Wong Yuk-Ch’o (Wang Yuchu in Mandarin) was the son of a Christian believer who had been baptized in 1847 by the pioneer missionary Charles Gutzlaff (1803-1851) and who later became a pastor with the Rhenish Mission. Wong was from the town of Fu-Mun, Tung-Kun Department of Guangdong Province. In 1850, his father moved the family to the village of Fuk-Wing, San-On district. There, at the age of seven Wong was baptized by the William Lobsheid (1822-1893) of the Rhenish Mission. Wong’s father and family suffered dangerous persecution when he was a child, so he knew the costs of following Christ in a hostile environment. He was later sent to the mission school in Hong Kong run by Ferdinand Ganaer (1823-1864).
One night, in 1860, he had vision (or a dream) in which he saw his mother standing before him, which left him feeling anxious. Three days later, he learned that she had died on the very night of his vision.
When Ganaer moved to a town outside of Hong Kong to engage in evangelism, he advised Wong’s father to send his son to learn a trade, since he was, in his own words, “so stupid and did not care for books” (Bentley 36). He relates, “This also I was unwilling to do, so that my father became very sad about me, and spent many hours in earnest prayer on my behalf” (Bentley 36). The next year he changed his mind and “decided to study and become a preacher of the gospel” (Bentley 36).
Sickness stalked the land and threatened Chinese and foreigners alike. He wrote:
In 1863 I had threatenings of disease of the lungs. In 1864 there was a terrible epidemic of cholera in the Kwai-Shin district, where I was studying. Pastor Genhaer was himself far from well, but he labored night and day, toiling anxiously among the sick and the dying, helping, healing, and praying. Then he took a poor Chinese woman, ill of cholera, and cast out by her friends, into his own house, and ministered to her with his own hands. That night his own eldest son fell ill with cholera, and to him also Pastor Genhaer ministered, until the next morning he himself was unable to rise, smitten with the same deadly sickness. He called for me to come and help him and his son in their sore need. That same afternoon both the pastor and his son died, and most of the scholars fled in terror. Thank God, although my brother and I did everything that could be done for both the pastor and his son, until God took them (and also for another sick in the house), and afterwards prepared their bodies for burial, we were kept perfectly well and free from sickness, while very man of those who fled in fear were taken ill, and many of them died. (Bentley 37).
Here we see not only the self-sacrificing love of the missionary, but the equally courageous and loving care extended to Genaer, his son, and another. Clearly, a very strong tie of affection often bound the missionaries and their converts to each other. Just as clearly, God had so transformed Wong that he did not fear death, but was willing risk his life for others.
In 1865, Pastor Krolezyk asked Wong to go to the town of Shek-Sung to preach. The next year, Pastor Faber, also of the Rhenish Mission, asked him to preach and teach in Fu-Mun. After he got married in 1867, he returned to Shek-Sung to minister there. His lung trouble returned that year also. In 1868, he was sent back to Fu-Mun, where his oldest daughter was born. He later took his family to Tung-Kun City to live with his father and returned to Fu Mun.
In 1870, there were rumors of his father’s using medicinal powers to lure women into the church. The literati often fomented this sort of slander. Outraged, some local people planned to kill Wong’s father and family. He quickly rushed by boat to see what he could do. While on the boat, he preached the gospel to the boatmen. Their journey slowed by an adverse wind, he got off and went to Tung-Kun city by foot. He found the chapel destroyed and the clothes of the women in his family hanging on the ruined walls. Desperate, he went to Canton, where he heard that they had been marvelously delivered by God from the violence of the crowd. A friend of his father’s saved his little baby daughter from certain death and then contrived to lead the women to Canton and then to Fuk-Mun. That baby girl grew up to become a capable and much-loved teacher in the mission school.
Wong also learned that a soldier had told his father that the “rowdies” on the boat with him, incensed that he would preach to them, conspired to kill him as soon as he got off the boat. By leaving early, he escaped certain death.
Wong’s lung infection grew worse that year, so the Rhenish Missionary Society ordered him to rest. His father “was very anxious about me, and spent long hours in prayer for my recovering, getting up long before daylight to please that God would spare my life” (Bentley 40). He was again in Fuk-Wing while his family lived with his father in Tung-Kun city.
In 1871, another false rumor sparked another attack on Rhenish Mission chapels throughout the district. They looted and destroyed Wong’s father’s chapel. A friend brought out the women and children and took them to safety in Guangzhou (Canton). His father, racing home to rescue them, encountered the rioters, who were about to kill him when a man said, “You have already taken all the man’s goods. What is the use of killing him now?” His life thus spared, Wong’s father hurried to Hong Kong, where he was reunited with his family. When he heard this news, Wong rushed to Hong Kong. He found the climate there to be much healthier than his hometown, so he settled in Hong Kong.
Pastor Klitzke asked him to teach and preach at the Berlin Foundling Home of the Rhenish Mission in 1873. His lung disease ceased to trouble him completely after he had lived in Hong Kong for a while. He was ordained as a pastor. In 1884, the elders and congregation of the London Missionary Society (LMS) invited him to be their pastor. “Very generously the Rhenish Mission allowed Pastor Wong to sever the connection of a lifetime, and, recognizing with him the importance of the call – the wider sphere and larger opportunities – gave him up to his new work for the common Lord” (Bentley 42). This example of cooperation between missionary societies reminds us that they did not always compete with each other.
“From that day to this,” wrote his biographer in 1902, “Pastor Wong Yuk-Ch’o has faithfully filled that post. In labors more abundant, he has never spared himself in anything that could in any way benefit his people, but has schemed and planned, and worked day and night for their welfare” (Bentley 42). With its highly transient population, “a port where East and West meet (too often in their lowest and worst aspects), the luxuries, temptations and vices are many, and work very adversely against the life of a church. But, in spite of these, and many other and great hindrances, the To-Tsai Church, under Pastor Wong, has been built up and strengthened, and has made very decided growth and progress” (Bentley 42).
At fifty-nine his health was good. He had a family of six sons and three daughters living, and eight grandchildren. “All of his children (except those who are still at school) are honorably occupying positions of trust and influence” (Bentley 43). His two oldest sons had been sent to the United States by the Chinese government for further study. The two oldest daughters were “filling the posts of first and second teachers in the London Missionary Society’s Training House for Chinese girls, Hong Kong” (Bentley 43).
Pastor Wong had by this time authored three books: One on why the Christian church was hated by the rioters; another an appeal “to the rulers to help their unhappy people to true formation, in which appeal he also strives to give them a better understanding of Christianity; and a third … treatise on the reform necessary within the church necessary to cause the gospel to spread far and wide through the country” (Bentley 43). He also devised a phonetic alphabet to enable uneducated people to read within a couple of weeks. This new system of writing had been forwarded to the Tsung Li Yamen to present to the emperor, just before the coup d’etat in 1898 that put a stop to all reforms for several years.
Bentley, W.P. Illustrious Chinese Christians: Biographical Sketches. Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Company, 1906.