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February 19 — Xi Shengmo

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Today’s Bible reading

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. — Romans 8:38

More thoughts for meditation about Xi Shengmo (Pastor Xi, 1836-1896)

The Confucian scholar Xi Zizhi became a Jesus follower after a failed attempt to pass the provincial level exams in Taiyuan, Shanxi. As he exited the examination hall, he received several gospel tracts as well as an invitation to contribute to a collection of essays on general moral and religious topics. This process was devised by British missionaries, Timothy Richard and David Hill, as a means of opening up gospel discussions with Chinese elites. Xi submitted several winning entries in the essay competition, and when he visited the missionaries to collect his monetary prize, he was asked by Hill to serve as his secretary and Chinese language tutor. Xi accepted and his new foreign friend soon helped him overcome his opium smoking habit.

Xi became a Christian, changed his name to Xi Shengmo (“Xi, the overcomer of demons”), and returned to his hometown to convert his traditional Chinese medical dispensary into a church and opium refuge for others seeking to overcome their addictions. He was the first indigenous pastor in Shanxi province, immortalized in Geraldine Taylor’s biographyPastor Hsi: Confucian Scholar and Christian. Xi was fiery, and while he did at times get into conflict with foreign missionaries, a long string of China Inland Mission (CIM now OMF)  missionaries (including many of the famous Cambridge Seven) served effectively under his direction. His opium refuge played an important role in the early development of the indigenous Protestant church in Shanxi.

Xi also wrote numerous Chinese Christian hymns, which were considered more to the liking of the local people than the hymns introduced by the missionaries. But perhaps the most notable thing about him was the way in which he led out in the Christian missionary work in his area. The general pattern was for Western Christians to enter an area, raise up churches and then train local people as pastors and evangelists. Xi Shengmo took hold of the work with such skill and energy that the missionaries stood aside, to a considerable extent, as he established clinics and churches.

One of the towns where he worked was Hwochow (modern Huaxian) in Shansi. After his time Mildred CableEvangeline and Francesca French worked there as missionaries for 21 years until they left in 1923. “The ramifications of the Church under the direction of the Chinese Pastorate, in immediate succession to the foundation as laid by Pastor Hsi … were the joy and gratification of the whole community.” (Through Jade Gate and Central Asia; by M. Cable & F. French, p. 16).

Quote

At this time I still smoked opium. I tried to break it off by means of native medicine, but could not; by use of foreign medicine, but failed. At last I saw, in reading the New Testament, that there was a Holy Spirit who could help men. I prayed to God to give me His Holy Spirit. He did what man and medicine could not do; He enabled me to break off opium smoking. So, my friends, if you would break off opium, don’t rely on medicine, don’t lean on man, but trust to God. — Transcribed oral testimony of Xi from Days of Blessing in Inland China.

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Entry from the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity

Suggestions for action

From failure and addiction, Xi was called to make a big difference. He even overcome the “foreign devils” and exercised his own authority. He says it is all because he trusted Jesus. Does his example move you to get beyond something in yourself and get into the mission of Christ in the world in some expanded way?