August William Edwins
Dr. and Mrs. A.W. Edwins, with Dwight and Elaine, at Shekow, 1938.
“Our Pioneer China Missionary” was how S. Hjalmar Swanson, Executive Director of the Augustana Synod Board of Foreign Missions, referred to the Rev. August W. Edwins at a memorial service held for him shortly after he died in 1942. When initially called to serve in China, Pastor Edwins intended to decline the offer, but the call to serve his Lord and Savior in a foreign land far outweighed any hesitations he had. It was a long road from Swede Valley, Iowa, to Hankow, China, but it is one Pastor Edwins traveled with a steady vision of serving Christ where called.
August William Edwins was born August 12, 1871. His parents had emigrated from Sweden in 1868. August was the fourth of eleven children and at 16 left home to earn money for his education. He graduated from Augustana Seminary in 1902 and was ordained that year at the Synod convention held in Ishpeming, Michigan. His first call was to serve the congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church, Stillwater, Minnesota.
It was while serving as a pastor at Trinity that Pastor Edwins was first approached about serving as a missionary in China. In 1904 the China Mission Society (CMS), a group of Augustana members interested in establishing mission work in China, called him to serve as its first missionary to China. He was hesitant, but in 1905 he accepted the Society's call. After one year of language studies, Pastor Edwins, in the company of his Chinese teacher and two Norwegian Lutheran missionaries, set out in the spring of 1906 to explore the possibilities for a CMS field in the Honan province. It proved to be an arduous trip with attacks by angry crowds, military escorts, and revised routes of travel. Pastor and Mrs. Edwins set out for the new mission field in Hsuchang on September 2, 1906.
After many prayers and after a careful consideration of the matter, I have come to the conviction that I should accept the call to labor, as God gives grace and strength, for the sake of the Gospel on the mission field in China.
Pastor Edwins and the mission started a school in 1909 after requests from local people, but this school closed in 1911 due to inadequacies in the curriculum, faculty, and facilities. Another attempt to open a school occurred in 1913, but this school was discontinued after a year because Pastor Edwins was having to spend many days away from the school supervising building work at the other stations.
After 1916 Pastor Edwins shifted the focus of his mission work away from direct evangelism and administration to general literary work and teaching. His knowledge of the Chinese language, ways, and customs, in concert with his theological knowledge would enable him to serve the mission through laying the foundations for continued innovations in Augustana's work, and for the creation of the Lutheran Church in China.
Pastor Edwins' last twenty years in the mission field were spent teaching at the Union Theological Seminary at Hankow. In March 1941, due to an increasingly tense political situation in China, Pastor Edwins sent his wife and children home to the United States. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war on Japan by the United States, American citizens living in China were interned by the Japanese. Since Shekow, where the seminary was located, was in occupied territory, Pastor Edwins became one of those interned.
Pastor Edwins and others received word in April 1942 that an exchange of American and Japanese nationals was to take place. On June 5 Pastor Edwins and other internees boarded a Japanese steamer that took them to Shanghai. While in Shanghai, Pastor Edwins suffered a stroke and was placed in the China Inland Hospital. He stayed there until he was transferred to the ship that would take him home. The S.S. Conte Verde left Shanghai on June 29 and on July 2 Pastor Edwins died. He was buried at sea on July 3 after a brief service attended by fellow missionaries.
The Italian steamer, Conte Verde, carrying repatriates from Shanghai to South Africa. Dr. A.W. Edwins died on this ship on July 2, 1942, and was buried at sea from the stern of the ship off the coast of Indo-China.
The series covers primarily the years 1909-1919. Types of materials include correspondence, reports, meeting minutes, and others.