Billy Graham Center

Interview with Paul A. Contento - Collection 472

[Note: What follows is a description of the documents in this collection which are available for use at BGC Archives in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. The actual documents are not, in most cases, available online, only this description of them. Nor are they available for sale or rent.]

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions


An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection (Location Records)


Transcript 1

Transcript 2a

Transcript 3

Collection 472 [September 20, 2002]

Contento, Paul A.; 1906-

Interview; 1992

Audio Tapes (.01 cubic feet)

Brief Description. Oral history interview in which Contento discusses his childhood, conversion, attendance at Moody Bible Institute, going to China in 1928 as a China Inland Mission worker, evangelistic work in Ningxia province (Inner Mongolia) and work among university students in southwest and northwest China, founding of the Inter-Varsity student movements in China, Singapore and Vietnam; Calvin Chao; the Sino-Japanese war; the communist takeover in China; founding of Singapore Bible College; evangelistic work in Singapore and Vietnam among high school and university students; and the war in Vietnam. The events described cover the time period 1900-1992.

Restrictions: Transcripts to the interviews T1, T2, and T3 are available. A portions of interview T2 is restricted until December 31, 2042.

Full name Paul Alfred Contento
Birth August 14, 1905, in Volentare, Italy
Death August 1, 1997
Parents Italian immigrants to the US, Edward & Carmilla (Carmela) DeMissaris Contento
Siblings Four brothers and sisters
Marital Status Married to Maida (Mary) E. M Bolster on June 10, 1933 (Mary died November 14, 1985)
Children Isobel Ruth, born September 15, 1940
Conversion At father's funeral
Ordination Northern Baptist Convention
1924-1927 Moody Bible Institute
1937 Henry Martyn Islamic School, India
1938 Arabic language study in Jerusalem
1946-1949 University of California - Berkeley, BS
1928 Joined China Inland Mission (later Overseas Missionary Fellowship)
1928-1951 China:
    Men's language school in Anqing (1928-1929)
    Evangelism and church planting in Zhongwei, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia (1929-1936)
    Taught English in Chongking University, Szechuan University, Northwestern University (1939-1951)
    Evangelistic and discipleship ministry among university students (1939-1951)
1951-1960 Singapore:
    Helped found and taught at Singapore Bible College
    Launched Inter-School Christian Fellowship
    Worked with IVF in Singapore
    Taught at Nanyang University
1960-1975 Vietnam:
    Founded and worked with Inter-Varsity in Vietnam
    Taught at Van Hanh University in Saigon
    Started IVF program in high schools
1975-1982 Philippines:
    Taught at Biblical Seminary of the Philippines
    Chaplain to the Norwegian Alliance of Social Workers
1982 Retired from OMF on June 30
1982-1989 Dean of students at the Chinese Christian Witness Seminary, Berkeley
Other significant information
Was a participant at founding of Chinese Inter-Varsity movement in Kunming.
Was often featured as a speaker at church meetings and conferences in the US.

Scope and Content

Paul Contento was interviewed by Robert Shuster on December 9, 1992, at Contento’s residence in OMF’s retirement center, Lammermuir House, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The events described in the interview cover the time period 1900-1992. The interview was originally recorded on two audio cassette tapes, and afterward transferred to three open-reel preservation master tapes.

T1 (68 minutes, click to link to the transcript of this tape) Background of Italian immigrant parents and their migration to the US, father’s anti-religiosity and personality, memories of World War I, mother’s character and Catholicism, earliest memories, value of education, coming to personal faith in Christ during Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, participation in YMCA program and early evangelistic experiences, pastor’s challenge to consider Christian service and missions, attending Moody Bible Institute, emerging interest in missions, influence of Isaac Page, sense of call, Moody’s mission program and Robert Glover as a professor, other professors (James M. Gray), need for expository preaching, Christian service and preaching experience, regulated social life at Moody, Paul Rader’s speaking style as an evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson’s speaking style, Moody’s reputation for producing missionaries, strengths and weaknesses of Moody’s missionary program, application to China Inland Mission, first impressions upon arriving in Shanghai, CIM’s language program and regret for not learning Chinese and culture and history in Beijing, desire to be assigned to Tibet, assignment to Zhongwei, Ningxia, in Inner Mongolia, joining Mr. & Mrs. Lloyd Rist, Chinese evangelist (Chang Kwei Cheng), use of repetition in evangelistic preaching, meeting his wife Maida

T2 (68 minutes, click to link to the transcript of this tape). Meeting his wife, outreach to Muslims, attending Henry Martyn Islamic School in India, studying Arabic in Jerusalem, return to China to work among Muslims, teaching university English and emerging work among university students in Kunming, wife’s experience at founding of Inter-Varsity in Great Britain, his teaching methodology, establishing first Inter-Varsity group in China, young Chinese leader (Raymond Shing) medical student, presenting the gospel, relocating to northwest China in 1939, criticism from fellow missionaries for working with students, teaching in northwest China, revivals at Chinese colleges, 1944 convention in Chongqing of Christian students, Calvin Chao character and leadership, collaborating with Chao, emergence of national student movement, Stacey Woods personality and suitability for his IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) role, IFES recognition of Chao as the Chinese leader, David Adeney’s displacement of Chao who relocated to Hong Kong, dissolution of Chinese Inter-Varsity, studying at Berkeley to gain credibility among Chinese students, returning to Chongqing in 1949, Communists’ arrival in Chongqing, attending public trials, witnessing an execution, being ignored by the Communists as a Westerner but not allowed to leave, Inter-Varsity students continued to meet secretly, attending brainwashing sessions for English-speaking faculty, leaving China in 1951

T3 (44 minutes, click to link to the transcript of this tape). Overlap from T2 on brainwashing and departure, Houghton’s ineffective oversight of CIM from Australia, evacuation of CIM to Hong Kong, moving at Calvin Chao’s invitation to Singapore, assessment of Houghton’s leadership, starting Singapore Bible College, the Contentos’ duties and teaching at Nanyang University, churches of Singapore, IVF in Singapore, comparison with IVF in China, methodology to develop leaders, start of Inter-School Christian Fellowship with high school students, opposition to high school work by Youth for Christ staff worker Joe Weatherly, early work among young people in Vietnam, cooperation with Christian & Missionary Alliance, beginning of IVF work with Vietnamese students, Vietnamese leaders (Le Vinh Thach, Nguyen Xuan Duc), movement’s rapid growth, emphasis on developing leadership, comparison with C&MA’s philosophy, comparison with student work in China and Singapore, impact on Vietnamese churches, impact of the escalating Vietnam War, Contento’s recommendation to Lyndon Johnson and his administration’s reply, strategy to train leaders in view of anticipated defeat of South Vietnam, link between IVF students and Vietnamese churches in US, emphasis on providing instruction rather than controlling, OMF policy of working with the existing churches, leaving Vietnam in 1975, relocating to the Philippines until 1982, teaching in Chinese theological seminary in Berkeley, leaving Vietnam, ongoing ministry



The materials in this collection were given to the Archives of the Billy Graham Center by Paul Contento in December 1992.

Accession: 92-156
September 20, 2002
Paul A. Ericksen

Accession: 92-156
Type of Material: Audio Tapes

The following items are located in the AUDIO TAPE file.
All of the tapes described below are reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, one side only.

# length Contents Dates
T1 68 min. Oral history interview of Paul Contento by Robert Shuster December 9, 1992
T2 68 min. Continuation of interview from T1 December 9, 1992
T3 44 min. Continuation of interview from T2 December 9, 1992

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Last Revised: 2/06/04
Expiration: indefinite