On this day in 1829, John Livingston Nevius was born on a small farm in Western New York. The small son of a little-known father with few opportunities in life, he probably never imagined that one day, he would be traveling the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the age of 24, John and his wife, Helen, set sail for China under the American Presbyterian Mission. For six harsh months, they were confined to the space of the ship and their small cabin. When they finally arrived on their promised shore of China, the young couple was absolutely thrilled. They both immediately set about learning the language and culture. John took a special interest in the culture, learning as much as he could so he could connect with those he would be working under.
It wasn’t long before John was traveling all over his area, preaching and establishing missions. But the more time he spent doing the ministry among the Chinese people, the more he realized that he shouldn’t be doing it! They didn’t need some stranger leading their church. They needed their own men to step forward and do it.
He began to study the writings of men like Henry Venn and Rufus Anderson, 19th-century home-office leaders. These men both argued that native churches should be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating (The three-selfs). John took these principles and developed what became known as the Nevius Plan. Nevius called for discarding old-style missions and the adoption of his new plan to foster an independent, self-supporting local church. He criticized the missionaries’ practice of paying national workers out of mission funds, believing the healthy local church should be able to support its own local workers. His goal was to build independent, local churches. The basic ideas of the plan were:
- Christians should continue to live in their neighborhoods and pursue their occupations, being self-supporting and witnessing to their co-workers and neighbors.
- Missions should only develop programs and institutions that the national church desired and could support.
- The national churches should call out and support their own pastors.
- Churches should be built in the native style with money and materials given by the church members.
- Intensive biblical and doctrinal instruction should be provided for church leaders every year.
John was rejected by most of the other missionaries he was working with in China and they continued to do things in their old way. But when younger missionaries arrived in Korea to begin working, they begged John to spend a few weeks helping them get started. In 1890, he spent two weeks in Korea, teaching the new missionaries how to built truly “three -self” churches. As a result, these missionaries sought to create independent, indigenous churches from the beginning, stressing especially the importance of self-support. The churches in Korea grew strong and today, these churches are sending their own Korean missionaries around the world.
Matthew’s father, Christain Stach, was a strong man who had a deep love for the Lord. Matthew tells of one instance where, as a young boy, he was unable to get some cake the other kids were eating. Angry and bitter, the boy stalked over to the corner and began to weep loudly, hoping to gain sympathy from his parents. Instead, his father sat down next to him and said, “Ah my son could I but once see thee weep as earnestly on account of thy sins.”
Many of their neighbors considered Christian a heretic, because he believed contray to the teaching of the Catholic Church. His son, however, just considered his father to be weird. That religious stuff wasn’t for Matthew. As soon as he could, he moved away from home and was living in sin and lasciviousness. The Lord was still protecting and leading this young man and, through circumstances, kept him close to his family.
After his father was arrested by the Catholic priest and escaped, the family became fugatives. They soon fled to Herrnhut, the Moravian refuge. It was there that Matthew tired to gain his salvation. He did everything he could. He worked for it, denied himself for it. But it never came. He wrote:
Wherever I was, I was wretched and miserable and that I could not procure peace of by any other means, I disclosed my situation to a confidential friend for advice. His answer was “If thou art hungry, eat. If thirsty, drink. All things are prepared for thee. I thought his advice very unsatisfactory, expecting that he dictate to me a greater exertion of denial upon which at that time I rested my hopes. Thus my distress remained and I spent a whole night in tears and prayers to the Lord for his help and direction humbling myself before him as a poor undone sinner. In the morning meeting the next day, I can say with truth that our Savior granted me such confidence towards him as my strength and shield and such a firm reliance on his merits and death that all my doubts and fears vanished and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost took place within my heart.
After his salvation, he joined the church at Herrnhut and began to grow rapidly. One day, while he was out with some friends, an incident occurred that helped to direct this young man’s life:
Once, as we were passing by the house of the late count Zinzendorf, he was just stepping out with Dr Schac fer, a Lutheran divine then on a visit to Hernnhut. On seeing us, he addressed the Doctor “Here sir you see future missionaries among the heathen“. I was much struck at hearing these words and a desire which I had felt for some time to preach the Gospel to the heathen began to increase within me.
In just a few years, Matthew would be leading the Moravian missionaries to the Island of Greenland, where a great would be be done for many years!