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.

History Faces Bar

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

How Bible Truth Gets Abducted

One reason we need the work of the Holy Spirit in our life is to protect us from the distortions of Biblical truth. The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” and He leads us into all truth. And it is the Spirit that breathes life into the Bible.

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.” John 16:13

“Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” 2Corinthians 3:6

We are shown by the comments of the Apostle Paul that it is possible to distort the Bible and use it deceitfully.

“For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” 2Corinthians 2:17

“But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2Corinthians 4:2

Missing the Truth

We can miss the truth of God’s Word because we are deceived by preachers who are deceitful and who corrupt the message of the Bible.

We can also miss the truth because we interpret the Bible through the filter of our own culture and perspective. We may inadvertently suppose something to be true, because that makes sense in our own cultural setting, but it may not be what the Bible is teaching. For example, the natives of Papua New Guinea brought their cultural concept of the “payback system” into their Christianity. Instead of catching the Bible truth about total transformation and the worthlessness of human effort, some natives felt they owed God a payment for salvation. They followed Christ for years, then came to the conclusion that they had paid God back for their salvation. At that point they went back to their old life. The Bible teaching was subordinated to their cultural understanding.

We can also miss the truth in the process of translation from the original languages. Many concepts in the Bible are not easily conveyed into another language. As an example, the word “you” in English can refer to a single person, “you are my friend”, or a group of people, “you are all my friends”. In the King James Bible the translators used “thee, thou, ye and you” to help English readers know when one or more people was being referred to. In modern translations that distinction has now been lost.

Church traditions also blind us to the fuller truth of God’s Word. People raised in a traditional, hierarchical church system tend to read the Bible in support of that system. People in non-traditional, loosely-knit fellowships read the same Bible but find in it support for their system. Those who believe in baptism of believers readily find it in the New Testament. Those who embrace infant baptism do not notice the texts which describe believers’ baptism. And so it goes.

Popular cultural ideas also distort our reading of the Bible. In the past half century much emphasis has been given to removing gender references in the Bible. He is taken to mean ‘he or she’. Brothers is taken to mean ‘brothers and sisters’. Yet in some Bible passages it is clear that the term ‘brothers’ only means the men. So how do we now confidently recognise teachings that are directed at men, when we have generalised the term to mean ‘men and women’?

The Great Commission Has Been Abducted

Jesus’ Great Commission is one of those Bible truths that has been abducted along the way. English readers have lost some of the import of the Great Commission by the process of translation, and the church’s development of dedicated mission ministries has also stolen truth from us.

So, let’s take a look at the Great Commission given at the end of the Book of Matthew.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:19,20.

Interpreting the Great Commission

What is the key impetus of this command of Jesus? For many it has been on the word ‘Go’! They have seen this as a missionary mandate, commanding Christians to be ready and willing to traverse continents, cross oceans, learn foreign languages and commit to a lifetime of ex-patriot ministry.

Some have seen the importance of baptising converts. Taking the rite of baptism to foreign lands has been an important issue in the minds of some missionaries and churches.

Various teaching ministries have been set up in pursuit of the command to teach all nations.

How do we get to the grist of the passage?

Back to the Greek

The Greek language offers us a level of meaning that is not readily transferred into an English translation. That is in the ranking of verbs.

In English we do not have a mechanism for giving weight to verbs in a sentence. So “Go and buy me a coffee” has two verbs of equal weight in English. However, the real intent may have little to do with coffee and much to do with telling someone to get lost! “GO and buy me a coffee”. But then it could be that you are desperate for a caffeine fix and so the key word is BUY, not go. In that case the going is an incidental part of the process of you getting your coffee. “Go and BUY me a coffee!”

In Greek it is possible and usual to give weight to verbs in a sentence, so the reader will immediately know which verb has priority and which is subordinate to it. That gives Greek students an advantage over those who can only read the English version.

My son, Stephen, took a look at the Great Commission in the original Greek and came up with an interesting discovery. There are several verbs in that commission and they do not have equal weight.

Greek Verbs in the Great Commission

In the Great Commission the key verb is the instruction to “make disciples”. This has been translated as “teach” in the King James Version (KJV). The going and the baptising are ancillary, though appropriate supportive actions.

The command is not focussed on going. It is not a missionary command in the classic sense of sending people to the nations. It is about making disciples. That will likely necessitate going to the people, but the going is not imperative.

Similarly, baptism is an outworking of the process of making disciples, but making disciples is the key.

Stephen’s notes on the Greek verbs has been posted on the Chris Field Blog Forum at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/forum/index.php?topic=20.msg39#msg39

Church Tradition Has Abducted the Great Commission

Following my son’s explanation of what he found in the Greek verbs, I realised that the Great Commission has also been abducted by church tradition over the past century.

The advent of the global missionary societies in the late 1800’s has caused a perception to be built in the minds of most Christians, contrary to the command of Christ. We now take it for granted that there are people who are called to be missionaries. Those people will have a missionary call. They will go to missionary training. They will work with a missionary association. They will raise missionary funding. They will go to an approved missionary field. They will work as missionaries. They will come back home on furlough to raise further funding for the missionary work. They will send out missionary reports to their supporters. And so on.

As a consequence the rest of the church members and Christians feel relieved of the missionary burden. Going and preaching to the nations is now a profession, like plumbing or accountancy. Only those who have engaged in that profession need give it any thought. The others have other things to think about.

And therein is the abduction of the Great Commission.

Jesus’ Great Commission

Jesus commanded His followers to “make disciples”. This is a command given to us all. Every Christian is to be a disciple maker, especially good at teaching people how to follow Christ’s instructions.

But now most Christians have abdicated that responsibility to the clergy and missionary forces. The idea that ordinary church members should be engaged in discipling people is foreign to most church attenders.

So, here again the Great Commission has been stolen from our consciousness. It has been distorted and relegated to special missionary services, as only relevant to those who are going overseas.

Both the English translation and church practice are keeping us from the truth.

Led by the Spirit

This is just an example. There must be other key Bible truths which are being lost to us because of similar, non-sinister developments. Then there will be some truths that are deliberately misrepresented as well. To counter these influences we need to have the quickening work of the Holy Spirit involved in our daily Bible study.

As the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth we may at first be resistant, since it may challenge our surface reading of the text or our church traditions. Be open to the instruction of God.

However, this is not to say that you should reject the clear teaching of the Bible or the truths embraced by the church because you have some whacky private interpretation. If your interpretations put you at variance with other Christians you need to be careful of deception and self-serving ideas. Submit yourself to godly and learned people.

But, having said that, I encourage you to read the Bible daily and to seek the Holy Spirit’s illumination of His Word. As you discover inspired insights you will find that Bible believing people will support them and be built up by them, even as you are built up by what the Lord is showing them.

Narcissa and Marcus Whitman Massacred Missionaries

Narcissa and Marcus Whitman were massacred on November 29, 1847.

This dedicated missionary couple both hailed from upstate New York. Marcus was born in 1802 in Rushville and Narcissa in 1808 in Prattsburgh. Narcissa, born into a devout Presbyterian family, committed herself to the mission field at the age of 16. Upon completion of her own education she taught primary school in Prattsburgh. Then in 1834 she moved with her family to Belmont, New York, still awaiting the opportunity to fulfil her missionary pledge

Marcus studied medicine under a local doctor and received his medical degree in 1832. After practicing medicine for four years in Canada he returned to New York and became an elder in a Presbyterian church. He then felt the call to reach the Indians of Oregon, prompting his trip in 1835 to seek out potential sites.

Narcissa could not get backing from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions since they did not support the notion of unmarried women being sent to the mission field. Marcus and Narcissa solved her problem by deciding to be wed in 1836.

The day after their wedding they left for Missouri in the company of another couple, Henry and Eliza Spaulding. Some years previously Narcissa had rejected Henry’s marriage proposal, nor did Henry have a ‘personality suited to teamwork’.

The group travelled with fur traders for most of the 2,000 miles of ‘gruelling hardship’ and took wagons farther West than any American expedition before them. Along the way, Narcissa and Eliza became the first white women to cross the Rocky Mountains. Reaching the Walla Walla River on September 1, 1836, the Whitmans decided to found a mission to the Cayuse Indians at Waiilatpu in the Walla Walla Valley. Henry and Eliza travelled on to present-day Idaho where they founded a mission to the Nez Percé indian tribe at Lapwai.

Narcissa and Marcus built a “rough lean-to with a mud roof … and only blankets for doors …” There, three months later, a baby daughter was born.

The Whitmans threw themselves into their mission, with Marcus taking church services, practicing medicine and constructing numerous buildings. Narcissa taught in the mission school, while also running their household and assisting in the religious ceremonies. Initially optimism prevailed, as reflected in Narcissa’s letter home, “We never had greater encouragement about the Indians than at the present time.”

Optimism soon faded when the Whitman’s two-year-old daughter drowned in a nearby stream in 1839 and Narcissa’s eyesight gradually failed almost to the point of blindness. Their isolation dragged on year after year and the Cayuse continued to resist their preaching of the gospel.

From the perspective of the Cayuse, whose souls the Whitmans felt they were destined to “save,” the mission was at first a strange sight, and soon a threatening one. The Whitmans did not see the need to make the gospel culturally relevant to the Indians. While the Cayuse saw gifts as an essential part of social and political life the Whitmans thought of it as a form of extortion. While the Cayuse linked religion and domestic life, Narcissa rejected the idea of allowing the natives into their domestic life. Even a sympathetic biographer admits that “her attitude toward those among whom she lived came to verge on outright repugnance.”

As the mission station began to grow “it resembled an inn for immigrants” and prices at the Whitman store – justly or unjustly? – were spoken of as being exploitive. The Indians resented the missionaries’ ‘prosperity’. The mission board 2000 miles away heard rumours and censured them.

Due to the lack of fruit the American Missionary Board decided in 1842 to close the mission and transfer the Whitmans elsewhere. Marcus returned East, undaunted by the coming winter, determined to convince the board to reverse its decision. He was successful and on his return journey in 1843, helped lead the first “Great Migration” to the West, guiding a wagon train of one thousand pioneers up the Oregon Trail.

This influx, however, soon had the Whitmans spending more time assisting settlers than ministering to the Cayuse. They took in eleven orphaned children and their mission also served as a kind of boarding school for early Oregon settlers like Joe Meek, whose daughter lived there for a time.

The mission’s close connection with the influx of white settlers further strained relations with the Cayuse. Narcissa observed in a letter of July 1847 that “the poor Indians are amazed at the overwhelming numbers of Americans coming into the country… They seem not to know what to make of it.”

In late 1847 an epidemic of measles, brought by the white man, struck immigrant and indian alike. However the white children survived, while half of the Cayuse, including most of their children, died.

So it was that on November 29, 1847, several Cayuse, under the leadership of the chief Tiloukaikt, took revenge for what they saw as treachery on the part of doctor Whitman. Of the 72 people living on the mission they killed fourteen, including the Whitmans, and burnt the mission buildings to the ground.

Narcissa was 39 years of age; Marcus was 45.

This event sparked Indian wars which were long remembered. Weakened by disease and subjected to continued white raids, what remained of the Cayuse were assimilated into nearby tribes, especially the Nez Percé and Yakima. Thus the Whitmans’ missionary efforts ended in their own deaths and also the end of the Cayuse as an independent people.

A post referring to to these events and adding other detail has already been posted on September 4, 2008. The link is: http://chrisfieldblog.com/manhood/marcus-whitman-dies-to-reach-the-indians

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.

Karl Hugo Hahn Labours in South West Africa

Karl Hugo Hahn died on November 24, 1895, as the most famous German missionary to Africa, after faithfully labouring among the Herero of Damaraland.

Born in Riga, Latvia on October 18, 1818, Hahn became a Rheinish (Lutheran) missionary to Africa and worked industriously to elevate the tribal people of South West Africa (now Namibia), but ultimately with limited success.

Hahn was sent into Damaraland by the Rheinish Missionary Society of Africa in 1841, as the second missionary to the interior. His mission was to make links with the Herero people if he could. Traveling to “the place of the big spring” where the Herero tribe was last located Hahn arrived to find that they had moved on in search of better grazing for their herds. Hahn built his mission station on the spot, nonetheless, and named is Gross Barmen. This was to be Hahn’s mission base for many years. He later brought his bride, English born Emma Hone (over four years his senior), to join him there.

Tribal tensions were a major problem at the time as the Herero migrated south and met other tribes migrating north. The southern tribes enlisted help from the well armed Jonker Afrikaner, and his Oerlom, who violently attacked the Herero people, killing, maiming and robbing them freely.

In 1851 many Herero had resorted to Hahn for some protection but a massacre occurred at Moordkoppie (Murder Hill) in which a large number of Herero were killed. Women had their feet cut off to get the metal bands around their ankles.

After spending almost ten years in Namibia (1857), Emma wrote to her mother in England: “All is very dull here. To the missionaries it is peculiarly a waiting time, a time for the full exercise of patience, and that is sometimes on the wane, when they see that the Word [of God] is, so to say, daily preached to them in their own language, the people still are as ‘deaf adder that stoppeth her ear’.”

Hahn and Emma enjoyed a four year furlough in Germany and returned in 1863 with a new project in mind. Since the Herero were resistant to the gospel the missionaries would create a western style community which could educate the choicest candidates for future leadership in their own nation. So they established the first production centre in Namibia.

Rather than reach out to the poor and marginalised, Hahn planned to train the sons of chieftains, so they could be preachers and maintain a productive lifestyle. Hahn despised European materialism and sought to raise African Nations which could be free from the evils of the west. However, he did not count on the sheer power of those European nations in their claim upon Africa.

In 1866 Hahn commenced his school, to train men to lead, preach and teach their own people. The project had some impact but was not supported by the mission societies and also could not successfully attract enough of the right candidates. It may have been because of the schooling venture that Hahn broke from the Rheinish Missionary Society in 1873

Among his successes was a young Herero lady who worked as domestic servant to Carl and Helen. She initially came to the mission school and learned sewing, but was soon teaching classes. She became fluent in English, Dutch and German and translated materials into Herero and travelled with the Hahn’s to Europe as an example of their impact.

Hahn had nine books published in Germany in the early 1860’s. And he also wrote a Grammar for the Herero language.

After quitting with the Missionary Society Hahn pastored St Martins German Lutheran Church in Cape Town from 1874 to 1884.

His Gross Barman mission station and school was disbanded in 1902. The German colonialists did not want to give quality education to the tribal people, even though they knew they were just as intelligent as any European. They wanted labourers for the mines and farms, not educated people who might not fit in with their plans.

Carl’s children followed his religious convictions and some returned to Germany, while others served in the armed forces and suffered under the Nazis for doing so. Their daughter Emma married a pastor and moved to New York, where Emma died in 1906.

Karl Hugo Hahn ceased his labours on November 24, 1895.

John Hyde becomes Praying Hyde

John Hyde was born in Illinois, USA, on November 9, 1865.

His father, Dr Smith Hyde, was a Presbyterian minister, and in that manse the power of prayer became a reality to young John. In later years John would be known to his fellow missionaries as “Praying” Hyde. Smith and his godly wife prayed fervently that God would send labourers into the harvest field and, in time, three of their six children heeded that call.

In his senior year at McCormack Theological Seminary John heard the call to be a missionary and he became a mission enthusiast, pleading with fellow students to also commit to missions.

On 15 October, 1892, he and five other Presbyterian missionaries sailed for India. John found in his cabin a letter from a dear minister friend of his father who loved John dearly. It said, “I shall not cease praying for you, dear John, until you are filled with the Spirit.” This greatly insulted John and he went up on deck in a rage. However, as he reflected on the saintliness of the man who wrote the letter he softened, returned to his room, found the letter which he had crumpled and re-read it many times.

Being filled with the Spirit became his passion and before arriving in India he had concluded that he would not seek to succeed by prowess in language, as he had previously planned, but by the power of the Spirit.

Once in India he came under conviction concerning a besetting sin. He determined to press in to God for complete freedom and it came to him through revelation of 1John 1:9. Deciding that God was faithful he committed himself to God and immediately sensed God’s assurance of freedom.

This transformed him and his friends noticed a glow about him as he told of his experience. This glow was to become a hallmark of his life.

The early years in India were not remarkable as John journeyed from place to place, often sleeping in a tent which he took with him. Unmarried he had no place to call home and later recommended that provision be made for single missionaries to have a home of their own.

He was slow of speech and slow to learn the languages, and was thus threatened with being sent back to the US. He preferred Bible study over his language lessons and protested that he should be a man of the Word. The local people also came to his aid saying, “If he never speaks the language of our lips, he speaks the language of our hearts.”

In his third year in India he received a prayer burden for revival and he interceded continuously for ten years to see it fully come to pass. He saw himself as a Jacob wrestling with God for the blessing.

He loved the Indian people and lived among them. Despite opposition for assisting the low caste people he reached out to them and enjoyed ministry to them. When converts backslid or fell into troubles he would call them to pray with him, then spend up to three hours on his knees with them.

In 1899 John pushed past his physical weakness to spend whole nights in prayer. He would work through the day and pray through the night, confident that revival would come.

During the 1908 Convention God led him to claim one soul per day. By the end of the year he had seen four hundred won to Christ. At the 1909 Convention John challenged the people to not have their own broken hearts but to carry God’s broken heart revealed in them. He pressed for death of the old man, so the new creature could live in Christ. He agonised in prayer for days until he felt God’s assurance that he would win two souls per day to Christ. That year more than eight hundred were won to Christ and baptised.

By the 1910 Convention Hyde was assured that he would lead four people each day to faith. If ever that number was not met on a given John realised that he had fallen behind in praising the Lord. He would step up his praises and the results would come.

“I remember John telling me if on any day four souls were not brought into the fold … at night he could not sleep … (Praying Hyde, by F. McGaw, Moody Press, page 49).

India’s most ardent personal soul winner John was always active in seeking to win people to Christ and baptise them. Often on a train journey he would not get off at his destination if he was engaged in winning a soul. He would then catch a return train after he had baptised his convert. On one occasion he missed his own stop four times, completely missing the event he was intending to attend, but having won four souls through those journeys.

In 1911 John became seriously ill and a Calcutta doctor found his heart had completely moved from the left to the right side of his body. On March 11 he sailed for England and then home to America. While in Wales, staying with a missionary friend on furlough, he prayed with evangelist Dr J Wilbur Chapman, former Moody co-worker, who had preached for fifty years but now found little response. Hyde prayed for a blessing on Chapman’s ministry and that night the hall was packed and fifty men made decisions for Christ.

Back in America he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. An operation was attempted by could not be completed. Cancer spread through his body. Then on 17 February, 1912, his face lit up as it had often done before and he cried – in the Indian dialect with which he was so familiar – “Bol, Yisu Nasih, Ki Jai!” which means, “Shout the victory of Jesus Christ!” They were his dying words.

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.