Bartel, Jacobena (1892-1975) and Emma (1897-1958)

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Jacobena (Bena) and Emma Bartel: mission workers to China. Bena was born on 28 December 1892 and Emma was born on 12 August 1897 to Gerhard Bartel (1868-1939) and Eva (Bartel) Bartel (1868-1910) near Hillsboro, Kansas, USA. Bena was the eldest of eleven children from their father’s first marriage and Emma was the fourth. Both sisters served as missionaries in China for many years before they returned to North America in 1951. Emma died in Hillsboro, Kansas on 25 October 1958, and Bena died in the same city on 22 April 1975.

In their early years, Jacobena and Emma Bartel grew up and went to school in Kansas. After completing her basic education, Bena began classes at Tabor College but had to interrupt her studies on her mother’s death in 1910. However, she continued with her education in later years on her furloughs from China. Emma graduated from Tabor Academy before enrolling in nurse’s training at Bethel Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing in Newton, Kansas and graduating from the program in 1922. She worked as a nurse in Kansas for two years before joining her sister in China. Bena had already been working since 1916 in West China near the border of the Shandong and Henan provinces.

When she first arrived in China in 1916, Jacobena Bartel worked as a teacher for the children of missionaries serving with the China Mennonite Mission Society. Later, however, her work expanded to include personal evangelism, house visitation, and Bible studies for women. Bena traveled to the United States from West China in 1923 for a furlough and returned the following year, together with her sister, Emma, who worked as a nurse with the mission. After the organization was dissolved in 1946, the sisters were accepted for service with the Mennonite Brethren Board of Foreign Missions.

Emma and Bena Bartel continued to work with the mission until the United States entered the Second World War in December 1941 and the sisters, along with other missionaries, were taken prisoner by the Japanese. They were under house arrest for a year and a half before being placed in an internment camp on 17 March 1943. Six months later, on 15 September 1943, Bena and Emma boarded a steamship with about 1500 other captives and were transferred to India, where they were exchanged for Japanese prisoners of war.

The sisters eventually arrived in Kansas, where they spent some time recovering before they returned to their work in China. However, Emma and Bena Bartel, along with all of the other western workers in the country, were permanently expelled from China in 1951 and had to return home. Emma found a job as a nurse at the Salem Hospital in Hillsboro, Kansas. Her sister also continued with visitation and the other types of work that she had done in China. In early August 1958, Emma had a stroke and spent several months in the same hospital where she had been employed since her return from Asia. She died on 25 October of that year. Her sister Bena continued to live in Hillsboro until she died on 22 April 1975. Both Bena and Emma were buried in the Hillsboro Mennonite Cemetery.

Jacobena and Emma Bartel were dedicated mission workers who devoted their lives to helping the people of China. Although they endured many hardships during their time in that country, they remained committed to their work and to the people whom they served, both overseas and back in the United States.


Bartel, Amanda. "Bena and Emma Bartel: Missionary Stories that Continue to Inspire." Web. 24 November 2015.

Christian Leader (4 November 1958): 7; (18 November 1958): 16; (27 May 1975): 9.

Find a "Bena and Emma Bartel." Web. 24 November 2015.

Missionary Album of Missionaries Serving under the Board of Foreign Mission of the Mennonite Brethren Conference, Inc. Hillsboro, KS: The Board of Foreign Missions, 1954.

Fresno Pacific University. "Mennonite Brethren Missions in China." Web. January 2015.

GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 4.19 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2005: #8871. "The Bakersfield Californian from Bakersfield, California, Page 1." Web. 24 November 2015.

Ramseyer, Robert and Alice Pannabecker. Mennonites in China. Winnipeg: China Educational Exchange, 1988: 15-16, 104-105.

Author(s) Susan Huebert
Date Published November 2015

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MLA style

Huebert, Susan. "Bartel, Jacobena (1892-1975) and Emma (1897-1958)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. November 2015. Web. 6 Dec 2023.,_Jacobena_(1892-1975)_and_Emma_(1897-1958)&oldid=132842.

APA style

Huebert, Susan. (November 2015). Bartel, Jacobena (1892-1975) and Emma (1897-1958). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 6 December 2023, from,_Jacobena_(1892-1975)_and_Emma_(1897-1958)&oldid=132842.

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