W. Malprus Belcher was born in Leicester, England, in 1864. A carpenter by trade, on January 15th, 1888, he arrived in China as a missionary with the China Inland Mission (CIM). He was assigned to Qinzhou (now Tianshui), Gansu, a city in northwest China. Two years later, Miss S. Rayer, an English missionary with the CIM, was also assigned to Qinzhou. After they had been working together for two years, their relationship developed to the point that they were married on January 31st, 1893. Later, they were assigned to Liangzhou, Gansu, where they engaged in missionary work together for 40 years.
In 1894, two more missionaries, Miss Annie E. Mellor and Miss Emma Pickles,
joined them in Liangzhou. They made strenuous efforts in pioneer evangelism, but the local residents’ hearts were very hard and unreceptive. Only in 1896 did they witness the conversions of a Mr. Liu and two women; the three were baptized on September 13th, becoming the first Christians in the area.
At the end of 1896, John S. Fiddler arrived in Liangzhou, which allowed the Belchers to go on their first furlough in nine years, sailing for England in October 1897. While at home, they received basic instruction in medical care and practical nursing to prepare themselves further for missionary work. In January of 1899, they returned to Gansu to resume their labors. Liangzhou was truly hard soil for the Gospel, despite their diligent sowing. Missionary records show that by January, 1900, only five persons had received baptism. But 20-60 people attended the weekly worship services.
In 1900, communications within China were disrupted by the Boxer Rebellion, cutting of telegraph and postal services alike. Twenty-two Western missionaries and their families from Lanzhou, Liangzhou, Xining, Qinzhou, and other places, under government escort, entered Sichuan, where they took a boat to Hankou and thus escaped danger. In the rebellion, 137 European and North American missionaries died, along with 52 of their children, plus thousands of Chinese Christians, and many churches and homes were destroyed. On February 26, 1901, Malprus Belcher and G. F. Easton, with others, traveled to Shaanxi and Gansu to inspect the conditions of the mission stations and discovered that almost all of them had been looted or destroyed.
After this trial of blood and fire, the people became much friendlier to the missionaries. Services at the Liangzhou church quickly returned to normal. In August, 1902, in a letter to CIM headquarters, Malprus Belcher wrote, “I am very happy to tell you that we now have 9-10 seekers. In addition, every time we do street preaching, 40-50 people stop to listen; this is truly harvest time! Forty or fifty come to the Sunday worship in the morning, and as many attend the afternoon meetings as well.”
The local believers were all zealous, to the point of being willing to pay the price for their faith. They did not fear persecution, but bravely bore testimony to their faith in Jesus. In 1903, a Mr. and Mrs. Tien and a Mrs. Heo were baptized as Christians. Mr. Tien was an old scholar, who would often perform ritual ablutions on some special religious festivals, reciting the Buddhist scriptures and praying to Buddha. His life was not happy, however, and his heart knew no peace. As a result of constant evangelism by believers, he and his wife became seekers and often attended worship services. But when Mrs. Belcher went to visit her in her home, Mrs. Tien cursed her husband, saying, “Why have you let this foreign devil come here to bother me?” Mrs. Belcher visiting them, however, and Mrs. Tien saw the continual improvement in her husband’s character, so she began to attend worship, finally becoming a very pious believer. Mrs. Heo had often heard the Gospel when she went to the clinic for treatment of a festering sore on her neck. Her original motive was to gain some material benefit, but after the truth penetrated her heart she turned to the Christ and became a zealous witness.
Not long after his wedding, the Chinese preacher at the church, Mr. Hsien, took his father-in-law, Mr. Shen and other believers like Mr. Tien and Old Qian to do street preaching and out into the nearby villages for evangelism. They divided up the work: Mr. Hsien played the accordion, attracting people to gather together, then Old Qian, Mr. Tien and the others would preach to the crowd, with good results. Grandma Wang, after her conversion, donated two-thirds of his property for use as a preaching station. She was a widow whose husband and son had died early, leaving her as an old and lonely person, but after she had believed, she cared nothing for these difficulties, but went from village to village sharing the Gospel, and her personal testimony resulted in many conversions to Christ. Though illiterate, she could quote many passages of the Bible from memory.
In October of 1903, John Fiddler and Miss Matilda E. Way were married in Shanghai, after which they returned to live in Liangzhou. In the winter of 1904, the Belchers traveled to CIM headquarters in Shanghai to welcome new missionaries and escort them into the interior. On the way, they visited to Cheefoo (now Yantai) School in Shandong to visit their son. In March of 1905, they escorted four women missionaries into the interior, three of whom went to Shaanxi, and another, Miss Mary L. S. Harman, came with them back to Liangzhou to begin work there.
Belcher’s missionary labors were not limited to the city limits of Liangzhou, but extended into surrounding areas, and he accompanied George W. Hunter to Yinchuan, Ningxia on an investigative tour. There was already a mission station there, but during the Boxer Rebellion it was totally destroyed, and 21 missionaries and 14 children were killed. In the spring of 1909, the Hunters took their three children with them to Yinchuan to establish a CIM station.
During the Chinese New Year of 1908, the church at Liangzhou held its first extended prayer meeting; for six days, two hours a day, they interceded for the entire city. The thing that Belcher and his coworkers felt most difficult was to motivate people to give up opium. Belcher thought it essential to combine medical with evangelistic methods, so when they went back to England for their second furlough in April, 1909, he again studied medicine and pharmacology in order to be more effective as a missionary. They returned to Gansu in February, 1911.
A huge earthquake hit Gansu on December 16, 1920. Being rather farther away from the epicenter, Liangzhou suffered little damage. Three weeks after the earthquake, Hudson Taylor’s son, Dr. F. Howard Taylor, with his wife, came to visit and inspect the damage, after which Mrs. Taylor wrote a detailed report:
“This is the most remote mission station in Gansu… For thirty years, the missionaries have worked hard to sow seeds of the Gospel, and have watered it with their tears; now the harvest has come. 160 people have received baptism, each soul a trophy of God’s redeeming grace.
“The mission station here consists of a four-room mud structure, with courtyards front and back, from dawn to dusk filled with guests and patients… Mr. and Mrs. Belcher and Miss Annie E. Mellor wear Chinese-style clothing, just as we do, living very simply like the Chinese. This manner of life, motivated by love for China, will long linger in our memories and hearts.
“Because the meeting place is no longer ample enough, Mr. Belcher is now overseeing the construction of a gospel hall. Using a love offering mailed from far-away Scotland, they bought the land and building materials. They are preparing a church building that will seat 600 people, with guest rooms for men and women, Sunday school classrooms; a Gospel preaching hall at the main gate facing the street, and a small clinic.”
The Belchers returned to England for the third time in June of 1921, coming back to Gansu in February of the next year. In April, 1927, because of civil war, the English government ordered its nationals to seek safety. CIM headquarters in Shanghai issued a similar order, so that with the exception of some staying in 13 provinces, most of the missionaries withdrew to Shanghai. In Gansu, only six missionaries remained behind. In addition to Dr. Leighton P. Rand, who took care of the Borden Memorial Hospital in Lanzhou, these were the Belchers, the Fiddlers, and a Mrs. Nystrom. Though they were not affected by the war, they did experience a second big earthquake, on May 23rd, 1927, with Liangzhou being the epicenter. For a hundred miles, most buildings collapsed and casualties were heavy. The mission station suffered major damage, but the missionaries themselves happily escaped harm.
Another huge catastrophe, in the form of a terrible famine, struck Gansu in 1929. All the missionaries turned their energies to caring for the stricken populace. The International Famine Relief Commission asked the Rev. C. Findlay Andrew of the CIM to oversee the entire relief effort. He rushed to Gansu in March and immediately threw himself into the work of caring for the sufferers. They sent money and materiel from the CIM directly to the hands of the people in each place. The Belchers ministered to hundreds of victims each day.
After several decades of cold dry weather in Gansu, Mrs. Belcher’s health began to deteriorate; her strength gradually declined; she developed a chronic cough, which finally developed into pneumonia, from which she died on April 9th, 1929. Malprus Belcher bravely endured the profound grief of losing his wife and continued to serve. Two months later, as a result of an illness contracted from his patients, he too died on June 24th.
- China’s Millions, China Inland Mission, North American Edition. 1895, pp. 26, 53; 1896, p. 108; 1897, p. 36; 1900, p. 88; 1901, p. 133; 1902, p. 130; 1903, pp. 51, 75; 1905, pp. 22, 58, 146; 1927, pp. 128, 145, 168, 189; 1928, p. 85; 1929, pp. 107, 187.
- China’s Millions, China Inland Mission, North American Edition, 1895, pp.26, 53; 1896, p.108; 1897, p. 36; 1900, p.88; 1901, p. 133; 1902, p. 130; 1903, pp. 51, 75; 1905, pp. 22, 58, 146; 1927, pp. 128, 145, 168, 189; 1928, p.85; 1929, pp. 107, 187.
- China’s Millions (London Edition): 1900, pp. 74, 151, 173, 219; 1901, pp. 70, 76, 161, 175; 1903, pp. 13, 40, 97-98; 1904, pp. 4, 19, 54; 1905, pp. 16, 62; 1906, pp. 13, 26, 43, 46; 1907, pp. 48, 179; 1908, p. 54; 1909, p. 73; 1910, pp. 48, 191; 1913, p. 45; 1916, pp. 86-89; 1921, p. 43; 1923, p. 78; 1925, p. 30; 1926, p. 140; 1927, pp. 28, 135, 173; 1928, p. 133; 1929, pp. 108, 120.
- China’s Millions (London Edition): 1900, pp. 74, 173, 219; 1901, pp. 70, 76, 161, 175; 1903, pp. 13, 26, 43, 46; 1907, pp. 48, 179; 1908, p. 54; 1909, p. 73; 1910, pp. 48, 191; 1913, p. 45; 1916, pp. 86-89; 1921, p. 43; 1923, p. 78; 1925, p. 30; 1926, p. 140; 1927, pp. 28, 135, 173; 1928, p. 133; 1929, pp. 108, 120.
- CIM List of Missionaries and Their Stations, 1910, 1931.
- The Register of CIM Missionaries and Associates.
- Edwards, E. H., Fire and Sword in Shansi.
- Stauffer, Milton T., The Christian Occupation of China (1918-1921), Shanghai, 1922.
- Woodberry, Mrs. K. C., Through Blood-Stained Shansi.
- Taylor, Mrs. Howard, The Call of China’s Great North-West or Kansu and Beyond, 1924.