John Rogers & Rebecca Peale, Martyrs

Hopeful, dedicated, and spiritually zealous Rev. John R. Peale completed seminary, was licensed and ordained, married Rebecca, and with his bride they embarked on a lengthy journey to China only to be murdered in the streets of Lienchou by some of the residents they had hoped to serve.

John Rogers Peale was born to Samuel Alexander and Elizabeth (McIntire) Peale September 17, 1879 northwest of Harrisburg in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania. He prepared for college in a local academy and professed faith in Christ in the Presbyterian Church at the age of twelve. For college he attended Lafayette in Easton. John was involved in several extra-curricular activities including president of the campus YMCA chapter, membership in the Dramatic Association, a brother of Delta Upsilon fraternity, and editor of the college yearbook. He won the Coleman Biblical Prize his freshman year and graduated Lafayette with honors in 1902.

That fall John moved to New Jersey to study for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. The president of Lafayette College at the time of Peale’s studies was Ethelbert D. Warfield who may have influenced him to go to Princeton given that he was on the board and his brother B. B. Warfield was a professor. Included among his extracurricular activities at the seminary were leading the student band and participating in just about anything related to missions. Demonstrating for all visitors to his dorm room his interest in foreign missions was a large map including annotations for the various fields. Seminary friends commented that when they dropped in to visit John they often found him with an open Bible and in prayer. He was quiet, reserved, and greatly admired by other students and the faculty. John looked out for opportunities to promote world missions by scheduling mission-minded students to fill pulpits in area churches. Before graduating Princeton Seminary in May 1905, he earned a Master of Arts from Princeton University.

Before he could leave for the mission field there were a few things to do. As a Presbyterian ministerial candidate it was necessary for him to be licensed and ordained by his presbytery. On April 11, 1905, just before he graduated seminary, the Presbytery of Carlisle of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) licensed him, then just a month later on May 15 he was ordained an evangelist to serve on the foreign field. With his education and ecclesiastical requirements completed before moving overseas, the next step for Peale was marrying Rebecca Gillespie June 29, 1905 in Maryland. Before leaving the port in San Francisco for Lienchou, Kwangtung Province, Rev. Peale expressed hope that he and Rebecca would be allowed to serve the Lord with the Chinese people for forty years.

At the time the Chinese were transitioning from the ways of the past into the modern world. China had lost the Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895) due to the superiority of Japanese weaponry manufactured with technological guidance from world powers such as Great Britain and the United States. In China, modernization lagged behind the Japanese because of greater resistance to modifying the ancient ways. The Presbyterians and other Western missionaries brought with them not only the gospel and the Bible but different clothing, foods, ways of and media for writing, recreation, and ways of thinking about life. Growing resentment towards foreigners among some Chinese had led to the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the nineteenth century. It is believed that most of the 200 to 250 foreign individuals killed by the Boxers were missionaries, however the greatest death toll was suffered by Chinese Christians with thousands murdered. Not long after the Boxer Rebellion ended, there was an uprising in Paotingfu resulting in the murders of sixteen missionaries and family members including eight from the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, PCUSA. It was the worst massacre of PCUSA missionaries since killings in India in 1857. The Presbyterians that died included Rev. and Mrs. Frank E. Simcox and their three children, Dr. George Yardley Taylor, and Elsie and Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Hodge, MD, who was the grandson of Charles Hodge’s brother, Hugh Lenox Hodge.

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