OBITUARY: Henry Guinness

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The Independent Online
Henry Guinness had a pioneer spirit that motivated the whole of his life as a missionary. He was one of 200 new missionaries sent to China in 1931 by the China Inland Mission, and drew crowds to his preaching by playing a cornet in the villages. The instrument went with him to a Chinese Church conference in England in 1993.

He had been born in Kaifeng, in central China, where his parents had moved just after the notorious Boxer Rebellion in which 75 missionaries and countless Chinese Christians were slaughtered. The Guinness family is noted for achievement, chiefly in the fields of banking, brewing and missionary work. Henry Guinness came from the Grattan line of the family, who tended towards mission work, and his father had moved to China in 1900 for this purpose. His mother came from a noble Swedish family. Ill- health separated him from them early. Dust and dirt and Yellow River floods combined to make life in Kaifeng "nasty, brutish and short". The death of his father when he was 17 made him look at the purpose of life, and led to his resolve to become a missionary.

Back in Kaifeng for the China Inland Mission (known today as OMF International), his work among boys received impetus from his fascination with anything that worked, from pinhole cameras to aeroplane propellers. But a cholera epidemic, an earthquake, and repeated crop failures also called for an empathy with a tortured community, whose lives were made worse by the Japanese invasion of 1933.

Conscious of his need for a co-worker, Guinness prayed for one to be sent. That night a burglar broke into the house. Guinness confronted him in his pyjamas, sat him down, and taught him from the Gospel of St John. The man professed to become a Christian, and in the morning Guinness went out, left the man to get the lunch, and trusted him with the house. This man became the co-worker.

In 1938 Guinness married Mary Taylor, a doctor, and the young couple had to cope with famine, drought, locusts, raging inflation and war. When parents abandoned their children for lack of food, the Guinnesses rescued those they could. Two of their own three sons died in Honan Province, and the couple had to flee from war the day after the second son died.

The years from 1945 to 1947 were spent in Dublin, where Guinness represented the China Inland Mission in Ireland. In 1947, the Guinnesses returned to China, playing a key role in work among students. Thousands of students were converging in Nanjing at the time, following the 1947 Intervarsity Conference, and the Guinnesses ran Bible study classes until indoctrination began. After a short three years, Communism came and missionaries had to leave. The Guinnesses moved to Scotland, where many students and prospective missionaries tasted their hospitality, until they were able to return to East Asia, to serve in Malaysia and then in Taiwan.

In the early Seventies, I had the privilege of travelling around Taiwan with Henry Guinness, who was directing the work of the OMF there. Then in his sixties, he had lost none of his get up and go. "Getting up" might be four in the morning and "going" might be travelling all day, perhaps snacking on lychees bought through the bus window as we went.

On one occasion in China, he arrived at an inn late at night. Preparing to sleep, he heard bandits in the next room discussing how to dispose of his body, and how much they could get for his boots. Opening the door of his room and moving slowly towards the toilet, Guinness scanned the high wall for a foothold, sprang up and leapt over into the fields. Despite a chase by the bandits, he made it to another village four miles away.

Henry Guinness's bravery and love of adventure was balanced by a deep faith, and a caring heart that continued until his last days. His wife died in 1993 and he is survived by his son, Oswald, a well-known author and Christian apologist, who lives in the United States.

Henry Whitfield Guinness, missionary: born Kaifeng, Honan Province, China 18 April 1908; married 1938 Dr Mary Taylor (died 1993; one son, and two sons deceased); died Pembury, Kent 17 February 1996.