Methodism shares a vibrant history of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the un-reached people groups of the world. Great Moments in Methodist Missions is a series designed to inspire Christ-followers in local and global disciple making and to rekindle the flame of a white-hot passion for the un-reached people groups of the world. This month’s feature tells the story of the first Methodist missionary to China, Judson Dwight Collins.
The mood in the room was elevated as the crowd broke out in applause. It was the late Richard Nixon’s last visit to China. Speaking before a group of Chinese university students, Nixon shared Napoleon’s famous quote: “China, there’s a sleeping giant, don’t awaken her because when you do she will move the world.”
What Napoleon and Nixon perceived in the past has come forth in the present. Her economy has awakened. Her middle class is expanding. Her military is modernizing.
And yet, as this giant awakens, another more profound story unfolds. It’s the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ advancing in China.
It has been said there are over 100 million Christ-followers in the nation of China today. Many analysts believe China has already surpassed the United States in total numbers of Christians.
In a country dominated by Taoism, Buddhism, atheism and Confucianism for thousands of years, how did China become a nation with one of the largest Christian populations in the world? Herein lays the answer . . .
There were those who bear the name of Christ who were willing to go first.
We’ve never heard of most of them. They consist of legions of selfless servants, many of whom the world is not worthy.
Who was the first Methodist missionary to serve in China? His name was Judson Dwight Collins.
Judson was born in the small town of Ross, in Wayne Country New York, in 1822. His family later moved to a farm in Michigan where he spent most of his early years. Judson’s parents were devoted Christ-following Methodists. Having a total of ten children, he was their seventh child, named after Adoniram Judson, the pioneer missionary to Burma.
As Judson grew up he regularly attended the Methodist Church (Methodist Episcopal) in which his family was active. Revival services and opportunities for service influenced Judson at an early age. After Judson came to know Jesus Christ at an early age, God continued to place his hand upon young Judson. Judson followed a call into full time ministry in the Methodist church and also sensed God leading him to the un-reached people of China.
In 1845, he was part of the first graduating class of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. A brilliant intellectual, he taught chemistry, botany, rhetoric, Latin and Greek as a professor at Wesleyan College. While serving as a professor, his Bishop informed him that a door was opening for a people called Methodist to share the gospel of Christ in China and that Judson was being given the opportunity to go.
When Judson arrived in Foochow, China, he and his team opened two schools for boys. The first opened in 1847. The second opened in 1848. Judson was active in sharing the gospel through written materials. He was also active in translating the Scriptures into mandarin.
He was entrusted with increasing responsibilities. In 1850, he was appointed superintendent of the Foochow Mission.
Collins was sent to Fuzhou, where, after ten years of weary preparation, a work broke out, which spread itself over six large districts, and comprised sixty stations. A printing press was kept busily employed, which, in the year 1888 alone, issued 14,000 pages of Christian literature. A large college was in use through the generosity of a natives. The mission also wound along the banks of the Yangtze for three hundred miles, and had stations in Jiujiangand and other large cities. Northwards it has churches in Beijing, Tianjin and Isunhua, with full accompaniments of schools and hospitals, and it extended westward to Chongqing, 1,400 miles from the sea. In 1890 it had thirty-two missionaries, seventeen lady agents, forty-three native ordained pastors, ninety-one unordained native helpers, and over four thousand communicants.
The living conditions in China were harsh. Poor sanitary conditions were prevalent. The combination of these factors weakened Judson physically. His health suffered. He contacted typhoid. In 1851, because of his ongoing illness, Judson had to return to the United States. At the tender age of 29, weakened by his illness, he died.
One of his peers said of him, “The chief desire of his soul was to carry the gospel to the unsaved in China.” While Judson’s life was cut short, his life was not in vain. As a pioneer Methodist missionary, he and his team opened up China for waves of Methodist servants who would follow in the years to come.
As we witness one hundred million Christians in China today, in a country of 1.3 billion people, the fields remain ripe for harvest. There is still great work to be done for God’s glory. Thus, may God call forth new waves of Christ-following Methodists who are as committed to reaching the nations as was the young, Judson Dwight Collins.
JESUS: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NASB)
i Townsend, William (1890). Robert Morrison : the pioneer of Chinese missions. London: S.W. Partridge. Pp. 237-238
ii Lacy, Walter N., A Hundred Years of China Methodism, Nashville, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1964. p. 25
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC, and founder of The Immersion School, a discipleship training center in Birmingham, Alabama. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman, Patrick Lawler, founded the Patricia B. Hammonds Girl’s Home for 60 orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The home is operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the North Alabama Conference Discipleship Team. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111