A History of Regions Beyond Missionary Union

(1873 - 1995)


The history of evangelical missions is the history of revival. The two are functionally synonymous. To take a line from William Temple, ëNo one can possess or be indwelt by the Holy Spirit and keep that Spirit to himself. He flows. If He is not flowing, He is not there.í It is therefore no coincidence that the Regions Beyond Missionary Union was birthed-along with many similar agenciesñas a spontaneous response to the evangelical awakenings during the second half of the 19th century.

RBMU founder H. Grattan Guinness is classed as one of the three greatest preachers of the 19th century together with Dwight L. Moody and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Guinness was stirred in 1866 by Hudson Taylorís plea for China, poured out before a dozen young men in Guinnessís apologetics class in Dublin. Ten of the students volunteered for China, including Guinness. Taylor encouraged him instead to train the products of revival, whose lack of education barred them from the larger denominational missions. If he would train them, CIM (China Inland Mission) would take them.

1873 - Early Beginnings: Harley Bible College, London

The result was the birth of Harley Bible & Missionary Training College in Londonís East End in 1873. By 1915 the school had equipped 1500 young men and women who were deployed throughout the world representing 30 different denominations in 40 mission agencies.

1878 - The Livingstone Inland Mission

Always a visionary and a mobilizer, it was neither Guinnessí intent nor gift to administrate a new mission agency. The operational details of most enterprises fell upon the shoulders of his wife, Fanny. However, the death of David Livingstone in 1873 stirred the interest of many in Africa. In February, 1878 the first party of Harley missionaries set out for Congo, at that time a largely unknown region, annexed as the private estate of King Leopold II of Belgium. Led by Strom and Henry Craven, they followed the track opened by Morton Stanley along the 230 miles of lower Congo. Their work was inaugurated as the Livingstone Inland Mission.

After three years Craven would write to Guinness, "I cannot report any conversion." In six years they planted six graves. Still, this enterprise witnessed 'the first Pentecost on the Congo' with thousands of converts.

1888 - The Congo Balolo Mission

John McKittrick, one of the original lower Congo party, returned to Harley College with a vision for the Lulonga people. On August 24, 1889, he went back to Congo from Britain with eight new recruits, and a vision for the peoples above the Stanley Pool. They trekked the 230 miles of rapids, arriving at Bonginda, village of the most important chief on the river. It was here among the Ngombe tribe that RBMUís abiding legacy would be left in Congo with hundreds of churches and thousands of converts. With the winning of independence in 1960, and the formation of the republic of Zaire in 1970, the large network of churches passed into national hands with a gradual withdrawal of British and North American expatriate influence.

During the 13 years from 1889 through 1902, 29 of 35 missionaries died, 12 giving their lives in their first year, and 12 in their second and third year of service. Only 6 of the 35 lived on into the new century. The students at Harley College referred to Congo as ëthe shortcut to Heavení and one missionary wrote home, 'Africa kills all her lovers.'

1900 - INDIA: The Mission takes a new name

In 1898 Lucy Guinness wrote Across India at the Dawn of the 20th Century. Her impassioned appeal to Harley students brought the continent alive. The Bihar and Orissa Mission took shape in the fall of 1899. With the addition of this second field, and with a large contingent of Harley missionaries already in Peru and Argentina, the fledgling work in 1900 took the title, Regions Beyond Missionary Union. The name was derived from Paulís pioneering missionary posture, expressed to the Corinthians, 'Our hope is...that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.' (2 Cor 10.16).


Harley graduates, already deployed in Argentina and Peru, were used of God in founding schools and churches. Persecuted but persistent, they paved the way for constitutional religious freedom in Peru.

1916 - The Peru Inland Mission

Pioneer English nurses Annie Soper and Rhoda Gould entered Peru in 1916. Soper had been a student at Bromley Hall, an adjunct midwifery training center of RBMU. After five years medical ministry at the hospital in Lima, they responded to the challenge of Peruís hinterland, crossing the Andes by mule train to the remote jungle state of San Martin, 500 miles north of the capital. Hospitals, orphanages, and a Bible institute were established. The Peru Inland Mission was born. In the early 1970's RBMU established its first Latin American urban church planting work in the capital city of Lima.

1939 - RBMU is re-established in North America

In 1939, English Baptist pastor Ebenezer G. Vine joined the London Board of RBMU. The intensity of his missionary burden led him in 1947 to represent the needs of the British mission in North America. Expecting to remain three months, he stayed seventeen years. Not only did he launch the RBMU work in the United States and Canada, but he brought into being RBMUís extensive ministries in Indonesia. Borneo, now Kalimantan Barat, and Dutch New Guinea, Papua. Vineís coming to North America was occasioned by the fervent advocacy of Sylvia Sirag, widowed to the Japanese occupation of Indonesia where she had earlier served. Her desire to return to Borneo found joyous collaboration in Walter and Leona Bauman, whose home not only hosted Ebenezer Vine, but became the first headquarters of RBMU in North America.

1948 - Borneo, Indonesia

Sylvia Sirag returned with Goodrun Lima to Borneo, now Kalimantan Barat. Scores of workers were recruited. A great harvest ensued among the Dayak people of N.W. Kalimantan. The PPIK association of churches grew from these beginnings. Today the PPIK comprises well over 100 churches with tens of thousands of members. National missionaries have been sent out and the church continues to grow in God's grace.

1954 - Dutch New Guinea, Indonesia

In the margin of E.G. Vineís Bible against Matthew 17.20 are the words, 'November 2nd, 1950. New Guinea. Said to this mountain, 'Be thou removed in the mighty name of Jesus.'" After much prayer and dogged pursuit of permission from the Dutch, in 1954 Dutch New Guinea was entered, led by Paul Gesswein and Bill Widbin. Eager workers soon poured into the many tribes of this stone-age culture. They became Godís instruments in one of the most dramatic movements of the Holy Spirit among primitive peoples in contemporary mission history.

The result was hundreds of churches filled by thousands of new believers hungry for Godís word in their own language. Scores of literacy centers led to the formation of many schools, numerous Bible Institutes, and other institutions. The Yali Story <> is just one of the remarkable accounts of how the gospel can transform an entire society into a people of faith, hope and love.

1954 - The United Mission to Nepal

From its base in North India, Bihar Province, RBMU became the primary mobilizer of the United Mission to Nepal, a coalition of mission agencies. Following 200 years of closed door policy to foreigners, and in the face of fierce opposition, the tiny Nepal church grew slowly and painfully from 25 baptized believers in 1960 to its present magnitude of more than 50,000.

1981 - The Philippines

RBMU entered the Philippines in 1981 and it soon became the largest field of ministry. By the time of merger in 1995, RBMUís team of 35 missionaries was a witness for Christ in six major areas of this island nation.

Both independently and in cooperation with such groups as the Alliance of Bible Christian Communities of the Philippines (ABCCOP, with 160 churches) and the Association of Ifugao Bible Churches (AIBC with 3000 believers), the team is ministering to many churches and hundreds of Filipino Christians. Church planting has continued in the cities of Catanduanes province, and among resistant minority groups. Other ministries include the Asia Theological Seminary in both Manila and Bacalod, and Faith Academy.

1982 - Unreached Peoples

RBMU's Executive Planning Staff met in Dana Point, California, and covenanted with God to identify, research, and evangelize ten new 'hidden' people groups. This number was soon raised to twenty. Well ahead of schedule, church planting teams were placed in fourteen of these groups, and RBMU continued to aggressively research and press for entry into new unreached people groups.

1985 - Cameroon, West Africa

Agreement was signed with the Cameroon Baptist Convention to sponsor RBMU's entry into this West African country to address the twenty tribal groups without a viable church. Cameroon boasted the label, 'The linguistic crossroads of Africa.' Translation work, evangelism and leadership training continue among a half dozen distinct people groups in Cameroon.

1995 - Merger

World Team as it exists today was forged through the timely merger of Worldteam with RBMU International in 1995. The merger ushered in a new era of missionary outreach for the sake of Godís glory among unreached peoples.

Excerpts from J. F. Conley