As God transitioned the church in China from western to Chinese leadership, David Adeney was exactly the kind of missionary needed, humble, tireless, quick to repent and quick to serve. Adeney was born in John Bunyan’s hometown in England, and his life resembled a pilgrimage. His father served in Romania as a missionary to Jews, and his mother was a joyful, devout Christian. Their four sons were raised in England and all became missionaries. David felt called to China while in secondary school. In taking a degree in theology at Cambridge, he learned to counter liberal theology by making the Cross and Resurrection the vital center, and he laid the foundation of his effective life-long ministry.
Adeney went to China with the China Inland Mission in 1934, just months before the CIM’s John and Betty Stam were martyred there. He spent his first term in Henan doing rural evangelism and left China on a furlough just before Pearl Harbor. During the war he began working with students in the U.K. and the U.S. He returned to China in 1945 and served with China Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, newly founded by Calvin Zhao Junying (赵君影牧师), for the next five years. CIVCF eventually had chapters on nearly 80 campuses, and its conferences, led by Chinese leaders like Wang Mingdao (王明道先生), Jia Yuming (佳玉明牧师) and David Yang Shaotang (杨绍唐牧师), brought many to Christ. Those nurtured by the fellowship provided by CIVCF’s small group Bible studies were a key part of the foundation of the church that endured years of hardship before blossoming into a great revival.
David left China in 1950 during the great exodus that saw almost all western missionaries out of China by 1952, but his involvement in the Asian church was hardly over. In 1956 he began a 12-year ministry in Hong Kong as Asia Secretary for the International Federation of Evangelical Students. This was followed by nine years as the founding dean of the Discipleship Training Center in Singapore. David officially retired in 1976, but in 1978 took the first of several trips back to China. From these trips he heard first hand the news of the growing revival and the needs of the church, especially Christians in unregistered fellowships. This experience led him to publish a monthly prayer letter under the auspices of the Pray for China Fellowship. “It is easy to regard this letter as an interesting source of news and yet fail to take the time and thought necessary to identify with believers in China, realizing that we have the privilege both of learning from them and of uniting with them in the spiritual warfare.”
David married fellow CIM missionary Ruth Temple in Hankou in 1938. They had five children, one born in the U.S., one in England, and three in China, including a son who died during their first term. Ruth was a Minnesota farm girl whose sturdiness enabled her to cope with David’s frenetic style of life and work and their frequent moves. During their 56 years of marriage, Ruth maintained a hospitality ministry to thousands of students. David went to be with the Lord in 1994. Ruth followed in 2011.
“We believe that there is a need for a mighty barrage of prayer which will prepare the way for real advance out in China. Should we not pray especially for reinforcements of Spirit-filled Chinese fellow workers, as well as those who will be prepared when the way opens to go forth from the home countries?”
Reaching for the Goal: the Life Story of David Adeney: Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Mission. Carolyn Armitage. (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1993), p. 93.