Bible Readings by Land and Sea

Bible Council Instructor--Plans and Methods, Experiences and Problems

L.C.K. is an associate editor of the Ministry. 

The year 1883 was of great significance in the history of our Bible work. This "heaven-born idea" was rapidly demon­strating its divine origin. In the Signs of July 17, 1883, we read of another development in our work—the opening of ship and city missions.

SAN FRANCISCO.—This project was launched in San Francisco with the objective of reach­ing the seafaring. Ship and city missions sprang up and developed about the same time, and their interests were tied together. Con­nected with our San Francisco mission was a Sunday school, and here the giving of Bible readings to non-Adventists 'became the chief order of the day. Preaching services and prayer meetings too were featured in these ship mis­sions.

BOSTON.—Within a few months from the opening of the San Francisco mission a young worker reported missionary work in Boston Harbor. He had given a three-hour Bible read­ing to an interested Norwegian then in port. This young worker enthusiastically recom­mended the plan. Connected with the Boston mission in 1885 were A. T. Robinson and J. R. Israel, with C. W. Priest as the "ship mission­ary." The records reveal that our workers were kept busy with the interest developed at the mission. The mission had a reading room, with an adjoining lecture room. Provision was made for literature distribution, and there was room for storage purposes.

NEW YORK CITY.—Before leaving this inter­esting ship-missionary development in Amer­ica, which so definitely embraced the Bible reading idea, I desire to pay tribute to a line of rugged missionary workers whose services in New York City laid a good foundation for the fast-developing Adventism of later decades. I became well acquainted with the results of the work of Captain J. J. Johnson and J. F. Han­son. If the little missionary boat that plied New York's harbor for many years during the early decades of the present century could tell its nautical tales, and reveal information regarding the hundreds of contacts it made with sailors and seamen from all parts of the world, the glamor of our ship missions would not soon fade from our memory.

These brethren, with hair, then whitened with the years, related how they would place our tracts and periodicals in well-corked bottles, and then commit them to the sea with an ear­nest prayer that the right person would find the container with its precious message. And what else might be expected from such faith but some very thrilling accounts ? Often an indifferent or lonely seaman would pick up one of these bot­tles on some distant shore. Some hoped that the flask might contain spirituous liquor, to be sal­vaged from the cargo of a ship-wrecked vessel. Instead they discovered the stimulating third angel's message, which was saving men from becoming spiritual shipwrecks.

These ship missionaries, at the turn of the century, were not too far remote from the era of the whaling days of New England. These brethren could also tell their missionary tales with the salty gusto of the New Bedford whaler. Our Greater New York believers never tired of listening to their "harbor mission" re­ports, and many a layman was enlisted to help. They were truly Bible instruCtors, and the Bible reading method was their specialty.

HAMBURG AND BERLIN.—J. Christianson, who was formerly connected with the opening of our work on the island of Pitcairn, was called in 1899 as head of the Hamburg Ship Mission. From this great European port in Germany our work on the Continent began to spread and make wonderful progress. It was the colporteur Bible work plan that speedily made its influence felt in thousands of homes in many parts of Europe. Brother Christianson was then assisted by Brother von Fintel, an experienced seaman. The Christiansons later retired in Frie­densau, where the tent equipment of the local conference was stored. In more recent years Brother Christianson became better known as the "mender of tents," and made many a new tent for evangelistic use.

It was through the activities of the colporteur Bible instructor that the third angel's message entered the royal palace in Berlin. One of our faithful sisters, a member of the Berlin church, directed the work of the maids in the royal palace. This Sister Dieben, who later became Mrs. Christianson, nobly witnessed for the mes­sage in the Kaiser's palace. She frequently men­tioned our work to the late Kaiser, and found a most interested student of prophecy in Crown Prince Frederick. The crown prince at times met one of our colporteurs in the royal garden for the chief purpose of discussing fulfilling prophecy. And of course this occasion would become a Bible reading !

OTHER OVERSEAS MISSIONS.—We would fail in completing this report on ship missions if we did not mention the courageous pioneer work of F. A. Stahl and his noble associates in the Amazon region. A number of the present centers of our work in South America were originally ship missions, and the history of our work on other continents witnesses to this same method. Our Australasian work is largely one of ship missions, and in our postwar planning even more extensive plans are laid for the fu­ture. Giving Bible readings is not only a ship-mission method but a pronounced feature of all our pioneer missionary endeavor.

Early City Missions

We cannot here enter into a detailed discus­sion of our city missions. The noble work of such men as Dr. David Paulson became the out­standing feature of this era of our work in Chi­cago. Our Scandinavian brethren made their special contribution. In these important days we tried to reach all classes, and would certainly not overlook the downcast ! But wisely the Spirit of prophecy kept guiding us toward the higher classes, and so city missions within another decade or two began to grow into better or­ganized and more dignified evangelistic centers in which our Bible instructors made a distinc­tive contribution.

Chicago—Because our Chicago City Mis­sion work was so instrumental in developing Bible instructors for other fields of the world, as well as America, we will let Jennie Owen McClelland relate some experiences in connec­tion with this mission from memory. Mrs. Mc­Clelland featured the early Bible work in a series of Youth's Instructor articles, March 25 to June io, 1947. A recent article which she sent to the General Conference throws more light on the Chicago City Mission.

"In 1884 Elder G. B. Starr opened the Chicago City Mission. This was a new venture, and Brother and Sister Starr did not know just how it should be con­ducted. They began by distributing tracts.

"One day Elder Starr learned that Sister White was to pass through the city, and would have to wait an hour between trains. He decided to go to the sta­tion and ask her if she had any light as to how the work should be conducted in Chicago. She said, 'Yes, take the Bible and go to the homes of the people.' "They turned to the Bible Reading Gazette, but found the readings far too long, so they prepared a small book called Helps to Bible Study, for the use of the workers.

"I entered the Chicago Mission in the summer of 1885. As I remember it, there were five workers be­side Elder and Mrs. Starr. The next summer Elder Starr attended a number of camp meetings, and sev­eral conferences sent young ladies to learn to give Bible readings, so they could help start city missions like the one in Chicago.

LONDON.—"At the General Conference of 1886 Elder Haskell was asked to open up the work in Lon­don. He selected three Bible workers to go with him : Hetty Hurd, of California, Helen McKinnon, of Michigan, and Jennie Owen, of Chicago, Illinois. In the spring of 1887 we began our work in London. The Lord blessed the work and a number of companies were raised up in London and its suburbs.

"A Mrs. Roskrug accepted the message and joined our Bible reading class. The next year she returned to her home in the West Indies and did a good self-supporting work, and soon organized a Sabbath school. Thus the Bible work started on its way around the world. The tiny seed has grown to a mighty tree. Its spreading branches are producing fruit in many lands."

NEW ENGLAND.—In connection with the city missions in Boston, Worcester, and New Bed­ford, Massachusetts; and other New England cities, one of our most outstanding Bible in­structors of the eighties, Mrs. Loretta Viola Robinson, of the Farnsworth stock in Washing­ton, New Hampshire, wife of Asa T. Robinson, made her womanly contribution to our earlier city Bible work. Others, too, might be men­tioned in this connection, but Mrs. Robinson, without doubt, was one who set the distinctive pattern of the future Bible instructor.

Loretta Farnsworth Robinson was a woman of principle. She is mentioned on page i81 of Life Sketches as ,one of the thirteen children who rose in consecration at the meeting held by James White and J. N. Andrews in Wash­ington, New Hampshire. She was then ten years of age. Loretta Farnsworth was married to Asa T. Robinson in 1876. She became the mother of three children, Erban, Dores, and Gladys.

It pays for us to look back occasionally, to see what our earlier workers passed through in their determination to spread this truth every­where. Bible work in those days was not so well organized as it is today, and neither were workers' salaries stabilized.

Dores Robinson recently related an experi­ence of the family in Westerly, Rhode Island. A. T. Robinson, who was working for a lumber­man in Westerly, and considering entering the colporteur work, was ill for some time, and the family faced their last morsel of food. Right in this crisis the landlady, knowing that Mrs. Robinson was a good seamstress, and desirous of having an urgent piece of sewing attended to immediately, provided enough work to tide them over their want. She suggested that since they had already kept their Sunday on Satur­day, Mrs. Robinson might not mind doing this emergency work on the first day of the week. This experience greatly strengthened Mrs. Robinson's faith and laid a firm foundation for later tests which had to be met in their city-mission experiences.

The Robinsons pioneered city mission work in Worcester, Boston, New Bedford, and Brooklyn. Ill-health did not swerve Loretta Robinson from duty as a Bible instructor. Up to the time of her death in 1933 she taught the Bible. It was as natural for her to do this as to live, and those who knew her well declare her to ha4e been one of the denomination's ablest Bible instructors.

NEW YORK CITY.—New York City was one of the first in the development of our city mis­sions, and a location on Broadway was selected as the center of our work in that metropolis. In the Review of August 5, 1884, we read that this center had its reading room with adjoining lecture room. Everything about the place showed neatness and promised results. Here many Bible-reading contacts were made, and the plan was soon functioning well in a city that even in those days suggested many handi­caps for evangelists. The same Review tells of our Saint Louis reading room, with similar plans, and how it was meeting with equal suc­cess. So the city-mission idea was in its as­cendancy.

Those were the days when Bible readings were considered our most successful missionary method, and the plan was growing in the minds of ministers and laymen. During this period our work developed among overseas peoples who had come to the shores of America, and had then scattered through the cities of our lands and into some sections of Canada. There was urgent need to train more workers to labor for these language groups. Here and there a prom­ising lay brother or sister, often a very youth­ful worker, had to be drafted for the Bible work. Many of the workers of this era were developed in a practical way. Their fellow workers who had already become skillful in the art of giving Bible readings taught them how to work for their own language group in these cities. While our English-speaking work was developing, many a thriving church of overseas folk simultaneously came into existence. One feature was prominent—all these workers were Bible instructors in every sense of the name.

L. C. K.

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L.C.K. is an associate editor of the Ministry. 

January 1949

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