unable to return because in August 1938 all foreigners were ordered to leave that part of China. So the Trio returned to England, but not to retire. To the end of their days, they were always pioneers, confident of their call and their message. On the last page of her final book Mildred Cable wrote,

“Without God we cannot; without us, God will not.”


This biography references the accounts of the The Trio as found in Star over Gobi. The Story of Mildred Cable by Cecil Northcott. Guildford, Surrey, UK: Lutterworth, 1987.