American Missionaries in Dengzhou Series: The Crawfords and Monument Street Church

Wulin (Huahe) Shenghui Church, formerly known as "Dengzhou Monument Street Church"
Wulin (Huahe) Shenghui Church, formerly known as "Dengzhou Monument Street Church" (photo: Shandong Penglai Church )
By Guo Dasong December 27th, 2019

Today's Penglai Huahe Church, known as the "Monument Street Church", was built by Crawford out of his personal investment in 1871.

Tarleton Perry Crawford, from Kentucky, US, came to China with his wife in 1852 as a missionary of the Southern Baptist Church (SBC). They first ministered in Shanghai for 11 years and in 1863, because of "health reasons", went to Dengzhou. Before Crawford came to Dengzhou, Hartwell had successfully started the Dengzhou Baptist Church. When the Civil War in the United States broke out, there was a shortage of funds so the missionaries had to support themselves. After the arrival of the Crawfords, Hartwell "went to Shanghai to seek support for his family and the Dengzhou SBC church." He worked as an interpreter at the Shanghai Municipal Council and later did other work. Meanwhile, Crawford was temporarily in charge of all the affairs at the Dengzhou church.

In 1865, after receiving a private donation from an American doctor he had met while working in Shanghai, Hartwell returned to Dengzhou to again oversee Dengzhou Baptist Church. Crawford, who was at odds with Hartwell over their missionary policies, worked as an assistant to Hartwell. In 1871, after the death of his first wife, Hartwell returned to the US with his four children. Although, he suddenly returned to Dengzhou the following year, he moved to Yantai soon after and then again returned to the US shortly thereafter. From then until 1893 the Dengzhou Baptist Church was under the ministry of Crawford. In 1894, when the headquarters of the SBC sent Hartwell back to oversee the Dengzhou Baptist Church, Crawford together with his wife and several followers chose to leave the Baptist denomination and went to Tai'an to start a new "evangelical church". In 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion he returned to the US and died there in 1902.

Crawford basically had spent all his life in China. When the Boxer Rebellion broke out he returned to the US where he had no home and lived with his wife's relatives and eventually died there. American religious and academic scholar generally do not regard him as a successful missionary not because of his theological beliefs nor because he did not work hard, but because his missionary approach was out of step with the times.

As early as his time in Shanghai, Crawford "insisted that and always had adhered to, apart from his tutor, employing unpaid assistants." During the time in which he was in charge of the Dengzhou Baptist Church, he ran a business. He however damaged all aspects of the relationships and so the business eventually closed down. Yet he had always "insisted on a policy of hiring local help without foreign financial support" and had always argued that the purpose of the foreign Christian mission in China was "to build a useful and spiritual Christian team and in due course to have its own leadership and develop its own schools and Christian institutions ". In Crawford's view, spending money to hire Chinese as pastors or missionaries would lead some out of impure beliefs and greed for money to enter the church only to corrupt the missionary system. He therefore did not support spending money running schools and medical services. Consequently, he did not get along well with his wife by urging her to give up medical services. In 1884, the Dengzhou Baptist Church finally completely closed three boys' and girls' schools, schools that had required a great deal of hard work to establish them.

While the Dengzhou Baptist Church was under Crawford's ministry, only did it thrive in the initial stage and by the early 1870s many contradictions began to emerge. Not only were male and female coworkers at the Dengzhou Church not able to work together, but the Chinese congregation also gradually left. Even Crawford and his wife became strangers to each other because of their sharply differing views on matters. Crawford became deep anxious about the future. In the second half of the 1870s, failure in his career caused him mental and physical problems. He even once felt that he would "die in five years time." However, the reality of the situation did not cause him to change. He simply continued down the road of his own design. In the end, because of coworkers who would not support him, a poor working outcome and the distrust from the US headquarters, he had to abandon the Baptist Church and find his own way. In 1893, he left Dengzhou before Hartwell's return. In the process of leaving the Baptists to create his own church, he took with him "more than half of the staff" of the North China Baptist Church. The SBC Foreign Mission headquarters tried to make concessions, that "on the basis of certain conditions, the entire North China diocese be handed over to them (SBC)", but this was rejected.

The story of Crawford seems puzzling. He should have learned a truth from his own life experience after coming to China, about only relying on faith to be all providing and all able.  Did many of the Baptist missionaries during the American Civil War, like J.T. Holmes, Hartwell, and himself, never think about money or living for living's sake? One must have a life and live in order to have faith and to contend for it. Being a man with such experiences, Crawford could become so stubborn in his ideals. All his life he even demanded Chinese believers completely separate themselves from money and only rely on pure faith to advance the cause of Christianity. It is hard to say that Crawford's thinking had no problems. He ended up losing even the minimal human touch in his relationships for the sake of faith, demanding some Chinese Christians not even eat enough in order to devote themselves to the faith, which was totally impossible and unrealistic in that era. This never-thought-through issue of Crawford's is worth profound reflection today.

Although Crawford was not a successful missionary in Shanghai, Dengzhou, and later Tai'an, he was quite successful in doing business in Shanghai and made some contributions to cultural exchanges between China and the world.

In terms of intercultural communication, Crawford is the author of the book, "Romanised Pronunciation of the Shanghai Dialect" in which he invented a method of learning the Shanghai dialect of Chinese by using a phonetic alphabet. It has been helpful for new missionaries coming to China to learn Chinese, especially the Shanghai dialect. In addition, he and a Chinese named Zhang Ruzhen co-edited "Mandarin Literacy" by abandoning the Western nine-point method and dividing the Chinese characters into fifteen categories which played a certain role in promoting the transformation of the modernization of the Chinese language.

In the cause of Dengzhou, what can be tangibly seen today is the Monument Street Church.

The Dengzhou Monument Street Church was built at the personal expense of Crawford. When he came to Dengzhou, he still insisted on his idealism in hiring Chinese missionary workers without pay. In order to realize his ideals, coupled with the conflict with Hartwell, in 1866, with the help of his assistant in Dengzhou, he rented a large house with seven courtyards through and moved out of Hartwell's home. After months of work, it was said that the residence was magnificent. The compound had a number of "porches, small courtyards, a well and seven different trees". Part of the compound had two-story houses. The various rooms in the seven small courtyards were 34 in total. At that time, all admitted that "this is an unforgettable place." Here, Crawford established a church organisation that remained a rival to the Hartwell's "North Street Church" and called it the Monument Street Baptist Church (MSBC). Not only that, in order to attract more people to join MSBC, Crawford planned to build a popular Western-style church. In 1871, he invested $3,000 to build a foreign-style Baptist church what was later known as the "Monument Street Church", not far from and opposite to Qijia Memorial Gateway. The church was officially built in 1872 and had "280 seats for worshippers". This matter shocked the U.S. Baptist Church headquarters because Crawford's annual missionary salary was only $1000. So they wrote to ask if he had gotten "rich" in China. In fact, while in Shanghai, he did make some money doing business, but soon went to Dengzhou. As a result, he felt hurt and asked his good friend in Dengzhou, the Reverend Melissa of the Northern Presbyterian Church, to write to the headquarters explaining why he had some savings. He was "very rich", only rich in terms of "faith and good works".

It is worth mentioning here that Crawford while Dengzhou contributed to modern Dengzhou, namely having probably the first international marriage in Shandong and even the whole of northern China. When he was in Shanghai, he met de Grew, a Dutchman with no fixed career, and brought him as an assistant to Dengzhou when he arrived there. While the Dutchman was there, he met a Chinese lady and fell in love. In 1866, Crawford had made successful what was then an absolutely shocking marriage by Chinese standards.

Mr. & Mrs. Crawford were very inconsistent in terms of their missionary policy. When she was in Shanghai, she opened a primary school for girls. In order to attract students to the school, she "gave students ten copper coins every day." After arriving in Dengzhou with Crawford, she soon opened a boys' boarding school thanks to her linguistic competence. The precedent school examples of the Northern Presbyterian Mission followed with a girls' school that was co-run with Mrs. J.T. Holmes. It became very successful. However by the 1870s, the school was in a intermittently went into a slump. In order to ease relations with her husband due to his lack of support and adding of additional restrictions, she agreed to close it altogether. From then on, she dressed up in Chinese attire and visited women in the villages, establishing friendships with many people in the city and surrounding villages and enjoying a high reputation among missionaries and the locals. The world-renowned American missionary Lottie Moon, in her 1910 short biography of the Crawfords, wrote very highly of Mrs. Crawford.

In 1894, she left Dengzhou with her husband to go to Tai'an where the Boxer Rebellion broke out and so they returned together to the US in 1900. Two years after their return, Mr. Crawford died, and she returned to Tai'an a few months after her husband's death. Although she was old and suffered from a variety of illnesses, she still had "great enthusiasm".

Mrs. Crawford had lived in China for more than half a century and made important contributions to cultural exchanges between China and the world. During her time in Dengzhou, she not only founded and insisted on running a male boarding school for nearly 20 years, but also practiced medical care for more than 10 years "treating no less than 1,500 or 2,000 patients per year". She was also a writer. In addition to writing regular letters to report her work and explain her husband's missionary policies and guidelines, in 1877, when China's first foreign missionary conference was held, she wrote an article entitled, "Working for Women". Around this time she finished the manuscript "The History of Mission Work in Tengchow (Dengzhou) for the First Thirteen Years". In about the 1880s, in order to make up for the lack of oral sermons, she wrote "The Three Maidens", modelled on the story of the three little pigs. It was used in western Sunday schools to illustrate the distinction between Christianity and non-Christianity, and to guide people to convert to Christianity. It is particularly worth of mentioning that in the early years in Dengzhou, she compiled in Chinese what could be said to be China's first systematic introduction of the types and methods of Western cuisine. The book "Foreign Cookery" had a great impact. There had been many reprints before 1949. In 1986, a version with notes was published.

Mr. and Mrs. Crawford, who had never had children by birth, adopted two British orphans in Japan in the 1870s. But from what is known, they grew up without living with them. In her later years, Mrs. Crawford lived alone in the Tai'an mission and died in Tai'an.

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

- Translated by Charlie Li

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