I realize that for some people the words “Fascinating” and “History of Christian Missions” might not belong in the same title. But for the skeptical, hear me out on this one. 😉
Ruth Tucker’s award-winning book, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, A Biographical History of Christian Missions (Zondervan, 1983 & 2004), surveys two millennia of Christian missionary endeavor in an extremely readable and engaging fashion. Tucker does this by presenting compact, compelling biographies of over 100 individuals or couples who played key roles in advancing the cause of Christian missions throughout twenty centuries of Church History.
The list of people featured in this book reads like a “Who’s Who in Christian Missions.” Some of the many prominent individuals featured include the Apostle Paul, Polycarp, Count Zinzendorf, David Brainerd, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Robert and Mary Moffat, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth, John Williams, John Paton, Lottie Moon, Mary Slessor, Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, C. T. Studd, John Mott, A. B. Simpson, Wilfred Grenfell, John and Betty Stam, Cameron Townsend, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, Nate Saint, Brother Andrew, Don Richardson.
Some of the book’s key chapter topics include: The Early Centuries, Evangelizing the Roman Empire; The Moravian Advance, Dawn of Protestant Missions; American Indian Missions; Single Women Missionaries; “Faith” Missionaries, Depending on God Alone; Medical Missions; Translation and Linguistics; Missionary Aviation; Twentieth-Century Martyrs; Third World Missions; Islamic Missions (a new addition to the 2004 edition of the book). Other chapters trace the development of Christian missions in South Central Asia, Africa, the Far East and the Pacific Islands.
The brilliance and appeal of this volume is that as we read the interesting mini-biographies of these influential missionaries, we gain a great overview of the sweep of missionary effort throughout Church History. Even if you choose not to read the entire book, you can read of the people and topics that are of particular interest to you.
Ruth Tucker is well-qualified to write such a volume. She was raised in a missions-minded Christian and Missionary Alliance church where “a deep concern for foreign missions” began developing in her heart from earliest childhood. She received the Ph.D. in history from Northern Illinois University. She has taught missions studies and church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Calvin Theological Seminary.
From my perspective, one unfortunate feature of this otherwise outstanding book is its rather pronounced critical tone concerning two particular ministry issues in past centuries: (1) women having fewer ministry opportunities than men; (2) some missionaries prioritizing their ministries above their families. While some correction concerning those matters may seem called for from our twenty-first century vantage point, we need to bear in mind that missionaries and other Christians of the past operated out of generational norms that seemed appropriate and even “biblical” in their day. While they didn’t always strike a perfect balance on those and other issues, neither do contemporary Christians. In some instances their seemingly-imbalanced examples may actually have something profitable to teach us on such issues.
On the whole, however, I highly recommend From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya to you. Your understanding of missions history and your heart for promoting Christ’s worldwide Kingdom work will be strengthened by reading this book
Copyright 2014 by Vance E. Christie