Simonetta Carr

Mongol Leaders and Their Christian Wives

Sorghaghtani, Doquz, and Maria were only some of the many influential khatuns who steered the hearts of their Mongol khans to favor and promote the Christian communities in their lands. In fact, Pope Nicholas IV sent several letters to Christian women in Mongol courts to encourage them to continue their service to God. These included Elegag and Uruk, wives of Arghun Khan, and Nukdan, another wife of Aqaba, whom the pope praised for her example, calling her “most dear daughter in Christ.”[1] As it is usually the case with women in church history, very little has been written about these numerous Christians who exercised their influence in one of the largest and most powerful empires in the world.

While Europe was engaged in the Crusades, a new threat emerged from Asia: the Mongols, a fearsome population the talented warrior Genghis Khan organized into a powerful empire. At the time of his death, this empire stretched from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean and from Siberia to modern Afghanistan.
Concerned about the threat of a Mongol invasion of Western Europe, in 1245 Pope Innocent IV sent a Franciscan friar, John of Pian del Carpine to deliver a letter to the Grand Khan Gȕyȕk. John began the journey alone but was later joined by two more friars, Benedict of Poland and Stephen of Bohemia (the latter had to turn back due to health problems). The team reached the khan after long and difficult travels. In spite of his frequent complaints (especially about this eastern practice of demanding gifts in exchange of each favor), Carpine’s account of his travels and mission provided invaluable information on the Mongols to western Europeans.
Gȕyȕk, a grandson of Genghis Khan, was not impressed by the pope’s message and his demands that the khan repent, be baptized, and stop killing Christians. How could a pope give orders to a king of Gȕyȕk’s stature? Besides, having become acquainted with some missionaries of the Church of the East who had already reached China, Gȕyȕk didn’t understand the pope’s claim to be the head of all true Christians. Still, he allowed the friars to establish their missions in his lands.
Of the missionaries who followed, the most renowned was the Franciscan John of Montecorvino, who lived in China until his death. John learned the Mongolian language and translated the New Testament and the Psalms in that language.
Influential Wives
In their accounts, western friars expressed their surprise in discovering that many of the khans had married Christian wives, who held impressive powes over their territories.
In fact, according to Rabban Bar Sauma, an important monk of the Church of the East who had been sent on different diplomatic missions to Rome, the khans’ toleration of Christianity had much to do with the intercession of their wives.
Sorghaghtani Beki
One of these wives was Sorghaghtani Beki, daughter-in-law of Gengis Khan, who had been given in marriage to Tolui Khan.
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Aidan of Lindisfarne – A Seventh-Century Door-to-Door Missionary

Aidan is however most famous for his missionary work. Aidan worked many miles every day, going from house to house and talking “to any whomsoever he saw, whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.”[7] Probably, walking allowed him more time with the people.

Thanks to the literary mastery of the Venerable Bede, the history of the Christianization of England is filled with memorable stories of valiant kings, praying queens, and wonder-working saints. But it’s also studded with lesser-known characters who simply persisted day after day in spreading the gospel. One of these is Aidan of Lindisfarne.
A Field White to Harvest
Christianity first arrived in England, as in other parts of the known world, through the personal testimony of Christian travelers, merchants, and soldiers. This work of personal evangelization was so effective that, in the second century, Tertullian could say that Christianity had reached even “the haunts of the Britons – inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ.”[1]
Yet, as in other nations, Christianity in Britain spread slowly, often mixed with traditional religions and recent heresies. The main impetus for the establishment of missions in that region came from Pope Gregory the Great. According to Bede, Gregory was so struck by the looks of some Anglo-Saxon slave boys that he determined (with a famous play-on-words) that the Angles looked like angels, therefore fitting “to be coheirs with the angels m heaven.”[2]
Following the common practice of evangelizing rulers (who could mandate the observance of Christianity in their regions), in 596 Gregory sent a first team of missionaries, led by Augustine of Canterbury, to Kent, where King Ethelberg had already been primed by his Merovingian wife Bertha.[3]
Faced with the pope’s exhortation to accept Christianity, Ethelberg shared the same concerns of most kings of his day: Is the Christian God really the only true God? If so, will my people accept my conversion or rise against me for exchanging the security of our traditional religion for a gospel that, although good, is still news?
Many kings replied yes to the first question after some personal victories in battle. Ethelbert, instead, observed the missionaries until their message and example and the reception of his own people allowed him to answer affirmatively to both questions.
The conversion of other British kings followed. Ethelbert influenced King Edwin of Northumbria by giving him his daughter Ethelburga in marriage. Edwin accepted Christianity in 628 but, when he died in battle five years later, his kingdom reverted into paganism.
Aidan’s Calling
This is where Aidan came in. He was an Irish monk living in a monastery on the Scottish island of Iona – a man, according to Bede, “of singular gentleness, piety, and moderation.”[4] Founded in 563 by Columbanus, the monastery had been a lively center of Christianity. In the early days of Edwin’s rule, it had also become a refuge for the royal brothers Oswald and Oswiu, who did the safest thing for most noblemen in line for the throne – they fled from a king who might choose to eliminate competition.
During their twenty years at the monastery, the brothers were converted to Christianity. Then, after Edwin died, Oswald returned to Northumbria to take over the throne. Seeing how quickly the people were returning to their idols, Oswald asked the monastery in Iona to send him a missionary to bring back the gospel message.
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Mary Slessor – An Unconventional Missionary

She took seriously the Foreign Mission secretary’s advice that she spend as much time as possible with the local women in order to learn their language, Efik. But she was surprised to see that none of the women had yet joined the church. “Something more must be done for the women here if we are to raise the men,”[5] she said. Throughout her life, reaching the women was one of her main commitments.

Mary Slessor became a legend in her time and continued to influence a generation of missionaries. Her name is still remembered in admiration both in her native Scotland (her image appeared on a 1997 Clydesdale Bank £10 note) and on her mission field of Nigeria.
Part of her notoriety has been due to her nonconformity. She ventured by herself where men feared to tread, called equally to task tribal chiefs and mission boards, and adopted African dress and customs at a time when many missionaries still considered Victorian mores irrevocably tied to the gospel message.
Blunt and headstrong, she received and dispensed much criticism. Sporting a short haircut that most Victorian women would have considered a misfortune, she defied European beliefs on propriety, expediency, and efficiency. At a time when many prospective missionaries listed poor time management as one of their capital weaknesses, she learned to walk at her own pace, realizing that “Christ was never in a hurry.”[1]
She was only forty-four when the British government, recognizing her achievements in establishing a working relationship with a people most Europeans considered unreachable, appointed her vice-consul over the native court. With this title, she became the first woman magistrate in the world. Fourteen years later, she became vice-president of the Ikot Obong native court. As such, she stood up for justice and for the rights of the underserved, especially women.
Today, she is mostly remembered for her rescue and care of twin babies who, in the local culture, were left to die. Her first commitment, however, was always firmly to the gospel.
Early Life in Dundee
Mary Slessor was born on 2 December 1848 in Gilcomston, a suburb of Aberdeen, Scotland, the second of seven children. When her father Robert, a shoemaker, lost his job due to alcoholism, the family moved to Dundee to look for work. Mary’s mother, a weaver, taught her daughters the same trade. At age eleven, Mary went to work in a textile mill where she became the family’s main breadwinner.
A bright young girl, she read books and furthered her education on her own. Eager to be a good Christian, she found discouragement in The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul by Philip Doddridge, a famous book at that time. When a friend asked her why she was cast down, Mary answered, “I can’t meditate, and Doddridge says it is necessary for the soul. If I try to meditate my mind just goes a’ roads.” Her friend told her not to worry. “Go and work, for that’s what God means us to do.”[2]
Mary definitely worked hard. In spite of her hard work in the factory and her studies at home, she was active in the local Presbyterian church, volunteering to teach children at a church-sponsored mission.
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Radegund of Thuringia – Giving Refuge to Women in Violent Times

While renouncing the title of abbess, Radegund exercised a strong influence on the running of the abbey, starting with its initial conception as a refuge for women in violent times. “I asked myself,” she later explained, “with all the ardor of which I am capable, how I could best forward the cause of other women, and how, if our Lord so willed, my own personal desires might be of advantage to my sisters.”[2]  Abuse against women was common in those days – whether by their husbands or as a consequence of wars. 

In 531, an army of Frankish soldiers invaded the Kingdom of Thuringia (in today’s France), sacked the palace, killed the royal family, and took the royal children back to the Frankish capital, Athies. Among these children was Radegund, daughter of Bertachar, who had ruled Thuringia jointly with his brothers until one of them killed him. At the time of the Frankish conquest, she was living in the home of her father’s murderer.
Theuderic and Chlotar, co-rulers of the Frankish kingdom, divided the spoils. Clothar, who had a reputation for being “most amorous by temperament,” won Radegund in a gambling game, and raised her as future member of his harem of six wives and at least one concubine.
Officially, Theuderic and Chlotar were Christians. Their father Clovis had been converted through the intervention of his wife Clotilde. But conversions of rulers, at that time, were often political in nature, and their actions didn’t always follow their professions of faith.
We don’t know anything about Radegund’s beliefs at the time of her arrival. Thuringia was still a pagan region but Christianity might have been introduced at her court. In any case, in Clothar’s palace she was baptized and raised as a Christian with other children. She learned to sing Psalms and received a basic education that allowed her to read the Scriptures and the writings of the church fathers.
Radegund’s Escape
By 540, when Clothar, now in his forties, took her as his wife, her life was so devoted to prayer, study, and works of charity that he complained that he had married a nun. There were times when she left the conjugal bed to go “to relieve nature” and he would find her prostrate on the floor in prayer. During the royal banquets, she would often leave to take food to the poor.
Most likely, Clothar objected to these practices. Although his opposition has not been documented, the reference in one of Radegund’s poems to “the captive maid given to a hostile lord” might be an indication.
This situation continued for about ten years, until Clothar murdered her brother. Then she left the palace and found temporary refuge with the bishop of Noyon, Médard, surprising him with the unusual request to consecrate her to God as a nun.
This put Médard in a difficult situation. He wanted to help her, but married women could not legally become nuns. When Radegund insisted, he consecrated her as a deaconess.
After this, she retired in a castle in Saix, in southern France, which Clothar had given her as a morgengabe, the customary present noblemen offered to their wives after their first wedding night.
Clothar was not about to let Radegund go. Whatever his feelings might have been toward her, she had brought him dishonor. Besides, their union was important to him from a political point of view, sealing his victory over Thuringia. He then asked Germanus, bishop of Paris, to go with him to Saix to take back his bride.
But Radegund was a step ahead of him. Alerted by some courtesans of the king’s intentions, she approached Germanus and asked him to intervene in her favor. Her letter to him might have included some details of marital abuse, because Germanus asked Clothar to repent. In the end, he was able to convince the king not only to let Radegund go, but to finance the founding of an abbey she could preside.
Apparently, Clothar allowed some of Radegund’s ladies-in-waiting to follow her. Radegund, who refused the title of abbess, gave it to one of her ladies, Agnes, whom she had “loved and brought up as if she were [her] daughter from her childhood onwards.”[1]
A Place of Refuge
While renouncing the title of abbess, Radegund exercised a strong influence on the running of the abbey, starting with its initial conception as a refuge for women in violent times.
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Ann Judson’s Missionary Work

While her sacrificial life has rightly been emphasized, she should also be remembered for her importance in the evangelization of both Burma and Thailand. In Burma, she learned to speak the language so well that she could share the gospel with other women on a daily basis. What’s more, she learned the unique Burmese writing system, which allowed her to write a Burmese catechism and translate several tracts, as well as the books of Jonah and Daniel (while her husband translated other portions of the Bible).

Ann Judson, one of the first two women to be sent as American foreign missionaries, is a familiar name for most Christians. She is particularly remembered as the sacrificial wife who hid her husband’s Bible translation inside a pillow and took it to the jail where he had been confined, bribing the jailers in order to get in.
This is just one of the memorable stories that were repeated in countless accounts during the nineteenth century, when she was held up as a role model for other missionary wives. But most of these accounts leave out much information about Ann’s own work as a missionary and educator.
“Beauty in the Way of Salvation”
Ann “Nancy” Hasseltine was born in Bradford, Massachusetts, December 22, 1789. The youngest of five children, she was lively, cheerful, and intelligent. By her early teens, she was already popular and in demand for parties and other social events. A special dance hall her father built next to their house became the center of social life for the young people of Bradford.
Aware of her intelligence, her parents enrolled Ann at Bradford Academy where she left a mark with her lively spirit. Rufus Anderson, who became a renowned strategist of missions, remembered how, during his studies at the same college, Ann used to playfully chase him “about the Academy grounds with a stick.”[1]
Like most families in the town, the Hasseltines attended the local Congregational Church. Ann remembered learning from her mother a list of sins to avoid if she wanted to escape the torments of hell. But serious thoughts on the subject were soon brushed off by the attraction of a life of “gaiety and mirth.”[2]
By the spring of 1806 a revival swept through the Academy. Ann was affected by the sermons she heard but put off by the heavy emphasis on hell and by the idea that God would choose who was destined there. “So far from being merciful in calling some, I thought it cruel in him to send any of his creatures to hell for their disobedience.”[3]
This resentment brought her to the conclusion that she wouldn’t be happy in heaven, even if she made it there. “In this state, I longed for annihilation,” she wrote; “and if I could have destroyed the existence of my soul, with as much ease as that of my body, I should quickly have done it.”[4]
She credited God for coming to her rescue. “But that glorious Being, who is kinder to his creatures than they are to themselves, did not leave me to remain long in this distressing state. I began to discover a beauty in the way of salvation by Christ. He appeared to be just such a Saviour as I needed. I saw how God could be just, in saving sinners through him.”[5]
A few days later, she found confirmation of her discovery in Joseph Bellamy’s True Religion. “I obtained a new view of the character of God. His justice, displayed in condemning the finally impenitent, which I had before viewed as cruel, now appeared to be an expression of hatred to sin, and regard to the good of beings in general.”[6]
Bellamy was a disciple of Jonathan Edward and one of the architects of the so-called New Divinity, a movement born out of the First American Awakening. Ann began to avidly read other similar authors, such as Edwards and Samuel Hopkins. New Divinity authors emphasized missionary work, and Ann became increasingly interested in missionary accounts.
She also began to teach young children. Her diary shows how she was inspired in this venture by a popular book of her day, Hannah More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education. Resisting the decorative nature of female education in her day, when women were taught only what could serve to entertain their hosts, More believed that education should lead to a life of usefulness. And Ann, motivated by her renewed love for Christ, wanted to be useful.
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Alopen and the Missionary Monks of the Church of the East

Convinced by Alopen of the validity of the Christian faith, Taitsung ordered the building of a monastery and the translation of some Christian papers the monks had carried with them. By 638, just three years after Alopen’s arrival, at least 21 monks were active in China. In the course of time, Persian monks (who became fluent in the languages of the places where they settled) translated the New Testament and portions of the Old Testament into Chinese. Being highly educated, they also produced Christian literature that appealed to the Chinese nobility. For example, Jesus Messiah Sutra, the main text produced by Alopen on instigation by Emperor Taitsung, described Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, endorsed monotheism, and attacked idolatry.

In 635, Emperor Taitsung (598–649) of China found Christianity so impressive that he wrote: “The meaning of the teaching has been carefully examined; it is mysterious, wonderful, calm; it fixes the essentials of life and perfection; it is the salvation of living beings; it is the wealth of man. It is right that it should spread through the empire.”
He had first heard about Christ from a Persian monk, Alopen, who walked all the way to the capital of China (today’s Xi’an) to bring the gospel to the Chinese. He was probably sent by Patriarch Ishoyahb II of Baghdad, who also sent missionaries to Iran, Afghanistan, Ubzekistan, and India. Most likely, Alopen had been ordained a bishop because he was able to appoint men to pastor the churches he founded. What little we know about his arrival in China and the history of the work that followed is recorded on a monument erected in Xi’an in 781 and discovered in 1625.
The Church of the East
Alopen was one of the many missionaries of the so-called Church of the East, a church that flourished well before the Roman Emperor Constantine I recognized Christianity in the west. Like other missionaries to the east, Alopen probably traveled along the Old Silk Road, a route followed by merchants. Carrying only a staff, a satchel, and a copy of the Scriptures, these missionaries stopped in monasteries other monks had built along the way. In fact, Timothy I (727-823), one of the most influential patriarchs of the Church of the East and great promoter of missions, used the simple life of these monks as an example to shame a bishop who wished to retire in comfort in Baghdad.
The Church of the East first blossomed in Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey) and in the renowned theological school of Nisibis (today’s Nusaybin, Turkey), where the famous poet Ephrem[1] served as deacon. It continued to thrive in what is now eastern Turkey and Iraq.
It’s often known as the Nestorian Church, even though its connections with Nestorius are tenuous at best. The name is probably due to the fact that this church refused to recognize the 431 Council of Ephesus where Nestorius was condemned for his views of the two natures of Christ. For the most part, however, the reason for this refusal was cultural rather than theological. It was a way to assert the church’s independence from the Byzantine Empire. (While it’s true that Nestorianism spread to the eastern regions, many scholars agree that defining the Church of the East as Nestorian is unfair).
The Church of the East held its first official council in 410. In 424, it declared its independence from the west. The official language of the Church of the East was Syriac (a form of Aramaic), one of the first languages in which the Scriptures were translated. By the eighth century, this church had spread over much of Asia and Arabia, becoming the most widely spread church in the world.

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Behari Lal Singh and His Vision for Missionary Training

Singh believed that people in different environments had different questions, most of which had not been addressed in the Western church. In fact, his voice as a native of India added weight to Duff’s efforts to present missions as an integral part of the church and to raise consciousness about their concerns. For a long time after this conference, many Scottish missionaries continued to uphold Duff’s and Singh’s vision.

Only one representative from Asia appeared in 1860 at the overwhelmingly British Conference on Missions in Liverpool. It was Behari Lal Singh, who had become a Christian under the guidance of the Scottish missionary Alexander Duff. By then, Singh had been serving in the Scottish Reformed Church for almost twenty years.
While grateful for all the service and sacrifices of foreign missionaries in India, Singh humbly submitted his suggestion that they should give more room and better training to Indian converts, allowing them to evangelize their own country.
He gave the example of translations. Until then, he said, “the plan of translating the Bible had been conducted as though foreign missionaries were the only successful or competent translators.” Wasn’t it time for the foreigners who had so commendably “expended their time, strength, talents, and accomplishments in the work of translation” to spend now “their time and strength in raising an effective native agency to translate the Bible with far greater purity and precision than it had ever been done before?”[1]
He also suggested that native converts be given better education so they could confidently explain Christianity to learned Hindus and Muslims. At that time, most missionaries were only given a minimal education. Because of the scarcity of workers, most of them didn’t have to attend a seminary or undergo serious studies. The assumption was that they would be speaking to uneducated people in so-called third-world countries.
But missionaries to India often discovered that the common people referred their religious decisions to the highly-educated Brahmins. While the Brahmins represented a small percentage of the population, they were held in high esteem, and few people would venture to embrace Christianity without their approval.
Not everyone at the Liverpool Conference shared Singh’s views. Many thought that higher education was unnecessary and a poor investment of time and money. In case anyone thought that he was moved by personal money interests, he clarified that he taught for free for the first two years in the mission and, “if it would concede to the welfare of the native churches, he was willing to surrender anything.”[2]
Providing high education and reaching the influential classes had already been Duff’s vision from the start. With the help of the Hindu reformer Ram Mohun Roy, Duff had been accepted by the Hindu community and had been able to bring the gospel to many young Brahmins who were dissatisfied with traditional Hinduism. Until then, many of these young people had found a confirmation of their objections in Western atheistic Enlightenment literature. That is, until they understood the radical message of the gospel.
Duff, who was probably the most renowned missionary at that time after William Carey, raised money to endow a missionary chair at New College, Edinburgh to prepare missionaries to face the new questions raised by people who lived in different cultures and environments. The goal was to give missionaries a thorough knowledge of the history, geography, languages, literature, and beliefs of different countries. He served there as the first professor.
Moved by Christian Example
Singh was one of the young men who learned under Duff’s teaching ministry. It was Singh’s father, eager to give his sons a thorough knowledge of the English language, to send Singh and his brother to Duff’s school in Calcutta.
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Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntington

Selina died in 1791 from respiratory complications and was buried next to her husband. She had no money to leave behind (in fact, she was in debt), having spent everything she owned for the furthering of the gospel. Some of her chapels continued into the twenty-first century. Selina was and is still a controversial figure. She has been accused of being domineering, sometimes irascible, and taking too much responsibility on herself.  She remains a towering figure in eighteenth-century Christianity, not only in England, but in many countries where she sent missionaries or supported preachers.

“And what if you save (under God) but one soul?”[1]
This question, addressed to a still hesitant John Wesley, is a good summary of the life goal and drive of Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon.
Selina’s Early Life
Born in 1707 to an upper-class family in Northamptonshire, England, Selina faced challenges from an early age. She was only six when her parents separated over issues of money and alleged infidelity. She and her older sister Elizabeth stayed with their father, rejecting her mother’s claims over the family’s estate. Only after her mother’s death, Selina extended her assistance to her younger sister Mary, who had lived with their mother.
Selina’s marriage, at 21 years of age, to Theophilus Hastings, ninth earl of Huntingdon, brought her much happiness. Her letters reveal her love for her husband and their seven children, all born within the first ten years of marriage. But this early joy was marred by persistent health problems that forced Selina to spend much time at the thermal springs of Bath. She profoundly disliked the decadence of the place and missed her family, yearning to return home.
This dissatisfaction was only one aspect of her overall discontent. Amid problems of various kind, she was mostly dissatisfied with herself, a feeling that didn’t find relief in the Christianity she tried to live out in church attendance and charitable acts. What she lacked was a clear understanding of the gospel of grace.
From an early age, when the sight of a child in an open casket impressed on her the nearness of death, Selina had tried to live a godly life, but had felt increasingly inadequate. It was only in 1739 that her sister-in-law Margaret explained how she had finally found peace and assurance by simply believing that Christ had won the battle she had tried so hard to fight. Margaret directed Selina to some young pastors who were known by the disparaging name of Methodists. Selina thrived under their preaching.
Developments in Selina’s Theology
The countess’s sudden turn to Methodism was seen with disapproval by many of her relatives, who considered these preachers fanatic. Seven years later, her daughter Elizabeth, then 15, complained that her mother had become “righteous overmuch.”[2]
But Selina persisted. John and Charles Wesley became some of her closest friends and she supported their ministry. It was around this time that she encouraged John Wesley to preach to the miners near her home. To his objection, “Have they no churches and ministers already?” she replied, “They have churches, but they never go to them! And ministers, but they seldom or never hear them! Perhaps they might hear you.”[3]
John followed her advice in 1742, beginning a ministry that revolutionized his views and methods of preaching.
Eventually, Selina turned away from some of John Wesley’s teachings, particularly his belief that Christians can reach and must strive for perfection in this life. This doctrine, she felt, was driving her away from the assurance she had found in the simple message of salvation by faith alone. Because of this, she developed closer ties George Whitefield, who had also diverged from John Wesley on other issues, such as predestination. She appointed Whitefield as her chaplain in 1748.
Hard Providence
This change in her theology followed a difficult time of her life, when two of her children died of smallpox and, three years later, her husband died of a stroke. More than ever, she needed to hear the good news of the gospel, free from any condition.
But her trials didn’t stop. In 1758, her son Henry died of a mysterious illness which had deprived him of his sight. In 1763, her daughter Selina died of a violent fever. Throughout this trying time, she found much comfort in the words of preachers who had become her close friends, such as Howell Harris, John Berridge, John Fletcher, and William Romaine.
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Pablo Besson – For the Gospel and Religious Freedom

Besson’s greatest impact, however, was through his faithful preaching, constantly pointing his listeners to Christ and clearly distinguishing between law and gospel, and through his translation of the New Testament from Greek to Spanish, which continued to be used for generations. This translation was published as a single volume in 1919 and it was the first Bible translated in Latin America from the original languages.

From an Inherited Religion to an Understanding of the Gospel
Besson was born in Nod, canton of Berne, Switzerland, in 1848. His father Edward was a Reformed pastor who also served the community as a physician (he had studied both medicine and theology). His mother, Elisa Revel, was a descendant of Waldensians and told her son many stories of her predecessors’ heroism and faith in persecution. Since Paul was the only child, Edward prayed fervently that he might dedicate his life to God’s service.
With this prospect in mind, after finishing his basic studies, Paul moved on to an academy in nearby Neuchatel. Fearing that he would find his life too easy, Edward required his son to work part-time. In spite of this additional commitment, Paul finished with flying colors and continued his studies at Neuchâtel Theological College.
Everything was going well and Paul was excelling in every way. His biographer, …, illustrated the dangers of the ensuing self-satisfaction: “He began to feel satisfied with himself and full of that intellectual pride which is so natural at twenty years of age, when everything seems to be known.”[1] Later in life, Paul described himself as “a perfect pharisee.”[2]
It was the family’s cook, who had worked in the Besson home for years and had seen Paul grow up, that woke him up to his true condition. “You are missing something. You are missing something,” she repeated. “You are missing the main thing.”[3]
At first, Paul dismissed her warning and her encouragement to place his full trust in Christ crucified. After all, she was a cook and he was a theology student! But her words continued to ring in his mind.
It was a little later, at the University of Leipzig, Germany, that a Lutheran professor, Christoph Ernst Luthardt, impressed on Paul the full meaning of the gospel and justification by faith alone – something he never forgot.
The Free Church
Besson concluded his studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1870. After this, he supplied pulpits until April 1871, when he accepted a call as a pastor at Liniers, Neuchâtel.
By then, however, the state had been infringing for some time on the rights of the church in virtue of the fact that they were government-funded. At the same time, there was a proliferation of teachers who openly contested the validity of Scriptures. Ferdinand Buisson, for example, president of the National Association of Freethinkers, attacked the use of the Old Testament in schools because it “favored superstition and corrupted the youth.”[4]
In 1873, Freethinkers won a victory by convincing the government to modify its constitution so that every citizen could be a member of the church by virtue of his birth, without a confession of faith, and ministers could be allowed on any pulpit apart from subscription to any creed. In response, 27 out of the 47 pastors in Neuchâtel conservative pastors left the church, starting a new denomination, known as the Free Evangelical Church of Neuchâtel.
Besson was one of the dissenting pastors, but his congregation chose to stay with the established church. Because of this, he accepted a call from two pastors in Lyon, France, to help to evangelize the area. There, he challenged the municipal rules that forbade the sale of Bibles and the distribution of tracts, and was briefly imprisoned twice.
It was around this time that he met some Baptists who persuaded him to join their denomination. He did, working for six years with the Boston Baptist Mission in northern France and Belgium. Floris, who later invited him to move to Argentina, was one of his congregants.
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Charles Chao—Translator and Refugee

Chao is mostly remembered for his role in RFT, which, in the words of Bruce P. Baugus, editor of China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom,  “helped form a new generation of Reformed leadership within China and throughout the global Chinese church.”

From the earliest days of Protestant missions, foreign missionaries understood the need of training local pastors. The priorities given to this task varied. In many cases, circumstances helped to hasten the process.
This is what happened in Manchuria, a historical region of northeast China, in 1941, when the government forced all religious schools to close. This Yinkguo Bible Institute, which had become an isle of orthodoxy in a country where the siren of religious liberalism was attracting many.
The school’s president was J. G. Vos, son of the renowned Princeton professor Geerhardus. Before leaving for the States, Vos asked his friend, assistant, and former student Charles H. Chao (Chao Chung-Hui) to be the school’s caretaker, hoping that the situation would soon change.
Translator and Pastor
Born on August 2, 1916, Chao was raised a Christian by his mother, who had encountered Christianity in her youth. Of all her children, only Charles shared her faith. In 1935, Charles attended the first Manchurian Christian conference at the Yinkguo Bible Institute and was so impressed by the teachings of the main speaker, Wang Mingdao,[1] that he applied to become a student at the institute and dedicated his life to serving Christ.
By then, Chao was already married. As it was customary, his marriage had been arranged by his mother. Because of the uncertain times, the ceremony took place when Chao was only sixteen. His bride, Li Yu Chen Chao (Pearl), was not a Christian but Charles’s mother sent her to a nearby Bible institute where she learned about Christianity and was baptized. Their first son, Theodore, was born in 1936.
After an internship in Northern Manchuria, Chao returned to the seminary on the invitation of J. G. Vos, who was looking for an assistant. Vos introduced him to the writings of Loraine Boettner, lighting in Chao’s heart a desire to translate them into Chinese. Following Boettner’s advice, he started with The Inspiration of Scriptures. This was just the first of Chao’s numerous translations.
After Vos’s departure, Chao took care of the school’s grounds for fourteen months, until the government claimed them. He then moved to Tashihchiao, where the local pastor needed an assistant. He stayed there until 1945, when the Japanese surrendered. The people of Manchuria rejoiced to see the Japanese leave their country. But their joy didn’t last long, because Russian troops soon replaced them.
Out of the Tiger’s Mouth
This began the long struggle between the Soviet army and the Chinese Nationalist movement. It was a harrowing time for the population, who was forced to submit to the Russians’ demands for food, services, and women. In his autobiography, Out of the Tiger’s Mouth, Chao remembers one time when the Russians asked him to find them some women. He had heard of locals who had been killed for refusing to comply. Thankfully, some unexpected circumstances forced the Russians to let him go unharmed.
Another time, right after the birth of his seventh son, William, a group of Chinese communists abducted Charles from his house and brought him to their headquarters where he and other Chinese captives were forcefully enlisted to march before their troops as a human shield. Taking advantage of a moment of confusion, Charles managed to escape.
Clearly alarmed, the Chaos decided to move to Mukden, which was under Nationalist control. There, Charles worked as an interpreter for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), shipping American relief supplies to Chinese distribution centers. It was a demanding and stressful job. Longing to put his pastoral training to practice, he was glad when opportunities arose to teach English first in a local school and later at the Mukden YMCA, where he was also able to introduce young Chinese to Christ.
During this time, he corresponded with Vos and Boettner, who encouraged him to continue his studies in the States. In fact, they had procured for him a scholarship at Faith Seminary of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), in Tacoma, Washington, and had helped him to get a visa.
What’s more, Boettner was able to arrange for Chao a plane ride from Mukden to Shanghai on a Lutheran “mercy plane,” which was meant to transport refugees out of China. The door seemed wide open and Chao interpreted it as a confirmation that God wanted him in the States.
Crisis of Conscience
His conscience, however, kept bothering him. Could he really leave his wife and seven children in a country where the Communist forces were advancing rapidly and often violently? He had been encouraged to go by his father-in-law, where Pearl and the children were staying, but doubts kept resurfacing.
He was fully aware of Pearl’s challenges. In her own words, from the time Charles had left, their family had been suffering “separation, anxiety, and all the daily inconveniences and perils of life in the middle of a civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists.”[2]
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