Dr Griffith John
Ebenezer Baptist Church, Swansea, recently celebrated a centenary on from the death of a missionary, who went out from Ebenezer when it was a Welsh Congregational Church.
Griffith John was in 1861the first Protestant missionary to commence work in inland China. He was a contemporary of Hudson Taylor and appeared as an equal in missionary newspapers of the day although he since seems to have been forgotten.
We decided to work alongside the city museum when they chose to organise an exhibition on his life, so that the story of this man’s remarkable life be brought to public attention once more.
On 30 November 2012, a copper bust of Griffith John was unveiled in the presence of dignitaries from the Union hospital, Hanou, China. Dr Griffith John is well-respected there as the founder of this major hospital.
A link was made with one of their doctors, a believer who lectures at Swansea University. A couple of us witnessed their warm appreciation for him, when Dr Zao and his family laid flowers at his grave on the anniversary of Griffith John’s death.
We worked together with the museum to lay on a notable exhibition at Ebenezer, which emphasised the motives and spiritual contribution of the man. The exhibition was well used, especially when combined with an open day.
One man came along to the open day after hearing a woman on Radio Wales complaining during a phone-in about postage costs! Because a letter arrived late, she couldn’t visit this exhibition in Swansea.
The museum’s curator said they had never known such support for an event and were amazed at the spread of people turning up to view the exhibits. The exhibition is open until mid-February.
During the celebration, we also wanted to focus on what God was doing in China today. Rev. Meirion Thomas of Newport helped us on three occasions over the 10-day period, beginning with the exhibition launch which was attended by a number of important city officials.
This was followed by a civic thanksgiving service with 200 attending on a Saturday morning, including our own lord mayor, high sheriff, deputy lord lieutenant and fellow mayors from the surrounding area. The Lord was with us and many people from different backgrounds are still talking about that service.
We gave sufficient space for the Welsh tongue that Griffith John grew up speaking, and the Chinese that he learned, with members from the Welsh Congregationalists and the pastor of the Cardiff Chinese church taking part.
We are grateful to Elim City Temple for the use of its premises for a time of fellowship afterwards. We are also indebted to Dr Vernon Williams for his guidance of our steering committee. From the ladies’ meeting to the youth group, speakers with experience of the churches in China today were welcomed and large numbers were addressed.
Dr John Aaron of Ebenezer was mainly responsible for researching materials. He spoke on the life of Griffith John in the second week.
We wrote invitations and tracts relevant to the occasion and many households were invited to the events, including the large Griffith John flats, located on the site of his birth and upbringing.
Ebenezer has obtained funding to renovate the monument erected over his grave, and we encouraged the council to plant a garden near his birthplace. They intend to place a ‘blue plaque’ on the front of Ebenezer, as the church from which he was sent out.
Dr Griffith John’s life has been the means of bringing many to hear the gospel who would not otherwise go to church. His complete dedication to the work of the Lord speaks to many, even a century after his death.