Lucy Jim Webb was born on July 15, 1895 in Forsyth, Georgia, one of six children born to Thomas and Sarah Webb. Her parents were small town shopkeepers and devout Christians. She studied at LaGrange and Scarritt College, graduating in 1922. She worked first as an assistant principal of a high school in Florida and then YWCA secretary in Chattanooga, but longed for the challenge of a “hard piece of work where I was needed.” Having made friends with a Chinese girl named Katherine Woo at LaGrange, China seemed like a very apt choice to her.
Arriving in Shanghai in August 1922, she was sent to study the Chinese language in Suzhou (Soochow). Posted to Moore Memorial Church (MMC) Shanghai in 1923, she worked there until 1950, mainly taking charge of young adult work. In 1937, she received a citation from Chiang Kai-shek for her relief work among refugees during the Sino-Japanese War. According to her report to the China Conference in January 1940, a total of $18,300.91 had been spent during the past year on relief work. She was also instrumental in the founding of the nursery school and the Social Service Unit of the Women’s Club at MMC, as well as the establishment of an annual health day and baby contest.
Miss Webb’s greatest achievement was the founding of the Wesleyan Youth Fellowship on February 25, 1940. After a few years, this group was so successful that she was asked to prepare a handbook on young adult organization, for distribution to other churches. The income of this group for 1946 amounted to almost three million Chinese dollars.
Interned by the Japanese at a camp in Zhabei (Chapei) in February 1943, Lucy Jim was repatriated to the United States in September that year. As soon as the war was over, she was anxious to return to China. She secured a place on the Marine Lynx, which carried 408 missionaries from 29 denominations and was the largest number of missionaries ever to sail from America at one time, arriving in Shanghai on December 31, 1946.
Miss Webb generously brought back clothes for the entire church staff and tried to carry on as before, but life was difficult in the dying days of the KMT regime. Moore Memorial Church was at the forefront of refugee and humanitarian work, but inflation made it virtually impossible to fund their many programs. Lucy Jim wrote that they suffered from “one part frustration, one part inflation, and two parts speculation, shaken well together, the end result being Shanghailation.”
After the communist “liberation” of Shanghai on May 25, 1949, Miss Webb attempted to carry on the work of the church, shifting some activities to her own home, before eventually being forced to leave on August 21 1950. In the 1950s, she worked in San Francisco, but found the work beyond her emotional and physical strength and, after some wrangling with the church authorities, was granted a pension in 1954. Retiring to Brooks Howell Home in Asheville, North Carolina in 1965, she passed away on March 3, 1987.
Miss Webb work tirelessly for the cause of Christianity in China and was a great believer in devolution. She concluded her memoirs with this statement: “Christian seeds have been sown in China. They were well-tended, and in this century we have been permitted to see the plants mature and bear vigorous fruit. The greatest wish for China is that there might grow up in that land a truly indigenous church with sure foundations laid on the strength of God but giant roots sunk deep down into the native soil.”
- Webb, Lucy Jim, My Chinese tapestry, unpublished memoirs, Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville NC, 1977.
- Xie, Songsan, Moertang shilue [A summary of the history of Moore Memorial Church], unpublished manuscript, Shanghai, 1950.
- Baker, Richard Terrill, Ten Thousand Years: The Story of Methodismâ€™s First Century in China, New York: Board of Missions of the Methodist Church, 1947.
- Keating, John Craig William, A Protestant Church in Communist China, Bethlehem PA: Lehigh University Press, 2012.