Refugee Week is a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Founded in 1998 and held every year around World Refugee Day on the 20 June, Refugee Week is a growing global movement.
In this blog we mark the remarkable lives and work of Stuart (1899-1989) and Mercy (née Salmon) Hine who were itinerant evangelists, and refugee workers. Stuart was born into a Salvation Army family in Hammersmith, London, England and was influenced greatly by the teachings of English Baptist evangelist Charles Spurgeon. He served in the First World War from 1917-19, after which time he and Mercy became missionaries working mainly in Eastern Europe. Between WWI and WWII, they served in Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Czechoslovakia.
In 1931, the Hines were forced to leave Ukraine due to the Голодомор (Holodomor) the Famine Genocide perpetrated against the Ukrainian people during the winter of 1932-33 by Joseph Stalin, then Leader of the Soviet Union. They returned to Eastern Europe and in 1934, set off on a three-hundred-mile bicycle ride to preach and distribute bibles to people high up in the Карпаmu (Carpathian Mountains) of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was this journey that gave birth to the gospel song, How Great Thou Art, one of the most popular songs of its type in the world.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the mass exodus of refugees continued – people fleeing conflict, who were homeless and often separated from loved ones. In 1947-48 thousands of refugees termed ‘European Voluntary Workers’, directed towards a choice of mining, agriculture, textile or hospital work, came to the UK. The arrivals were initially sent on to one of 300 refugee camps (for example 30,000 mainly Russians and Ukrainians to Havant and similar numbers to camps around Derby). Brethren members visited all the camps. In his autobiography, Not You, But God (1982) Hine tells of a meeting with three Polish men in Wales,
‘…living alone with no desire to take food to keep them alive. The leader, the brother of a well-known Polish officer whose return to a communist land was unthinkable, realised that his own return too was impossible. The hope to see again his homeland and loved ones, was dead. I spoke with them, and gave them a Polish Bible. The leader wrote thanking me saying, “Maybe as I read this Book I may find hope once again”’.
The Hines based themselves in London where from 1950-59 they worked with Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Yugoslav and Polish refugees via weekly meetings in Park House Hall assembly at 223 Earls Court Road. A placard in six languages issued an invitation to passers-by.
In 1958, Hine published an account of how the gospel song, How Great Thy Art, came into being. He first heard the song in the Ukrainian mountains – words from a Swedish folk poem set to a local melody. He translated the words into English and added further verses as life’s experiences inspired him. The fourth verse is dedicated to the refugees Hines worked with in London – a verse full of hope.
Today, as the bloody Russian invasion of the Ukraine continues, Hine’s words are particularly poignant.
Stuart and Mercy eventually retired from the active ministry but continued to publish song books and music and contributed much of their income to various missionary endeavours around the world. The Stuart Hine Trust was formed in 1985, to administer the international royalties received from the hymns written by the Hines.
How Great Thy Art and other publications by Stuart Hine are available in the Christian Brethren Archive, the largest and most significant collection of Brethren material in the world.