Irving R. Stebbins
Rev. I.R. Stebbins was an American pioneer missionary of The Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) to Indo-China. Born in 1894 in New Haven, Connecticut, Irving Stebbins attended business college and worked as salesman and clerk for eight years before attending Nyack Missionary College. In his application for overseas service he stated his motive as "the conviction that souls are dying without Christ and a settled conviction that God wants my life for His service. My decision to become a worker for God is the result of years of growing conviction." He continued: "If He calls He will equip; this I believe with all my heart." The sense of God's call, so strongly stated in those early days, never diminished through the decades that followed.
Because of the urgent need for recruits in Indo-China in 1918, young Stebbins was sent to the field without the usual requirement of two years of homeland service. He said later that he did his home service in Baltimore. He arrived in Tonkin, Vietnam on November 2, 1918 with three other new missionaries: John D. Olsen, Richmond M. Jackson, and Miss Mary Hartman. A few months later Miss Hartman and Mr. Stebbins announced their engagement. They were married March 23, 1920 in a ceremony at the American Consulate in Canton, South China and so began their forty-one years of ministry together.
Rev. Stebbins was present at the baptism of the first Vietnamese convert, Mr. Lang, who became his associate and language teacher. An early encouragement in their work came from Mr. Pethie who was manager of the Standard Oil Co. and also Vice-Consul for the American government.
After language study the Stebbinses moved to Tourane (Danang) in 1920 and did evangelism along side of Vietnamese converts Mr. Hou, Mr. Khanh, and student-preacher Mr. Thua. Among the most significant of converts of Mr. Stebbins' ministry was that of Mr. Lieu a well known actor and scholar of Chinese classics. Before his conversion Mr. Lieu sought to embarrass the missionaries by asking questions drawn from the Chinese classics. But after several weeks of attempting to show that the Confucian classics were superior Mr. Lieu embraced the Gospel and became the most effective witness throughout Central and Southern Vietnam.
From Tourane the Stebbins went to Sadec for two and one-half years, the native place of their language teacher, Mr. Lang. Rumors were spread that inquirers would receive $20 if they would convert. While not true, the effect was to draw attention to the new religion and raise interest. The Stebbins' first convert, Mr. and Mrs. Ngo and his mother and relatives formed the nucleus of a new evangelical church in Sadec. He was also instrumental in starting the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN) at Cao Lanh when the mayor, Mr. Xa-Hanh, became a believer along with several other prominent businessmen. Other mission stations were opened at the same time by colleagues Rev. Herbert Jackson who went to Cantho, and Rev. Grupe who went to Chau Doc assisted by the converted actor, Mr. Lieu.
The Stebbinses moved from Sadec to Saigon and then to Vinh Long (80 miles from Saigon) in the delta. At Vinh Long the Stebbinses worked with a new student-preacher, Mr. Huyen, who was to become the seventh president of the ECVN. Prior to World War II the Stebbinses moved to Hue where their many contacts among French colonial administrators and Vietnamese bureaucracy was of great benefit to starting churches in the area. The family of nine returned to the USA in 1941 to escape World War II. In 1949 Rev. and Mrs. Stebbins returned to Vietnam alone. During the next five years Rev. Stebbins opened three new churches in Saigon driven by a vision for reaching the new urban masses. This opened the eyes of national church leaders who at first doubted that a major city could support more than one evangelical church. After a year of furlough the Stebbinses returned to Hue from which they reached out holding evangelistic meetings in a large tent provided by Christian friends in the USA. Until retirement in 1960 they taught English classes in their home and thus witnessed to many university students, professionals, businessmen and government workers.
Rev. Stebbins died of a heart attack in Deland, Florida January 5, 1971.
: Material not intended for publication use. Data was compiled from various sources by someone years ago. Completeness and accuracy of the information provided here have not
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