Who Will Pick Up the Torch?

George King was born in China where his parents served with the CIM. A naturally bright boy, he first went “home” to Edinburgh when he was fifteen years old because his father wanted to study medicine to become more useful in his missionary work. After a few years, George’s older sister returned to China as a missionary. Then, upon completing his medical training, George went back to China where he founded the Borden Memorial Hospital—a hospital that can still be found in Lanzhou today. In the next few years, he married a woman he described as being “a constant help and cheer and loves the work and the Chinese” and who gave him a daughter and a son.

​​​​​​​Borden Hospital

This is the kind of missionary story that many of us love to hear because it’s a story of dedication, success, and love. If two generations of one family could work in China for the sake of the gospel, perhaps we could be challenged to give up our small ambitions[1] and engage in an important work that will make a difference in the lives of numerous people. But will our hopes for a “happily ever after” ending be fulfilled?

Trouble in this world

George proved to be an extremely capable man who was well used to train Chinese doctors in medicine and evangelism. But neither his nor his family’s lives were free from trouble. At a time when his mother was preparing to return to China to join his father, she received word that her husband had suddenly died. Though she eventually returned, she did not live there for many years before she went back home where she died as well. George’s sister served for only four years before it became clear that she was unsuitable for the work and had to be sent home.

​​​​​​​George King, photo taken in 1922

Trouble did not stop with others in his family. On one occasion, a robber stabbed George multiple times so that he almost died. Not long after his wife gave birth to their son, she developed influenza that turned into pneumonia, and died less than three years after their marriage. George, in addition to his heavy workload, now had two small children to care for. Though he remarried about a year later and added six more children to his quiver, two of them would die young and was separated from two more when they went off to school.

In 1927, during a time when bands of brigands were devastating Northwest China, George was placed in charge of the evacuation of 38 missionaries and 12 children. The story of the escape down the Yellow River on goat-skin rafts is exciting. But when the rafts were grounded on a sandbar, George worked hard to help free them, and then, apparently affected by cold and fatigue, he was swept away into the river and never seen again. His wife, who had one child in her arms and one more on the way when she was informed of her husband’s death, would serve in China for another eighteen years with her six children.

Taking up the torch

The death of a promising young medical evangelist at 39 years of age may not sound like a good stimulus for missionary recruitment. Yet, it was in this context that the first known print appearance of the hymn “Facing a Task Unfinished” is found. The third verse of the hymn lays out a challenge for others to complete the task begun by Jesus and that remains to be carried out by those who follow him. [2]

We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose.
Ours is the same commission,
The same glad message ours,
Fired by the same ambition,
To Thee we yield our powers.

Will you pick up that torch for the sake of Christ’s kingdom?

To whom will you pass it on?


The above article is written by Walter McConnell, who directs OMF International’s Mission Research Department Department. An American, he has previously served in Taiwan as a church planter and theological educator, taught Old Testament at Singapore Bible College where he also directed the Ichthus Centre for Biblical and Theological Research, and served as pastor at the Belfast Chinese Christian Church.


[1] See the book by OMF’s former General Director, Michael Griffiths, Give up Your Small Ambitions (London: IVP, 1970).

[2] Frank Houghton, George King: Medical Evangelist (London: CIM, 1930), 97.

Read “Surrounded by So Great a Cloud of Witnesses”

This article retells two stories from China’s Millions that provide glimpses of suffering that faced missionaries in the later part of the 1920s. The first story recounts George King’s “Perilous Journey by Raft” on sheep-skin rafts in Gansu down the Yellow River.

Read “Worshipping God through Suffering”

The aim of this article is to broaden our understanding of the worship of God by providing a basic introduction to biblical lament and suggesting ways in which it can be used in the church.


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