"Truth of any kind is food for the soul."

The Rev. Jesse Caswell, 1841

Friday, November 30, 2012

Elizabeth McGilvary

One of the fascinating stories of Presbyterian missionary history in northern Thailand has to do with Evander McGilvary (1864-1953), son of the Rev. Daniel and Sophia McGilvary.  He served briefly as a missionary in Chiang Mai himself but left the mission because of his modernist theological views (see here for the details).  McGilvary later became a philosopher of some note and for many years served as the chair of the Philosophy Department of the University of Wisconsin.  We know a good deal about him.

We know far, far less about his wife, Elizabeth Paton McGilvary.  In fact, in the missionary records about all we have about her is that she married Evander.  It turns out that some basic information about her life plus a news article reporting her death is available on line at findagrave.com (here).  She was born 26 November 1872 and belonged to a "well-known family" from Orange, New Jersey.  Her father was Robert L. S. Paton and her mother was Henreitta (Bayles).  She would have met Evander while he was studying at Princeton Seminary.  She was apparently known as "Bessie" and at one time taught French at the University of Wisconsin.  The clipping (shown here) says that she was "active socially."  That's still not a lot of information, but it is an improvement.

As a rule, it is much harder to find information on missionary wives than it is on either the men or single women.  The wives left mission business and correspondence to their husbands.  The single women had to take care of things for themselves.  The consequence is that missionary wives generally remain in the shadows.  Any time we can lift the veil on their shadowy existence, it is a good thing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Boon Mark Giitisarn & the CCT

Following up on the last posting, my bibliographic wandering around in the Web turned up something of a gem—a hitherto unknown essay by Boon Mark Gittisarn entitled, "What Modernism Has Done to Presbyterian Missions in Siam." The essay is contained in a book that he co-authored with the well-known American fundamentalist Presbyterian, Carl McIntire, titled, Modernism Takes Its Toll of Missionwork. According to WorldCat, the online catalog of just about every book in every library in the world, this particular book is found in only one library in the world, the Theological Library, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, Northwest University.  I contacted the library about this book, and they very kindly sent back a pdf, which I have uploaded onto herbswanson.com (here).

This is an important find because in it Boon Mark describes his reasons for leaving the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) and the situation that lead to his decision.  He was a key figure at a crucial time, and we have precious few Thai sources for the events he discusses. Those interested in the emergence of Thai evangelicalism and Pentecostalism will want to give this source very careful attention.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Boon Mark Gittisarn & the CCCA

Boon Mark Gittisarn is one of the most important and most interesting figures in 20th century Thai Protestantism.  He figured prominently in the early history of the Church of Christ in Thailand before and during World War II and then played a leading role in the early history of Thai Pentecostalism.  an online search (using Google) turned up a reference to Boon Mark in a book by the Presbyterian fundamentalist leader, Carl McIntire, A Testimony in Europe: Travel Letters on Missions (Christian Beacon Press, 1951), p. 39.  McIntire describes how he and a group of others formed the Conference of Christian Churches in Asia (CCCA) as a counterweight to the "apostate ecumenical movement" organization, the East Asia Christian Conference.  Boon Mark is listed as a vice president of the newly formed CCCA.  This passing reference serves to emphasize Boon Mark's connections to international fundamentalism in general and McIntire in particular.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Christianity in Siam" (1904)

The time is fast approaching when anyone with access to internet can do great amounts of Thai church history research right at home anywhere in the world. The one problem, of course, is finding the relevant material in the vastness of the web. A case in point is a brief article salted away in a place where no one looking for Thai church history sources would ever think to look. It is entitled, "Christianity in Siam," and it is found in the Boston Evening Transcript, 75 (21 May 1904), 28. The article describes the changing conditions of Protestant mission work and the resulting development. Although not long, it provides a beautiful quick snapshot of Protestant missions in Siam at the turn of the 19th century.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Psalms in Northern Thai

The history of the translation of the Bible into northern Thai (กำเมือง) in the missionary era is a fascinating story that has received too little attention (Everything about the study of Thai church history has received too little attention!) The job was never finished, and for the most part surviving copies of the northern Thai Bible are contained in scripture portions. One of the best examples is the translation of the Psalms done by the Rev. Jonathan Wilson with Nan Poen, which was published in 1894. The reason I mention it here is because a copy can be found online at the Open Library (here). I came across it quite by accident, and a half hour spent googling different combinations of northern Thai/Lao/Siam Bible produced no other hits (not even this one!).