Death of Dr. Joseph Martin Smith, Former Missionary to China

Death of Dr. Joseph Martin Smith, Former Missionary to China

1912 – 2011

It is with deep sadness that Global Ministries shares the news of the death of former staff member and former missionary to China, Dr. Joseph M. Smith.

Joseph M. Smith of Blacksburg, Virginia, age 98, died on January 15, 2011.  Before his retirement in 1977, Dr. Smith served for 12 years (1964-1976) as Director of the Department of East Asia in the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  He was in charge of the work of the Christian Church with the United Churches in Thailand, Okinawa, the Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Taiwan.  He also served as Associate Executive Secretary in the Department of India and Nepal and as Dean of the College of Missions in the Division of Overseas Ministries.  Prior to these positions, Dr. Smith taught missions and history of religions for eight years at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

Dr. and Mrs. (Winnifred) Smith went to China as missionaries in 1940.  During the war between China and Japan, they were transferred to the Philippines where they were later interned for three years with their young son.  After the war, Dr. Smith remained in the Philippines for nine months, surveying damage to mission property, aiding in rehabilitation, and serving as interim executive of the Philippine Federation of Churches.

The Smiths returned to China in 1947 and worked at Wuhu.  Due to the civil war in China and the illness of their oldest son, Mrs. Smith and their sons left China in 1948 and Dr. Smith left China in 1949, serving his last six months under Communist control.

A long-time advocate of the normalization of U.S. relations with China, Dr. Smith made three trips back to China after his retirement.  In 1986, he and Mrs. Smith led a group to China to celebrate the centennial of the first Disciple missionary, who arrived in Nanjing in 1886.

Dr. Smith was born at Cliff, Virginia.  He earned the A.B. from Lynchburg College; B.D. from Yale Divinity School; M.A. in rural sociology from the University of Wisconsin; and doctorate of theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  His 1961 Th.D. dissertation, “A Strategy of World Mission,” remains a primary source for those studying the theology and practice of mission in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Joe Smith was ordained at the Euclid Avenue Christian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1933.  Before going to China, he held pastorates at Bedford, Virginia; Boones Mill, Virginia; Niantic, Connecticut; and Covington, Virginia.  Following their return from China, the Smiths served churches in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Coachella Valley, California (1950-1956).

After retirement, the Smiths made their home in the north Georgia mountains, then moved to Indianapolis, and, in 2005, Blacksburg, Virginia.  In “retirement,” he and Mrs. Smith served interim co-pastorates at Chapel Christian Church in Winder, Georgia; Memorial Boulevard Christian Church in Saint Louis, Missouri; First Christian Church in Waynesboro, Tennessee; Ashland Terrace Christian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Calvary Christian Church in Covington, Virginia.

Dr. Smith was predeceased by his wife, Winnifred Watson, and is survived by three children, Frederick, Douglas, and Barbara Ellen, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held on January 22, 2011, at 11:00 a.m. at Blacksburg Christian Church.  Condolences may be sent to: Barbara Ellen Smith, 3020 Lick Run Road, Blacksburg, VA  24060. Gifts in memory of Joe may be made to DOM/Global Ministries, the Disciples Peace Fellowship or the Christian Church Foundation for the Joe and Winn Smith Endowment Fund – all three entities have the mailing address of P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206-1986.


Tribute by William J. Nottingham, shared at Joseph Smith’s memorial service, January 22, 2011

Tribute by Michael Stainton, received by Global Ministries

Tribute by Enid Jones, former missionary to Latin America

Tribute by Douglas Reynolds, Department of History, Georgia State University