World War II not only commanded the world’s attention and shaped international politics but also proved to be a decisive moment for missions’ history. Young American men and women military personnel traveled the world, saw the war’s devastation, and came face-to-face with the spiritual needs of the local populations. Their war experiences shaped the college educations they returned to the U.S. to complete and the futures they later stepped into.
But the context they returned to was also evolving. American Evangelicals were emerging from their isolation following the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s to take a more active role in church, political, entertainment, education, and business spheres. The National Association of Evangelicals was formed, the roots of Billy Graham’s ministry were already taking hold, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Navigators, and Campus Crusade for Christ were established on college and university campuses, and Youth for Christ was on the move among American high school students. Out of this convergence of factors grew new mission agencies, including the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade (FEGC), now known as SEND International.
The seeds of FEGC were planted near the close of the war in Japan and the Philippines in the formation of the GI Gospel Hour. As the Allied forces launched their campaign to sweep back over the Pacific – from New Guinea to the Philippines and finally Japan – Christian soldiers and military chaplains also began to establish a series of small Bible studies, prayer groups, and worship meetings. Seeing the wide interest in these services among Christian GIs stationed in the newly recaptured Manila, Chaplain George Hixon and two American missionaries, Ed and Marian Bomm, recently freed by the U.S. victory in the Philippines from a Japanese internment camp, began looking for a larger place to meet. With many buildings destroyed by four years of war, they could only find one building large enough whose owner was also willing to lend it to the GIs – a mortuary called the National Funeraria. Although the building had no electricity or seating, Hixon gratefully accepted and in May of 1945 the first GI Gospel Hour meeting was held to a packed crowd of more than 200 GIs.
From the success of these services, Chaplain Hixon and others, including Leon Hawley and Russell Honeywell, two military chaplains who would become central figures in the future ministries of FEGC, began to expand their ministry into the local communities of Manila, adding radio broadcasts, visitation to hospitals, Bible training, sermons in churches, and work with children.
As attendance and interest in the ministry grew, the GI Gospel Hour moved out of the mortuary to a new Christian Service Center, built by GIs in their spare time. Chaplains and interested GIs, including future director of FEGC, Philip Armstrong, also began preliminary plans to establish the Far Eastern Bible Institute and Seminary (FEBIAS) for the training of local pastors in Manila.
When American troops arrived in Japan in the fall of 1945, new GI Gospel Hour services sprung up in Yokohama and Tokyo. These ministries, too, soon expanded to include a variety of outreach programs, from medical care to bible training.
While many of the GI’s that had been involved in the Gospel Hour services and ministries returned to America at the end of the war, they could not forget the mission work they had started in Japan and the Philippines. They had seen the devastation – of buildings, traditions, businesses, and lives – throughout the Pacific firsthand. Indeed, reflecting on his first impressions of Manila in 1945, Jack Frizen, future FEGC missionary to the Philippines, described it as:
“One of the most devastated cities in the world…The harbor was full of sunken ships. All the streets were pockmarked. The Japanese destroyed much of it in their retreats and, of course, in the gaining back of the city, why, the artillery and so forth from both sides was devastating. And in…in the old city called Intramuros, between the walls, the old walled city, it was full of churches in there and most of them were gutted, no roofs, some of the walls were still standing, a few of the windows without the stained glass anymore but just window holes…“Oral History Interview with Jack Frizen. Collection 434: Papers of Jack Frizen, Tape 3
Moreover, the GI Gospel Hour had already laid fruitful roots for an ongoing ministry in the Pacific and the GIs’ work – as chaplains, chaplain assistants, and volunteers – had given them the experience, tools, and desire to continue.
Meeting in Denver, Colorado on January 1, 1947, a number of former GIs and military chaplains concerned with the future of the mission work begun under the separate GI Gospel Hour groups came together for planning conference. The result of their deliberations was a new mission agency, the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade. A board of directors was also chosen for the new FEGC, headed by former Chief of Chaplains for U.S. Armed Forces in the Pacific Theater, Leon W. Hawley, with Russell G. Honeywell appointed as chairman of the field in the Philippines and Leonard Sweet chairman of the field in Japan.
Throughout 1947, the structure, goals, and leadership of the newly formed FEGC were debated in a series of conferences and planning councils, including the first FEGC conference at Lake Okoboji, Iowa.
Hearing from current and former missionaries to Japan, including Mrs. Charles Cowman, and experienced missions organizer Clyde Taylor, the gathered GIs and friends began to form a vision for the now unified work of the FEGC. Building on the programs begun under GI Gospel Hour, the new mission focused on Bible training and education, distribution of Christian literature, medical missions, and itinerant evangelism.
The conference at Lake Okoboji also saw the commissioning of the first six FEGC missionaries, including former army chaplain Russell Honeywell and his wife, Betty, along with Carl and Marion Urspringer, both arriving in the Philippines a few short months later.
From the start, the new mission focused most of its energy on work in Japan and the Philippines. However, it began to expand in 1966 with the addition of Taiwan and again in 1971, when Central Alaskan Missions was merged into FEGC as a division. Over the next fifty years, other fields were also added, including Hong Kong and Spain. To reflect this new diversity in fields, FEGC began the process to change its organizational name in 1965, with SEND International ratified as the official name in 1981.
See more of the Archives’ holdings on the origins and mission work of SEND International by exploring the collection guides for CN 406: Records of SEND International, CN 434: Papers of Jack Frizen, and CN 572: Papers of Philip Armstrong.