Who Was Griffith John
Fifty six years of strenuous missionary work in China (1855-1911) – was the record of the Rev. Griffith John who was the first Missionary from Wales to set foot in China. Born in Swansea on December 14th 1831 his childhood was very closely associated with Ebenezer Chapel where he worshipped regularly and he was received into membership when only eight years of age. He preached his first sermon in Onllwyn in the Dulais Valley, where he worked as a youth, and he soon won fame as the “boy preacher of Wales”. He trained for the ministry at Brecon Memorial College. He was intent on Missionary work as he felt a call in this direction after hearing David Thomas of Madagascar speak to College students. He offered his services to the London Missionary Society and when accepted undertook further training at their College in Bedford where he was persuaded to make China his sphere of labour. He was ordained for the ministry at Ebenezer Chapel Swansea on 5th April 1855 and married Margaret, the daughter of David Thomas on the 13th of the same month leaving for China three weeks later.
After a few years in Shanghai, Griffith John settled at Hankow in 1861 and this became the permanent headquarters of his missionary work. From this centre he travelled widely in the area, often by foot, and established a range of mission stations. As the first Protestant Missionary in Central China, he proclaimed the gospel in regions where it had not previously been heard and his missionary work flourished particularly in Hankow and its environs. Griffith John worked with great commitment in Christian mission and with excellent linguistic skills translated the Scriptures into Chinese and wrote a large number of books in the local dialect. He was the Chairman of the Central China Tract Society and as the author, translator and publisher was a prolific propagator of the gospel through popular and influential tracts.
Griffith John with his wife, returned to the homeland in 1872, mainly due to Mrs John’s ill-health resulting from the toll of the extremes of climate over years while in Hankow. Mrs Margaret John died on the 18th February l873 when returning from furlough as the ship reached Singapore and she was buried there. A hospital known as the “Margaret Memorial Hospital” was built in Hankow to commemorate her dedicated work in the community. Griffith John married a second time in 1874, Mrs Jeanette Jenkins the widow of an American missionary, who also worked tirelessly until she died in China in 1885. Griffith John, as well as the Memorial Hospital founded many schools, a Teacher Training College, a Theological College in Hankow. Griffith John celebrated his jubilee as a missionary at Hankow in 1905. He finally left China after 56 years service on the 17th November 1911.
Griffith John received the Degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Edinburgh in 1899 for his extensive knowledge of the language and classics of China and for his literary contributions. The University of Wales also conferred the same Degree on Griffith John in 1911 for his contribution to Chinese literature and progress of the world.
Griffith John died in London on the 25th July 1912 with his body brought back to Swansea for burial where vast crowds thronged the streets around High Street Station where the welcome party included the Lord Mayor. Ebenezer Chapel nearby was completely full for the funeral service which those who attended commented “that it was not a funeral but a revival service”. The interment was at Bethel Chapel, Sketty.