Overview of Margaret Emma Barber

Margaret Emma Barber

Margaret Emma Barber (1866–1930, 和受恩) was a rare sort of missionary. She served as she felt was led by the Lord with little outward acknowledgment or signs of success. When she passed away in 1930, she had labored for decades in a small village with few possessions, no publications, and a small band of workers under her care. But at the end of these years, through her, the Lord had raised up a generation of native leaders. She poured herself in Watchman Nee, Faithful Luke, Leland Wang and dozens of others. While she was never widely known, these few leaders would shape the landscape of Christianity in China for the rest of the century.


Miss Barber was born in Peasenhall, England. We know little of her childhood, but she has testified that she had a deep hunger for the Lord since she was nine years old. When she was around age ten, her family moved to Norwich and started a carriage manufacturing business. In her twenties, she worked for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Liverpool and there felt her first calling to serve as a missionary. In the 1890’s, she and nearly a thousand others offered themselves to the Church Missionary Society as a missionary candidates. This was part of a grand move of God in England. A spiritual awakening, spurred on by D. L. Moody and the Keswick Convention, was sweeping over the country.

Missionary to China

Miss Barber was assigned to the Society’s Fuzhou Mission in Fuzhou, China and arrived in 1896. She would serve there for the next nine years, with only one furlough back home. These years of gospel preaching and teaching laid a firm base in her characteristic balance of inner life and iterant labor.

Controversy and Resignation

Controversy arose in the Mission in 1905 over a set of Proposed New Regulations the Church Missionary Society was considering implementing. These items proposed changes to the hierarchy and decision-making power in the Fuzhou Mission. Even the simple mention of these items stirred up political jealousies among the missionaries. Miss Barber, not a young missionary by this time, was adamantly vocal against this proposal and she was far from alone in her opposition. Though the Proposed New Regulations were not enacted, she subsequently withdrew from the mission somewhat mysteriously. Some accounts describe her as being forced out, while others show that her superiors understood her position and resignation.

Whatever the case may be, this was a pivotal moment in Miss Barber’s spiritual life and career. Her own silence on this matter can only be explained by a deep speaking from the Lord that she received at this time regarding the oneness between the Head and the members of the Body of Christ. As she considered how her name was being slandered, it seems the Lord spoke to her: “You belong to Me. Those who accuse you also belong to Me. I am the Head and both of you are My members. Consider My hands. What difference does it make to My head if it is the thumb or the middle finger that is hurt? To my head both cause pain. Whether you are hurt or the other is hurt, it is a fact that I have been hurt. Why do you have to argue? Why do you have to justify yourself and put shame on others? You may be able to save yourself from false accusations, but is not the hurt done to Me the same? Why justify yourself? My child, be at peace! Your future is in My hands!” 1

Renewed Call

Returning to England in 1907, M. E. Barber underwent a spiritual revolution. Within just nine months of her return, she resigned from her missionary society, left the Anglican church, and joined herself to an undemoninational church in Norwich under the ministry of D. M. Panton. She likely received believer’s baptism by immersion and expected the Lord to send her back to China, trusting Him alone for her Financial Support as an Independent Missionary. Her later perspectives on the Christian life, service, growth, and the Kingdom can be traced back to these few years.

White Teeth Rock

In 1909, Miss Barber and her niece Miss M. L. S. Ballord set sail for Fuzhou, China. Miss Barber felt certain of her call to witness in the same city as her previous missionary career, but decided to settle in a small village outside of the city in order to avoid any awkwardness with her old colleagues. White Teeth Rock was an isolated, mountainous village overlooking the shipping canal out to the ocean. Though they were rather alone and misunderstood as single, unaffiliated, foreign women, Miss Barber and Miss Ballord began to pray that God would raise up a generation of native leaders to spread the gospel throughout China. After about ten years, their prayers were heard and the Lord began to draw spiritually hungry youth to their door.

Revival & Remaining Fruit

The 1920’s saw revival strike youth all over Fuzhou. This flame had been fanned into a blaze by Dora Yu, who had recently received believer’s baptism at the hands of Miss Barber. Dora Yu encouraged other hungry converts, like Watchman Nee and his mother, to be baptized and discipled by Miss Barber. Eventually, many of these youths were drawn together, with handfuls moving to White Teeth Rock to serve the Lord full-time under Miss Barber. Many of her eventual sister co-workers from among the young Chinese converts, as well as many notable leading men of their generation, were shaped in their early years by her. A vibrant group of young Fuzhou brothers was raised up in answer to her prayers. Leland Wang, sometimes referred to as China’s Moody, spent several years under her care. Faithful Luke, a long time co-worker of Watchman Nee’s, lived at White Teeth Rock for six years. And Watchman Nee kept in close contact with Miss Barber as he started to work in Shanghai and itinerate around the country.

M. E. Barber passed on into the presence of our Lord in 1930 at the age of 63, after a several month battle with Crohn’s disease. She was laid to rest in a simple grave near her property. She left her few belongings, which were little more than her Bible, to Watchman Nee. At her passing, one of her nieces published a little collection of Miss Barber’s poems in a volume titled The Verses of a Pilgrim. With no earthly affairs left behind, M. E. Barber truly lived as a pilgrim, yearning for a city that has foundations, as she writes in the end of her poem “He Looked For A City”:

He looked for a city, his goal, Lord, we share.
And know that bright city, which Thou dost prepare,
Is ever our portion, since willing to be
Just pilgrims with Jesus, our roof a tent tree.

The fruit of Miss Barber’s service has remained, and not just in the leaders she mentored to spread the work across Southeast Asia. The work at White Teeth Rock continued, with her sister co-workers carrying on the ministry she had started. The village churches they raised up went on bearing the testimony of Jesus and the gospel continues to advance. Her niece Miss M .L. S. Ballord remained at White Teeth Rock, serving the Lord there until she returned to England in 1950.

Next Steps

To trace her experience step by step, you can begin by reading her Letters
Letters - 1895.06.20 Mr. Baring-Gould


1 - Reetzke, A Seed Sown In China pg 216

Notes mentioning this note

There are no notes linking to this note.

Index of Pages