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During the 1890s the Foreign Mission Board celebrated the centennial of the modern missions movement, but was also challenged when missionaries in China resigned over missiological controversies.

1890s Overview

The year 1892 marked the centennial of the modern missionary movement. Although the Foreign Mission Board was only 47 years old, Southern Baptists celebrated the centennial because they considered William Carey, the movement’s leader, to be the father of Baptist mission efforts worldwide. Carey’s 1792 publication An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, in which he asserted that missions is central to the Christian faith, had a profound effect on Baptists in the United States, as well as in his native England.

The Foreign Mission Board used the centennial celebration to promote the cause of missions. Executive leader Henry Allen Tupper proposed the commemoration should include raising $250,000, appointing 100 new missionaries and building 100 chapels overseas. Although those goals were not met (around $154,000 was raised and 40 missionaries were appointed), funding was bolstered for a time, and the importance of foreign missions was once again brought to the attention of Southern Baptists.

Unfortunately, the 1890s were also a period of turmoil. Followers of the Gospel Mission Movement, started by missionary T.P. Crawford in China, resigned from the FMB but remained in China to serve under Crawford’s direction. Crawford opposed the use of FMB funds to support national workers, build chapels or support schools. He eventually also opposed the involvement of boards in the direction of mission work, and suggested that a church or group of churches select and support missionaries directly. Although his movement did not last beyond the lives of this small group, the topics they raised continue to be debated in every era as missionaries seek out the best ways to proclaim the gospel and plant churches using biblically sound and culturally appropriate methods.

IMB Milestones

Significant Ministry Events

China Divided by Gospel Mission Movement

A dozen missionaries resigned from the Foreign Mission Board to join the Gospel Mission Movement, led by Tarleton P. Crawford in China. The group’s conviction that mission funds must not be used to subsidize national workers and institutions eventually led to beliefs that Foreign Mission Board operations should cease and missionaries should receive support directly from churches.

T.P. Crawford

Robert J. Willingham Elected Executive Leader

Pastor Robert J. Willingham was elected leader of the Foreign Mission Board and served until his death in 1914. He led the board out of debt, began the movement toward a cooperative funding method, and espoused the conviction that meeting human needs increases missionaries’ credibility.

Robert J. Willingham

Missions in Context

Major World Events

Chicago World’s Fair Opened to the Public  

The Chicago World’s Fair commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. The event raised the cultural prestige of the United States in the eyes of the world. It also provided the U.S. public its first look at other peoples and cultures. Over a six-month period, more than 27 million people attended the fair.

1893 - Chicago Fair #2 (Wikimedia commons)

Stock Market Crashed, Launching the Panic of 1893 

Following the Gilded Age of economic prosperity of the 1870s and 1880s, which relied heavily on international investments, the U.S. stock market crashed in May 1893, leading to a depression that lasted until 1897. Many businesses failed, including banks and railroads, and unemployment rates soared. One in five American men were left without jobs.

1893 - Panic of 1893 #1 (Wikimedia commons)

Japan and China Fought First Sino-Japanese War 

While Japan and China fought over influence in Korea, the U.S. government urged missionaries to evacuate China. C.W. and Anna Pruitt decided to stay and continue their work. As they cared for injured Chinese soldiers, the people they served saw the gospel in action. The war marked Japan as a world power for the first time.

Sino-Japanese War

First Modern Olympic Games Held in Athens 

Inspired by the Olympic games of ancient Greece, Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894. Over a ten-day period, 241 athletes from 14 countries competed in 43 events. The marathon was first introduced during these games.

Olympic Games

Spanish-American War Began 

Cuba, a part of the Spanish Empire, had been seeking its independence for many years. Near the end of the island’s third liberation war, the United States joined them in their fight against the Spanish, due in part to economic interests in Cuba. As a result of their defeat in 1899, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the U.S. The Philippines, who had also been fighting against Spanish rule, then turned to war against the U.S. from 1899 to 1902.

Spanish-American War

Missionary Profiles

Honoring Faithful Service

Erik Nelson

Thrown in prison, mobbed and threatened, Erik had to flee for his life on multiple occasions, but nothing could keep him away from the people of the Amazon.

Erik Nelson's Boat, the Buffalo

Ernest and Claudia Walne

Forty-three years of work in Japan started with a “genuine, ole hug.”

Ernest and Claudia Walne

Solomon Ginsburg

He intended to become a Jewish rabbi, but a note in the margin of the book of Isaiah changed things for Solomon.

Solomon Ginsburg

William and Florence Powell

William rushed back to Mexico from Texas in the hopes of saving one of his fellow Southern Baptist missionaries from imprisonment.

William David Powell

God at Work

Stories From The Field

Persecuted Chinese Christians Attend Missionary’s Bible Class

This class is composed of the more promising among our country members who give hope that they may be future leaders in their neighborhoods, of some new converts who need to get an insight into Bible study, of some young men who are regularly studying with me, and some of the larger Christian school boys, and such of the Canton church as can spare the time. … Let me introduce you to a few of them. ...

Rosewell H. Graves



R.J. Willingham worked tirelessly to reduce debt so missionaries could receive support and more could be sent. The churches responded.

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