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Treasures in the United Methodist Archives: Missions Maps

In 2019, the United Methodist Church celebrated 200 years of mission work and the 150th anniversary of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, forerunner of today’s United Methodist Women.

Currently, more than 350 United Methodist Missionaries serve in more than 65 countries around the world. 

The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History is home to volumes of papers, photos and artifacts from these centuries of mission work. Archivist, Frances Lyons shows us a few of the maps in the collection which show mission work, both domestic and international.

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(Locator: Madison, NJ)

Frances Lyons, General Commission on Archives and History: “I’m Frances Lyons, Reference Archivist for the General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church. This is a selection of maps from our collections showing mission work internationally and domestically.

map of the Fuzhou/Foochow Mission in eastern China, circa 1904

So, for this sample, I have pulled this beautiful cloth map from China. It represents a layout of the Foochow Mission in eastern China. We are dating this to about 1904. But you can tell it has beautiful detail. It’s almost a piece of art. And, given that the missionary’s name is actually on the map, Reverend Bissonnette, that allows us to pull additional primary source material that we have on that particular missionary. So we have his biographical reference file, photographs including his wife and his children, and also his correspondence to the Board of Missions, which gives us great detail about this particular mission field and how it grew.

Reverend Bissonnette is interesting because he was actually on this mission field for 40 years, which is quite. Not only that, but he actually died in China on the mission field. His wife at that point had returned to Hawaii where he intended to retire, but she got the news that he had died from pneumonia in 1943. And, he had sent back letters, as I say, to the Board of Missions and also had letters that he would send to his supporters. And, it’s quite interesting because the very last letter he sent to his…the people who were supporting him, um, it was just…this was literally 6 weeks before he died. And he talks about ‘a recent tour of about 100 miles among the scattered churches was a rare benediction. In spite of the fact that it was made on foot, I still feel a little lame. The whole population seemed to be out in the fields to harvest the rice crop.’ So he’s really…gives you an idea of what is happening in the mission field. And, he is obviously a longtime supporter of this mission and his records give great detail about the work that was done here.

map of Methodist Protestant churches at the time of the Uniting Conference of 1939

This next set of maps are maps that were used in preparation for the uniting conference of 1939. And this particular selection shows Methodist Protestant churches in the various conferences. So this is the Eastern Conference which is largely North Carolina. And it shows where all of the churches were and the parsonages. Ummm. This was obviously very important to get a … an estimate of the number of churches and parsonages prior to that uniting conference. That one is different in that it’s specifically Methodist Protestant work, whereas in this instance the conferences just used standard issue maps wherever they could find them. So this one is actually from Cities Service Oil Company. And they’ve superimposed on that the stations and the churches and parsonages. And this is a map of Ohio. So it is the Ohio Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church. And, this is in Western New York. The churches are indicated with gold stars. And so, that’s…this conference has used this of…official AAA map and just superimposed stars to indicate where the Methodist Protestant churches are.

1.5 million dollar “challenge grant” map for missions in 1895

This map right here is actually what I think of as a challenge grant. It was produced by the Board of Missions in…challenging the conferences within the United States to raise a particular amount in the year 1895. And they set the goal…. They knew exactly what each conference needed to raise. And so they broke it down then by district. And so, I imagine they issued this map across the country. And they sh…. They initially showed the domestic and foreign missions laid out on the map here. And then on the reverse of the map they’ve indicated that they need to raise a million and a half dollars. And they have listed out all the conferences and how much…what dollar amount each must raise in order to meet that goal. So I do think of this as a challenge grant map. And I imagine it may have also been used to display in Sunday school rooms wherever they would be able to show the work of the church across the globe.

map of domestic and international Methodist mission areas in the 1960’s

And then, this final map…it dates from the 1960s. And it shows domestic missions, international missions, um…. It also shows.. indicates areas where churches are becoming or have become autonomous, but there’s still a connection there. And then other countries where the church can no longer work on the mission field because they’re closed to international visitors. So, for example, you can see that Eastern Europe is blocked out. Um. They can… you know, they’re not affiliated with that mission work any longer. It’s a very bright map. And as I say, this dates from the 1960s. The map itself was produced by Rand McNally but then was tailored to represent the work of the Methodist Church in the mission field at the time.

Daily life in the Foochow mission compound circa 1900

This shows a walled compound. And you notice all the gates. And oftentimes in the official correspondence they will talk about the East Gate, the West Gate. And so it was a way of controlling movement within the mission compound.

It would usually contain medical facilities, educational facilities and the idea was the mission community introduced a very Western style of living. So even thought they might be in a very different climate, you will find that they also tried to have the same type of house, regardless of being in China. It would have very similar comforts they would be used to from home. Then there were all the supporting facilities for that mission were found in the compound. And there were oftentimes boarding schools. So, if they had children who were going through the education process with them, they were living in the compound. And they supplied…they ran the hospitals. They were doing the laundry services. They were doing the food services. So everything was quite self-contained within these micro-communities.


Photos used in this video are from the missionary photo albums collection at the General Commission on Archives and History. The albums can be viewed online.

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his video was posted by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee.

Media contact is Joe Iovino.

This video was first posted on June 15, 2020.



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