A Brief History of RTF
In 1948 South China Missionary Rev. Samuel E. Boyle did not realize the strategic importance of his vision for translating Christian literature from English into Chinese. The ministry he started and named the Reformation Translation Fellowship (RTF) has played a major role in the growth of Christianity in China, helping to shape the changes taking place in that great nation. Is it possible that Christian principles will become an important part of China's renewal? Will the precious message of a God centered hope supersede the worldly message forced on the minds of the people of China but unable to fill their hearts? Will RTF publications, along with the Truth of the Gospel taught from the Bible by traveling evangelists, biblically sound publications and radio, help China become a Christian nation?
There is no official date for the start of RTF but translation work began in December 1948, soon after the Charles H. Chao family joined the Boyle family in Canton (now Guangzhou), South China. The first RTF books were published in 1950. Events which took place prior to the start of RTF show the abiding faith in a gracious God held by all who have participated in RTF's ministry from its beginning until the present. These events, often miraculous, involve the lives of people dear to RTF and China.
In 1935 nineteen year old Charles H. Chao (Chao Chung-Hui) went to Yingkuo Bible Seminary to hear renowned evangelist Wang Ming-Tao. Moved by Pastor Wang's sermons Charles dedicated his life to serving Christ full time, much to the joy of his devout Christian mother and his bride Pearl. He enrolled in the Seminary in 1936, which at that time was under dispensational leadership. He then served an internship in Northern Manchuria, returning to the Institute in 1938, where he was profoundly influenced by the teaching of Rev. J. G. Vos. Rev. Vos and his family went to Tsitsihar, Manchuria, China under the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America's (RPCNA) Foreign Mission Board (FMB) in 1931. In 1938 he was invited to join the faculty of Yingkuo Seminary. Charles Chao studied Systematic Theology under Dr. Vos, and recognized the value of the Reformed System of Biblical Theology, a conviction he has held ever since.
He went to bitterly cold Northern Manchuria to evangelize. Many people coming to market entered the church and heard the Gospel for the first time through Charles' preaching. When J. G. Vos was asked to become President of the Seminary in 1940, he called Charles back to help with administration and translation of his lecture notes into Chinese. Dr. Vos gave Charles a copy of Loraine Boettner's The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. As he read the book in English, Charles started to translate it into Chinese to share its truths with his Chinese friends.
American Missionaries, including the Vos family, were forced to return to the USA on March 15, 1941 after the Japanese occupied Manchuria. The Chaos were left in charge of the Bible Institute fearing the Japanese would persecute them because of their association with Americans. The Lord was merciful, and they continued living at the Seminary until the summer of 1942 when they were amicably replaced by a pastor chosen by the Japanese puppet government. Charles became associate pastor in a church in Tashihchiao (Big Stone Bridge) started by Irish Presbyterians. Three difficult years followed, protecting the elderly Chinese pastor from harassment by Japanese soldiers seeking political dissidents. During that trying time Charles and his family were saddened by the death of his Godly, 75 year old blind mother.
Russian troops moved quickly into Manchuria as the Japanese soldiers left following Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945. The power struggle for control of China between Chinese Nationalist and the Soviet-led Chinese Communist armies continued until 1948. The many hardships endured by the Chao family during that time of persecution from Russian and Chinese Communists will be described only briefly. (A more complete report of that harrowing and miraculous time can be found in Out of the Tiger's Mouth, Charles Chao's autobiography written in Chinese, translated and published in 1991 by Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., Scotland). During the winter of 1946 while on his way to church, Russian troops conscripted Charles to clean filth from a big underground ice storage cellar. They also dragged him from the church to find women for them. His prayers and those of his family were heard, and he was quickly released unharmed.
Because of the serious illness of Pearl's mother in 1945 the Chaos, including 6 children, took a perilous train ride from the church in Tashihchiao to her home village of Tiehling, arriving a few days before her mother's death. They stayed with Pearl's family while Charles helped collect bills for the family blacksmith shop which repaired horse cart wheels, one of the few means of transportation. On August 22, 1947, the night their son Bill was born, Chinese Communists rounded up Charles with 100 other unarmed men to march as a living shield (cannon fodder) in front of their soldiers while they attacked Nationalist soldiers. During the confusion an old lady tapped Charles shoulder and helped him and an old man hide around a corner and flee for their lives. Pearl left alone with 7 children, facing severe food shortages, boiled green soy beans which sons Ted and Jonathan picked in the fields at night. Communists searching for food did not catch the boys nor find the ten sacks of grain which Pearl was hiding to use for barter. They were in constant fear while struggling for existence.
Charles' miraculous escape led him by a tortuous route to Mukden, which was still under Nationalist control. He found work as an interpreter for United Nations Relief (UNRRA) shipping Western goods to Chinese distribution centers. He taught school for a short while, and was clerk at the Mukden YMCA, where he was able to present Christ to a number of young Chinese. During this time he corresponded with J. G. Vos and Loraine Boettner. These Bible scholars obtained a visa to the USA for Charles to accept a scholarship at Faith Seminary of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) arranged by Rev. Albert Greene Jr. Charles' uneasiness at leaving his wife and children in Communist territory was diminished a little when Pearl's relatives approved his trip as being best for her. The CRC arranged for Charles to fly to Shanghai on March 23, 1948 on the Lutheran mercy plane named the St. Paul. The plane flew from Mukden to Peking, where Charles stayed overnight with Evangelist Wang Ming-Tao who gave him his first desire to enter full time Christian ministry. The plane flew on to Shanghai the next day.
At China Theological Seminary in Shanghai, Mr. Albert Greene, closer to the situation in China than Drs. Vos and Boettner, agreed that Charles should not leave his family alone in war torn China, and arranged for Pearl and their children to fly from Manchuria to Shanghai which was still free from combat. When Pearl got word of the flight arrangements in May 1948 there was not enough time to travel to Mukden to catch the St. Paul. In desperation she and the 7 children started the hazardous several days trip in a wooden cart, anyway. When they arrived in Mukden they found the plane had been delayed. The miracle of that delay allowed them to fly to Shanghai where they were met by Charles. The reuniting of the Chao family at the Shanghai airport cannot be described in words. CRC missionaries called Charles to pastor a church which met in a remodeled Buddhist temple in Paipu near Shanghai. Soon after their ministry started in Paipu a letter from Rev. Samuel Boyle was delivered to Charles inviting him to join him in a translation ministry. The letter had been following Charles for weeks. At the same time Communist troops were moving toward Paipu and Shanghai bringing back the nagging fear of persecution. Rev. Boyle and his wife, eager to serve the Lord as missionaries in China were told there were not enough funds to support them. With permission of the FMB they raised their own support and went on faith to South China in 1934. Their zeal was abundantly rewarded and the FMB was soon able to support them fully.
The Japanese invasion forced them to leave China with other missionaries in 1941. In 1943 while the Boyles pastored the RP Church in Sterling, Kansas, tragic illness took both Sam's wife and daughter. In 1945 he went to Washington, D.C. to lobby for Christian causes and start publishing the Christian Patriot. Rev. Boyle learned of the translating skill of Rev. Chao from Loraine Boettner, who had been J. G. Vos' classmate at Princeton Seminary. While working in Washington, Sam Boyle met and married Grace Robb, whose family pioneered RPCNA missions in South China. The Boyles were able to return to China in 1947 and Sam sent his letter inviting Charles to join him in Canton to start a translation ministry. When letter to unwilling Charles showed Rev. Boyle's CRC missionaries they were for him to leave so soon after coming to the temple/church in Paipu. Communist troops threatening Paipu caused them to change their minds and urge the Chaos to accept Sam's invitation and go to less dangerous Canton. Through another series of miracles the Chaos, helped financially by the Boyles, made the rough trip by coastal steamer from Shanghai to Canton. They were met the Boyles who were flabbergasted when he counted 7 Chao children coming down the gangplank. A small second floor apartment had been made ready for the Chaos in a downtown Canton building used by the RP congregation as office and sanctuary.
1949 – 1966
Communist troops advancing on Canton forced the Boyles to evacuate August 8, 1949 and move to a rented summer cottage on Cheung Chau Island, part of Hong Kong. The Chao family, moved to a small house on the same island. Ted and Jonathan stayed at the Christian School in Canton. Sam Boyle and Charles continued translating Christian books during this troublesome time. The first books were printed in 1950 under the name REFORMATION THEOLOGICAL FELLOWSHIP, later changed to Reformation Translation Fellowship (RTF). "The word of God is not bound" from 2 Timothy 2:9 became RTF's motto, a truth proven repeatedly since. In 1950, after much prayer, the FMB moved RPCNA China missionaries to Japan. By July the Boyles had found a home in Kobe. The Chaos moved next door to them Dec. 22, 1950, allowing the translation effort to continue. Between 1951 and 1956 the Chaos struggled to get proper schooling for each of their children. Some were able to attend schools for missionary children in Kobe, but the two older boys, Ted and Jonathan, had to travel some distance to Osaka. Charles studied for a year at the Kobe Reformed Theological Seminary and in 1954 was licensed and ordained as a teaching elder by the Far East Commission of the RPCNA. While on furlough in 1955, Sam Boyle arranged for Charles to attend the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. Charles went to the USA alone in September 1956 and enrolled in the Seminary. Pearl with the children suffered discrimination, being Chinese in Japan. The Chao's oldest son Ted was able to enter Geneva College in 1957 in spite of the disruptions in his early education. With diligent study Charles completed his seminary courses in two years, and traveled on deputation for RTF throughout the USA. After one of his talks at a church in Michigan, Frederick Nymeyer quietly asked Charles to join him outside the church. Mr. Nymeyer wrote a check for $5000, enough to bring Pearl and the 9 Chao children still in Japan to the USA. On May 8, 1958 Charles went to Toronto and with the help of RPCNA's Home Mission Board got USA resident visas for the whole Chao family. Pearl and the children sailed from Kobe August 17, 1958 to a joyous reunion with Charles at the dock in San Francisco. The Los Angeles RP Church rented a home for the Chaos. Charles soon left to attend Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. At the end of a year of study he bought a used station wagon and drove across the country. After several delays due to the car trouble, solved by RP congregations along the way, he reached Los Angeles and the family was reunited again. RTF bought the home of Rev. Paul Robb, retiring pastor of the Los Angeles RP Church, for the Chaos. Nineteen theological books were translated and published from that home during the next few years. More have been published since, totaling over 90 in 46 years. Ted and Jonathan graduated from Geneva College in 1962. Ted became a teacher in the USA. Jonathan met his wife Rebecca while earning a degree at Westminster Seminary. Together they established the Chinese Church Research Institute in Hong Kong. This organization made it possible for books published by RTF to reach Christian leaders in Mainland China. Jonathan's research into Chinese Churches has given him worldwide recognition as an authority on Christianity in China.
1967 – Now
Charles made a world tour in the spring of 1967 to acquaint Reformed Presbyterian (RP) and Chinese Churches with the RTF. RTF Boards were established in Scotland, Ireland and Australia. For years the Scotch RTF Board has provided funds to publish the Faith and Life Quarterly in Chinese. The Quarterly has been appreciated by Chinese Christians all over the world. Charles and Pearl, along with youngest daughters Lois and Rose, moved RTF headquarters from Los Angeles to Taipei, Taiwan in 1968. Secretaries there were better able to help Charles edit translations, arrange Chinese printing and with correspondence. Charles and Pearl's 1976 world tour, added friends in Holland, and Japan to those already part of the RTF ministry. A Doctor of Divinity degree was bestowed on Charles at Geneva College's graduation in 1977. Dr. Vos, Chairman of the Bible Department, who played a vital part in RTF's ministry, introduced Dr. Chao and bestowed the academic hood on him. After Lois and Rose graduated from the Taipei American School they returned to California, earned college degrees, married and continue to live there. Charles and Pearl accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Minjers, from Holland, to Mainland China in 1983 where they saw RTF books in House churches. During that trip they visited Rev. and Mrs. Wang Ming-Tao influential in Charles' decision to serve Christ full time. Rev. Wang had just been released after 22 years in prison because he refused to join the Communist controlled Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). The Wangs were praising the Lord because He had matched them so well in their later years. Prison beatings left Pastor Wang deaf and his wife almost blind so they were perfectly matched to serve Christ. Wang Ming-Tao died July 28, 1991. In the Fall of 1989 Rebecca Chao accompanied Simon Bax editor of a Reformed Daily Newspaper in Holland, on a tour of Mainland China. He was so impressed when he saw RTF books in the small libraries of House Church leaders, that he provided US $25,000 for publication of A Dictionary of Theological Terms edited by Dr. Chao. Rev. Stephen Tong, a well known multilingual Chinese evangelist from Indonesia, held the Dictionary up in front of 800 Chinese at a Christian Conference in the USA, saying that it is the most concise and informative book of its kind in any language. When Charles and Jonathan Chao needed US$37,000 (the equivalent of one million New Taiwan Dollars) in the bank to establish a Chinese Reformation Translation Fellowship Board in Taiwan, Simon Bax provided that amount also. Charles edited and published the sermons he had preached during the past 42 years. He taught at Christ's College, Taiwan in 1990 to fill in for an American whose health forced him to return to USA. While doing all of this, Charles continued his daily translating. The Chaos celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 1992 with a family reunion including their 10 children, in-laws and grandchildren. In 1989 Jonathan Chao was inaugurated President of Christ's College, a position he held for 2 years. This gave RTF additional distribution, as well as recognition for the value of the publications available in Chinese. All Christian seminaries in Taiwan use RTF publications in their courses, as well as many seminaries in Hong Kong, Singapore and a new seminary in Indonesia started in 1991 by Rev. Stephen Tong. During the summer of 1990 Ted Chao and his wife Wendy took his parents on a tour of Europe where Charles and Pearl renewed their friendships in Scotland and Holland. During the last 7 years while Charles and Pearl lived in Taipei they invited 8 to 10 Chinese scholars to their apartment each Sabbath afternoon for translation and tea. These scholars came faithfully every Sabbath and translated excerpts from well known Reformed writings which were published as a booklet each year, for free distribution to appreciative Chinese Christians. This was in addition to Charles' daily translating. The faithful scholars meet to translate one Sabbath afternoons a month even after the Chaos left Taipei. At its start in 1948 RTF claimed the scripture, 'But the word of God is not bound". This motto is still being blessed. It comes from 2nd Timothy 2:9-10 "Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory". This scripture verse is prophetic of the trials and blessings of RTF's founders, and many other Christians as they proclaim the Truth of God's Word, despite all attempts God's Word has never been bound in China or any part of the world.
From 1968 until 1991 Charles and Pearl spent winters in Taiwan and summers with their family in California. They have not returned to Taiwan in the fall of 1991, continuing the translation ministry from the home they share in San Dimas, CA with their physician son Harry. Freed from administrative detail, Charles has translated and published even more than he did in Taiwan. Rev. Boyle served as President of the American Board of RTF (AmRTF) faithfully from its start in 1949 until 1990. He helped select and translate books as well as administer the American Board of RTF. Robert F. Heimburger, Indianapolis, IN who was born and lived in China through High School, is serving as Rev. Boyle's successor. Rev. J. G. Vos was Treasurer and American Representative of RTF from its start until 1957. Rev. Lester Kilpatrick succeeded J. G. Vos after he was forced by illness to return from China instead of serving as a missionary, with his physician wife Betty. He published RTF NEWSLETTERS and ANNUAL REPORTS until 1989 when he turned these duties plus book distribution over to Rev. William Roberts, Pastor of the Bloomington, IN, RP Church. Rev. Phil Martin and his family served briefly as missionaries in Manchuria. His sons, first Rev. Paul and now Rev. Bruce have been secretaries for RTF's American Board. Rev. John Murray represents RTF in Scotland and England where funds have been raised to publish The Faith and Life Quarterly, in addition to the English translation of Out of the Tiger's Mouth, Charles Chao's autobiography. As RTF Representative for Australia Rev. Alex Barkley has provided prayer and financial support from RP Churches there. Rev. Gene Spear has been instrumental in raising support for the RTF from Japan. The Foreign Mission Board of the PCNA has generously supported the Chaos as missionaries through most of RTF's history. The American Board of RTF has provided much of the publication costs as well as supporting the RTF office in the Chao's Taipei home. More recently RTF shares office expenses with CMI in Taiwan. RTF is grateful to Simon Bax representing a Reformed Newspaper in Holland for support when it has been most needed. Fervent prayer and faith in Our Lord's provision is needed for RTF's vital ministry to Chinese Christians all over the world. Please pray with us. Since the spring of 1991 when Charles and Pearl Chao started semi-retirement in California, their son Jonathan has assumed his father's administrative duties in Taipei and as International Director for AmRTF. RTF's overseas office has been moved from the Chao's apartment in Taipei to share space with China Ministries International (CMI) started by Jonathan and Rebecca Chao as an extension of their Chinese Church Research Center (CCRC). Through CMI seminaries were started in Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The students and faculty of these seminaries hold conferences in China using the Bible and RTF books to help strengthen the personal Bible study, teaching and preaching of Christian leaders. Miss Phoebe Ma appointed RTF representative in Taiwan and editor of Faith and Life Quarterly has a degree in journalism and a recently earned degree from the China Evangelical~ Seminary in Taipei. She also helps publish the books Charles continues to translate and to reprint those in short supply. By supporting one missionary family the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America has enriched the lives and ministries of countless Chinese. Encouraged by knowledge gained from studying RTF translations they continue to spread the Gospel Message faithfully in spite of brutal persecution. They are effective in countering the cults and heresies trying to spread false doctrines. RTF gives thanks for the RPCNA's involvement in its vital ministry. Charles Chao in semi-retirement continues translating. At the request of Jonathan, The Belgic Confessions, The Cannons of Dort and the Heidelberg Confessions are published. CMI teams taking RTF books into China use these to evangelize. The Experience that Counts an abridged edition of Jonathan Edwards A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections was translated by the group of scholars who met Sabbath afternoons in the Chao's Taiwan apartment. Publication has been made possible by a generous grant from Chinese Christians in Singapore. This indicates the value Chinese put on the RTF's ministry. A significant portion of RTF's publication costs are donated in Taiwan. Charles has just finished translating and publishing A Specimen of Divine Truth, by Rev. A. Hellenbroek funded by the congregation which Rev. Hellenbroek pastored in Rotterdam. RTF depends on the prayer and financial support of Christians worldwide.
Chinese leaders, all over the world are anticipating that China will open to the Gospel in the next few years. There will be a flood of requests for Christian literature in Chinese. We pray that since Our Lord has provided RTF's sound Christian publications since 1950 He will also create a stock pile of RTF literature ready to flow into China as soon as it opens. God has given Jonathan and his wife Rebecca the vision and ability, through CMI, to bring the Truths of the Bible to Chinese allover the world. CMI Seminaries in Hong Kong and Taiwan, teach evangelism and then send small groups of students and faculty with RTF books into China to hold conferences with up to 90 House Church leaders several times a year. In 1990 the Communist government counted 63 million Christian in China. It is impossible to say how many more are unknown to the government. An estimate of between 15,000 and 28,000 come to know Christ each day in China. Pray that opposition forces will not bind God's Word in China, or anywhere in the world. Pray that all new Christians will have sound literature to sustain them spiritually. Russian Christians are crying for the kind of literature Our Lord started in advance to supply for China. RTF is thankful for the vision He gave its founders in 1948. AmRTF prays that enough printed material will be on hand to partially fill the need when China opens fully to the Gospel. Efforts are being made to acquaint Chinese coming to North America for advanced study with RTF translations. Pray that Chinese who do business and study in North America will become familiar with the Truths 'of the Bible and RTF's literature before they return to China and assume leadership positions. Some are being reached through RTF displays at meetings. Lending Libraries to provide ready access to RTF books are being developed. All those reading this brief history can tell others, particularly Chinese friends about RTF. The ministry of the Reformation Translation Fellowship (RTF) has been blessed as it has served Our Lord since 1948. Pray Our Lord will be glorified as the lives of 1.2 billion in China and Chinese scattered over the world are Blessed with the knowledge of Salvation brought to all through Jesus Christ. Using written Chinese, Chinese culture and Chinese teachers, RTF in partnership with CMI demonstrates that Christ came to save Chinese who claim Him as their own Savior.