Revival Testimony: A Chinese Prisoner Set Free

The following is a transcription of a handwritten document that gives the testimony of a Chinese believer in the Shandong Province of China in the 1930s. This was preserved as part of miscellaneous missionary correspondence of the North China Mission, S. B. C, in the archives of the IMB in Richmond, VA. In all likelihood this was originally written in Chinese and translated into English, though that is not certain.

Mr. Ka Chung Sheng’s Testimony

-written by Mr. Lu Shih Kiang as told to him

My native home is Chui Kwan Chen, Pingtu County, Shantung Province. My naame was Ka Yen Ch’ing. I am now twenty-five years old. Formerly I was a soldier connected with the Pingtu city yamen. Later I went home and worked on the farm. I was not only a non-Christian, but an enemy to Christianity and did all I could as an enemy of Christ. My sister, Wen Kuei Lan, was a member of Ma Chang church. When she came home after joining the church, she plead with me to believe on Jesus also. I shut her outside the gate and told her never to come into my home again.

My brother, Ka Fu T’ien, had placed a sum of money in the hands of two friends, neighbors, to keep for him. My brother died, and the money was still in their hands. My father went and asked them for it. Instead of giving it to him they murdered him by using nine strokes of a knife at his heart. They then fled for their lives.

After five years they thought it safe to return and did so. I went immediately to the head military official of the county and reported them. But the men had already been to him and bought him over. He told me that I was reporting good men. He had me handed over to the head county official who sentenced me for five years imprisonment. This big, proud me found myself bereft of all freedom now. They put very heavy chains on my legs. It all made me angry enough to die, as I realized my position: my money was gone, that was in the hands of my enemies as quickly as a stroke of a pen; my father, though innocent, had been murdered; I had attempted to get justice and here I was imprisoned; I had to leave my mother and wife at home unprotected and with no means of support; and day after day I was in company with bandits, opium smokers and other law breakers. They more I thought of my helpless position and the injustice of it all the angrier I grew and the more I suffered mentally! I can’t express just how I felt.

I thank the Lord when the way before me was dark and I had no hope He sent my sister, Wen Kuei Lan, to me constantly to tell me of Jesus and His love and to plead with me to accept Jesus as my Savior. She also gave me a New Testament. The Lord also sent Mrs. Kia with her one day and she had me read all of the 41st Psalm and Psalm 51:5-10. After I had finished I was so impressed that I became a Christian. I burned all the non-Christian books I had with me. Afterward, the Lord led in opening the doors of Pingtu prison to the preaching of the Gospel. The men in charge wrote a letter to the church inviting the Christian leaders to go and preach to the prisoners. They went two afternoons each week. Then I began to give all my many sins to Jesus. As I realized them, I was truly born of the Holy Spirit, justified before the Father, and given the place of a son. Hallelujah, all glory to Jesus! This chief of sinners was saved!

In a few days the order came for all prisoners who had been sentenced to three years or under and who had shown signs of repentance to be released. All in for more than three years if they showed a change of heart to have their terms shortened. But I knew my God was all powerful because He had saved me. Therefore out of no hope I sought a way of escape. My sister said, “‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.’ You have only to really believe and you will receive.”

The night before my freedom I prayed all night. About 4 o’clock a.m. I felt a little sleepy and was almost asleep when I heard a voice say to me,” Tomorrow you will be permitted to leave this prison.” Surely enough that morning the keeper came in and said, “Ka Yen Cheng, Congratulations! I want to drink to your health, because yours has been made a special case and you are to go free.” They heavy chains were taken off my feet then. If there had not been a gracious forgiving God who had heard my prayer, how could I have been released from prison? He not only delivered me out of “so great a death” but truly releases this prisoner from prison. His name is worthy to be praised.

The time of my imprisonment was the time when my entire family was saved. I was in prison nineteen months and ten days. As I look back over those days I feel God planned or allowed me to spend that time in prison. His purpose was to save me and my family. How I thank the Lord my family was saved. “All things work together for good” is surely true.

I was saved, no longer Ka Yen Cheng, but Ka Chung Sheng or Born Again Ka, but I had not learned by great lesson on forgiveness. I was to learn that before being released and the last month there. I learned that lesson God surely searched men’s hearts. There was a feeling, like a fire that would rise up within me that of seeking revenge on my enemies. I thank God He knew I had that in my heart and kept me another month in prison. He wanted me to know clearly that He forgives our sins even as we forgive those who sin against us. If I could not forgive He could not forgive my sins. When I thought of this, I prayed thus, “Lord, you have forgiven me. Who am I not to forgive others. Lord, forgive them for they did not know they were being led by the devil.: There fore, my first step after being released was to become reconciled to my enemies, and to plead with them and their families to accept Christ as their Savior. I will not think of the past again. If the Lord doe not remember my sins and I am at with with Him, and He has entrusted to me the Gospel of reconciliation, who am I not to become reconciled to them?

While I was yet a sinner, Jesus delivered me from the power of darkness, and hath translated me into the Kingdom of His dear Son, and is permitting me to be in the Bible Class in Pingtu City where I can learn more of Him and how to serve Him. Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, please pray for me. Pray that I may be kept from evil and that I may “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

China, History of Missions, Revival

Speaking in Tongues and the Shandong Revival

One of the recurring questions surrounding the Shandong Revival is whether or not the missionaries spoke in tongues. Historically, Southern Baptists have held that “speaking in unknown languages” was not the biblical understanding of glossolalia, and certainly that speaking in tongues was not the biblical sign for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. However, for most historians of the time period,the Shandong revival has been characterized and labeled a Pentecostal movement. By this, they mean Pentecostal in the general sense, not necessarily denominational. Critics of the revival, such as John Lowe, Foreign Mission Board missionary to Qingdao and T. L. Blalock of the Baptist China Direct Mission, felt that there was a denominational issue, that the missionaries of the North China Mission (FMB) had abandoned the historic Baptist faith and had gone Pentecostal. Lowe’s criticisms were the most acute, directly accusing certain missionaries of speaking in tongues and encouraging Pentecostalism. He felt that one missionary in particular, William Carey Newton, had been anointed as a Pentecostal successor to an itinerant Pentecostal evangelist. At the same time, the clearly Pentecostal and indigenous Spiritual Gifts Society was active and growing in the area around Qingdao and among the Presbyterians in Weixian, in particular. Lowe felt that the whole province was going that way. In addition to Newton, Lowe accused other fellow missionaries. Blalock, a Baptist receiving support directly from Southern Baptist churches and not through the FMB, also made accusations against half a dozen NCM missionaries (though most of his accusations were probably based on rumor and not experience, since many of them proved false). One NCM missionary, Bonnie Jean Ray, admitted to speaking in tongues. Perhaps other did the same; if so, they hid it well. Most missionaries denied having the experience themselves, but all of them that favored the revival were willing to tolerate it.

The Southern Baptist missionaries held a view on tongues they shared with other prominent Chinese evangelists, Wang Mingdao and John Sung. Wang Mingdao had an experience of speaking in unknown languages following his water baptism at the instigation of a Chinese Pentecostal brother. After three days of seeking the experience, he stammered a few unintelligible sounds and the group rejoiced. Wang, though, rejected that experience because he felt that his true infilling with the Spirit came days before when he first repented of his sins and subsequently was filled with joy. Wang also held some influence on the NCM. He spoke at a Summer Conference of the North China Baptist Association in 1931, and annually visited the North China Baptist Theological Seminary in Huangxian as a visiting lecturer. The great Chinese evangelist John Sung visited the province numerous times during his many itinerations across China. He encountered those he labeled as Pentecostals, which were most likely those associated with or affected by the Spiritual Gifts Society. Sung, though, was not one to mix words; he recorded in his diary numerous occasions where he denounced a missionary, a pastor, or other church leader out loud in his sermons. He disagreed that tongues was the only sign of the infilling of the Holy Spirit and he continually opposed the Pentecostals on this fact. In fact, he recognized that he was not a favorite speaker among the other Bethel Band preachers when they visited the Province. Sung reiterated that the true sign of being filled with the Spirit is love, not Pentecostal experiences. However, in 1935, John Sung was surprised that he began speaking in tongues during a time of intense prayer. What is significant is that he continued to point his Pentecostal audiences to the true Holy Spirit principle of love for one’s brother and power in witnessing.

Neither Wang Mingdao nor John Sung forbade the common practice of speaking in tongues (or unknown languages). The missionaries of the North China Mission held the same policy towards one another and towards the native church. They decided at the beginning of the revival to embrace the movement. They were able to do this because in many respects the revival began within their ranks. Some of the missionaries were converted for the first time; almost all of them recounted the experience of the filling of the Holy Spirit after times of deep, heart-wrenching prayer that precipitated in genuine conviction of sin, some committed decades before. They confessed their sins publicly, repenting of racism, hatred, pride, stealing, unrighteous anger, and they made restitution. Some missionaries returned their diplomas to their colleges and seminaries from where they graduated, others left money at the alter as repayment for past wrongs. The Bible became a new book to them. If they were biblicists in principle before, they truly became biblicist in practice after. As good biblicists, they trusted Paul; though castigating the Corinthian church for their unruly excesses, he concluded his section on the spiritual gifts by instructing them, among other things, to not forbid the speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:39). Of the dozen or so missionaries who were asked to account of their beliefs and practice before the mission board, they almost universally referred to this passage in particular. Only one admitted to speaking in tongues, and that in a time of deep and intense prayer. The rest claimed they did not, but all explicitly said their belief was in line with Paul on this very verse.

The other missions, the American Presbyterians and the English Baptists, took different approaches to the revival and had differing results. The English Baptists completely opposed the excesses of the revival and they saw little fruit as a result. The Presbyterians tried to contain the extreme groups and they faced some splintering as a result. They experience for the most part mixed results. The Southern Baptists largely embraced the movement. They found that over time Pentecostal practices waned while the movement continued to wax. More than one missionary claimed that even through the issues with tongues and other spiritual practices, the churches generally became stronger, even more “Baptist”. They claimed this was the case because like themselves, the Chinese acquired a newfound taste for the exquisite flavors of Scripture, and these brothers and sisters found Baptistic faith and practice to be the most biblical.

This FMB still disapproved of tongues and pontificated to individuals more than once that they believed speaking in tongues would disqualify any missionary from continuing in service to the Board. Bonnie Jean Ray, Mr. and Mrs. I.V. Larson, and Mr. and Mrs. John Abernathy each appeared before trustees of the Board. They all were cleared, and all of them retired from the board several years later without any incident. Tongues may have lasted for a season, but this should not be considered the defining characteristic of the revival.

*This post has drawn from several sources, including missionary correspondence, FMB Mission Minutes, diaries, and biographical works. This is just a small introduction to a greater treatment of this subject in my forthcoming dissertation on the Shandong Revival.

For a recent treatment of Southern Baptist Policy in regard to Tongues, see Emir Caner’s white paper on this subject.


Most Popular Posts in 2011

Attractions in 2011

These are the posts on my blog that got the most views in 2011. All but one were posted in years past. If you haven’t read them yet, check them out!

Over half of my visitors were from the US and Europe, though I got a lot of hits from both Africa (70+% of those from Kenya and Uganda) and Asia (66+% of those from The Philippines, Singapore, India, Indonesia, and South Korea).

China, Revival

1927: Big Year for Shandong

I’m currently putting together an outline of important historical events leading up to and going through the Shandong Revival. It is not near complete at the moment, but here is a rough outline of some of the events in the first quarter of the important year of 1927:

  • 1927 Jesus Family forms in Muzhuang, Taian County, Shandong Province
  • February, Jane and Florence Lide report to the North China Mission teachings they had heard in California from Pentecostals on the “filling of the Holy Spirit”
  • February 10, Song Shangjie is “born again.” He changes his name to John, after John the Baptist, and becomes infamously known from that point forward as Dr. John Sung. The Bible becomes a new book to him.
  • February 17, John Sung is institutionalized by Union Theological Seminary administration into the Bloomingdale Hospital, New York, a psychiatric hospital. He remained there 193 days and claims to have read through the Bible 40 times during that time, while being observed and “treated.” He is diagnosed with “psychosis with psychopathetic personality” (Ka-Tong Lim, 144), but released by intervention of the Chinese consulate.
  • March 21-27, The Nanking Incident, sometimes called the Rape of Nanking, and not to be confused with the Nanking Massacre of 1937 also called the Rape of Nanking. During the 1927 Incident communist forces in the Nationalist Army attacked foreigners in Nanjing (Nanking), leading embassies of Western nations to urge all westerners to flee to the coast or leave the country. Missionary forces after this incident drop from over 8000 to just over 3000. Thousands of missionaries would never return to China.
  • March, following the Nanking Incident, almost all foreign missionaries flee to the ports of Qingdao in the South or Yantai in the North. One notable exception were Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Anglin who founded the Home of Onesiphorus, an orphanage and home for the poor in Taian. For the NCM,  twenty-seven missionaries fled to Yantai and lived crammed together into two missionary residences. During their refuge, Jane Lide shared with the missionaries on the subject, “Christ, our Life,” a message so important that accounts by C. L. Culpepper, Mary K. Crawford, and Bertha Smith report these messages as being a significant part of their coming change of heart. Smith reports that “Needless to say, as we dug into the Word along these lines, we were convicted of sin, enriched in our lives, and stirred with a deepened desire for revival in the Chinese churches. Another significant series of events during this time was the visit and teaching of Marie Monsen, an evangelical Norwegian Lutheran missionary, who by this time had been released by her mission to hold spiritual meetings throughout China. Miss Monsen was known to the NCM as having seen unusually good evangelistic results and for seeing multiple miraculous healings. After first hearing from Miss Monsen, Culpepper and his wife Ola visited her privately. When Miss Monsen greeted them at the door, her first words to the Culpeppers was a question, “Brother Culpepper, have you been filled with the Holy Spirit?” (SR, Cul, n.d., 8). The issue of the filling of the Holy Spirit, also referred to by the missionaries as the “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” served as a major theme of the ensuing revival, as the missionaries reported it. Miss Monsen related to the Culpeppers scriptures related to healing, particularly James 5:14-16. Mr. Culpepper said that “the words ‘confess your faults’ particularly pierced [his] heart” (9). Confession of sin and an emphasis on consecrated holiness is another phenomenon that characterized the revival. When the missionaries gathered to pray for Ola, after praying for several hours, Mr. Culpepper took off his wife’s glasses, anointed her head with oil, per the James scripture, and prayed. He states that, “It was as though God had walked into the room. Everyone prayed aloud. We felt that heaven came down and glory filled our souls” (9). While she was joining this group of missionaries praying for Ola’s healing, Bertha Smith was greatly convicted of a prideful and hateful attitude she had towards another one of the missionaries. She believed that “had I refused to confess that sin, and joined in the prayer with it covered, I believe that I would have hindered the prayer of the others, and the eye could not have been healed” (1965, 16). She approached Miss Anna Hartwell and confessed her sin towards her and asked for forgiveness in front of the other missionaries, then she joined the prayer. In the other room, the two cooks for the missionaries experienced similar reconciliation, which resulted in their conversion to Christianity. The spirit of prayer, combined with the extraordinary events of confession, reconciliation, and salvation distracted the missionaries from the healing of Ola Culpepper’s optic neuritis. Just weeks earlier, she had been told by specialists in Peking that her pain would continue and that her vision would never improve; after the prayer for healing, she never experienced pain in her eyes again and could see well with the aid of glasses the rest of her life. As the missionaries reflected on their experience, these events marked the beginning of the great revival to come. Thus, Miss Monsen became a favored friend of the North China Mission and would visit them again.
China, Revival

An Example of Revival Unity

Though sometimes what is often termed revival is nothing less than religious enthusiasm, genuine revival is much more. The “revived” experience all facets of Christianity more deeply than they had before. Below is an example from Charles L. Culpepper, Sr.,’s account of the Shantung (Shandong) revival. Here, revival leads the missionary and local Christians into greater “gospel” unity:

One of the greatest personal blessings I received from the revival was the wonderful spirit in the worship services….The ordinances also became more meaningful. One missionary commented, “I was never so blessed in my life as when taking the Lord’s Supper with Spirit-filled Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ.”

It was not unusual to see people in tears during the observance. As one young widow told a missionary, “My eyes were streaming tears all the time. It wasn’t that I was sad or glad; it was simply that I was broken before the Lord.”*

When was the last time I had such passion and joy in the observance of the Lord’s Supper?

*Taken from The Shantung Revival: An Account of God’s Powerful Movement in the Shantung Province of China, privately published by the children of Charles Lee Culpepper, Sr. A revision of his original work published in 1971. Itself an expansion of Mary Crawford’s account of the revival published in 1934.

China, History of Missions, Revival

Bertha Smith & Keswick Theology in the Shantung Revival

The two revivalists who frequented Cowpens, SC, made a lasting impact upon the life of Bertha Smith.[1] Rev. Troy and Luther Manness had attended God’s Bible School, founded by Martin Wells Knapp in 1897 in Cincinnati. Knapp was a Methodist holiness pastor who “believed that the key to world evangelization was God’s Pentecostal power: the evidence for whether one was baptized in the Holy Spirit was her/his zeal for missions.”[2] The influence of this view of sanctification made an impression on Bertha Smith as can be seen in her summary of the Manness’s preaching:

They preached that people who are saved belong to the Lord—mind, body and soul—that we should acknowledge that fact, confess all of our sins of failing the Lord, so as to be cleansed, and then hand over ourselves and let the Holy Spirit fill us. We would then be empowered to live to please the Lord all the time. We had never heard anything like that.[3]

Bertha experienced her first “filling of the spirit” as a teenager; later she took a correspondence course at God’s Bible School. Thus, at a young age, Bertha was being steeped in a view of sanctification whose concentrate flavored the Shantung Revival. It must be noted, though, that while there are differences between Holiness and Keswick views of sanctification, particularly regarding the doctrine of perfectionism,[4] Bertha learned to reject the perfectionist doctrine from  self-reflection—“I began to discover that the sin principle in me was not removed.”[5]Once in China, she became exposed to the more purely Keswick revivalists whose influence left an indelible mark on the North China Mission.

Bertha Smith arrived in China in summer 1917. For the next three summers, she attended the North China Conferences at the Peitaiho resorts. Speakers included Ruth Paxson, Marie Monsen, R. A. Torrey, and Charles G. Trumbell, among others. Each of these, except perhaps Miss Monsen, have been squarely identified with a Keswick “victorious living” view of sanctification.[6] Norwegian scholar, Lisbeth Mikaelsson connects Miss Monsen’s spirituality to the Hauge movement in Norway.[7] Hans Nielson Hauge started a revival movement Norway emphasizing lay preaching,[8] by both male and female.[9] However, as will be seen below, one can easily discern an affinity between Monsen’s preaching and the Keswick view. Returning though, to the Summer Conferences at Peitaiho, Bertha Smith found her victory after her third conference where Trumbell and Paxson headlined the meetings. Trumbell spoke on “Christ in You, the Hope of Glory.” It was by putting into practice Trumbell’s lesson in 1920 at Peitaiho, “that the secret of victorious living [was] through faith in the crucified and risen Christ and by union with him in that death and resurrection”, which Bertha Smith claimed was “transforming.”[10] Through these life experiences, Bertha Smith developed a distinctively Keswick view of sanctification.[11]

[1] Smith, How the Holy Spirit Filled My Life (Nashville: Broadman, 1973), 12–21.

[2] Dana L. Robert, American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1996), 232.

[3] Smith, How the Holy Spirit, 20.

[4] For a complete survey and analysis, see Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation. Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 390–8, 406–420, 426–8.

[5] Smith, How the Holy Spirit , 25.

[6] Cf. Naselli, “Keswick Theology,” 79–133; George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2d edition (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press), 72–101; Kevin Xiyi Yao, “Missionary Women and Holiness Revivals in China during the 1920s” in Gospel Bearers, Gender Barriers: Missionary Women in the Twentieth Century, ed. Dana L. Robert, American Society of Missiology Series No. 32 (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002), 79–84.

[7] Lisbeth Mikaelsson, “Marie Monsen: Charismatic Revivalist—Feminist Fighter”, Scandinavian Journal of History 28 (2003): 121–34.

[8] Frederick Hale, “Insights from Norwegian ‘Revivalism’” in Modern Christian Revivals, ed. Edith L. Blumhofer and Randall Balmer (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press,1993), 106–7.

[9] Mikaelsson, “Marie Monsen,” 124

[10] Bertha Smith, “Olive Bertha Smith”, article written for WMU Training School, in the Bertha Smith Collection, AR 856, Box 6, Folder 12, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, TN. Cf. Bertha Smith, Go Home and Tell (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 28–30.

[11] See also, Lewis A. Drummond, “Introduction” in Go Home and Tell, 7–8.

China, History of Missions, Revival

Glory on the Mountaintop–A Revival Report

In a newsletter dated Sept. 27, 1933, Abernathy recounts an experience from the revival.[1] That summer, they had planned a Bible Conference on Tai Shan, the sacred mountain of the province. Note: the Shantung province was the provincial home of most of Chinese traditional religions. For ten days, missionaries and Chinese “preachers, teachers, and Bible women” from Tsinan and Tsining met as “one big family” on the mountain. Dr. Lide from Hwanghsien and Miss Bertha Brevard, of the China Direct Mission, were the main speakers. Dr. Lide taught on the Holy Spirit while Miss Brevard taught on the “Victorious Life.” Each day also included dedicated times of “testimony and prayer.” He relates his experience as follows:

It was wonderful to feel the nearness or [sic] God as one after another told what wonderful things He had done for them. Some had been preaching for many years, but only in the past two or three years had they come to know Christ as their Lord and Saviour through regeneration. Some had recently been filled with the Holy Spirit and told what a great difference it had made in their lives and work. Still others who were not regular delegates had come for the sole purpose of finding Christ. Praise His Name some of them found Him and I wish you could have heard their testimony…[a man who previously contemplated suicide as a way out had accepted Christ which] made Christ more real to all of us as we heard him praise the Lord at the top of his voice, the hallelujahs echoing and reechoing up and down the valleys in the twilight that evening. Under the power of the Holy Spirit many who had been saved and filled confessed sins of having let the enemy in and how they had let Christ down, but with tears running down their faces claimed the promises and were again refilled…While we were prayed the sun went down in all its glory, the stars came out and the darkness was all around, but there was a light and glory there which was from none other than Him who on another occasion with three of His disciples was transfigured. We saw His glory, we felt His presence, and like Peter of old, were loth [sic] to leave this place.[2]

[1] Letter to Friend from John A. Abernathy, Sept 27, 1933, Tsinan, Shantung, China.

[2] Ibid.