Most people do not know that Robert Morrison, China’s first Protestant missionary, never wanted to go to China. In our newest book, BURY ME IN CHINA, we share for the first time how Robert Morrison initially had a heart for Africa, but before leaving for Africa, he decided to attend a small unrecognized Bible school with only one lowly professor.
That Bible school shared three simple items for every missionary to learn and, in doing so, changed the history of missions forever.
In late May 1804, Robert Morrison, China’s first missionary, set foot on the Gosport missionary training campus for the first time. The campus was a little underwhelming in the way that a midweek Wednesday tends to feel, but this training facility would shape the very men that would change the world for Christ.
The primary property for the missionary training facility stood on the grounds of an old chapel and was disconnected from every residential home surrounding it. The steeple reached up with a chalk-white pointed roof that pierced into the sky. Inside, the plain, red brick building could host about 1,000 people.
Its fragmented presence was less of a campus and more of a sad ghetto with bleeding borders that did not begin or end. The glorious sunshine of May promising the warmth of summer did not help. The Gosport campus looked better in the rain; the bad weather hid its drowsiness. Only the cold, dark days of fall, helped by the howling winds of November could paint this campus with the correct amount of justice.
Stubborn trees stood staggered throughout the grove, lined with well-worn footpaths going to and from where eager students ran from class to class. No one cared to manicure the grounds. It was never in the budget, and even if it was, the money would still not be used for such a purpose. Not even one flower was found guilty of visiting the campus; there were only weeds accused of being flowers.
Just outside the boundary of the churchyard stood charming British cottages where the students lived together with families from the church. They didn’t have traditional dorms, so each student waited to be adopted by a member of the congregation.
The man running Gosport missionary training facility was Dr. David Bogue. Dr. Bogue was the minister of the Independent Chapel and the only professor for the entire missionary training academy. There was only one professor for every subject – Dr. Bogue.
In its short history, Gosport Academy only trained 200 young men, but never has 200 men done so much. They were all handpicked and trained by Dr. David Bogue himself. Each one would eventually be world-changers. Many would be martyrs in the process. Thirteen of those students would eventually be found memorialized in Britain’s Dictionary of National Biography.
Out of the meager 200 graduates, most were sent to nations where no missionary had ever been sent before. Not only did David eventually hand-select Robert Morrison to go to China, but he sent his students for the first time to be missionaries to Malta, Demerara, Siberia, Africa, Calcutta, Madras, Travancore, Islands in the South Seas, Surat, Java, Bellary, Benares, Malaysia, Burma, Singapore, Malta, Bangalore, Macao, Hong Kong, Ghent, Trinidad, as well as to Flanders, France, the USA, Australia, and Canada.
The missionaries produced at Gosport were not timid, academic Christians—they were gladiators, knowingly entering the ring of the beasts. They didn’t run from death; they waited in line for their turn. Standing at the dark gates of hell like a disciplined Thracian, curved sword of the Word of God in hand, crested with the helmet of salvation and with a visor of tunnel vision for preaching the Gospel.
The beasts were not the only predators in the arena. The missionaries of Gosport seemed possessed with a hunger for battle, not simply finding pleasure in remaining spectators. The winning of souls was prized by both sides, and the stakes could not be higher.
Blood was required of Christ, and so was it with His disciples. There is no pleasure in death, but it is there where glory is found. The students of Gosport would be legally condemned again and again, but their conscience would not be polluted with mediocrity. When students arrived at Gosport, they were entering into the colosseum of warriors where the most gruesome martyrdom was not only permitted against them, but demanded by the wild hordes that attacked them. However, that was not the worst part.
The worst part likely was when the crowds, representing the very people that God had called them to come and save, cheered and jeered at their tortuously slow and painful slaughter. Mercy did not entertain these crowds, only the sight of agony on the missionary’s face, begging for clemency and receiving butchery, satiated the taunting masses. The crowds did not come to the arena to hear the missionary’s message of salvation. They came to entertain themselves with their gashing wounds and gaping injuries. In fact, they would boo the missionary’s demise if it came too quickly. As much as they hated delays, they hated hasty homicides even more. They desired to savor the taste of the missionary’s blood as it gently flowed out, soaked up by the dusty ground.
When Robert Morrison arrived in the classroom for the first day, he was stepping into the threshold of legacy. Three previous students who had walked through that same door had been killed in India, and at the same moment as he began classes, another one was dying a painful death, just at that moment, on the other side of the world in the Pacific Islands.
Every student at Gosport only had five very simple instructions for each day written on the paper.
- Endeavour to spend an hour in the morning, before school, in prayer, examination, with pious reading.
- Converse on literature at or after breakfast.
- Engage in recreation, reading, writing, and study before and after dinner.
- After half-past seven, pray, recollect, and self-examination.
- Immediately after supper, retire to study, and go to bed at twelve.
The training facility was only open from 1777-1826, but in the short 49 years that it existed, Gosport produced a long list of missionaries who pioneered uncharted territory, translated Bibles into unreached languages for the first time, and planted discipleship training schools throughout the pagan world.
Few schools made as much of an impact in the world of missions as Gosport had. Robert Morrison had a vision to go to Africa, but it was Dr. Bogue who convinced Robert Morrison to leave for China instead. When Robert left the school, Dr. David Bogue commissioned him to do three simple things (the same three things that he taught all of his students to do as soon as they arrive on the soil of a foreign nation) – learn the language, translate the Bible and teaching materials into the local language, and then start schools to multiply the work.
That simple guideline set Robert on a path that lasted his entire life. Those three rules changed China and are arguably still advisable for missionaries today.
To purchase the new Robert Morrison book BURY ME IN CHINA click below, or find the paperback version on Amazon.