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Exhibit honoring ‘Miss Bertha’ opens at SBC Library & Archives

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An exhibit honoring the life and ministry of Bertha Smith, missionary to China and Taiwan, has opened for a two-year run at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in the Southern Baptist Convention building.

The Spartanburg County (S.C.) Baptist Network, an association of 92 churches, donated the Olive Bertha Smith Collection to the Southern Baptist Convention a year ago. The exhibit includes many artifacts collected by the legendary South Carolinian affectionately known as “Miss Bertha,” though not her official correspondence with the former Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) during her years of active service in China (1917-48) and Taiwan (1948-58).

The Spartanburg organization acquired the collection when it purchased the Peniel Prayer Center in Cowpens, S.C., and its contents from the center’s trustees.

Materials displayed cover the entire life of the Cowpens native, from her years as a student at Rock Hill’s Winthrop College and her later years when, after retiring at the age of 70, she traveled and spoke extensively to promote missions and in 1973 established the Peniel Prayer Center in her hometown. The center, which survived her death by only two years, hosted prayer retreats for Christians across the nation.

The exhibit, which is housed on the fourth floor of the convention building in downtown Nashville, is expected to draw visitors especially from South Carolina during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville June 21-22.

Smith’s collection included several hundred copies of her self-published book, “Miss Bertha Smith’s Bible Notes,” which are available free to visitors as long as the supply lasts, according to archivist Taffey Hall, who set up the exhibit.

Hall, who said she “learned a great deal” about Smith while preparing the exhibit, said of the missionary, Bible teacher and prayer retreat leader, “She certainly was a remarkable woman who touched countless lives with a genuine heartfelt compassion for winning souls to the Lord.”

The life of Miss Bertha spanned nearly 100 years, from her birth in 1888 to her death in 1988, five months short of the 100th birthday she had hoped to reach.

A high point in the career of Bertha Smith was her involvement in the famous revival that broke out in 1927 in the northern Chinese province of Shantung, where Smith labored with her missionary partners and prayed for a spiritual awaking among the Chinese. As told by Smith’s biographer, the late Lewis Drummond in his book, “Miss Bertha: Woman of Revival,” the prayers had their effect and on “one glorious day God rent the heavens, and what is now called the Shantung Revival burst upon them.” The revival, with its emphasis on confessed sin and reconciliation with God, would continue for years and reach well beyond the Shantung province.

Smith was the author of three books, including “How the Spirit Filled My Life.” At the time of Smith’s retirement from active missionary service, the number of believers in China was approximately 5 million. At the time of her death, that number had grown to between 50 and 70 million, and the Shantung Revival has been credited for sparking much of the increase.

“Bertha Smith exemplifies what all of us feel a Southern Baptist missionary ought to be,” former SBC President Adrian Rogers said in 1977. “She has been a blessing to countless thousands.”

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  • Don Kirkland