Rev. Samuel Hall Chester & Foreign Mission Crises

Rev.Samuel Hall Chester, Jan. 17, 1851 - April 17, 1940

Samuel Hall Chester, American clergyman, was born January 17, 1851, in Mt. Holly, Arkansas. In the fall of 1869, he entered Washington College (now Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia). He graduated as valedictorian of his class in 1872. After graduating from Union Theological Seminary in Rev. Samuel Hall ChesterVirginia in 1875, Chester was ordained by the PCUS Presbytery of Mecklenberg in North Carolina later that year. Between 1875 and 1892, he served in pastorates in North Carolina and Tennessee. In April 1884, Chester married Susan W. Willard (1862-1947) of Wilmington, North Carolina.

In October 1893, Chester was appointed by the Executive Committee of Foreign Missions of the PCUS (the Southern Presbyterian denomination) to serve as acting secretary. In 1894, he was elected to that full-time position at the annual meeting of the PCUS General Assembly in Nashville. During his service, foreign missionaries served in Africa, Brazil, China, Cuba, Japan, Korea, and Mexico. In 1912, Chester was selected as Foreign Correspondence Secretary and Editor. In 1926, he received the honorary status of Secretary Emeritus of Foreign Missions.

In addition to his ministerial and administrative service, Chester authored several books, including Pioneer Days in Arkansas; Behind the Scenes: An Administrative History of the Foreign Work of the Presbyterian Church in the United States; Memories of Four-score Years: An Autobiography; and Lights and Shadows of Mission Work in the Far East: Being the Record of Observations Made During a Visit to the Southern Presbyterian Missions in Japan, China, and Korea in the Year 1897. He also was author of many booklets.

In 1934, S.H. and Susan Willard Chester celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. S.H. Chester died on April 27, 1940 at Montreat, North Carolina.

Trials & Tribulations — Foreign Missions in Crises
Samuel Hall Chester was engulfed in multiple crises — wars, inhumane atrocities, financial upheaval, theological disputes — that challenged the Presbyterian mission field for almost 30 years. He weathered the storms, eventually growing a Christian mission effort that made historical impacts. During his service, foreign missionaries served in Brazil, China, Congo, Cuba, Japan, Korea, and Mexico.
Among the tribulations and resulting criticism were such challenges as:

The Panics of 1893 & 1896
The worse great depression in U.S. history – only surpassed by the much later Great Depression of 1929 and the Thirties – struck as Samuel Hall Chester took over as PCUS Foreign Mission Secretary. Financial support plummeted across the church, especially in foreign missions as the financial crisis hit twice during the 1890s.

Spanish American War 1898
The war affected Cuba missions by the Presbyterian church.

The Boxer Rebellion 1901
More than 100 missionaries were killed by the Boxers during the summer of 1901 in China, including Northern Presbyterian missionaries and family. Chester’s missionaries evaded much of the troubles.

Russo-Japanese War 1904 - 1905 & Previous Invasions 1890s
Japan invaded Korea in 1894 and took full control in 1910 and ruled the country through World War II. The war between Japan and Russia was about Japanese expansion in Far East countries.

The Congo Atrocities & Libel Trial 1904 & 1908
Presbyterian missionaries led a world social justice campaign against Belgium King Leopold’s Congo to stop atrocities in maiming and killing natives.

The Mexican Revolution 1910 - 1918
The revolution forced Chester and other mission leaders to suspend activities and reorganize efforts after The Great War.