Adventist Mission in China in Historical Perspective

by D. J. B. Trim, Silver Spring, MD: Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, 2022.

Daniel Jiao, DMin, is president of the Chinese Union Mission, Siu Lek Yuen, Shatin, Hong Kong.

While recent years have shown a marked rise in postgraduate theses and published articles that use contemporary records, publications, reminiscences, and oral histories offering new perspectives on Adventist history in China, the history of how Adventists managed their administrative tasks in China has not been extensively studied—until now.

David Trim’s book delves into the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in China, covering its early origins until recent times. It details the significant events that have shaped the Adventist movement in the region and highlights the growth of scholarly interest in Adventist history in China. It also discusses the different phases of Adventist mission work in China, including the China Division Years (1931–1950) and the period from 1994 to 2022. The book notes the remarkable growth of the Adventist movement in China in recent years, especially since the Chinese Union Mission (CHUM) was established in 1999, enabling Adventists to plan and coordinate their work across China. The book acknowledges the unique circumstances that led to the growth of Christianity in China in the twenty-first century and the role Adventists played in this trend.

Trim outlines the administrative structures that governed the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s mission in China from the early 1900s until the mid-twentieth century. Initially, China was considered one administrative unit, known as the China Mission and later as the China Union Mission until 1917. The author highlights the immediate impact of this structure on the church’s growth in China, with membership increasing by 416 percent in just two years.

The book also covers establishing a training school for evangelists, several schools, and a printing plant. Furthermore, it discusses the Adventist Church’s emphasis on improving workers’ biblical knowledge and awareness of future plans. Additionally, it sheds light on the impact of the Chinese Civil War on the Adventist Church and its missionaries.

Overall, this book provides an in-depth look at a crucial period in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in China, presenting a wealth of data on its membership and workforce and using various charts and graphs to illustrate long-term trends.

The author’s impressive scholarly research provides insightful analysis and observations on the growth and decline of membership in China. Five notable lessons are learned from the study:

  1. Church leaders in China and General Conference leaders need to think boldly and in terms of whole-China strategies rather than piecemeal tactics.
  2. When aggressive, bold plans emerge, the General Conference needs to invest in them heavily with both financial and personnel resources.
  3. The Adventist Church in China should prioritize pastoral and frontline workers over institutions.
  4. Church leaders in China should strive to ensure that, unlike their predecessors from the 1930s, they do not spend a disproportionate amount of time on questions regarding large buildings, budgets, and managing institutions.
  5. Church members should be encouraged to take personal responsibility for sharing the good news that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and for proclaiming the prophetic messages of Revelation 14.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the history of the Adventist mission in China and its relevance in developing mission strategies. China’s church organization structure has not been in sync with the rest of the world in terms of administration since the 1950s. However, the church has experienced growth, particularly after it was no longer part of the official Adventist Church structure. This situation calls for reflection, especially as the Adventist Church refocuses its mission to prepare for Christ’s return.

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Daniel Jiao, DMin, is president of the Chinese Union Mission, Siu Lek Yuen, Shatin, Hong Kong.

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