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|Justus H. Vinton|
Missionary to Burma
|Born||February 17, 1806
|Died||March 31, 1858 (aged 52)
Justus H. Vinton (17 February 1806 – 31 March 1858) was an American Baptist missionary who labored for 25 years in Burma (now known as Myanmar) preaching the gospel amongst the Karen people. He had boundless energy and was pre-eminently a man of revival power and was most adored, respected and venerated by the natives as well as the British civil and military residents. He was one of the missionaries who converted the most Karen people.
Justus Vinton was born on 17 February 1806 in Willington, Connecticut. He attended the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution (later known as Madison University and finally as Colgate University). In 1833, the missionary to Burma, Jonathan Wade, on his medical furlough spent the year at the Institution giving instructions to the future missionaries. Among the future missionaries were Justus Vinton and Calista Holman. Jonathan Wade also brought along with him two of his disciples. One was a Burmese named Maung Shwe Maung and another was a Karen named Saw Chet Thaing. Justus and Calista received the Karen language lessons from Saw Chet Thaing.
Justus married Calista Holman in 1834 and three months later set sail to Burma in company with other missionaries: Mr. and Mrs. Wade, Mr. and Mrs. Howard, Mr and Mrs. Dean, and Mr. and Mrs. Osgood and the two disciples. The voyage took one hundred and sixty days, which was about normal in those days. Justus and Calista used the extra time to learn the Karen language. In addition the missionaries preached the gospel to the crew members. During the voyage they converted the captain, the first officer, the steward, supercargo, and many sailors.
Life in Moulmein
They disembarked in Moulmein (also known as Mawlamyine) in December 1834. Since Justus and Calista were sufficiently familiar with the language, they began their mission work at once. They took native canoes and visited many jungle Karen villages singing the hymns and preaching the gospel. He had a cheerful disposition and a talent for preaching. He sang with a rich full voice and many Karens were won over. They called him the teacher who sang the gospel. They were welcomed and embraced so readily, and so many villages requesting their visits, they decided to do the excursions separately. Where ever they went, crowd followed, eager to learn the truth, and hundreds were converted.
During the monsoon (raining) season, when travelling was impossible, the Vintons were confined to the city. they learned Burmese language and Justus labored among the British soldiers in the garrison and preaching and distributing religious tracts among the Burmese. He also worked on the translation of the New Testament into Karen and wrote commentaries. Between 1834 and 1848, Justus labors were confined to Moulmein district with occasional visits to Rangoon (now known as Yangon)and Tavoy (now known as Dawei). On his frequent visits to Rangoon he baptized many who had accepted the Christ. Rangoon was still under Burmese rule at that time, but Adoniram Judson's disciple Saw Tha Byu and Rev. Abbott had converted many Karens around Rangoon and little churches had sprung up even under opposition and harassment. Many young Karen men travelled on foot to Moulmein through the forest to go to school established by Calista Vinton. There they learned to read God's word in their language which was reduced by the missionaries into written form. They brought back the bible and tracts hidden under their turbans so that they could share the word in their own villages.
In 1841, 22-year-old Justus's sister Miranda joined them for mission work and worked as a teacher. She was the light and joy of the household. The Vintons had a son, Brainerd, and a daughter Calista.
Sojourn in America
In 1847, Mrs. Vinton health failed and was thought best to return to America for treatment. Justus visited the Baptist churches in almost all the states and preached to rekindle the missionary spirit and raised funds for the debt ridden Baptist Missionary Union. In July 1850, the Vintons took a ship to return to Burma accompanied by a large contingent of missionaries, including Jonathan Wade and Eugenio Kincaid and their wives.
Call to Rangoon
In 1852, a British frigate and four armed steamers arrived at the port of Rangoon to demand redress of grievances from the Burmese government. The local authorities prepared for resistance by erecting immense stockades and placing batteries at various points. Reinforcements were called from surrounding area including bands of robbers and unsavory characters. They preyed upon the populace, especially the hapless Karens by plundering, pillaging and burning down the villages.
News of their sufferings and the agonizing cry of the seventeen Karen churches reached Moulmein. Rev. Eugenio Kincaid, who was in Rangoon at that time, also beseeched Justus to come over to Rangoon and help in the relief work on the suffering victims. The fellow missionaries at Moulmein also agreed that he should go. Justus went to Rangoon at once. Waiting for a formal authorization of his transfer from the Baptist Mission Union would have required six to eight months. When he reached Rangoon, he saw the city in ruins and five thousand refugee Karens were living in carts or under trees within seven miles of Rangoon. Rangoon felled to the British on 12 April 1852 in the Second Anglo-Burmese War. But the detachments from disbanded local army continued to harass the people robbing, plundering, burning and destroying the whole country. Six weeks after the capture of Rangoon, Justus Vinton's family joined him in Rangoon. They set up an emergency hospital in a vacant monastery and soon it was filled with cases of smallpox, measles, whooping cough, dysentery and cholera. Calista also set up a school, and two hundred pupils attended.
Famine followed the war and pestilence. Justus Vinton bought provisions and fed thousands of refugees. When his funds ran out, he went to the local merchants and negotiated to get the provisions on credit telling them truthfully that he had not received any of his remittance for the past year. The merchants agreed to provide him on credit because they had heard about his reputation of compassionate relief work to the sufferings irrespective of the race and creed. It was the best investment he ever made. Many hearts were melted to witness his compassion and love.
The Karen churches were already supporting their pastors and their schools. In 1854, Karen Home Mission Society was formed. At their first annuall meeting, thirty pastors and three hundred lay delegates were in attendance. In 1855, a two story Karen Baptist church was built which came to be known as the Frank's Chapel with donations from American friends, native converts and British civil and military officials. In that same year, the Vinton's son Brainerd went to study at Hamilton, NY and the daughter Calista went to study at Suffolk. Miranda died after serving faithfully alongside her brother for twelve years.
For responding to the anguish call of Rangoon, the Baptist Mission Union censured Justus Vinton for abandoning his post without authorization. Justus never defended his position but resigned from the Missionary Union. He accepted the affiliation of American Baptist Free Mission Society. No salary was received from the Society but the Society acted as a financial agent in the collection and transmission of funds and in publication in the country of his reports and letters. Besides funds donated by friends in America, his mission was supported by native Christians and British residents in Rangoon.
In 1858, Justus went on an excursion to Shwekyin to find appropriate locations for posting native preachers. It was an unhealthy region and he came back with a jungle fever. He died on 31 March 1858 after twenty five years of service exemplified by unflagging faith and devoted zeal. He was beloved, respected and venerated by natives as well as British officers and men. Calista carried on the mission work. She was ably assisted by her son Brainerd and daughter Calista and their spouses who returned from America after their studies.
In 1872, long after the death of Justus Vinton, he was finally vindicated by the Baptist Missionary Union and Brainerd rejoined the church.
- Luther, Calista V., "The Vintons and the Karens, Memorials of Rev. Justus H. Vinton and Calista H. Vinton", Boston, 1880
- Wa, Maung Shwe: Burma Baptist Chronicle, Rangoon, 1963
- Hervey, Rev. G. Winfred: The Story of Baptist Missions n Foreign Lands, From the Time of Carey to the Present Time, St. Louis, 1884
- Patton, Alfred S., The Hero Missionary or A History of the Labors of Eugenio Kincaid, D.D.,New York, 1859
- Carney, Sandra: Exclusive:Forgotten Missionary:One of History's Little Known Heroes, 2007; http://www.fsmarchives.org/article.php?id=812220