The actual beginning of our foreign missionary operations was in 1896, but the preliminary steps covered a good many years prior to that date.
The world-wide view of missions, including the obligation to send the gospel to heathen lands was officially recognized by the General Eldership at its first meeting, in 1845, when it adopted the following:
"Resolved, that this Eldership form itself into a domestic and foreign missionary society."
A constitution was adopted, the second article of which provided that "the object of this society shall be to employ, send out and support, both domestic and foreign missionaries."
That was the program adopted at the very first opportunity which representatives of the general brotherhood had to express themselves on the subject of missions. For obvious reasons the domestic part of it had to be carried out first. A good home base had to be established before foreign missionary operations were possible. This work had already been going on for twenty years, and it continued for fifty years more before the first foreign missionary was sent out. To that part of the work attention has already been given. Much of the record of preceding chapters is the history of home missions.
But the idea of doing foreign missionary work was not lost sight of during these years of waiting. The subject was frequently discussed and official actions were occasionally taken by the Elderships. The Free Baptist Church at different times made overtures for co-operative work on the foreign field. And while such co-operation never materialized, the fraternal fellowship and negotiations contributed to the cultivation of the foreign missionary spirit among our people.
The organization of the Woman's General Missionary Society in 1890, at the meeting of the General Eldership at North Bend, Iowa, was an important event in the history of our foreign missionary work. It was the natural outgrowth of the many local and several State societies which the women had organized during the preceding years and helped to make their organized activities more effective. Prospects were brighter now than they had ever been before for helping to answer the cry of a needy world across the seas. A good deal of money had already been collected for this purpose and still further efforts were made in this direction in order to be ready to send when some one would offer to go.
It was Miss Clara Landes, an ordained minister of the Iowa Eldership, whose offer of service for the foreign field was the first to be accepted. This was in 1895, and after a special course of training she was sent to India in the Fall of 1896, by the Woman's General Missionary Society, with the approval of the General Eldership. After about two years spent in language study and special training at the Free Baptist Mission at Midnapore, India, she was ready to select a field and begin the definite work for which she had been sent out. Ulubaria, a subdivision of the Howrah district, province of Bengal, about twenty miles from Calcutta, was the field selected, and here she spent, in all, about a score of years in devoted and self-sacrificing service.
The next missionaries to go to India were Miss Viola G. Hershey, of East Pennsylvania, and Rev. A. C. Bowers, of the West Pennsylvania Eldership, and his wife. They sailed in October, 1902, and reached Ulubaria in December. They were sent out by the East Pennsylvania Woman's Missionary Society, in affiliation with the Societies of West Pennsylvania and Maryland. This was in keeping with a constitutional provision adopted by the General Eldership of 1902 and under the approval of its Board of Missions. The affiliation of the Societies just mentioned with the Woman's General Missionary Society organized in 1890 had not materialized, hence the occasion for this special provision for the sending out of these missionaries. But it was intended only as a temporary provision, for the same General Eldership adopted plans which it was hoped would result, the following year, in the organization of a General Society which would include the Societies of all the Elderships. The outcome was not wholly successful. On the contrary, schismatic influences continued with more or less agitation for nearly a score of years, to the detriment of the missionary work at home and abroad. It is not necessary to enter into the details of this controversy, nor would it be profitable to do so if it were possible. The women were chiefly instrumental in the promotion of our foreign missionary work from its beginning and naturally felt that they should have a large share in its management. At the same time, the General Eldership, which was, and is, our highest ecclesiastical authority, reserves to itself "the exclusive right" to employ and send out missionaries (except in so far as that authority may be delegated to other organizations) and to own and control foreign missionary property. And the controversy, to express it in a few words, involved the lines which should determine the respective authority of the General Eldership, its Board of Missions and the Woman's General Missionary Society. The matter was finally adjusted at the General Eldership of 1921 by the rather simple process of providing for the admission of women as delegates to the General Eldership and giving them a proportionate representation on its Board of Missions. While this action automatically brought to a close the work of the Woman's General Missionary Society, it did not end the work of the women; it simply transferred their official relation to the General Eldership, where, as members of its Board of Missions along with the men, they have their share in the management of our missionary work, both at home and abroad.
Miss Lydia A. Forney, Mrs. Clara M. Ritchie, Mrs. Mary B. Newcomer, Mrs. Anna P. Boyer, Mrs. E. P. Green, Mrs. Ella Jeffries, Mrs. R. H. Bolton, Mrs. Chas. Manchester, Mrs. George W. Stoner, Mrs. D. C. Komp, Miss Clara E. Stare, Mrs. Laura Snavely Smith, Miss Lessie Landes, Mrs. A. J. Latchaw and Mrs. Alice Geddes were the persons most prominent and active in the work of the women's missionary societies.
The misunderstandings which arose in the missionary circles of the homeland in 1902 naturally extended to India. As a result, Rev. and Mrs. Bowers and Miss Hershey left Ulubaria in the Fall of 1904, and early in 1905 selected a permanent field in the Bogra District of East Bengal, with the town of Bogra, some two hundred miles north of Calcutta, as their headquarters. In the Fall of 1907 Bowers left the field and accepted an appointment from a Baptist Mission in an adjoining province. This was a trying experience for Miss Hershey, as it left her practically alone for the time being. But she was not found wanting in the testing time. She never faltered in her loyalty and devotion. And through that experience, as well as during all of her years of service, which have now covered nearly a quarter of a century, she has been an exceptionally capable and faithful missionary of the cross.
Soon after the departure of Bowers from Bogra Miss Leah K. Becker, of East Pennsylvania, who had been working in India as a missionary for nine years for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, came to Bogra and her offer of service on our field was gladly accepted. This was most fortunate, not only in that it provided a congenial companion for Miss Hershey at a time of special need, but also because of the persevering and fruitful service which Miss Becker has rendered as a missionary of the Churches of God from that time to this. She has been home twice on furlough.
Mrs. S. M. Ager, of the Free Baptist Mission, was a very helpful assistant to Miss Landes on the Ulubaria field for nearly five years and rendered valuable service while the latter was home on furlough in 1906-07.
On her return to India in 1907 Miss Landes was accompanied by Rev. and Mrs. A. B. Chamberlin, of the Iowa Eldership, two very devoted, intelligent and promising young people. But after three years the health of the former was so impaired that they found it necessary to return to the United States. This was deeply regretted, as it was felt that their services through a long period of years would have been of great value to the Mission.
Dr. Chloe F. Hull, a young lady of excellent Christian character who had prepared for the medical profession was sent to the Ulubaria field in 1911. Conditions, however, were not found favorable to the carrying out of the plans she had in mind for medical work and her relation with the Mission was terminated by mutual consent after one year.
In 1908 Miss Mary Witsaman, of Indiana, was accepted as a missionary and sailed for India in October. She took up her work on the Bogra field. She was devoted, earnest and capable, and would no doubt have become a successful missionary had not failing health required her return to the homeland in 1912.
The first furlough of Miss Hershey, in 1911-12, was marked by an event of much importance in her life and in the foreign missionary work of the Churches of God. It was her marriage to Rev. Howard W. Cover, a young and promising minister of the East Pennsylvania Eldership, on October 22, 1912. A few days after the wedding they sailed for the Bogra mission field, where they have been faithfully at work ever since, except for a furlough to the homeland in 1920-21. Thorough accord with the plans and purposes of the Churches of God, a broad and optimistic missionary outlook, and an untiring application to duty are characteristics which explain the success of the Rev. Mr. Cover on the mission field. His executive ability has been of special value.
The Covers were accompanied to India in 1912 by another young minister of the East Pennsylvania Eldership?Rev. Aaron E. Myers. His unswerving loyalty, his recognition of his responsibility and his persistent application to his tasks are the elements which have entered into his work and made it fruitful. His wife, to whom he was married in India, December 25, 1918, was Miss Louisa C. Dermott, an English missionary. Since then she has been numbered among our workers. They were in America on furlough in 1921-22, and since their return have been at work the Ulubaria field.
In 1913 Miss Landes was married to an Anglo-Indian at Calcutta, India, who assumed much of the responsibility connected with the work, such as the construction of mission buildings, evangelistic work and conducting Bible classes. In 1918, with her husband, Mr. Preston A. Landes, she returned to the United States, very much broken in health through the severity of the climate and the heavy responsibilities of her long years of service. Her husband, while attending the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, was stricken with pneumonia, in January, 1920, which proved fatal.
During the interval until the General Eldership took charge of the Ulubaria field and provided workers for it, Rev. F. E. Whisler, a missionary in that part of India for the Pentecostal Band looked after our interests in a satisfactory manner.
Special efforts were made during the closing years of our first century to increase our missionary force on the foreign field, and with good results. The influence of the Student Volunteer Movement, in which quite a number of our young people had become interested, was a contributing factor to this success. Young men and women were offering themselves for the foreign field. More money was being raised for this work than ever before. The churches in general were stimulated and the brotherhood was gratified. The outcome was the sending of six new missionaries to India within a period of less than four years. Miss Edith Mae Nissley sailed in 1919; Rev. and Mrs. Daniel L. Eckert sailed in 1920; Miss Minnie M. Lehman accompanied the Covers when they returned from their furlough in 1921; and Rev. and Mrs. C. H. Lefever sailed in 1923. The Eckerts were members of the West Pennsylvania Eldership. The Lefevers and Miss Nissley and Miss Lehman were from East Pennsylvania. This doubling of our force of workers on the foreign field was an inspiration to the churches in the homeland. These young people were sincere and devoted and encouraged the hope that, under the direction of the Master, they would be able to accomplish much in His service. But disappointment awaited them. The rigors of a new climate and the subtle diseases of a strange country made their inroads, resulting in the return of these six missionaries to America during 1924 and 1925.
Those remaining on the field are the missionaries who have stood the test and have become acclimated. They are carrying on the work and training natives for increasing responsibilities, while the churches of the homeland are praying for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest.
The work done on the Ulubaria and Bogra fields has been similar to the pioneer work of other religious bodies in their foreign missionary operations. Land has been secured and mission buildings of different kinds erected. Outstations have been established at various points. Boys schools and girls schools have been opened for week-day instruction and Sunday-schools and church services have been conducted regularly. Orphan children have been looked after. Much work has been done from house to house in telling the gospel story, distributing tracts and selling books. The opportunities presented for personal work at the public markets and similar places have been improved. The camping season has been utilized for evangelistic efforts in many villages. Many native workers have been employed to assist the missionaries. God has blest the efforts of these faithful servants and an encouraging number of men and women have been won for Christ, while a still greater harvest may be expected from the seed-sowing in the hearts of the boys and girls in the schools. The churches in America have supported the work in India with commendable liberality, their gifts for the support of missionaries and the erection of buildings aggregating many thousands of dollars.
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