Friday, January 06, 2017

George Hunter: Apostle of Turkestan

Half a dozen years ago, when I was reading my way through a selection of  biographies in the library of OMF International's US office, I wrote about Percy Mather, pioneering missionary to the Mongolians. One of the things that impressed me about Mather was his ability to work gracefully and contentedly not only in harsh conditions but also with harsh people... specifically the man he invariably referred to as "Mr Hunter" and with whom he had a ministry partnership for almost twenty years.

OMF recently published an article about the dour George Hunter (1861-1946). His "independent, single-minded spirit quickly distinguished him as a loner, unable to work with others, and frequently causing friction due to his firm principled stand on many issues of doctrine and churchmanship." 

Hunter, who had no interest in diversions, holidays, or vacations, is described as as one who "had single-mindedly set his hand to the plough, and he would not look back."

Mather did not keep all of Hunter's practices nor hold all of his views, but enough that they could be partners. The two men lived simply, preferring to spend what money they had on paper (which was expensive) and "on which they spent the winter months reproducing gospel portions in various Mongol dialects – Tibetan, Kazakh, Chinese, Manchu, Russian and Arabic." They traveled widely and distributed scripture portions in local languages to all who showed interest. Hunter and Mather "cover[ed] many thousands of miles by mule, often away for several months at a time, pioneering in unmapped areas, facing hardships, dangers and toil" as they trekked to the furthest reaches of their remote province.

Later in his life, and likely due at least in part by the "untoward" behavior of some younger missionaries sent to work alongside Hunter and Mather (but unable to survive there), Hunter was imprisoned and tortured by the Soviets for more than a year under accusation of espionage. When released, he was escorted from the city, never able to return. He died in Gansu hoping for a chance to return to Xinjiang.

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My final year of college my roommate and I were both in the process of applying for full-time ministry positions. When we compared notes, I was amused that her application and reference forms emphasized an ability to work independently and in rugged or solitary situations, whereas mine seemed designed to discover if I was winsome and popular with others. Neither of us was accepted  (though she later ended up serving with the ministry to which I had applied). I was encouraged to find a ministry "where I wouldn't be working with people." Maybe I just have more "Hunter" than "Mather" in me. Though I would probably go mad with the kind of isolation they both faced. Takes all kinds, doesn't it?

Most ministry positions require both independence and amiability. Most of us seem to be stronger in one or the other, I guess. At any rate, reading about Hunter made me grateful that Mather had both the charm to work well with such a partner, and the fortitude, himself, to share the otherwise harsh and solitary life Hunter had chosen It seemed necessary, at that time, for the sake of those they hoped to reach. Neither ever married because they believed this was no life for a woman. We know their stories, though, because of because of intrepid missionary-writer Mildred Cable, member of a trio of single women who trekked through this region and wrote about them.

1 comment:

California Girl said...

This was very interesting. Although not living in any extreme situation I was able to reflect on these two men and their approach to their life's call and sort of see myself as I may be viewed at my work place. Very independent which I have seen as positive, but perhaps I need to work more on the amiable : ) thanks Marti you always encourage me.