The honor of being both the first Chinese Evangelical believer and the first Chinese pastor in Guizhou fell to a former Confucian scholar named Chen Xiguang, whose wife was a member of the Dong minority group. Chen first met China Inland Mission missionaries James Broumton and Landale in the spring of 1878, when the foreigners were seeking a language teacher. For a year they shared the gospel with Chen, but he showed no interest and refused to attend any of the Christian meetings.
The biggest stumbling block for Chen – and millions of Chinese inquirers in subsequent generations – was the fear of others and the powerful influence of ancestor worship. Chen was an only son and was thus responsible for upholding family traditions. He felt that if he became a Christian, he would bring shame upon his ancestors and family members.
In 1880, Chen was finally convicted of his sins and made a firm decision to follow Jesus Christ. He tore down the ancestral tablets and the tablet to Heaven and Earth on his wall, and he began to attend the church services regularly. When members of Chen’s family discovered that he had become a Christian, they fiercely opposed him, but from the beginning Chen’s walk with God was consistent, and he developed a great hunger to know and obey the Scriptures.
When CIM missionary Jane Kidd opened her school for girls in Guiyang, Chen was employed as the teacher. Each day after class was dismissed, he joined the missionaries in sharing the gospel with unbelievers, and he soon proved to be a bold and effective evangelist. For a time, Chen was the only native preacher in the entire province, and he was able to earn people’s respect because of his standing as a Confucian scholar who was well-versed in the Chinese classics. In 1896, it was said of Chen Xiguang:
He is a little man, quiet and unassuming, and a splendid Chinese scholar. He is a true Christian and an earnest worker. He seems especially fitted for the work of an evangelist, his language in preaching being clear and simple. He can make himself understood by the most illiterate, and has a happy way of suiting himself and his subject to his hearers.
Although Chen’s wife resisted the gospel for years, she finally yielded and became the first Evangelical Christian among the Dong people. In time, the couple’s children and relatives also came to Christ.
While Chen’s fellow believers loved and appreciated him deeply, he had one unusual flaw which caused concern. According to a report:
His one failing is his drowsiness. Sometimes it seems impossible to keep him awake. He will fall asleep at morning meeting, at noon meeting, at afternoon meeting, at evening meeting, when teaching the foreigners or when alone in the street chapel! He says this sleepiness is a disease, and truly it seems as if it is.
We can overlook it, however. He has won his way to all our hearts and we love him as a brother. His untiring efforts to bring his fellow countrymen to Christ often stimulate us in our work, and we trust that he may be spared for many years to continue his labors of love in the church at Guiyang.
Taken from Paul Hattaway, Guiyang: The Precious Province. Vol. 2, The China Chronicles: Inside the Greatest Christian Revival in History. London: SPCK, 2018, 38-40.