Presbyterian Mission History (7th of 12): Exemplary 20th century Presbyterian Missionaries

Today we honor the sacrifice and courage of 20th century Presbyterian Missionaries.

Asher Kepler and Cheng Jingyi and The Perilous Era of early 20th Century China. The missionaries and Chinese Christians martyred during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 forced the missionaries and the Chinese Church leaders to admit the foreignness of their version of the Christian gospel. It was time to remember the “3 Self” counsel of John Nevius, a missionary to China of a generation earlier: the Christian Church in China must be Self-Governing, Self-Funded and Self Propagating.

Asher Kepler (1870-1942) arrived in China in 1901. Kepler and a brilliant Chinese Christian, Dr. Cheng Jingyi, labored to persuade the mission agencies and denominations to form the Christian Church of China. Dr. Cheng Jingyi had addressed the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. He said to the assembly:

“As a representative of the Chinese Church, I speak entirely from the Chinese standpoint…. Speaking plainly we hope to see, in the near future, a united Christian Church without any denominational distinctions. This may seem somewhat peculiar to you, but, friends, do not forget to view us from our standpoint, and if you fail to do that, the Chinese will remain always as a mysterious people to you.”

Kepler and Cheng Jingyi persuaded most of the mission agencies and denominations to put aside their differences and establish the Christian Church of China. It was Chinese in funding and governing. It was An Adventure in Unity, as Merwin Wallace wrote in a book by that title. Unfortunately, the Christian Church of China did not endure through the Second World War and the takeover of China by Communists that began in 1947. It was re-established under the watchful eye of the Communist Party. And you know what? When Jan and I visited China we worshipped in the Chinese “Self-Patriotic Church” and we were delighted and at home with the faith and the doctrines expressed by the pastor and the congregation. There is much to commend, even with the understanding that the “Self-Patriotic Church” is monitored carefully by the Communist government.

Althea Edmiston. Missionary to the Congo. Althea Edmiston (1874-1937) was an African-American missionary to the Congo. Joan R. Duffy writes:

Arriving in Ibanche in 1902, she served as a teacher at the Maria Carey Home for Girls and then went to work among the Bushoong people. She compiled a dictionary and grammar of their language, which was published 30 years later. She opened a school to teach people to read and write and translated enough literature to form a small library.

In 1904 Alonzo Edmiston joined the mission, and he and Althea married the following year. They had three sons. On furloughs, Althea Edmiston spoke at the American Missionary Association of the Congregational Board in the East (1906); at Fisk University, where she gave the commencement address in 1921; and at the Missionary Conference of Negro Women (1935). In 1922 the Edmistons worked among the Congo royalty at Mushenge. Later they worked among the Lulus, the Zappo Zaps, and the Luba peoples. Althea Edmiston was in charge of the Mutoto Girls’ Home for three years and was principal of the day-school system for four years. She died in Mutoto, Belgian Congo, from sleeping sickness and malaria.[1]

Benjamin Hunnicutt, missionary to Brazil. Benjamin Hunnicutt (1886-1962) was an agricultural specialist from the state of Georgia. He established Lavras Agricultural College (now the Federal University of Lavras) in Brazil in 1908. He wrote Brazil Looks Forward. Hunnicutt published a paper, “Rural Problems in Brazil,” which is available online here.

Thomas Lambie, missionary to Sudan, Ethiopia and Palestine. Thomas Lambie (1885-1954) was a medical doctor and, with his wife, the first missionaries to live in Ethiopia. Lambie is the author of A Doctor without a Country. Robert Coote writes:

Dr. Lambie removed a small beetle that had crawled into Governor Ras Tessema Nadew‘s ear that was causing great pain. Ras Nadew’s gratitude led him to write a letter of commendation and an introduction to the prince regent, Ras Tafari (who later became Emperor Haile Selassie).[2]

Ralph and Roberta Winter, missionaries to Guatemala. Ralph D. Winter (1924-2009) served eight years among the Mam Indians. Winter and James Emery wrote Theological Education by Extension (TEE). TEE concept is widely practiced today. Winter joined the faculty at the Fuller Seminary School of World Mission in 1965, then founded the US Center for World Mission and William Carey International University. His training as an engineer at Cal Tech, his divinity degree from Princeton, his doctorate in linguistics from Cornell, and his classroom teaching at Fuller enabled Winter to present the lecture that changed the world at the 1974 Lausanne World Conference on Evangelization on the topic “16,750 hidden (unreached) peoples.” Blincoe: I was Dr. Winter’s last doctoral student, writing my dissertation on modality and sodality, the two structures of God’s redemptive mission.

Twentieth century Presbyterian missionaries served in China, Brazil, the Congo, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and in 20 more countries. We will never forget their sacrifice and their courage.

Next, Presbyterian Missions. The Extraordinary Rise of Presbyterian Women’s Mission Societies Following the Civil War (8th of 11).

[1] Joan Duffy’s article is in Anderson, Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions.

[2] Anderson, Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Article by Robert Coote

Presbyterian Mission History. This is Blog #7 in a series 12:

  1. What Francis Makemie Envisioned : Beneficial Relationships between Presbyterian Churches and Mission Agencies
  2. What Early Presbyterian Churches Enjoyed: Denominational Support for Voluntary Societies
  3. How the General Assembly of 1837 Expelled 60,000 church members on account of their partnership with mission agencies.
  4. The General Assembly Establishes the Board of Foreign Missions. An Extraordinary Mission Era Begins.
  5. Exemplary Presbyterian Missionaries of the 19th Century
  6. Exemplary Presbyterian Missionaries of the 20th Century
  7. Ninety-Five Notable Presbyterian Missionaries in Gerald Anderson’s Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions
  8. The Extraordinary Rise of Presbyterian Women’s Mission Societies following the Civil War
  9. What the General Assembly of 1902 Endorsed: Recognition and Regulation of “Special Interest Organizations.”
  10. Time to say Good-bye, Perhaps. How Everything Seems to be Ending.
  11. This is not the End. The Holy Spirit Enables New Mission Initiatives.
  12. Presbyterian Mission History: A Bibliography.