American Missionaries in Dengzhou Series: First Protestant Church in North China

Baoshan Church of Gaoxin District, Linyi, Shandong, celebrated its 10th anniversary on May 3, 2019.
Baoshan Church of Gaoxin District, Linyi, Shandong, celebrated its 10th anniversary on May 3, 2019. (photo: Shen'en Church)
By Guo Dasong December 25th, 2019

In ancient history, when Christianity was introduced into China, there is no record of it coming to  Dengzhou. Protestant Christianity came to Dengzhou in the modern era. Although missionaries from different countries and denominations had been to Dengzhou, only two missions of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Northern American Presbyterian Church (NAPC) took root and ministered for a long time in Dengzhou.

The SBC mission came earlier to Dengzhou than the NAPC.

The Dengzhou SBC was originally a "branch" of the Shanghai SBC mission. During the Second Opium War when the Tianjin Treaty was signed between China and Britain in 1858, it provided for the opening of ten ports for trade including Dengzhou (later renamed Yantai) which was on the basis of the earlier opening of five ports stipulated in the treaty of the First Opium War. In 1859, before the end of Second Opium War, the SBC "appointed Pastor J.T. Holmes and his wife as missionaries to Shandong Province. They were asked to stay in Shanghai until the road to Shandong opened." When the couple arrived in Shanghai in early 1859, they hired a teacher from Jinan to begin learning the Shandong dialect. That summer they arrived in Yantai."

In October 1860, after the end of the Second Opium War, the Qing government ratified the Treaty of Tianjin and signed the Treaty of Beijing, and the couple went to Yantai again "where they rented a house and renovated it." When Mr. Holmes returned to Shanghai to move their house, the Hartwells, another missionary couple who had arrived there in the summer of 1859, for health reasons had decided to go to the north for a more climate-friendly place." In January of 1861, the Holmes and the Hartwells formed the "First Protestant Church of Shandong" in Yantai, which was the first church in Shandong as well as in North China. Until the mid-1930s, the SBC expanded their ministry from out of Dengzhou, Shangdong, to northwest and northeast China. The organization's name continued as  "The Southern North China Mission" or "North China Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention". However throughout the late Qing Dynasty, the base of the North China SBC was not in Yantai, but in Penglai, Dengzhou.

Dengzhou SBC mission started from the Holmes' two visits to Dengzhou in 1859 and the idea was formed in early 1861 when Holmes and Hartwells made exploratory trip to Dengzhou and Huang County. The Mission was formally established in October 1862 by the Hartwells as the "North Street Church."

During that exploratory trip to Dengzhou and Huang County, it was decided that the Holmes would settle in Yantai and the Hartwells in Dengzhou. The Hartwelsl signed a lease contract witnessed by the County Director of Denzhou. This established a relatively peaceful foundation for the missionaries to settle in Dengzhou.

On March 1, 1861, the Hartwells, their young son and a personal assistant went to the newly renovated house in Dengzhou. That autumn, the Yan army swept Shandong. In trying to persuade them not to attack Yantai, Homes encountered one of the pioneering troops of the Yan army as he was on the way to their camps, and was indiscriminately speared to death. During the times when the army was not under the city wall plundering it, the missionaries went out of the city to treat the wounded, sick and disabled. In the city they also carried out a number of rescues. At about the same time as cholera raged, the missionaries, after burying their companions and curing their own diseases, "had the opportunity to carry out treatments and saved many lives. Their actions removed prejudice by the local people which opened the door to the Gospel".

According to the 1910 biography, "Hartwell", by daughter Anna B. Hartwell, "The first SBC church in Dengzhou was established in October, 1862. There were eight members. On the same day, three other members were baptized, for a total of 11 in the church. As far as we know, this was the first Protestant church organization north of Shanghai." This is the North Street Church in Denzhou.

In 1863, Tarleton Perry Crawford and his wife, who had worked at the Shanghai SBC mission for 11 years, moved to Dengzhou "for health reasons". Because gentlemen at that time constantly "made up stories of the brutal abuse by foreigners everywhere", it was difficult to rent a house. So the couple had to temporarily stay with the Hartwells. The Civil War in the United States was taking place at the time. The southern ports in the United States were under blockade and the SBC mission faced financial difficulties so were unable to pay foreign missions. Hartwell had to go to Shanghai to seek support for his family and the Dengzhou SBC church. "He first worked as an interpreter at the Shanghai Municipal Council and later did other work." During Hartwell's visit to Shanghai, the Crawfords were temporarily in charge of all the affairs at the Dengzhou church.

In 1865, Hartwell returned to Dengzhou after receiving private donations from American friends. As well, the Civil War ended. At the time, the Crawfords had not yet found a house and still lived in the Hartwells' home. Soon, tensions between the two families emerged, especially regarding the Hartwells' and Crawfords' ways of missionary work and policies. The relationship in the Dengzhou church was complex and became difficult.

So in 1866, through his assistant, Chao Ting Ching, Crawford rented a large residence with seven small courtyards by the Hua river. Although this caused great dissatisfaction among some locals and nearly led to violent clashes, to which even the U.S. Consul in Yantai thought that Crawford knew "it was wrong to acquire a house by these unspeakable means." The issue was ultimately resolved peacefully through pressure from the U.S. Consul in Yantai on the local Government of Dengzhou. Crawford formed the "Monument Street Baptist Church" which became a rival to the North Street Church represented by Hartwell. As a result, the North China SBC mission had two church organizations in the town of Penglai, Denzhou.

In 1870, Mrs. Hartwell died of a difficult birth and Mr. Hartwell had to return to the United States with his four young children. Because of his conflict with Crawford and issues between the two churches, before leaving, Hartwell refused to allow the North Street Church to fall into the hands of Crawford. So he hurriedly anointed Wu Tswun-Chau, a Chinese aide whom he trusted, as pastor to run the North Street Church.

At the end of 1872, the Hartwells suddenly returned to Dengzhou. This caused tension between the North Street Church and Monument Street Baptist Church which quickly intensified. In order to ease the conflict, Hartwell and his second wife temporarily moved to Yantai in 1873. Two years later however, they returned to the United States because Mrs. Hartwell could not adapt to life in China and became seriously ill,. This time they remained in the United States for 18 years.

After Hartwell's return, Crawford was in charge of the Dengzhou churches. Part of the "North Street Church" moved to Zhaoyuan and part of it merged with the Crawford's Monument Street Baptist Church. Although the United States Mission sent nearly 20 missionaries to the region, the period in which Crawford was in charge of Dengzhou SBC branch was a time in which some of them also worked in Pingdu, Huang County and other places. It was also a time in which the Dengzhou Baptist churches "had been understaffed, struggling badly, and sometimes planting fewer churches than in the early days. A large number of those who came to strengthen the work, after being able to work, either died or left the Mission. Crawford advocated that the Chinese should not have been nurtured with money from the States and that they were not to be employed to preach". It had been extremely difficult for the Dengzhou SBC mission to develop under his ministry.

In 1893, in view of the "fruitlessness" under Crawford, the US SBC headquarters mobilized and appointed Hartwell to return to Dengzhou to preside over the North China SBC mission. At the end of the year, Crawford took 10 followers and left Dengzhou to started the Gospel Mission heading west to Tai'an to set up another station.

Back in Dengzhou, the Hartwells corrected the policies of Crawford. Other missionaries had also returned from vacation along with several people who had come with the Hartwells. The evangelism work showed new signs of rapid growth. In 1893, the Swedish Baptist Church joined in to form a joint venture known as the Teng-Lai Association. "Soon, the number of churches doubled and its name became inappropriate and was then changed to the Shandong Association covering the entire province." Later, it developed outside the province and then became known as the North China Association with the Swedish Baptist Church "forming its own association with its own development".

However, while the Baptist cause grew, the status of the Dengzhou SBC mission, which was also the base of the SBC mission in Shandong, quietly changed. As early as around 1910, there were eight Baptist missionaries in Penglai, Denzhou. "The local people were no longer hostile and their relationship with the missionaries was cordial and friendly".  Hartwell's third wife opened a "very successful" boarding school, with "three girls' schools and two boys' schools". Around this time, Pingdu developed into the largest SBC church in Shandong Province and the center of Baptist work began to move to Huang County. In 1912, there were only four foreign missionaries, two married men and two single women, while in Huang County, there were four married male missionaries and three single female missionaries. The "Training School of the North China Baptist Mission" as a school for missionaries in northern China was also moved from Denzhou to Huang County and then was renamed Bush Theological Seminary.

Hartwell, as head of Dengzhou SBC mission and SBC North China Mission, also moved to Huang County when the school relocated there. Later, as the center of the entire Mission's work moved to the big cities, Dengzhou SBC mission declined and its status as a base for the SBC mission in Shandong and North China ceased to exist. According to the available resources, as of the late 1920s and early 1930s, there were no longer foreign SBC missionaries in Dengzhou.

(The article was originally published in the Sina blog of Donghaisanxian.)

- Translated by Charlie Li

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