Dr. Shi Meiyu combined a surgeon’s hands, an evangelist’s heart, and an administrator’s mind to become one of the great Chinese Christian women of the 20th century. Meiyu was born on May 1, 1873 in Jiujiang, Jiangxi Province. Her parents were devout Christians. Her father had been the first convert of Methodist missionaries in central China, and her mother served as principal of a girls’ school. Meiyu was the first girl in Jiujiang whose feet were not bound. She graduated from a school operated by Gertrude Howe, a missionary from Lansing, Michigan. In 1892, Howe took Meiyu and her own adopted daughter, Kang Cheng, to study for a medical degree at the University of Michigan. There, Meiyu and Kang Cheng took the names Mary Stone and Ida Kahn, by which they became famous in the West. The young ladies graduated in 1896 at the top of their class, becoming among the first Chinese women to earn medical degrees from an American university.
Dr. Shi and Dr. Kang returned to China with Howe to take up medical mission work in Jiujiang. Their worries about how their countrymen would receive them disappeared when the ship was welcomed with 40,000 firecrackers, and their clinic was soon overwhelmed with patients. As an old Chinese peasant confided, “We are afraid of foreigners, but you can understand our nature.” Soon desperately in need of larger facilities, Dr. Shi and Dr. Kang rejoiced in a generous gift from Dr. I.N. Danforth which allowed them to build a new hospital. As the hospital was being completed, Dr. Shi’s father was killed by Boxers, and she and Dr. Kang left Jiujiang for several months. They returned to open the Danforth Memorial Hospital in December 1901.
In 1903, Dr. Kang moved to Nanchang to start a new medical mission with Miss Howe, and in 1906, Dr. Shi began a partnership with American missionary Jennie Hughes that was to last for nearly half a century. Dr. Shi’s patient load soon grew to 3,000 a month, but she still found time to develop a training program for Chinese nurses, as well as translating Western medical texts and conducting Bible studies for them. Her nurses became famous for their skill, devotion, and evangelistic fervor. In addition to her professional ministry, Dr. Shi adopted four sons in Jiujiang.
In 1918, she worked with six prominent Chinese Christians to form the Chinese Home Mission Society (中华国内布道会), an indigenous interdenominational mission devoted to reaching minority nationalities in southwest China. Those six were: Rev. Cheng Jingyi (诚静怡牧师), Cai Sujuan (蔡苏娟姊妹-Christiana Tsai), Yu Rizhang (余日章牧师-David Z.T. Yui), Dora Yu Cidu (余慈度姊妹), Hu Suzhen (胡素贞女士), and Rev. Ding Limei (丁立梅牧师). The next year Rev. Ding Limei led the first CHMS team to Yunnan to work among the Miao. Chen Yuling (陈玉玲姊妹), the youngest of the six team members, stayed in Yunnan, and she served there for 25 years.
In 1918, Dr. Shi also turned the Danforth Hospital over to a fellow doctor, her sister Phoebe, and returned to America with Hughes for a year of further study. In 1920, they returned to China and left the Methodist Missionary Society out of concern for its theological modernism. They began a new work in Shanghai, the Bethel Mission. Bethel developed into a Christian center over the next 17 years, including primary and secondary schools, a hospital and nursing school, a seminary, an orphanage and a worship center. Dr. Shi and Hughes also raised 36 needy Chinese children in their own home. Dr. Shi continued her training program for Chinese nurses, personally teaching a Thursday evening Bible class with the aim of leading new nursing students to Christ and equipping them to go out as nurse-evangelists. Bethel also sponsored the famous Bethel Worldwide Evangelistic Band, which for a time included both Dr. Song Shangjie (宋尚节博士-John Sung) and Rev. Ji Zhiwen (计志文牧师-Andrew Gih). When Japan invaded China in 1937, Dr. Shi and Hughes moved the Bethel Mission to Hong Kong. Dr. Shi worked out of Hong Kong and Pasadena, California until she went to be with Lord at age 81 on December 30, 1954.