[Interview] John Carl Schmidt, an 'Incarnated' American Teacher Serves Poor Students With 'Heart of China'

John Carl Schmidt recently played a guitar at his home.
1/2John Carl Schmidt recently played a guitar at his home.(photo: Provided byJohn Carl Schmidt)
John Carl Schmidt in his youth and in his childhood, respectively
2/2John Carl Schmidt in his youth and in his childhood, respectively(photo: Provided by John Carl Schmidt)
By Karen Luo, Grace Song June 28th, 2022

Editor’s note: John Carl Schmidt, an English teacher from the United States, received his calling from God by teaching English in China’s Hunan Province for more than ten years. Remaining single throughout his whole life, the “incarnated” Christian touched his Chinese students with his sincere care and financial support from a foundation called "The Heart of China." We can say our brother is "incarnated" because the Spirit of the Living God dwells in him through being born again. This humble servant won the Chinese Government Friendship Award, China’s highest award for "foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to the country's economic and social progress" along with other successful foreign businesspersons and figures in 1996.

China Christian Daily: Could you please introduce yourself?

John Carl Schmidt: I grew up in a very biblically-based Presbyterian church with old traditions and, at the age of seven, had a personal conviction of faith in Jesus Christ at an evangelistic crusade spoken by Billy Graham. As my faith grew more in Christ, I decided not to have a family and instead follow the path of the Apostle Paul.  I attended McDonough Military School for boys from 1957 to 1963. During the Vietnam War era from 1963 to 1967, I attended Princeton University with a major in biology. From there, I followed some of my friends from the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship to Indiana to study as a postgraduate at Grace Brethren Seminary. While studying there, I worked in a medical products company and served as a part-time pastor. After graduating from Grace Seminary, I became a full-time pastor for many years and sponsored a youth camp. In the spring of 1990, I had an opportunity to join a six-week-long summer training program in China with an organization where we would teach the English teachers to bring them up to a higher level so they would be more effective teachers when they went back to their schools in the Fall. This was my first taste of God's work in China through "education,"  as the door had just opened after many years of being closed. It was an exciting exchange of ideas & deepening friendship with those Chinese teachers. We exchanged many letters back & forth after that summer and deepened our friendships.

China Christian Daily: Why did you come to China and help those students?

John Carl Schmidt: My family had been associated with The China Inland Mission along with friends who were part of this mission founded by Hudson Taylor some 100 years prior. 

During my years at Princeton, I met some Chinese graduate students who were forced to stay in the U.S. during the Great Cultural Revolution. Their distress over what was happening in their homeland at the time touched my heart deeply. I had traveled to France, Germany & Romania on mission trips over several years, and this planted the seeds of ministry in my heart to do something when the opportunity presented itself.  In the spring of 1990, I was given that opportunity and joined the summer training program at Hunan College of Education in Changsha, China. There I met some people who had international experiences. We taught English teachers along with engineering and medical knowledge, showing them how to live as Christians. The following year, in 1991, I began teaching English full time at Hengyang Teachers College in Hunan Province. My teaching position was renewed again and again until 2001. During those 10 years, I taught my students Western culture, values and history besides the language itself. We would sing together, building friendships and cultural understanding. As English is the bridge language across the globe, students came in six to ten to my dormitory to practice English. I even travelled with some of my students, getting an up-close & personal view of their families, their lives, their backgrounds, the schools they attended and the culture they had come from.  I became acquainted with really spicy food in Hunan as various students would come visit and prepare food for me.  Despite the low income, God fed me as he provided the prophet Elijah with food sent by ravens!   The “Heart of China Educational Foundation," founded by my family and me, aimed to fund poor but dedicated students, to advance them in their education.

For example, a middle school student in Liuyang, Hunan Province strove to study hard because it was the only way to improve her family’s living conditions. In her letter written to our foundation, she introduced that her father suffered from bronchitis since he was a child and took medicine almost every day, so her mother who had an operation once had to bear all the farm work to support he study and her younger brother. As the top students in her school, she received our fund, saying that “I really hope I can help some people out of their trouble in the future!” Similar letters came to us from poor students funded by us.

China Christian Daily: Is there any unforgettable story about your stay in China? How would you describe your experience in China?

John Carl Schmidt: Life in China was lonely and my teaching schedule was quite busy, but some kind-hearted students would walk into my dormitory to cook food for me as I always spent time caring for them. I was asked to keep a daily record. Some funded students who showed good character would give me gifts and come back to financially support me in my retirement. My sister said that I was God’s living apostle in China with love and patience. She would say I was the "door" God opened through which she, her husband and two children were able to enter China and discover her beautiful people! Their son visited me in China three times!!! Some weekends, I would carry out bicycle trips to other cities beyond Hengyang with several willing students. One student had the courage to go beyond his border by going to Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, and now he is a successful businessman.  My younger brother experienced a miracle when he happened to meet another student of mine who had also become a successful businessman. They met when he sought to enhance his business in Bao’an District, Shenzhen and they worked very well together. Some of my students even visited my family in Maryland, and my home in Florida and became Christians.

China Christian Daily: What was your church life like in China?

John Carl Schmidt: I attended a house church and held an English fellowship with other foreign teachers on Sunday.  I was reminded to be discreet regarding my faith. In Changsha, I met a pastor surnamed Tang who was friends with Samuel Lamb. I was supported by both of them.

China Christian Daily: What is the will of God for China in your opinion? Do you have any words for Chinese Christians?

John Carl Schmidt: The Chinese people who value and treasure their Christian faith are a witness to Asia and others beyond. Sadly, children or teenagers are not allowed to enter the church.

Authentic Christians need to honor Christ and lead others to Him, allowing them to taste the goodness of God through their life. The gospel is GOOD NEWS, “almost too good to be true” news! I read the books written by Hudson Taylor who inspired me by his missions in China and often prayed for the country. The China Inland Mission was a fruit of people’s prayers. The essence of ministry is serving. So the key to sharing the gospel is to be a servant to others.  

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