By Frank Ramirez
It has been 60 years since Church of the Brethren missionary work ended in China. However, the Brethren presence there is not only remembered by a few people, the fruits of that mission are still active today. At a Brethren Historical Society insight session at Annual Conference this summer, hosted by Brethren Historical Library and Archives archivist Bill Kostlevy, Eric Miller and Ruoxia Li along with Jeff Bach shared photographs and information.
Bach, who is director of the Young Center at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, is co-authoring a book about the historic Church of the Brethren mission in China. He showed photographs of mission homes that are still standing today, along with a former mission point and hospital that continue to serve the people of China.
The church’s mission in China began in 1908, the bicentennial year or the 200th anniversary of the Brethren movement, and was centered in Shanxi Province. The missionaries and the Chinese Brethren who joined the church experienced true hardship. There was the 1918 famine and pneumonia plague, political unrest, and danger from local warlords in the 1920s, and the martyrdom of Chinese and American Brethren during the Japanese occupation. The mission and the Chinese church ended under Communist rule, but along the way there were agricultural, medical, and evangelistic accomplishments.
Bach recounted the story of three American Brethren missionaries who were murdered by Japanese forces, who wanted to silence them after they witnessed a murder. He also alluded to the martyrdom of 13 Chinese Brethren, also under the Japanese occupation.
Eric Miller and Ruoxia Li spoke about the “Friendship Hospital,” also known as the “Brethren Hospital” because it was started by the mission. In the building, there is a bust of mission doctor Daryl Parker commemorating his work in the hospital, which is now used for Chinese medicine. The inscription tells how Parker trained nurses, worked with Chinese doctors, and served the welfare of the people. The actual hospital founded by Dr. Parker has moved to a new location not far away, and its 30 beds are devoted specifically to late-stage cancer care.
The Mission House built by the Brethren also still stands. One of those who worships there was 18 years old when she was baptized by the Brethren.
Li shared the influence of the church on her own life choices–she has chosen to work in hospice care because it involves choice and dignity.
— Frank Ramirez pastors Union Center Church of the Brethren in Nappanee, Ind., and was a member of the volunteer news team for the 2016 Annual Conference.