Who was Griffith John? In a readable manner, the author answers this question for this remarkably talented and dedicated Welsh missionary to China in another EP Bitesize Biography.
Born into a godly home in Swansea in 1831, Griffith was converted at an early age. His preaching gifts were recognised during his teenage years. His mother died of cholera within a year of his birth and the same disease claimed the life of his father while Griffith was still a teenager.
His pastor cared for the young man and promoted his education. Turning his back on opportunities to minister in Wales, Griffith sailed to the politically turbulent China in 1855, accompanied by his young wife, and served there under the London Missionary Society (LMS).
Initially, missionaries were supposed to live and work only in designated ports, as it was illegal and dangerous to venture inland. However, following the Treaty of Tientsin in 1860, John was able to travel 700 miles up the Yangtze river to the city of Hankou (now incorporated into the city of Wuhan) and was enabled to plant a church.
This quickly grew and became a springboard for further church planting. During the Boxer uprising, Hankou was part of an important evacuation route for missionaries fleeing for their lives from elsewhere in China.
Despite being bereaved of two successive wives and children, John was enabled to labour on. He engaged in long missionary journeys, would sometimes preach in the streets several times a day, and distributed Bibles and tracts. The author stresses that these things were at the centre of Griffith’s work, but he was also responsible for establishing schools and hospitals in the Hankou area.
Although remaining with LMS, he enjoyed close friendship with the more well known Hudson Taylor. The author explores why such an effective missionary as Griffith John is barely remembered today, when compared to the latter.
An important development in China was the influence of Timothy Richard, who promoted western culture and education to Chinese leaders, rather than Spirit aided ‘preaching of the cross’.
The book would have been easier to follow had it included a map showing the key cities and provinces mentioned in the text. However, it was fascinating to see how the optimistic Griffith John interacted with religious movements of the second half of the nineteenth century and beginning of the last century.