Missionary and prayer center founder, Olive Bertha Smith (affectionately known as “Miss Bertha”), was born on November 16, 1888, near Cowpens, SC, to John McClellan and Frances Thorne Smith. She attended Linwood College in North Carolina for one year, then transferred to Winthrop College, where she graduated in 1913 with a bachelor of arts degree. She worked as a teacher for one year after graduation in an elementary school in Blacksburg, South Carolina, but feeling the call to the mission field, enrolled in the Woman’s Missionary Union Training School in Louisville, Kentucky and graduated in 1916. She served for one year as principal (and also as a teacher) in Spartanburg County, South Carolina at the Cooley Springs School.
On July 3, 1917, the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention appointed Smith as a missionary to China. She spent much of her initial time in China learning the Chinese alphabet and language and teaching English classes to Chinese students. She also witnessed the roots of the Shantung Revival (a period of Christian spiritual awakening for Chinese people) during her lengthy career of mission service. For some of her time in China, she was in charge of a girl’s boarding school at the mission, where she taught Bible classes in both Chinese and English.
After being interned by the Japanese in 1941, Miss Bertha continued her work in China until 1948 when Communism forced her out. She then moved to Formosa (the main island of Taiwan), where she served until her retirement. She was the Southern Baptist Convention’s first missionary to Taiwan. After her retirement, Bertha Smith prayed for and ministered to pastors and other Christians up until her death in 1988.
She retired from mission service in 1958 at age 70 but traveled extensively telling about her mission work. Smith founded the Peniel Prayer Center in Cowpens, SC, in 1973. She also authored books about her experiences as a missionary, Go Home and Tell and How the Spirit Filled My Life and is the subject of a biography, Miss Bertha: Woman of Revival by Lewis Drummond. Many of her oral sermons are still available, many online for free download.
Olive Bertha Smith was one of Southern Baptists’ most influential foreign missionaries. She was also a beloved educator, author, and administrator. Smith died on June 12, 1988, in SC, at age 99, just short of her 100th birthday.
Miss Bertha’s brother, Lester Berry Smith, became a minister in Newport News, Virginia. Rev. Smith married Rev. Intha DeLona McCraw, also an active minister in Newport News, Virginia.
Miss Bertha never married and spent her years after retirement with her sister, Jennie Elvira Smith, also never married, until Jennie’s death in 1976.
Miss Bertha’s Find a Grave Memorial is here: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=83324412&rand=333