Obituary: David Adeney

David Ellis
Monday 16 May 1994 23:02

David Howard Adeney, missionary: born Bedford 3 November 1911; founded Discipleship Training Centre, Singapore 1968; part-time Professor of Missions, Berkeley, California 1976-92; author of China: Christian students face the Revolution 1972, China: the Church's Long March 1985; married 1938 Ruth Temple (three sons, and one daughter deceased); died Berkeley, California 11 May 1994.

DAVID ADENEY sailed for China in 1934 with the China Inland Mission (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship) and celebrated his 23rd birthday aboard The Carthage at sea between Hong Kong and Shanghai. Some three months earlier, Mao Tse-tung had set out with his followers to escape from nationalist armies under Chiang Kai-Shek. The historic 6,000-mile Long March, which changed the face of China, was moving north-west.

While Adeney was in language study with other new missionaries, he heard that two fellow workers had been taken captive on the Long March and that communist troops had beheaded two others just a few miles away. Western gunboats appeared on the Yangtze River. But the missionaries had not asked for protection; they did not want to be regarded as Imperialists but wanted to identify with the people whom they had come to serve, and they wore Chinese clothes to express this. It was an early demonstration of Adeney's character in facing the demands of working as a missionary and teacher in China and the Far East for the next 60 years.

David Adeney was born in 1911 to missionary parents. He was the second of five sons, all of whom became missionaries. His father worked among Jews in Romania, and his brothers served in China, East Africa and Palestine. Adeney resolved to go to China in his early teens, later describing it as 'a tremendous longing' which never left him.

After Monkton Combe School in Bath, he went up to Cambridge where he played a leading role in the Christian Union. Fifty years earlier the university had been enthralled to see seven of its most celebrated students volunteer for missionary service in China. They included CT Studd (Captain of the first XI) and Stanley Smith (stroke of the Cambridge boat). Their influence was not lost on Adeney, nor indeed on the life of the Christian Union over the generations.

Adeney became the Missionary Secretary. His influence stretched well beyond Cambridge. He was elected to the student executive of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship (now the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship) and in 1933 he founded the Inter-Varsity Missionary Fellowship. This was for students from all British and Irish universities who intended to serve overseas. Some 150 students joined that Easter.

In March 1938, after four years in China, Adeney married Ruth Temple, from Minnesota, then the youngest woman missionary in China, who was working in Shejizhen. Ten years later Christian freedom was diminishing fast. All students met in small groups each morning as part of the communist policy of 'thought reform'. The church came under government control and the 'Three Self' Patriotic Movement was born. The government feared imperialistic influence and all foreign missionaries were expelled. The China Inter-Varsity Fellowship, in which Adeney had played a key role, was shut down.

Adeney then moved to Hong Kong to work with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. In the late Fifties and early Sixties Christian work amongst university students in East Asia grew. From Hong Kong Adeney travelled extensively and was described by a colleague as 'advance party, trouble-shooter and counsellor' as he pioneered in one country after another.

Adeney was at once a visionary and a pastor. For example he arranged for a Nanjing medical student to specialise under a friend of his in Philadelphia. She is now a leading specialist in leukaemia and has been an influential leader in the New York Chinese Christian Fellowship.

He saw ways that the indigenous church in each country could be strengthened through its graduates. To this end he founded the Discipleship Training Centre in Singapore, becoming its first Dean in 1968. Space was limited, but his overview of student work across Asia meant he could 'spot' the best candidates and earmark places for them, until such time as they were ready.

In 1969 the training centre was hit by flash floods. Adeney retrieved a book manuscript he had just completed, but the pages were firmly stuck together. In character, he had no other copy. In character, too, he saw it as a chance to look at the subject with fresh eyes, and began all over again.

Adeney carried his full set of preaching notes with him when he travelled, in one case. In the early Seventies he put his case down to greet someone at Manila Airport and it was stolen. Again, there were no copies. He saw this, too, as a challenge to look anew at what Scripture taught. This calm spirit which sought the positive in every situation left its mark.

Ever the thinker and worker, Adeney became part-time Professor of Missions at New College, Berkeley, when he retired, and he held this position until 1992. A colleague remarked: 'Hundreds and maybe thousands of people count him as a close friend. People from every continent seek him out as they come to the Bay Area.'

In his travels to Asia during retirement, he always carried more books for former students than the weight limit allowed. He would charm airline staff in Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia by speaking to them in fluent Chinese. Adeney was the author of several books. He lost his only daughter through cancer in 1989 and is survived by his wife, Ruth, and three sons.

(Photograph omitted)

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