This Week in Texas Methodist History April 27
One of the strands of Texas Methodist history that has persisted through its entire history has been mission efforts to ethnic and linguistic communities. Those efforts can be roughly divided into four phases.
a. The beginnings until Reconstruction—missions to African Americans and Germans
b. The Progressive Era—missions to immigrants
c. Post Mexican Revolution—missions to Mexican immigrants to Texas
d. Modern era—missions to Asian Texans.
All four eras deserve extended treatment, and your columnist hopes to be able to provide that in future columns. This week’s column highlights the Progressive Era missions and lifts up the special edition of the Texas Christian Advocate of April 29, 1909 which was devoted to the subject.
As historians of the era have long pointed out, Progressives were often motivated by both hope and fear—Hope that the immigrants would add their labor and talents to an expanding economy and eventually lose their identity in the “melting pot” of America and fear that the immigrants would bring diseases, radical political traditions, trade unionism, and bossism. When Progressives considered the religions of the immigrants, Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Roman Catholicism, many were alarmed. They saw synagogue and immigrant church as barriers to the assimilation and “Americanization” which Progressives desired.
Most of this story played out in the northeastern United States, but Texas also played a minor role. Proximity to Mexico made Mexican-American missions the centerpiece of efforts in Texas, but evangelization efforts directed toward Japanese, Italian, Bohemian, and Swedish immigrants also occurred. There were French missions in nearby Louisiana.
Women played a central role in the missions. Houston, Galveston, Thurbur, Fort Worth, and Terry (in Orange County) were the most important sites. Some had Wesley Houses that provided social services, English language instruction, pre-natal and maternal education, child care, and rudimentary medical care.
Another model was appointment of a missionary who spoke the language. The Central Texas Conference supported Czech speaking missionaries, and the Texas Conference had Italian speakers who were stationed sometimes in Beaumont and sometimes in the Brazos Valley.
The missions tended to be short lived. The coal mines at Thurbur which had attracted Italian and Bohemian miners closed. The Japanese agricultural colony at Terry did not survive the Great Depression.