Collection 341 Papers of Victor G. Plymire
Scope and Contents
Letters, articles, over 1200 photos, maps, diary and other material relating to Victor Plymire's missionary career in Tibet and China under the auspices of the Assemblies of God. The collection contains information not only on his evangelistic work among various strata of Tibetan society but also about his evangelistic/exploration expedition of 1927-28 which crossed from northeastern to southwestern Tibet; Tibetan culture and society; the Buddhist religion; and the early history of relations between Christians and the government in Communist China and other mission-related subjects. Particularly interesting are the hundreds of black and white photographs in five albums which depict many different aspects of Tibetan society.
- Created: 1908-1957
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.
Victor Guy Plymire was born January 10, 1881, to Amos and Laura Plymire in Loganville, Pennsylvania. He also had two brothers, Melvin (1872-1945) and Ralph (1892-1973) and a sister, Ethel, later Ethel Johnson (1889-1975). He committed his life to Christ at the age of fifteen at a street service. He went to school in Loganville and then worked for a time in electrical construction. But he felt a vocation for full-time Christian work. He became a minister of the Gospel Herald Society and pastored churches in Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Stroudsburg, Shamokin, and Scranton. He also attended the American Bible School of the Pentecostal Bands of the World and went to Christian and Missionary Alliance Institute at Nyack for a short time. He felt a strong conviction that he was to be a missionary. He applied to the mission board of the Christian and Missionary Alliance and was accepted. He was sent to northwest China and left from Seattle, Washington, on February 4, 1908. He had as a traveling companion Ivan Kaufmann, another missionary. He landed at Shanghai and then traveled on to Hankow (modern name Hankou, part of the triple city of Wuhan) and from there to Han Chung (modern spelling, Hanzhong) and from there to Tao Chow (modern spelling, Lintan) in the province of Kansu (modern spelling, Gansu). This town was to be his base. Here, near the Tibetan border, he began to learn the language and to know the Tibetan people and customs.
In October, 1912, he went to Sian (modern spelling, Xi'an) to meet and escort some missionaries to the Tibetan border. However, once he reached that city, fighting and turmoil that grew out of the proclamation of the Republic of China in 1911 made it unsafe to travel back to the border and the group went to Hankow. He was then asked to accompany another missionary who was ill back to the United States. Once there he stayed, reluctantly, for a furlough. Finally in October, 1914, he left the United States and returned to Tao Chow. He became acquainted with Buddhist priests and visited several important monasteries, including Labrang in 1916 and Kum Bum. While there, as he did in other Tibetan communities and with merchant caravans, he preached and distributed tracts. On January 1, 1919, he married fellow missionary Grace Harkless in Min Chow (modern spelling, Min Xian) after an engagement of five years. They then returned to the United States for a furlough.
While on furlough, he and his wife began to go to Pentecostal services and received a baptism of the Spirit. He left the Christian and Missionary Alliance and was ordained into Assemblies of God in 1920. While on furlough he pastored the Assemblies of God church in Lancaster. During their time in Lancaster, the Plymire's son, John David, was born on July 13, 1921. The family sailed for Tibet from the west coast in February of 1922.
Once in Tibet, Plymire established an Assemblies of God mission station at Tangar in the northeast part of the country. Tangar was also known as Donkyr or Hwangyuan. The modern name is Huangyuan. After all his years of ministry, Plymire first had the experience of a person converting to Christ under his ministry in 1924. After that the church in Tangar began to grow slowly. He was beginning to make plans for an expedition straight across Tibet to India, during which he would preach the Gospel in many remote locations. First, though, tragedy struck. First his son and then his wife died of smallpox in January, 1927.
Despite his grief, he continued to make plans for his expedition and set out on May 18, 1927. He went from Tangar to Lake Ko Ko (modern name, Qinghai), to Tsa Ka to across the Tsai Dam swamp (modern spelling, Qai Dam), through the Burhan Budhai Mountains to Danza Obo. Then he crossed the Dri River through the Tang La (modern spelling, Dang La) mountains to the Shiabden Gonpa monastery. For a time he preached near and possibly in the city of Lhasa and then went back to Shaibden Gonpa and westward through the mountains on to Cheri Ma Lung to Gartok (modern spelling, Garyarsa) to Ru Shuk (modern spelling, Rutog) near the Indian border on February 26, 1928. He had traveled 2,000 miles from northeastern through central to western Tibet. He then crossed into India and followed the Indus River into Leh, then on to Srinagar and eventually to Calcutta. On April 18, 1928, he sailed to Shanghai and then to Beijing. There he renewed his acquaintance with Ruth Weidman, a missionary who was doing language study. They were married on August 8, 1928, and a few weeks later, on September 3, they left for Tibet together with Ruth's sister, Elizabeth. They reached Tangar two months later. Victor had a heart attack in early 1930 that caused the Plymires to return to the United States on furlough early in that year. While in the United States, their son, David Victor, was born.
The Plymires returned to Tibet in October 1932, along with Elizabeth and her fiance, George Wood. In 1933 and 1934, Plymire visited the Kantsa tribe on evangelistic trips. In 1935 he again visited the monastery at Kum Bum. In 1936 he and his family were forced by fighting between the Kuo min tang and Communist forces to travel to Lanchow (modern spelling, Lanzhou) and were compelled to remain there until 1937, when they returned to Tangar. In 1937, also, their daughter Mary Ann (later Hawkes) was born. Victor's work consisted of assisting the growing church in Tangar and going on preaching expeditions, such as the one in 1941 to the monastery of Dulan in northern Tibet. In 1943, Ruth had a heart attack. She returned to the United States to recover and took the children with her. Victor left Tibet in September of 1945 to rejoin his family. He arrived in the United States in January of 1945.
After a two-year furlough, the Plymires left San Francisco for Tangar on February 14, 1947. Again they resumed their evangelistic work. In 1948, W.W. Simpson came to Tangar to hold evangelistic meetings. The next year, the war between the Kuo min tang and the Communists once again caused them to leave Tibet. They left Tangar to send their son and daughter to schools in the United States in June, 1949. While in Hong Kong, the news from the border made it clear that it would be unsafe to return for some time. The family returned to the United States and Victor eventually realized that because of the changed political situation, he would never be able to return to Tibet. The family settled in Springfield, Missouri, and he worked for the Assemblies of God missions board, preaching in various churches around the country and attending conferences, until his death on December 8, 1956.
3 Boxes (DC)
2 Reels of microfilm
1 Oversize File
4 Photograph Albums
1 Photograph File
2 Video Tapes
Language of Materials
Arrangement of Material
[NOTE: In the Scope and Content description, the notation "Folder 1-1" means box 1, Folder 1.]
The materials in this collection consist of the letters, diaries, articles, clippings, photographs, films, and other material of Plymire's. The material deals almost entirely with his work as a missionary in Tibet and China. It also contains a great deal of information about Tibetan society and life. Some documents, such as tracts, are in the Tibetan language. Most of the material is in English. The folder titles and the arrangement was supplied by the archivist.
Plymire's major concern was with preaching the Gospel in Tibet, a concern that is evidenced all through the documents in this collection. Perhaps the best evidences of this concern and of the methods he used can be seen in the letters to his parents (folders 2-1, 2-2), to his sister Ethel (1-22), to the Assemblies of God missions secretary, Noel Perkins (1-6), to supporters (2-4), and in a brief summary of his work written shortly before his death (folder 3-1). In these letters, he describes literature distribution, evangelism, and the work of Tibetan and Chinese preachers. Almost every page of his correspondence contains some reference to his evangelistic activities and his strong faith in Christ. In the correspondence with Perkins, he also gives some figures on expenses of mission work. The copy of the letter of James Vigna (2-7) contains details on the mission station and physical plant required for the work.
The many articles he wrote for the Assemblies' Evangel as well as for other publications (1-1 to 1-15) describe the evangelistic aspects of his work in particular as well as emphasizing the need for more missionaries. The folder labeled "Tracts" in the Oversize file contains several handmade, poster-size tracts in Tibetan with hand drawn illustrations depicting the Christian life. After his return to the United States in 1949, he often went to churches to preach about the work in Tibet and China. Simple outlines for many of these sermons can be found in his notebook in folder 3-2. This notebook also contains miscellaneous other comments on his work and the work of other missionaries in the area.
His career in Tibet, particularly his early career, can be traced in some detail through his letters. The letters to his parents in folders 2-1 and 2-2 and the letters to his sister Ethel in 1-22 describe in great detail his first trip from the United States to the Tibet border and his first year there. They also cover such topics as the effects of the revolution of 1911, available food supplies, reflections on the meaning of World War I, language activities, cost of living expenses, and his first marriage. Folder 1-31 also has some material about his marriage to Grace Harkless, specifically correspondence with the American consul about where it should be performed and by who. His prayer letters to his supporters in the information on his trip to Sian in 1912. A few papges from a diary covering the same trip are in folder 2-8. (These pages are not included in the microfilm edition of these pages.) The articles in folders 1-1, 1-3, 1-9, and 1-10 also cover various aspects of these first years, such as travel conditions, an epidemic of pneumonia, and problems in reaching Tibetans with the Gospel. A letter by Ellen Neuman from Rumney, New Hampshire, in folder 1-21 mentions the J. Elwin Wright family. Folder 3-1 contains an early will, written in 1915.
The shock of his wife and son's death is described in letters in folders 1-22 and 2-4. There is a great deal of information on his expedition of 1927-1928, including a diary in small notebooks of his day-by-day experiences and thoughts during the trip (2-8), maps showing his route ("Maps" OS 12), and correspondence of his family with the States Department (1-21), and an expansion of his diary latter written out in long hand on 8 1/2" x 11" paper by Plymire. After not hearing from him for several months, they feared he had died and contacted the State Department for more information. The letter from the department told them to prepare for the worst. Folders 1-22, 2-2, and 2-4 contain letters he wrote to his family and friends when he reached India safely in 1928. Some newspapers in the United States had brief stories about his expedition. Clippings of these articles are in folder 1-16. Because of the reputation Plymire acquired as a result of this expedition, explorers sometimes asked his advice, as for example Gene Lamb did in a letter in 1-21.
For the next period of Plymire's career, from 1928 through the 1940's, there is a little in the collection such as articles in 1-5 and 1-6, and correspondence in folders 1-22, 1-26, and 2-3 through 2-7. Of particular interest is the correspondence with AG missions secretary Noel Perkins in 1-26. These letters deal with some of the mundane considerations of Plymire's work, like receipts and expenses, suggestions for mission policy making, notes on the cost of living. Plymire also makes some comments on the effect of the Sino-Japanese war in Tibet. Folder 1-17 contains a letter from a China Inland Mission worker discussing division of Tibetan work between the two missions. The letters in folder 2-3 are letters Plymire sent his wife in 1944 but they are actually copies of earlier letters which he wanted to preserve. They describe travels throughout Tibet as well as a trip to Peking. Also from this period probably date some of the road passes in the oversize folders. These were passes given by local military and governmental officials to permit Plymire to travel through combat zones and bandit infested areas.
Several folders contain materials concerning the situation on the Tibet-Chinese border immediately after Plymire left. Elim Pentecostal Assemblies of Britian worker Kenneth Mac Gillivray lived in Plymire's house and wrote to Plymire describing the activities of Chinese and Tibetan pastors and evangelists whom Plymire knew (1-24). He also sent a copy of a memo describing a meeting between communist premier Chou En-lai and a church leader in which Chou laid down the new governments' religious policy and the governments' expectations of the churches. This was the beginning of the Three Self Movement. Plymire also received letters from Chinese Christians he knew (1-19, 1-23). Most of these are in Chinese, but some are in English or have translations. Matthew Lee wrote asking for hymnals in Chinese. Other correspondence in 1-18 and 1-25 concerns transfer of funds and property between CIM and AG relating to the departure of both missions from China. Folder 3-1 contains a long, autobiographical statement by Plymire written just before his death in which he describes his early life, first trip to Tibet, impressions of the Tibetan people, and problems in presenting the Gospel.
Besides the information on evangelism in Tibet and on Plymire's life, this collection contains a great deal of information about Tibetan religion, geography and customs. The articles in folders 1-1 through 1-14 all contain information about aspects of Tibetan life, as do almost all of his letters. Folders 1-8, 1-9, and 1-12 contain materials that deal particularly with Tibetan prayer and theology. These folders also contain translations by Plymire of Buddhist texts. The folder marked "Tracts" in the oversize drawer contains further translations, as well as information on how shoulder bones were read for divination purposes. Mention should be made too of the photographic scrapbooks and the photos on microfiche. They contain photos of priests, herdsmen, merchants, families, farming, religious festivals, monasteries, and many other aspects of Tibet. They are an extremely rich source for the study of Tibet. To a lesser extent, this is also true of the films in this collection, which also contain many scenes of Buddhist ceremonies.
Accruals and Additions
The material in this collection was received from Mary Ann Hawkes in March and August of 1985 and February of 1986.
Accession 85-30, 85-43, 85-107, 86-17
November 3, 1986
Revised, March 23, 1993
M. L. Wohlschlegel
Updated Acc. 94-70
- Assemblies of God -- Missions.
- Assemblies of God.
- Belief and doubt.
- Buddhists -- China.
- Buddhists -- Tibet (China)
- Children of missionaries -- China.
- Children of missionaries -- Tibet (China)
- Children of missionaries.
- China -- History -- 1912-1937.
- China -- History -- 1937-1945.
- China -- History -- Civil War, 1945-1949.
- China -- History.
- China -- Religion.
- Christian literature -- Publication and distribution -- Tibet (China)
- Christian literature -- Publication and distribution.
- Christian literature.
- Church Herald Society.
- Church and state -- China.
- Church and state.
- Communism -- China.
- Death -- Religious aspects.
- Evangelistic work -- China.
- Evangelistic work -- Tibet (China)
- Evangelistic work -- Tibet (China) -- Religion.
- Evangelistic work.
- Indigenous church administration
- Indigenous church administration -- China.
- Indigenous church administration -- Tibet (China)
- Language in missionary work.
- Marriage -- Tibet (China)
- Missionaries -- Training of.
- Missionaries -- Appointment, call, and election.
- Missionaries -- Leaves and furloughs.
- Missionaries -- Training of -- United States.
- Missions -- China.
- Missions -- Tibet.
- Missions, Medical -- China.
- Missions, Medical.
- Overseas Missionary Fellowship.
- Pentecostalism -- China.
- Pentecostalism -- Tibet (China)
- Persecution -- China.
- Plymire, Victor Guy, 1881-1956.
- Prisoners -- Tibet (China)
- Salvation -- Sermons.
- Social classes
- Social classes -- Tibet (China)
- Three-self movement.
- Tibetan language.
- World War, 1914-1918.
- World War, 1939-1945.
- Worship (Christian)
- Wright, J. Elwin.
- Zhongguo guo min dang.
- Zhou, Enlai, 1898-1976.
- Collection 341 Papers of Victor G. Plymire
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Roman Script