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LETTER FROM CHINA: ‘Much toil and patience are necessary,’ 19th century missionary said

EDITOR’S NOTE: Each day during Baptist Press’ coverage of the Beijing Olympics, we are publishing a letter from a Southern Baptist missionary who served in China during the years before the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. Some of the letters reveal these missionaries’ great love for the people of China; others provide glimpses into what life was like for an American living abroad in the 19th century. We hope the collection helps Southern Baptists capture the passion of these great souls and understand the sacrifices they made so the good news of God’s love could be taken to what was, for them, the ends of the earth. The letter below was written by F.C. Johnson, who served in China from 1846 to 1850.

CANTON, China–I am now on my field. Its extensiveness I knew only by report, though the swarms of people that encompass me around on every side, and the living stream that flows without intermission along the narrow streets, induces me to believe that the extensiveness of my field is not exaggerated.

Foreigners are not yet allowed to enter within the walls of the city. I doubt whether there is any likelihood of this ever being allowed, except at the point of the bayonet.

You are, doubtless, desirous to know what are my views and feelings in relation to the work before me. In the first place, then, I will say that now, as much as ever, do I regard the work as a great one. It is one, too, in which much toil and patience are necessary. It can only be accomplished by slow and oft-repeated efforts. Many disappointments must be experienced and many blunders will be committed.

I know that no one is qualified for this work but a man eminent for prayer, holiness of life and heavenly imparted wisdom and long-suffering; one ready to exercise daily self-denial in many points regarded as necessary to comfort at home; willing and eager to strip off Americanism and put on China-ism; sanctified from the world, politics, from literary pursuits, from scientific researches, from intercourse with ungodly men, unto the Gospel of God.

He must be one whose mind is made up to encounter contumelious treatment from the people among whom he is to labor, until at last he overcomes it by meek endurance. One willing to risk whatever danger may be connected with boldly preaching the Gospel to a people who may be suddenly excited and aroused to madness, by events over which he can have no control. One who is conscious that the love and service of Christ will be so delightful as to compensate for the loss of all other pleasures. Conscious that his faith in Christ’s divinity is so strong, that he can confide in him in every time of real danger.

F.C. Johnson

March 1848

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  • F.C. Johnson