George Hunter is often referred to as the Apostle of Turkistan. He was a very unusual man. Born in Scotland in Aberdeen—200% Scottish and 500% British—he was a strong supporter of the British crown and a real Scotsman. He was perhaps one of the last great pioneers of Christian missions. From the flyleaf of his biography, we read, "George Hunter has become a legendary figure who so closely and for so long has been associated with central Asia. He became part of it, and the central Asian picture would be incomplete without him."
He reached China in 1889. He had applied to the China Inland Mission and had been turned down. The reason is not given. He worked with the YMCA during the interim. Following a second application, he was accepted and arrived in China in 1889.
He had had a love: Jessie. We know nothing about her except her name and time of death, but apparently it was a very true love that he had for this lady. She died at the age of 22, and her dying request was that all of her correspondence from George and the Bible that he had given her be buried with her. So much that might have been interesting, as far as knowing more about this man, is buried in a cemetery in Aberdeen, Scotland.
George left China only one time in his 57 years with the China Inland Mission—during the Boxer Rebellion when all of the CIM missionaries left the country. He had a burden for real pioneer work but did not put much credence in women missionaries. He felt that the only ones who could do pioneer work were single men. He rather openly criticized men who professed to be pioneers but married, had a family, and settled down on a station somewhere. Oh, there might have been some itineration closeby, but they never really were pioneers! He was a peculiar fellow in many regards and obviously hadn't seen some of the great missionary women of his day. It is interesting that his biographers are two of the most outstanding women pioneer missionaries (Mildred Cable and Francesca French, who crossed and crisscrossed the Gobi desert many times). If ever there were pioneer women missionaries, these two ladies were they. It was left to them to write this man's biography.
George loved Jessie with an undying love. While on his one furlough, he wanted to put a tombstone on her grave since it had none at that time. The family denied him that privilege, but he made a stone heart with her name on it, and they permitted him to put that on her grave.
His work was primarily with Muslim people and mainly through itineration. He trekked back and forth across Turkistan like no other European person had done and knew that most westerly/northerly province of China like no other man. His ministry was largely through literature, preaching, and translation work. He was a linguist who spent many hours translating the Word of God into the tribal languages of that part of the world. He did not actually reach that part until 1906 and seldom left after that time. He was not a model church planter by any matter of means. He did not found or plant a church. In fact, he was afraid to do so. Although he would lead Muslim men to Christ, he would not baptize them because he was always afraid that someone he baptized would fail and fall back into sin. He said Paul declared that he was not sent to baptize but to preach the Gospel. George felt that was his role as well. He is not a model of church planting, but he is certainly the model of a man who preached Jesus Christ far and wide.
Quite a few years after his one furlough, George was joined by Percy Mather, a gentleman who was in many regards likeminded. He worked alongside George for many years. He had a much more current approach to church planting—he baptized and planted churches—but as far as a burden for the Muslim people of Chinese Turkistan was concerned, he was one with George Hunter. They had a very widespread ministry of preaching the Gospel all across that very rugged part of the world. (Chinese Turkistan is bounded on the north by Mongolia, on the northwest by Siberia, Russia, and on the east by Tibet.) It was a very remote area, and no one knew it better than George Hunter.
Another peculiarity of George's was that he did not believe in celebrating religious holidays. He never celebrated Easter, Christmas, or the other religious holidays that most of us celebrate.
He also had very strong feelings against Catholics. On one occasion he was invited by the governor of the province to a State dinner. He was inclined to go because it was more of a demand than an invitation. He didn't dress up for the occasion but wore what he always wore—simple Chinese clothing. When he learned that the Catholic priest was also invited, he refused to participate. He said he would not sit down at the same table with a Catholic priest. I take my hat off to him. He was one who was single-minded in his desire to serve the Lord faithfully.
The two men lived a simple life. They had a three-room house—an adobe-mud brick building. Their fare was porridge in the morning, a broth made from mutton at noon, and the mutton and whatever else was available at night—the same diet year in and year out. Apparently they thrived on that.
He felt that there was no place for women in pioneer missionary work, but he never met my wife! Bless her, she joyed in the privilege of working in the heart of the Sahara, which I don't think was any more pleasant climatically than Turkistan. He was peculiar in that regard, but he was a great man of God and was widely used in extending the kingdom even though he had some peculiar ideas about church-planting and the like. We need men who are willing and ready to live and die in Christ's service.
Toward the end of his life, he was accused of being a British spy. He was not silent about his pride in being an Englishman and was very quick to let people know that he was a Britisher. He was taken as a spy and imprisoned for an extended period of time and very severely persecuted. Yet he was always courageous to proclaim Jesus Christ.
George Hunter died in 1946, the year I graduated from medical school. He had served the Lord faithfully for 57 years. I'm in my 57th year of missionary service also.
I'm proud of the women that we have in GFA. They're the top. In that regard, who is Miss GFA? I want to give credit to Kathy Dewey. She is GFA in many regards. She has served all four of the directors of the mission. She is the first one there in the morning, and I think most nights she locks the door. There is not a more faithful servant than our dear Miss Dewey. If there is any information you need to know, it is on the tip of her tongue; and if it isn't, she can find it right quick! So I want to give credit where credit is due. What a tremendous lady!
GFA Family Conference June 3, 2005