Baptist Bible Fellowship International

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The Baptist Bible Fellowship International has done great things throughout the many years of its existence. The reason for the group’s success has been through missions, evangelism, Bible Colleges, and church planting. In the 1950’s the World Baptist Fellowship ruled the Baptist scene. During the era of the WBF there was a conflict that arose as J. Frank Norris attempted to overthrow G.B. Vick’s presidency at his Bible College. Norris desired to be president of the college that Vick established. Norris attempted to push Vick out by spreading rumors and causing dissension regarding Vick’s character among the students that attended the college. Jeffery D. Lavoie writes in, Segregation and the Baptist Bible Fellowship, that G.B. Vick aided a “movement” for a new fellowship after being removed from his presidency by J. Frank Norris. When about one hundred pastors decided leave the WBF and start a new fellowship. With the leadership of Vick and the other pastors, a brand new fellowship called the Baptist Bible Fellowship was created in May 1950 (Lavoie 2). The WBF was the most prominent fellowship among Baptist pastors, and slowly after the BBF was formed, the WBF faded away. To this day is still existing and running as a missions agency.

As time passed, the BBF had the desire to communicate the need for missions and missionary help. In 1975, in order to raise the awareness of missions, the BBF changed the name from, Baptist Bible Fellowship, to Baptist Bible Fellowship International or BBFI. The reason for the name change was to emphasize missions among the group of pastors (Lavoie 3). This change of heart and emphasis helped in creating some of the greatest missionaries the world has ever seen. The Baptist Bible Fellowship International produced an abundance of great missionaries, while all missionaries deserve their honor and dues: three of the most influential missionaries from the BBFI are John Birch, Fred Donnelson, and Bob Hughes.
One of the most influential missionaries within the BBFI is John Birch, whom God brought to the world on May 28th, 1918, in Landour, India. Mike Randall the writer of an article in Our Baptist Heritage about John Birch explains how John Birch’s parents, George Birch and Ethel Birch, taught at Ewing Christian College in Allahabad, India. George suffered from chronic health problems, but that problem did not stop them from completing at least three years of ministry in India.

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After that the family went back to the United States. When they arrived back to America, they settled in Vineland, New Jersey (Smith 53).

When the Birch family arrived back in the U.S.A. they attended a Presbyterian church. During their time at the church they started to feel conviction. This conviction led them to become Baptist, and John then accepted Christ and noticed the immediate work being done in his life (Smith 53). Birch heard Norris preach, and during Norris’ message, a challenge was issued that young men should go to China to minister. John approached Norris and acquired about China and the opportunities there. After the conversation with Norris, Birch felt his heart become burdened for the Chinese people (Smith 53). During the time that Birch was fighting about going to China, he was attending Mercer University. After graduating from Mercer, Birch planned to attend Norris’ Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute in Fort Worth, Texas. While attending Norris’ school, Birch met his roommate Oscar Wells. Wells also had a passion to minister in China. Confident in God’s will that they were supposed to go to China, they raised the funds to get there (Smith 53).

China was in the middle of war when John Birch and Oscar Wells sailed to China. When they arrived they were graciously greeted by some missionaries who helped them get acquainted to their environment and new living space. They gave them a warm welcome and then they learned about the surroundings. John went to Hangchow with Mother Sweet to minister to people who had been affected by the war (Smith 53). Birch infiltrated enemy Japanese lines to minister to Chinese soldiers that were captured during the war. The Japanese tried their best to capture Birch, but he was able to hide and blend in with the Chinese community. This gave him an even better opportunity to minister to the Chinese people. Birch joined the United States in the efforts, to remove the Japanese opposition in China. In Robert H.W. Welch Jr’s book The Life of John Birch he explains that Birch became a Chaplain of the United States. Birch is quoted on page 10 saying, “This week I have been serving as chaplain to the flyers who bombed Tokyo.”

John received the honor of becoming an intelligence officer for the U.S. The peculiar aspect was that Birch had no prior training. He had knowledge of the radio and signals operate, this was because he made a radio out of scrap with a childhood friend when he was sixteen. John was also known for having a natural mechanical aptitude (Welch 12). In an autobiography called The Way of the Fighter, Claire Lee Chennault wrote that “John Birch was the pioneer of our field-intelligence net” (Chennault 78) In Clifford E. Clark’s book Drama in the Real lives of Missionaries, he mentions that John and Lt. Tung were supposed to enter a communist village and speak to the officer about negotiations. As they entered the village, they were given a briefing about being taken to the commanding officer. Lt. Tung figured something was wrong and told Birch that their lives could be in danger. John replied by saying, “It doesn’t make much difference what happens to me, but it is of utmost importance that my country learns now whether these people are allies or enemies” (Clark 20).

During the negotiations with the commanding officer, a large unit of Communist soldiers ran into the village, set up machine guns, and held every man at gunpoint. Both Birch’s and Tung’s weapons were confiscated, and their hands were tied behind their backs. John asked the commanding officer, “What authority do you have to demand an American Officer to be disarmed?” The officer became angry and reached for Birch’s pistol. Two shots were fired. One caught Lt. Tung in the leg, the other hit Birch. John’s last word were “I cannot walk anymore,” before getting a bayonet stabbed into him and then soon dying (Clark 21).

John gave everything he had for God, including his service and soon his own life while serving his country. Paul wrote in Romans, chapter 13, that how people should not try to overthrow or go against governing systems that are in authority. During his time in China, John did not attempt to cause problems for the Chinese government. Birch took the time to learn about the people he was ministering to and serving. He learned and preached to them in their language. The most sacred treasure a foreign country has is the language they speak. For an individual to come into a country and preach in the native language, demonstrates that the minister is genuine. He learned how the Chinese cultured worked in order to appropriatly communicate with the people. Birch followed his heart, which was full of the Holy Spirit. His “convictions” and “courage” were a God given gift (Smith 54).

When John Birch first arrived in China, he met a man that was known as Mr. Missions. Fred Sheldon Donnelson, or Mr. Missions, was born in Missouri Valley, Iowa. When Fred turned the age of twelve he went to a Billy Sunday revival. Keith Bassham one of the writers in Our Baptist Heritage talks about how during the service Fred trusts in Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. Fred started to serve immediately, as a janitor, choir member, Sunday school teacher, and eventually, as a Sunday school superintendent. When the war came in 1917, Fred left for the Army, but not before confessing to a young lady friend named Effie that the Lord had called him to be a preacher (Bassham 55). Fred and Effie exchanged letters during his two-year absence and when he returned from serving his country, he asked her to marry him. They married on September 25, 1920 (Bassham 55). Fred would later become a pastor of a church called Messiah. He encouraged them to separate from their old affiliation and become an independent Baptist church. They also wanted to support more missionaries. Separating would give them that freedom. One of those missionaries would be Mrs. W. S. Sweet also known as “Mother Sweet,” a missionary to China (Bassham 55).

Mrs. Sweet visited the Donnelsons in the church that they served in. She was nearly seventy years old. She and her husband had begun a mission in Hangchow, China, forty years earlier. Now, Mr. Sweet was with the Lord. Though all of her friends expected that she would remain in America, she believed she should return to the mission field. She believed that God was going to call an “American” pastor and his family to work in China, as there was “a great need for a man to supervise the work” (Bassham 55-56). The next Sunday, Donnelson had a hard time delivering his sermon that he had prepared for the service. He was noted for looking up from his notes, and saying “I believe that God is doing a work in our midst and desires some of us to make a new surrender to His will” (Donnelson 32). He met his eager wife at an altar where they would pray and surrender themselves for the missions in China.

Finances was a struggle for the Donnelsons, but they were able secure a ride to China on the ship Empress of Canada. So on February 25, 1933, the Donnelsons took the third class passage to China With not one supporting church in the United States of America. When they arrived in China, Mrs. Sweet met the new missionaries and guided them through the customs. Then a train took them to Hangchow, where, finally, they were met by members of Central Baptist Church. Fred noticed about fifteen men that were in the corner. Mrs. Sweet informed him that those young men were to be discipled by him (Bassham 56).

During the Donnelson’s time there they, established multiple chapels and a mobile Bible school. He purchased a tent for the village meetings. He would take the tent to any village and leave for some time. In the mornings, the young men would take Bible school courses. In the afternoons, they would visit homes, inviting people to the evening services. Then they would hold an evening evangelistic service. In this manner he established twenty-five chapels in his first term serving in China (Bassham 56). In 1937 they were forced to leave China due to the war between the Japanese and Chinese. The couple felt a strong burden to come back to China as prompt as possible. It took about a year for them to return. For the next 3 years, they established Shanghai Baptist Tabernacle and a Bible School with dormitories for housing resident students (Bassham 56). Bassham in Our Baptist Heritage is quoted for saying:
The history of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International will preserve F. S. Donnelson’s name as one of the Fellowship’s most important founders, and will credit him with being a chief contributor to basic policy that has been decisive in the unity, expansion, productiveness, and continuity of the organization (OBH58).

F.S. Donnelson whole goal was to educate and share the gospel in foreign countries. He answered a calling and went above and beyond to meet the need in China. When Donnelson and his wife went to China on the Empress of China in 1933, they had no support. The necessity of support in today’s mission field is vital. This couple decided that the only support they needed was God’s blessing on them and their field they were going to. That is a large reason why they did so well in China. They truly relied on God’s support in their endeavors.


Lastly, along with John Birch and F.S. Donnelson, Bob Hughes is one of the most influential missionaries of the Baptist Bible Fellowship. Helen Sears explains in Our Baptist Heritage that J.W.C. Hughes and Thelma Hughes gave birth to their fifth son, Robert Earl Hughes or Bob, as he was later known, on August 8, 1932. In 1948, when Bob was 16 years old, John Rawlings, from Texas held a tent revival. From that meeting, a church was formed. Several of the Hughes family, including Bob’s mother, and later, his father, accepted Christ. Bob himself made a profession of faith, though he was not quite sure of his salvation (Sears 59). The church in Texas that was founded from the tent revival supported some missionaries in the Philippines and they urged Bob to contact them. He went to Manila where he visited Frank Hooge, Elmer Gullion, and Joe Vella. All of which had an enduring influence on Bob Hughes and he realized that he needed to be born again. He was not saved in any of their churches, but after a trip to Manila, with intense conviction, he took his small Bible and got on his knees, asking the Lord to come into his heart. He began to grow and continued his trips to Manila to visit the missionaries. When he departed, he left with a sense of the Filipino people great need, is a burden so great that he decided to go to Baptist Bible College and prepare to be a missionary (Sears 59).

Helen Johnston, a BBC student, was at a Mission Prayer Band held at her school and her heart was touched by the need in the Philippines. Though she had paid little attention to the picture of Bob Hughes, she went back to her dorm and told the Lord, “I will go to the Philippines if I do not have to go alone” (Sears 59). Bob and Helen became acquainted, and married after Helen’s graduation in 1954. Although he was still a student, Bob was called to become the pastor of the Temple Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas. Bob and Helen made their way to Springdale every Friday after school, returning to Springfield after Sunday night services. The church grew from about twenty in attendances to 120 in about a year and a half (Sears 60).

After Bob graduated in 1955, he and his wife were approved as missionaries to the Philippines. They raised their support in about nine months, and along with their three-month- old daughter Cindy, boarded a Dutch freighter for the three-week voyage to the Philippines. Their first year was spent in Manila, overseeing a work for the furloughing Frank Hooge. Helen says that it was “an adjustment period,” but since the couple was young, they adjusted quickly. About a year later, another daughter, Karen, was born (Sears 60).
They settled in an old home in Mandawe, Cebu, and a short distance outside Cebu City. The rent was very cheap and since they went with little support, they had to decide what they could afford. In this old house they began their Bible study. Several people were saved and after a few months they were able to move into the city of Cebu, where they rented a storefront building in the heart of town. Cebu City was a college city, with about twenty colleges and universities. Young people came from other islands to receive their college education. Bob and Helen were very young, and they were able to identify with college students and other young people. Some of the first people saved were college students. They stayed at the downtown location a short time, then a large house was available to rent. They lived upstairs and used the downstairs for the services of Bible Baptist Church of Cebu City (Sears 60).

In 1969 the Hughes family took a furlough and the church called Dr. Armie Jesalva as the pastor. Dr. Jesalva, a physician whom God had called into the ministry, had been very active, teaching Sunday school and directing the choir. Bob never pastored the church after this, but headed the Bible college to train young men and women for the ministry. In the early 1970s the church acquired some property nearby and began yet another building that would seat over 3,000 people. It took a year to construct the building and Bob oversaw the whole process. He purchased every bag of cement, all of the nails, and whatever else was needed. He was trying to make the money stretch as far as possible in order to have the necessary room for Sunday school classes and auditorium space. In 1973 the Bible Baptist Church building was dedicated with 5,963 people present. BBFI mission’s director Jack Bridges was the dedication speaker, and many were saved on that day (Sears 60).

John Honeycutt arrived in the Philippines about the time of the dedication. Bob and Helen worked out a plan to conduct extension classes in several areas of the city, essentially taking the Sunday school to the people themselves. These extension classes were a great success. Hundreds were reached with the gospel (Sears 60). In 1974 Bob was burdened to print Bibles for the Filipino people. The Bible was available in English, but not in the dialects and languages of the people he desired to reach. He was determined to print a million copies of the New Testament, and he began working hard to raise the money for the printing of these Bibles (Sears 61).

Hughes received the news that he had cancer in 1975 when he was forty three years old. The physicians were not hopeful but they began treatments immediately. He felt better, well enough to travel and visit his supporting churches. He even taught some classes at Baptist Bible College in Springfield. He preached with passion and many young people responded to his invitations to join him in missionary work. Finally, August 21st, 1976, in the evening, Bob Hughes was taken to heaven. He had been in a coma for two days, however, just before departing, he raised his hands three times, smiles, and then he was gone (Sears 61).

In the Baptist Bible Fellowship International Global Fellowship of 1994 Armie Jesalva talks about Bob Hughes’ character and the type of man he was. She was quoted for saying that “Success, Bob Hughes often taught, is not measured by the position that you reach as much as by the obstacles you overcome” (Jesalva 33). Bob Hughes wrote a book called Total Involvement, the Faith-Promise Plan. The book was an instructional book for pastors about how to support missions work. It talks about how Fundamental Baptist Churches today should be convinced of the aim and importance of Missions. Its purpose is to show people in the United States that supporting missions is necessary in a church. It also proves how much Bob and other missionaries really support.

To conclude, the Baptist Bible Fellowship International have done the best of their abilities produce and groom: hard working, educated, and biblically grounded ministers. Out of everyone the BBFI has sent out, John Birch, F.S. Donnelson, and Bob Hughes have done the most outstanding and impactful work. All three men have shown countless devotion and dedication. The Baptist Bible Fellowship International produced an abundance of great missionaries, while all missionaries deserve their honor and dues: three of the most influential missionaries from the BBFI are John Birch, Fred Donnelson, and Bob Hughes. This being because John Birch served his country during war, Donnelson trusted in God for his guidance and wisdom, and Hughes invested all that he had into the Filipino people. The importance of gleaning from men like these is to continue to producing the great fruit that they once produced. Whether that is through foreign church planting, building homes for the needy, or by setting up schools to educate people who do not have the funds to educate themselves. People should be going out into the world and loving on others, and preaching the Gospel where the Gospel has never been preached before.



Works Cited

Welch, Robert Henry Winbourne. The Life of John Birch. Boston: Western Islands, 1960. Print
Clark, Clifford E. Drama in the Real Lives of Missionaries. Milford, Oh.: John the Baptist Printing Ministry, 1998. Print.
Donnelson, Fred S. They Called Him "Mr. Missions" Springfield, MO: Mrs. F.S. Donnelson, 1974. Print.
Lavoie, Jeffrey D. Segregation and the Baptist Bible Fellowship: Integration, Anti-communism, and Religious Fundamentalism, 1950s-1970s. Bethesda: Academica, 2013. Print.
Woods, Damon, and Robert A. Hughes. Total Involvement: The Faith Promise Plan of Missions. Philippines: S.n., 1968. Print.
Jesalva, Armie Champions of the Light: BBFI Global Fellowship Meeting. Springfield, MO: BBFI, 1994. Print.
Randall, Mike Our Baptist Heritage: The Lives of 32 Outstanding Bible-believing Baptists. Springfield, MO: Baptist Bible Tribune, 2000. Print.
Sears, Helen Our Baptist Heritage: The Lives of 32 Outstanding Bible-believing Baptists. Springfield, MO: Baptist Bible Tribune, 2000. Print.
Bassham, Keith Our Baptist Heritage: The Lives of 32 Outstanding Bible-believing Baptists. Springfield, MO: Baptist Bible Tribune, 2000. Print.
Smith, Arnie Our Baptist Heritage: The Lives of 32 Outstanding Bible-believing Baptists. Springfield, MO: Baptist Bible Tribune, 2000. Print.
Chennault, Claire Lee, and Robert B. Hotz. Way of a Fighter; the Memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1949. Print.



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