Addie Cox was born into a prosperous and stable family in Providence, Alabama in 1885. She received a solid Christian education and made a profession of faith in Christ at the age of fourteen. Cox attended Central College in Tuscaloosa, where she first felt led to mission work in China. Martha Foster Crawford, another missionary to China, belonged to the same Baptist association as Cox and influenced Cox’s decision. After receiving her degree from Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) training school in Louisville in 1913, she worked as a “pastor’s assistant” in Alabama and as a WMU field worker for four years. In 1918, she traveled to China, where she began her work in Kaifeng, the capital city in Henan Province.
Cox started her career in China with a brief two-year stint as a teacher. Her experience convinced her of the merit of mission education, as she saw that most children who graduated from Baptist schools made a profession of faith. The schools produced evangelists, Bible women, and pastors, all of which were necessary to form the leadership for an indigenous church. Cox wrote that in many China mission fields, schools resulted in more converts than direct evangelism did. She also favored using Chinese teachers, especially those who had received further education in the United States or those who were alumni of the schools where they taught.
Cox soon discovered that evangelistic work was the best fit for her. Baptist Interior China Mission had thirteen outstations in Henan Province, where Cox conducted services. For four years, she was the mission’s only missionary engaged in full-time evangelism among a field of 50,000 women and children. She visited hundreds of villages each year, traveling by foot or riding donkeys, camels, wheelbarrows, carts, or bicycles, preaching to the crowds gathered in villages through which she passed. One fall she spent sixteen weeks on a single trip, returned home to rest, then left for another three weeks.
Cox visited homes, preached to women, conducted Bible classes, and examined inquirers to determine whether they understood Christianity well enough to be baptized. She recounted how during one visit to a rural area, a man came to her chapel and asked her to come preach in his village. She spoke of the power of Jesus to give rest and freedom, using a text from Matthew. Four women were so impressed with her preaching that they walked all the way to her chapel for more instruction. Although Cox’s ministry violated the ladylike separate spheres established back home in Alabama, she found it necessary in order to reach Chinese women.
By the 1920s when Cox began her work, the Chinese were much more responsive to the gospel than they had been to earlier efforts. Seventy-five women accepted Christ by the time of Cox’s first furlough. Because so few of the Chinese women could read, Cox and her two Bible women primarily used personal tutoring to try to convert the women. Her work was so successful that she would sometimes see thirty-five people baptized at one service. By the mid 1920s, the membership of the Interior China Mission she served reached 2,000 members, with another 3,000 inquirers.
Cox was also interested in social ministries to the Chinese. The Women’s Missionary Training school had focused on social work in both its academic preparation and its internships. In China, prison conditions were abominable and prisoners were some of the most despised and rejected members of the population. Cox decided to start a prison ministry for women. At first, she conducted only religious services, but seeing how malnourished the prisoners were, she began providing food for them as well. Cox and other missionaries found that prison ministries in China brought about many conversions, as their tender and practical expression of Christian love in the prisons allowed them to gain the confidence of the inmates.
During the 1930s, Cox became deeply involved in refugee ministries. Japanese offensives were driving people out of their homes and into the roads of other provinces. In 1937, Cox reported that 160 beggars greeted her at one outstation in Henan Province. She first preached the gospel to them and then distributed food among them. Cox decided that she should follow the example of Zaccheus in the Bible and give half of her goods to the poor, saying, “There is a blessing in it, for he that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.” By 1938, poor Christians surrounded her from the morning until the evening. She always shared the gospel with them before providing assistance. One young boy took to regularly bringing a whole group of friends and asking Cox to show them Bible pictures and explain how much Jesus loved them, after which she would hand out the rations they desperately sought. In an attempt to respond to the physical needs of refugees in Henan, Cox founded an industrial school for women that taught spinning, weaving, shoe making, and other crafts. She also trained boys to make covers for Bibles.
During 1938, control of Cox’s station shifted back and forth between Chinese and Japanese forces. Soldiers looted the outstations, taking anything of value, and neighbors were killed by Japanese air raids. When the Chinese tried to stop Japanese progress by cutting the Yellow River dikes, flooding resulted and a famine swept across the province. Starving families left babies outside of Cox’s gates. Japanese soldiers invaded the compound, interrupting worship services with drawn swords. Cox showed nothing but kindness to the Japanese soldiers, finally winning their cooperation. She prepared a reading room for the soldiers and invited them into her guest room to drink tea and read the Bible. The hospitality she offered them in the downstairs of her home allowed her to deny them access to the upstairs, where she protected her boarding school girls by instructing them to lie down so the soldiers could not see them. Cox fed, clothed, and housed more than a thousand refugees and held two or three Bible classes a day until she was forced to flee in April of 1942. Her caravan was bombed constantly during the evacuation, but she reached Chongqing safely and took up her work again there.
When the Second World War ended, Cox’s initial concern was providing relief for the war-torn country. In 1946, Cox returned to Henan with mountains of clothes donated by the Women’s Missionary Union. She had high hopes for the work there. Almost immediately, however, Communist forces invaded the province, gaining control of the town five different times, only to be forced out. They occupied Cox’s missionary compound twice, and she preached to them both times. When they finally took permanent possession of the city, they restricted her preaching to the area within her own courtyard and buildings, not allowing her to venture out. Students, soldiers, and officials no longer came to listen to her preach, but many ordinary Chinese braved the Communist soldiers to come and listen. At Cox’s last service, a woman confessed faith in Christ. Cox left that service for a truck station and journeyed for six days over rugged mountain roads to Chengchow. At every Chinese inn where she stopped, Cox witnessed to those present. She then caught a train for Hong Kong and from there moved to Taiwan, where she lived among Chinese Nationalists who had escaped from China.
When Cox returned to Alabama in 1951, she spent time speaking and writing about China. She coauthored a study course volume entitled Glimpses of Missionary Life, which attempted to provide a balanced view of traditional Chinese religion and society. Cox did not believe any nation without Christ could escape “the burden of superstitious beliefs,” but she discovered some ethical common ground between traditional Chinese religion and Christianity. In Buddhism, she found worthy admonitions against taking life, stealing, lying, and adultery. She viewed the teachings of Confucius as uplifting in their principles of ethics and civic duty. The emphasis on moral purity in Islam was to be commended. Although Cox judged Daoism to be a degraded religion that encouraged nature worship, she saw redeeming elements in China’s other value systems. In her careful exploration of traditional Chinese beliefs, Cox encouraged respect for Chinese society despite their false religions.
Cox authored a book designed for mission study for young Baptist women. In it, she wrote that a religion might be judged by the status it assigned to its women. She described how Chinese religions failed by this measure, as women were denied full personhood through foot binding, arranged marriages, and the superior status granted to male babies. Cox also wrote an autobiography documenting her life in China. During her thirty-three years there, Cox had spread the seeds of Christianity far and wide among Chinese women and children.
- Wayne Flynt and Gerald W. Berkley, Taking Christianity to China: Alabama Missionaries in the Middle Kingdom, 1850-1950