A visit to China
In January’s ET Jack and Angelina Sin described their visit to China. Here they provide some historical background to gospel and missionary work in that great land.
Famous preachers in China
Robert Morrison (1782-1834) was sent out to China by the London Missionary Society in 1807. He remained there until his death in 1834 — studying the language, compiling a Chinese dictionary and grammar, and translating the Bible.
The next notable Western missionary was James Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission (today’s OMF), who was called by God to the mission field early in life. Arriving in Shanghai in 1854, he worked with other missionaries in the ‘treaty port’ cities but soon discovered that the gospel had barely penetrated China’s vast interior.
Hudson Taylor wore a pigtail to identify with local culture. He had a passion for preaching, and a zeal to establish indigenous, New Testament churches. With a group of native Christians he would ‘go from town to town and from street to street preaching and singing the gospel of true salvation’.
Another missionary of this era was the Canadian, Jonathan Goforth, born in Ontario, Canada, in 1859. While at college he was challenged to go to China by reading Hudson Taylor’s book China’s spiritual need and claims. With his young wife, Rosalind, he departed in 1888. He and his wife had eleven children, five of whom died on the field.
He found language studies difficult and at one point was nearly in despair over it until, in answer to special prayer from his home church, he began making rapid progress in his studies.
During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China, he and his family were repeatedly protected by God from the angry mobs. As ‘foreign devils’ their lives were constantly at risk and they had to return to Canada for a year.
When they went back again to China, God opened the floodgates of blessing on their work. Where converts had previously come in ones and twos, they now came in dozens and scores. Goforth travelled across Northern China, Manchuria and Korea, and revival followed everywhere he went. Hundreds of native Christians were trained as evangelists (supported with Goforth’s own money) and sent out to win souls and start churches.
When the Canadian Mission Board suffered a financial setback, the Chinese churches sent hundreds of dollars to Canada to help pay the mission board’s bills!
Yet another notable missionary was William Chalmers Burns (1815-1868), a Scottish evangelist and missionary to China with the English Presbyterian Mission. He came from Kilsyth and was coordinator of overseas missions for the English Presbyterian Church. He was already a well-known preacher through his participation in a Scottish revival.
In 1847 Burns travelled to the Chinese empire via Hong Kong, spending much time studying the Chinese language during the long sea journey. He began his missionary service in British Hong Kong during the late Qing Dynasty, and preached in such places as Shantou, Xiamen and Beijing. In 1855 he met Taylor and the two worked together for some time. They advanced courageously into the Chinese interior.
Burns regarded Taylor as a mentor who shaped him for missionary work. During his twenty years of preaching the gospel in China, Burns also spent a short period wrongly imprisoned, at Guangzhou. He died in 1868 after a short illness at Niu Zhuang, near Beijing.
Not to be missed in this gallery of honour are local ministers of the gospel such as Wang Ming Dao, a courageous Chinese Christian leader of the 20th century who was imprisoned for the faith — and Ting Li Mei, ‘the Moody of China’, who over one period saw 1000 souls converted each month. There was also Watchman Nee and John Sung, the great revivalist of the Far East. Sung was instrumental in founding the Bible Presbyterian movement in Singapore through the Tows and Queks who were saved during the great Singapore awakening of 1938.
Wang Ming Dao was born in Beijing in 1900, the year of the Boxer Rebellion. Wang laboured for an indigenous church founded on the threefold principle of self–propagation, self-government and self-support. His church began in Beijing as a household gathering for Bible study, prayer and fellowship.
He was a model for Chinese pastors, and the Christian Tabernacle became a model church. Even his worst enemies could find no fault in him except an utter lack of compromise. He believed that only the gospel could save his kinsmen from sin and corruption and that the church must be separated from the state.
This principle of separation became an issue after the Communists came to power in 1949. In order to purify Chinese churches of ‘imperialism’ all foreign missionaries were ordered to leave the country by the new government. Chinese Christians were instructed to aid in the socialist reconstruction of the nation.
Under the Communist Party, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) was formed to administer the nationwide Christian church. Wang refused to conform to this new body and this led to his imprisonment in the summer of 1955.
He preached his last sermon at the Tabernacle on 7 August 1955: ‘The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners’. Around midnight, Wang, his wife and eighteen young Christians were arrested and taken to prison. He was sentenced to 15 years for what was called ‘resistance to the government’.
After prison confinement for some time, he cracked and signed a confession. He was released, but had a guilty conscience and felt like the apostle Peter who had denied Christ three times.
Wang revoked his confession in 1958 and was returned to prison for 22 more years. He and his wife were both tortured repeatedly during their years in prison and in labour camps but stood firm for the Lord. He was released in 1980.
John Sung began gospel work in China after his return from the US in the late 1920s. He was a zealous and compelling preacher. His name spread throughout China and invitations soon poured in, requesting him to spread the gospel in different regions. By 1936, it was believed more than 100,000 Chinese were converted through his ministry.
His missionary work spread beyond China and he preached to overseas Chinese peoples throughout Southeast Asia. His gospel message was Bible-centred and focused on the need for repentance. He took the issue of sin very seriously and often invited his audience to repent to a list of specific sins that he read out.
Sung spoke out fearlessly against sin and hypocrisy, even directing his comments at ministers and pastoral staff who were with him at the meetings. He often offended people, but his priority was God’s glory.
On a softer note, his sermons regularly moved his audience to tears with the message of Christ’s love. He was a man of prayer and actively compiled a list of prayer requests given by fellow Christians. He defined faith as ‘watching God work while on your knees’.
Today there is still much to be done in China, as the Lord tarries. The harvest is truly plenteous but the labourers are few (Matthew 9:37). Let us pray for our brethren working there that they may continue to honour the Lord and be living testimonies for him.
Working in China has its fair share of intrigue and requires godly discretion among other noble qualities in order to survive in a treacherous world. Economic competition and prosperity may bring out the best in products, but the worst in fallen man.
We also need to pray for more labourers in the Lord’s vineyard. Let us have a global vision for the Lord in these final moments of human history — and pray for China and the uttermost parts of the earth, that our brothers and sisters may be effectual witnesses for Christ.