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Autumn 2006 | Volume 29, Number 4 | Alumni

A “Determined Quiet”

Alumna of the Year Lora Jones is proof that one person can change the world

A breathtaking sweep of history surrounds the life of Lora Jones ’43, or En Ying Zhou as she is known in China. The 2007 Seattle Pacific University Alumna of the Year has weathered more than her fair share of hardship and persecution in her 93 years, yet her poised determination and Christian faith remain undeterred. Consider these essential facts:

From abandoned orphan to lifelong missionary, SPU’s 2007 Alumna of the Year Lora Jones embodies the University’s vision to engage the culture and change the world. She is the guest of honor at Homecoming 2007, February 1–3.

Born during the lifetime of the last emperor of China, barely two years after his abdication in 1912, she was abandoned outside the city gate of Chengchow. In the 1930s, she lost a romantic suitor when the Japanese bombed a bridge over the Yellow River. She came to America, graduated from Seattle Pacific, then traveled home — halfway around the world and across the Himalayas, evading World War II hostilities. If that wasn’t enough for one lifetime, Jones endured two decades of privations and punishments during China’s Cultural Revolution.

And now, here is China, communist and capitalist, preparing to host the 2008 Olympic Games. And here is Jones, enjoying the fruits of her selfless life: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a flourishing Christian church in her homeland.

Try to sell this story to Hollywood, and it would be rejected as farfetched. But for those who know Jones, her life certainly has all of the hallmarks of an epic drama. SPU Alumni Director Doug Taylor agrees. Jones’ accomplishments, he says, are all the more powerful because of her “determined quiet.”

The alumna began her journey as an infant, outside that fateful Chinese city gate in 1914. A poor man saw the abandoned baby and found a plump, well-dressed child. “He thought I was a boy, and he could get a good price for me,” says Jones.

Even though the baby turned out to be a girl, the family kept her until, a few months later, American Free Methodist missionary Edith Jones entered the picture. While tending to the poor of Chengchow, she noticed the ailing baby, who now had lost all of her plumpness and weighed less than 7 pounds. Jones, a single missionary, agreed to take her from the poor family, and later adopted the infant, naming her Lora.

“Mother loved me more than things,” Lora Jones remembers. “One day I accidentally broke a hand-painted plate she brought from America. I started crying, but my mother said, ‘That plate is not as precious as my daughter’s tears.’”

Stanwood, Washington, resident John Schlosser, who grew up with Jones as a fellow child of missionaries, recalls that security in China was sometimes uncertain. “Each child had a little bundle prepared in case we had to evacuate,” he says. But there were also idyllic moments: “In the summer, we’d walk into the mountains to read and play.”

As a teenager, Jones studied at a Presbyterian high school, and at 16, she began a correspondence with a young man who shared her Christian beliefs. Tragically, her young suitor was killed during a Japanese bombing raid.

This sorrow did not overwhelm her, however, or deflect her ardent faith. In 1938, Edith Jones returned to the United States on furlough, enabling her daughter, then 24, to attend college. Before enrolling at Seattle Pacific in 1941, she spent two years at Greenville College. That’s how longtime friend and Warm Beach Senior Community resident Margaret Mack met Lora Jones — when Mack’s older sister brought her home from school.

“Lora became a part of our family,” remembers Mack. “She spent all the holidays with us. She was delightful, so happy, friendly, and gracious. And I also remember — Lora was beautiful. She still is.” After graduating from Seattle Pacific in 1943, Jones was offered a University of Washington post as chair of the Chinese Department, but she chose to go back to China to work alongside her mother, who had already returned to a church-supported orphanage.

That year of her graduation, accompanied by a friend and amid World-War-II tumult, Jones made the hazardous six-month journey home. It took her through South America, Africa, and India, before crossing the Himalayas.

As she settled into her work with orphans, Jones followed her mother’s lead and adopted three abandoned girls of her own. “I had so many blessings, and there were so many little girls who were homeless,” she explains.

But there was trouble ahead. By 1950, communists were in power, and her mother died. In 1959, Jones was forced to leave her children after she was arrested and deemed an anti-revolutionary for her links with America. Receiving a 10-year sentence, she spent a decade “lying low” on a prison farm.

Jones’ American friends, who had no knowledge of her imprisonment, thought she had simply disappeared — or worse. After nearly 30 years of concern and anticipation, a close family friend learned of her whereabouts in Western China. Shortly after, a childhood friend sent her a Christmas card. “Tears ran down my cheeks to receive this from my American family,” remembers Jones.

After a complete exoneration, Jones taught English at China’s Lanzhou University while devoting herself to building a church that now flourishes. She still preaches there, in front of hundreds of devoted followers.

It is a testament to her extraordinary life that Jones received an honorary doctorate from Seattle Pacific University in 2004. It is also a witness to her reach in the world that she was named this year’s Alumna of the Year.

“She is a stunning choice for this honor,” says Taylor. “With her amazing courage and longsuffering, she embodies the vision of SPU. She has truly engaged the culture and changed the world, making an impact wherever God has placed her.”

Occasionally, Jones makes the long trek to visit her “American friends.” Fluent in English, she speaks quietly but with purpose, and displays a surprisingly wry humor. Schlosser recounts a visit in which she spoke at a church service. “She said, ‘I have three daughters, six grandchildren, and who knows how many great-grandchildren. Really good for a single woman, don’t you think?’”

Her young audience laughed and applauded. “She’s a wonderful person, and funny,” Schlosser adds. “Lora is one of the finest people I have ever known.”

— by Connie McDougall
— photo courtesy of John schlosser


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