After the First World War a young woman from
London worked as a parlour-maid in Swansea, before later becoming famous as a missionary in . Was Gladys Aylward influenced by hearing of
Griffith John, who had spent 50 years
there as a missionary? China
Born in 1831, Griffith John lost both his parents to cholera when he was still a child. A Welsh speaker, he became a member and later a deacon of Ebeneser Welsh Congregational Chapel (now Ebenezer Baptist Chapel) near the Railway Station, as is stated on a plaque inside.
At the age of 16 he began regular preaching before training for the ministry at Brecon Congregational College. He joined the London Missionary Society in 1853 as he felt called to missionary work in
, where his wife Margaret,
a missionary’s daughter, had been born.
But when that country was closed to Christian work Griffith John turned, initially reluctantly, to Madagascar . After two years' training he sailed from
Gravesend on the four-month voyage to China
in 1855 (today you could fly there in 13 hours). He managed to become fluent in both spoken
and written Chinese – a daunting task since unlike a mere 26 characters in the
English alphabet, Chinese has as many as 6,000 in regular use! Shanghai
Griffith John was challenged with people enmeshed in idolatry and indoctrinated by the teaching of Confucius, and encountered widespread addiction to opium smoking. Rather than concentrating on learned members of society, as some missionaries did, he spent much energy among the illiterate poor people.
Griffith John made a major contribution to the Christian Church in
as author, translator, and preacher. He
translated the New Testament and much of the Old Testament into more than one
Chinese dialect, and compiled a Mandarin
translation of the New
Testament and Psalms. China
A powerful and eloquent speaker, he was usually popular with the Chinese, who would gather in great numbers to hear him. On occasions when threatened he might state boldly that he was “An Englishman” – since affirming his Welshness would not achieve the desired deference! He became well-known for extensive missionary journeys into the Chinese interior to establish mission stations, and was successful in training and mentoring numerous Chinese evangelists.
He was no stranger to tragedy - after much ill health his wife Margaret died in 1873, and though he married the widow of an American missionary, she also died twelve years later. Griffith John was elected chairman of the Congregational Union, but declined the honour in order to remain among the Chinese people whom he loved. He supported Anti-Opium Societies, and in 1889 was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity by
in recognition of his service to the Chinese.
Throughout half a century of missionary work, Griffith John left Edinburgh University China
only three times, finally returning to just before he died aged
eighty in 1912. Britain
Following a funeral in
Ebenezer Church, he was buried in the in Sketty. cemetery of Bethel Welsh
He is remembered by
John Street in Dyfatty, and with the bi-lingual
blue plaque unveiled in 2013 on the wall of . This states: “Reverend Dr Griffith John
1831-1912 Pioneer Missionary in Ebenezer Church ,
worshipped and was ordained here”. To
mark the centenary of his death, a delegation from the Union Hospital, Wuhan (a
conglomeration of Hankow and two other cities), which has a programme of
co-operation with Swansea University's School of Medicine, visited Swansea to
present the bust of him which is displayed in the Museum. The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth
holds letters that he sent from Hankow,
with an original manuscript of his biography. China
If Gladys Aylward heard about Griffith John during her time inmay well have inspired her to contemplate missionary service in
his example Swansea