MISSIONARIES to Sarawak: Annie May Pittman From China to Sibu

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Annie M. Pittman was born on 13 August, 1890 in Syracuse, New York State. She joined the Elmira Methodist church when she was ten years old. Her father, Eli Pittman was a pastor and her mother was Margaret Saunders Pittman. Eli and Margaret had three boys and three girls and Annie was the fifth child.

Call to Mission

As the early age of 16, Annie Pittman was sure of her call to be a missionary. So in 1915 she went to Chicago Training School and then in 1919 she attended the Oberlin Early Childhood Training School.

At her home church, she served as Sunday school teacher for many years; she was also the chairman of the mission board and the deputy chairman of the Youth Fellowship. In August, 1919, as a missionary sent by the New York based Women’s Foreign Missionary Society she travelled by ship to Jiujiang, China. The locals described her as a missionary well-liked by all.

30 Years in Jiangxi China

Betweem 1920-1924, she served in Huangmei District of the Jiangxi Annual Conference as a preacher and a matron of the day school.

During her furlough back in the US, she was busy studying. She graduated from the Cazenovia Theology College in 1924 and went to the hospital for medical training for another 7 months.

Upon her return to China between 1925-1932, she served in North Jiangxi and Huangmei Districts of the Jiangxi Annual Conference, helping to conduct leadership training for the Chinese as well as working in the day school. In her report she said that during the Christmas procession in 1926, the team members were all Chinese believers. The team distributed thousands of gospel leaflets. The police were keeping watch but did not interfere with the procession. In those three years, there were crop failure because of droughts and floods in the area, wars and cholera outbreaks that made the future bleak. After the flood the school needed repairs. In 1927, missionaries were asked to leave the country because civil war aggravated. However Annie opted to stay put in Shanghai. In her report she also said that though she faced great pressure she continued with the gospel ministry and some women classes were even more successful.

Amazingly, in 1928, the number of students in Jiujiang day school increased drastically and there was shortage of teachers.

By 1930, the school in Jiujiang was full. The North District of Jiangxi was not disturbed as much as Huangmei District. Many schools in other districts were forced to close down by the rebels and bandits, however with the help of the teachers classes were resumed quickly.

Between 1934 to1937, she continued serving at Huangmei District. In 1935, she reported that around 500 hundred children took the Physical Education Examination; she also collaborated with the hospital helping to cure 1,798 trachoma patients and distributed soya milk to children of malnutrition.

During the Japanese Occupation (1938-1943) she went to Hong Kong and taught at the language school. She also participated in disaster relief work and preaching. She was never tired of working as a missionary.

In 1943, she was sent back to American for taking part in protest activities. But she was not idle. She took the opportunities to further her study in the Bible College in New York City; and half year’s course in Scarritt and Cornall in 1944 and 1945 respectively.

Much to her delight, in February 1946, the Japanese surrendered and she returned to Jiujiang (till 31 May 1951). She was detained on the ship berthing at Huangpu River for two weeks before she was permitted to proceed to Kingpin. In 1949, the Communist Party took over China and restricted all missionary activities. Buildings belonging to missionary bodies were taken over by the army. At this time, unfortunately, Annie fell into a pit and was injured badly.

And then, on 22 January 1951, she set sail for Hong Kong and she returned to America for debriefing on 5 March.

Three years in Sibu

While still wishing to continue her work as a missionary overseas, she received news that she was to work in Borneo if she liked. On 30 December 1952, Annie set sail for Borneo.In a report made during the Annual Conference it said that “ Miss Robinson, the lady in charge of the Women Foreign Missionary Society asked if she would like to work in Borneo for the women ministry, she was curious and accepted gladly feeling that God had opened a door for her to serve in the East. “

When she first came to Sibu, Miss Blanche Apple put her to be in charge of clerical and finance works for the Women Ministry. After Apple married and moved to Korea with her architect husband Paul Prince Wiant, Annie took over the work of preaching, supervising the new building, the Women Ministry office and the office building at Lilin Road which was under construction. Miss Ellen Atkinson and Miss Katherine, the lady missionaries from America, also arrived that year. They assisted in Christian education and other ministries in the secondary school. Miss Kong Ting Yu was responsible for medical ministry. The scope of work for the Women’s Division of Board of Missions at that time included evangelical ministry, medicine, children ministry and education. The Board also engaged Miss Wong Siok Ing as a staff of the women ministry.

The dedication ceremony for the Methodist Girl’s Hostel was held on 5 December 1953. The hostel catered for female staff and female students and short term training could also be conducted at the hostel.

At around 3:30 pm on the 14 July 1954, being the matron Annie was inspecting the repairing of the roof above the 1st floor of the Girl’s Hostel. She missed a step, fell through the roof and ceiling and landed on the staircase landing of the ground floor. From the fall of two storeys her thigh bone was fractured in three parts and bone around two inches protruded out of the flesh.

During her absence, Ellen Atkinson took over her job as the matron and the bookkeeping of the accounts of Women Division Christian Service. In that year’s Annual Conference (24-28 November 1954) Annie reported that her wounds were recovering, however, she returned to America for further treatment and recuperation on the 10 February, 1955, i.e. the following year after the Conference.

In the 34 years service in China and Sibu, Annie returned to US only three times for debriefing: July 1924 to September 1925, March 1932 to 1934 and was called back to US in February 1937 because her father was very sick.

She retired on 1 February 1956. She moved from Elmira to Bancroft Taylor and stayed there till she rested in the Lord on 10 July 1968 at Ocean Grove New Jersey, USA.

From the life of Annie we can see that lady missionaries of that era committed their whole life for the ministry. Annie had a passion for the Chinese and when she was asked to leave China because of political reasons, she continued to serve the Chinese in Borneo. She met with accidents twice in these foreign lands, first falling into a pit in Jiangxi and later fell from the roof in Sibu. These showed that missionary work was not easy. Furthermore, in addition to all the sacrifices and sufferings they had to handle administrative matters.

Like all lady missionaries, Annie Pittman’s contributions and sacrifices are really remarkable, and admirable.
Compiled by Menglei
Translated by Christina, KT Chew

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