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William J. Hopewell (1919–2010)

William J. Hopewell Jr., a missionary statesman and seminary professor who shaped the ideas of independent Baptist missions, died on Saturday, March 6. He was 90.

Hopewell was born on Dec. 1, 1919, in Wilmington, Del. When he was eight years old, his father began a nightly ritual of praying with his son—praying that he would meet the right woman who would help in his later ministry.

A Wheaton College classmate of Billy Graham and publisher Alfred B. Smith, Hopewell graduated in 1941 and returned home to Wilmington, attending Faith Theological Seminary and beginning an early association with Fundamentalist leader Dr. Carl McEntire.

1944 was a busy year. In rapid succession, Hopewell graduated from seminary, enlisted with the U.S. Navy, and was deployed to the Pacific theater during World War II. Most importantly, many years of prayer were answered when Bill married Ruth Michener. The couple would minister together for 66 years.

While serving in the Philippines, Bill gained a love for the Filipino people and felt called to return after the war with his wife—this time as missionaries. The couple began a long affiliation with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism in 1947, helping establish Baptist Bible Seminary and Institute in Manila and serving as its first director. After serving for four years and developing the institute into a degree-granting seminary, they transferred to Chile as part of ABWE’s first missionaries to that country.

In 1957 Hopewell returned to the U.S. to join the faculty of Baptist Bible Seminary, Johnson City, N.Y. (now Clarks Summit, Pa.). Serving as associate professor, his tenure was marked by an emphasis on missionary service that resulted in hundreds of graduates becoming missionaries. During this time he also began studying at the Winona Lake School of Theology, where he earned a ThM in 1962. He received an honorary doctorate from Cedarville University in 1968.

While at Baptist Bible Seminary, Hopewell wrote The Missionary Emphasis of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, published by Regular Baptist Press in 1963. He described his book as “an attempt to put under one cover the first three decades of GARBC missions, a history to be used as a text for students, pastors, and study groups.” Hopewell strongly believed that small, independent Baptist churches were ideally suited as a base for global missions—believing this to be more effective than larger programs administered by the denominational hierarchy of other Baptist groups. Using current statistics, Hopewell showed that GARBC churches were giving more money per capita to missions than both the American Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention. Churches in fellowship with the GARBC were commissioning and sending more missionaries than denominations 10 times its size.

“The turn of the [twentieth] century found the American Baptists embracing liberal theology and relying on twentieth century bureaucratic principles to manage their vast missionary interests,” Hopewell wrote. “The outcome was a decline in missionary activity, rather than the anticipated increase.”

Hopewell called for a return to “the principle of the local churches’ free choice of independent Baptist missionary societies for their missionary work. . . . This prosperity will be assured by a steady emphasis upon the simple New Testament principles and the barring of bureaucracy in the home organization.” These ideas characterized Hopewell’s ministry for the rest of his life.

After 11 years of seminary teaching, Bill returned to ABWE in 1968 as deputation secretary, then was appointed executive administrator in 1977. During this time he led survey trips to open the fields of Paraguay (1974), South Africa (1980), Norway (1981), Kenya (1983), England (1984), and France (1985) for ABWE. He retired from ABWE in 1986.

He was instrumental in organizing The Associated Missions of the ICCC/ACCC (known as TAM) in 1952, a cooperative effort between missionary agencies affiliated with the International Council of Christian Churches and the American Council of Christian Churches. Hopewell later served as president of a successor group, the Fellowship of Missions (1980–1987). He remained active in the ACCC and served for many years on its executive committee.

He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Ruth; five children, William James Hopewell III (Charlotte), Carol Kilian (Roger), Sharon Santamaria (Jaime), and Thomas Hopewell (Jane); 16 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Dr. Ralph Colas, executive secretary of the ACCC, preached at the memorial service held on Saturday, March 13.

Baptist Bulletin articles written by Dr. William Hopewell:

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