On 4 August 1914, Europe descended into the deadliest war in history. More than 9 million people lost their lives. Families throughout Europe were devastated; homes were destroyed, businesses were lost and children displaced from their parents. Amongst the pain and loss, what was God doing? 100 years on, can we look back and see how God was working? What was he doing with mission? What was he doing with OMF?
Delving into the archives at OMF UK’s national office we can find a simple answer to these questions – Uniting his workers on the mission field, uniting those who supported missions, and bringing together those who had suffered.
Uniting his people.
What was it like to work in China during the time of war? By 1914 CIM was not just a non-denominational organisation, it was also international. This was also true of many other organisations in China. In fact by 1917 there were at least 255 German missionaries in China, serving together with British and American workers. There is no doubt that war between Britain and Germany could have made working together a hard task. Walter B Sloan wrote of ‘a very real danger’ facing the body of Christ in January 1915.
Woodrow Wilson wrote of the war’s possible effect on mission ‘I think it would be a real misfortune, a misfortune of lasting consequence, if the missionary programme for the world should be interrupted.’ He was right; the war would have ‘lasting consequences’ for mission, but far from interrupting it, God brought his people together, strengthening ties between individuals and nations.
How would you react to working alongside a supposed enemy?
One of the most striking examples of how the missionaries reacted is found in an article by James Stark in China’s Millions January 1916. After a weekly prayer meeting in Changsha he recalled ‘Although the attendance is small, there are almost always both German and English missionaries present. I have never once heard a German make a petition to which I have not been able to say Amen.’ Looking further through the archives James Stark does not seem to be unique in his declaration. The editor in China’s Millions, January 1915, comments on the war writing ‘Love Triumphant. Though war is so terribly separating the British and German nations, there are increasing evidences that the bond of love in Christ, which exists between British and German missionaries is in no small measure triumphing over national differences.’
The Lord worked so strongly in uniting his missionaries that one writer claimed that the ‘super-nationality’ of the Church was emphasised ‘more than ever’ during the time of conflict. The General Director of CIM at the time, D. E. Hoste echoed this saying, ‘There is cause for humble thankfulness to God that the missionary body have come through the test so well.’ D. E. Hoste’s statement shows how well they came through the challenge. Clearly it was the uniting bond of Christ that brought German and British missionaries together, naturally the two should have been enemies but the mission of God erased political and national differences.
God’s work uniting German and British missionaries in the early stages of the war was made even more critical in August 1917, when China declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungry. Marshall Broomhall wrote of how China’s entrance into the war could ‘painfully affect many thousand of Chinese converts, enquirers and scholars, who have been in the past under the instruction and guidance of German missionaries.’ If it wasn’t for the love demonstrated between German and British missionaries prior to China’s involvement in the war, there might well have been a breakdown between German missionaries and young Chinese Christians.
Perhaps the most surprising place we can see evidence of God’s uniting work is found in the finances of both CIM and missions in general. As European homes were being torn apart and livelihoods ruined, we would expect to see the funding for mission drop dramatically.
Rationing at home did not stop God’s people giving. ‘The facts and figures… are both astonishing and gratifying in view of the terrific struggle taking place in Europe…They indicate the loyalty of God’s people to the cause of foreign missions, and should call forth much thankfulness.’ Marshall Broomhall wrote in 1916. In the face of such hard times, both emotionally and economically, support for God’s work in East Asia never waivered.
Through these tough times, through the sorrow felt both at home and abroad, God united his workers.