Ten Western Female Missionaries in China

By CCD contributor: Paul Wu , March 17, 2018 01:03 AM

Jennie V. Hughes and Shi Meiyu

There was a remarkable group in modern China - female missionaries. They traveled across vast oceans to preach the gospel in the ancient Asian kingdom, meanwhile contributing a lot to the development of science, education, culture, and hygiene in China. Here is an introduction of ten of them.

Mary Ann Aldersey or Ai Desai: the first female missionary to China


Mary Ann Aldersey
Mary Ann Aldersey

Mary was born into a rich Puritan family in London in 1797. Influenced by early missionaries to China like Robert Morrison and David Abeel, she dreamed of going to China. In 1837, Mary came to Batavia (now Jakarta), Indonesia, for missions and founded a female school for local Chinese girls.

After the Opium War when the treaty ports in China were opened, she was sent by the Society for Promotion of Female Education in India and the East to preach in Ningbo, becoming the first female missionary to China. She had a persistent burden for women's education. In 1844, she built what was most likely the first school for girls in China at Ningbo. She continued to work there for almost 20 years.

Gladys Aylward or Weide Ai: a mother of orphans

Gladys Aylward.
Gladys Aylward.


Gladys Aylward was born in Edmonton, North London, in 1902. She worked as a housemaid due to her poor family and came to China in 1930, sent by the China Inland Mission. In 1936, she became a Chinese citizen.

During WWII many children lost their parents and became orphaned in Shanxi because of the serious Japanese invasion. Out of sympathy, Gladys established an orphanage where many orphans were adopted, raised, and educated. Four years later, the war deteriorated the situation in the region. She decided to relocate the home in Xi'an, so she led the children to settle in Xi'an after a 385 km long journey.

She returned to China after World War II and headed to Taiwan after 1949. She founded the Gladys Aylward Children's Home in Taiwan and worked there until her death in 1970.

Mary Maria Andrews: Serving the church in Zhejiang

Mary Andrews.
Mary Andrews.

Mary Maria Andrews was born in New South Wales, Australia, in 1915. Hearing the testimony of Hudson Taylor at an early age, she desired to be a missionary to China. Mary joined the Anglican Church and received theological and nursing training for the future mission in China.

On September 14, 1938, the 23-year-old woman sailed from Sydney to China alone.  In spite of the danger of WWII, she went to preach in Zhejiang Province. The gospel spread fast and the number of converts grew. Aside from preaching, she also taught English and Bible in a school and reached students.

After the reform and opening up, Mary visited China multiple times and saw the Chinese church revival. 

Mrs. Laurence Thurston: founder of Ginling College

Mrs. Laurence Thurston
Mrs. Laurence Thurston

Matilda S. Calder, born on May 16. 1875, in Hartford, Connecticut. She married Rev. John Lawrence Thurston. Influenced by her husband, one of the key founders of the Yale Foreign Missionary Society, she became a member of the society. The missionary couple arrived in China in 1902.

Shortly after their arrival, her husband died. However, Mrs. Lawrence Thurston continued her service in China. In order to promote education for women, foreign missionary societies in China co-established Ginling College in Nanjing. Mrs. Thurston was elected as the first president for her good educational background, rich life experience, and, particularly, her connections with American church universities. 
She was in charge of school administrative affairs for 15 years. 999 women graduated from the college from 1919 to 1951. 

Margaret E.Barber: the spiritual counselor of Watchman Nee

Margaret E. Barber.
Margaret E. Barber.

Margaret E.Barber was born to a wheel repairman's family in Peasenhall, Suffolk, England, in 1866. In 1895, Margaret joined the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) and arrived in Fuzhou the next year. Due to her contradiction with the church, she left China. She accepted the philosophy of Plymouth Brethren and Pietism under the influence of Rev. David Morrison Panton. 

Without any mission support, she returned to China in 1911. She rented a house for preaching at the Pagoda Anchorage. In the 1920s, a great number of young Chinese Christians visited her, including Watchman Nee. Greatly influenced by her, Nee upheld the creed of "pursuing spiritual life" in local churches he initiated and many followers still stick to the precept today. Although this kind of theology brought about some negative impacts like anti-rationalism and legalism, a portion of believers experienced life transformation. 

Jennie V. Hughes: a great contributor to China's evangelism

Jennie V. Hughes.
Jennie V. Hughes.

Born to a missionary family in New Jersey in 1874, Jennie V. Hughes was sent by the Methodist Church in 1905 to do mission work in China. She met Doctor Mary Stone or Shi Meiyu in Jiujiang, who became her life-long co-worker. As conservatives, they left the Methodist Church where liberal theology dominated and founded Bethel Mission of China. 

The Bethel Mission had developed a hospital, elementary and secondary schools, a theological training institute, two nursing schools, an orphanage, a printing service, and dormitories for faculty and students. The mission also organized the Bethel Bands where John Sung and Ji Zhiwen were the core leaders, the largest evangelism organization in China. The Bands trained many of God's servants who led many overseas Chinese to convert to Christianity. 

So Jennie was considered as one of the pioneers of evangelism in modern China. 

Lottie Moon: devoting her life to helping famine victims

Little Moon.
Little Moon.

Born to a rich American family in 1840, Lottie Moon was a polyglot and the first female postgraduate in the Southern United States. She came to Dengzhou, Shandong, in December 1873 when it was the worst year of famine in North China. The first sight of people dying of starvation on the street invoked a strong sense of compassion in her. She gave everything she had to help victims and asked her family and friends for donations.

Apart from preaching and running a school, she was active in famine relief in Shandong. In the spring of 1912, a famine struck Pingdu, Qingdao. Lottie took all her life savings and food and shared them with famine victims, but as a result, her health was badly damaged and her body withered away to 50 pounds. On December 1, she fell down on the bed from sheer hunger. She was sent back to the US by the Southern Baptist Convention. When the ship passed by the Port of Kobe, Japan, she died because of chronic malnourishment. 

Annie Skau Berntsen: a lifelong medical missionary

Annie Skau Berntsen.
Annie Skau Berntsen.

Born in a small town of Horten, South Norway, in 1911, Annie Skau Berntsen knew her calling as a missionary to China. In 1937, she resigned her work and received training for missionary work. Sent by the China Inland Mission, Annie arrived in Shaanxi in 1938. During the hard times, she went through thick and thin together with locals and fostered enduring friendships with them. She worked as a nurse and also opened a school. Even today her stories are told by the local people. 

She was forced to leave China in 1951. Two years later, she was sent again to set up a sanatorium for pulmonary diseases and a church in Hong Kong. In 1963, she received the Florence Nightingale Medal as a reward for her extraordinary contributions in health services, social service, and evangelism. 

Pearl S. Buck: a Nobel Prize winner and lover of Chinese culture

 

Pearl S. Buck
Pearl S. Buck

 

Pearl S. Buck grew up in Zhenjiang with her missionary parents holding profound feelings for China. She once taught religion and English at the University of Nanking but was more well-known for her literary career. 

The trilogy The Good Earth was her representative work that shaped the image of hardworking and unadorned Chinese peasants. It won her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

Regarding missionary work, there was much conceptual conflict between her and the American Southern Presbyterian Mission. Protesting that oral preaching was hard for Chinese people to accept the gospel, the missionary who served from 1914 to 1932 advocated that "Christians should offer services to Chinese people such as education, medical treatment, and hygiene." At present, her controversial views deserve consideration of the Chinese church 

Laura M. White: a backbone in literature ministry

Born in the US in 1867, Laura M. White became the president of Nanjing Huiwen Girls' Middle School. Later invited by Timothy Richard, she was the editor in chief for the missionary journal The Women's Messenger from 1912 to 1929. The content covered the gospel, family ethic, women liberation, popular science, and social issues. Some scholars said the journal was popular for acknowledging the status of women.  

Laura also wrote and translated 18 novels, integrating evangelism and female education with childhood education. While introducing western female consciousness and education ideas into China, she promoted the spreading of Chinese culture in western countries. She was considered a backbone in literature ministry and an envoy for Chinese and Western cultural exchanges.

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