Welander, Mary

1917 - 2019

Mary Welander was born on March 13, 1917 at Dartmoor in England to a Swedish engineer, Sven Welander, and a devout English mother, Georgina.

“I was a rebel and a tom-boy, expelled from two schools, a menace to family and friends,” recalled Mary Welander. At 15, her life took a dramatic turn after she underwent a deep conversion experience. “There was a new love and loyalty surging through my heart,” she said. From then on, she surrendered her life completely to Christ and served Him selflessly in China, Malaya, and the United Kingdom.

In 1941, Mary qualified as a State Registered Nurse (SRN) and served in a military hospital. After reading the China Inland Mission (CIM) magazine, China’s Millions, she knelt down one night and prayed: “Do as you like, Lord, I am yours.”[1]

In 1945, Mary sailed to Bombay, India and flew to China after journeying by train to Burma. She served as a missionary nurse with CIM, treating lepers in a remote area of Northwest China, while at the same time studying Mandarin.

In 1951, when the Communists took over China, she was deported to Hong Kong, travelling vast distances in an open lorry in freezing weather. In 1952, Mary was relocated to Malaya, which was then under Emergency rule by the British. Missionaries had been warmly invited by British High Commissioner General Sir Gerald Templer to “win the hearts and minds” of the resettled Chinese in New Villages.

She served selflessly for 28 years over seven terms in Malaya, saying, “I set out to love and laugh, mourn and weep with those who rejoiced or sorrowed. I became one with them as a sister in Christ among local fellow-believers.”[2]

Mary’s first term of service was from 1952 to 1955 in Bekok New Village in Johor with Maud Hullah of New Zealand. She was then transferred to Buloh Kasap, Johor from 1956 to 1960. Subsequent terms found her serving in Serdang (Selangor), Bidor (Perak), Ulu Yam, Batang Kali, Rawang and Klang (all in Selangor), with her last two terms in Johor Bahru (Johor).

During her first few terms of service, she worked as a missionary nurse in the New Villages. It was not easy for an English single lady to live in New Villages, which were surrounded by double rows of barbed wire. In “black” New Villages where insurgent activities were active, curfew was imposed from dusk to dawn.

The house the missionaries rented was built in a row and only thin pieces of timber planks separated each household. One had to quickly learn to turn a deaf ear to the incessant noise next door from crying babies, the hourly chiming of the popular pendulum clock, and frequent family quarrels. The roof was made from zinc sheets and the house could get unbearably hot in the afternoons.

As a nurse, she saw many patients daily in her clinics. She would charge them 10 cents each so as to make the medicine more “effective” psychologically. “Everyone wanted an injection and it was like magic to most people,” she wrote.[3] As the dental clinic was far away, she learned to extract teeth as well, sometimes under a mango tree using just a pair of pliers. Medical work was a very effective bridge in sharing the gospel. During her 28 years of service, there were a number of families who came to believe in Christ. It encouraged her to press on among the sick and suffering.

In 1962, Mary was posted to Rawang which was surrounded by 14 towns and villages with a population of 60,000. She decided to evangelise schoolchildren by selling Christian books and relentlessly sought permission from every school principal, with a right mixture of holy boldness and deep humility. Her seven years of unique ministry through book displays in the numerous schools was very successful in evangelising students through Christian literature.

In the biggest high school in Klang, she displayed her books for sale from 8am till 6pm when the school closed. Many from among the 2,000 students in 44 classes came to view the books. An Indian boy even bought 20 Tamil gospels to sell to people in his rubber estate. The impact these children had in spreading the good news within their village was unimaginable. 

In 1968, Mary reported having sold a huge quantity of Christian literature consisting of books and Scriptures to 60,000 young students, to the tune of £7,000.[4] Her success inspired many others to follow suit as colporteurs.

In 1971, Mary went to Johor Bahru where she stayed for the next seven years, as OMF shifted its focus to discipling and equipping Christian workers and leaders in towns. She took over the Christian Writer’s Course designed in the Philippines and for the next seven years, she trained more than a thousand students from nine countries, including Malaysia, to complete the correspondence modules. Subsequently, many trained editors took over the responsibility of running the course in their own countries, with indigenous flavour.

One of her students went on to become the editor of Asian Beacon, a local Christian magazine.[5] For the first time, their work promoted locally produced Christian materials suitable for local needs. It reached thousands of inquisitive enquirers and this encouraged indigenous Christian scholarship.

In 1979, she retired and returned to England where her third mission field comprised church planting, evangelism, and conducting Bible study among the locals. Her first book, I Was a Rebel, sold well and her story inspired many Christians to enter full-time service. The proverbial ending “she lived happily ever after” was a most apt description of her life.[6] She was called home to the Lord on December 10, 2019 in England.


  1. ^ Mike Wiltshire, “Ex-teenage Rebel and Mission Nurse is 100,” Good News for Norwich & Norfolk, Spring 2017, http://norwichfgb.co.uk/Publisher/File.aspx?ID=187504. 
  2. ^ Each term of service in OMF was four years followed by one year of furlough in the home country. 
  3. ^ Mary Welander, Learning to Trust, 21. 
  4. ^ Mary Welander, “Two Thousand Boys Buy Books,” The Millions, June 1969, 54. 
  5. ^ Welander, Learning to Trust, 82 
  6. ^ Wiltshire, “Ex-teenage Rebel and Mission Nurse is 100.” 

Tai Kim Teng, 

The author, an orthopaedic surgeon and the former executive director of OMF in Malaysia, is the executive director of DCBAsia.

© Tai Kim Teng. This article from New Villages and Missionaries, OMF in Malaya, 1952-1982 is reproduced with permission of the publisher, The Overseas Missionary Fellowship.