Asia (1955)

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Java and Sumatra

The first Mennonites to enter Asia permanently were representatives of the Dutch Mennonite Mission Board which established work in East Java in 1851 which has developed into a Chinese Mennonite church and a Javanese Mennonite church, later independent of the mission board. The Mennonite Central Committee began a relief work in this area in 1948, which is still continuing. In 1869 missionaries of the Dutch Mennonite Mission Board also established a work on Sumatra, which had to be abandoned after World War I because of lack of support. The 1950 Mennonite membership in Java was about 10,000.


The next Mennonite mission work in Asia was that established in India in 1899-1901 by the Mennonites of North America: (a) by the Mennonite Church (MC) in the Central Provinces in 1899, (b) by the General Conference Mennonite Church in the same area but 150 miles (240 km) farther south a year later, 1900-1901, (c) by the Mennonite Brethren Church in 1899 in the far south in Hyderabad, the first two being preceded by relief work by each group in the great famine of 1896-1899. All three of these missions developed into large and vigorous enterprises, with well-established indigenous churches with a total membership in 1950 of almost 20,000. The Mennonite (MC) mission established a daughter mission in 1940 in Bihar, some 600 miles (1000 km) to the north of the original mission in the Central Provinces. The Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church had earlier entered India in 1924 in Bihar. The Mennonite Central Committee carried on relief work in India in 1945-1950, chiefly in the great famine of 1946 in the region near Calcutta. An inter-mission relief agency, called the Mennonite Committee for Relief in India, called forth by this effort, was still in existence in 1955.


China had been entered by several American Mennonite mission boards during the first half of the 20th century, but by 1951 all work had been suspended and all missionaries recalled as a result of the intolerable conditions and pressure imposed by the Communist government established in 1949. H. C. Barthel (Krimmer Mennonite Brethren (KMB) Church) arrived in China in 1901 and founded in 1904 an independent organization, the China Mennonite Missionary Society, which carried on an extensive work in Shantung. H. J. Brown started work independently in Hopei province in 1909 which was taken over by the General Conference Mennonite Mission Board officially in 1914. The Mennonite Brethren Mission Board in 1919 took over the work in Fukien province which had been established by F. J. Wiens in 1911. The KMB Conference established a work in Mongolia in 1924. The Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities entered China after World War II in 1948. The total membership of all the Mennonite churches in China in 1950 was probably less than 10,000.


Mennonites did not enter Japan until after World War II. Then in rapid succession the Mennonite Church (MC), 1949, the General Conference Mennonite Church, 1950, and the Mennonite Brethren Church in 1950 entered. The first Japanese Mennonites (12) were baptized in the Mennonite Church mission in Hokkaido in 1951.

Asiatic Russia

Meanwhile Mennonites from the older colonies in European Russia began to migrate to Asiatic Russia. The first group settled in Turkestan 150 miles (250 km) northeast of Tashkent in 1880-1881, establishing a colony which lasted at least until 1930. The total number never exceeded 1,500 souls. The migration into what is known as Siberia began in 1899 and resulted in the establishment of large and prosperous colonies in the region of Omsk and Slavgorod-Barnaul before World War I. After World War I in 1926 a small colony was established in the Far East on the Amur River border of Manchuria near Blagoveshchensk. Increasing pressure led to the liquidation of most of this colony by flight into Manchuria (Harbin) in 1930, from which ultimately (1931-1933) all emigrated either to California (Reedley) or to Paraguay, with a few reaching Brazil. A smaller number fled from western Russia across the Siberian border into "Sinkiang province, finally reaching Shanghai and emigrating to California in 1949. One family of the Sinkiang group crossed the Himalayas into India, joining the Mennonite Brethren mission there. The western Siberian Mennonite colonies still exist in modified form, having apparently suffered the least of any of the Mennonite settlements in Russia.

Mennonite Relief Work in Asia.

The Mennonite Central Committee entered the Far East with its relief work first in India (1944-1950), then China (1945-1950) with the Hong Kong relief unit operating until 1952, then the Philippines (1946-50), Japan (1948- ), Java (1949- ), and Taiwan (1950- ). Far Eastern Headquarters were established at Hong Kong in 1950. The peak number of workers in Asia was in 1949 with an average of 65.

Mennonite Membership in Asia

The maximum total baptized Mennonite membership in Asia, including both mission churches and Russian Mennonite settlements in 1925 was an estimated 60,000 distributed as fellows: Java and Sumatra 10,000, India 20,000, China 10,000, Turkestan and Siberia 20,000. In 1950 the number was probably less than 45,000 because of heavy losses in China and Asiatic Russia. The maximum number of Mennonite missionaries in Asia was reached about 1935 with nearly 150 persons, all but six North Americans. In 2006 the total population in Asia and the Pacific was 240,000 as listed in the table below.

See also Bangladesh; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Japan; Cambodia; Korea; Laos; Nepal; Pakistan; Philippines; People's Republic of China; Taiwan; Thailand; Soviet Union; Vietnam; Work Camps

Additional Information

Country Membership Organized Bodies
Australia 57 1
China/Hong Kong 141 1
India 146,095 9
Indonesia 72,624 3
Japan 2,898 5
Kazakhstan 300  
Kyrgyzstan 200  
Nepal 594 1
Philippines 3,735 2
Singapore 80 1
South Korea 45 1
Taiwan 1,658 1
 Thailand  111 1
Vietnam 12,002 2
Total 241,420 28

Mennonite World Conference 2006 figures

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1955

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Asia (1955)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 24 Apr 2019.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1955). Asia (1955). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 April 2019, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 176-177. All rights reserved.

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