Winferd Cameron Hankins 漢謹思 ( 1880 - 1968) and Bessie Rentfro Hankins
by Bruce W. Lo, 2013
Basic Biographical Data
Winferd C. Hankins was born on January 26, 1880 in Sigourney, Iowa, and died on February 4, 1968 in St Helena, California.
Siblings: Windferd Hankins was the third child in his family of six children.
Marriage: Winfred Hankins married Bessie L. Fentfro on July 3, 1903.
Children: Two daughters, Enod Aldridge and Beryl Wical.
Summary of Service: Worked as missionaries in Fujian, China for 19 years.
Figure 1: Elder Winferd and Mrs. Bessie Hankins
Winferd Cameron Hankins was born on January 26, 1880 to a rather well-to-do family in Sigourney, Iowa. Unfortunately the recession in 1893 hit the Hankins family hard. His father was not able to get any work. The 13 year old Winferd had to go door-to-door selling soaps. He earned about 50 cents per day. With that he supported the entire family of eight.
His mother was a Methodist, but became a Seventh-day Adventist just before Winferd was born. It was her hope that her third child, Winferd, would become a medical doctor. But Winferd Hankins, who was baptized at the age of twelve, wanted to be an evangelist.
Bessie L. Rentfro was born in a large farming family in Iowa. There were ten children in that family, so they all have to work very hard in the farm. But such training during her children prepared her well for the greater responsibilities that she would face in the mission field.
Bessie Reftfro and Winferd Hankins met and felt in love. They were married on July 3, 1903, immediately after which they attended the Iowa Conference Camp Meeting. While at the meeting, the young couple were praying in their heart that, "Lord, if it is your will for us to serve you, please impress upon Iowa brothers and sisters to accept us, and send us to wherever you want us to go." An offering was taken up at the Camp Meeting. There was enough money collected to send the two newly wedded to go to Washington Missionary College to receive training. Winferd studied at the college for two year, while assisting Carlyle B. Haynes to conduct Bible studies and hold evangelistic meetings.
Arriving in China
By the time when the request for more missionaries came from J.N. Anderson, the SDA Mission Board approached Winferd Hankins as a possible candidate for the mission field in China. When Winferd broke the news to his wife, Bessie, she replied, "I am willing to go where you think the Lord wants us to go." Almost immediately, they packed up their personal belongs, which was not a lot, and headed toward Seattle, where they boarded a ship bound for China. However, they were not prepared for the severe seasickness experience during the journey.
When they arrived at Shanghai, Dr Harry Miller and Dr. Arthur Selmon were there to welcome them. Winferd and Bessie Hankins continued their journey to Hong Kong. They arrived at the Hong Kong harbor on May 3, 1905. Susan Haskell Wilbur (wife of Edwin Wilbur), one of their relative from Iowa, came to meet them. At that time, Bessie was pregnant with her first child. When Susan said, "I'll come and take care of you when you are due to give birth.", Bessie was much relieved.
Finally, on May 21, 1905, they reached their destination, Gulangyu (Kulangsu 鼓浪嶼 ), an island just 500 meters (about 0.3 miles) east of Xieman (Amoy ???? ), in the province of Fujian, southeast China. The newly arrived were promptly shown to their living quarters, which was situated a floor above another Chinese worker, Keh Nga Pit (???? ). At first, Bessie Hankinws was not too impressed with their "new home" - two tiny rooms with very basic kitchen facilities. Yet, they had to pay about 150 dollar rent per month. But they stayed there for several months.
The first thing that Winferd Hankins did was to start learning the language from a Chinese teacher. It was quite a challenge. He would join the young students in Bible studies in the home of Keh Nga Pit. The Hankins had a Chinese Bible. Winfred would say a reference in the Bible, and the students would locate the text in the Chinese Bible. The young people learn rather quickly. So this more or less became rather like a school, where the students would learn some English, while the Hankins would practice their Chinese. Among these youngsters, many of them became church leaders n Fujian and Taiwan later on.
When the faith of these young people become established, Keh Nga Pit was thrilled. Even his own wife, who was originally opposed to Keh becoming a Seventh-day Adventist, had come to like Bessie Hankins a lot. Shortly there after, Mrs Keh together with her beautiful daughter decided to accept the Adventist message and got baptized. Afterward, Mrs Keh cooked some special Chinese food for the Hankins family, so that they did not have to eat rice and beans day after day.
By 1906, when the eldest Hankins' girl, Enod, was about one1, Benjamin & Julia Anderson arrived at Gulangyu. Winferd and Bessie went out to look for houses, but could not found a suitable one initially. Finally they found a rather large rectangular shape house, which was nicknamed the "Cat Castle" because it was alleged that the landlady of the house had 30 cats, but they were burned to death in one of the rooms at that house. The Andersons lived on the eastern side of the house while the Hankins lived on the western side of the house, with a long veranda separating the two. Right in front of the house was the longest and most beautiful beach in the entire island. So the two Hankins girls really liked it.
Then Bessie Hankins' father passed away back in Iowa, and left her with a small sum of money. With that the Hankins decided to built their own home at Gunlangyu. As she remember her childhood experience in China, the older Hankins girl, Enod, said,
"We love the beach and our home in China. We thought it was the most happy place on earth, nearest to Heaven...."
" My Dad was liked and respected by everyone in the mission compound because he not only has a distinctive Western curly hair and big blue eyes, but also has a very pleasant and cheerful disposition. My mother not only has blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin, but is also gentle and kind towards all those she comes into contact. My younger sister, Beryl, and I love our parents. We never fought each other or raise our voices..."
During their mission service in China, Winferd and Bessie Hankins labored tirelessly to sharing the Gospel of Christ with the Chinese people in the southeastern part of China, particularly near the Xieman area, establishing the Meihua school, opening evangelistic centers, and forming new churches in different towns. The Meihua Sam Yuk School became the training center for many Adventist youth who later took up important responsibilities either in the SDA Church or society in general.
In 1912, South China Union Mission decided to have a workers meeting for the expatriates at Xieman. It was during the summer, so the delegates can stay at the Boy's dormitory. But the family of Sherman Nagel stayed with the Hankins. Halfway through the meeting session, a typhoon came. Those who stayed at the Hankins will never forget the two-day experience they had during the typhoon. The roof was blown off, the walls collapsed, and the Nagels and Hankins took their blankets and ran all the way to a small hut at the back of the hill to be shielded from the typhoon. They prayed all night for protection and deliverance.
Next morning, along the beach front were thousands of dead bodies and damaged boats got washed ashore. Not a single house on the island escape damaged. When the meetings continued, Elder Gilbert, a Jew from the General Conference preached a very moving sermon that stirred up the faith in each listener's heart.
Return to United States
After 19 years of mission service in China, the Hankins returned to the United States in 1904. They rented out their home in Gulangyu to other missionaries until 1937 when the Japanese army invaded and occupied this tiny island. When the Japanese military left in 1940, they dynamited the house destroying it totally.
Elder Winferd Hankins continue to serve the denomination in the US as church pastor and evangelist in the Michigan Conference for 20 years. In 1945 he moved to the Arizona Conference and retired in 1961 at the age of 81, after working 58 years as an Adventist minister. He died on February 4, 1968 in St Helena, California. His wife, Bessie, pre-deceased him by three years.
Readers will be interested to know that, the Meihua Sam Yuk School that was established by Winferd Hankins and Benjamin Anderson, was rebuilt into a Seventh-day Adventist health outreach center called Meihua NewStart Health Center2.
1. Nagel-Longway, Florence (2002), Biography of Winfred C. Hankins, in Chinese SDA History (in Chinese), Young, Samuel (Editor), China Union Mission: Hong Kong.
2. Meihua NewStart Health Center (2009), History of the Meihua NewStart Health Center (in Chinese), retrieved 08/15/2013 from http://www.mhnewstart.cn/lishi.asp.
3. Pacific Union (1968), Obituary of Winferd Cameron Hankins, Pacific Union Recorder, June 3, 1968, p.7.
4. Review & Herald (1968), In Remembrance of Winferd Cameron Hankins, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 2, 1968, p.26.
5. Van Dolson, B.J & Van Dolson, L.R. Editors (1996) "Hankins, Winferd Cameron", Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Vol A-L, Second Revised Edition,Commentary Reference Series, Vol. 10, Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Press.