Jesse Hartwell, Founder of First Chinese Baptist Church of San Francisco

By CCD contributor: , June 24, 2019 11:06 AM

The cross

Jesse Boardman Hartwell, a missionary of the Southern Baptist Church, was a pioneer of the Baptist's ministry in North China and greatly contributed to the spread of the Gospel.

On October 17, 1835, Hartwell was born into the family of a Baptist pastor in South Carolina, USA. His father served as president of a university and a professor of theology in a seminary in addition to doing pastoral work in a church. His mother was a devout believer, and she tried her best to help her husband in all aspects of his ministry. Hartwell, who grew up in a godly family, was thirsty for the Gospel and aspired to become a preacher. When he was in high school, he organized a fellowship that aimed at revival on his campus by leading teachers and students to believe in the Lord. He was ordained as a pastor in 1858 and sent to China in July of that year to preach. More than 70 days later, Mr. and Mrs. Hartwell landed in Hong Kong before heading to Shanghai. After 7 months of intensive Chinese language study, he began to preach the Gospel to Chinese in Shanghai.

After serving two years in Shanghai, on December of 1860, Hartwell and his wife headed to Yantai by boat to start the Baptist Mission in Shandong. At the beginning of the following year, the Hartwells moved to Dengzhou becoming the first missionaries there. He found a spacious house on North Street and began preaching to the local residents. The location was the earliest Baptist mission location in northern China. At that time, the locals were very much against the Gospel so he hired a Confucius man named WU Chunjiao as a dialect teacher. At first, WU greatly objected to the Gospel, but through contact with Hartwell, he gradually understood the truth, and was moved by Hartwell's good deeds. He was baptized in the name of the Lord and later became the first Chinese pastor in Dengzhou.

By 1862, there had been eight believers baptized in Dengzhou. So in October of that year a church was founded, the first Baptist church in northern China. Hartwell made it his base and expanded the ministry to the neighboring Huang County, Zhaoyuan, Pingdu, and Yantai with the establishment of several more churches. Hartwell encountered tremendous difficulty at that time because of the outbreak of the Civil War in the US, and the defeat of the South. Consequently, the Southern Baptist Church in China lost financial support and so Hartwell had to work in the Shanghai Ministry of Industry Bureau to secure their own lives and the development of the Church. With the reunification of the United States, the ministry gradually improved.

In 1870, Hartwell's wife died and after a short return to the States, he returned to Shandong with his new wife. In 1875, Hartwell returned to the United States again to preach to the overseas Chinese in San Francisco. He preached to them in Chinese and opened a night school. In October 1880, he founded the First Chinese Baptist Church of San Francisco. Despite the U.S. government's Chinese exclusion bill, it didnot stop his determination to serve the Chinese and the number of Chinese believers continued to grow. Hartwell worked among the Chinese in San Francisco for 14 years.

In the early 1890s, Shandong Baptist Church was divided and the teaching work was greatly disturbed. The mission board then sent Hartwell to deal with the crisis of 10 fellow workers returning to Shandong. He was able to mend the 'cracks' in the church. In order to better evangelize, Hartwell stressed the need and advocated for theological education. In 1893, he set up a theological class in Dengzhou, which was held twice a day to study the Bible, meditate, and equip church leaders. Later, the theological class was financially supported by American co-workers, who built a house outside the East Gate of Huang Xian County to set up the "Bush Theological School" to train missionary personnel for the church. His wife (the third by then) also founded a girls' school in Penglai which is the predecessor of the North China Girls' School.

It is said that in 1897, when Hartwell was in Guangzhou for treatment of an illness, the doctor told him, "You should as soon as possible prepare for your death." He however calmly replied, "Might as well. But it's 1912, and it's too early." Surprisingly, he soon recovered and returned to Shandong. Three years later, he and his co-workers safely survived  the Boxer Rebellion Movement (many missionaries were martyred). At the end of 1912, as he had said, he went to be with the Lord.

-  Translated by Charlie Li

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