Simonetta Carr

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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Gi Pung Yi – First Korean Martyr

Yi was baptized in 1896, and worked with Swallen to establish a church in Wonsan. Yi’s dream and his conversion from bully to evangelist led some to nickname him “the Apostle Paul of Korea.” Yi helped to spread the gospel in Wonsan and surrounding region by distributing Bibles and gospel literature (as a colporteur or, in Korean, gwonseo). By answering questions, gathering interested people and establishing contacts, gwonseos played an important role in the institution of the Korean church.

Gi Pung Yi – First Korean Martyr
He was the first Korean Protestant missionary and the first Korean martyr, often remembered as the father of the Korean Protestant church. It all began through a rock and a bout of hot temper.
A Paul-like Conversion
Gi Pung Yi was only sixteen in 1885, when the American missionary Samuel A. Moffet arrived in Pyeongyang (today in North Korea). Yi distrusted foreigners. Why did this American come to Pyeongyang?, he wondered. Used to dealing with problems through violence, he gathered some friends and went to Moffet’s house, where they kicked the gate and threw rocks. The rocks broke a window and dislodged some roof tiles, but the Moffet family stayed inside.
One month later, Yi spotted Moffet at a street market, speaking in broken Korean while holding a track. Seeing his chance of protesting this foreigner’s intrusion, Yi picked up a rock and threw it, hitting Moffet in the chin. Losing his balance, Moffet fell on the ground, bleeding. No one came to his help. Yi left the scene.
Fast-forward ten years, when Yi met another missionary, this time in Wonsan, where he had looked for refuge during the Sino-Japanese war. By then, he was a young man trying to make ends meet by painting pipes and selling them on the street.
To Yi, the missionary, William L. Swallen, looked enough like Moffet to bring back a painful memory. For years, Yi’s conscience had been bothering him and Moffet had appeared in many of his dreams.
A missionary spoke to Yi about Jesus, who didn’t pay much attention. He just wondered who was this Jesus that people considered so important. That night, however, he had a dream where Jesus told him to stop persecuting him. Frightened, the next morning he ran to the house of the missionary who had talked to him.
After hearing Yi’s confession, the missionary took him to Swallen’s house, where Yi, crying profusely, continued to unburden his heart. Swallen prayed for him, and continued to teach him about Christ. Yi was baptized in 1896, and worked with Swallen to establish a church in Wonsan. Yi’s dream and his conversion from bully to evangelist led some to nickname him “the Apostle Paul of Korea.”
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Catherine Willoughby – An Outspoken Reformer

Catherine was frustrated with the new queen’s compromises in the matter of religion. She supported preachers such as John Hooper, John A Lasko, John Field, opening to them the parish of the Holy Trinity Minories in London, which was under her jurisdiction. In her home, she employed as preacher and tutor for her children Miles Coverdale, who is known as an early Puritan.

When fourteen-year-old Catherine Willoughby married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, in 1533, she became one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in England. Thirty-five years her senior, Brandon had been married three times before. His latest wife had been Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister – a marriage that had greatly increased his sphere of influence.
We don’t know how Catherine felt about her marriage, but girls of her status didn’t usually have a choice. With Brandon she had two sons, Henry and Charles. In a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, the boys looked charming, their golden hair fashioned in the typical pageboy haircut.
The family’s estate increased when Henry VIII abolished the monasteries and divided the church’s properties among his nobles. When, in 1536, a group of Roman Catholics rose in a protest known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, Charles Brandon was chosen to quench the rebellion.
Slow Religious Transformation
If Brandon’s main motivation was obedience to the king and material prosperity, by this time Catherine was becoming increasingly influenced by the Protestant ideas that were infiltrating England and even her own household. In fact, in spite of his traditional views, Brandon tolerated the Protestant views of some of his helpers and administrators. For example, Pierre Valence, chosen by Brandon as tutor for his children, agreed with Luther’s protest against indulgences. Even the family’s chaplain, the Scottish Alexander Seton, believed in justification by faith alone.
Catherine’s Protestant convictions were strengthened at Henry’s court, where new religious ideas circulated, in spite of the king’s adherence to most Roman Catholic doctrines. There, she became a close friend of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. In fact, she was at court when the queen was accused of possessing banned books and narrowly escaped execution.
It’s hard to determine when Catherine fully embraced Reformed views, but she enthusiastically supported the Protestant King Edward VI after Henry’s death. By then, her husband had also died and left her with enough wealth to be able to finance causes she considered important, including the publication of Katherine Parr’s Lamentation of a Sinner, a controversial book that left no doubt on the former queen’s stand on justification by faith alone. Her correspondence around that time also makes reference to her study of the Scriptures.
Catherine also promoted the circulation of Bibles in English and encouraged bishops to bring protestant clergy to local churches, particularly in her region. Between 1550 and 1553, she invited bishop Hugh Latimer to preach to her household at Grimsthorpe, Lincolnshire. In fact, most of his sermons, pregnant with the gospel message of justification by faith alone, survived thanks to Catherine, who financed their publication.
When her sons grew old enough to attend university, Catherine placed them at St. John’s College, Cambridge, under the tutorship of Martin Bucer. Later, when Bucer became ill, she took care of him at her home.
Learning to Trust God’s Providence
The toughest time in Catherine’s life was in 1551, when her two sons died hours apart. The cause was the so-called sweating sickness, a contagious illness that affected England, in a series of epidemics, from 1485 to 1551. It was probably a viral pulmonary disease.
When the sickness broke out at Cambridge, Catherine moved her sons to one of her properties where they could isolate. But they had already been infected. Upon hearing of their illness, Catherine, also unwell, rushed to their side. She arrived too late to see Henry alive. Charles died soon after. They were 15 and 14 years old, respectively.
Apparently, the boys had some premonition of death, as they each spoke, in their last days of life, of leaving this world.
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Bringing the Gospel to Bucharest

Some people attend the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest for curiosity, but stay for its message. Corcea thinks that Reformed churches have an advantage over Eastern Orthodox because both the liturgy and the Scriptures are intelligible. Besides, the congregation can sit down, while in Eastern Orthodox churches they stand the whole time. At the same time, Reformed worship is reverent and based on historical formulas and creeds which people can recognize.

No course of study or pastoral training prepared Rev. Mihai Corcea for the loneliness he experienced on the mission field of Romania‚ even though it’s his native land. It’s not a lack of companionship (he has a lovely wife and a young, energetic son). Rather, Corcea described his loneliness as “being overwhelmed by the opposition around me,” and not having other pastors nearby that share the same experience.
The Making of a Pastor
Corcea is pastor of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest, a mission of the United Reformed Church in North America (URCNA). He was born into a nominal Eastern Orthodox family and attended the local Orthodox church with his grandparents. When he was a teenager, Corcea’s parents began attending an Evangelical church and brought him along to worship. He soon became interested in reading the Bible and some Christian books. He later became convinced of the soundness of the Reformed confessions in 2006, while spending some time in Holland with a Reformed family.
After earning a degree in business management and marrying his wife Lidia, he settled in Bucharest where they attended a mainline Lutheran church. Slowly, he met other people who were interested in the teachings of the Reformation. Together, they started a mid-week Bible study.
Soon, it was clear that Romania needed a Reformed church. Corcea contacted several churches in Europe for support and advice, and received an answer from Rev. Andrea Ferrari, pastor of the Reformed Church Filadelfia in Milan, Italy (also a URCNA mission). Mihai and Lidia became members of that church and attended as often as they could, given the distance of over 1000 miles.
The consistories of both Milan and Santee, CA (the overseeing church) agreed that Corcea was called to be a pastor. With their encouragement, in 2013 he began his studies at Westminster Seminary California (WSC) in Escondido, graduating in 2016. After his ordination as URCNA minister, Corcea returned to his country. On August 7, 2016, the first service of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest took place in an office building.
“I soon learned that the place and format of the worship service matters much in Romania,” Corcea said. The visitors were few, and rarely returned. Things changed when he moved into an actual church building which he shares with a Lutheran congregation. “The cross on the roof makes a difference,” he explained.
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Bian Yunbo – A Poet for the Unknown Christian

A group of Christians known as the Northwest Spiritual Movement that helped to rekindle Bian’s passion for spreading the gospel. To encourage himself to keep going, he wrote a long poem in memory of unsung Christians who had been preaching before him. He never planned to write 100 lines, but he could not put down his pen.

When, in 1943, Japanese soldiers occupied a rural area of the province of Hebei, China, eighteen-year-old Bian Yunbo walked over six hundred miles south-east to Yang County, where a high school accepted refugee students. There, he first heard the gospel from a missionary from the China Inland Mission (CIM), Doris E. Onion.
Onion impressed Bian with her concern for his soul and her fervent prayers for him, particularly at a time when he entertained thoughts of jumping into the Han River. She didn’t know about this temptation, but was awakened in the middle of the night by a voice that sounded like Bian’s, and prayed for him.
“She was quite thin,” Bian wrote, “wore the clothes of a Chinese peasant woman, did not speak Chinese well, but like an elderly mother she had a face full of kindness. She didn’t say a lot, but she left you with the feeling that you just had to listen to her counsel. I was led to put my faith in the Lord through her.”[1]
 This conversion took place after he understood the pervasiveness of sin and the “pain and bitterness” it produced. He was baptized in the same river where he had contemplated death. “Thanks to God,” he wrote, “that stretch of river did not become my grave, but rather became the place symbolizing my death, burial, and resurrection in the Lord.”[2]
Keeping up his studies with limited resources was not easy, but Bian worked hard. In 1944, he was admitted into the largest university in China. Although he became a leader in the Christian Student Fellowship, his ultimate goal was to become a famous playwright. It took a bad case of pneumonia, at a time when no medications were available, to wake him up to his selfishness and pride.
A few months later, he decided to devote his life to spread the gospel. He returned to Yang County, where he discovered that Onion had left due to poor health. He then determined to continue her work, in spite of his worsening pneumonia. To his surprise, the hardships of his itinerant life didn’t impact his health. Instead, the pneumonia cleared up completely.
Following the advice of his church elders, in 1946 he went back to university to be better prepared to preach. He declined, however, an offer to study at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and another offer to co-author a research with a professor. His mind was, at that time, focused on the work in China.
But this local work was not without disappointments, particularly when he discovered that some Chinese were preaching for financial profit, and others liked to cause dissension. He tried to comfort himself by singing some hymns, “but some of the normally deeply moving verses became expressions of resentful, tear-filled complaint.”[3]
A Life-Changing Poem
It was a group of Christians known as the Northwest Spiritual Movement that helped to rekindle Bian’s passion for spreading the gospel. To encourage himself to keep going, he wrote a long poem in memory of unsung Christians who had been preaching before him. He never planned to write 100 lines, but he could not put down his pen.
“The deeds and images of many, many nameless preachers seemed to appear before my eyes, and I wept with them, shared their past defeats and victories, giving thanks together, calling out to one another to run the race set before us. It was as if hand in hand with them, heart melded to heart, in mute communication, they detailed one after another testimony and experience.

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