- American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) was the first American
Christianforeign mission agency. It was proposed in 1810 by recent graduates of Williams Collegeand officially chartered in 1812. In 1961 it merged with other societies to form the United Church Board for World Ministries. Other organizations that draw inspiration from the ABCFM include InterVarsityChristian Fellowship and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.
The founding of the ABCFM is associated with the
Second Great Awakening. Congregationalist in origin, the American Board supported missions by Presbyterian(1812–1870), Dutch-Reformed (1826–1857) and other denominational members.
The first missionaries were sent overseas in 1812. Between 1812 and 1840, representatives of the ABCFM went to the following people and places:
India(the Bombayarea), northern Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka), the Sandwich Islands( Hawaii), east Asia ( China, Singaporeand Siam), the Middle East ( Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, the Holy Land and Persia), and Africa(Western Africa— Cape Palmas—and Southern Africa—among the Zulus). It sent its first group of five missionaries in 1812. It became the leading missionarysociety in the United States.
The fight against indian removal
Jeremiah Evartsserved as its treasurer from 1812–1820 and as its Corresponding Secretary from 1821 until his death in 1831. Under his leadership, the board in 1821 sent the first unmarried female missionaries to the Indians, Ellen Stetson, and the first unmarried female overseas missionary, Betsey Stockton. [cite web | author=Maxfield, Charles A. | year=1995 | title=The Formation and Early History of the American Board of Commissioners For Foreign Missions | work=The 'Reflex Influence' of Missions: The Domestic Operations of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1810-1850. | url=http://www.maxfieldbooks.com/ABCFM.html | accessdate=2006-06-20] He led the organization's efforts to place missionaries with Indian tribes in the Southeastern United States. He also led the ABCFM's extensive fight against indian removalpolicies in general and the Indian Removal Actof 1830 in particular. [cite web | author= Andrew, John A., III. | year=1992 |title=From Revivals to Removal: Jeremiah Evarts, the Cherokee Nation, and the Search for the Soul of America |url=http://www.amazon.com/dp/0820314277/] hi
1830 through 1860
By the 1830s, it prohibited unmarried people from entering the mission field. They required couples to be engaged at least two months prior to setting sail. To help the missionaries find wives, they maintained a list of women that were "missionary-minded", "young, pious, educated, fit and reasonably good-looking." [cite journal | author=Rebecca Golossanov | authorlink=Rebecca Golossanov | title=Did You Know? | journal=Christian History & Biography | year=Spring 2006 | volume=90 | pages=3 ]
Rufus Anderson was the General Secretary of the Board from the early 1830s through the mid 1860s. His legacy included administrative gifts, setting of policy, visiting around the world, and chronicling through books the work of the ABCFM.
Records of the ABCFM
Many of the historical records of the ABCFM are held at
Harvard University, yet records can be found from New England to Hawaii and elsewhere around the world (See Bibliographic Essay below).
Aspects of the first thirty years
Between 1810 and 1840, the ABCFM sought first and foremost to proclaim the
Gospelof Jesus Christ. At home and abroad, the Board and its supporters undertook every effort to exhort the evangelical community, to train a cadre of agents, and to send forth laborers into the mission field. As a leader in the United Front and early federal American voluntary associations, the Board influenced the nineteenth-century mission movement.
trinitarianand evangelical in their theology, speakers to the annual meetings of the Board challenged their audiences to give of their time, talent and treasure in moving forward the global project of spreading Christianity. At first reflective of late colonial occasional sermons, the annual meeting addresses gradually took on the quality of anniversary sermons. The optimism and cooperation of post- millennialismheld a major place in the scheme of the Board sermons.
Listening to such sermons and being influenced back at their schools, college and seminary students prepared to proclaim the gospel in foreign cultures. Their short dissertations and pre-departure sermons reflected both the outlook of annual Board sermons and sensitivity to host cultures. Once the missionaries entered the field, optimism remained yet was tempered by the realities of pioneering mission work in a different milieu. Many of the Board agents sought—through eclectic dialogue and opportunities as they presented themselves, as well as stated and itinerant preaching—to bring the culture they met, observed, and lived in to bear upon the message they shared. The missionaries found the audiences to be similar to Americans in their responses to the gospel message. Some rejected it outright, others accepted it, and a few became Christian proclaimers themselves.
Work with indigenous preachers
Indigenous preachers associated in some way with the Board proclaimed an orthodox message, but they further modified the presentation beyond how the missionaries had developed subtle differences with the home leaders. Drawing upon the positive and negative aspects of their own cultures, the native evangelists steeped their messages in Biblical texts and themes. At times, the indigenous workers experienced spectacular or unexpected results. On many occasions, little fruit resulted from their labors. Whatever the response, the native preachers worked on—even in the midst of persecution—until
martyrdomor natural death took them.
Native preachers and other indigenous people assisted Board missionaries in Bible translation efforts. The very act of translating the Scriptures into a mother tongue reflected a sensitivity to culture and a desire to work within the host society. Second only to the verbal proclamation of the Gospel, Bible translation took place in all sorts of settings: among ancient Christian churches, such as the Armenians; languages with a written language and a written religious heritage, such as
Marathi; and unwritten languages among animisticpeople, such as in Hawaii.
Educational, social, and medical roles served by ABCFM missionaries
Printing and literacy played crucial roles in the process and efficacy of Bible translation. Similarly, the press runs and literacy presentations contributed significantly to the social involvement exhibited by the Board. To a greater or lesser extent, education, medicine, and social concern supplemented the preaching efforts by missionaries. Schools provided ready-made audiences for preachers. Free, or
Lancasterian, schools provided a large number of students, while boarders in missionary homes saw the Christian life proclaimed, however imperfectly, in the intimacy of family life. Education empowered indigenous people and enabled them to develop—mostly later than 1840—their own church leaders and take a greater role in their communities. Board missionaries established some form of education at every station. A number of Board missionaries received a little medical training before leaving for the field. Some, like Ida Scudder, were trained as physicians but ordained as missionaries and concentrated on the task of preaching. Others, such as Peter Parker, sought to hold in tension the callings of missionary and medical practitioner.
ABCFM in China
The Americans were the next to venture into the mission field of China after the
London Missionary Societyand the Netherlands Missionary Society. The Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, representing the Congregational Churches of the United States, sent out Revs. David Abeeland Elijah Coleman Bridgmanin 1829, and who were received in February 1830 by Dr. Robert Morrison. These men labored among the Chinese and Malays of the Straits Settlements, but from 1842, up to his death in 1846, Mr. Abeel devoted himself to establishing a mission in Amoy.
The American Board followed up the appointment of these men with many others in rapid succession. Revs. I. Tracy and S. W. Williams, LL.D., followed in 1833, and settled at Singapore and
Macau. In the same year Revs. S. Johnson and S. Munson went to Bangkokand Sumatra. There were four great centers from which smaller stations were maintained. These were Fuzhou, in connection with which were fifteen churches; North China, embracing Beijing, Kalgan, Tianjin, Tengzhou, and Paodingwith smaller stations in the various districts of the center missions; Shanxi, with two stations in the midst of districts filled with opiumcultivation; and Hong Kong. At Tengzhou a college had been established, over which Dr. Mateer presided. Tengzhou was one of the centers for the literary competitive examinations of China. Dr. Mateer believed that the light of modern science shown in contrast with superstition would prove effective. He therefore, taught astronomy, mathematics, natural philosophy, and history, devoting himself, along with his wife, to the young men and boys under his care. The result is that he has trained young men to be teachers all over North China. The young men whom he had specially trained in Biblical in struction began native ministry. Drs. Nevius and Corbett had co-operated in this latter work, by giving a theological education to candidates for the ministry during a portion of each year at Yantai.
This Society had in connection with its principal stations large medical dispensaries and hospitals, boarding schools for boys and girls, colleges for native students, and other agencies for effecting the purposes of the mission. As of 1890 it had twenty-eight missionaries, sixteen lady agents, ten medical missionaries, four ordained native ministers, one hundred and five unordained native helpers, nearly one thousand communicants, and four hundred and fifty pupils in its schools. [Townsend (1890), 233-234]
ABCFM Sponsored Missionaries
Hiram Bingham I(1789 - 1869)
Elijah Coleman Bridgmanfirst US missionary to China
Titus Coan(1801- 1882)
* William Goodell
* Rev. Dr. Sidney Lewis Gulick (April 10, 1860-December 20, 1945)
Adoniram Judson(August 9, 1788–April 12, 1850) first US missionary to Burma
Betsey Stockton(About 1798–October 24, 1865)
Marcus Whitman(September 4, 1802–November 29, 1847)
Dan Beach Bradley(1804 -1873)
* see also:
List of American Board missionaries in China
Indigenous Workers Affiliated with the Board
History of Christian missions
Haystack Prayer Meeting
Protestant missionary societies in China during the 19th Century
American Ceylon Mission
* [http://www.library.yale.edu/div/colleges/glossary.html Yale Library note]
* [http://ricci.rt.usfca.edu/institution/view.aspx?institutionID=163 Ricci Institute page on the ABCFM in China]
* [http://www.bilkent.edu.tr/~rizay/abcfm.htm Bilkent University ABCFM project]
* [http://www.nebraskahistory.org/lib-arch/research/manuscripts/organize/americanbcfm.htm ABCFM records] at
Nebraska State Historical Society
elect Annotated Bibliography
Historical Bibliography of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
* Sections drawn from the conclusion to Donald Philip Corr's dissertation and is used with permission.
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