Lillian Bromiley was a teacher and evangelist in China and Malaysia. Born in Bromley Cross near Bolton, Lancashire, England to William and Gertrude Bromiley, she came from an active Christian family. Her brother Geoffrey W. Bromiley was a noted theologian, scholar and linguist who taught at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. She had two sisters, Connie and Joan. Connie married and she and her husband served as Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society (BCMS) missionaries in Burma. Joan married a teacher and Methodist Lay Minister.
Lillian studied at the Bolton School and then at the universities of London (Holloway College, 1939) and Birmingham, qualifying as a mathematician and teacher. In 1947 she served with the China Inland Mission (CIM), studying Mandarin at the Anking Language School. Later in Malaysia she would also be trained in Hokkien and learn Malay.
Throughout her time in China and Malaysia, in regular ‘circulars’ – newsletters mimeographed and distributed by her friend Lucy Hall in England – she stayed in correspondence with many friends and colleagues in other parts of the world, detailing the progress of her work and asking for their prayers of support.
Lillian spent the summer of 1947 in Kuling, as the Anking Language School had relocated there during the summer heat. She taught mathematics at the CIM-run ‘Chefoo’ school for children of missionaries located there that year. Later she moved to Kan-hsien. Her correspondence from 1948, for example, talks about her work with various Chinese Christians and the efforts that they made to engage others to hear their ministry. The story of Mr. Tuan, a tailor who walked 40 miles to a meeting with the missionaries to learn more, so that he could conduct a service in his home village each week, is just one of numerous examples she conveyed to her friends.
She left China as part of the CIM staff withdrawal. After a period teaching in England she returned to South East Asia in 1955, sailing on the SS ‘Canton’ in April that year to Kuala Lumpur, Malaya. This was two years prior to the Federation of Malaya (a precursor to the country of Malaysia) declaring independence.
During that time, in addition to peaceful political change towards independence, there was also an insurgent guerrilla war with communist forces described as the ‘Malay Emergency’. As part of the security response, new villages were established across the country to relocate sections of the indigenous population, largely people of Chinese ethnicity.
Lillian’s work there initially was with Overseas Missionary Fellowship, the successor organization to the CIM, first in Triang New Village in the middle of the peninsula working with Miss Ethel Taylor, a fellow missionary and a mentor to her. In 1957 she moved to the town of Kuantan on the east coast to become the senior mathematics teacher at the newly-opened Sultan Abu Bakar High School (SABS). She was an active participant in both Anglican and Methodist Church fellowships in Kuantan.
For the next twelve years, she combined a heavy teaching curriculum and annual responsibilities for regional invigilation of the Cambridge School Certificate examinations with her outreach to many ethnic Chinese students. Her home was a busy meeting place; it served as the venue for the School Christian Union meetings, and she also held Bible classes there.
Early in her correspondence to her friends Lillian wrote:
“I would value prayer that right from the start this new home may be used to the glory of God. I very much hope it will be a place that the young people will want to visit, and being in the town I shall be more on the spot. God has given me various contacts with young people and I need your prayers that I may be given wisdom and understanding in following them up.”
SABS provided pre-university education for a large area of the state of Pahang. During term time some female ‘distance’ students would live at Lillian’s home, where she provided an ongoing example of Christian life and faith. She had the joy of seeing students who came to her totally unaware of Christianity learn about Jesus Christ, accept him as their Saviour and be baptized. For many of her students graduating and then studying at universities abroad she worked with her network to arrange contacts and support as they studied far from home.
Lillian loved Malaysia and eventually decided to remain there, seeking and obtaining citizenship. She never married, but in 1969 she left Kuantan to move to Kuala Lumpur, where she established a home with her adopted son Paul, a Chinese Malaysian and his wife and baby daughter. There she taught mathematics at Taylor’s College, located near the University of Malaya.
She was very happy in her new location and family, particularly so with her time spent with her adopted granddaughter Elaine. In one of her last letters to friends she wrote,
In this circular the thought I wish to share with you is found in St. Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 10, where we get a promise made by Jesus to His followers: “I promise you” he said “nobody leaves home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property for my sake and the gospel’s without getting back a hundred times over …”. In Malaysia I have found the fulfilment of His promise.’
Lillian Bromiley died suddenly in November 1971, reportedly of a brain haemorrhage. Many Chinese men and women in Malaysia now in retirement or nearing the completion of their careers will remember her, not only as the teacher who gave them the mathematical grounding to qualify for university entrance but also as the woman who demonstrated what it meant to be a Christian and who provided them with the knowledge and insight to help them find their own faith in Christ.
In 1967 Malaysia placed a 10-year cumulative service visa restriction on foreign Christian missionaries. By 1977 evangelical activity in the country was in the hands of indigenous clergy, churches and related organisations. Recently a Malaysian Christian wrote to me saying, “The OMF missionaries touched individual lives that in turn made a difference in the lives of many others … There are many generations of Christians [here] who can trace the first conversion in the family to an OMF missionary”. Lillian Bromiley was one of those people.