Christian Friedrich Swartz Impacts Southern India

This is the day that Christian Friedrich Swartz was born in Prussia (now Poland), in 1726.

He has been described as “one of the most energetic and successful missionaries of the 18th century (Schaff/Herzog Encyclopaedia, page 2131).

His youth was spent at Halle, the centre of German pietism. Founded by Jacob Spener, this was a movement that sought to add spiritual life to a moribund Lutheranism. Young Swartz here studied the Indian dialect, Tamil, that he might superintend the translation of a Bible in that tongue.

Lutheran Missions to India had seen success under several missionaries, notably two eminent Germans, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719) and Heinrich Plütschau (1678-1747). Both of these men had preceded Swartz at Halle. Ziegenbalg’s work in southern India was an inspiration to William Carey for the latter’s later work in northern India.

In 1750 Swartz sailed for India, where he lived for the next 48 years, and where he died. When Schwartz arrived in south India, the Tamil-speaking Christian community established by Ziegenbalg and others was close to 2,000 persons.

Swartz threw himself into the missionary work. “His passion to save men made all labour and sacrifice seem little. He studied the habits, modes of thought and idioms of speech, and even the mazes of mythology, which are the paths to the hearts of the Hindus” (New Acts of the Apostles, by A.T. Pierson, page 91).

In 1768, the East India Company appointed Schwartz as a chaplain in Trichonopoly. Ten years later in 1778, Schwartz moved to Tanjore where he lived the rest of his life. During his service with the British, Schwartz was known as a peacemaker (i.e., diplomat) during times of war caused by the East India Company’s aggressive policies in India. Schwartz’s linguistic abilities became legendary as he related easily among Germans, English, Portuguese, and many different Indian peoples. Schwartz learned Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Persian, Hindustani, Marathi, and Portuguese.

He established many schools for native Indians and orphaned Indian children, which greatly endeared him to the Indian people.

Swartz never married; indeed he was critical of fellow missionaries who did! (Christian Missionaries, by O. Milton, page 33.) Rajahs, governors-general, haughty Brahmins, English military officers, all seemed to look upon him as a man of God.

It was Wednesday, 13 February, 1798, that he lay upon his deathbed and, “with clear and melodious voice”, joined with the friends gathered around him, singing, “Only to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ”.

The Rajah’s son, Serfojee, acted as chief mourner a few days later.

It is estimated that Swartz was responsible for the conversion of over 6,000 Hindus and Moslems during his years in India.

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.

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.