Conrad Baehr was born September 10, 1906, in the Bronx, New York, to John and Hermine Baehr, who were German immigrants to the United States. His father was a postman and had formerly been a member of a Presbyterian church in Germany. His mother, a graduate of a music conservatory, played the organ in church. Conrad Baehr had five younger siblings. When he was six, he moved with his family to Plainfield in New Jersey. They were invited by a neighbor to a Plymouth Brethren Assembly, Grove Street Chapel, which led to spiritual revival for their parents. Soon, all six children also believed, one after another. The whole family enjoyed this warm, joyful life of faith for many years in this church.
On his thirteenth birthday, Conrad was given a precious gift - a copy of the Scofield Bible. In the days that followed, he read many good books, including those by authors John Bunyan, Martin Luther, and John Hus, as well as biographies of other heroes of the Reformation. These books deeply influenced his faith and his spiritual life. To help with the family finances, he dropped out of school at the age of thirteen and went to work at an insurance company as an insurance agent. When he was eighteen, he joined a trucking company, serving as a purchasing agent. In this work environment, Conrad had many opportunities to exercise his faith, which enabled him to overcome many difficulties by trusting in Christ.
When he was sixteen, he and his mother were invited to a revival meeting, where they met a missionary to China, Jim Buckley. During their conversation, Baehr said that to go to China was a big sacrifice, but Buckley replied, “It’s not a sacrifice, but a way to please God, and a glorious opportunity to save perishing souls.” This sentence left a lasting impression upon Baehr. When he was concerned because he did not know which mission to join, Walter Gammon, a veteran missionary to South America, said to him, “You can trust the Lord. Often, when we don’t know in which direction to go, or where the next meal is coming from, the Lord will take care of us, and the brothers and sisters in the church will remember us in prayer.” This was a great help to him also.
At the age of nineteen, he met a girl named Bea and was strongly attracted to her. After a period of dating, however, when he discovered that she was only a nominal Christian who cared only for watching movies and plays, he realized that there was no way she could go with him as a missionary. Though it was quite painful to do so, he finally broke up with this girl.
In 1930, when he was twenty-four, he helped Mr. Kunz at Deerfoot Lodge. Thirty-eight boys attended this summer camp on the Kunjamuck River. He and Pa Kunz scouted land on Lake Whitaker near Speculator, New York in the Adirondack Mountains. This land on Lake Whitaker was purchased, and Deerfoot Lodge was officially founded. With the help of some volunteers, Baehr removed some five hundred trees to clear the ground by the lake, and he turned the area into a large-scale waterfront for the summer camp. Baehr felt that clearing the trees was like removing obstacles in one’s spiritual life, that filling in and levelling were necessary for life and must be pursued continuously. He learned later that many young men had consecrated their lives to the Lord at Deerfoot Lodge.
It was while he was working at the trucking company and at Deerfoot Lodge that God placed the idea of being a missionary deeper into his heart. He said, “There is a power inside me prompting me, compelling me even, to serve the Lord even more.” Once, he and his friends went to a Keswick Bible conference. Words from a song there, “If the Lord sends I will go forward” kept returning to his mind. Then he heard testimonies from three people going to Persia, India, and South America as missionaries, which confirmed his own decision to go as a missionary. When they had finished their sharing, he stood up and announced in a loud voice, “If God sends, I will go forward. I will proclaim the message You tell me to proclaim. Whatever You command, I shall endeavor to perform.” He resolved then to consecrate his life for foreign missionary work.
When he returned home and informed his parents of his decision, his father said that he, too, had once dedicated his life to the work of the Gospel, but could not carry out his intention. His mother encouraged him to submit to their beloved Lord, trusting in God’s care. Shortly thereafter, Conrad entered National Bible Institute in New York to prepare himself further.
Conrad’s wife was the former Myrtle Rose Soper, who was born February 2, 1908 in a small village in Sylvania County, Pennsylvania. Her parents were both ministers in the Methodist Church, and the whole family often engaged in Bible study together. All three of their children grew up hearing Bible stories, and all became ministers of the Word. When Myrtle was seven years old, her family entertained a missionary from China. Moved by this missionary, as the family knelt to pray she suddenly announced that she would become a missionary to China. Though she was only seven at the time, this missionary intention persisted all the way through high school and college.
Upon graduating from Asbury College, Myrtle applied to the Methodist Church for missionary service, but was turned down for lack of experience. She then went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to teach in a high school where her students were Mexican girls. During summer vacation, she opened vacation Bible schools on the U.S.–Mexico border, using English and Spanish as media of instruction.
Her parents went to New York on sabbatical leave and ended up teaching at the National Bible Institute where Baehr was studying; they soon met this young man with a strong missionary vision. In time, Myrtle also moved to New York to join her parents and enrolled in the National Bible Institute. The two young people met, became friends, and fell in love. They were married on September 10, 1932, and prepared to leave for China as soon as Conrad graduated..
After graduation in 1933, they boarded a Japanese ship for China. On board were two English missionaries returning to China, as well as two members of the China Inland Mission, including the younger sister of Eric Liddell, hero of the movie, “Chariots of Fire,” and Ruth Temple, the future wife of David Adeney. After disembarking from their ship, the Baehrs took a smaller boat up the Yangtze River to Jiu Jiang, where they switched to a train for their destination, Nanchang in Jiangxi Province.
After arriving in Nanchang, they moved into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick J. Hopkins, an older couple who had served in China since 1906. The Hopkinses treated them like their own children and arranged for their cook’s son, Mao Yongle, to be their language teacher.
Thus, they began language study and attended meetings with Chinese Christians. Wang Zai and Wang Zhi were among the notable Chinese preachers whom they met. It was not long before Conrad was preaching in the nearby streets, using very simple Chinese to share the Gospel. During the summer, they attended an intensive three-month language course in Guling, Jiangxi, where they had the opportunity to interact with other missionaries. They were subsequently assigned to Jing’an, also in Jiangxi, to relieve Miss Pollock, who was about to retire.
Miss Pollock, who was Irish, was already seventy-two years old, and had served in Jiangxi for forty years. She possessed an attractive, colorful personality, and tales of her heroic exploits were legendary. Singlehandedly, she had established a school, medical clinic, and church. She was good with people, worked very hard, and had many students and believers in her school and church. After the Baehrs had been in Jing’an for only three months, she returned to Ireland.
Conrad Baehr had received some intensive medical training while still in New York, so he was able to treat all sorts of patients in the clinic. On one occasion, Conrad himself contracted typhoid fever and had to take a small raft down the river to a railway station forty miles away, then a train to Dr. Edward Perkins’ Living Waters Hospital at Jiujiang. Happily, his self-diagnosis had been correct, and he received treatment in time; Dr. Perkins attended very carefully to him, and he was brought back from the brink of death.
Edward Perkins came from a well-to-do family in Connecticut, USA, and believed in Christ while studying at Yale University. Because of his decision to become a missionary to China, his parents severed relations with him and struck his name from their will. Years later, when his reputation as a missionary in China had reached back to America, his parents regretted their action, took the initiative to repair the relationship, and gave him a portion of the inheritance. He used this money to erect a two-hundred-bed hospital. He kept Conrad at the hospital for some time after his recovery and gave him some medical instruction.
In the middle of a tremendous political storm, the Baehrs’ first son, Kingsley, was born in January, 1937. Because of the Japanese invasion, multitudes of Chinese had fled westward. The security situation in Jiujiang got worse and worse, as bandits came and went, especially targeting foreigners. The Baehrs were glad to have the help of Christian men and the protection of military police. After the Japanese occupation of the North China, many Chinese sought refuge behind the lines. With their son and other missionaries, the Baehrs also withdrew, joining the refugees in their flight. On the way, they encountered strafing and bombing by Japanese aircraft, but God protected them and they escaped unharmed, though greatly frightened. During their flight, the Baehrs did not forget to share the gospel with fellow refugees, many of whom believed. At last, after a long and hazardous journey, they reached Shanghai.
They returned to New Jersey in 1939 to report on their work. The next year, they met a missionary who had returned from Rehe (Jehol) and learned that there was still work that could be done in North China, so they decided to join that team and headed back to China.
Departing from Seattle, they first landed in Dalian (Darien), then proceeded to Qufu in Shandong Province. Six weeks later, their daughter Elizabeth was born. Not long afterwards, they went to Tong County, where they worked together with the church (Plymouth Brethren Assembly) in territory occupied by the Japanese. Owing to the critical situation of the war between China and Japan, they had no choice but to leave for the United States in 1941.
Upon their return to America, Conrad joined Mr. Kunz in his evangelistic outreach to United States military service personnel. Travelling by car, they visited bases all over the country to conduct evangelistic meetings in which they used magic, music, movies, and testimonies in more than eighty events. Their team ministry was extremely effective, with countless men coming to faith in Christ. Some who had narrowly escaped death on the battlefield were quite willing to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
During this period of ministry to American military people, God placed in Conrad’s heart a vision to reach out to Chinese soldiers as well, so he returned alone to China. Somehow, he gained an audience with Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek and explained to them his plan to preach the gospel to Chinese military men. Chiang issued an order permitting him to preach to soldiers in four provinces. Many officers, hearing of this order, quickly assembled officers and men to hear the Christian message. Conrad and his teammates passed out copies of the Gospel of John as well as Christian tracts, taught them hymns of praise, and delivered short messages and testimonies. Evening meetings featured movies and slide shows. There was always a response when they issued an invitation to trust in Christ at the conclusion of the meetings. A Colonel Huang asked them to stay behind to preach to those on the front lines who had not had a chance to attend the gatherings.
They later met the famous General Fang Xianjue, who told him that he had once been confined by the Japanese as a prisoner in a church for three months, during which he could only spend his time by reading the Bible, which greatly inspired him. Conrad was then able to conduct numerous evangelistic meetings among General Fang’s troops. On the last night, General Fang himself made a profession of faith. Conrad joyfully presented him with a copy of the New Testament.
Finally, World War II was over, and Conrad saw China and its military before him. He felt called to do evangelistic work with the huge numbers of soldiers in China who were now forced to continue fighting against the communists. So, leaving Myrtle and the two children in Plainfield, Conrad returned to the war-torn China.
In 1946, Conrad went through Jing’an, Jiangxi, where he had previously worked, and he now discovered that the church building was in ruins. A number of faithful Christians, however, continued to meet in homes. After one year apart, Myrtle, and Kingsley and Betty, their two children, returned to China to reunite with Conrad. The children went to the China Inland Mission School on Guling Mountain. In 1948, they worked to rebuild the church and clinic.
In 1949, after a long series of setbacks, they finally recovered the camp in Guling, which had been occupied by Nationalist troops, which they then re-opened as a language school and retreat center for missionaries. In the summer of 1949, a number of Western missionaries traveled there to study Chinese and were also spiritually revived at the same time. This season lasted only for a short time, however, for communist troops soon occupied Jiujiang. After the revolution, all missionaries were expelled, so the Baehrs had to return to America with their children.
At the conclusion of World War II, when China was closed to all foreigners, General Douglas MacArthur issued a call for 100,000 missionaries to go to Japan, Mr. Kunz responded with a plan to send one million gospel books. MacArthur suggested ten million copies instead! At that time, Conrad Baehr rejoined Mr. Kunz’s team and journeyed to Japan. He assisted in evangelizing the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese people while he tried to discern where the Lord wanted him to go to continue his work with Chinese. With a team of other missionaries from many countries, they translated the Gospel of John into Japanese and Korean, and they printed gospel tracts and songbooks as well. The team conducted evangelistic meetings at Aomri, Hirosaki, Odate, Noshiro, and other cities on Honshu. After one year alone by himself in Japan, Myrtle settled the children in the home of the Sommervilles in Lawrence, Kansas, and joined Conrad in Japan. In Noshiro, the Baehrs ran into Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Nyhus, missionaries with the Lutheran Brethren, who had also served in China. One of their daughters had been killed by a Japanese bomb, and another had been severely wounded. Regardless, they went to Japan soon after the war to preach the gospel and save lost souls.
In 1951, a Chinese Christian woman, Gan Yuqin, arranged for the Conrad and Myrtle to move to Taiwan. Because most missionaries were concentrated in Taipei, they decided to open missionary work in Taichung, along with Gan Yuqing and a man named Lu Yaoqian. Before long, they had purchased a building for meeting, and the work developed very quickly. They brought their twelve-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, to Taiwan and enrolled her in an elementary school run by missionaries. As the number of missionary children increased, they felt there was a need to open a school for them, so Conrad took upon himself the responsibility for planning, buying the property, and erecting the school buildings. In 1955, the new buildings were dedicated, and the Morrison School was formally opened. The teachers all came from America; the first class had twenty-five students. In time, Morrison Academy succeeded so much that missionary children from many countries came there for their education.
Because of his previous experience in literature work and publishing, Conrad and Myrtle established the Emmaus correspondence Bible school at the Christian Assembly in Taichung, as well as engaging in publishing and selling Bibles, gospel tracts and Christian books. As their customers increased, they opened Spiritual Fountain Bookstore.
During this time, a number of Christian officers from the American Air Force, which was based in Taichung, visited the church and then started attending regularly. Conrad also often participated in the missionary team that worked at the base. Later, some of the Nationalist troops who had engaged in guerrilla warfare in Burma (Myanmar) returned to Taiwan and were garrisoned in Taichung. Conrad began to travel weekly with other members of the Christian Assembly in Taichung to preach to the soldiers and their dependents until they were transferred to Taipei.
Another of Conrad’s projects involved compiling a hymnal. In those days, there was a great dearth of hymns for the church in Taiwan, so Conrad joined with Li Xuepeng, Liu Dongkun, Yang Jinyi, Guo Ruilin and others to publish a songbook. Finally, in 1963, after many years of difficult labor, a collection of 690 songs was compiled. Liu gave it the title, All Peoples Praise Him, and it was given to a printer for publication.
Failing health caused the Baehrs to return to the United States in 1979. After both had undergone operations, they settled in New Haven, where Yale University is located. As before, they participated in the activities of the local assembly and often entertained visiting scholars from Taiwan. After China opened up, they returned to Jing’an in Jiangxi, where they saw some of their old Christian friends. The little girls they once knew were all grandmothers now. When she saw them, one lady gave them a huge hug and then just stood there, speechless. Others gathered around, vying for a chance to meet them. All of this brought back memories of those days when they preached the Gospel on street corners.
Advancing age forced Conrad and Myrtle to enter Keswick Pines Life Care in 1997, but even from his bed, he still shared the Gospel with an old Jewish man and his son. Though his body grew weaker by the day, whenever a Chinese believer came to visit he mustered his strength to sing, “Heaven Is My Home.” At the age of ninety-one, he rested from his labors and entered into his reward.
(edited by Elizabeth Baehr Lopez)
- Baehr, Conrad. Taichung: Taichung Christian Assembly, 1997.