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They Shall See His Face: A book review

We women often complain about the absence of our stories in our country's history, especially in the history of the church. The truth is that extraordinary women were doing great things but unless told it takes only a few decades for their stories to be lost. Linda Banks understands this and, with her husband Robert, has produced a book about one such woman who by the grace of God changed the lives of hundreds of Chinese boys who lived with blindness.

Amy Oxley Wilkinson was an Australian nurse who, from the time she was young, had a strong belief that God was calling her to serve him with her whole life, and in particular as a missionary in China. With great courage and determination, and despite news of the massacre of some men and women she expected to serve with, she left Australia in 1895 as a single woman to fulfil that calling in the Fukien Province of south-eastern China.

An encounter with a young blind boy who had been abandoned in a ditch, and Amy’s commitment to help him, developed into a thriving home and school. Over the years, this nurtured and educated hundreds of blind boys to live hopeful, productive lives, and to know they were loved by God. Even to this day the Blind School begun by Amy Oxley Wilkinson continues. There was of course much more to Amy’s life, including her marriage to another (also extraordinary) missionary, Dr George Wilkinson, and this book tells his story too.

In 1920, the President of the new Chinese Republic awarded Amy the highest honour possible for a Westerner at that time, the prestigious Order of the Golden Grain. However, apart from her family, she has been largely forgotten in the country of her birth. I am so grateful to Linda and Robert Banks for doing the complex detective work needed to bring her story back, telling it where possible through Amy’s letters and newspaper reports. As I read the book, I found myself swept along and inspired by her desire to publicly and privately serve God, whatever the cost. We should all know Amy's story and now we can.

Linda and Robert Banks, They Shall See His Face: The Story of Amy Oxley Wilkinson and her Visionary Blind School in China, Melbourne: Acorn Press, 2018 ($19.95). Buy here


Jill McGilvray lives in the Blue Mountains with her artist husband. She speaks and teaches about pastoral care based on her book God’s Love in Action, Pastoral Care for Everyone.

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