Herbert  and Thelma Smith in China, 1929.

Photo courtesy of Center for Adventist Research.

Smith, Herbert Kenneth (1904–1929)

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

First Published: August 12, 2020

Herbert and his wife, Thelma, were pioneer missionaries in Central China in the 1920s. Herbert’s ministry was tragically cut short when he was murdered by bandits. Thelma bravely continued her service in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan until her retirement in 1972.

Heritage and Training

Herbert Smith was born in Zionsville, central Indiana, on June 10, 1904, to Willard Albert Smith and Estella (Conard).1 He was their only child. Willard was a cattle rancher.2 Herbert was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home and was baptized in 1918 in Indianapolis. He attended Indiana Academy, 1919 through 1923,3 and married a fellow student, Thelma Annetta Chew, on June 2, 1923, in her home village of Delaware, Indiana. They were under twenty-one years of age, but a guardian signed their papers and Elder Dudley Newbold performed their wedding service.4 They proceeded to Emmanuel Missionary College in Berrien Springs, Michigan, Herbert graduating from the Theological Course (1927) and Thelma from the Bible Worker’s Course (1925) and Literary Course (1927).5

Overseas Mission Service

In early 1927 the unsettled political conditions of inland China prompted consular advice for missionaries to seek the safety of coastal cities.6 Despite this situation, Herbert and Thelma pressed ahead with their appointment to enter mission service in the Orient. They sailed aboard the “Empress of Asia,” arriving in Shanghai on August 26, 1927.7 There was, of course, the mandatory few months spent in language study, and then an attempt was made to locate in West China, inland from Shanghai. Several missionaries traveled together, but the party only reached Yichang in Hubei Province before being forced back by war conditions.8 A second attempt brought them to Guiyang in Kweichow (or Guizhou) Province where they established their headquarters. Their territory was named the East Kweichow Mission, a new subdivision of the West China Union Mission. Herbert was the nominated director of the enterprise. Another new missionary, Alexander Buzzell, served as secretary/treasurer. One national man, Li Wan Chuen, completed their pioneering team.9

Late in 1928 Herbert and Thelma were blessed with the birth of a son, Herbert Arnold.10

Herbert, Sr., evangelized by distributing tracts in the business and residential sections of Guiyang. He also conducted Bible classes for small groups. On March 15, 1929, he baptized ten people as a direct result of these efforts, and more were preparing for baptism. In addition, four colporteurs were trained to sell books and periodicals from door to door.11

In order to familiarize himself with his territory, Herbert planned a major trek in early 1929. He arranged to walk southwest of his headquarters and meet another isolated missionary, Feng Deh Sen, in the Yunnan Province. Buzzell and his wife remained behind with Thelma. Herbert enlisted several coolies to carry supplies and was accompanied by his national evangelist, Li Wan Chuen, two male Chinese converts, and a woman who had some training as a Bible worker. They traveled as far as Qingzhen and rested there on Sabbath, April 6. Early Sunday morning they set out again and were slowly ascending a mountain trail in single file when accosted by bandits yelling out, “Yang Twan Djang, ah!” (Foreign officer, ah!). One of the male converts was in the lead, followed by a coolie, and Herbert was third in line with the rest of his group lagging behind. One bandit opened fire but missed his target. He fired a second shot, mortally wounding Herbert. The missionaries were quickly looted and the cowardly thugs fled. He was incoherent, bleeding profusely, and died soon after the attack. He was carried back to headquarters and interred at Guiyang. Sunday, April 7, 1929, was a sad day in the annals of Chinese mission work. The news of the attack did not reach Shanghai until May 7, a letter from Buzzell finally reaching the Far Eastern Division office informing them of the details.12

Postscript

Thelma courageously chose to remain in China, taking up secretarial work in the West China Union Mission office, Chungking (now Chongqing).13 She returned to North America in 1941 because of World War Ⅱ conditions, engaging as a Bible instructor in Vancouver, Canada,14 and later in Minneapolis and Detroit. When political conditions settled in the Orient, she returned in 1948 to Hong Kong15 and eventually to the Taiwan Missionary College as a Bible teacher until her retirement in 1972.16 She did not marry again. Sadly, Herbert, Jr. died prematurely in 1974. She herself lived to be ninety-eight years of age, passing away in Oregon on December 29, 2002.17

Sources

Beddoe, Benjamin E. “The Price of Advance in China.” ARH, May 2, 1929.

“Births.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, November/December 1928.

Conard, Ruth. “North American Division Gleanings.” ARH, October 30, 1941.

“Enroute to West China.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, July 1928.

General Conference Executive Committee Minutes, 1927. General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.

“Herbert K. Smith.” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2021. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/L5KZ-H6F.

Herbert Kenneth Smith. General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Silver Spring, Maryland. Work Service Records. Versatile Box 7302. Folder: Herbert Kenneth Smith. Document: “Biographical Information Form.”

“Recent Arrivals.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, September 1927.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1929-1972.

Smith, Herbert K. “An Open Letter from Kweiyang.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, May 1929.

Thelma Annetta Smith. General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Silver Spring, Maryland. Work Service Records. Versatile Box 7302. Folder: Thelma Annetta Smith. Document: “Biographical Information Form.”

“Thelma (Chew) Smith.” ARH, July 24, 2003.

Warren, Merritt C. “Faithful unto Death.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, May 1929.

Notes

  1. Herbert Kenneth Smith. General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Silver Spring, Maryland. Work Service Records. Versatile Box 7302. Folder: Herbert Kenneth Smith. Document: “Biographical Information Form.”

  2. “Herbert K. Smith,” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2021, accessed July 9, 2021, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/L5KZ-H6F.

  3. Herbert Kenneth Smith. General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Silver Spring, Maryland. Work Service Records. Versatile Box 7302. Folder: Herbert Kenneth Smith. Document: “Biographical Information Form.”

  4. “Herbert K. Smith,” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2021, accessed July 9, 2021, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/L5KZ-H6F.

  5. Thelma Annetta Smith. General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Silver Spring, Maryland. Work Service Records, Versatile Box 7302. Folder: Thelma Annetta Smith. Document: “Biographical Information Form.”

  6. General Conference Executive Committee Minutes, February 20 and March 31, 1927. General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.

  7. ”Recent Arrivals,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, September 1927, 12.

  8. “Enroute to West China,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, July 1928, 6.

  9. “East Kweichow Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1929), 195-196.

  10. “Births,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, November/December 1928, 8.

  11. Herbert K. Smith, “An Open Letter from Kweiyang,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, May 1929, 15.

  12. Merritt C. Warren, “Faithful unto Death,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, May 1929, 15.

  13. E.g., “West China Union Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1931), 178.

  14. Ruth Conard, “North American Division Gleanings,” ARH, October 30, 1941, 24.

  15. Thelma Annetta Smith. General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Silver Spring, Maryland, Work Service Records. Versatile Box 7302. Folder: Thelma Annetta Smith. Document: ”Biographical Information Form.”

  16. “Taiwan Missionary College,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1972), 352.

  17. “Thelma (Chew) Smith,” ARH, July 24, 2003, 28.

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Hook, Milton. "Smith, Herbert Kenneth (1904–1929)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. August 12, 2020. Accessed May 24, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B8NH.

Hook, Milton. "Smith, Herbert Kenneth (1904–1929)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. August 12, 2020. Date of access May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B8NH.

Hook, Milton (2020, August 12). Smith, Herbert Kenneth (1904–1929). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B8NH.