Davis’ journey combines faith, adventure
Imagine a women 89 years of age publishing a first book, To China and Beyond. This is just one of many aspects of the life of Odessa Davis and of her husband, Lowell, that are unusual.
Lowell and Odessa look like many senior citizens — short, thin, white-haired, a bit stooped. They appear quiet, calm and at peace with God and the world. Little about this couple, married for 66 years, is extraordinary, except for their longevity — 90 and 89 respectively, right?
Wrong. Lowell and Odessa are authentic survivors, having spent many years as missionaries in China, some during the harrowing days of World War II. Time and again they were forced to flee advancing Japanese forces, which required their leaving their homes and furnishings, taking clandestine river boat trips, climbing over mountain passes at night and barely surviving.
The Davises were part of a group of spiritual pioneers, including the George Bensons; the Lewis Oldhams; the E.L. Broaduses; Elizabeth Bernard and her mother Estella; Ethel Matley; Ruth Gardner; and Roy Whitfield, who initiated the work of churches of Christ in China. Lowell arrived in China in 1932 and Odessa in 1934. Before long they met and were married.
Odessa was born Odessa White in 1911 in Coyville, Kan. Moving to Montana in 1914, the family ranched for many years. Odessa was baptized in 1924, then worked in Canada, North Dakota and other locations. At 17 she moved to Louisville, Ky., where she attended Portland Christian School.
In Louisville she met the Broadus family, who invited her to go to China with them. In 1933 she joined the Broaduses, and they boarded a ship bound for Hong Kong. Upon arriving there she lived with them and then with Elizabeth Bernard.
Lowell was born in Elath County, Texas, in 1910 to George and Pearl Davis, active church workers. Lowell was one of 10 children. His father, a sharecropper, struggled to feed his family. After the entire family had pneumonia the parents never regained their strength, so the older children picked cotton and took responsibility for the family. Beginning at age 19, Lowell preached for small Texas churches.
He then enrolled in Harding College where he met George Benson, who had served in China. As a result, in 1932 Lowell went to China with Benson and his colleague, Roy Whitfield, preaching in the village in which Odessa lived. They married in 1934.
They established their home in Canton, where Lowell taught in the Bible school that the Benson team had organized. In 1937 Lowell’s health deteriorated, so they went to Arkansas, where they studied at Harding.
They returned to China in 1939 after the birth of their first child, Avonell, in Wichita, Kan., where their sponsoring church was located. Because of the Japanese threat, Lowell moved his family to the Portuguese colony of Macau. There they launched a school.
When the Japanese conquered Hong Kong, the Davises could no longer receive support from the United States, which had come through Hong Kong. To survive, they gathered wild grapes and made jam to sell. They also dug for clams, made candy and taught English.
When the Japanese closed in on Macau, Mr. Wong, a friend and leader of the Chinese Resistance, arranged for the Davises (then four including their son Kline), Elizabeth Bernard and her ‘sister,’ Ah Wing, and others, 37 in all, to take them to safety.
The group left with a small bag apiece, boarding four river boats. Leaving the river, the refugees struck out in the dead of night in a pouring rain over a steep mountain pass. The children had to be carried all night. They finally came to another river and took a boat to safety.
In the village of Kwai Lien, Lowell purchased two small sampans, one for his family and one for Elizabeth. For some time during World War II they lived, taught and worshipped aboard these two boats.
They were finally able to fly to Burma in 1943 and from there to India and Australia, enroute back to the U.S.
In 1946, after the war, they returned to China, supported by the church in Searcy, Ark., serving there until driven out by the Communists in 1949.
Enrolling in Pepperdine College that year, Lowell completed a master’s degree and Odessa a bachelor’s degree. Lowell preached for the Huntington Beach, Calif., church.
Subsequently, they moved to Burleson, Texas, where a third child, Anselm, was born and where Lowell preached.They also taught in towns in Texas, Colorado and Utah.
Lowell and Odessa, now retired, live in Austin, Texas, and worship with the Brentwood Oaks church.
‘It’s been a long and adventurous life, but we would do it over, if we had the chance,’ they commented.
CONTACT LOWELL AND ODESSA DAVIS at [email protected]com or Brentwood Oaks church, (512) 835-5980.