A. J. Broomhall: A Missiological Practitioner

This article presents a biosketch of Alfred James Broomhall and examines his role in the formation of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship in the years after he was forced to leave China. It shows how A. J. Broomhall proved more than useful to the committees he served on during his years as a superintendent in Mindoro, Philippines and as a member of the Overseas Council of CIM-OMF. Using materials from the OMF archives, the paper provides the background and important insights about the decisions made in several key areas: indigenous methods, charitable activities, and evangelism in cooperation with other agencies and national churches.

Neel Roberts graduated from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 1986. He works in the Mekong Region where he is currently involved in training emerging leaders from various ethnic backgrounds in cross-cultural service.

A. J. Broomhall: A Missiological Practitioner

Mission Round Table Vol. 15 No. 1 (Jan-Apr 2020): 26-33

Why Alfred James Broomhall is important

As a first term missionary in Central Thailand, with a book shelf made of two planks resting on some bricks, my prized reading material was the ever growing collection of Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century.[1] A sad day descended when I finished the final appendix of volume 7 and found myself with literally nothing left to look forward to. My depression lasted but a moment when suddenly I was revived with the novel idea that I could simply start all over with volume 1. The second round was as illuminating as the first was inspiring. Thus, if this article appears somewhat hagiographic it is intentionally so. However, it is not Broomhall’s contribution to mission history that I wish to cover here but his role in the formation of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship in the dozen years after he was forced to leave China. As one who has spent significant time sitting on committees, I like to think that sometimes committees are useful. I hope to show in this article that A. J. Broomhall proved most useful to the committees he served on.


Alfred James Broomhall was born in Chefoo, China in 1911, the son of Benjamin Charles and Marion Broomhall who were missionaries with the Baptist Missionary Society. From birth, he had close family ties to the CIM. His uncle, Marshall Broomhall was a nephew of James Hudson Taylor and at the time of A. J.’s birth was one of the CIM’s most prolific authors.

He attended first Chefoo School, then Monkton Combe School in England, and completed his formal education at the Royal London Hospital.[2] It does not appear that he received any formal biblical or missiological training.

Broomhall entered China as a member of the CIM in 1938 in the midst of the Sino-Japanese War. His intent was to live among the Independent Nosu of Sichuan, though it would take quite some time for that to become a reality. In 1942 he married Janet Churchill and in time they would have four daughters. In the late summer of 1944 they were able to begin to live and work among the Nosu in northern Guizhou Province, thirty miles west of Kopu-Gebu in Weining Prefecture, though they were forced to make a hasty departure on 1 December as a Japanese offensive reached Guizhou.[3] Broomhall’s few months there resulted in his first book, Strong Tower, which portrays the lives of the Nosu and the embryonic church through the experiences of a faithful Christian leader who was a school teacher by profession.[4]

He renewed his efforts to enter the territory of the Independent Nosu in 1946 with a team to establish a sustained Christian witness among them. While he was only able to live among them from 1947 to 1951 (and spent his last few months under house arrest), his team was able to plant seeds that would remain and bear fruit in coming decades.[5]

A few weeks before his fortieth birthday, with over a decade of China ministry behind him, he participated in the Bournemouth Conference which produced far-reaching decisions that led to the CIM becoming the China Inland Mission Overseas Missionary Fellowship and to engage the unreached peoples of those parts of East Asia which were still open to missionary efforts.

For the next dozen years Broomhall, in his role as a superintendent of the Mangyan work in Mindoro, Philippines, was a regular participant in the Overseas Council of the OMF. Then, in the mid-1960s, his family moved to England where he took up the role of Candidates Secretary while Janet served as Women Candidates Secretary. Upon retiring in 1976, he began to write Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century. This kept him occupied for the next decade and has proven an inspiration to many thankful readers ever since. In his last years he made two visits to renew his connections with the Nosu and was well remembered and warmly welcomed. He died in Tunbridge Wells, on 11 May 1994.

Photos from his trip to China in 1988 to reconnect with the Nosu

Broomhall as practicing missiologist

Broomhall had not been out of China long when he was invited to participate in the Bournemouth Conference in southern England where the decisions were made regarding the future direction of the CIM.[6] While he was not quite forty at the Bournemouth Conference, several participants were younger than he. What did they bring from China? Their convictions and their hard-earned lessons. One lesson was the importance of indigenous methods. Arnold Lea, as Acting Deputy Director, wrote an article for the May 1951 China’s Millions in which he said that,

The secular press, reporting a gathering of church leaders in Szechwan, quoted the CIM pastor as being the only one able to report total financial independence, while those from other churches were listed as still partially, if not wholly, dependent on foreign funds. At the time of the recent government proclamation there was not a single church started by the CIM that was still drawing financial aid from the mother Mission for the support of a local ministry.

While regretting that not all hospitals and schools were similarly detached from the mission, he concluded by writing, “But we thank God for the guidance given back in 1927, for otherwise the present situation would have badly hit the churches that have been connected with us.”[7] The other lesson they learned was that the gospel alone was truly powerful. When missionaries were at their weakest—in fact, while they were being forced to depart from the country—the word of God was bearing fruit. Broomhall wrote the following of his last months in Nosuland when his, his wife’s, and his children’s lives were at risk just for being there.

And then conversions began. Officers in the Nationalist army who might have had to face a firing squad came to us for frequent Bible study and prayer, and several of them professed conversion. Some of them I believe were genuine. They found peace and joy, even in the face of what was before them. Then the Chinese colonists, especially the young people, came round more and more and a number of them were converted. They found that Christ was real, and they were ready to suffer as Christians. They did not come in for self-protection, looking for safety in Christ because other safeguards were failing. It was just that something had happened. You had been praying, I know, lots of you. And so had we, very hard. Then some officials in the local government were saved, and our own servants, and latterly, secretly, one or two Communists (when the troops and officials arrived), came very “near the kingdom.”[8]

At about the same time in an area where the Nosu work had been long established, Arthur Glasser, who would also be a participant at Bournemouth, had similar experiences.

It is becoming apparent that this year (1950) is one of rich blessing for the Nosu. In the Taku district over fifty families have burned their idols and turned to the living God. In the Fawo district over one hundred thirty families have likewise received Christ into their hearts and lives. Almost every outstation—and there are over fifty—reports people coming out of heathen darkness into the light and hope of our Lord Jesus Christ. The very pressure of their economic and political circumstances has contributed to force them to think on eternal things.[9]

There was one other issue that emerged in China during the previous decades, namely how CIM members were to interact with other mission agencies and churches. The CIM was not always averse to engaging with national, international, or supra-denominational bodies. In fact, Broomhall’s uncle—Marshall Broomhall—was a member of the Commission of the Edinburgh Mission Conference of 1910. The CIM was actively involved in the early stages of the preparations for the Chinese Christian Conference of 1922 and D. E. Hoste seconded the motion for the passage of its statement on doctrinal standards.[10] But within a very short time, as the modernists ramped up their agenda to depart from the fundamentals of the Christian faith, a parting of the ways became inevitable. This moved Hoste, along with many other members of the CIM at that time, to align themselves with the Bible Union of China, a group that united conservative and fundamentalist Christians.[11] The CIM, because of its commitment to work with Christians from many denominations, came to see that it was best to focus on the work of evangelism and discipleship and not engage in the great theological conflicts that were tearing churches apart in the homelands. This was to greatly influence how OMF was to relate to other Christian groups as they sought to establish their presence in the countries of East Asia.

To summarize what the CIM took from China:

1. Using indigenous methods to establish indigenous churches was not simply a noble goal. It was often a matter of life and death, spiritually and physically.

2. Charitable activities and institutions which could not be readily placed under local leadership might become a burden to local Christian communities if a hostile government came into power. Therefore, charity had to be thought through carefully.

3. In order to focus on evangelism it was best to keep an organizational distance from interdenominational and supranational bodies which might end up exhibiting tangential tendencies that would divert the mission from its mission.

This background helps us understand how Broomhall addressed but did not necessarily solve these issues during his years as a superintendent in Mindoro, Philippines or as a member of the Overseas Council of CIM/OMF. It must also be remembered that CIM/OMF in the early 1950s did not have a single, strong leader. The Overseas Council minutes from those days make interesting reading precisely because no skillful chairman could have written them out beforehand. Though most of my attention is focused on Broomhall, he was simply one of a number of individuals who left their mark on the mission in those re-formative years.

Indigenous methods

There was a very clear commitment to the use of indigenous methods in the new work OMF was to be engaged with. While the topic was referred to continually at Bournemouth, I share just one quote taken from “Special Prayer Topics Arising”: “That work may be commenced on sound indigenous principles so that in the case of evacuation we may leave behind a church which is dependent only on the Lord.”[12]

Broomhall was clearly committed to indigenous principles, as demonstrated by his work among the Nosu in the 1940s. However, he was well aware that principles promulgated in Bournemouth or Singapore in following years still needed to be applied in local contexts and that meant someone needed to interpret them. The pattern that had quickly evolved in the OMF was to have all exceptional cases brought to the Headquarters Staff in Singapore for their decision. It seems that their policy was that until/unless there was consensus in the Overseas Council, which met annually, there should not be any change in practices. In this way, the concept of rule of directors by consensus became extremely conservative in practice. Bournemouth was a radical departure from the past. But once ideas like indigenous principles had been agreed upon, a minority (hypothetically, of one individual) which sought to maintain the status quo could always gain its objective by merely not conceding to a new consensus. In this setting, Broomhall sought the ability to make decisions close to the field where the issues arose.

In the minutes of the third session of the 1955 Overseas Council we read that:

A resolution was submitted by Dr. Broomhall for the consideration of this Council:

“That the practical application of the indigenous principle be related by the Directorate in close consultation with the Superintendents and their Field Councils to the particular conditions on each individual field.”[13]

A specific request was then presented:

The Japan Field Conference sought approval for obtaining by invitation strictly short-time assistance of national Christian workers in the initial stages of pioneer evangelism where no organized church existed, the Mission taking responsibility for travel expenses involved, hospitality, and a suitable gift, this being the action taken by Japanese Christians when inviting the missionary to participate in a spiritual ministry. The principle of adopting such a procedure was also supported by some other Superintendents, although not all would desire to apply the same in practice in their individual field.[14]

After lengthy discussions on the topic the conclusion of the matter was:

The Council was now faced with what amounted to two questions presented to it by the sub-committee on Indigenous Principles.

1. What is the official interpretation of the Principles and Practice?

2. Are the Principles and Practice capable of various interpretations?

The Chairman replied that in the final analysis the voice of the Directorate must be the official interpretation of the Principles and Practice. There could not possible [sic] be a dual interpretation of the Principles and Practice, else complete confusion would be the inevitable result. The discussion was brought to a conclusion by the Chairman stating that lack of unanimity did not warrant any modification of our indigenous principles or our interpretation of them. It must be left with the Directorate to decide policy within the framework of the Principles and Practice.[15]

Broomhall probably learned how to live and work with people who were set in their ways back in Nosuland. As he persevered with them so he also persevered with the Overseas Council. In 1961, with many of the same people sitting at the table, he submitted the following request.

Philippines’  Conference Recommendation Concerning Evangelism

The following resolution from the Philippines’ Field Conference was brought before the Council by Dr. Broomhall:

Because the results that might be expected if a more aggressive program of evangelism were pursued are not being seen; and because the rigidity in the interpretation and application of our indigenous policy, especially with regard to enlisting the aid of national workers, has tended to produce a number of inhibitions on the part of missionaries, restricting hospitality, fellowship, and co-operation with national workers: and because our inability to extend invitations to national evangelists to aid us in our task is creating in the minds of some nationals the impression that we desire to preserve our missionary operations on an exclusively foreign basis; This Conference RECOMMENDS to the Directorate that a reappraisal of our Mission policy in relation to evangelism and national workers be considered, which will enable those responsible for this aspect of our work in the Philippines Field to exercise greater initiative in planning evangelistic campaigns and approaching trained national workers who would be happy to cooperate with us on a temporary basis if we would take more active steps to let them know that we are wholeheartedly interested in them and would welcome their cooperation in these special efforts.[16]

The procedures then took their course, for the “Chairman then asked if this had been fully covered in the Council’s recommendation under, A Review of the Mission’s Policies and Methods. It was agreed that this had been done.”[17] Truly it had been on a previous day, but in that decision all that was conceded was that OMF could contribute to organizing bodies that organized evangelistic campaigns.[18] Thus, the biblical concept was followed that to those who had, more would be given. Where a missionary was in a pioneer setting with no Christians to organize any evangelistic campaign, an evangelist could not be funded by the mission or the missionary and thus the indigenous principle meant that most new believers in OMF’s difficult pioneer settings would never see a national evangelist. How that contributed to indigenous methods is not for me to explain.

Philippines 1958 Field Conference. A. J. and Janet Broomhall are in the row behind the children, the fourth couple from the left.

On charity

One area where Broomhall had a unique contribution to offer was in the area of thinking about how medical work could best contribute to church planting. At the first Overseas Council he was asked to make a presentation along with Fred Mitchell, the British Home Director.[19]

The following statement pertinent to the subject was prepared by Mr. Mitchell and Dr. Broomhall, and accepted by the Council:

“The Council unanimously recommends in order to do effective medical work without endangering either its continuity or the health of the medical personnel that in the immediate future we regard ourselves as primarily committed to work in Thailand. If later, God sends a sufficient number of suitable medical workers consideration will be given to the expansion of medical work in other fields.”

… The Council felt that this was God’s call and that we should go ahead in medical work to the extent that God sends in funds, and medical and other personnel, for the carrying on of such hospitals and clinic. Basically, it was suggested that the treatment of the sick is a contribution that we can make as a Christian Mission to the physical healing of the afflicted, beginning in Thailand and developing as God leads and supplies.

… It was felt that medical work was a legitimate charge on Mission funds, and, being separate from church work, it is in a special category, which is not affected by indigenous principles. Experience in China and at home indicates that medical work usually has not been an integral part of the life of the church, though it is essentially an outgrowth of Christian experience. Even the policy of making a hospital self-supporting has been on occasion an embarrassment to the doctors, and a source of misunderstanding among the people reached. It was agreed, therefore, that provision and maintenance of property and the salaries of medical staff should be a Mission responsibility. Furthermore the mission would undertake to provide, if necessary, a subsidy for free treatment on a remittance basis. Hospitals are a Mission project and are not of a temporary character or intended to become self-supporting.[20]

The fact that Broomhall and Mitchell could make a presentation which was unanimously accepted shows quite clearly that the mission was not moving from a wholistic to a merely soul-saving mode of operation. Indigenous principles in church planting were designed to enable East Asian churches to sprout up and expand in total dependence on God. Medical work was designed to provide physical healing to the afflicted to the degree that God provided the funds and the doctors. In this seminal statement, a case might be made for the view that the Mission intended to provide medical care as practicable without regard to whether or not it significantly contributed to evangelistic efforts. The reality was that it did contribute greatly to the evangelistic efforts at least in Central Thailand. Furthermore, as the church in Thailand matured, Thai Christian medical personnel did follow the example of missionary doctors by sacrificially caring for the sick.

Overseas Council, Singapore, 1960. Back row (left to right): Cyril Faulkner, David Day, Ernest Heimbach, Jim Broomhall, David Bentley-Taylor, George Kraft, George Williamson, Ron Roberts, David Hayman, George Steed, Roy Ferguson. Front row: Elden Whipple, Herbert Rowe, Morris Rockness, Arnold Lea, J. Oswald Sanders, Rowland Butler, John Kuhn, Fred Keeble, Leslie Lyall, Marvin Dunn. The Millions, North American ed. (August-September 1960): 115.

There were other ways of showing kindness—charity—besides medical services. In the early days of work in the new fields, some tended to be legalistic in their concern to avoid dependency on the part of local believers. This led to serious discussions on whether or not a missionary could provide a local believer with a meal or a traveling Christian worker with a room for the night. To help address this issue, Broomhall compiled contributions from three field conferences to produce an article for the May 1955 Overseas Bulletin on “Biblical Charity and the Indigenous Church” in which he begins with nearly two pages of biblical texts on charity and then moves on to demonstrate how true and false needs can be assessed and how material help can be harmful.[21]

Charity may be harmful if it is costless to the giver, if it is cold and calculating instead of “yea, and their own lives also;” if it is treated as generosity when it is known to be government issue, public relief, or the natural due of the people; if it is valueless to the recipient and does not meet his need, or even by contrast intensifies distress without resolving it, so that the sufferer despises the donor; if it humiliates him; if it is undiscriminating, regarding the lazy and dirty in the same light as the poor but self-respecting; if it is often repeated till it becomes commonplace or expected; if it shows favouritism, especially toward yes-men, those who attend meetings and please the foreigner. It should never be out of sentiment—“she looked so cute”—or because it is difficult to say No![22]

From there he presents practical ways to meet real needs. While providing many examples he offers no formula, for his premise is that true charity is the fruit of a life lived in close fellowship with God. His summary is worthy of deep consideration.

Part of our commission to preach the Gospel is to live it. Love and charity towards neighbours and brethren in Christ is part of that living. True love truly expressed in relief of distress is godly and will be owned by God. But experience shows that the evil heart of man takes that love and misuses it; it sees hope of gain, becomes lazy, and responds while there are incentives.

To benefit by experience is wise and godly too, in order to avoid stumbling weak brethren or ensnaring the unsaved. So it behoves us to be exceedingly discreet and careful in our expression of charity. It should never be to attract inquirers, to award adherents or converts, or for Christians to the exclusion of others. As for habit—better not to start, than to be generous and find it hard to withdraw without ill-feeling, or to find people expecting more.

Ultimately it comes back to this, that in practicing charity as in other things, we need to live so close to the Lord and in such real dependence on Him, that He can show in each individual case just what He would have us to do.[23]

Cooperation and separation

The CIM grew out of the environment of incipient evangelicalism. The Evangelical Alliance was started twenty years before the CIM, and Hudson Taylor was both a debtor to and contributor to the Evangelical Movement. The relationship of the CIM to the Fundamentalist movement of the twentieth century was a bit more complicated. In the U.S.A., the pre-eminent representative of nineteenth century evangelicalism was D. L. Moody. He had two notable successors: R. A. Torrey and John R. Mott. Hudson Taylor would willingly share a platform with the young Mott (long before he dreamed of creating a World Council of Churches). The CIM Council for North America included the aged R. A. Torrey. But after the battles for control of churches and mission boards in the 1920s and 30s, there was little room for the CIM to maneuver. Neo-evangelicalism (which would soon go back to being called evangelicalism) was in its infancy and thus the Christian world was a somewhat lonely place for the likes of CIM/OMF as it tried to replant itself in East Asia.[24] The situation was well illustrated by a crusade planned by Billy Graham to take place in March 1963 in Manila. From September through November of 1962, as preparations were underway for the crusade, Broomhall (who was based in Calapan, Mindoro at the time) suddenly discovered that his Field Council was divided over whether or not, or just how much OMF should officially support the event. At that time even separatists approved of Graham’s message. What they did not approve of was the fact that his campaign managers welcomed a broad spectrum of churches to have their leaders on the organizing committees. OMF had worked on building cooperative relations with missionaries and Filipino Christians from a similarly broad spectrum of church groupings. So the two questions that had to be addressed were: (1) what was the scriptural approach, and (2) which relationships were they willing to damage.

In a letter to the Overseas Director, Broomhall wrote:

It is hard to know where to begin, or what to say, on this subject. The heated emotions and wild talk are very distressing, and the fact that the Field Council was about equally divided left us with the choice between a decision which ran counter to one side or the other or else a compromise which satisfied no one absolutely.[25]

Broomhall’s own convictions came through quite clearly. He believed that they should wholeheartedly support the crusade (if a consensus could be reached by the Field Council) but that a compromise was almost certainly going to be necessary. The issue was much bigger than Manila and should be soundly addressed at the highest level of the mission. Even so, he could say that “From my understanding of Scripture the modern cult of separatism is not only unScriptural but clearly censured again and again as carnal, sinful and meriting church discipline.”[26]

In the end, the Directors advocated a conciliating policy and came up with a suitably conciliating statement. Months after the crusade—which it seems that Billy Graham could not attend due to ill health—the topic was reviewed at the Overseas Council meeting.

At the request of the Chairman, Dr. Broomhall reported on the attitude of our missionaries to the Manila Crusade and stated that almost everyone approved and some twenty were able to participate, although some did keep out of anything to do with organization, but nobody seemed satisfied with the official Mission attitude. Those in favour of full participation were disappointed that we should yield to pressure from those who so strongly advocated complete separation. Those who were for separation expressed regret that we should cooperate in any way.[27]

While there was a wide spectrum of “Christendom” that was looked upon with disfavor by elements of the Fellowship, a growing number of churches of like faith were emerging in the Philippines that OMF could potentially work with. In 1958, after years of discussions on how and when to cooperate with “national fellow workers”, as they were termed, Broomhall wrote a document for the 1958 Overseas Council on “Cooperation with Organized Groups of Nationals Working in Their Own Country.” The whole article is worth studying in our present era due to our renewed focus on partnership. Broomhall began with the pros which are fairly obvious.

Close cooperation has a firm Scriptural and historical basis, in the experience of our Mission in S. E. Asia as well as in China.

It combines the good in both national and foreign ideas and methods.

The time-factor is significant; combined efforts are likely to hasten completion of the task in a given sphere.

The danger of encroachment by false cults … may be more adequately met by nationals who are better able to detect a faulty response to error.

… the feelings of sensitive Orientals who want to cooperate with us must be taken into account. If friendly advances and zeal to join the work are rebuffed, there may be a serious loss of confidence and cooling of spiritual fellowship. …

At the recent Philippines Field Conference the question was asked: “Is it even constitutional for us to turn away national workers who desire our cooperation, when we are committed to cooperation with churches of like faith?”

When they come of their own accord into our areas and join in our work, we will of course extend them all due courtesy and fellowship while safeguarding mutual independence.[28]

The cons were a bit less obvious, except to one with years of field experience and a gift for interpreting what he had experienced.

There is more land to be possessed, more work to be done than can be compassed however thinly they and we are spread. Why overlap?

If there are reasons for sharing in the work, we believe that we should work with or under godly nationals rather than the reverse. For nationals to be attached to us, a foreign organization, and to work under us, would be a move in the wrong direction, depriving the indigenous church of its initiative and independence….

There are real advantages in the simplicity of our system of teaching and establishing those we win to the Lord. The Christians will often work and witness better with our limited help than if nationals from outside are available to do it for them.

Like us, national workers from elsewhere, unless they practice indigenous principles intelligently, may actually hinder the local believers by encouraging dependence. Unskilled, faulty or low-standard national workers would not be beneficial; … But good capable ones do not need us, and tend to make us superfluous….

Practical problems of living and working together are also considerable. Equality in standard is essential when living at close quarters, and apart from short-term cooperation this sooner or later involves subsidization, directly or indirectly.

Moreover there is a real likelihood of short-term cooperation developing into a more permanent share in the work, especially if the national workers are highly valued by the church. And the potential result – as real as it is absurd – is that the missionary, without having completed the planting of a stable church finds himself redundant, and looks elsewhere for work to do, so starting the process over again.[29]

The conclusions were suited both for the present situation that field workers found themselves in while giving a clear objective that the whole Fellowship could aim for.

The only true answer is for us to acquire the fluency, knowledge of the people, and adaptation to them that are necessary. When we have this, short-term visits by nationals for the sake of sharing their special gifts, will not involve such complications as have been suggested. Meanwhile most of our missionaries are in the process of acquiring that efficiency, and feel a need of help for themselves and the churches. What cooperation is possible?

Until we are able to do pioneer evangelism on virgin soil effectively we are hardly ready to husband the results of an evangelistic campaign conducted by visiting nationals. But where the help of national workers is sought in breaking up hard ground it should come through the missionary outreach of other groups in response to the need being made known, rather than by the foreign mission inviting help and carrying the expenses. (The difference between giving information and giving an invitation is distinct, and clear recognition of it will eliminate confusion of the issue.) …

In every instance it should be the local Christians who invite the national workers, and who therefore carry the responsibility for providing hospitality and expenses. The missionary’s part is to advise, even to suggest the need for such temporary help, and to indicate the extent of the help he himself can give.[30]

He ended with six questions for self-analysis.

1.  Is attainment of efficiency by our missionaries being checked by lack of help such as only experienced nationals can give?

2. Is the gospel being withheld unnecessarily by our restrictions on cooperation with available nationals?

3. Are the converts in some places being starved, deprived of the help that only their national workers can supply?

4. Do we owe it to the immature national workers to provide the fellowship in the work which they seek?

5. Are there indications, not for us to attach others to ourselves, but for us to enter into closer association with some organized groups of nationals?

and 6. Is their contribution so distinct from ours that we could work side by side without waste of effort or hindrance to the indigenous church?[31]

These questions that were considered valuable in the 1950s are still worth asking today in order to evaluate how we work with the national church.


A. J. Broomhall

The missionary as evangelist

Broomhall was always an evangelist at heart. In the episode of the Billy Graham crusade in Manila, even though they were based in Mindoro, he and Janet volunteered to serve by doing “counselling etc.” This was anticipated to be a ten-day commitment.[32] It was not as though he had plenty of spare time on his hands. Rather, his reason for being a missionary was to make disciples and establish churches that would be zealous to fulfill the Great Commission. Therefore, they always sought to be models that nationals could follow, a theme that can be traced back to their days among the Nosu. A helpful document that explains his view of ministry in his new setting is the “Philippines Field Guiding Principles and Plan of Action (Adopted by the 10th Annual Conference May 15–21, 1962).” While this was a field production it had the superintendent’s fingerprints all over it. “The authority for O.M.F. work in the Philippines” was clearly stated:

As ambassadors of Christ and ministers of reconciliation we accept the authority of the Word of God which we preach for salvation, sanctification and edification in all things, especially as concerns the church. (2 Tim. 3:16). With this authority we do not hesitate to declare firmly and clearly “the whole counsel of God” whether palatable or not. (Acts 20:27).[33]

Logical, though not always obvious, corollaries to this mandate were then elaborated upon under “Evangelism”:

1. Recognizing the size of our task, our own limitations, and the need for converts to carry the gospel to their own people, we nevertheless accept the obligation to preach the gospel to all within the areas for which we have accepted responsibility. Moreover, this commission holds good whether or not it is possible to give adequate teaching to those who respond….

2. We seek the leading of the Holy Spirit in all planning and work.

3. We recognize favourable response in any form as an indication for further teaching and are guided by this rather than by maps, plans and schedules. Nevertheless our aim remains “a church in every community and thereby the gospel to every creature.”

4. While the work of establishing believers is never to be halted, the preaching of the gospel must continue, and believers should share in evangelism from the time of their conversion.[34]

It is clear that not every missionary is a pioneer, nor are all gifted in evangelism. For this reason, much of the superintendent’s time and energy was spent finding the place where a person’s gifts might be best used. However, Broomhall was insistent that missionaries needed to get out and break new ground. In a letter written about a specific worker in 1964, he made the following observation.

I do think that those who are most closely concerned with church-planting need to open their eyes to the wider claims and scope for us as a mission here. We are hemmed in by missions and churches stepping in to work in each other’s areas, and can expect it to continue wherever we may work; it looks as if any lowland work we attempt must be with the expectation of parallel work or even rival work starting in the same places, with our indigenous principles having to compete with far freer and faster-fruiting methods used by others. But I do believe that with our methods and principles we could still have far greater results if we applied them as we should; I believe that our small results have been due (to language limitations etc of course, but apart from those factors) to static missionary work, pastoral rather than evangelistic … N_.C_. is doing what I have longed to see others do. We need to apply ourselves to our objective, (and Overseas Council urging), Intensive Evangelism, and I believe that when we do we shall see churches grow.[35]


I have tried to provide a slight taste of the climate and issues that CIM/OMF had to deal with in the first dozen years after leaving China. I have used Dr. Broomhall as a central figure in this short study not because he was a pivotal character in the story but because he is a good example (in more ways than one). As most of my prior studies had related to the work in Yunnan which was transplanted to Thailand, I might well have chosen John Kuhn as my focus, but I chose to explore another field and personality. Thus, it is likely that readers who knew Broomhall or worked in the Philippines will find flaws in my study. I will take full responsibility for them if you will kindly bring them to my attention. I would, however, close with a reference to John Kuhn which we find in the Precis of the Tenth Overseas Council 1966 (when Broomhall was assigned to the British home staff and was no longer a voice in the Council).

It was at this stage of the Conference that the Chairman announced that he had received a cable telling of the Homecall of Mr. Kuhn. Mr. Kuhn had worked in West Yunnan, North Thailand and Laos and his name could well be written across the map of these those areas. Mr. Keeble, who expressed a short tribute to Mr. Kuhn, said, “A prince and a great man has fallen, the man who had been Mr. J. O. Fraser’s “Timothy” in Lisuland and a man who even in his younger days was regarded as an elder brother. He was endowed with those rarest of gifts, maturity and humility”. [36]

A few pages further on is this entry:

Contribution to Emerging Churches

It was felt that on some occasions where emerging churches are evidencing reliance on God alone and development towards self-support, it might be helpful, funds permitting, to make limited non-recurring grants to established funds as a gesture of fellowship, and thereby to assist churches in the completion of their plans, e.g. church building, calling their own pastor, or to further the training of promising lay workers. The Council also agreed that where a group of emerging churches has already established their own revolving fund for such purposes as stated above, the Fellowship might consider making a contribution to that fund on the same basis as contributions to individual churches as already mentioned. Naturally it was not intended that one church should benefit under both categories for the same purpose.[37]

The difference of opinion found here on the use of mission money to help the growth of the church from some of the ideas expressed by Broomhall and his contemporaries that we have already examined is patent. I would not suggest that this was evidence that there arose another generation after them, which did not know “the God-given pattern laid down at Bournemouth”.[38] Perhaps it is an example of the change that gradually took place as new leaders applied the lessons they had learned from experience, gained not in China, but in the New Fields of East Asia.

Read this stirring article by Dr. A. J. Broomhall from the Australian edition of China’s Millions in 1950 which gives a vivid account of the pioneering work among the Nosu in turbulent times of the Communist revolution. He reviews the Lord’s faithful guidance and provision amidst immense challenges that he and his small CIM team faced while they served steadfastly and offered up constant yearning prayer for hoped-for colleagues.

Read more

Point Me to the Skies: The Amazing Story of Joan Wales By Ronald Clements (Sevenoaks: Monarch, 2006) ​​​​​

This stirring account traces Joan Wales’ journey to obey God’s call to China and to the Nosu people in Sichuan. Her story  intertwines with the gripping narrative of the pioneering work of the small CIM team she joined—which included A. J. and Janet Broomhall and Ruth Dix—to reach the Nosu in the “Great Cold Mountains”. Against the backdrop of the Communist revolution, their work in a remote, hostile area is a story of perseverance and trust in the Lord and his faithfulness. Though the team had to leave in less than two years, the story of God’s work among the Nosu did not end at that point. Glimpses of this continuing story emerge in the closing chapters that recount Dr. Broomhall’s and Joan Wales’ reconnection with the Nosu when they visited Sichuan in 1988 and 1991.

[1] The seven-volume series by A. J. Broomhall, published from 1981 to 1989 by Hodder & Stoughton and OMF, was re-published in 2005 by OMF and Piguant as a two-volume set, The Shaping of Modern China: Hudson Taylor’s Life and Legacy. A Kindle edition of this two-volume set is available

[2] David W. Ellis, “Obituary: Dr. A. J. Broomhall,” Independent (5 July 1994), https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-dr-a-j-broomhall-1411725.html; “Alfred James Broomhall,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_James_Broomhall (accessed 5 February 2020).

[3] Margie Hogarth (nee Broomhall), e-mail message to author, 7 March 2020.

[4] A. J. Broomhall, Strong Tower (London: CIM, 1947).

[5] A. J. Broomhall, Strong Man’s Prey (London: CIM, 1953), 47, 249.

[6] It is interesting to note that the number of participants photographed at the Kalorama meeting in February 1951 is quite similar to those who attended the Bournemouth meetings in November but that the new faces toward the back appear considerably younger than those in the chairs up front.

[7] Arnold Lea, “The Three Selfs,” China’s Millions, North American ed. (May 1951): 68.

[8] A. J. Broomhall, “Rival Allegiances,” China’s Millions, North American ed. (January 1952): 8.

[9] Arthur Glasser, “Salowu Bible School,” Letter of October 1, 1950, China’s Millions, North American ed. (March 1951): 43.

[10] F. Rawlinson, Helen Thoburn, and D. MacGillivray, eds. The Chinese Church as Revealed in the National Christian Conference Held in Shanghai, Tuesday May 2, to Thursday, May 11, 1922 (Shanghai: The Oriental Press, n.d.), 693.

[11] Paul Hutchinson, “The Conservative Reaction in China,” The Journal of Religion 2, no. 4 (July 1922): 346, 351. For a history of the Bible Union of China, see Kevin Xiyi Yao, The Fundamentalist Movement among Protestant Missionaries in China, 19201937 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003).

[12] “Some Notes Regarding the Decisions Made at the Bournemouth Conference, Nov. 17–30, 1951,” 4, OMF Singapore Archives (OMFSA) AR 5.1.4 Box 2.1. Writing sixty-eight years later, we can be thankful for the doors that have remained open, but we should not complacently assume that this situation will last.

[13] “Third Session of the Overseas Council, Minutes of Overseas Council meeting held in Singapore on Wednesday, May 25, 1955,” OMFSA AR 6.1.4 Box 1.5c.

[14] “Third Session of the Overseas Council, Minutes of Overseas Council meeting held in Singapore on Thursday, May 26, 1955,” OMFSA AR 6.1.4 Box 1.5c.

[15] “Third Session of the Overseas Council … May 26, 1955.”

[16] “Seventh Session of the Overseas Council, Minutes of Overseas Council meeting held in Singapore on Friday, November 17, 1961,” 31, OMFSA AR 5.2.4 Box 1.7. Underlining original.

[17] “Seventh Session of the Overseas Council … November 17, 1961,” 31.

[18] “Seventh Session of the Overseas Council, Minutes of Overseas Council meeting held in Singapore on Wednesday, November 15, 1961,” 24, OMFSA AR 5.2.4 Box 1.7.

[19] Broomhall was not yet a superintendent, as he had only just been designated to Mindoro but was invited to share with the Council on this topic.

[20] “First Session of the Overseas Council, Minutes of Overseas Council meeting held in Singapore on Thursday, April 16, 1953,” OMFSA AR 5.2.4 Box 1.1.

[21] A. J. Broomhall, “Biblical Charity and the Indigenous Church,” The Overseas Bulletin 17, no. 3 (May 1955): 74–9.

[22] Broomhall, “Biblical Charity and the Indigenous Church,” 77.

[23] Broomhall, “Biblical Charity and the Indigenous Church,” 79.

[24] A book that helps reveal the religious climate of those days is Garth Rosell, The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008). An earlier book of special worth is Eric S. Fife and Arthur F. Glasser, Missions in Crisis: Rethinking Missionary Strategy (Chicago: IVP, 1961).

[25] Letter from A. J. Broomhall to Arnold Lea, 12 October 1962, OMFSA AR 5.1.5 Box 1.12.

[26] Letter from A. J. Broomhall to Arnold Lea, 12 October 1962.

[27] “Eighth Session of the Overseas Council, Minutes of the Overseas Council meeting held in Singapore on Wednesday, April 3, 1963,” OMFSA AR 5.2.4 Box 1.8.

[28] A. J. Broomhall, “Cooperation with Organized Groups of Nationals Working in Their Own Country,” 1–2, in “Fifth Session of the Overseas Council, Minutes of Overseas Council meeting held in Singapore on Monday, August 25, 1958,” OMFSA AR 5.2.4 Box 1.5.

[29] Broomhall, “Cooperation with Organized Groups of Nationals working in Their Own Country,” 2.

[30] Broomhall, “Cooperation with Organized Groups of Nationals working in Their Own Country,” 2–3.

[31] Broomhall, “Cooperation with Organized Groups of Nationals working in Their Own Country,” 3.

[32] Letter from A. J. Broomhall to Rev. Basil Costerisan, 28 Nov 1962, OMFSA AR 5.1.5 Box 1.12.

[33] “Philippines Field Guiding Principles and Plan of Action (Adopted by the Tenth Annual Conference, Baguio, May 15–21, 1962),” 1, OMFSA AR 5.1.5 Box 1.12.

[34] “Philippines Field Guiding Principles and Plan of Action,” 3.

[35] Letter from Jim (Broomhall) to C. F. Weller, 1 January 1964, OMF Philippines Archives, AR 2.2 Folder 10b.

[36] “Precis of Proceedings of the Overseas Council, Tenth Session March 19–31, 1966, Singapore,” 4, OMFSA AR 5.2.4 Box 1.10.

[37] “Precis of Proceedings of the Overseas Council, Tenth Session March 19–31, 1966, Singapore,” 7.

[38] “Third Session of the Overseas Council, Minutes of Overseas Council meeting held in Singapore on Thursday, May 26, 1955,” 34, OMFSA AR 5.2.4 Box 1.3. These words reflected what “had been the view of the Headquarters Staff and had formed the basis for interpretation and application to matters on the field under their purview.”

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