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Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford
By L. S. Foster

Chapter XX
Serious Questions

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      The two great problems which are continually before every mis­sionary are how best to plant self-propagating churches, and how best to seek out and train an efficient, God-called ministry. Even before reaching the field, Dr. Crawford had to some extent studied these questions, carefully examining the scriptures and other sources of information within his reach. He tried to cut his mind loose from the conditions under which he had grown up, and to realize as far as possible how different were those to be met with in a heathen land. The missionary literature of those days con­sisted mainly of articles on school teaching, preaching, itinerating tours and the labors of paid native assistants. Influenced by this literature and similar missionary speeches he naturally supposed these to be the proper methods of work.

      On arriving at Hong Kong he heard a story that caused him to look at these matters from a new standpoint. He was told about the native assistants employed by Dr. Gutzlaf, through whom he had made a great sensation in the religious world. The newspapers contained many thrilling accounts of their evangelistic work. Dr. Gutzlaf employed two hundred of these native preachers, being nearly all of the membership of his church, sent them into the inte­rior to preach the gospel and to distribute New Testaments free among the people. He also required them to keep diaries of their journeys and their labors to be translated for the Christian public at home. According to these glowing accounts, one edition after an­other was distributed and eagerly read; and many people in the in­terior gladly heard the gospel, while others stirred up persecutions against the evangelists who by the help of God had narrowly es­caped from mobs and other dangers. But after a time a young mis­sionary associate having his, suspicions aroused, communicated his doubts of this work to his senior; and to test the matter, each copy of the next edition of the New Testament was privately marked before being given out to the assistants. In a short while another edition was demanded, and was promptly supplied by the

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native printer. On examination the private marks were discovered, and thus it was revealed that these books had been going from printer to missionary, from missionary to native assistants, and from native assistants back to the printer, thus making the rounds again and again for years. The preachers and printers had been di­viding among themselves the money given out each time for these same books. It was also brought to light that the preachers, instead of making the long tours and delivering the stirring sermons re­ported in their journals, had spent their time in the opium dens and gambling halls of Hong Kong, drawing the reported incidents from their imagination. The possibility of such wholesale deception can be readily believed by any person who is acquainted with the state of things in China at that time.

      This story provoked thought. Though it was not assumed by Dr. Crawford that such was the character of all native assistants, yet it was clearly perceived that the employment system would excite unworthy men to seek entrance into the church for the sake of pe­cuniary gain, and that those not paid by foreign money would not feel it their duty to preach the gospel. Thus the propagators of Christianity would fail of their object. But missionaries say that "they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel," that native ministers have the same claim on American churches for support as they themselves have, and thus unintentionally, no doubt, en­courage their converts to enter the ministry by the use of money inducements. They argue that the Chinese, being poor, are not able to give themselves to gospel work without foreign aid. In this way their converts are brought to look upon the foreign church as being both rich and ready to give out of its treasures without stint to those who become Christians.

      As Dr. Crawford studied this subject with facts and Scripture before him, he came more and more strongly to believe that healthy, self-perpetuating churches could not thus be built up, and that the missionaries must be simply the spiritual guides, and not the employers of the native ministry. Of course the main part of the work must be done by natives, but it would be done far more efficiently if voluntary and moderately paid for by the freewill of­ferings of their native membership.

      As Dr. Crawford learned the language and became conversant with Chinese character, as he heard the occasional remarks made by native Christians and heathen in regard to the employment sys­tem, and as he had frequent applications for church membership for the purpose of securing places as preachers, he became

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strongly convinced that foreign money should not be used for hir­ing religious help.

     A native preacher in the employment of a neighboring mission, once brought a heathen friend and introduced him to Dr. Crawford as an applicant for church membership and a position as preacher, he himself offering to go security for his friend's faithfulness and efficiency. Dr. Crawford asked, "Why did you not take him to your own missionary pastor?" The assistant replied, "We do not need any more preachers in our mission at present." Both men re­ceived a rebuke which they probably did not heed. This is given as a specimen of the many place seekers who constantly beset mis­sionaries.

      As the members of the Southern Baptist mission at Shanghai were then working on the non-employment principle, Dr. Craw­ford met no difficulty from this source. But some of their converts were paid to preach by other missions, and this threatened serious consequences. In later years Dr. Yates adopted the "native paid agency" system to some extent, but some time before his death, he wrote a paper on the subject for the Shanghai missionary confer­ence setting forth its evils. Among many other strong things he says,

"What then? Dispense with native assistants altogether? By no means. Native assistants, under certain scriptural conditions, will become indispensable factors in the evangelization of the Chi­nese; but after an experiment of thirty years it is manifest that they not only will not, but cannot attain to the conditions required under the present methods. To secure the native ministry that will do the work required we must reconstruct our whole system and com­mence anew on the basis of voluntary workers; and to do this ef­fectively, it will be necessary to cut off absolutely and forever, not only all claims of the natives upon the foreign treasury, but all ex­pectation of temporal aid from missions."
      Wang Ping San was engaged in Mrs. Crawford's school while yet a heathen, but they did not consider this religious employment, as the religious instruction of the pupils was in her hands. After Wang's conversion Dr. Crawford took him as his teacher of the language, but in addition he did a great deal of voluntary preach­ing. Yet he always felt hampered. Friends and strangers would ask him how much he received for preaching the foreign doctrine, and he found that his sermons were less effective from his being in the employment of Dr. Crawford. His position would, no doubt, in process of time have become understood. But when in after years he became pastor of the Shanghai Baptist Church and took pay
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from the mission demoralization began. Dr. Yates often com­plained of his want of aggressiveness.

      After removing to Teng Chow the surroundings of Dr. and Mrs. Crawford were far more trying. Their only male colleague, as well as the Presbyterian mission there, engaged extensively in the use of native assistants. Moreover, the Chinese did not at first distin­guish between the foreign missionary and the foreign merchant. The latter having plenty of money employed many natives in his business, and so they flocked to the missionary in search of money-making places, supposing him likewise to be in need of employees. When one was found to be religious and the other secular, it made no difference to the applicant, since his religion was in the market the same as his muscle. For a long time it seemed impossible for Dr. Crawford to convince the applicants that he would not pay for religious services. Of course he had to use house servants, and occasionally carpenters and masons. Some of these became Christians, but were taught that such a profession was not a part of the work for which they were employed. Such ideas degraded Christianity in the eyes of the more respectable people, who consequently held themselves aloof from the church—they thought the missionaries were buying followers. Some of the servants held the opinion that joining the church made their position with the missionaries more secure. Dr. Crawford, in adopting a different course from his associates, had to feel his way as best he could, and arrive at correct conclusions through numer­ous mistakes and along a thorny path.

      It was many years before they disbanded their boarding schools and saw with clear vision the way before them. It afterwards seemed strange to them that they had not perceived it earlier, as the Bible was before them and was their constant study for light on these points. But like the old Jewish Christians, the veil of their surroundings dimmed their vision. They at last saw dearly that it was not their mission to give the heathen the good things and insti­tutions of a Christian civilization ready made to their hand. Taking the apostolic plan, as they viewed it, they would sow the living seed, let it spring up and, guided by the Holy Spirit, bear its own fruit. Ripe fruits brought from a foreign land and stuck on trees that could not produce them would prove a failure to the end. When they had placed themselves clearly on the self-support basis, there still remained serious difficulties in their way. Young mis­sionaries, seeing that the apparent prosperity of the employment system was promising greater present results, would naturally

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wish to adopt it. But the two systems cannot be successfully car­ried on side by side, for the success of one is the death of the other.

      Dr. Crawford concluded that the only hope for the self-support work would be to convince, if possible, the Board of its necessity, and thus by the educating influence of that body, to disseminate this idea among the churches and ministry. It was thought that the Board, without using authority, might accomplish much, while he, cooperating with them, might lecture extensively on the subject among the churches. With this in view, at his own expense, he again visited the United States. In passing through Shanghai, he had repeated consultations with Dr. Yates who fully agreed with him regarding the evils of the subsidy system, but not as to the best methods for remedying them. Dr. Crawford reached Virginia in August, but the members of the Board were mostly away from Richmond. He had several consultations with Dr. Harris, President of the Board, who said he was fully convinced that self-support principles were right, and the only difficulty lay in their practical application. In September Dr. Crawford went to Richmond, where he remained three months, having repeated interviews with the Board and a special committee. But he failed in his efforts to se­cure, the sympathy of the Board. He next spent three months lec­turing on, the subject to the churches of the South.

      As before stated, Dr. Crawford returned to China in 1886, and spent the two following years laboring in the city and among the villages around Teng Chow and Hwang Hien, deeply studying the difficult problems which surrounded him. On March 30, 1889, he wrote as follows to Mr. Pruitt, Treasurer of the North China mis­sion:

"DEAR BROTHER: —Today, by the grace of God, is the thirty-seventh anniversary of our arrival in China and the begin­ning of our missionary life. What we have passed through during these years will never be told in this world. I do not regret having spent my life in China, although it has in many respects proved a hard one. Beginning in ignorance of the conditions of mission work among this strange people, I had to feel my way along an un­beaten path. Frequently finding myself going wrong, I had to re­trace my steps and undo what I had done amiss. I have nothing of which to boast, but many mistakes to deplore. On the other hand, I have tried to be faithful to the Master and to the spirituality of his kingdom as interpreted by true Baptists. I am quite without self-

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condemnation (so far as my allegiance to him is concerned), espe­cially since the summer of 1859, when in an upper room of the Fe­male Institute of Richmond, Virginia, I surrendered to the Lord the last bit of personal ambition in connection with my missionary work. Since then to do his will has been my only conscious mo­tive. Having early taken up views regarding the use of foreign money in mission work quite in advance of my associates, and contrary to the prevailing custom, I have had to occupy an odious position and to maintain a desperate struggle for existence throughout most of my career. Being much of the time in a minor­ity consisting of one, reaching the whole truth of the matter by slow degrees, and having had all along to make concessions to my associates, I have never been able to carry out my convictions to a full, consistent practice. Hence my position has been irritating be­yond degree. Had I been able to seize on the whole truth at my first settlement in Teng Chow, and carry out my convictions squarely into practice, the situation would have been infinitely bet­ter. I would then at least have possessed a fortification of my own. As it was, I could do nothing but skirmish, which was irritating both to the missionaries and to the natives. My situation as a whole has been one of the hardest that ever fell to the lot of mortal man. Like Paul, I have had to do not what I would, but what I would not. It has not been the position of my choice, but of neces­sity. Forced by outward circumstances over which I had no con­trol, I have been compelled to excite pecuniary expectations among the people; and forced at the same time by my inward Bap­tist convictions, I have been compelled to disappoint and rebuke them. O wretched man that I have been! Even Paul knew nothing of such a trial. And may all others be spared it.

"There are (so far as I now can see) only three positions which a Chinese missionary can possibly take upon this question. First, so to live as not to excite pecuniary expectation. Second, so to live as to excite and then to disappoint them (my case). Third, so to live as to excite and gratify them. About these I will write at a future time, as I now have other things to mention.

"I am now nearing my sixty-ninth year, and beginning to feel the effects of age and past troubles. For many reasons of a physi­cal, mental and spiritual character, I now wish to retire at my own charges from all future responsibility, leaving this field with its interests in the hands of the Board and the denomination. I shall therefore draw no more money from its treasury for my own use, except the interest due on the cost of my house. . . .

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"I do not mean by this course of action to resign or to sever my connection with the Board or mission, but only to retire from the service. Being no longer able to discharge the incumbent duties, I desire to retire from them and to look after my health. My retire­ment is not designed to affect the status or work of my wife in any way whatever; and she will continue to draw her half of our salary ($515.00), with appropriations for her work as usual (though in her own name), and continue to labor in this field while it shall be her pleasure to do so. . . .

"In conclusion let me say that, with high respect for every mem­ber of our Shantung mission, and with perfect agreement with them in regard to missionary work, I retire from active labor, but not from active interest in them personally and in this great mis­sion field. Neither do I propose to retire from the work of the Mas­ter, but expect to serve him faithfully to the end. Only profound convictions of my duty to his cause and my own health influence me in this course. Asking the love and prayers of all, I remain,

"Yours fraternally,
      To this Mr. Pruitt sent the following reply, in part, dated April 2, 1889:
"DEAR DR. CRAWFORD: — Your letter announcing your in­tention to go to the United States was not a surprise. I am truly sorry for the necessity. Our prayers shall follow you that this step may be the means of your complete recovery. It is doubtless wise for you to give up work for a time. Mingling with people of your own race is more helpful than life in China, and I really envy you the pleasure of meeting brethren in many places and seeing more of our Father's work.. . .

"With reference to the main subject of your letter I have this to say, that no doubt you have had a hard time. Work in China at the best is no royal road. In a sense, you were pioneers both at Shang­hai and at Teng Chow. What that means we who have come later can never know, but it certainly means physical hardships as well as that which is harder to bear, the strain on the mind from the newness of everything. One is like a blind man groping his way along with great difficulty. As the blind man's mind guides him nearer and nearer to his destination, so the divine mind has guided you, his aged servants, in this land. Of course you have not accom­plished all that you wanted to — no one ever did that. But your

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work has been great. Work is measured, of course, by the amount of effort put forth, and the rewards of our Father are given accord­ing to this true measure. It matters not whether your work has been appreciated by men ("Seek not honor one of another"), for heart work is spiritual, not formal. The monuments of such a work are in men's hearts, and not in the institutions left behind them. Christi­anity, the greatest teaching, is simple and plain and scarcely at all formal, and men have never-ending discussions about its externals. But the true union exists all along, that of spirit, of life. Judged by this test, your work has been far from a failure, and many will rise up in the better world to call you blessed. I am sure every one, both in America and China, honors you for the work you have done. I know that I do. Men have a profound philosophy in reject­ing most cordially your views of self-support. The greatest part of life is in other directions; but I think you are mistaken in saying your position has been odious. To all real lovers of the Lord I am sure it has not been so. Even Mr. — has a most profound respect for the truth that lies on the other side, but remember that success is on the side opposed to your views. This success is immediate, and in some cases very far-reaching. While I believe in self-support most firmly, and can go on no other theory, I am bound to admit the good in other theories and modify all my statements in accordance therewith. Self-support is practiced in an infinitesimally small degree in all the world. We must practice it, otherwise we pamper the Chinese at their weakest point, which is fatal. . . .
"Yours fraternally,
"C. W. Pruitt."
      Mrs. Crawford, busy with the pressing work around her, and not much accustomed to theorizing, had given but little attention to the home methods, and did not realize the full import of Dr. Craw­ford's action, or the thoughts that were then beginning to take shape in his mind.
Go to Chapter 21

[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909; reformatted and reprinted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. - jrd]

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