Twenty Years on Mission with God: Case Studies of the Work of The Outreach Foundation
by Jefferson Ritchie, Mission Advocate
In 2019 The Outreach Foundation turns forty years old. Over the next few years I will be telling part of our history in those areas of the world where I was involved as staff liaison from 1998-2018. I will be drawing on insights of other staff and trustees, friends from both U.S. churches and the global church to tell the story of our missions in China, Egypt, Brazil, and parts of Africa. My hope is that others will add to this history by sharing what God has done through The Outreach Foundation in other countries.
We begin with China, the country to which I traveled the most. Why China? Historically, China was the first foreign mission field of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) after it established its Board of Foreign Missions in 1837. It was also the largest field for Presbyterians. “For over one hundred years ‘China Missions’ was the single largest item in the benevolent budget of the General Assembly,” wrote G. Thompson Brown in Earthen Vessels & Transcendent Power: American Presbyterians in China, 1837-1952 (p. 6). At least 1,700 American Presbyterian missionaries served in China between 1841 and 1952 (Brown, p. 5).
The Outreach Foundation’s founders, all of whom were Presbyterian pastors or elders, were aware of this heritage. Their purpose in beginning a new mission organization within the Presbyterian family was to renew the spirit that has animated American Presbyterians from the beginning. As stated by John Holt Rice, one of the early advocates of the need for a denominational Board of Foreign Missions:
"The Presbyterian Church is a missionary society, the object of which is to aid in the conversion of the world, and every member of the Church is a member for life of said society, and bound, in maintenance of his Christian character, to do all in his power for the accomplishment of the object." (Brown, p. 12)
When The Outreach Foundation began, one place we could not work was China. Although it had been the largest mission field of the Presbyterian Church, the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 ended the missionary era. Missionaries were expelled, churches were forcibly united, and finally, during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, all churches, mosques, and temples were closed. In 1979 when The Outreach Foundation was founded, the churches in China were just beginning to reopen as China opened itself to the world. It would take a few years for the newly formed China Christian Council to develop global connections.
But Chinese people were also in Taiwan, or the Republic of China, and that is where The Outreach Foundation started its work among Chinese. It began with a missionary couple, the Revs. Brad and Laura Long, who were appointed as missionaries to Taiwan in 1980. After language school, they were assigned to the Hsinchu Bible College. The Bible College wanted to develop a Lay Training Center to equip lay people for evangelism.
Evangelism was the passion of The Outreach Foundation, and the Longs shared the vision of their Bible School with the Rev. Dr. Howard Chadwick, the first full-time Director of The Outreach Foundation. Dr. Chadwick visited the Longs in Taiwan in 1982, and he experienced a prayer movement that was sweeping over the country, including the Bible College in Hsinchu.
A church crisis had precipitated this prayer movement. In the fall of 1980, just about the time that the Longs arrived in Taiwan, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, the Rev. Gao Jun Ming, had been arrested by the government of the Republic of China for his involvement in human rights. The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan came together in prayer for his release.
Alongside of this urgent need of prayer, Taiwanese Presbyterians had been hearing about the deep prayer life of Korean Presbyterian Christians in local churches and in prayer retreat centers called “prayer mountains.” The Taiwanese began their own prayer mountains throughout the island, and one of those was at the Bible College in Hsinchu. As Taiwanese Presbyterians sought the Lord for the release of their leader, they became open to a new touch of the Holy Spirit who filled them with power to witness. Spiritual renewal thus deepened passion for human rights and evangelism in the Church in Taiwan.
When Dr. Chadwick saw the Spirit moving in Taiwan, he was inspired to commit The Outreach Foundation to support this work. The Bible School needed a building for the new Lay Training Center, and Dr. Chadwick shared this need with the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas. This church already had a “Taiwan Connection” through their long-time relationship with Ms. Marguerite Mizell, an evangelistic missionary in Taiwan from 1921-1948. God’s providence was further illustrated in that the pastor of First Presbyterian Church at that time, the Rev. Dr. William Carl, had previously been the homiletics professor of Brad and Laura Long at Union Seminary.
The church voted to tithe 10% of its $2.5 million building campaign to the development of the Lay Training Center in Hsinchu. The Principal of the Bible School then went throughout the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and said, “Look what these Americans have done. Let us complete the task!” The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan went on to raise another $1 million to complete the Lay Training Center.
From this base, the Rev. Dr. Brad Long and the Rev. Dr. Laura Long worked for the next six years alongside Taiwanese co-workers to develop and extend the prayer movement in that country. In a recent email Brad Long shared the impact of The Outreach Foundation in Taiwan, “The Outreach Foundation played a critical role in all this great work not just in terms of major financial support but [also in terms of] friendship and encouragement.”
“Friendship and encouragement” have been key roles that The Outreach Foundation has played from the beginning until now. We often say, “We make friends in the churches in the United States; we make friends with the churches around the world; then we introduce our friends to each other.” That desire to connect people in mission for the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ has been the legacy of American Presbyterian missions for over 180 years, and it is the spirit that has animated The Outreach Foundation since 1979.
In my next blog I will share the steps that led The Outreach Foundation to the reopened Church in China.