Baptists have long history, vibrant presence in China

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article first appeared in The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.thealabamabaptist.org. This story is the third installment of a three-part series of articles about China that Baptist Press is publishing in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing. Baptist Press coverage of the Olympics will continue through Aug. 25.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--When most Southern Baptists think of Baptist history in China, they think of Lottie Moon, the beloved missionary to China for whom the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions is named. Lottie Moon arrived in China in 1873, but the history of Baptist missionary work there goes back even further.

When the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) was founded in 1845, China was its first mission field.

The board's first missionary to China was Samuel C. Clopton. When Lottie Moon went to China in 1873, she actually followed her sister, Edmonia, who had gone the previous year. Lottie served 39 years as a missionary, mostly in China's Shantung province. Initially, she taught in a girls' school and often made trips into China's interior to share the Gospel.

She also wrote letters home, telling about the physical and spiritual needs of the Chinese people and challenging Southern Baptists to give so more missionaries could be sent out. It was her faithful service and urgent desire to see Southern Baptists give sacrificially that caused the missions offering to be named after her.

In 1935, a young doctor named Bill Wallace was appointed as a missionary to China. Wallace's excellent skills as a surgeon and his compassionate heart greatly furthered the cause of Christ in the area where he served. When Japan invaded the country, Wallace stayed. And, again, when Communists took over the area where he served, he again decided to stay.

For that decision, Wallace paid with his life. In late 1950, his home was raided and he was arrested. Two months later, he was found dead in prison, apparently beaten to death. Chinese Christians buried him and placed this sign over his grave: "For Me to Live Is Christ."

Today, American Christians living in China aren't being asked to give their lives, but they serve with the same zeal that guided earlier missionaries like Lottie Moon and Bill Wallace -- and they're seeing God do amazing work as a result.

One American, Jared Blitzer, hiked 20 miles in one day to share the Gospel with a certain people group. The next day he was exhausted, but felt God leading him and his American friends to hike to another area.

They came across a school, where they stopped to spend time with the children. Blitzer saw a man watching them and went to talk to him. He told the man that he and his friends were planning to hike up the mountain.

The man said, "No, you're not. You've come here to see me."

Blitzer responded, "Yes, that's exactly right. We have come to see you."

The Americans followed the man, named Yi, to his home, where Blitzer shared Bible stories, from creation to Christ, with him. When Blitzer finished, Yi said, "Today I'm 47 years old, and 20 years ago I realized that God existed ... and on that day I asked God to show me or to send somebody to me that would tell me who He was. And today, 20 years later, I know that God has answered that prayer by sending you four to talk to me."

Yi immediately put his faith in Christ. That same day he began sharing the Gospel with his fellow villagers. Several weeks later, Blitzer went back to visit Yi and found that he had led his wife, two daughters, and three other people in the village to faith in Christ.

On his next visit, Yi told Blitzer that the local shaman (similar to a medicine man or witch doctor) had learned that he had been sharing the Gospel. "If you don't stop sharing, within three or four days you're going to die," the shaman told him.

When Yi didn't die, the villagers wanted to learn more about the Gospel he was preaching. Yi told the Bible stories to them, and 80 people became Christians. Soon, people in a neighboring village wanted to hear the stories too.

Blitzer and Yi's story is amazing but not unique. God is doing marvelous things through American Christians and local believers all across China. In fact, Baptist workers estimate that thousands of Chinese are becoming Christians every day.

But Joyce Glover, a representative of the International Mission Board's East Asia region, cautions Christians not to get overly excited about those numbers.

"Even though there is a tremendous responsiveness and thousands coming to know the Lord, you have to remember everything is big in China," she said. "It's still just a drop in the bucket."

While thousands are becoming Christians daily, even more Chinese are dying daily -- most without Christ -- while China’s population continues to grow rapidly. So although the church is growing explosively in China, Christianity still is losing ground.

"Blitzer and others like him are not much different than Bill Wallace and Lottie Moon. They are committed to sharing Christ with the over 1.3 billion souls in China that are without the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ," Glover said. "We just need more like them to accomplish the task."


Some names have been changed for security reasons. Manda Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in Richmond, Va.

Download Story