Edwin Hymes Wilbur 鄔爾布 (1869 - 1914) and
Susan Haskell-Wilbur 鄔秀珊 (1872 - 1965)
by Bruce W. Lo, 2013
Basic Biographical Data
Edwin Wilbur was born on April 2, 1869 in Easton, NY, and died on May 1, 1914 in Beihai, Guangxi, China.
Susan Haskell-Wilbur was born on December 8, 1872 in Garwin, IA, and died on July 31, 1965 in Portland, OR.
Parents: Edwin Wilbur's parents were Jacob and Elizabeth (Webster) Wilbur. Susan Haskell's parents were Lafayette and Margaret (Stevens) Haskell.
Siblings: Edwin Wilbur's siblings were Charles, John, William, George, Mary, Fredrick, and Ida.
Marriage: Edwin Wilbur and Susan Haskell were married on July 21, 1902 in Garwin, Iowa.
Children: Edwin and Susan Wilbur have three children: son Robert Wilbur, daughter Oilene Wilbur-Liu, and son Frederick Wilbur.
Summary of service: Edwin and Susan Wilbur were the first SDA missionaries to inland China, and began their mission service in Canton (Guangzhou), Guangdong. He established the Yi Zhi Boy's School in Canton, and opened up Adventist mission in several cities in the southern provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi.
Figure 1: Portrait of Edwin Hymes Wilbur taken about 1912.
Edwin Hymes Wilbur 鄔爾布, was born on April 2, 1869 in Easton, New York. His father Jacob Wilbur was a Seventh-day Adventist minister. His parents had hoped that their son will someday be a worker for God. As a youth Edwin's health was not the best. But this did not dampen his desire to enter evangelistic work.
At the age of 18, he left his home farm. For a time, Edwin worked as a printer at the Review and Herald Press at Battle Creek, MI. Later on he went to Des Moines, IA, where he was trained as a nurse in the Iowa Sanitarium. It was there that he met another trainee nurse, Susan Haskell. The two young persons felt in love.
Susan Haskell was born December 8, 1872 in Garwin, Iowa. She accepted the Advent message at the age of 18 and entered the colporteur ministry in 1895. In the year 1900, she entered the School of Nursing at the Iowa Sanitarium and became matron of that institution.
Determined to be A Missionary to China
Edwin Wilbur had a burden to go as a missionary to China, and confined to Susan his desire. But because of poor health he was rejected by the SDA Foreign Mission Board. However, he persisted and kept sending letters and notes to the Board, and to some of its members as well as other church officials. In his letter, he often included some factual data about China that he gathered from his own research and also Chinese Scripture texts, always ending his letters with a subscript, "Yours for China". He reasoned that if his health was poor and he should die soon, he might as well die in a mission field rather than at home.
His persistence paid off. In the Spring of 1902, Elders W.A. Spicer and A.G. Daniel were visiting the Iowa Sanitarium. They were looking for young people who might be interested to become foreign missionaries. Susan Haskell answered the call. But at that moment, Edwin was not aware of her decision. So he was a bit discouraged and went for a stroll in the hospital garden. While he was engrossed in his own thought, he heard some foot steps behind him. When he turned around, he found out that it was Elder Spicer, who patted on his shoulder and said, "Are you still wanting to go to China as a missionary?" Spicer went on and told him that the Mission Board had decided to send him to China. Overwhelmed, Edwin asked, "Do I have to go alone?", thinking that the Board could only afford to send one person. It was then, Elder Spicer, and Elder Daniels took him to Susan Haskell. He was overjoyed to find out that both of them were selected to go.
On July 21, 1902, Edwin Wilbur and Susan Haskell were united in marriage in Garwin, Iowa.
Arrival in China
Soon after their wedding, Edwin and Susan Wilbur boarded the ship, Empress of India, in Vancouver, Canada to sail to China. They arrived at Hong Kong at the end of October, 1902, and met up with Elder Jacob Anderson and Mrs Emma Anderson, and Ms Ida Thompson, who arrived in Hong Kong earlier that year. Also welcoming them was Abram La Rue, who had been laboring as a self-supporting colporteur in Hong Kong for 14 years.
On December 1, 1902, Edwin and Susan relocated to Canton (Guangzhou 廣州), becoming the first Adventist missionary couple to settle in China mainland. At that time, Canton was a metropolis with two millions people. They immediately started to learn Chinese (Cantonese). At the same time, they tried to sell English Christian books to those who could read English. In April of 1903, due to health reason, they swapped places with the Andersons, so that Edwin could be closer to the better westernized medical facilities in Hong Kong. At the same time, Susan Wilbur was able to take care of Abram La Rue, who was now pretty ill with pneumonia, diphtheria, and malaria. La Rue died on April 26, 1903 at the age of 80 and 5 months.
In September, 1902, Edwin, Susan, and Ida Thompson went to Macau, a Portugal colony on the western side of the mouth of Pearl River. One of the Chinese businessman allowed them to use his house there free of charge as an evangelistic centerl. In one of the letters, Edwin Wilbur reported that, "We found a lot of interests among the Chinese. Within one year, we sold 66 Christian books, 90 Bibles, 468 Adventist magazines, 6 sets of Good Health magazine, and one year subscription to the Pacific Health Journal."
First Boy School
On July 27, 1904, Edwin and Susan Wilbur returned to Canton to join the mission contingent there. But after searching for 10 days, Edwin still could not find a suitable place to house his family. He was very discouraged. He dropped by Jacob Anderson's home and picked up a copy of E.G. White's books to read. It was Testimonies for the Church Volume 8, and found this passage on pp. 10.3 and 10.4:
Obstacles to the advancement of the work of God will appear; but fear not.... The plans of the enemies of His work may seem to be firm and well established, but He can overthrow the strongest of these plans, and in His own time and way He will do this, when He sees that our faith has been sufficiently tested and that we are drawing near to Him and making Him our counselor....
That very same afternoon, a local Chinese lady took Edwin and Susan's eldest son, Robert Wilbur with her and went out to look for houses again. She found one that was exactly what Edwin had been looking for. Their prayers were answered swiftly. So the whole family moved into their new residence in Canton. Soon after they settled into their home, Edwin and Susan adopted a Chinese baby girl, and called her Oilene (爱莲). They brought her up as their own daughter.
Figure 2: Mrs. Susan and Elder Edwin Wilbur.
Figure 3: The Wilbur's home in Canton, 1902.
Figure 4: Letter written by Susan Wilbur to her brother after arriving in Hong Kong, 1902. Heritage Room Collection, Union College.
Figure 5: First and last pages of a letter written by Edwin Wilbur to his father, Jacob Wilbur, in October 1906. Heritage Room Collection, Union College.
Figure 6: 1907 Workers Meeting in Shanghai. Edwin and Susan Wilbur are first and second seated from right, with children on their laps.
In Canton, Edwin Wilbur made preparation for the opening of a boy school, which he later called Yi Zhi Boys' School (益智男校). The Bethel Girls' School was already opened by Ida Thompson by that time, but the boy school did not get opened until the following year in 1905. In addition to the school, Edwin also got the proof ready to print a Chinese booklet based on the chapter called "Sinners Need Christ" in Steps to Christ.
By the end of 1904, a new church was established in Canton with 20 foundation members, plus another 24 newly baptized member from evangelistic campaigns, plus other Christians who had already kept the Sabbath themselves by reading the Bible. In total there were 64 members in that church.
Spreading the Message in Southern China
1905 marked renew efforts in spreading the gospel to other parts of southern China. Edwin Wilbur's plan to open a school was realized, when Ida Thompson moved the Bethel Girls' School to a new location at Zhu Guang Li (朱光里), Canton, leaving the previous premise at Tong Qing Fang for the Yi Zhi Boys' School (益智男校) to start classes on August 14, 1905.7 By 1905, the Adventist mission in South China was operating separately a girl school and a boy school. Discerning readers will recognize that the cultural practice in China at that time, would not accept to have boys and girls attending school at the same location. It was not until 1922 before these two schools were merged into a co-ed school. The school(s) later on become today's Sam Yuk Middle School and Hong Kong Adventist College, where many Chinese national workers for the Adventist Church were trained.
In 1907, Edwin Wilbur opened a new evangelism center in Jiangmen (江門), a town of 75,000 people, approximately 50 miles from Canton. A workers' meeting was held in January of 1909 for all the missionaries in China. It was during that meeting on January 22, 1909, that Elder W.A. Spicer, the same person who patted young Edwim's shoulder a few years earlier, officially ordained Edwin Wilbur as a full minister in the Adventist Church. In addition to his educational and evangelistic duties, Edwin Wilbur was also the editor of the Chinese Signs of the Time.
Edwin and Susan Wilbur took their family back to the United States for a furlough on February 4, 1910. While they were visiting with their family at Garwin, IA, their third child, a son, was born on June 21st. They called him Fred Daniel Wilbur. That summer, they gave report of the mission work in China during the Iowa camp meetings. Members and camp attendees were thrilled to hear the stories in China. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised for the mission in China.
At the end of their furlough, the Wilburs returned to Canton to work for another two years. Then they were transferred to Fushan (佛山), Guangdong, to assist Dr. Lau Kim in the hospital. On February 3, 1914, he was appointed the director to open up the mission work in Pakhoi (Beihai 北海), Guangxi, a seaside town on the Gulf of Tonkin (Dongjing 東京湾), approximately 500 miles by sea from Canton. After they arrived, the Wilburs traveled further inland 27 miles to Wu Zhou (梧州). There Edwin Wilbur conducted baptism for four new converts. This turned out to be the last baptism he performed in China.
A Life Cut Short
A few days later, when they returned back to Pakhoi (Beihai), Elder Edwin Wilbur got seriously ill. Mrs. Susan Wilbur asked one of the Chinese ministers, accompanied by her son, to go and seek help from a French medical doctor. But Edwin Wilbur's malaria recurred, also his heart condition got worse. On May 1, 1914, he rested in the Lord, age 45. They sent a telegram to Elder Harlow, the then president of South China Mission. But it took him two weeks to reach Pakhoi. Elder Edwin Wilbur had previous expressed his wish to the Church that if he dies, he would want to be buried in a "Chinese" coffin. Both the German and British Consulates in Beihai, Guangxi asked that Edwin Wilbur's body be buried in their private cemeteries. The funeral was conducted by the Anglican minister, W.E. Hipwell and the Chinese evangelist, Mr. Puan (潘先生).
Mrs. Susan Wilbur
After the death of her husband in 1914, Susan Wilbur returned to the United States, and worked for the Chinese people in Portland and San Francisco for 15 years. Her life is recorded in the MV book, Susan Haskell, Missionary. She passed away in Portland, OR on Sabbath, July 31, 1965, at the age of 93.
Figure 7: South China Mission Meeting 1912 at Fushan. Mrs Susan (with glasses) and Elder Edwin Wilbur are third and fourth persons from left standing in the fourth row (the first row are the children sitting on the floor)
Figure 8: Missionaries of South China Mission and their families. Among the children seated on the front row were: Robert Wilbur 3rd from left, Oilene Wilbur 3rd from right, Fred Wilbur 2nd from right; on the third row of ladies standing, Susan Wilbur was 5th from left. Edwin Wilbur was not in this photo. When was it taken?
1. James, Donald C. (1976), Edwin Hymes Wilbur, First Missionary to Mainland China, Term Paper, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, James While Library, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI.
2. Negal-Longway, Florine (2002), Biograpy of Edwin Hymes Wilbur, in Chinese SDA History, Samuel Young (Editor), Chinese Union Mission of Seventh-Day Adventist: Hong Kong. (Original in Chinese).
3. North Pacific Union (1965), Obituary of Susan Haskell-Wilbur, North Pacific Union Gleaner, September 17, 1965.
4. R&H (1914), Edwin Wilbur Died Yesterday, in Review and Herald News Flash, May 14, 1914, p. 24.
5. Union College (2012), The Edwin Hymes Wilbur Family Collection 3, Heritage Room, Union College Library, Lincoln, NE.
6. Van Dolson, B.J & Van Dolson, L.R. Editors (1996) "Wilbur, Edwin Hymes", Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Vol A-L, Second Revised Edition,Commentary Reference Series, Vol. 10, Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Press.
7. According to some accounts, e.g. the article by F. Negal-Longway (2002) , Yi Zhi Boys' School was opened in 1904. But after much research by the author, it was decided that the 1905 opening date is more accurate.
8. Doherty, Ivy D. (1958), Susan Haskell, Missionary, Review and Herald: Washington .