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

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John Williams Transforms Polynesia

On November 20 John Williams was clubbed to death and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromanga in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). It was 1839 – and he was 43 years of age.

Born in London 27 June, 1796 at Tottenham High Cross, he came from evangelical stock, his father a Baptist and his mother influenced by the Calvinistic Methodist movement. At age 14 John was apprenticed to an ironmonger and was soon managing the business.

At age 19 he was converted to Christianity and joined the Calvinistic Methodist Tabernacle Church, where Rev Wilks taught him grammar and exegesis.

At the age of 20 he offered himself to the London Missionary Society.

He married Mary Chauner and together they set sail for the Society Islands of the Pacific in December, 1816, sent out by the London Missionary Society. The mission team collected another member at Rio de Janeiro then travelled on to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). There in March 1817 Williams preached the first evangelical service on that soil, defying official church opposition by preaching in the open air. In May they arrived in Sydney and established good relations with Governor Lachlan Macquarie, on the promise of good trading prospects from the Pacific Islands.

On November 17, 1817 John and Mary arrived in Tahiti. John mastered the language in 10 months and was ready to preach! Williams was one of those unstoppable missionaries who seemed to take every obstacle in his stride. He was regarded as the most enterprising missionary in the islands.

He set to work building a boat – the first of five – which would enable him to sail to the other islands. But such a course of action did not meet with the approval of the mission directors back in England.

It was the old, old question, oft to be repeated: Who knows best – the man on the field where the action is, or the administrators in their office back home?

“The years that followed were tainted by conflict – sometimes heated and bitter – as Williams in flagrant violation of the directors’ mandate continued his nautical activity” (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, by Ruth Tucker).

In December 1821 Williams and his wife visited Sydney for three months, where he preached and addressed public meetings. He also bought a ship with Rev Samuel Marsden’s reluctant approval, to trade between Raiatea and Sydney; and he engaged Thomas Scott to teach cultivation of sugar-cane and tobacco to the people of Raiatea. Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane was so impressed by Williams that he supplied stock to the mission and gave him magisterial authority for the islands.

In 1823 Williams travelled from the Society Group to the Hervey Group of islands and discovered Rarotonga where most of the inhabitants were soon converted. Williams later translated parts of the Bible and other books into Rarotongan and the Rarotongan’s asked him to create a civil and legal code for them, based on Christianity.

In 1838, when Williams had become a public figure, he returned to Sydney in the newly outfitted mission ship Camden, and drew considerable crowds to his meetings. He was returning form London (1834-1838) where he had given evidence before the committee of the House of Commons on Aborigines, and so was influential in the establishment of the local Aborigines Protection Society. In 1837 he published “Narrative of Missionary Enterprise in the South Sea Islands” throwing valuable light on Polynesia.

It is recorded that during his 22 years of ministry, this Apostle to Polynesia saw 300,000 natives brought to Christ. He taught them to build houses and furniture, churches and schools, and raise sugar cane. Natives were trained as teachers and as missionaries to other islands. The Rarotongan translation of the New Testament was printed during his lifetime.

“In 1823,” Williams wrote, “I found them (the Raratongans) all heathens; in 1834 they were all professing Christians. At the former period I found them with idols … in 1834 congregations amounting to 6000 persons assembled every Sabbath day; I found them without a written language, and left them reading in their own tongue the wonderful works of God” (Epoch Makers of Modern Missions, page 127).

Williams believed that Australia had a divine responsibility to take the gospel to the Pacific.

On 20 November, 1839, at the age of 43, he visited the isle of Erromanga, and was clubbed to death by hostile cannibals. His is one of the great stories of missionary endeavour with which every Christian should be acquainted.

Another famous missionary, John Coleridge Patteson, was martyred in the New Hebrides in 1871. That account can be found posted for September 20, 2008.

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.

Hiram Bingham Takes Christ to Hawaii

This is the day that Hiram Bingham was born in Vermont, USA, in 1789.

He was nearly 20 years of age when Obookiah, a young Hawaiian lad, was found weeping on the steps of Yale College. He had arrived in America on a trading vessel. Led to Christ by a young Christian student, Edwin Dwight, it was hoped that Obookiah would return to his own people with the gospel. But in 1818 the young Hawaiian sickened and died.

It was this tragedy that led the American Board of Missions to call for volunteers for the Sandwich Islands, as they were then called. These islands had been discovered by Captain James Cook just four decades earlier and Cook had given these islands their Sandwich name.

By 23 October, 1819, the SS “Thaddeus” set sail with seven missionary couples. Leader was Hiram Bingham, with his wife, Sybil, whom he had only met for the first time a month previously and married two weeks later! (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, by Ruth Tucker, page 204).

Five months later they arrived at Honolulu, where some of the missionary party were shocked by the sight of the naked savages. “Gushing with tears,” wrote Bingham, “they turned away from the spectacle.”

A new king had recently come to power and put an end to human sacrifice. Nevertheless “polygamy, fornication, adultery, incest, infant murder, desertion of husbands and wives, sorcery …” were still prevalent (Company of Heaven, by G. Kent, page 58).

The presence of a doctor among the Americans, however, opened the way to receiving the king’s favour.

The party was initially permitted to settle in Hawaii for one year. However Bingham stayed on for 21 years, to 1840, constantly involved in mission work and Hawaiian affairs. The two endeavours became practically indistinguishable.

Contrary to James Michener’s anti-Christian novel, Hawaii, the missionaries were soon welcomed by the islanders. Opposition came, however, from white traders whose visits to Hawaii had resulted in widespread immorality.

Bingham invented a 12-letter alphabet and translated much of the Scriptures into the native language. In 1835 a missionary named Titus Coan toured the Hawaiian islands. “He crossed 63 ravines” and saw thousands confess Christ.

Bingham is described as “A controversial figure” who “became enmeshed in island politics through his single-minded efforts to impose Christian reforms on Hawaiians.”

By the time Hiram Bingham returned to America, due to his wife’s ill-health, in 1840, the church numbered 20,000. He died in Connecticut, USA, on 11 November, 1869.

His son, Hiram Bingham Jnr. (1831-1908), carried on the work in the Gilbert Isles of the South Seas, translating the Scriptures into their language. Hiram Bingham III became famous for his explorations in South America and discovery of Machu Picchu.

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.

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.

Thomas Charles Births a Bible Society

This is the day that Thomas Charles was born in Wales. It was 1756.

Despite a Christian upbringing, it was not until the age of 17, when he heard Daniel Rowlands expounding Hebrews 4:15, that “he was conscious of a real conversion of heart”. It was 20 January, 1773.

It is interesting to note that there seems to be a ‘time’ for certain things, as Solomon tells us. Thomas Charles lived at a ‘time’ of evangelism, Sunday Schools and the birth of Bible Societies.

Ordained as a Church of England curate (21 May, 1780), he soon fell foul of his parishioners for “giving free instruction to children after Vespers. His rector considered this to be such a shocking innovation that he was at once dismissed” (Sweet Singers of Wales, by H. Lewis, page 55). It is probably true to say that his evangelical preaching had something to do with the dismissal also!

He joined the Calvinistic Methodist and commenced ministering in the town of Bala. From henceforth he would be known as “Charles of Bala”.

He travelled extensively around Wales, giving birth to the first Sunday-Schools Wales had ever known. It was a time of extensive revival in Wales, but there was a shortage of Bibles. Rev Charles sold Welsh language Bibles to meet the need.

Rev Charles was visited by a 15 year-old lass who had walked 27 miles to obtain a Bible from him. Mary Jones had saved her own money to buy the Bible and then walked the miles to obtain it. Charles had just sold his last copy, but was so impressed with Mary’s diligence that he gave it to her anyway, telling her the other buyer would just have to wait.

Charles visited the Religious Tract Society in London in 1802 and pleaded with them for Scriptures. The Society had to turn him away. Providing bibles just was not in their job description. As the members discussed the request, the Rev. Joseph Hughes said, “a society might be formed for the purpose–and if for Wales, why not for the Kingdom; why not for the whole world?”

Mary Jones’ devotion to possess a copy of God’s Word prompted the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society on March 7, 1804, spearheaded by the Rev. Thomas Charles.

This was the first of many Bible Societies which took the Word of God to the nations. 69 other Bible organizations formed in just ten years. The British and Foreign Bible Society funded such diverse translation work as William Carey, Morrison’s Chinese Bible, Henry Martyn’s Persian translation, a Mohawk gospel of John and a translation for the Pacific islands of Rarotonga.

Rev Thomas Charles continued his evangelistic work. During one of his itinerant preaching tours he nearly lost his life in the intense cold. Frostbitten and racked with fever his life was in imminent danger. One old Christian – thinking apparently of Hezekiah – prayed that 15 years would be added to Brother Charles’ life (II Kings 20:6).

Remarkably, it was just 15 years later, on 5 October, 1814, that Thomas Charles said, “There is refuge,” and passed into his Saviour’s presence.

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.