An archivist never knows what they will find as they begin opening boxes and folders in donated materials to arrange and describe a collection. And they don’t know what threads might appear that lead to other collections or lines of inquiry, or what gaps the new material might fill. For all they can’t anticipate, archivists can expect that there will be materials that will uncover or add to areas of interest for researchers. Sometimes new materials become their own puzzle to figure out — like who is the unidentified Western female in several of the photographs below? — while other times they provide the missing piece to a partially completed puzzle. A recent example of this is the photo album that Ruth Adeney donated to the Archives in 1997 along with the rest of the papers of her husband, David Adeney (CN 393), soon to be opened for researcher use.
Ruth and David Adeney were British missionaries in China with China Inland Mission in the 1930s, working in the Henan province in China’s interior. When the Japanese occupied the area in 1941, the Adeneys left China, returning after the war in 1946 to a new ministry in Shanghai. Having served in the United States with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (1941-1943) during the war years, working with university students of the newly formed China Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship was a natural fit. Shortly after Adeney joined the staff of CIVCF, the global International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) was founded in 1947, with CIVCF as the largest of IFES’s ten originating national movements. However, in 1950, the Adeneys were again forced to evacuate the country in the face of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist takeover of China’s government and society. A year later the CIVCF was also disbanded by the Chinese Communists.
It is into the midst of the minimal documentation about this significant if transitory group that this photo album is added, and from this short-lived period that the donated photographs become such a valuable resource. There is no indication who compiled the album—another missionary, since it ended up with Adeney? A Chinese student since it omitted identifying the Westerners depicted? Its pages yield eight black and white photographs of the group and its leaders, six of which are shown below. David Adeney, who was a well-known missionary and InterVarsity leader in the West, appears as just one among many in this large and vibrant ministry. But the Chinese Christian leaders depicted here remain unknown to most Christians, possibly even within China today. Perhaps most conspicuous to the strange foreknowledge of modern eyes, there is little evidence in their calm postures of the national disruption, closing of churches, Cultural Revolution, and possible persecution they would face in the coming years.
Who these individuals are, what their lives became, and how their Christian witness bore fruit are topics that await researchers to explore and maybe uncover.
After leaving China, David Adeney — a relatively background figure in these images – returned to the US to resume his former ministry with the American IVCF, followed by work with IFES and Overseas Missionary Fellowship (previously China Inland Mission) to establish and lead the Discipleship Training Centre in Singapore. Adeney retired in 1976, setting up residence in Berkeley, California, where he established the New College Berkeley and continued advocating for ministry to and among the Chinese people.
Just three other collections in the Archives have documentation about the China Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship:
(1) Paul Contento’s recollections of the founding of CIVCF told through his oral history (Collection 472).
(2) A collection of photographs illustrating David Adeney’s work with Chinese students from the records of China Inland Mission (Collection 215).
(3) The correspondence files of the first IFES General Secretary C. Stacey Woods (Collection 640) that detail issues and problems facing the young movement, including letters with Calvin Chao (not featured in the photo album but who had a significant and controversial role in early China Inter-Varsity) in folder 20-5, David Adeney’s 1949-1951 correspondence with Woods (folder 20-6), several tracts written by Chao and John Wu (folder 194-11), 1948-1950 CIVCF prayer letters (folder 194-12), and a Paul Contento letter (folder 112-10) with a reference to differences between Chao and Adeney.
There is no end to the questions that surface in a few photographs and some contemporaneous correspondence. Hopefully, researchers will bring their own to these newly opened materials.
Explore the papers of David Adeney through the finding aid for Collection 393. Additional records on missions in China or with college students can be found in Collection 215: Records of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Collection 48: Records of Youth for Christ, Collection 300: Records of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (USA), and Collection 640: Records of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, among others. Search across all the collections at https://archives.wheaton.edu.