Starting near the end of 1953, Ray’s journals are peppered with mentions of Teresa Hsu, a nurse who arrived from Wheathill, a Bruderhof in Britain. At first she appears as just one of the many new arrivals, not quite as interesting as a change in the Brothers’ shaving habits.
December 22, 1953. ...At tea everyone turned out (summoned by a continuous whistle) to welcome Shonaid Yates and a nurse, Teresa Hsu from Wheathill, and boys from Montevideo and Asunción. NEWS FLASH: Stefano reports that the Brothers in the States are shaven. Roger Allain is now beardless. They spend great amounts of time explaining why!”
Soon, though, Teresa’s story captures Ray’s attention.
At dinner (grated cheese and bread) we heard more from Teresa Hsu, about food in China (ancient eggs) and about the language. She showed how eight tones of a word can mean five or six different things.”
Foreign languages were nothing new at Primavera, but even with the great mix of nationalities, it appears Teresa was rather unusual.
Woo-woo! Teresa wore Chinese pajamas to the kitchen at second breakfast, very full trousers, brown and white polka-dotted, a high collar, a red and black Kopftuch [headscarf]--very cute. I wondered whether she’d wear the same at dinner, and she did!…As a child her family went from China to Malaya (entirely different language). Her mother did washing and sent the kids to school [Teresa’s father left the family when she was a young child]. Later, Teresa moved to Hong Kong, where as typist in large European firm she found out that European girls earned twelve times more pay. She quit and joined the American Friends Service Committee Ambulance Corps, which later paid her fare to England.”
According to an article Teresa wrote about her life for the Bruderhof’s publication Plough, after seeing the devastating effects of the Sino-Japanese War, she was attracted to the volunteer Ambulance Corps and their spirit of service and pacifism. She joined the corps and served with them throughout the rest of the war. Ray continues:
She visited Wheathill but could not stand the theology. Working at a hospital, she often refused to do what was wrong, i.e. serve tea to wealthy visitors. She was sent to another ward. ‘If only like-minded people would band together to live for justice, peace, brotherhood,’ she thought, then realized that was the Bruderhof and returned. It is still not all clear to her. She has novice meetings with Olive and Peter R. when she can’t get to a regular ones due to her duties as nurse.’
Ray shared those same concerns about the theology at the Bruderhof, which hewed to traditional Christian beliefs regarding such things as Jesus’ second coming (the joyful mood on the Bruderhof was due in part to the expectation that Jesus could arrive any day) and a literal interpretation of the resurrection. Like Teresa, Ray grappled with this. He was won over by the close contact with others, but not with the “need” to see religion through the lens of the Bruderhof’’s leaders.
Steve makes the point that it is pretty easy to live thus among like-minded people, and maybe what is required is to live that way in society at large. Well, Teresa is quite a gal--so vivacious, intelligent, and cute. I feel sort of smitten. Was it providence that this afternoon after siesta as I hurried down our hallway to engine duty, I brushed by a girl visiting her mother from Asunción and saw at a glance that there must be millions of pretty and attractive girls in the world! Cosmetics help a lot but Teresa wears none and I could look into her face for hours and hours, it’s so expressive.”
Later, he fills in more of her personal story
When I was on hospital evening watch, I drank pots of tea with the Paraguayans and with Teresa. We talked long about her views. She has honest and straightforward personal convictions about brotherhood, justice and peace. At 17, she asked to go to the nunnery, where blind obedience was required. Her brother was a Roman Catholic priest. She was repelled by Christianity when she visited Wheathill, and was disillusioned by free-riding members when she visited another community."
Teresa eventually returned to her home of Malaya, where she continued her work as a nurse. She became well-loved in her community for her tireless efforts to aid the poor and the elderly, and was nicknamed “Mother Teresa of Malaya” before her death at age 113. See Teresa on Singapore's TEDx below.