A Prayer for the Feast Day of Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky

Posted by Kendall Harmon

O God, who in thy providence didst call Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of this Church, and didst send him as a missionary to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the holy Scriptures into languages of that land: Lead us, we pray thee, to commit our lives and talents to thee, in the confidence that when thou givest thy servants any work to do, thou dost also supply the strength to do it; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch HistorySpirituality/Prayer

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Posted October 14, 2013 at 4:39 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

It’s too bad that so few people seem to know about this remarkable man of God, one of the most fascinating figures in the history of Christian missions.  Born into a Lithuanian Jewish family, from a long line of rabbi’s, Schereschewsky was converted to Christianity while in rabbinic school in Germany, when an American missionary to the Jews handed him a New Testament (in Hebrew) and challenged him to read it and check out what Christianity is really about.  Disowned by his family after his conversion, Schereshewsky ended up immigrating to America and eventually found himself a seminary student at General Seminary in NY.  In his final year there, he heard an Episcopal bishop in China appeal for seminarians to come over to China to help evangelize that vast pagan nation.  Being very good at learning languages, he volunteered and reported learned enough Chinese by studying books on the boat trip across the Pacific that he could converse adequately in the language when he arrived.

Schereschwsky threw himself into vigorous missionary work and distinguished himself in various ways, not least by founding the first English language university in China, St. John’s in Shanghai.  Although elected a bishop more than once, he declined the honor repeatedly, believing his work as Rector of St. John’s Univeristy and especially his painstaking work on the side of translating the Old Testament into colloquial Mandarin were more important.  However, he eventually allowed himself to be made Bishop of Shanghai.  Then tragedy struck, in the form of a massive stroke that left him almost completely paralyzed.  Of his upper limbs, all he could move were two fingers in one hand.

Schereshewsky resigned his bishopric and his post as rector of his beloved university.  Confined to a wheelchair, and drawing upon his deep knowledge of the OT as a former rabbinical student, the undaunted missionary spent the remaining 25 years or so of his colorful life slowly pecking out on a modified typewriter his skillful translation of the OT into the most widely spoken language on earth.  He finished his lifework shortly before he died in 1906.

Toward the end, he made this moving confession (wuoting from memory so it may be slightly inaccurate):  “For 25 years I have sat at this typewriter and slowly pecked out this translation.  At first it was very hard.  But God knew best, and kept me for the work for which I was best suited.

Wow.  That moves me to tears whenever I recall his inspiring story.  How many of us are half as faithful when faced with far less difficult hardships?

Personally, Schereschewsky is one of my favorite of the distinctively Episcopal saints (back in the “good ole days” of ECUSA).  To me, he is the perfect illustration of the wildly unpredictable way that the Spirit of God sometimes blows.  Who could ever have foreseen such an unlikely thing?  Who in their wildest dreams could have imagined that God’s way of getting the bulk of His Word into the most widely spoken language on earth would be to call a Lithuanian rabbinical student, bring him to saving faith in his Messiah through an American missionary, and then dispatch him to China as an Episcopal missionary, only to have him complete the job after being left almost totally paralyzed for over two decades?

Answer:  No one.  Only God Almighty pulls off stunts like that.  That is the stunning story behind that rather bland collect that gives God thanks for the amazing life and witness of one of the great missionary Bible translators of all time.

David Handy+

October 14, 9:59 am | [comment link]
2. TomRightmyer wrote:

Three more Schereschewsky stories:

When he came to America he fell in with some Presbyterians and was sent to their Pittsburgh seminary but left over their doctrine of Predestination and was received by William R. Whittingham of Maryland who sent him to General.

In Peking he heard of the arrival of a single American woman Episcopal missionary in Shanghai. He immediately left Peking for Shanghai in mid-winter, met her, and married quickly.

They had two children, a son who was an eminent Public Health physician who has descendants living in California, and a daughter who taught in a girls’ school in Tokyo until early 1941 when she left to live in Asheville, NC. She soon died of liver cancer and is buried at Calvary Episcopal Church, Fletcher, NC.  I’m going to try to find her grave and pray at it.

October 14, 4:53 pm | [comment link]
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