Yes, you are right to assume that previous eras were gravely flawed. You are correct to presume that the words and actions of individuals highlighted in missionary biographies sometimes show them to be products of their day. However, you are mistaken if you believe this makes them inferior to us. We too are affected by our times. We just don’t smell our own stink. Every generation seems to think they are better than those who came before them. As you read missionary biographies, you may find your preconceived ideas upended.
Eighteen-year-old Sarah Hall curled up in her New England home, her legs tucked beneath her voluminous 1700’s skirt. Neither the chill of the room nor the hardness of the wooden chair distracted her from her book. She barely noticed her younger brothers and sisters as they noisily went about their business in the common room. The hardbound volume, stiff with newness, recounted the life of the recently deceased missionary Samuel Mills.
What Missionary Biographies Did to Sarah Hall
Soon after finishing the book, Sarah wrote to a friend: “I have just completed the perusal of the life of Samuel J. Mills; and never shall I forget the emotions of my heart while following thus the footsteps of this devoted missionary. I have almost caught his spirit, and been ready to exclaim: Oh! that I, too, could suffer privations, hardships, and discouragements, and even find a watery grave, for the sake of bearing the news of salvation to the poor heathen!”
Reading missionary biographies ignited Sarah’s passion for serving God. What she read would shape her future life and ministry. This young woman caught the spirit of Mills, launching her first into local ministry and then foreign missions.
Fast-forward just a few years. Sarah and her new husband, George Boardman, would step off a ship on to a pier in Burma (modern-day Myanmar). They would get to know and learn to love the Karen people. Sarah and her husband would lead many to Christ and start a church planting movement in the jungle. They would brave disease, societal unrest, and even tigers. Sarah entered her own missionary biography. That’s one potential danger of reading missionary biographies.
What Missionary Biographies Might Do to You
However, the risky upside of reading missionary biographies goes well beyond inspiration to become a missionary. The experience might even influence you to be holier or more dedicated to God where you are now. Take warning from the list below of the dangerous blessings missionary biographies could potentially bring to your daily life.
1. You just might catch some historical perspective.
Our generation tends to flee historical perspective as if it had the plague. Consequently, we can easily consider the difficulties we face today to be unprecedented when they are not—not pandemics, not societal unrest, not ungodly rulers, not unjust laws, and not even untrustworthy news. If you thought these things were new for the 2020’s, you might want to swallow some historical perspective like they swallowed castor oil in the old days. If you don’t like history, hold your nose and take it in story form from a missionary biography. Your understanding of the world will be better for it.