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Mary Milner

1946-1947 / Queen Street Campus

As a young teenager Mary clearly knew God’s call to overseas mission. After finishing high school she completed a commercial course, and started work for the Crusader Movement and Scripture Union. During her 10 years in that role, she always felt that God was preparing her for something further. In her application to NZBTI she wrote:


“Early in 1944 a desire, which had often burdened me, to reach the outsider, became more insistent. My life had been a sheltered one, having been brought up in a Christian home and working in a Christian atmosphere all my life, and now I had a great longing to ‘try my wings’ in the outside world.”


While she had never been attracted to nursing, she felt this would be good training for future service and did a one-year nursing course before entering the NZ Bible Training Institute in 1946, aged 26. In her second year she applied to the China Inland Mission (CIM). They were keen to send her out quickly, as World War 2 had prevented missionaries from going for several years. Mary decided to cut her studies short, with only a month’s notice to prepare her things for an expected first term of seven years in China.


In September 1947 she embarked on a six-week voyage to China – made memorable by bouts of seasickness. Her language school studies were abruptly shortened by the advance of Communist forces and, in the dead of night, Mary and her colleagues moved to a mountain resort to continue their studies. After a few months at CIM headquarters in Shanghai, she was sent to the city of Xining in West China for further experience. Although other missionaries had been deported by the Communists, she was miraculously given permission to move over the mountains to join fellow Kiwi missionaries (and NZBTI graduates) Norman and Amy McIntosh at Kweiteh, a busy trading post on the Yellow River in the Tibetan foothills.


Mary and the McIntoshes were under constant surveillance by the Communist authorities, and eventually were placed under house arrest for over a year before exit visas were granted. After an 11-day journey across China, with frequent baggage inspections by the police, Mary and the McIntoshes arrived in Hong Kong on 7 January 1952 – the last Kiwi CIM missionaries to leave China.[1]


With the door to mission work in China firmly closed, new mission opportunities opened up in South East Asia and CIM was renamed Overseas Missionary Fellowship. After a year back in NZ visiting supporters, Mary was asked to join the secretarial team for six months at OMF headquarters in Singapore. From there she moved to Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, Japan, to do similar work. Northern Japan was to become her field of service for the next 34 years. Mary became involved in helping in an English Bible Study group, from which 17 students became Christians. That group grew into the first OMF church in Sapporo. They were exciting days as young people, disillusioned through loss in war, were open to hearing the Gospel message. During their first Christmas 12 were baptised and the church grew. Her years in Japan varied between secretarial work, church planting, 17 years in literature work (eventually becoming responsible for a chain of five Christian bookshops), and finally church planting work in Hakodate, Hokkaido.[2]


Mary retired back to NZ in 1987 and got involved in Asian diaspora ministry at Blockhouse Bay Baptist Church. She went back to Japan at age 76 for six months in 1996 to help a church left without missionaries, taking Bible studies and English classes in Eniwa – “the Lord challenged me from his Word that we are never too old to serve him”.[3]


Mary died in Auckland in 2008 at the age of 88.


[1] The story of Norman and Amy McIntosh gives a fuller account of the reasons for the house arrest: https://www.laidlaw100.ac.nz/post/norman-amy-mcintosh

[2] Much of this biographical material was taken from an article written by Mary for an OMF newsletter, Oct/Nov 2006.

[3] Quote taken from Mary’s Christmas newsletter, 1996



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