Calvin and Julia Mateer, natives of Pennsylvania, settled in the seaside town of Penglai. Their lives were greatly used by God in the promotion of Christian education throughout China. Before that vision would come to fruition, however, Calvin Mateer was called to endure many years of struggle and hardship. At one time he reported,
"Every village I come to, the term 'devil!' 'devil!' comes ringing in my ears. Not that they always called it at me, but to one another, to come and see. Frequently, however, it was called out most spitefully for me to hear. I think that within the last two days I have heard it from at least 10,000 mouths. It is strange how such a term could have gotten such universal currency. It expresses not so much hatred for the gospel as it does the national enmity of the Chinese to foreigners."
This fierce hatred inevitably spilled over into violence on a few occasions. Once at Zhangqiu, a local sorcerer stirred up great trouble against the missionary. When Mateer was surrounded by a throng of men to whom he was selling books, "in rushed this man, brandishing an ugly-looking spear; and, using the Chinese expression of rage, 'Ah! I'll kill you!' he drove the spear straight at Mateer's breast."
Mateer survived this attack and others, and went on to establish a long-lasting and fruitful work for the kingdom of God in Shandong. The first school they established at Penglai was a modest one, created after Julia discovered she and her husband were not able to have children of their own.
By 1872, Calvin Mateer decided that all instruction in his schools should be in Chinese (most other mission schools used English at the time). Determined to bring Christian education to China in a manner most helpful to the future of the Chinese Church, he wrote,
"So long as all the Christian literature of China is the work of foreigners, the Chinese Church will be weak and dependent. She needs as rapidly as possible a class of ministers with well-trained and well-furnished minds, who will be able to write books, defending and enforcing the doctrines of Christianity, and applying them to the circumstances of the Church in China....
An uneducated Christianity may hold its own against an uneducated heathenism, but it cannot against an educated heathenism. We want, in a word, to do more than introduce naked Christianity into China, we want to introduce it in such a form, and with such weapons and supports, as will enable it to go forward alone, maintain its own purity, and defend itself against all foes."
Mateer's persistence paid off, and by 1898 his system of teaching had spread from the small school he founded in Penglai to include college level education. In 1904 the school relocated to the more central location of Weifang, and later moved to the provincial capital Jinan, where it became known as the Shandong Christian University.
In 1907, a year before his death, Mateer excitedly wrote to believers in America with an exhortation and challenge that rings true for the Church in China today:
"Tell the young men of America for me, that China now presents to the Church the greatest opportunity of the ages. God has opened the door—opened it wide. Three hundred and fifty million people are ready to hear the gospel message. The door has not been opened without great strife and effort. In the face of steady and persistent opposition, and through much suffering and bloodshed, a large and lasting impression has already been made. The dark and discouraging days are over and the future is bright with promise....
Very few people in the West understand the present conditions of things in China.... The faith of the long, old centuries is passing rapidly away, but what shall the new faith be? This is the great Christian question of the hour. The young men of China are mad to learn English, because there is money in it. With English comes books and newspapers, sowing the seeds of agnosticism, skepticism, and rationalism. Who will champion the truth? Who will administer the antidote? Who will uphold the cross? Who will testify for Christ?"
At the time of Mateer's death in 1908, after four and a half decades of service in Shandong, graduates of the university had spread to 16 different provinces throughout China, and were serving as Christian teachers in more than 100 schools.
© This article is an extract from Paul Hattaway's book 'Shandong: The Revival Province'. You can order this or any of The China Chronicles books and e-books from our online bookstore.