Admire, but don’t rashly imitate. David Livingstone is the subject of many biographies and has been called, “Africa’s Greatest Missionary.” Livingstone had severe faults. He terribly neglected his wife and six children. His leadership style frustrated and fragmented his expedition teams. He is credited with few personal converts.
But Livingstone was driven by great passions. Most of all he wanted to open the “Dark Continent,” to “Christianity, civilization, and commerce,” with the goal of establishing the gospel and ending slavery. He became internationally famous as an explorer, but did it all to open the way for the gospel. He died in a remote village in Africa after several years of sickness.
Hundreds of missionaries would go to Africa because of Livingstone’s maps and information. If you are looking for a model missionary, he wasn’t it, but what is the measuring stick of success?
First, I hope that you have read the autobiographies of our own missionaries. Those who have written in recent years are Carrie Boyer, Faith Hemmeter, Irene Maurer, Guy Troyer, Leroy Adams, and former president J. Stevan Manley.
A few years ago Faith Hemmeter lent me a book, Prisoners of Hope, about two young ladies who went to Afghanistan as aid workers in 1999. They were arrested by the Taliban government in August 2001 and went on trial in September. Their court case was interrupted by the infamous attacks on the New York Trade Towers on September 11, and it looked like the ladies would be in prison for a long time. However, they were rescued in November by U.S. military forces.
The book is a fascinating read. Details about their parents’ forebodings, the desire of Afghans to hear the gospel, the ladies’ fears of government intervention, and of their incarceration, bring to life the dangers faced by missionaries in creative access countries. The first chapter’s title, “The Road to Kabul,” is a metaphor for their journey from life at home to missionary service in Afghanistan.
My favorite missionary is David Brainerd, missionary to the Americans Indians. The story of his sacrifice and devotion was an inspiration to me as a young man. He gave up the relative comforts and safety of early colonial life to reach out to people that many considered to be “savages” and beyond reaching.
By most standards he would have been rejected by most mission boards. He had tuberculosis and died of that disease at 29 in the home of Jonathan Edwards who preached his funeral and later published his journal. From his youth, he was frail and sickly. After being expelled from Yale for criticizing a professor, he never finished college. He was often despondent and probably suffered from depression, yet God used him powerfully to evangelize many fierce native tribes. He is an amazing example of God’s strength being made perfect in weakness.
Only one? Impossible! But to choose one, I read Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret repeatedly and gain new insight each time. What makes this biography so powerful?
1) In my task-orientation, Taylor reminds me that my relationship with God is more important than my work for God. Biographers focus most on Taylor’s missionary career; Taylor focused most on his walk with God.
2) In my self-reliance, Taylor reminds me that true faith is "drawing for every need, temporal or spiritual, upon the fathomless wealth of Christ.”
3) In my desire to fit in, Taylor reminds me that I must care more for souls than for the opinion of others. For Taylor, this meant adopting Chinese dress for the sake of the gospel. Today’s issues will be different - but they will be real.
And that is just the first 50 pages! Put this book on your reading list; you won’t be sorry.
Among the many concise biographies in the book, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, which have impacted me is the focus on the lives of Robert and Mary Moffat, missionaries to Africa. I am impressed by:
-- their dedication to missions, especially noted when they moved inland, away from the popular coastal areas to a place called Kuruman, which they used as their base of operations. Their dedication caused them to take only one furlough (1839-43) during their fifty-three years of ministry.
-- their spheres of influence, which spread for hundreds of miles.
-- their steadiness and dedication while facing extreme hardships. Their steadiness in missions spoke well not only to many back home, but to their children as well. Five of their seven children who reached adulthood became missionaries to Africa themselves!