Ji Zhiwen was born on January 10th, 1901, in Shanghai, the oldest son in the family. His father, Ji Youren, a Confucian scholar, opened a school in his home and taught students there. From childhood, Ji Zhiwen received a traditional Confucian education from his father. His mother was a Buddhist, a vegetarian, virtuous and open-minded, though she maintained tablets of ancestors in the home, observed religious festivals, and worshiped the ancestors. Ji Zhiwen in his youth was quiet and reticent, and very awkward in relating to people. In his youth, he would go with his mother to the temple to offer incense and listen to the monk chant the scriptures; he even had an opportunity to skim over the books of gospel, but was totally uninterested and cold towards religion.
Zhiwen’s parents had four sons and three daughters, three of whom died in infancy. As he watched his little brothers’ rigid corpses being placed into square coffins and carried out to be buried by adults and saw the grieved expressions and the tears of the mourners, he couldn’t understand the meaning of death, but the questions of why people die and what happens after death were lodged deeply in his mind.
At the age of twelve, his father came down with a serious illness, which proved to be incurable, and he quickly died. After his father’s death, Zhiwen once again followed his mother around as she rose early and retired late, tilled the field and made clothing, upholding the family all by herself. He often helped her work in the field, spread fertilizer, carry water, etc. Seeing his mother working so hard, he resolved that when he grew up he would certainly make enough money to repay his mother as a filial son.
In order to make ends meet, Ji Zhiwen again became an apprentice in a cloth shop. As he became immersed in business circles, he picked up not a few bad habits. At the age of 18, in order to learn English, he entered a middle school run by Western missionaries (the CIM’s Bethel Secondary School). Although he had absolutely no interest in the religious activities of the school or the Bible class, because of school regulations he had to take his Bible along and participate. Unexpectedly, the Bible became for him a textbook for studying English. The words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible made a deep impression upon him, gradually convincing him of the greatness of Jesus.
One day, a CIM missionary came to preach at the school. His topic was, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Ji Zhiwen’s heart was struck by the force of the message and God’s love flooded his heart, convicting him of his sin. That night he kneeled before God for the first time, as he cried with a loud voice, “My God, you are my Savior; have mercy on this sinner!” Immediately, God removed his heavy burden and filled his heart with peace and joy.
He was elected as an officer of the Shanghai post office in 1924, with a handsome salary, a good position in society, and a promising career ahead of him. All this did not satisfy his heart, however. The next year, Wang Zai came to Shanghai for an evangelistic meeting. Hearing him, Ji Zhiwen was moved deeply and requested baptism from Wang Zai. After his baptism Ji was even more hungry for the truth of the Bible, and eagerly took part in every sort of church activity. He gave himself the Bible name, “Andrew,” and resolved to become a man who led others to the Lord. Soon he had led his mother and two younger sisters to believe in Christ. His Buddhist grandmother was a first strongly opposed to the Gospel, but later she joined her family in receiving Christ.
In 1925, at a revival meeting led by the Western missionary John Gu, Ji Zhiwen once again responded to the call of God and made a decision to commit himself to full-time work as a preacher. But how could he explain leaving his well-paying job at the post office? God heard his prayer, however, while he was praying gave him a clear vision, so he finally resigned his position, said “Farewell” to his mother, and entered upon the path of the life as a minister of the Gospel.
He began by associating with the evangelist Mary Stone (Shi Meiyu) and pastor Ding Limei as he learned from their experience in evangelism, accompanying Mary Stone often to many places for revival and evangelistic meetings. In 1926, he received ordination from the Rev. Mr. Sontas. From that time, he began traveling to Guangxi, Guangdong, Fujian, Xiamen and other locations conducting evangelistic and revival meetings. The Holy Spirit was with him, enabling him to preaching with great power resulting in hundreds, even thousands of people repenting and deciding to follow the Lord.
Ji Zhiwen returned to Shanghai from his evangelistic tours on October 1st, 1928, for his wedding to Dorcas Zhang, a fellow member of the Bethel organization, at the Bethel Church. Hardly a week later, the new couple went to the Baptist Church at Hangzhou to preach, spending their honeymoon thus in evangelistic ministry.
The Chinese church experienced a great revival in 1927, which lasted into the 1930s. Ji Zhiwen was among the leaders of this revival movement. In February, 1931, he established the “Bethel Evangelistic Band” in Shanghai. This organization was part of the Methodist Church, prominent members of which included Li Daorong, Lin Jingkang, Nie Ziying, John Shi, and Song Shangjie (John Sung). Beginning February 18, over the next four years they traveled 50,000 kilometers, visited 133 cities, conducted 3389 meetings, and preached the Gospel to 500,000 people, of whom 50,000 made professions of faith. Among those who repented and turned to the Lord were Chinese and foreigners; workers, farmers, business people; youth and soldiers; and corrupt officials, bandits, gangsters, and murderers. Their powerful preaching and personal testimonies brought revival wherever they went. In order to meet the increasing needs of the evangelistic work, they established 10 regional teams in every part of the country for evangelism and revival meetings. In 1933, they even formed “battlefield evangelistic teams” especially to preach the Gospel to officers and soldiers fighting the Japanese. Under their inspiration, many local churches also formed evangelistic teams.
Ji Zhiwen and the Bethel Band not only spread the Gospel fire in both urban and rural areas in the south and north China, but also sowed Gospel seeds in the border areas of Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Yunnan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. In the latter part of 1938, Ji and Dr. James Edwin Orr passed through Yunnan to Vietnam, evangelizing in Hanoi and Haiphong; they also conducted a nation-wide evangelistic meeting in Saigon, bringing a great revival to the church in Vietnam. In the process of their preaching, they employed personal testimonies, outdoor meetings, large Gospel meetings, as well as revival and spiritual life methods. Miracles often accompanied their proclamation. Ji Zhiwen always ascribed the accomplishments of the Bethel Bands’ endeavors to the work of the Holy Spirit.
As the war against Japan expanded, Ji Zhiwen took the Bethel co-workers, including Mary Stone and Miss Jennie V. Hughes, along with the seminary students and more than 100 orphans, to Hong Kong. In Kowloon he established a church, an elementary school, and an orphanage. The war had created many homeless orphan children; Ji responded to the call of Song Meiling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek) and established orphanages in Hong Kong and Guizhou for these victims of warfare. He later went to America to preach and to promote the needs of orphans, receiving support from American Christian friends, who sponsored more than a thousand orphans as well as providing support for the orphanages opened by Ji. Mrs. Ji returned to Shanghai from Hong Kong, where she rented a three-story building and opened an orphanage on Da Xi Road, obtaining the very effective assistance of Miss Ou Jialing.
In 1943, after Shanghai fell to the Japanese, Ji again led more than a hundred war orphans, seminary students, faculty, and staff in an exodus to Guizhou. After a long and arduous journey, they finally reached the orphanage in Bijie, Guizhou. As a result of the difficulties of the long journey, his tuberculosis flared up, causing him to vomit blood constantly, and forcing him into the hospital for treatment. At this time, he still managed to make it to churches and universities to preach and teach.
From 1946 to 1949, Ji established the Chinese Evangelization Society in Shanghai, undertaking both evangelistic and orphanage work. By the end of 1949, they had already taking in more than 100 orphans. But the new government would not allow private organizations to operate orphanages, so the institution run by Mr. and Mrs. Ji was closed down not long afterwards.
In February of 1949, Ji Zhiwen traveled to America to serve as speaker at the annual meeting of American Christians held in Chicago. Mrs. Ji went to Hong Kong for treatment for tuberculosis. When the political situation in China changed dramatically, the two moved to Hong Kong. Since he could not return to the mainland of China, Ji began holding evangelistic meetings in the Kuai Le (“Happiness”) Theater. Weekly attendance on Sunday mornings was more than 1200 people. In August, 1951, he formally established a church, along with Paul Shen and others. With increasing numbers coming, they took up and offering to build their own meeting place. The structure was completed in October of 1956 and was given the name, “Canaan Church of the Chinese Evangelization Society.”
In 1950, Cassada College in Oregon, America, conferred upon Ji Zhiwen an honorary Doctorate of Letters (D. Litt.).
The Chinese Evangelization Society began its work in Taiwan in 1948 when Paul Shen was sent by Ji Zhiwen to Taichung to establish a ministry there. Beginning with nothing, by 1952 they had erected a meeting hall with a capacity to seat more than 400 people, with the name, Si En Church. In February of 1952, Ji presided at the dedication ceremony. In the following years, the Society opened work in Taipei, Pingtung, Taidung, Yilin, Yilan, Luodong, Gangshan, Hsinchu and other places, and conducted evangelistic work and opened churches among the aboriginal people as well.
In the early 1950s, Ji extended his evangelistic ministry to South East Asia. In the next decade, he engaged in pioneer evangelism in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and other countries; built churches; conducted revival and evangelistic meetings. In each place, churches experienced revival, as thousands dedicated themselves to God. Ji Zhiwen’s influence upon Chinese churches in South East Asia was profound. More than that, his journeys took him to more than fifty nations, and he circled the globe more than 15 times.
In the course of his ministry, Ji met the needs of the Chinese churches by establishing theological colleges, including Bethel Seminary in Shanghai, Taichung Bible College, South East Bible College in Indonesia, Hong Kong Bible College, and Bethel Bible College in Thailand, training thousands of preachers as a result. In 1981, in order to honor his work, the South East Bible College in Indonesia dedicated the “Ji Zhiwen Memorial Hall,” a church building with a capacity of more 1,200.
Ji Zhiwen was always a philanthropist, establishing schools, kindergartens, and day care centers for children affected by disasters and for orphans, including “En Ci Orphanage in Macao; Malang Middle School in Indonesia; Holy Word Children’s Home in Taipei; Holy Word Kindergarten in Malaysia, and many more, providing food, clothing, shelter, and education for this homeless young people. He not only saved the lives of thousands, but turned them into people with a sense of responsibility for society.
Ji Zhiwen greatly emphasized Christian literature work, as seen in his establishment of a publishing organization. Already in 1949, he had set up a publications division in the Chinese Evangelization Society; the name was changed to Holy Word Press in June, 1962. It issued “Life Magazine”; Gospel tracts; evangelistic booklets; and Christian books.
Ji Zhiwen officially retired at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Chinese Evangelization Society in October, 1978. He had suffered from tuberculosis since youth, often coughing up blood, but God supported him, greatly used him, and accomplished great things through him. On January 30, 1985, he underwent surgery for lung cancer. He died peacefully on February 13th at the age of 85. A memorial service was held for him on February 23rd at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California, at which his co-worker the Rev. Xiao Zhenxiang, presided; Lin Jingkang preached the sermon; Li Qirong sang a solo, “Holy city,” in order to commemorate the life of this faithful and fruitful servant of God.
The Jis had no children. Ji Zhiwen preached mostly in Chinese, though he could preach and teach in English also. Aside from an autobiography, My Wonderful God, he wrote several books in English: Launch Out into the Deep; Twice Born - and Then?; Into God’s Family; and The Fire of Revivalism in Chinese. He was a kind and easy-going person, and usually enjoyed good relationships with his coworkers.
- Daniel H. Bays, ed., Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996) 315, 418.
- Huang Denghuang, “Father of the Orphanage”: A Biography of Andrew Gih. Hong Kong: Chinese Evangelization Society.
- Andrew Gih, Serving the Lord for Fifty Years. Hong Kong: Holy Word Publishing House.
- Peter Wongso, “Ji, Andrew,” in Scott W. Sunquist, ed., Dictionary of Asian Christianity.