Lessons from History

by Keziah Cracknell

Keziah is a history student at Huddersfield University, who was on placement with Echoes International over this last academic year.

In 2022, Echoes International are celebrating 150 years of mission through a series of events and projects. Although it is unusual for a history student to have a work placement, it was an option as part of my degree course so I was delighted to hear that Echoes International were looking for someone with history skills. I was asked to research their archives for stories and photographs of mission over the last century and a half, and to help with the preparation for the anniversary events. I am excited that others will have the opportunity to be encouraged and inspired by what I have learned.

I have always had a fascination with mission and missionaries. As a child my parents would read me stories about Hudson Taylor, Gladys Alyward and from the Jungle Doctor series by Paul White, and many more. I remember at a local festival seeing a stall by Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), which was complete with a small plane and a flight simulator. Another time, I went aboard the Operation Mobilisation’s (OM) Logos Hope Ship. These childhood experiences cemented my love of all things mission.

Over the years, my late Grandpa supported Echoes and would invite mission partners to give reports at the church. Later my uncle and auntie, Phil and Hilda Cracknell, were commended to serve in Zambia with the support of Echoes. As a teenager I had an amazing opportunity to go on a short-term mission trip with my church to Albania where we stayed with Colin and Elida Stephen. It was my first real experience of mission; seeing in action what I had previously only read about. As a result, when I started university, I did not want to be bound by the idea that mission is only for overseas. I joined the Christian Union, later becoming its president. The Christian Union’s aim is to give every student the opportunity to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus. It was at university that I was challenged to use my degree for the gospel. Consequently, I began to explore the option of working for a Christian organisation for my placement year. I was offered a placement at the OMF archive in Singapore but when the Covid-19 pandemic hit that was no longer possible. I contacted Rupert Abbott, Echoes International Missions Director, and asked if they needed a history student for a year and he said yes. Within a few weeks all the paperwork for the university was complete and I was to start in September 2020. I believe God guided me to my dream placement. During this project I was involved in a variety of tasks including contacting mission partners, and handling old letters and photos, with the aim of creating content for the anniversary. When coronavirus restrictions allowed, I was able to travel to the Echoes International Bath and Glasgow offices, and the John Rylands’ Special Collections at the University of Manchester, to explore their archives looking for possible material.

A Legacy of Mission

It all started in 1872 with a small magazine called The Missionary Echo, that published reports from 36 missionaries serving in 19 countries, including British Guiana, Spain, South Africa and Malaysia.1 The statistics show that the numbers peaked in the 1960s with around 1,500 missionaries in over 65 countries.2

Among those who partnered with Echoes are names well-known to many of us: Frederick Stanley Arnot, a pioneer to Central Africa; and Stuart K. Hine, who wrote the hymn, How Great Thou Art, and was a missionary to Eastern Europe and to refugees in the UK. many others, for example: Charles and Alice Torre who helped establish the first assembly in Argentina; and Florence Oldham, missionary to Malaysia and Singapore, who sadly lost her life in a Sumatran internment camp, during World War II, mere months before liberation.3 From this snapshot of the number of people who have served in mission, we can see that there is much to inspire, encourage and challenge us today. One of the many stories is that of Geoffrey Bull.

Geoffrey Bull, Tibet – In October 1950, communist forces fought against the Tibetan army. Geoffrey was staying with the general of the Tibetan army at the time. The fighting ended with the Tibetan general surrendering and Geoffrey going with him as an interpreter. They arrested Geoffrey and subjected him to intense and prolonged interrogation. For ten months he was in solitary confinement, then he was imprisoned alongside Chinese prisoners and forced to endure a Marxist education. God was his only hope during his imprisonment. He wrote: ‘When…the tempest had passed, the mighty rock beneath my feet was standing still, and I can say with all my heart the Lord Jesus Christ is my Saviour and my Lord. His love will never let me go.’ Geoffrey was sent to southwest China for trial at the highest court, which meant he was given better food and quarters, and some medical treatment. In 1953, he was expelled from China and escorted to Hong Kong. He had no passport or money and did not know anyone in Hong Kong. But, as he walked across the border he was greeted by a fellow missionary and childhood friend, Raymond Guyatt.

Celebrating His Faithfulness

My assignment was to uncover these stories utilising The Missionary Echo, Echoes of Service and Echoes International Mission magazines, and the University of Manchester, John Rylands Archive: Echoes of Service Special Collections. The Archive holds letters, photos, scrapbooks and material from across the years, much of which is available online. In 2022, Echoes International plans to celebrate God’s faithfulness over the last 150 years and give thanks for the impact His Word has had across the world. Some of the wonderful stories I have found will be shared through a book, an exhibition and resources for children and young people.

Echoes International have produced a book, Footsteps Worth Following, which is a collection of 150 stories from 1872 to the present, illustrated with photographs and images. It combines material from the early magazines, and stories contributed by the descendants of missionaries, retired missionaries and those who are serving today. Through their accounts, we learn of different aspects of mission, demonstrating the challenges and the cost as well as the joys of service. The book highlights how God has worked through ordinary men and women who stepped out in faith to proclaim the gospel.

The Exhibition will take the visitor on a journey through 150 years of mission history with insights into different areas of mission and their development. A timeline will highlight important events and showcase these stories through photographs, audio and film. Visitors will be able to explore what it means to take a leap of faith onto the mission field using interactive activities. They will be able to learn about the communication difficulties that inspired the creation of the magazine and how people travelled long distances by boat or trekked many miles to take the gospel to the unreached. There will be archival footage and interviews from today’s missionaries.

Inspired to Go?

Researching through 150 years of material was no small task, but my work experience was a privilege. I read incredible stories of mission, the joys and hardships, revealing how God used it all to His glory. I hope that these stories of mission, which I have benefited from, will inspire you too. I have been challenged by the stories of men and women who went by faith and those who enabled them to go where God called them. It is my hope that the anniversary project may inspire others to support mission or even to take up the call to go.

1 The Missionary Echo (1872).
2 Echoes of Service (1964), p222.
3 Echoes of Service (1945), p83.
With thanks to the Geoffrey Bull Collection.
Want to know more? Further information about the 150th anniversary celebrations will be shared in the magazine and online. www.echoesinternational.org.uk/150

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