Obituary: Dr A. J. Broomhall

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The Independent Online
Anthony James Broomhall, doctor, historian, missionary: born Chefoo, China 6 December 1911; married 1942 Janet Churchill (four daughters); died Tunbridge Wells 11 May 1994.

A. J. BROOMHALL, the missionary, doctor and historian, will be best remembered as a writer for his seven-volume account of Christianity in China since the mid-19th century.

Jim Broomhall began his magnum opus in 1976, the year of his retirement from missionary work. Previous historians in the area, including KS Latourette, had worked from secondary sources, and Broomhall felt their research reflected wrong emphases. He therefore drew on letters and articles written by his uncle James Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Missions, whom Latourette considered to be 'one of the four or five most influential foreigners who came to China in the 19th century'. These papers are now in the archives of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. The seventh and final volume of Broomhall's Hudson Taylor and China's Open Century appeared in 1990.

Broomhall was born in China in 1911 and began his education at Chefoo School. It was during a swimming lesson there, when a member of his class shouted 'Go to hell', that at the age of nine he decided to follow Christ, and to become a medical missionary.

He left China soon afterwards for Britain, where he attended Monkton Combe School, Bath. His medical training followed at the London Hospital. He joined the China Inland Mission, an evangelical organisation (now OMF International) in 1938 and sailed for China in October that year. The Japanese occupation had already begun, and travel in China became difficult. Broomhall and his fellow missionaries sailed to Hong Kong, where they purchased station wagons which they drove through French-ruled Vietnam and over the border to Chungking and then sold them again. Once they had arrived in this part of 'Free China' they could continue their journey with less hindrance. Broomhall married Janet Churchill - whom he met first as a child in England - in 1942, and as travel became easier they went to work among the Nosu people, in western China. Within six months they were forced to flee to India. In that brief period they had already lost their hearts to the Nosu people.

The Broomhalls returned to Nosuland in 1946. Jim left Janet and their two young daughters in Loshan, south-west China, while he travelled through country where no missionaries had been before, amongst a warlike tribal people whose menfolk always carried guns, and whose houses had no windows - only rifle slits. He and his family spent four years back among the Nosu and established a clinic before the Communists took control in 1951. After several months of house arrest, they were expelled.

A remarkable public tribute was paid in 1992 to Broomhall by a Chinese writer in his book Christianity in Sichuan. Such a sympathetic view of English missionaries in a mainland Chinese publication is most unusual. He said:

Dr Broomhall left Lanzhou and travelled a thousand miles to Zhaozhue in Lianshan in 1947. Riding his mule, he went along the river banks treating patients. A Nosu youth had a festering arm, damaged in a dynamite explosion. Dr Broomhall gave him an artificial arm. He rode by mule up into the mountains to heal the sick in remote villages, and never took any money. Dr Broomhall took a leper into his clinic. The people were astonished because they believed leprosy was infectious and incurable. He lived with him in the same room and cooked food for his patient; the leper made a considerable recovery.

By the time of the missionaries' 'reluctant exodus' from China, they had set up seven hospitals there, and many dispensaries and leprosaria. Several doctors and nurses had skills they could use elsewhere, so Broomhall went first to Thailand to explore possibilities. Three hospitals were eventually set up in that country.

With some background of tribal work, the family (now with four daughters) moved on to the Philippines. Having mastered Mandarin they now learned Tagalog, and worked for the next 11 years among the Mangyan people of Mindoro. When they arrived in 1953 there were no Christian believers. By 1993 the church numbered 800.

Broomhall was a prolific writer, and saw how the printed page could influence widely. His book Strong Man's Prey (1953) drew on the Nosu story with the aim of exhorting able young men and women in the West to grasp the opportunity of cross-cultural mission. Fields for Reaping (1953), an overview of tribal work in the Philippines, followed. He wrote Time for Action (1965) a year after he returned to England to take up a leadership role in the OMF's national headquarters in Newington Green, in north London.

His love for the Nosu never left him. In 1988 he paid a return visit to Nosuland, which he described as 'going home'. He was overjoyed at meeting those who had converted to Christianity as teenagers, and whose children were now bringing up the third generation in the faith.