130 Years is a Long Time … Or Maybe Not!

There seems to be an inverse relationship between advancing years and a birthday celebrant’s desire to see his or her birthday cake adorned with candles. At some point, the number of candles required to mark the corresponding years of life places the dessert’s quality in jeopardy.A handful of candles at a child’s birthday party is joyous. However, 130 candles on a cake celebrating TEAM’s founding in 1890 is another matter. It can make us feel old, beyond our prime, slipping into irrelevance and a host of other not so desirable emotions.

However, in the history of the Kingdom of God, 130 years is a moment of a much longer story that God is writing. Our story in TEAM is a chapter in a much grander narrative in which He is reclaiming His fallen creation through the work of His Son and proclaiming His glory among all peoples in the power of His Spirit.

Those of us called to serve in this 130-year chapter called TEAM are privileged to be a part of this grand narrative, offering ourselves in fellowship with one another and following after those who have gone before us.

But what was the beginning like 130 years ago?

October 14, 1890, marks a special day in the life of TEAM. On this date, a 38-year-old Swedish immigrant named Fredrik Franson initiated training classes for overseas missionaries. This fervent evangelist and church planter was motivated in response to a challenge issued by Hudson Taylor to send more missionaries to China’s inland regions.

Those first training classes were conducted at Pilgrim Church in Brooklyn, New York, and were attended by 50 young men and women. Of them, 16 were later commissioned to sail for China. Joined by 19 others who were later trained by Franson and commissioned in Chicago, those first 35 missionaries departed San Francisco harbor on January 22, 1891, arriving in Shanghai, China, on February 17, 1891.

These initial efforts led to the formation of what was initially known as the China Alliance Mission, soon changed to The Scandinavian Alliance Mission of North America, a name that lasted until 1949 when the name we know today was adopted — The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM).

(Left) Fredrik Franson and early missionaries to South Africa. (Right) Fredrik Franson portrait.

Missionaries recruited to serve in South Africa (pictured here) would face great hardship but ultimately succeed in leading many people to Christ.

Before 1900, roughly 100 missionaries were trained and sent to China, Japan, India, South Africa, East Africa and Mongolia. This movement begun in the latter part of the 19th century quickly began to gather momentum as young men and women stepped forward to serve Christ in some very challenging places and conditions, embracing frugality and sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel.

Franson himself did not live to see most of this history, succumbing in 1908 to a fatal illness. He was 56 years old.

What can we learn from the early days of TEAM and how can that shape our trajectory? I will underscore two primary lessons. Doubtless, there are more.

1. Following Christ as He builds His Church among the nations demands creativity, innovation and sacrifice — all rooted in a bold faith in God.

Franson took action to a staggering need of which God had made him aware — the vast numbers of people who had little to no opportunity to hear of Christ and make a choice to know, love and follow Him. New methodology would be needed to recruit, train, send and sustain those who would respond to the call of God in this endeavor. And there would be an obvious need to step out in faith, believing that God would provide through His people the needed financial resources.

Today we face both the challenges and opportunities presented by a globalized marketplace, increasing nationalism, ideological extremism, a shrinking world due to ubiquitous air transport and internet technology. While our global context has changed dramatically since TEAM’s founding, the same core reality is true today. Following Christ into our future role in global mission will demand creativity, innovation and sacrifice — all rooted in a bold faith in God.

2. Deep collaboration with the Church is essential for fruitful and sustained work in global mission.

From the earliest days, Franson saw as imperative the need to dynamically connect this fledgling ministry to the Church. Churches were key in identifying and training personnel, as well as in supplying finances and prayer. It was a profound collaboration based on his understanding of how the Gospel most effectively advances and disciples are formed in a society — through and with local churches. The same reality exists today — only we are not limited to such collaboration with churches in our sending nations.

We now have the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with vibrant emerging streams of the global Church in places where Franson would not have imagined. As examples, consider those countries and regions where some of the first TEAM missionaries served – China, Japan, South Africa, India and more.

The question before us is, will we be ready and willing to adapt our strategies and methods to more effectively accommodate such collaborative outreach with the global Church? Are we ready to adopt new postures and attitudes that will allow us to together serve remaining people groups still awaiting the light of Christ’s Kingdom? How we respond will be crucial since partnership with the Church is essential for fruitful and sustained work in global mission.

As was the case in 1890, TEAM’s future will be largely shaped by God as He works in and through those people who are not willing to let the past dictate the future but are eager to step out in faith into an always changing future, confident that God Himself is awaiting us there. That is my hope and prayer for TEAM as we celebrate 130 years of God’s faithfulness.

If we step out boldly in faith, I believe what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church will continue to be true of TEAM, all for His glory among the nations.

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”
(1 Corinthians 3:6, NIV)


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About the author

Dave Hall
Dave Hall

Dave Hall has served as TEAM's international director since 2019. His passion for cross-cultural ministry has been carefully shaped by his time as a Bible Christian Union missionary, stateside pastor and TEAM board member.

11 Comments

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  • I was with TEAM w my husband from 1973 until my husband died and I continued on my own
    But it was getting harder and harder alone an I couldn’t keep up so left TEAM a couple years ago! I would love to talk to you sometime! Thank you Ruth Rutherford

  • Dear Mr. Hall,

    Congratulations to TEAM and your recent appointment as its’ International Director. We celebrate this 130 year old ministry to the Asian population of the world with you in praise for all that God has and is doing through TEAM’s ministries.

    Our church has had a long standing relationship with TEAM through the ministry of Ed & Connie Weaver and currently with Chip & May Bobbitt.
    I began as mission chairman of Quidnessett Baptist Church in No. Kingstown RI just as Ed & Connie were beginning their candidacy under TEAM. Our committee was pleased to add them for missionary support for we saw great potential in what God was doing and going to do through them. Then, as years went by I changed membership to a daughter church of Quidessett’s, Exeter Chapel where we continued to support Ed & Connie through the remainder of their career. As a member of Exeter Chapel’s mission committee it was my privilege to continue support for the weavers from beginning to end. They were and are worthy servants of the Lord, as they “ran the race” to present the good news of Jesus Christ to the glory of God.
    Now Chip & May continue in this race and it is our privilege to support them.

    TEAM is a wonderful creation of God to fulfill his purpose of spreading the gospel to the nations. May God continue his good work though you, your staff and each missionary serving Christ under TEAM’s banner.

    Bob Barrie,
    Missions Chairman
    Exeter Chapel

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Bob. It is indeed encouraging to see how God works through His people to accomplish His mission. I am thankful for how God has together used you, the ministry couples you mention, the churches you have served, and TEAM for His glory among the nations.

  • I may be one of the oldest TEAMers still alive and able to be very busy. I will be 93 in four months (Feb. 25th.) I don’t want to brag or boast, but we may be among those who were accepted and God-honored enough that we sailed 3 months after we were accepted. I have written a long account and sent it to Kathy Attardi if anyone wants to read it.
    My husband (Richard/Dick) and I sailed out of NY on Dec. 24, 1950 at 2:00 AM. We arrived in Pakistan one month later, and one month after that our first child was born. After that, we served in *****, in the ******. and here in the USA until our retirement, 1989. He was experiencing pain from scoliosis and went home in 2014 but I am healthy and still active.
    I have people coming to me sometimes those I have not known in the past. We talk about the Lord, pray and visit and part feeling blessed. I write some articles for a local paper and at present, a friend is putting together the account of my/our life as a “legacy.” I have kept the info since the 1950s,-diaries, journals, letters and pictures- so we have the records The problem is trying to cut out the non-essentials. We are trying to make the decision about what is important and/or interesting and what is just some of my unnecessary “verbosity.”.
    Myrtle Virginia Thompson, aka Jenny, ret. TEAMER, 1950-’90, and still at it!

    • Please let me reply to my own comment. I did not finish or edit the last one~~ it’s just how old folks are. They get “dis-jointed” in more ways than one (smile!). I love being old but I hate not finishing the job in a way that makes the best sense and this needed correcting..
      I think God has a sense of humor. Both sets of parents were concerned about our having to raise our funds. Dick’s Methodist and my Baptist parents churches each had a Board which took care of that. We were learning our faithful God has Heaven’s resources and supplies in His treasury.
      I am reminded of something echoed by Dr. Mortensen, “Where the Lord guides He provides.” We served under TEAM for 70 years (1950-2020.) I Some of our faithful friends and churches have continued support since we first contacted them in the 1950s, others for over 30 years.
      “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” He has done just that. May it be the same for all those going out today. God has been and is always faithful. Praise!

      • Thank you for sharing your story, Myrtle, and more importantly, for the legacy of faithful service you and Dick have left for the rest of us to follow and build upon. I totally agree. God has been and will be faithful!

  • Wow that’s great news and big congratulation to TEAM.Thankyou for the encouraging message it makes me more burning desire to serve God.

  • I have sent an email to Kathy A. If you have time to read it I hope you will.
    I may be one of the oldest retirees still living and in good health and still very busy in ministry.
    TEAM has been very special to me.
    So happy to have you take the helm.
    Blessings on all of you.
    Jenny Thompson

  • Well stated and written, Bro. Dave. We deeply appreciated your tenure as Missions Pastor at Calvary Church, Lancaster, Pa. when we served our second tour of duty with TEAM. That ministry in Mexico City was one of the most exciting and rewarding times in our over 32 years of service (15 in Venezuela; 7 in Mexico City; 10 in Madrid, Spain. You were so supportive and helpful as we moved some interesting times in that ministry. So we are elated to now have you serve once again with TEAM as its leader.

    Be assured of our prayer support as TEAM moves into new ventures and dynamics. We certainly will be trusting the Lord, as you indicated. God’s best to you. Jay and Carolyn Sensenig

    • Thanks for your kind words, Jay. I routinely tell the story of you and Carolyn as people ready to pack up and move at God’s call, regardless of the stage of life. You have been an encouragement and model for me!

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