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Vance Maloney, Sr. and Bessie Maloney, mid 1930s. 

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Maloney, Vance James Sr (1893–1973) and Bessie Belle (Merzbacher) (1895–1989)

By John Maloney, and Bruce W. Lo

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John Maloney

Bruce W. Lo is the ESDA assistant editor for the Chinese Union Mission.

First Published: April 13, 2022

Vance James Maloney Sr. (Chinese name 馬良理, pinyin Ma Liangli) and Bessie Belle Merzbacher Maloney devoted 17 years of untiring service to China at a time when that country went through years of wars and conflicts as it emerged from the imperial feudal system to young nationhood. Maloney provided solid leadership at both the union and mission level of the growing Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church at Fukien Mission and in the East China Union region. The Maloneys were appreciated by both the indigenous Chinese and by fellow foreign missionaries. The Maloney family left China in August 1941, due to deteriorating conditions just prior to the World War II. They returned to the United States and continued serving the church for a total of 38 years.1

Family Background, Childhood, and Education

Vance was born October 30, 1893, in the community of Acton, Hood County, Texas. His parents were James Louis Maloney and Fannie D. (Hiner) Maloney. During the first six years of his life, his family moved within the adjacent counties of Hood and Somervell in Texas in order for his father to find work. About 1899 the family settled at Granbury, Hood County, Texas. He attended the public school at Granbury, graduating from high school in 1912. The expectation in that community was that young men worked even while attending school. He worked in various positions ranging from janitor to store clerk. This ingrained a strong work ethic and developed in him an independent spirit that benefited his mission service later in life. Vance’s grandfather, James Hiner, was a prominent Methodist minister in Granbury. As a result, Vance joined the Methodist church when he was 16.

On November 11, 1912, he enrolled in the commercial/business course at Southwestern Adventist Junior College at Keene, Texas. He decided to go to Keene based on the recommendation of his best friend Louis Shoemaker. Louis was already attending SWAJC and recommended the school because of its strong business program. Also, as close friends, they wanted to be at the same school. This Vance’s his first contact with Seventh-day Adventists.

It was at Keene that he got to know Bessie Belle Merzbacher, the girl who would later become his wife. Bessie’s mother had already converted to Adventism, but at that time Bessie remained a Methodist, which pleased Vance’s mother.

Vance’s parents had little extra money to pay for his education, so he continued to work in a variety of jobs to pay his tuition, room, and board. After completing two terms he entered the business world. His first position was in Ft. Worth as timekeeper for the Swift and Company packing plant. He then moved to Dallas to pursue his goal of going into banking and real estate. To this end he took positions first at Wells Fargo Express Company as a stenographer, then at Dallas Trust and Savings Bank as a rental manager. From there he took a position as a Deputy Tax Collector for Dallas County. Valuable experiences were gained and acquaintances were made with prominent people. It was while working for the bank at Dallas that Vance married Bessie Belle on July 15, 1916, officiated by Elder W. A. Sweeney.2

Bessie Belle Merzbacher was born on October 2, 1895 in Marshall, Texas, U.S.A.3 She became an Adventist while attending academy in Keene, but at that time Vance was not ready to fully accept the Adventist message. After marriage, she attended the Adventist Church in Dallas, and Vance would occasionally accompany her to special meetings. It was then that Vance started to become interested in reading books on the Adventist message. It was while he studied the book, The Marked Bible, that Vance decided to join the Adventist faith. He was baptized by Elder George Seltzer of the Dallas Church. In 1919 the couple was blessed with the arrival of their first son, Vance James Maloney Jr.4

Shortly thereafter, Vance Sr. changed his work again. He was invited by Charlie Tosch, tax collector at Dallas County, to join the tax office as one of the deputy tax collectors. It was hard for Vance to ask Tosch for Sabbath off; but when he did, he was pleased that Tosch granted his request. For some time, Vance felt a strong desire to work for God. After discussing this with his wife, Bessie, they decided to sell their Dallas home and go back to Southwestern Junior College at Keene so he could take the ministerial course. During the summer, Vance assisted the Texas Conference in purchasing a church building from a Presbyterian congregation.

Began to Work for the Church

He eventually completed his ministerial training and graduated from the two-year course in 1921. Before school was out, he was appointed pastor of the churches at Denison and Sherman, Texas, which he took up officially on June 3, 1921.5 When Vance had been pastor for about a year, their second child, a daughter named Betty Jean, was born on October 24, 1922.6

In the summer of 1923 Vance Sr. went to Fort Worth to assist Elders George West and Ernest G. Truitt with camp meetings. It was there that Vance and Bessie were approached by Elder B. E. Beddoe regarding the possibility of going to Africa for missionary work. They agreed to accept if the call came.7

Call to China

In December of 1923 the General Conference did send them a call, but it was not to Africa. Instead, it was a call to south China which they accepted. Vance, Sr. was ordained to the gospel ministry at a Southwestern Union Conference meeting on February 9, 1924, by Elders O. O. Montgomery and George B. Thompson. The family began to make preparations for their departure to China. Sadly, for Bessie, her mother passed away on February 17, 1924. Then 11 days later on February 28, 1924, an uncle, one of her mother’s brothers, passed away. It was an emotional time for her.8

The Maloney family departed from Dallas, Texas, for Los Angeles, California on April 1, 1924. While in Los Angeles they underwent training in simple medical treatments at the White Memorial Hospital. They next traveled from Los Angeles to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to catch the ship, The Empress of Russia. The ship departed for China on May 1, 1924. All members of the family struggled with sea sickness, with the exception of Vance Jr. The ship arrived in Yokohama, Japan, on May 12, 1924. Yokohama had been devastated by an earthquake in 1923 and the city remained largely in ruins. The next stops were Kobe on May 14 and Nagasaki on May 15.

Vance, Sr. and family arrived in Shanghai, China, on May 17, 1924. They were met at the pier by Claudia Luther, Effie James, Miss Roberts, Mrs. C. C. Crissler, and Elders Barrows, Henderson and Strahle. From Shanghai they traveled to Hong Kong, arriving on May 20. They were met there by Elder DeVinney, president of the South China Union, and his wife. Elder and Mrs. DeVinney assisted them in transferring to the boat going to Amoy (Xiamen) that same day. Vance, Sr. and family arrived at their final destination, Kulangsu, Amoy, on May 22, 1924. On their arrival the Maloneys were met by the director of the South Fukien Mission, Elder B. L. Anderson, and his wife.9

Ministry at South and North Fukien Missions

Vance Sr. took up his position as secretary-treasurer of the South Fukien Mission. In addition, he also taught in the Bee Hwa School and preached on Sabbath. The mission headquarters and the Bee Hwa School were located on the island of Kulangsu. Vance Sr. and Bessie began to study the Amoyese dialect as soon as they arrived. Brother So Kun Ti taught Vance Sr, and Sister N. P. Keh taught Bessie. By February 1925 Vance Sr had learned the language sufficiently to preach his first sermon in the local Amoyese dialect. Vance Sr mentioned several of the notable graduates of the Bee Hwa School: Dr. On Che Chong, C. Y. Hung (洪慶鏞, Hóng Qìngyōng), Wu Eng Hwa and his sons, and Tan Kia Ou.10

In the fall of 1926 Vance Sr. was called to be director of the North Fukien Mission. He replaced Elder C. C. Morris who had taken a call to be president of the union mission. The secretary-treasurer of the North Fukien Mission, Brother Clark, accepted a call elsewhere. As a result, Vance had to be secretary-treasurer of the North Fukien mission as well as being the director. The secretary-treasurer position was soon filled by H. N. Quade when he came to be principal of the school. The move to the North Fukien Mission brought the challenge of learning a new dialect, Foochowese. During Vance’s tenure at the North Fukien Mission, it was blessed with growth in members and the number of churches.11

The growth was not without hardship. Vance had to walk distances of eight to 15 miles at times to fulfill engagements for Sabbath services. Many warring factions had to be negotiated. There were language barriers due to the multiple dialects. On a mission trip to Sienyu, Vance was speaking to a congregation using the Amoyese dialect. The local dialect was Hingwaese. The local translator spoke only Hingwaese and Foochowese. Another translator had to be found to translate Amoyese to Foochowese. It was then translated to the local Hingwaese. During this same trip into the Sienyu section, Vance and his group were caught in the middle of a series of skirmishes between soldiers of the northern faction and soldiers of the southern faction. Many villagers and soldiers were killed. Normal modes of travel were interrupted. Vance and his company had to cover a distance of 75 miles on foot in the span of three days during which time they were detained by soldiers five or six times. Travel by river was no less hazardous. Rivers were interspersed with rapids, increasing the risk of a boat striking a rock and sinking. Bandits often fired on them from the bank. Boat travel along the coast was also perilous due to frequent unpredictable squalls and the fact that the boats carried no life rafts.12

Things were not much better in Foochow. The city experienced street fighting and aerial bombings on several occasions. This necessitated the evacuation of the Maloney family and other workers on more than one occasion.

Ministry in East China Union Mission

After serving many years in Foochow, Vance was called to be the auditor/secretary-treasurer of the East China Union Mission in Shanghai. They moved to Shanghai to assume this position near the end of 1936, and they hoped that things might be a little more peaceful. This did not prove to be the case. The Japanese and the Chinese began fighting in and around the area of the International Settlement. The fighting was fierce at times. Vance Jr was scheduled to leave for the United States on the Japanese NYK liner Tatsuta Maru. Vance Sr was advised to change Vance Jr’s booking to an American liner. After completing their task of getting the booking changed, Vance Sr and Ted Shaw were caught in an air raid which later became known in Shanghai as “Bloody Saturday.” The date was August 14, 1937. Shaw and Maloney managed to survive the raid by crouching in doorways. Sadly, 1,600 lives were lost that Saturday, among them were 20 Signs of the Times workers. Vance Jr was able to board the USS President Taft the next day in the midst of ongoing air raids and fighting between the Japanese and Chinese forces.13

Vance Sr served in the East China Union Mission office under the presidencies of O. A. Hall, N. F. Brewer, and W. A. Strickland. LeClaire Reed served as home missionary secretary and T. A. Shaw headed the colporteur work during their tenure there.14

The Maloney family left China on furlough to the U.S. in 1939 and returned to Shanghai in August 1940. The war situation in China was deteriorating. The division voted later that year to send the wives and children back to the United States. Bessie left with the other missionaries’ wives and children in November 1940. Vance and the other remaining workers attempted to carry on the work as best they could. Vance continued his work as treasurer, preached on Sabbaths, and assisted with radio ministry. However, the overall situation deteriorated to the point that Vance Sr., along with the majority of the other expatriates, found that China was no longer a safe place for them and they returned to the U.S. in August 1941.15

Return to the United States

Upon returning to the United States in 1941, Vance Sr. and Bessie accepted a call to serve in the San Francisco, California, area as pastor of the Tabernacle Church. After three and a half years in San Francisco, they labored in the Hanford district and the Visalia district in central California.16

In 1950 they received a call to the Pecan Park Church in Houston, Texas. They were delighted to accept this call as they were both Texans, and their desire was to be able to return to Texas. From Houston they went to serve in Mineral Wells, Texas until 1956. At that time Vance was assigned to the Texas Conference Church. In that capacity he helped by filling in at the churches at Bryan, Jefferson, and Grand Prairie, until he formally retired in 1957.

Vance Sr. had acquired a small ranch in Hood County, Texas, during the time that he was in China. On his furloughs Vance Sr., with the help of one other man and Vance Jr., built a retirement home in the middle of the small ranch where he would live with Bessie Belle. In 1958 they took up residence there and raised cows for milk and to sell for income, ducks for eggs, and goats for mohair. Bessie Belle canned the produce they grew from the garden. They had fruit and pecan trees. Rarely did they need to go to town for anything. While at the ranch, Vance Sr. continued to be active in the local Rotary Club and Historical Society. In December 1970 he completed a book titled Comanche Peak, on the most prominent landmark in Hood County. The following year he was honored as the “Senior Citizen of the Year 1971.”17

When it became evident that they would not be able take care of themselves, the animals, and garden at the ranch much longer, Vance Sr, renovated a small home in Glen Rose, Texas, about six miles from the ranch. He died there on November 9, 1973, at the age of 80.18 He was buried where he was born, in Acton, Texas, near his father, mother, and brother. Bessie Belle continued to live for another 16 years until she died on September 30, 1989, in Keene, Texas. She was buried next to her husband in Acton.19

Sources

French, Paul. Bloody Saturday: Shanghai's Darkest Day. New York: Penguin Random House, 2018.

Kelly, Ned, “This Day in History: Bloody Saturday, Shanghai's Darkest Day- August 14, 1937,” in Thatsmag.com, August 13, 2021, review of the book by Paul French, Bloody Saturday, China Penguin Specials. Accessed December 3, 2022. https://www.thatsmags.com/shanghai/post/20225/paul-french-bloody-saturday.

Maloney, Vance James, Sr. Autobiography, unpublished manuscript, written c. 1973, available from Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage Online Collection, Adventism in China: https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/malvoneyvjb.html .

Maloney, Vance James, Sr. Letter to Doyle Bennett 8/2/1973: Early History of Adventist Church in China, Adventism in China: Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage Online Collection. accessed 2/24/2022: https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/maloneyvjb.html.

“Obituary Bessie Belle Maloney.” Southwestern Union Record, September 2, 1989.

“Obituary Vance James Maloney.” ARH, February 21, 1974.

“Maloney, Vance James” Secretariat Appointee Files, RG 21, File 0000029, Record Id 114930, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.

“馬良理, Vance James Maloney.” In Chinese SDA History, 中华圣工史 [Zhonghua Shenggong Shi] (in Chinese), Samuel Young (editor), Hongkong, China: Chinese Union Mission of Seventh-day Adventists, 2002.

Notes

  1. “馬良理 Vance James Maloney” in Chinese SDA History, 中华圣工史 [Zhonghua Shenggong Shi] (in Chinese), Samuel Young (editor), Hongkong, China: Chinese Union Mission of Seventh-day Adventists, 2002, 785.

  2. Vance James Maloney, Sr., Autobiography, unpublished manuscript, written c. 1973, 1; available from Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage Online Collection, Adventism in China: https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/malvoneyvjb.html.

  3. “Bessie Belle Maloney Obituary,” Southwestern Union Record, September 2, 1989, 22.

  4. Vance Maloney, Autobiography, 2.

  5. Ibid. 2-3.

  6. “Maloney Appointee File” GCA, File No. 0000029, Secretariat Appointee Files, RG 21, Box WH 114930.

  7. Vance Maloney, Autobiography, 3-4

  8. Ibid. 4.

  9. Ibid. 4-6.

  10. Vance J. Maloney, Sr., Letter to Doyle Bennett 8/2/1973-Early History of Adventist Church in China, Adventism in China: Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Online Collection, accessed 2/24/2022: https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/maloneyvjb.html.

  11. Vance Maloney Sr., Autobiography, 6-7.

  12. Ibid., 7.

  13. Ibid., 8: Ned Kelly, “This Day in History: Bloody Saturday, Shanghai's Darkest Day- August 14, 1937,” in Thatsmag.com, August 13, 2021, review of the book by Paul French, Bloody Saturday, China Penguin Specials, accessed December 3, 2022, https://www.thatsmags.com/shanghai/post/20225/paul-french-bloody-saturday.

  14. Vance Maloney Sr., Letter to Doyle Bennett, 2-3.

  15. Vance Maloney Sr., Autobiography, 9.

  16. Ibid., 9-10.

  17. Ibid., 10.

  18. “Obituary Vance James Maloney,” ARH, February 21, 1974, 23.

  19. “Obituary Bessie Belle Maloney,” Southwestern Union Record.

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Maloney, John, Bruce W. Lo. "Maloney, Vance James Sr (1893–1973) and Bessie Belle (Merzbacher) (1895–1989)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 13, 2022. Accessed May 24, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F8J8.

Maloney, John, Bruce W. Lo. "Maloney, Vance James Sr (1893–1973) and Bessie Belle (Merzbacher) (1895–1989)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 13, 2022. Date of access May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F8J8.

Maloney, John, Bruce W. Lo (2022, April 13). Maloney, Vance James Sr (1893–1973) and Bessie Belle (Merzbacher) (1895–1989). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F8J8.