Who We Are
We are OMF International (Overseas Missionary Fellowship), formerly China Inland Mission founded by James Hudson Taylor in 1865.
We serve the church and bring the gospel to some 13 countries in East Asia, and have a pioneering ministry in others. We help place Christians with professional skills in China and other Asian countries, and share the love of Christ with East Asians worldwide.
Origin and History of CIM-OMF - Understanding the Mission
What a mission is today can only be understood fully by knowing why and how it came into being. The history of the CIM-OMF is essential knowledge for grasping our ethos and policies. The following is a brief summary to help clarify the character of OMF:
A young man walked the beach of Brighton. His six years’ missionary service in China had given him an even greater burden for the interior of that great land. Yet there was no group in China that was prepared to launch out into the inland provinces. He had been burdened by the fact that every hour of the day and night a thousand Chinese were passing into a Christless eternity. The young man, Hudson Taylor, was convinced that he should start a new mission, but he felt unwilling to shoulder such a responsibility until suddenly on the Brighton beach a few truths dawned on his mind… the responsibility was not his but God’s! On the flyleaf of his Bible he wrote, “Prayed for twenty-four willing, skillful laborers at Brighton, June 25, 1865.” A bank account with the hitherto unknown name of China Inland Mission (CIM) was opened with the princely sum of ten pounds sterling. It was indeed princely, for was he not the son of a King?
2. The Pattern of CIM History
Less than a year after Brighton Beach, Hudson Taylor, founder of the CIM, sailed on the Lammermuir with a party of eighteen adults and four children. The call for twenty-four was being answered. As we trace the history of the Mission, it is marked by periodic calls for advance, usually couched as a call for a stated number of new workers. This often took place when the outlook was dark and stormy. Human wisdom would have sounded a retreat, but confidence in the faithfulness of God prompted the mission to call for additional workers. The arrival of the Lammermuir in Shanghai was met with cynicism and ridicule. In speaking of the missionaries, an English language newspaper described them as “madmen and lunatics” and asked “Why do not their people keep them at home in an asylum where they would be harmless to themselves and the community?” Subsequently, advances were made at times when the work was at low ebb. It almost became a pattern. Deep valleys of discouragement were followed by high peaks of advance.
3. First Call for Advance
1870 and the years that followed were some of the darkest in the history of China and the Mission. Funds stayed exceptionally low. The leader himself had suffered a bad fall and had a very painful back. The doctor ordered complete rest, and the call for eighteen men was made by his bedside. From here, also, Mr. Taylor conducted mission business. In response to the call for eighteen, there were sixty offers; ten were accepted and sailed in 1875, with eight more the following year. A period of expansion followed as these new workers, two by two, took up residence in nine unoccupied provinces. That was not enough. Faced with the possibilities of not occupying stations already opened at great cost, Hudson Taylor pressed forward once more in faith with a second call for advance.
4. Second Call for Advance
It was 1881. With the total number of missionaries barely a hundred, concern for further advance was conveyed to those praying at home: “Seventy new workers in three years.” God answered, and within the allotted time seventy-three new workers sailed for China. Right on their heels came the famous Cambridge Seven, whose response and dedication to the task stirred the whole of Christendom. Hudson Taylor, while stressing the need to preach widely, yet urged that local churches should be established and matured. Church buildings should be of Chinese not foreign design, and leaders of the churches should be Chinese Christians.
5. Third Call for Advance
1886-1888 saw an advance of another nature. In China the newly formed China Council of the CIM issued a further call for a hundred new workers based on a careful survey of needs. 600 young men and women offered, and from their ranks 102 were accepted and sent forward.
Later in 1888, D. L. Moody and others in the United States invited Mr. Taylor to share in strategic student conferences and other meetings. There was no plan in Taylor’s mind to expand in this direction. He wished only to share his burden for China. The meetings were held in Canada at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The Spirit worked and young Canadians and Americans came to him with offers of service. He could not be blind to God’s purposes, and thus the first steps were taken to internationalize the hitherto English mission. God led on from this first step to the formation of other Home Councils of the China Inland Mission.
In the years that followed the work made spectacular advances, particularly among the many tribal people of Szechwan, Kweichow and Yunnan. Names such as Miao, Lisu and Nosu found their way into mission literature. There were mass turnings to Christ. Throughout China there was much encouragement, and little to indicate the catastrophe which lay around the corner.
Into the 20th Century
1. The Tragedy that Led to Further Advance
In 1900 the Boxers set out to exterminate all Western and Chinese Christians, in a reign of terror when hundreds of missionaries and thousands of Chinese Christians were put to death. The CIM tally was 58 missionaries and 21 children martyred. Details of some of the harrowing experiences can be found in A Thousand Miles of Miracles. When the uprising was at its height, all missionaries were ordered to the coast. Ghastly tragedies and miraculous deliverances were chronicled in the history of this great evacuation from inland China. When it was all over, indemnity money was procured by Consulate officials and offered to the foreign mission societies, but Hudson Taylor was led not to accept anything. This generous response made a great impression on the authorities, and many Chinese citizens were more approachable than previously. During this period the work force of the CIM increased to 933. This decade also saw the death of the Founder of the Mission. Prophets of gloom foretold an early collapse of the Mission which they maintained had been built solely around the personality of its founder. But, in the mercy and sovereignty of God, this did not happen. The character and principles of the Mission remained unchanged, as did the faithfulness of God.
2. The CIM Year of Jubilee
1915 marked the fiftieth year since Hudson Taylor had walked the beach at Brighton and the second year of the European Great War. The repercussions from the west were not too serious, but China was having her own internal problems. Civil war was rife. Scores of local warlords ruled their own piece of territory. Their soldiers lived off the land and made life impossible for the peasants and the merchants. Students were taking their education in Russia. Every kind of natural calamity descended on China bringing its trail of suffering and death. Travel was dangerous. But CIM missionaries continued, many of them in exposed places far from any saving hand. Several gave their lives for the cause of the Gospel.
3. Fourth Call for Advance
1927 saw such deterioration throughout the land that Consular officials strongly recommended all western personnel withdraw to the coast. Shanghai was full. The situation for the Chinese Christians was as devastating as in 1900 – Christians everywhere were persecuted, tortured, and put to death, and Mission and church property was ransacked and destroyed. The future looked dark for missions. At that time half the overall missionary community went home, never to return to China. Others stayed in Shanghai, amongst them many worn and battered members of the CIM. The ministry of Paget Wilkes of the Japan Evangelistic Band brought strength and faith to scores of missionaries. New power for service was available and plans were made for a return to the interior.
In the midst of this darkness a conference was held under the leadership of the General Director, Mr. D. E. Hoste. As they waited on God they were constrained to issue a new call for advance. This time the call was for 200 new missionaries in the course of two years. “How impossible,” said some, “this is the wrong time for more missionaries.” However, prayer was made everywhere and the challenge was given far and wide in the different homelands. By the end of 1929 there were 35 of the 200 on the field. 51 men and women sailed for China in 1930 followed by 117 in the final year, making a total of 203.
4. A Far-reaching New Policy
1930: At this time a new emphasis was made in the relationship between the Mission and the churches. Mission leaders called upon both churches and missionaries to accept the concepts of self-government, self-support, and self-propagation. (This should not be confused with the Three Self Movement introduced by the Communist government some 20 years later, which was a political move to get control over the Christian Church in China.) The move launched by the CIM for related churches in 1930 was intended to bring them independence from any mission control. Unfortunately, the proposal was not fully understood by church leaders or by some of the missionaries. Some held back from offering their help, expecting Chinese church leaders to take the initiative. There were even some who literally sat at home waiting to be asked to participate.
The suggestion was that the financial support the Mission had previously given to support church workers should be withdrawn. Each year the Mission grant would be reduced by a tenth. Hindsight saw this extended reduction spread over ten years as cutting off the puppy’s tail by inches; one clean cut might have seemed more drastic but would have produced less painful results.
In the course of time the advantages of the policy were seen and eventually when the Communists came in, it was helpful for a church to be able to say, “We have not received financial help for a long time, and we have been self-governing.”
War – and Peace?
1. Provision for Retreat Brought Advance
In 1941: Although China and Japan had been at war since 1936, this had caused little direct effect on missionary work in China. But, with the entrance of Japan into the European war via Pearl Harbor, many missionaries became enemy citizens, and the Japanese authorities were not slow to gather them together into internment camps. In the foreknowledge of God, in case they would be cut off in Shanghai, He guided the leaders in Shanghai to send a portion of the HQ staff up to Chungking in the west of China. This skeleton staff had barely arrived when Pearl Harbor was struck, and for the next five years the Mission was run from Chungking. In 1945 the HQ was able to move back to Shanghai, and the redeployment of missionaries in east China called for much prayer and thought. During the war years, and those that followed, missionaries had fantastic opportunities among university students and professional men and women, some of whom were high up in the Government. The benefit to the church of these years of war is difficult to assess. It was a time of great in-gatherings, and a preparation for the difficult days when the communist armies with their atheistic emphasis would be in control.
2. Still Advancing in Troubled Times
1948/49 seemed to be years of retreat. Many missionaries pulled out, but not all of them. The CIM was one of those missions which attempted to stay. It might be argued that the leaders of the CIM were at fault for continuing to hope and refusing to give up on China. To begin with, Mission policy was to continue in the land as far as possible, even retreating westward as the communist armies took over more and more of Nationalist China. There came a day when the leaders of the Mission issued a call for missionaries to stay where they were and allow themselves to come under the People’s Liberation Army. The missionaries were to stay with the church in her hour of need. Having so decided, the CIM took a further step of faith and brought in 48 new workers to Shanghai in 1948. There they studied the language and did what they could to minister in Chinese churches, especially amongst Sunday Schools. A few left Shanghai for the interior before the door closed, but most were closed in Shanghai.
The following year an even harder decision had to be made. The skeleton HQ in Chungking flew in small parties of new recruits from Hong Kong, in all numbering 49. These 100 young workers of 1948 and 1949 would be the backbone of the CIM’s entrance into a variety of new fields in Southeast Asia. They had been preserved for this, and, what is more, in their short but disturbed time in China, they learned first hand much of the Mission’s policies and ways of doing things. They learned also to move men through God by prayer alone. They became seasoned troops through the two years experience under sore trials. The story of the 48ers and 49ers can be read at greater length in China: The Reluctant Exodus by Phyllis Thompson.
3. Change Direction for the Next Advance
1950/51. It eventually became plain that the continued presence of the missionary was an embarrassment to the church. Chinese Christians wanted to maintain fellowship with their missionary colleagues, but this laid them open to the accusation of being imperialistic spies. The missionary presence was causing a conflict of loyalties, so the momentous decision was taken that the Mission must withdraw.
The General Director called the Home Directors and Senior Field Directors to a conference in Kalorama, Australia, and as they waited on God, they received guidance to explore possible areas of work in Southeast Asia. Survey teams were appointed and tentative plans made. However, the leaders still in Shanghai saw the future from a different angle, and to them the need of China was paramount. They felt that, in the immediate future, the Mission’s chief task should be to stir up fervent and continuous prayer for the Chinese Church. Because these two views seemed irreconcilable, another conference was called, this time held in Bournemouth, England, to thrash out these and other crucial questions about the future. Twenty-five men from both home and field spent ten days together seeking the Lord’s plan and blessing. Two particular matters were before them: children’s schooling and patterns of leadership. Parents of teenage children were not happy about committing themselves to six years without seeing their children (for schools to meet their needs as Chefoo had done was unlikely in the new fields); this was solved by agreeing to a three year term at first. The leadership problem was perhaps more serious: the CIM had been built on “Director Rule” and Hudson Taylor and his successors had responsibility for all major decision-making, although they were advised by others. Back in the 1930s a move towards more democratic methods had begun, but now, with a new start being made, it was felt essential for the leadership principles to be clarified. Long discussion and prayer was necessary before unanimity was achieved, but eventually the CIM entered its new era with a more democratic administration, yet retained the principle of Director Rule.
4. From Strength to Strength
In 1953 at a meeting of the Overseas Council, Mr. J. O. Sanders was appointed as General Director (the fifth in the history of the CIM). During his period of leadership, there followed several years of slow but steady advance in the countries where the OMF had taken up new work. (A precis of these developments can be found in the book One Small Flame.) It was during this period that a further phrase was coined, “A church in every community hereby the Gospel to every creature.” It was also during this time that something took place which brought about a long overdue change in the Mission.
During the time CIM was working in China, the leaders periodically received requests from Chinese workers to be allowed to join the CIM. The answer was always a categorical “no.” This decision was not, as some wrongly thought, a matter of racial difference. The fact was that the CIM worked only in China, and to let a local Christian join a foreign missionary society was to separate him from his fellow Christians. He would be putting down his roots in a foreign organization. The objective of the missionary society was to build up local Christians, rather than take them away into an organization whose members had their roots in western homelands. This rule was strictly adhered to in China.
When the same problems arose in the new fields of Southeast Asia, the leaders found themselves replying in a similar vein. “We don’t want to take you from your own environment to depend on foreign resources. What would happen if the Mission had to evacuate?” Would the local Christians who had become members of the CIM-OMF need to go too? What a loss that would be to the local churches! In Council after Council the question was faced, and the same reply was given. These replies were coming because “China thinking” was still strong in the Mission. But at the Central Council of 1964 revelation was received. The Mission should accept Asian Christians into membership if they were offering to cross cultural barriers and become overseas missionaries. By going to another land, their status would be exactly the same as missionaries of the OMF who came from western lands. Missionaries from Asia would be supported by prayer and funds from their own national church. There would be no difference. Accordingly, the General Director, in Council on October 14, 1964, made the decision that the China Inland Mission – Overseas Missionary Fellowship, as such, would cease to exist and that it should be reconstituted as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship - a truly international Fellowship.
In the years that followed this momentous decision, Home Councils consisting of local Christians were formed in several countries in Asia with a view to sending their nationals overseas. At first there was not a great deal of change, for a mere handful of Asians responded to the opportunity. They were still considered by their fellow Christians as having joined a western mission! However, there are now many members of OMF from countries in Asia. In 1975 OMF and Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) integrated their work in Asia.
Since the mission left China, 40 people groups of East Asia have been evangelized through the work of OMF International. God is still leading OMF International, and we are still breaking new ground in the most dramatically changing region of the world by reaching out to more than 100 people groups, working with street children in Bangkok, seeking new ways of evangelizing the unreached of Manila, teaching and influencing students in Taiwan and Indonesia, pioneering a witness among the Malay in South Thailand, translating the Bible and living as salt and light in countries closed to traditional missionary service, including China. OMF International missionaries are serving to build a strong church in the countries of East Asia. In 2005 OMF International celebrated 140 years of service among East Asia’s peoples.
Today we are a diverse fellowship of 1,400 Christians from 30 nationalities proclaiming the glory of Jesus Christ among East Asia’ peoples.
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