BMS World Mission will officially return to China – almost 60 years after its last mission worker was expelled from the country.
The historic decision was endorsed by the board of trustees on Oct. 13 and follows a visit by a BMS delegation to the Far East in September.
BMS is responding to requests from two organizations to send personnel to teach English.
In the last year, both Shandongsheng Yidu Medical College, in the city of Qingzhou, and Sinoteach, in Yantai, had separately and independently contacted BMS.
The medical school had been founded in 1885 by BMS missionary Dr. James Russell Watson. It wanted to both fill in the gaps in its history and explore the possibility of BMS sending out English teachers to help teach the language.
Sinoteach has no direct BMS history, but is based in an area where some of the first BMS missionaries operated. It discovered BMS through its Web site. Although aware of BMS’ Christian nature, Sinoteach wanted to set up the provision of native-English speakers to local schools.
Both Yidu and Sinoteach are in the same province (Shandong) and a four-hour drive from each other.
The unsolicited requests came during a period when BMS was considering whether the time was right to return to China. It sent its first missionary there in 1860, and over the next 90 years nearly 400 missionaries operated in China. They undertook a variety of work, including medical mission, education, famine relief and church work.
The inauguration of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 was the death blow to the cause, with Protestant leaders told to “sever all relations between Chinese churches and imperialism.” The last remaining BMS mission worker, Rev. Hubert Spillett, left in 1952.
But about two years ago BMS began to seriously consider whether the time was right to head back.
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The letter from the medical school was a sign they were thinking on the right lines, BMS general director, Rev. David Kerrigan, said.
“Right from the outset of this process we asked for ‘a sign from heaven’ that we were meant to return to work in China,” he told The Baptist Times. “When the Yidu Medical College contacted us out of the blue, asking us to visit and then to restart our work with them, we were sure this was the sign we had prayed for.”
Rev. Margaret Gibbs, BMS regional secretary for Asia and part of the delegation, agreed. “When we were looking at returning there, we didn’t know where. Should it be to an area where we had not previously been?
“Then we received the letters. The fact the two institutions were so close geographically, the wonderful, warm welcome we then received, have all pointed to the understanding that God wants us here.”
Gibbs said a new willingness to explore history – including the legacy of Christian mission organizations, such as BMS, in terms of the infrastructure it left – had helped to open doors.
This, together with a desire for improved communication to sustain its recent economic advances, was also a factor in the Chinese advances.
“We were constantly told when we were over there that this wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. But the opportunity is now there. Doors have opened up and we’ve walked through them,” Gibbs said. “They are fully aware of our history and what we do, so of course there are restrictions.
“But we have been invited, and there are now wonderful opportunities to build relationships, friendships and interact. This is a modern mission dynamic – responding to a locally expressed need.”
Now that the decision has been approved, BMS will start advertising through its usual communication channels such as its Web site, regional coordinators and newsletters.
It seeks short-term, mid-term and long-term workers. The first could potentially go as early as March.
“The final piece of the jigsaw now is to find the people willing to go there,” Gibbs said. There is a beautiful sense of picking up a story, retracing a golden thread that looked as though it had completely disappeared, she said.
“But it hadn’t. God still had hold of it and was waiting for a moment for it to be picked up again.”
Paul Hobson is news reporter for The Baptist Times, where this story first appeared.