Early Settlers of Union
Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
The Rev. George
Erwin, Missionary to Russia
The Rev. George Erwin was a
brother to Dr. Frank Erwin, subject of last week’s article. How Rev. George Erwin came to serve with
distinction as a Methodist Minister and a missionary to Russia in
the early part of the twentieth century is a story that needs to be
Following is “A Letter from the Most Distant Methodist Church,” written by the Rev. George Erwin, and
published in “The Missionary Voice” of the Methodist Church in the
January issue, 1930. Rev. Erwin wrote: “In Manchuli City, Manchuria, a
town on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, is the most distant congregation
of our church. It was my privilege to
conduct the first revival meeting there in February, 1927.
The temperature was about forty below
zero, but in spite of the extreme cold, the people would gather in
front of our chapel thirty minutes before the doors were opened to be
sure to get into the service. I have never
preached to people who were so anxious to hear the Gospel as were these
First appointed as a missionaries to
the late 19-teens, Frank and his wife, Vada,
were assigned to Vladivostock, Russia in Siberia by
the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Adjustment
to the climate, much different from Union County
where he was born, and South
Georgia where he had worked as a
minister in the South Georgia Conference, the young couple had an
upsetting experience about six months into their work in Russia.
The Bolshevik Revolution occurred, and the town where they lived
and worked was taken over by Bolshevik rulers. However,
the new government did not prevent work by the missionaries. They were able to continue with their
evangelical work and church starting until in the early 1920s.
Then the Mission Board of the Methodist Church gave
them a new assignment to go to Manchuria, China to
work among the Russian refugees who had settled there to get away from
the political upheaval in Russia. It was from there he wrote the letter quoted
above about the Manchurian Russians being so eager to attend church and
to listen to the gospel. They remained in Manchuria
until the late 1920s when they had to be recalled by the Conference
because there was not enough money available (due to the Great
Depression) to keep the Erwins on the
mission field. By that time, they had been
able to establish some churches and chapels, and the work proceeded,
even though the missionaries could not stay.
He returned to the South Georgia Conference where he continued
to pastor charges, and, after asking for a transfer to the North
Georgia Conference, was assigned to churches nearer to his beloved
Let’s trace the life of this outstanding Union Countian that led him to be a missionary in a
most difficult area of the world.
He was born in a cabin facing Brasstown Bald Mountain in Union County. He attended the Zion Elementary
School. He was a nephew of the Rev. Thomas Coke
Hughes, a stalwart and noted Union County Methodist Minister. The boy was dedicated to the Lord by his
parents with his uncle officiating when he was a baby, and at age
twelve he was confirmed in the faith and baptized by Rev. Hughes.
His father bought a farm on the Notla River and
moved his family from the log cabin into a more adequate farmhouse. George Erwin helped with the farm work and
attended school at Blairsville until he was eighteen.
At sixteen, he began to feel the call to the gospel ministry. He surrendered in the field as he hoed in his
father’s corn. Again, his uncle, the Rev.
Thomas Coke Hughes, wielded a great influence on the young lad’s study
of the scriptures and his determination to gain an education.
He enrolled in Young Harris College with
only $1.85 to help him pay his tuition and board. He
washed dishes, waited tables, did laundry, and sold books to pay the
$150 he owed the college when he graduated in 1914 with an overall
average of 93. It was at Young Harris that
he met the love of his life, Vada Kenyon
of Weston, Georgia. They were married and he continued his
theological studies at Vanderbilt University and Emory University. He was assigned to the South Georgia
Conference in 1916, and given the oversight to minister to six churches. From this position, he was appointed as a
missionary to Russia (and
spending over a decade working in a difficult area of the world. He does not tell how they learned the
difficult language so that they could communicate with the people or
how they adjusted to the cold climate and the strange culture. But these aspects of mission work are somehow
handled with determination. They were
beloved by the people to whom they ministered.
In retirement, he and his wife Vada
moved to Towns County, Georgia. In reflecting over his life as a minister and
missionary, he recalled that he had received over 3,000 into
membership, had helped to mentor 25 young men who became pastors from
his churches, and aided over 150 young people to attend college. He and Vada had
three children who he termed “capable
and wonderful…a joy to me!”
From a log cabin in the shadow of Bald Mountain to
“the most distant congregation of the United Methodist Church” is
a long stretch—both in miles and culture. But
Rev. George Erwin and his beloved wife Vada
met the challenge.
[References for the above article: New World Outlook: “The Missionary Voice”, Missions Magazine of
the United Methodist Church.
A., “Rev. George and Vada Erwin,” in Hearthstones
of Home, Foundations
Volume I (1983), Pp. 90-91.]
c2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 8, 2008 in The Union
Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail email@example.com;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708