Introducing the Abernathys, Missionaries to China

John Arch and Zenobia Jewell Leonard Abernathy

John Arch Abernathy was one of two sons born to John and Sarah Abernathy in Statesville, NC. John A., (b. 1/3/1896; d. 3/19/1973), experienced conversion after a revival meeting and was baptized at the age of 13 and ordained five years later. He left for China with the Baptist China Direct Mission on Aug 16, 1920, and served four years in Taian, China, before being appointed to the Foreign Mission Board and stationed in Tsinan, Shantung, China. He recounts that he “had some ‘besetting sins’ that bothered [him] a lot before going to China as a missionary. After a deep Spiritual experience in 1933 [his] life has been on a more even keel.” He was not married, though, when he first left for China, though he met his bride-to-be on the journey across the Pacific.

Zenobia Jewell Leonard was the first of six children for Benjamin and Amanda Leonard of Huntington, Arkansas. Going by Jewell, (b. 4/2/1894; d. 2/16/1977), she was converted at the age of 14 and like her husband, mentions coming to the mourner’s bench in church while under conviction of sin. Her church though was quarter-time and did not have a Sunday School. She developed a hunger for the word of God. Jewell also was appointed by the China Direct Mission. Both John and Jewell note that they were student volunteers for mission and had committed with China Direct. She particularly enjoyed the faith mission work, but was appointed with the FMB a few years after her marriage to John.

Both John and Jewell met for the first time on their first sailing to China. They also worked together with the same mission at Taian and were married on June 20, 1925. They were unable to have any children. Once appointed to the FMB, they served together in China until being repatriated in 1942 after being interned by the Japanese during WWII. They would later serve in Korea, where John founded the Korea Baptist Seminary.[1]

Here is an account of the Abernathys from a relative’s online archives.

[1] The following biographical information was compiled from their “Operation Baptist Biography Data Form for a Living Person” and their “Application for Appointment as a Missionary”, as well as their “Biographical Questionnaire, all found in their missionary correspondence files.


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