George Percival Moore was born to missionary parents Arthur and Esther Moore in Lanzhou, Gansu, China on October 15, 1909. His maternal grandparents, George and Jessie Andrew, were pioneer missionaries of the China Inland Mission (CIM). Percy, as he was known, grew up on a mission compound in Lanzhou where he learned his first Chinese words from his Chinese playmates.
At the age of six, he was sent to the Mission boarding school at Yantai (Chefoo), Shandong province where he completed his primary and secondary education. Following his matriculation, at his parents’ suggestion, he moved to Canada. After a brief career as a bank clerk, he determined to be a missionary and enrolled in the Glasgow Bible Institute. He applied to the CIM and was formally accepted on September 23, 1931, the third generation of his family to serve in the Mission.
He was designated to the South Shaanxi field, an area known as the Hanzhong prefecture with 10 counties and the county capital at Hanzhong. Here, his father Arthur Moore (Mu Xing Chen 穆信诚), was the field superintendent. Percy met Amy Weir (Wei Ami 魏阿蜜), an Australian missionary, at a field conference in South Shaanxi in 1932 and they were married in 1934. They subsequently had four children, Raymond, Alan, Frank and Dorothy. Three were born in Hanzhong while Frank was born whilst the couple was on furlough in Australia in 1939.
Percy’s apprenticeship as a missionary in South Shaanxi were difficult years – dangerous skirmishes with groups of Communist bandits in the mid-1930s, the Sino-Japanese war erupting in 1937, followed by the Japanese entry into World War II. Building on his childhood foundation, he mastered the Mandarin language quickly and was soon interacting with the Chinese people. The CIM set its own exams which were assessed by R.H. Matthews, the author of a much respected Mandarin primer.
In 1944, Arthur and Esther Moore retired and Percy was elected as the new field superintendent. He served in this role until his furlough in 1948.
The interim period 1948-1952
Following his furlough, it soon became evident that the CIM’s days in China were numbered. Percy Moore was deeply grieved by the closure of the China mission field. It was the only life he knew and it was what he was good at. He was fundamentally a church builder. He knew how to initiate and bond together a group of believers, and was skilled at selecting leaders and sorting out misunderstandings. He was an effective Bible teacher, able to expound the Scriptures with clarity and relevance. Finally, he understood Chinese culture in a way that few missionaries did, spoke tonally correct Mandarin and wrote it with the skill of a master calligrapher.
Circumstances in the CIM changed rapidly. The mission metamorphosed into the China Inland Mission-Overseas Missionary Fellowship. It began work in a number of Southeast Asian countries, including Malaya. The new leader, J.O. Sanders, knew Percy well and also his ability to speak and write Chinese, his capacity to unite people and, most importantly, his Pauline skills of church founding and building.
In early 1952, Percy was on his way to Singapore as superintendent of the China Inland Mission work in Malaya. He and Amy, who joined him the following year, later set up home at 11, Penang Road, Kuala Lumpur. Much of what follows is based on Amy Moore’s account of the period 1952-1959 in her book Malayan Story.
Amy Moore wrote that it was Gerald Templer who encouraged and facilitated missionary activity in Malaya. General Sir Gerald Templer was appointed High Commissioner for Malaya on January 22, 1952 specifically to deal with the Malaya Emergency, a war fought between the British and Communists in the jungles of Malaya between 1948 and 1960. A month after his appointment, Templer called a meeting of various missionary organisations and groups such as the Red Cross, Boy Scouts and Malayan Chinese Association. He asked for their cooperation, famously saying: “The answer lies not in pouring more soldiers into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the Malayan people… ”
The Methodists, Presbyterians and Church of England had been working in Malaya prior to the arrival of the CIM/OMF, and it was they who set up the Malayan Christian Council as a coordinating committee. Following an enquiry from Bishop Baines of Singapore, the first step the CIM/OMF took was to divide Malaya into two halves and place the northern part in the hands of Anglican (CIM, formerly East Sichuan diocese) missionaries, led by George Williamson. Percy Moore would be responsible for the southern half of Malaya.
As the work, which was mostly staffed by ex-China missionaries, got underway, it quickly became evident that Mandarin was not widely understood or spoken. According to patterns of migration, there were four main dialects that could be heard in different parts of Malaya: Hakka, Hokkien, Cantonese and Teochew. The missionaries had to start again and try and master the prevailing dialect of the place where they were situated. This was difficult and resulted in the missionaries needing to find interpreters who were skilled in both Mandarin and the local dialect.
Despite these challenges, workers were soon established in Scudai (Skudai), Sungai Way, Cha’ah, Buloh Kasap, Batu Anam, Sungai Chua, Kuala Kubu, Kluang, Bekok, Serdang, Santai, Pontian and Pendamaran. The work was difficult and fruitless, with the missionaries finding it hard to establish credibility. Many people suspected them of being government agents.
There was little response until a breakthrough occurred in 1953. Paul Contento (孔保罗 Kong Bao Luo), an American CIM missionary working at the Singapore Theological Seminary, suggested to Percy Moore that Contento, accompanied by four Chinese students who were able to speak eight dialects between them including Hakka, Hokkien, Cantonese and Teochew, conduct a series of evangelistic meetings throughout South Malaya. Percy agreed immediately and the tour got underway. The team of five visited 12 new villages and had great success.
Paul Contento reported: “Thousands heard the Gospel for the first time in their own language by someone of their own race. That made them realize that the Gospel is not a ‘foreign religion’ but something they themselves needed… In many villages our campaign was the turning point for many. Faithful groundwork had been done by the resident missionaries. The open air meetings with the Gospel preached by Asian Christians in their own dialects, was the deciding emphasis many needed.”
Amy Moore describes 1953 as the year of conversions, 1954/1955 as the year of baptisms and emerging church fellowships, and 1956 as a year of advance and consolidation.
The first baptisms at Serdang in December 1954 took place at an old mining pool at the Agricultural Experimental Station.
In 1956, 21 villages had been evangelised. The Cha’ah church became self-managing so the missionaries moved out. The Sungai Chua church was placed under Methodist leadership. The CIM / OMF had 73 missionaries including 47 dialect speakers, and 119 candidates had been baptised.
A Christian Training Centre was opened at Rawang in the state of Selangor under principal, David Day. The Scripture Union leader from India, Cecil Johnstone, visited Malaya and began distribution of Scripture Union materials. Percy initiated a Bible correspondence course. Ken and Edith Price opened the Evangel Book Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
In 1957, the CIM/OMF began a ministry among the Tamil people with the help of two couples seconded from South India. In the same year, Malaya gained its independence.
In 1953, Percy King had begun itinerant preaching from the back of a specially equipped van. He continued this work until 1958. He visited Rawang, Kuang, Kundang, Batu Arang and Ulu Yam amongst other places.
Medical clinics were set up by missionary nurses, as well as in cooperation with existing Red Cross clinics. OMF missionary nurse, Ferne Blair, established a clinic in Sungai Way. In Scudai and Serdang, missionary nurses worked with the Red Cross clinics. Dr and Mrs Pearce ran a clinic in Cha’ah for a number of years.
Despite restrictions on preaching the Gospel to indigenous Malayans, opportunities arose for some missionaries. In 1953, Leah Evans, an OMF missionary, was presented with such an opportunity in Bekok where there was a community of Sakai people. The headman of the community appeared to accept the Gospel. Other contacts were made near Pahang and Kluang.
The Sungei Way story
In June 1952, Hayden Mellsop settled two teachers, Margaret Hollands and Annette Harris, and nurse Ferne Blair in Sungei Way village. All three spoke Mandarin, having spent a few years in China before the door closed. The villagers were rubber tappers and were almost entirely Hakka speakers. The initial contact of the missionaries was with the children. They lived in a shop-front house and so were constantly under the scrutiny of the entire population of village children. Every Sunday afternoon became an extended Sunday School time with lots of singing and Bible stories told in Mandarin.
Amy Moore wrote: “Signs of belief first appeared among the children as they heard about Jesus.” Ferne Blair opened a clinic which began to attract the children’s parents. However, the fathers were adamant that they were not to become too heavily involved in the “foreign religion”. On one of his routine “Super’s Day” visits after the three women missionaries had been there for almost a year, Percy Moore went to Sungei Way. As they prayed together, Annette prayed that the “biggest sinner” in the village would be converted. Back then, the three missionaries were receiving tuition in the Hakka dialect from a Mr Yap, who had taken to gambling.
In 1953, Paul Contento and his multi-lingual team visited Sungei Way. They stood outside the shopfront for three nights and preached the Gospel to crowds of up to 300 people. Mr Yap responded and declared his desire to be a Christian. He went home and told his wife, who said, “If Jesus can deliver you from gambling, then I will believe too!” Amy Moore wrote: “... whether Mr Yap was the worst man in God’s sight in the village or not, he was certainly the worst gambler and, by the power of God, he was a new man from that day.”
Subsequently, four men and six women (including Mr and Mrs Yap) were baptised in a pool at a tin mine.
In 1955, four men, including Mr Yap, were formally inducted as deacons. Percy Moore preached on the responsibilities of deacons and they then celebrated communion together, after which he prayed for the four men as they stood in front of the congregation and dedicated them to the Lord’s service.
Conclusion of ministry in Malaya
In March 1959, Percy Moore had a heart attack. He recovered and was able to continue his missionary labours for another 10 years. However, he was never to return to Malaya/Malaysia as it was considered too demanding on his health. He spent some time in Hong Kong with the Christian Witness Press and some years as the superintendent of the South Thailand field. He died peacefully In Ballarat, near Melbourne, Victoria on January 4, 1972. Amy Moore commented many years later that the years in Malaya/Malaysia were the pinnacle of Percy Moore’s career as a missionary.
Moore, Amy. Malayan Story: The Story of the Start of the China Inland Mission/Overseas Missionary Fellowship in Malaya in the 1950's. Kyema Publishing, 2017.