George (1888-1975) and Margaret Kelley (1889-1933), two young pioneer Pentecostals, discovered that following God’s call could be exciting, fulfilling, and costly. The year 1910 was a whirlwind for the young couple. They married in January and soon afterward felt God calling them to serve as missionaries to China. They spent the bulk of the year traveling across the United States, raising financial support for their mission endeavor. Finances came together and, in November 1910, they arrived in Canton, China, where they would establish a thriving Pentecostal mission.
George and Margaret were barely in their twenties when they arrived in China; he was 22, she was 21. They did not have formal seminary or language training. However, they were determined to do whatever it took to fulfill God’s call on their lives. They learned Cantonese and began developing relationships with local residents. They met a Cantonese woman who led a small Pentecostal congregation of eight people who met in homes. She invited the Kelleys to pastor the flock, which grew significantly under their ministry.
Like many early Pentecostal missionaries, the Kelleys had to be entrepreneurs. They were not initially backed by a mission agency. They had to raise their own support; it was sink or swim. In 1915, they affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, an interracial denomination that provided missionaries with a network of churches that promised financial support. After that organization identified with the Oneness movement and rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, the Kelleys transferred their missionary appointment to the Assemblies of God in 1917.
George Kelley became well-known in Assemblies of God circles. He authored 74 articles in the Pentecostal Evangel about their mission work in China. In an article published one hundred years ago – in the Jan. 12, 1918, issue of the Weekly Evangel (later Pentecostal Evangel) – he described some of the challenges faced by missionaries.
George lamented that some missionaries were impoverished and lived in unsanitary conditions. “We have many missionaries now living in quarters,” he wrote, “that would not be good enough for cattle at home.” However, he expressed gratitude that he and his family were able to live in a good house, and that God had provided sufficient finances to purchase a new building for their growing congregation.
Canton became home to the Kelleys. They spent more of their life in that Chinese city than they had spent in America. They experienced life and death in China. It was there that they had six sons, but only four survived into adulthood. Margaret contracted smallpox and died in China in 1933. George was remarried in 1935 to a Chinese Christian woman, Eugenia Wan, who was a noted Pentecostal evangelist and co-founder of a Bible school.
In many ways, George and Margaret Kelley exemplified the consecrated service of early Pentecostal missionaries. What they lacked in formal training, they learned on-the-job. They became part of the community they served, experiencing the challenges and joys of life, as well as the grief of death, in Canton. The Kelleys, like so many other Pentecostal pioneer missionaries, determined to follow God’s call, no matter the cost.
Read the article by George M. Kelley, “Wise Counsel and Good News from Sainam,” on page 11 of the Jan. 12, 1918, issue of the Weekly Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Supernatural in Christianity” by F. A. Hale
• “The Mexican Work,” by H. C. Ball
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.