Elijah Coleman Bridgman Goes to China

Elijah Coleman Bridgman was born in Belchertown, Massachusetts, USA April 22, 1801.  He was to become the first missionary sent to China by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). It was this Board that had also sent Adoniram Judson to India – America’s first foreign missionary.

Mainly Congregationalist in its denominational make-up, the ABCFM later embraced other denominations – until about 60 years later when “denominations came to feel they could operate more effectively with separate organisations … and left the ABCFM with Congregationalists as its chief supporters” (Encyclopaedia of Modern Christian Missions, page 655).

Elijah Bridgman trained at Andover Theological College and then sailed for China on 14 October, 1829.  Here he met up with London Missionary Society worker, Robert Morrison, China’s pioneer missionary.

Bridgman devoted a year to conquering the Cantonese language – later writing a 730-page manual on it! (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 155). In 1832 Bridgman started a mission press and began publication of ‘The Chinese Repository‘, which he edited until 1847. This monthly magazine was designed to awaken the Christian world’s interest in the spiritual needs of that vast land. This was the world’s first major journal on China, making Bridgman America’s first China expert.

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In 1836 he commenced translating the Scriptures into Cantonese, but this task was suspended when the tragic “Opium War” broke out (1839-1842).  But by 1845 the Chinese Emperor pronounced an edict permitting missionary work. The same year Elijah Bridgman married Miss Eliza Jane Gillett. Together they continued to serve the Lord, “on one occasion nearly sacrificing their lives to an infuriated mob” (Great Missionaries, page 102).

They worked together at Guangzhou and adopted two little Chinese girls. Eliza later, in 1850, founded and managed for 15 years the first girls’ school in Shanghai.

Failing health led to Dr Bridgman’s death in Shanghai on 2 November, 1861, and his wife temporarily returned to America. Then, at the age of 59, and alone, she returned to the mission at Peking, where she and her late husband had laboured. Here she secured substantial property and started Bridgman Academy, noted for educating a large number of Chinese women leaders.

Just a decade later she, too, passed into the presence of her Lord, on 10 November, 1871.

To put Bridgman’s work in perspective, Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission which directed English missionaries to China, was formed in 1865, four years after Bridgman’s death.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

Samuel Pollard and the Miao

Samuel Pollard was born on April 20, 1864.  The place was Cornwall, England, where his father pastored a Bible Christian Church. It was his father who led him to Christ and instilled in him a passion to serve the Lord.

Converted at the age of 11, he came under the influence of Pastor FW Bourne (who wrote the life story of Billy Bray), and it was during this time he felt led into missionary service.

At the age of 22 he sailed for Shanghai and there worked with the China Inland Mission.  At the age of 36 he married Emma Hainge, also working with CIM. “There was much opposition. As they passed along the street men would spit upon the ground, and women would hold their noses…” (Twelve Mighty Missionaries, by E Enock, page 62).

Pollard’s early efforts were largely ineffective, despite his energy and inventiveness. In the early days he would beat a Chinese gong as he marched up and down the streets. Known as ‘the little man with the gong’ he attracted large crowds of curious Chinese but for six long years, he knew of no converts from his efforts.

Pollard’s initiative led to him being regarded as a famous ethnologist and anthropologist. In 1903 he was the first westerner to visit the Yi people of Liangshan.

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However it was on 12 July, 1904, that “the great harvest began” and with an unexpected connection.  Ministry among the Miao people saw startling results. The Miao (also spelled Meow) were a people group from the Yunnan mountains in Western China who worshipped gods of wood and stone. Unexpectedly a small hunting party of Miao tribesmen arrived at Pollard’s door asking to be taught to read and learn the gospel.

From that day on a continuous stream of people came to his door that they might hear the Good News. Persecution broke upon the new-born Church. On one occasion “Pollard was beaten nearly to death”, and spent two months in hospital as a result. On recovering, he turned his attention to translating the Scriptures into the Miao language. This necessitated inventing a script – for they had no written language – and teaching them to read. The writing system which he created is known as the Pollard script and Pollard Miao.

Over the next eleven years Pollard won many Miao to Christ and planted churches in their villages. Pollard would venture on horseback to the remote mountain villages, preaching the gospel. Their hunger to learn brought more than 100 at a time to Pollard’s little mission station in Chaotung. They would start their lessons at 5am and still be reading at 1am the next morning. These natives crammed themselves with understanding of Christianity.

The New Testament in Miao was eventually published by the British and Foreign Bible Society. Not long after Pollard completed translating the book of Revelation he contracted typhoid fever and died.

Upon his death at the age of 51 (September 17, 1915), 1,200 mourners gathered at the burial service. In the June, 1996, issue of the magazine, Pray for China, Tao Yumi, who 60 years earlier had been a pupil in the school Pollard had established, was quoted as saying:  “We were slaves before he came.  He taught us everything.”  And the article adds “in July, 1995, the Communist authorities restored his (Pollard’s) grave, and declared the site a national monument”!

Samuel Pollard had brought a tribal group of tens of thousands out of darkness and animism into the light of the gospel. He brought them out of ignorance to a place of education and dignity. He spread democratic thought, founded schools and developed education in China’s undeveloped regions. He promoted civilized customs, getting rid of harm from opium, and encouraging charity.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

John and Betty Stam Martyred in China

This is the day that John and Betty Stam married, in 1933.

John Stam was born in 1907 in Paterson, NJ, and Betty (Scott) Stam was born in 1906 in Albion, MI. They met during their years at Moody Bible Institute where both felt a call to China. Both decided to go under the auspices of the China Inland Mission.

Betty had graduated a year earlier than John and sailed for that distant land in the autumn of 1931. The following year John completed his studies and sailed for China, but was stationed in a different region to Betty.

They met again … and were united in marriage just over a year later.

Baby Helen Priscilla was born in a Methodist hospital in Wuhu in September 1934 at a time when the civil war between government forces and the communist Red Army had already begun.

In November the Stams returned to the remote brick-walled village of Tsingteh, in South Anhwei, where they had set up a small shopfront house as their preaching chapel. Tsingteh was accessible to the outside world only by stone paths cut through the mountains.

John proved to be an able linguist, not only learning the language but being able to reproach conference messages he had heard, in Chinese.

In early December rumours ran rife that communist rebels were in the area. The village leaders hastily fled, fearing for their lives. The Stams were unsure what to do or even if the rumours were true.

The bandits entered the village through the unguarded East Gate and then beat down the door to the Stam’s home. John urged the invaders to sit at the table while he served them tea.

The couple were ordered to leave and then paraded down the street in their underwear, with Betty holding baby Helen. They journeyed for 12 miles and were then locked in a mud hut overnight. A ransom of $20,000 was demanded – to no avail.

Overnight John wrote a letter to the CIM leaders. “My wife, baby and myself are today in the hands of communist bandits. Whether we will be released or not noone knows. May God be magnified in our bodies, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:20″

Betty fed and wrapped her baby, putting money and food into her blanket, then hid the child in a pile of heavy winter bedding. On 6 (or 8?) December, 1934, they were beheaded.

A courageous Christian, Mr Lo, followed the trail, once he thought it was safe to do so, and found the Stam’s bodies. He did not know what had become of the baby but found her quite by accident. The baby had slept without a cry for 27 hours, saving it from death.

All that remained of this heroic couple was laid to rest by faithful Chinese believers, who also cared for baby Helen Priscilla until she could be returned to the United States.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Sir John Bowring Provides Hymns and Controversy

This is the day Sir John Bowring was born into a Unitarian family at Exeter in 1792.

Educated in a Unitarian school, his early ambition was to become a Unitarian minister. It was not to be … “but he lived to become the most faithful and most honoured among Unitarian laymen” (Memorable Unitarians, page 290).

This particular ‘church’ denies the deity of the Lord Jesus … His atoning sacrifice … His bodily resurrection … His miracles.

He was destined by his family for a commercial career. He left school in 1805 to work with his father, a cloth merchant. In 1810 he began work in a London office where he was encouraged to develop his natural linguistic talents. His company sent him to represent them in Spain from 1813-16. On his return he set up his own business and married Mary Lewin, from a Unitarian family in Hackney. He was an active member of the Unitarian church at Hackney. Later he joined the circle around William J. Fox, who ministered in Finsbury. Bowring travelled extensively on business; then, as his commercial activities failed, he concentrated on writing.

Sir John was a man of amazing energy and a polymath, linguist, political economist, reformer, hymn writer, author and editor, Member of Parliament, and the most controversial Governor of Hong Kong. He was arguably the world’s greatest linguist of his day. He was appointed Governor of Hong Kong in 1854.

“His high-handed policy and his insolence in dealing with the Chinese people brought on the second Opium War” (The Gospel in Hymns, by Bailey, page 172).

Attempts were made upon his life and the arsenic placed in his bread resulted in his wife’s death. “He was the most-hated governor Hong Kong ever had.”

But his hymn is found in most hymn books:
In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time …

An apocryphal story tells of his visiting Macao and, seeing the cross still standing in a ruined church, he was inspired to pen his famous hymn.

But Bowring wrote the hymn in 1825 – and did not visit Macao for another 32 years.

Nor was it written from an evangelical viewpoint.

For much of his life Bowring was caught in controversy and was disliked for his determined attitudes. One who knew him described him as ‘a supreme charlatan and worse—a cheat, a liar, and, at least once, a swindler.’ Others saw him as ostentatious, self seeking, and obsequious. Nobody denied his talent, however, and many testified to his personal integrity in matters of conscience.

A year after the death of his first wife he married again, to a much younger woman, Deborah Castle, an active Unitarian from Bristol. She spurred him to renewed engagement in Unitarian work and social reform issues. She was herself a strong speaker and one of the earliest women members of the Council of the British & Foreign Unitarian Association (BFUA).

He continued in Unitarian activity, as arguably the most prominent Unitarian layman of his time.

On 23 November, 1872 Sir John Bowring died at his home, Claremont, Exeter, only a short distance from the house where he was born. None of his children followed his Unitarian faith.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.